*—towards a reading of Lacan’s ‘The Mirror Stage’. … PART I (then).—on the infant, the mirror, and the nature of the image in ‘the mirror stage’. (pp. 75-76)

– LACAN & (THE QUESTION OF) THE “REAL” –
*(—a reading group).

I—Introduction to a new reading group on the work of Jacques Lacan & the question of the ‘real’

II—By way of a sort of an introduction to Lacan himself. … *brief notes, … —from a lecture on Lacan

III—Introduction to a reading of ‘The Mirror Stage’

 

*—towards a reading of Lacan’s ‘The Mirror Stage’. …

PART I (then).—on the infant, the mirror, and the nature of the image in ‘the mirror stage’.
(pp. 75-76)

specular Jacques (ii)

 

*Straight to the ol’ nub, then, ‘ey—? (—why ever not?). …

 

*the ‘mirror stage’: …

 

*(75). … —

the human child at an age when he is for a short while, but for a while nonetheless, outdone by the chimpanzee in instrumental intelligence, can already *recognise his own *image *|as such| in a mirror.

*[N.B. … —I’m going to indicate my own emphases in the quotations here in bold,… —first in order to highlight what I believe to be the key terms which need to be unpacked and understood, and, second, to help distinguish them from the author’s own emphases. … ].

 

*—the ‘mirror stage’, then, is pitched here, at the outset of the essay, as an act of, or perhaps, rather a—capacity for, recognition in the subject,—in both the senses of that word (at least as it translates into English here): …

(i) —as an identification (—understood particularly as: recollectionrecall, or remembrance): … —the action, or the process, then, of recognising or being recognised. In particular,… —identification of a thing or person from previous encounters or knowledge.

(ii) —in the sense of acknowledgement or acceptance (—admission, and (/or) concession). … (that is)—acknowledging (—the acknowledgement of) a thing’s existence,… —validity, and (/or) legality.

 

*… The subject’s capacity *(and I’m intentionally dropping the gender bias in-of the source text here), that is, then, to recognise: *—to identify with, and to admit the validity of, the image in-of the mirror’s-mirrored surface… —the image of themselves,—as exactly that.

 

 

… *—It’s interesting that Lacan takes the time at the outset to distinguish what is happening in ‘the mirror stage’ from (what I’ll call here) animal intelligence,… ranking it alongside, or perhaps even here above ‘instrumental intelligence’ (in which, nonetheless, the human is outstripped—at least by the chimpanzee—anyway… ). …

 

—Whatever ‘the mirror stage’ represents, then, it’s not concerned with a… tactile (so to)… —a practical (or utilitarian) engagement with the external world of things,…

 

—the ‘intelligence’ that it points to is concerned with something quite other, and—apparently—more significant (… —of more moment… —?).

 

(ibid.).

This recognition is indicated by the illuminative mimicry of the Aha-Erlebnis, which Köhler considers to express situational apperception, an essential moment in the act of intelligence.

*(i).— Aha-Erlebnis: … —an “Aha” experience *(… —the ol’ “Eureeka” in the bath tub, so to speak. … (hmm) ). … —a suddeninsight. *—the… elements [sic] of a task or problem suddenly, then,—“come together”. …

… *—a moment (—an ‘essential moment’) of sudden insight, which leads to a significant change in (the subject’s) mental organisation. …

(ii).— ‘situational apperception’: —(the) awareness of one’s position in the physical world, and ability to imagine that position relative to (other) physical objects. …

 

*… —the recognition: identification with, and acceptance of, the image, in-of ‘the mirror stage’ represents a moment of sudden insight (—of a revelation, or an epiphany (so to) )—“Aha!” … —fundamentally altering the subject’s (previous) mental organisation, allowing the subject (—for the first time …—?) to *become aware of their position in(-within) the physical world, in direct contrast and relation to the multitude of (other) discrete physical objects around them…

*—the realisation, then, (so to) of—discretion. …

(—the first moment of the… fixing (-in-place) of discrete things… *—and of (the sense-awareness of) a discrete “I”, —in relation to one another. …).

(—?).

 

… —which underpins the ‘act’ (—singular… —? … —an event which triggers-acts as a foundation of all that is to follow… —?) of intelligence itself. …

 

*(—in what sense though (an)—‘illuminative mimicry’… —?

