I am reading an essay for class called “Beholding” that discusses the patterns and ethics of staring. It’s an essay that offers a few different ways to stare at things and people and also proposes a way for the “starees” to look back, to take control of the staring interaction and make something educational, productive, validating from it.
I find I’m asking myself, “What is the last thing you stared at? What is the last thing you WANTED to stare at?”
For me, staring – that consequence of visual curiosity – is something that doesn’t stay visual for long. When I see something or someone I want to know better, I suppose I stare at it. I’d have to have someone nearby to say, “Yes, there she goes staring at that thing again” to know if I am actually staring. Mentally, I zero in on the object/person and I start thinking of ways I can approach it. But I can’t imagine just staring at it. For me, it’s a very quick leap from staring to the thought, “I want to touch that.”
I want to get to know it with my hands. I want to trace it with my fingers and understand how it is put together. And yes, this applies to people too – but often I repress the urge because our culture isn’t so big on casual (or as I’ll call it, “informative”) touching.
I had an aunt who used to say, “Look with your eyes, not with your hands.” She always said this when we went grocery shopping and I would reach eagerly for all the brightly colored items on the shelf. Look with your eyes! What a barren way of looking! Imagine going through the world only getting to know things on a visual level! How drab!
I want to get to know things tactilely. Textures, dimensions, weights – touching introduces you to the substance of things, the materiality of them. Is this the kind of information that staring provides for those who can and do stare? If so, I think I begin to understand the fascination.