- Lacan was associated with the Surrealist movement. Find two examples of surrealist work that might have echoes of the mirror phase and annotate them to show how
- Find two examples of the way contemporary media make use of Lacan’s ideas and show how
It is difficult to settle on two Surrealist images since so much of that work will in one way or another have ‘echoes of the mirror phase’, as the art movement was intrinsically connected to Freud, psychoanalytical theory, along with a host of other analytical theorists including Jung and Rimbaud (Gale,1997;218, 221); Lacan’s work is a direct development from Freud’s. Scrolling through pages of Surrealist art you can see many representations of pre-verbal landscapes, fragmentation and inward gazing as well as reflective surfaces. I am particularly interested in narcissism and maternal bonds so have chosen two paintings that explore those subjects directly. The development of a primary narcissism, as Freud and Lacan tell us, is a fundamental ‘healthy’ outcome of a successful mirror phase. In order to survive, a mammal must begin to develop the ego but preserve it too, requiring acts of self love, as well as the desire to protect against aggressive Others. In Freud’s terms secondary narcissism, too much self love, come about when some aspect to development goes awry. This is explained simply on the University of Hawaii’s website as follows: “He (Freud) contrasts primary narcissism with a “secondary narcissism” which arises in pathological states such as schizophrenia in which the person’s libido withdraws from objects in the world and produces megalomania. The secondary narcissism of the mentally ill is, Freud suggests, a magnified, extreme manifestation of primary narcissism which exists in all individuals.” And, “Freud imagines a libidinal economy in which object-libido (directed outward) and ego-libido (directed inward) exist in a ratio. Being in love is at the extreme end of object-libido; being a paranoid schizophrenic is at the extreme end of ego-libido.” (University of Hawaii) What might be useful to consider here is that if someone or a whole society is unable to move beyond the mirror stage successfully, never able to develop a mature ego, then in Freud and Lacan’s model that person/society is destined to remain trapped in a state of egotistical infancy, forever gazing at their own reflection.
- An illustration of the Greek myth of Narcissus – in which Narcissus, a beautiful man, who everyone falls in love with is led by the gods to a pool where he falls in love with his own reflection. He becomes trapped staring at himself and eventually dies of frustration. The gods immortalise him with a daffodil. Echo had been cursed by the gods so that she repeats the end of what anyone says but nothing else. She falls in love with him, but he ignores her. Eventually she disappears and all that is left are the sounds of her repetitions.
- In the image there are two versions of the protagonist shape, Narcissus staring into the pool (mirror) and then a metamorphassed stone version, a hand holding an egg and the daffodil
- Dali playing with shape and form
- Dream-like sky and landscape
- Dog eating, perhaps flesh right beside the fleshless stone version
- Mirroring happening in several places in this image; the reflection on the pond and the stone version holding the egg
- As well the crack in the egg also serves as a shadow to the flower
- Forms changing
- As stated on the Tate website, Dali claimed he was working “entirely in accordance with the paranoiac critical method, which the artist described as a ‘Spontaneous method of irrational knowledge, based on the critical-interpretative association of the phenomena of delirium’ (The Conquest of the Irrational, published in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York 1942).”(Tate) In other words Dali was suggesting that he was able to access the unconscious in a conscious state, while he was awake and fully aware, and that this style of his represents that truth.
- The painting technique is precise, almost photorealistic, like the old masters but the subject matter and representations are not. The fusion between old style and new subject is typical of his work
- To me, the image seems overbrimming with affectation in comparison to other Surrealist artists such as Miro (Smart History) especially, or Hoch etc.
- However, when facts from Dali’s early years are considered the painting takes on new significance and the affectations can be made sense of, or looked past: Dali was born 9 months after his elder brother had died. His brother was also called Salvador and died when he was 3. His parents grieved heavily. They named their second son the same name. Dali has a memory where he was taken to see the grave stone of his brother and he saw that it had his name on it.
- For Dali, his mirror stage, as Lacan has defined it, is plagued with the added complication of this dead brother. He is conditioned from birth with a virtual mirror that is the imagined dead brother, the physical proof of which he is shown in the form of the head stone with his own name on it.