 

(hmm)

… not sure…

 

—an illumination which mimics (—which mimics the ‘Aha Erlebnis’) (hmm…), or,… —a mimicry which illuminates,  …—?

 

—the ‘mimicry’ in-of the image-reflection.

 

*—a new/burgeoning awareness (—illumination) that the image(-reflection) will mimic, and that that which it mimics will have been the body

*(—the body, then, as having—through its being mimicked in the mirror (—image)—become discrete… or (rather)—realised as having (always already—to ‘alf-inch an over-used phrase from Derrida) been discrete. …

 

—? … ).

 

*The act of intelligence. …

 

*—(ibid.).

this act, far from exhausting itself, as in the case of a monkey, in eventually acquired control over the uselessness of the image, immediately gives rise in a child to a series of gestures in which he playfully experiences the relationship between the movements made in the image and the reflected environment, and between this *virtual complex and the *reality it duplicates—namely, the child’s own body, and the persons and even things around him.

 

whereas, for ol’ Jacques,—for or in (—at the level of) animal intelligence, the moment of recognition (—of identification of the image with the body)/‘the act of intelligence’ is exhausted in-through the uselessness of the image (—its lack of practical utility) and a resultant indifference to the image which allows for ‘control’—a mastery—over it (in its futility-superfluity), in ‘the child’ it (instead) gives rise to *play… —activity severed from (or, rather, never truly connected to) practical utility, survival, or labour…

 

*—a… joy in-at (—enjoyment of) the relationship between the movements of the body and/or surrounding environment (—‘things’ and ‘persons’) *—of reality,… and its/their… replication (—instantaneous echoing-replaying) in-within the ‘virtual complex’ of-in the image *(—‘virtual’ in the sense of: near— not completely corresponding to, yet in proximity(-approximate)… —an approximate recreation-facsimile of ‘reality’-the real. …). …

 

Lacan goes on to describe this (importantly, I think) as an *‘event’.

 

 

*(76.).—

[the child] overcomes, in a flutter of jubilant activity, the constraints of his prop in order to adopt a slightly leaning-forward position and take in an *instantaneous view of the image in order to fix it in his mind.

 

*—‘prop’: an adult (parent/guardian/carer), or walker/carrier.

 

 

*—the infant’s… play and joy (—‘jubilant activity’) in response to its recognition (identification with and acceptance) of the image as its image—the image of it—and of the reality that surrounds it, represents an overcoming—a sort of struggling free of-from the constraints of (—imposed by) the ‘prop’—the adult/carrier—in order to *take in and to *fix the image, in its mind. …

 

*the ‘mirror stage’ is a—‘moment’,… —an instant, an ‘event’,… a ‘complex’, … and the movements, play, and struggle for freedom (or perhaps, rather,—independence) of the infant, stem from a desire to *hold and to *incorporate that ‘moment’, and the image itself.

 

 

—developing the earlier notion of ‘recognition’, Lacan calls the ‘mirror stage’ an ‘identification’:

the transformation that takes place in the subject when he *assumes [assume] an image—an image that is seemingly predestined to have an effect at this phase, as witnessed by the use in analytic theory of antiquity’s term “imago”. (ibid.).

 

—not only, then, does a recognition take place in (within) the ‘mirror stage’ of the image as the image of the subject (—the subject’s body),…

 

—this recognition is followed by (or, perhaps, coupled to) an assumption of the image by the subject, and this assumption itself represents a transformation of-within the subject.

 

 

*(that is)… —the subject appropriates the image (or, at least, attempts to) to itself. …

 

—not only does the subject recognise the image as the image of its (their) body, but they (attempt to) identify totally with the image *(—a transformation in-of self-regard, then). …

 

Hence, I think, Lacan’s appeal to the theoretical term ‘imago’ (which he takes-borrows most obviously from Freud): *—an unconscious, idealised mental image,… and to the ‘effect’ that it’s (apparently) ‘predestined’ to have at the ‘phase’ of the mirror stage…

 

*—the effect of the attempted assumption of the image …

 

*—‘The jubilant assumption [assumption] of his specular image.’ … (—ibid.).

 

*‘specular’: … —relating to, or having the properties of, a mirror. …

(shameful as it well may be (and it most probably is… ), —I’m drawing in the main here on the definition offered in the Wikipedia article: ‘Specular Reflection’ [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Specular_reflection]: … )

*… —Specular reflection: first discovered by Hero of Alexandria (A.D. c.10–70). …

*—the mirror-like reflection of light from a surface, in which light from a *single incoming direction (—a ray) is reflected into a *single outgoing direction.  …

(—apparently this also applies to other kinds of wave, but we’re concerned with light here, so: onward … ).

