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Sabbadini, A. (2000). Watching Voyeurs: Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81(4):809-813.

(2000). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 81(4):809-813

Watching Voyeurs: Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960)

Review by:
Andrea Sabbadini

Director: Michael Powell

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Looking, and being looked at, play important roles in the establishment and maintenance of interpersonal relationships. Of course, to state that all of us are therefore voyeurs would be an unnecessary generalisation because ‘scopophilia’ (or ‘voyeurism’) as a nosological category involves a libidinal over-investment in watching others that often replaces, rather than complements, other forms of emotional, physical or sexual contact. Yet, on account of our polymorphously perverse infancy, such a statement could equally be considered a commonplace. We psychoanalysts, furthermore, make ourselves particularly vulnerable to being labelled as voyeurs (though of the auditory rather than the visual kind), insofar as our profession also implies a curiosity about, or even a probing into, our analysands' internal worlds, including their darkest fantasies and secret passions.

Remembering Freud's observation that in its preliminary stage the scopophilic drive is autoerotic (‘it has indeed an object, but that object is part of the subject's own body’ [1915, p. 130]—this situation being the source of both voyeurism and exhibitionism), I would like to add that we can identify two contrasting and complementary kinds of voyeurism. The first one, which I shall call ‘covert voyeurism’, involves gratification, in the absence of exhibitionistic objects, through the secretive, furtive, intrusive watching of others who are unaware of being looked at: such as the girl followed by a man hiding in the dark; but also the targets of professional spies and aptly named private eyes (themselves the subjects, interestingly enough, of two of the most popular film genres).

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