In psychoanalytically inflected scholarship, the veil is often understood to remove women from the field of the gaze. Our analysis offers a different understanding of the interplay between the veil, the gaze, and the subject by showing that the veil in fact is visible and that this visibility and its governance are part of the formation of pious, desiring subjects. The question of the gaze is especially pertinent to what we call “veiling fashion” (that is, stylish combinations of the headscarf with a range of clothing items, which variably adhere to an Islamic code of modesty). In 2009 we conducted focus groups with women who wear veiling fashion and with sales assistants who work on the retail side of veiling fashion in Turkey. Rather than being removed from view, we find, women participate in veiling fashion’s scopic regime, which situates them in a particular way as the objects and subjects of looking and desiring. Within the visual field, women enlist veiling fashion in their pursuit of harmony and unity of the self and with God. Yet veiling fashion also incites what women call nefis, corporal and materialistic desires whose subjugation is part of the goal of veiling. By simultaneously orienting women toward an Islamic ideal and provoking desires that take women away from this ideal, veiling fashion and its visual field animate a project of the self that is at once ethical and aesthetic. It is on and through the veiled body that the ongoing struggle for the unity of desire, faith, and image takes place.

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Fall 2014

Notes/Citation Information

Published in Signs, v. 40, no. 1, p. 177-200.

© 2014 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

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