—Such behaviour is described by the law of reflection, which states that the direction of incoming light *(—the ‘incident ray’), and the direction of outgoing light reflected *(—the ‘reflected ray’) make the same angle with respect to the surface ‘normal’:

specular image

… —thus the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection (—θi = θr in the diagram… ), and the incident, normal, and reflected directions lie in the same plane (—a flat surface which extends without end in all directions): are coplanar.

*—Specular reflection is distinct, then, from ‘diffuse reflection’, in which incoming light is reflected in a broad range of directions. …

 

 

*… —So then,…

 

—The subject’s *specular image (—the image in-of the mirror-surface) is marked by its simplicity and singularity (so to). …

 

*—the angle of reflection is clean, simple, and ‘normal’ and the image itself is simple and, focussed, and unified… —reflected cleanly and simply,—straight back to the subject. …

 

And it is this simple, unified (—apparently self-identical) image that the subject thus attempts to assume.

 

 

(ibid.).

The mirror stage

manifest[s] in an exemplary situation the *symbolic matrix in which the I is precipitated in a primordial form prior to being objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores to it, in the universal, its function as subject.

 

I want to come back to a reading of Lacan’s use (—ironic abuse?) of the ‘dialectic’, but… let me borrow a crude reading of the terms-stages  of the ol’ Hegelian dialectic, to suggest a reading of what I think is happening (or is being described-alluded to) here. …

 

*—THESIS – ANTITHESIS – SYNTHESIS.

… —the in-itself, the for-itself, and the in-and-for-itself.

 

 

*—The mirror stage represents the birth of the “I” (in its most ‘primordial’ form) in and from language (—the ‘symbolic matrix’): the inscription, so to (and, subsequently, the saying) of the letter-word (—the name-self-naming): “I” … —recognition (identification with, and acceptance) of the image—the image of the body as discrete,—amongst other discrete things and persons. …

 

Let’s call the “I” here,—the ‘in-itself’ (or THESIS—first moment-mode of the dialectic), then. …

 

—The subject becomes (a) ‘for-itself’ (—ANTITHESIS) in-through becoming—recognising its status as—an object for another subject (—for the ‘other’ … ), as the other becomes (at the same time), through identification with it, itself a (another) subject (—another I that says “I”) for the thus objectified subject. …

 

*—the subject sees itself as an I that says “I” in relation to another I-other Is, and thus sees itself as an object (—become an object for itself). …

 

The subject then has its subjectivity restored to it (having thus become object for-itself), in the universal (—as subject for another subject-other subjects), and becomes (an) ‘in-and-for-itself’ by synthesising (SYNTHESIS) this objectivity-for-another(-the other) and other-as-subject, with the original-primordial in-itself of the “I”. …

 

—becomes both subject and object.

 

—?

(—I hope that that all makes sense. … —is that right… —?).

 

 

*—To recapitulate… —the mirror stage, then, represents the birth of (the) “I” in-from the inscription (so to) (and, subsequently, the saying) of the letter-word (—the name-self-naming): “I” …

 

*—the recognition (—the, attempted, identification with, and acceptance) of the image—the image of the body as discrete,—amongst other discrete things and persons. …

 

—this is the “I” in its most ‘primordial’ form: as—unconscious, idealised mental image. …

 

*—(—ibid.). ‘This form would, moreover, have to be called *the ideal I’. …

 

*(—I want to come back to this notion-idea of the ‘ideal’ shortly here, and what I think it means. … ).

 

 

Lacan goes on to expand upon his claim to the priority of the “I” to social determination, and, for the first time in the essay, brings in the term with the most readily identifiably Freudian origins-roots: … —the ‘ego’. …

 

(ibid.).—

this form situates *|the *agency known as the ego|, prior to its social determination, in a *|fictional| direction that will forever remain irreducible for any single individual or, rather, that will only asymptomatically approach the subject’s becoming, no matter how successful the dialectical syntheses by which he |*must *resolve|, as I, his *discordance with his own *reality.

