The gaze of the puppet

I was watching a puppet show this evening, and it struck me how uniquely powerful the gaze of the puppet can be.

Humans are burdened by our literalness. We have human faces and bodies, we have real lives of our own, we are flesh. This limits our ability to embody abstraction, to focus down our essence to a single powerful idea.

As Scott McCloud pointed out in Understanding Comics, on some deep level we identify a photo-realistic representation of a person as “the other”, whereas we identify a simplified representation of a person as “the self”.

This transference, augmented by an uncanny stillness, operates when we watch a puppet on stage. We are not seeing the puppet the way we see an actor. We see the puppet as ourself. When the puppet looks at something, we feel that it is we who are looking, through the puppet’s eyes.

And it’s what happens next that makes it all exciting: We find ourselves questioning why we are looking, how it makes us feel, what it all really means. We project our emotions onto the puppet, and through that projection we are able to see more deeply into our own soul.

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