Lacan, Jacques. "The Line and Light," in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis.
Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1978. pp. 91-104.
annotation by Alexandra Geiger (Theories of Media, Winter 2003)

Lacan begins his essay, “The Line and the Light,” by discussing the “eye” and its relation to the subject. He argues that due to the geometric dimension of vision, the object, or what it is we the observers see, catches us in its “trap,” and captures us through this field of vision.

In the first section of his essay, Lacan discusses the difference between appearance and being. He argues light does not travel in a strait line, which is, “refracted, diffused, it floods, it fills…” We see what we see due to geometric optics. The light paints a picture in our eye of the object, yet we the observers are not in the picture that has been painted. He explains this by using the example of when he was on a fishing boat with other fishermen and he noticed a small can out on the water. One of the fishermen said to him, “You see that can? Do you see it? Well it doesn’t see you!” He argued that the point of this story was to show the comparison between him and the can. Compared to those men who earned their living this way he was so inconsequential that he was, “out of place in the picture.” He might as well not have been in the picture at all or if he is to be anything he would be the “screen,” which he also refers to as the "stain” or the “spot.”
In the second part of his essay, Lacan addresses the relation between the subject and the picture. He brings up the question of mimicry and how adaptation functions within it. He compares the example of adaptation, where an environment that is mostly green an animalcule will become green to reflect the light in order to protect itself, to the example of mimicry, where a crustacean settles among briozoaires and it imitates a stain. He argues that, “It becomes a stain, it becomes a picture, it is inscribed in the picture.” Adaptation does not exist in mimicry. He says that the major dimensions associated with mimicry are, travesty, camouflage, and intimidation.

In the third section of his essay, Lacan examines the idea of painting and its relation to gaze. He states that a painter does not wish to be seen himself, but that he creates a painting for the eye to look it. In this process of looking, the spectator is forced to in a sense surrender their gaze. He argues, “Something is given not so much to the gaze as to the eye, something that involves the abandonment, the laying down, of the gaze.” Lacan then explores the idea of the “eye as organ,” and how it cannot be fully explained by its function. When dealing with the eye, “various functions come together.” A gaze occurs by the luring of the organ of the eye. “You never look at me from the place from which I see you, “ signifies the relationship between the eye and the gaze.

Theorists of media address this relationship constantly when referring to how we “see” different mediums. The gaze is equivalent to what we desire to see and masks what is actually seen by the eye. We gaze because we are lured by the medium to see what it is it wishes us to see, by covering what is actually there.