 

*the “I” exists (—is formed), for Lacan,—prior, then, to any social or intersubjective relations: … *—is a product of language (—the ‘symbolic matrix’), but is not originally determined by particular social situations-interactions. …

 

As I understand it (at least), the ‘primordial form’ of the “I” is not uncomplicatedly identified with the agency that will become known as the ‘ego’ here. …

 

—It acts to place or to ‘situate’ the ego in the sense that the “I” is what Lacan calls the ‘root-stock’ of all the identifications which will come after—be ‘secondary’ to—it. *(—see 76).

 

*—The ‘direction’ in which the ‘ego’ is thus placed, however, is *—‘fictional’.

 

 

—the revelation and recognition of (—validation of (so to), and identification with) the image in-of ‘the mirror stage’, then, are not… concerned with, or (even) oriented toward (the) truth. …

 

*the image—as unconscious, idealised mental image—is not a true image (—is not an image that reveals truth), and the (name-naming of the) “I” (—as ‘ideal’) contains nothing of truth of or for the subject (so to speak). …

 

—The image directs the subject toward a fiction (… —?),… —orients in a ‘direction’ (—a trajectory, of sorts) that is itself, then, fictional-a fiction.

 

*—neither the image nor the “I” are oriented toward, nor can they be reduced to the truth in the course of the development of the subject, no matter how successful the subject’s movement through the ‘secondary’ associations and social-intersubjective dialectical relationships are

*(—see the attempted description of the dialectic pointed to here,—above. … ), …
*—I want to come back to the notion of a *(—fundamental) discord between the subject and their ‘reality’, floated here, later, but note that such a resolution of discord is mooted here, by ol’ Jacques as a sort of ethical imperative (—‘must’). … ).

 

* … —rather than the image or the “I” being (attaining, or pertaining to truth), then, it is the structure (—the shape) of ‘the mirror stage’ itself which is ‘true’(-the truth). …

 

 

*—the ‘fiction’ here takes the form both the image—the image of the body—itself, and that of the subject’s comprehension (—recognition) of it and relationship to it. …

(ibid.). …

the *|total form| of his body, by which the subject anticipates the maturation of his power in a *|mirage|, is given to him only as a *gestalt, that is, in an *exteriority in which, to be sure, this form is more *constitutive than constituted, but in which, above all, it *|appears to| him as |the *contour of his stature| that *freezes it and in a symmetry that reverses it, in opposition to the *|turbulent movements| with which the subject feels he *animates it.

 

*The specular image in the mirror—the unconscious, idealised ‘imago’—presents the subject’s body to them as a ‘gestalt’: an organized whole that is perceived to be more than the mere sum of its parts…

 

—what it presents, then, is the ‘total form’ of the body—as unified, and as self-identical.

 

 

—The subject identifies with this ‘gestalt’ ‘total form’ (‘imago’)—as the ‘contour’ of their ‘stature’. …

 

*—That is (as I understand Lacan here),—the subject attempts to appropriate the ‘total’ unity of the image of their body (—to extend the reach of the unity and stasis of the shape of the image) to their psychic life,… and it is this attempted appropriation (—identification) that constitutes the “I”.

 

 

*—The image, however—precisely as gestalt, idealised and ideal… —is a fiction: a ‘mirage’.

 

 

—The fiction of the ‘total form’ (of the body) with which the subject identifies is constituted in and by ‘mirror stage’, rather than itself constituting (or engendering) the ‘mirror stage’.

 

—The ‘total form’ in-of the image does not exist prior to its constitution in (within) the mirror stage. …

 

What is constituted-created here, then, is an anticipation in-within the subject of its eventual coincidence (—co-incidence, so to) with the ‘total form’ in-of the image of the body—as an image of its potential(-possible) ‘power’.

 

* … —the ‘power’, that is (—I’d argue) to be able to ‘freeze’—to fix or to hold itself (so to), as the apparent ‘total’ or ‘gestalt’ ‘form’ in-of the image of the body is held-fixed—against the ‘turbulent movements’—what I’ll refer to-call here the *flux—of its actual psychic, physical, and temporal experience.

 

 

*—In ‘the mirror stage’, then, the body is falsely recognised (validated as, and identified with) as a fixed, static, unified ‘totality’…

 

—this image is a fiction, or ‘mirage’. …

 

—Importantly, I’d argue, Lacan plays again here on both the possible meanings of that term.

