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September 13, 2012

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Amy, thanks for bringing this strange moment of gazing into focus. It reminds me of Michel de Certeau's essay, "Walking in the City," which questions the ethical grounds for enjoying a view of New York from above, and decides that such a grand vision obscures the nuances of the everyday practices that take place down below. All the differences notwithstanding--can a view of Atlanta grant one the same measure of intoxicating ecstasy as a view of New York? does this obstructed view from the Westin achieve for its viewer the same empowering and responsibility-free legibility of urban chaos as an unobstructed one?--your piece presents a nice counterpoint to de Certeau's critique by offering up the possibility that the naked voyeur might, in more ways than one, be exposing himself or herself to something "they might not otherwise find." That he or she might be a voyeur of discovery, rather than of exploitation.

Once (and only once), during a short visit to Edmonton, I looked out at the night city from a high hotel window. I, too, was buck naked. It felt like a way to counteract or equalize the pleasure and power of a "totalizing" vision of a whole--that sense that by orienting myself in the city from above I possessed it--with the pleasurably risky and vulnerably powerful possibility of being wholly seen by a single unseen viewer somewhere "down there." I couldn't stand there very long before I closed the curtains.

By talking about looking into windows and having some sort of sympathy and admiration for the objects of your vision, your post embodies the position of an ideal 'unseen viewer.' So in addition to honoring the naked viewer's audacity, it also seems worthwhile to note and commend the compassion of the workday watcher. After all, who among us isn't deciding at each moment whether the vulnerability of being seen outweighs the possibility of seeing something, or someone (perhaps ourselves), more truly and more strange? If we suspected that someone watching us could do so in some sort of solidarity, maybe more of us could sustain that viewing posture long enough to return the gaze.

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