Read the article by Jaques Lacan entitled The Mirror-Phase as Formative of the Function of the I, making notes:

At the outset it seems critical to mention that the mirror stage is criticised as being too narrow, leaving blind children out of it altogether, as well as cultures where mirrors don’t exist as a norm. Lacan addresses this throughout, especially in his later years, as discussed on the site, who quote, “By 1960, Lacan even identified the mirror with the Other, a construction which had already been foreshadowed in Seminar I, where he had claimed ‘that the inclination of the plane mirror is governed by the voice of the other” (Nobus, ‘Life and Death in the Glass – A New Look at the Mirror Stage’, in Key Concepts of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, p.120). (, 2010) It is abundantly clear that many objects can be interpreted as virtual mirrors, and that we project and see ourselves in Others constantly. To make sense of Lacan’s mirror phase we must encompass a variety of reflective Objects in the Hegelian sense, including people, photographs, paintings, films, letters or stories as well as actual reflective surfaces. Reading forward it makes sense to accept this and consider all Others as possible mirrors, although most obvious and tested in an analytical setting with an actual mirror.

Looking at Hegel prior to reading the Lacan document has been immensely helpful, and I am grateful for the suggestion to do so. Even so, reading Lacan’s words is beyond confusing.  Therefore, I have looked at several descriptions online, all with varying degrees of difficulty as well as the pages in Art in Theory as directed, and the following bullet points are a summation of that reading:

  • The essay details Lacan’s theory of how an I – a self, or in Lacan’s words, a subject, is formed
  • He rejects the phrase “I think, therefore I am” (Rene Decartes, Cartesian philosophy)  – for Lacan, we only think once we’ve formed language which helps to shape consciousness; an infant does not become a subject until he has recognised himself/herself, an infant pre 6 months is without consciousness in this sense, without a sense of I, which is an extension of Hegel’s view, and goes more along the lines of, “I recognise myself in an Other, therefore I know I am”
  • Human infants recognise themselves in the mirror – although chimps surpass them in other skills, chimps grow bored of the mirror quickly, they are not amused by the recognition at the same age
  • Human babies are able to and also play with the reflection, the “virtual self” before they can walk, hold themselves up or talk (Good Girls Go Bad, 2012)
  • The activity retains the same level of meaning until the infant is 18 months, at which point developmental progress, innate and usual for a human child moves the brain forward to the next stage, paranoiac – aware of others and worried about their reactions
  • “The desire to know” innate, inborn and inevitable structure of human development, leads to desire and is fundamentally paranoiac 
  • The desire to know is instinctual, stems from ‘instinct’
  • Mirror phase – is an identification (see Hegel’s recognition of other in order to recognise the self as something separate and defined in the world)
  • When the infant is able to assume an image, he is on the way towards completing a process referred to by Lacan as imago, i.e. reaches maturity, (I think; imago used in insect biology meaning maturity or latin for image)
  • Early stages of obtaining a sense of I evident in the mirror phase
  • This early I is the ideal-I which Lacan calls the root stock for all further identifications. This is the beginning of recognising oneself as a whole thing, separate, the core of the self, prior to language and therefore symbols (symbolic and imaginary) post the Real stage – the Imaginary, like Freud’s ego,
  • Gestalt – the whole, prior to finding and recognising himself as a whole thing in the mirror, the child has no sense of his entirety and is only aware of himself as a collection of separate things, he does not have the ability to envisage each of his sporadic actions as all coming from one place. This is such complicated stuff and is better explained by Amanda Loos on the University of Chicago website, “This image in the mirror is the image of coherence – of what makes the world and our place as complete subjects in it make sense. It becomes a process of identification of internal self with that external image. The mirror stage thus represents the infant’s first encounter with subjectivity, with spatial relations, with an external sense of coherence, and with a sense of “I” and “You.” (2002)
  • (My eldest son who spoke early, so before this process could complete, and used to confuse “I” and “you” all the time, so when he meant “I want milk”, he would say “You want milk”, and if he meant, “You read this book”, he would say, “I read this book” – which seems to me to be a really good example of a verbalised expression of the instability surrounding his own developing subjectivity at that stage.)
  • Back to Lacan, I cannot work out what he is saying about a pigeon’s gonad at all but I think he is looking at the way in which even the smallest creatures, right down to birds and insects reach a moment where they can recognise a potential sexual partner as something separate to themselves, and must do to procreate, and so the child who must eventually procreate for the sake of furthering genes, must come to a realisation of a whole self, which includes an innate knowledge that will lead to the desire to procreate, thereby needing to recognise what sex he/she is, and what sex the Other – a potential – mate might be. I think. This process in Lacan’s theory begins with the mirror phase – where the child sees himself as a whole thing for the first time, and it is this image which remains at the core of the physic ‘matrix’, that he goes on to define as the imaginary, (touched on above)
  • On the other hand, the pre-exisiting condition of dislocated parts, feelings and wants  always exists in the mind, and the Fragmented Body continues in dreams and expressed in art, and can be the source of a variety of neurosis when something goes awry in the developmental stage. (Is this not similar to Jung’s theory, where fragmentation leads to mental illness? The opposite of which is individuation, a synthesis of core archetypes in a healthy mature individual). Lacan suggests Hieronymus Bosch’s work, where people are painted having strange extra bits and perhaps even wings, explores that level of the psyche
  • Once a child recognises himself as a whole, as an object, he will begin to see other objects in the world differently, in a way he had not recognised them before
  • He will also being to think about what other people think of him and worry about how he is seen, described in the sentence containing phrases such as, “at this moment tips the whole of human knowledge in mediatization through the desire of the other….competition of the other….instinctual thrust constitutes danger”
  • Primary narcissism begins here: as quoted, “In the mirror stage, Lacan compressed the two phases into one. At the very moment when the ego is formed by the image of the other, narcissism and aggressivity are correlatives. Narcissism, in which the image of one’s own body is sustained by the image of the other, in fact introduces a tension: the other in his image both attracts and rejects me” (Julien, Jacques Lacan’s Return to Freud, p.34). (, 2o10)
  • Lacan critical of belief in existentialism  – saying there is an illusion of autonomy in people
  • He sees that there is extreme aggressiveness beneath everything including altruism, perhaps borne out of the desire to ‘consume’ that Hegel spoke of, of aggression?
  • The link below to Good Girls Go Bad adumbrates a completely different theory of development by Hélène Cixous which is not reliant on the phallus and castration anxiety as a pivotal crux, as Freud and Lacan are, and crucially suggests that the self is never fully formed, instead developing continuously through life
  • Lacan refers to Hegel, and throughout the essay one can see Hegelian references such as subject, desire and aggression. has a full account of a long list of people who Lacan borrows from, sometimes acknowledging them, sometimes not
  • The podcast below is helpful to listen to once some reading has been done, and perhaps again once the reading has settled in a bit
  • Finally Lacan said there were three separate elements of the psyche  – the real, the symbolic and the imaginary. The real is what exists pre-mirror phase, pre-language the non-cohesive fragments and parts of an inner existence. The symbolic is the language  – symbols, an authoritative father internalised as the future I. The imaginary is the ideal whole self as seen in the mirror prior to the rest of language shaping everything else. Amanda Loos explains it well on the University of Chicago site.

Image (c)SJField 2014



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