*[—I probably should acknowledge and emphasise that, as was the case with the term ‘recognition’ (above),  I’m relying on the use of the term in the English translation here, but, certainly in the case of ‘mirage’, I think this reading holds for the original French term. … ].

 

*‘mirage’:

(i).— an optical illusion,… —a… vision,… hallucination,… phantasmagoria, apparition, fantasy, chimera, or trick. These are often caused by atmospheric conditions… for example especially the popular (clichéd?) example of the appearance of a sheet of water in a desert or on a hot road caused by the refraction of light from the sky by heated air.

And/Or, … (ii).— an unrealistic hope or wish that cannot be achieved.

 

*—The ‘total form’ of the image of the body in the mirror, then, is a fiction and a mirage: an illusion (or,—trick of the light (so to) ), the desire for identity with which is spurred, then, (I’d argue) by a desire,… —a need,… —an unrealistic and (ultimately-finally) unrealisable hope,—for fixity. …

 

*… —The mirror stage represents an attempt to wrest (the fiction of a) fixity-stasis (—peace and security) from the chaos of an underlying (—pre-linguistic and (therefore) pre-egoistic) flux.

 

 

*—And this, I think, is why Lacan is able to talk about the ‘mirror stage’ *(—see 76.) as revealing both ‘libidinal dynamism’ *(that is,—*a movement of desire (so to) toward something: —in this instance toward a static, unified image of the self,… —toward an image of the self as discrete and independent… —a recognition of the discretion of things, and persons in-of the world. …),

 

… —and—and at the same time—as revealing an ‘ontological structure’ in-of the human world’.

 

 

*This ‘structure’, it seems to me, is essential to ‘The Mirror Stage’ essay, and seems, in fact, to be essential (in a grounding and/or a recurring way) in-to Lacan’s wider work-thought, so I want to move on now, by way of a sort of an aside (I s’pose), to consider the nature of the ‘ontological structure’ at stake in (or—revealed by) the mirror stage in more detail:

 

*… —to look at, and to try to define, the nature of the pre-linguistic and pre-egoistic flux; the nature of, and relationship between the ‘illusion’-mirage and the ‘ideal’, and what, finally (if anything) may be said to precede the mirror stage and to prompt it. …

 

… —Over on(-in) the main thread of this blog: *—The fold of the Artist, which I’m adapting from material from my doctoral thesis on artistic inspiration and the figure of the artist in the works of James Joyce and Friedrich Nietzsche *(—in a pretentious and foolhardy attempt to develop my own theory of art), I’ve already posted some work-material looking at some of these questions. …

 

—I’ve done some (—preliminary, and really, honestly, quite crude, partial, and… dilettantish) work on subjectivity, the emergence of the ego (= “I”) from language and an underlying pre-linguistic flux, in relation to Nietzsche’s early writing, and especially The Birth of Tragedy and the ‘On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense’ essay. …

 

—I’ve compared Nietzsche’s treatment of these questions in particular to the philosophy of Henri Bergson. …

 

 

*—As I mentioned in my introduction to the reading group, I’ve only taught on Lacan,… —I’ve never actually engaged, in-depth, with his work in my own studies – thesis.

 

Nevertheless,—… for a while, I’ve had a… sense (sic) that Lacan *(and, in this instance, his account of the mirror stage) actually frames the problems, philosophical questions, ideas and concepts I found myself drawn to and working on in Nietzsche and Bergson (as a way of framing my reading of the aesthetic theory in Joyce’s early fiction, and Modernist aesthetics and poetics more widely … ) more clearly and in-with more depth, and that (therefore) the work I’ve already done might help frame the way I want to read ‘The Mirror Stage’ (—the mirror stage) here.

 

 

So,…

I want to crave you indulgence fellow reading group readers, while I draw on some of the ideas I’ve already worked on (elsewhere) and some of the material I’ve already produced—in the next post…

 

*… —I’ve been (ridiculously slowly and gingerly) working my way back through, amending and (hopefully) developing my work on and reading of Modernist poetics and aesthetics over on the main thread, but I also, in what follows next here, want to jump slightly ahead of myself, and—in laying out my reading of the origins and structure of the mirror stage—to draw on a key idea from the work of the Modernist critic, poet, and aesthete T.E. Hulme,… —an idea which he himself adopts(-appropriates) from the work of Wilhelm Worringer: …

 

*—‘space fear’.

 

 

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