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1997 Utah L. Rev. 525 (1997)
Turning the Gaze Back on Itself: Comparative Law, Feminist Legal Studies, and the Postcolonial Project

handle is hein.journals/utahlr1997 and id is 535 raw text is: Turning the Gaze Back on Itself: Comparative Law,
Feminist Legal Studies, and the Postcolonial Project
Brenda Cossman*
Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan has described his recent
production of Richard Strauss's operatic libretto Salome with the
Canadian Opera Company as an exploration of the danger of look-
ing when the gaze is not returned.' The exotic young woman
Salome desires the gaze of others. John the Baptist, who refuses to
give Salome the gaze that she so desires, pays with his life. Her
stepfather, Harod, who cannot stop looking at Salome, and who
makes her dance the Dance of the Seven Veils, must pay by fulfill-
ing Salome's wish of revenge: he must order the prophet killed and
his head delivered to Salome on a silver platter. And ultimately,
Salome's obsession with being looked at, John the Baptist's refusal
to look, and Harod's inability to stop looking, lead to Salome's own
The gaze in Egoyan's Salome is not a simple one. Salome is not
passively objectified, but seemingly empowered through the gaze of
others. She, too, is obsessed with gaze-of others looking at her,
valuing her, and desiring her. But this too has a price. In the end,
the power she apparently acquires from the gaze of others cannot
save her from her own act of transgression-she desires too much
and ultimately brings about her own death. In Salome, the power of
the gaze is ambivalent. Is it objectifying or empowering? Is the
recipient of the gaze a desiring subject or a passive object? And
what is the danger of looking when the gaze is not returned? Is it
simply that we will not see all there is to see? Is it that we assume
that the other is observable, knowable in an objective and
*  Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School. My special thanks to Ratna
Kapur for allowing me to cite freely from our collaborative work and helping me
reflect on the nature of our collaborative project-past, present, and future. Thanks
also to Karen Engle for encouraging me down the comparative road, to Stella
Rozanski and the participants in the Feminist Project at Harvard Law School, to
Allan Hutchinson and Zoe Newman for their helpful comments, and to Cherie
Robertson for her research assistance.
1.  Interview with Atom Egoyan (CBO Arts Report radio broadcast, Oct. 1996).

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