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New Left Review 44, March-April 2007


The author of Signs and Meaning in the Cinema traces the dialectic of the gaze from Hegel to Hitchcock, via Kojève, Lacan, Sartre, Vertov and Kuleshov. Vision and voyeurism, selfhood and spectatorship in psychoanalysis, philosophy and cinema.

PETER WOLLEN

ON GAZE THEORY

Alexandre Kojève was born in Russia into a well-to-do family; he was the nephew of the painter Kandinsky. [1] This text was originally presented to the Film Theory seminar at ucla in 1998. In 1920, at the age of eighteen, he left Moscow in order to study in Germany, first in Berlin and then in Heidelberg. In 1926 he moved on to Paris, registering as a student at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, where he attended a course on Hegel’s religious philosophy given by a fellow-Russian, Alexandre Koyre, whom Kojève had previously met in Heidelberg. In 1932, Koyre repeated the course, which Kojève once again attended, and then, at the end of the academic year, Koyre quit Paris for the University of Cairo. Before he went, however, he asked Kojève to take over as leader of the Hegel seminar and Kojève agreed, teaching it consecutively for the next seven years, up until 1939. Among those who attended during this period were Georges Bataille, André Breton, Raymond Queneau, Jacques Lacan and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Kojève’s seminar on Hegel, particularly his interpretative reading of passages from Phenomenology of Spirit, was to have a startling effect on French intellectual life. Kojève is best known today for his presentation of the Hegelian idea of the ‘End of History’, given fresh prominence by Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book on The End ofHistory and the Last Man. Here, however, I want to concentrate specifically on Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel’s theory of the gaze and the master–slave dialectic.

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