- The painting suddenly becomes much more human once you know this story and apply the memory to the figures in the painting, the flesh and stone twins
- At this point, when looked at carefully, the figure of Narcissus seems not to be staring into the pond as in the myth but hiding his head in shame, more like the figure we looked at in Munch’s Ashes. His reflection which he might even be trying to hide from – he certainly doesn’t look like he’s staring at his own reflection here, as earlier paintings show Narcissus (see Caravaggio and John William Waterhouse) – will be there beneath his face whether he wishes it to be or not. And the stone figure next to him is as big as him, if not bigger due to the way in which Dali has included the part of the form that is reflected, but in stone. So Dali’s virtual mirror, the dead brother that has the same name is forever in his periconscience landscape. A difficult mirror stage to move on from, and perhaps a life long tendenacy towards ‘splitting’
- The stone egg can be seen to represent the dead boys ego, Dali’s ego, the core of their joint physic existence; and the flower, can be seen as both life in the wrong place, and the curse of a narcissistic ego, which, like an egg is fragile, and not fragile, like granite – at the same time
- Magritte is influenced by the visual culture of the time and creates a surreal version of what exists, as stated on the Tate site,”Many of Magritte’s most famous images can be read as fantasy scenarios that might unfold like film over time. In particular, his 1960 film Tuba (Interior) re-stages the veiled kissing figures of The Lovers 1928, an image which itself appropriates an image from a ‘Nick Carter’ detective comic.” (Tate)
- From the point of view of Lacan’s mirror stage, here, identification of Other and of self is prevented by the sheets covering each of the faces
- Magritte painted several versions of lovers covered in sheets, so their faces cannot be seen and they cannot see. The effect nullifies the self, removes it, negates it, and creates an absence where there shouldn’t be one, a hole that is tangible. It reminds me very much of the dream I had the night my own father died. In my dream a picture was missing from the wall and it communicated to me a sense of nothingness where there should have been something. These paintings do the same.
- The absence is deeply unsettling and of ‘death’
- Magritte painted several versions of this, towards the end of his career in a film, see first point – repeating motifs can be linked to symbolism theories by Freud, Jung, Lacan and the semioticians. As with all Surrealists, psychoanalysis plays a big part – the unconscious made conscious, “His interest in the idea may have come in part from Freudian psychoanalysis, for which repetition is a sign of trauma.”(TheArtStory.org)
- “In 1912, when Magritte was only thirteen years of age, his mother was found drowned in the river Sambre; when her body was recovered from the river, her nightdress was supposedly wrapped around her head.” It is very difficult to ignore this fact and not attribute it to the way in which the lovers are represented.
- Which in turn introduces shades of Oedipus in this painting – the loss of the mother at any age is critical. At 13, and due to suicide, it is likely to be deeply traumatic.
- The neat, step by step process of ideal development as defined by Freud and Lacan, along with western attitudes towards separation, i.e. that it should happen quickly might be considered in light of Magritte’s trauma at 13
- The mother can be said to the very first version of a mirror a human child confronts. Ideally, when babies look into their mothers eyes they see the love the mother has for him/her reflected back and that contributes to forming a sense of self that can take care of itself (primary narcissism) Although Lacan states that the mirror stage itself ends at 18 months the mother’s love reflected back would ideally be available to support the process of developing a robust self for much longer, but change in nature over time
- Consequently one can, within those constructs, read the pain and trauma experienced by Magritte in these paintings, along with the desire to express something of an unresolved Oedipal complex he existed with, due to her suicide just on the cusp of manhood, forever staring from a self that he cannot see into an Other (mirror) he cannot see either
- Magritte’s style is influenced by his commercial illustrative work and that seems to have remained more relevant to current tastes in visual art than Dali’s
Find two examples of the way contemporary media make use of Lacan’s ideas and show how
I am not sure why I have chosen adverts here since we’ve already looked at them quite a lot. I misread the question I think, but am going to stick with them anyway, because having looked at adverts again, I realise I didn’t fully comprehend ‘connoted’ and ‘denoted’ before and wonder if I’ve done a more accurate reading of those terms below in the second advert. I could have chosen Instagram and the proliferation of selfies as an example, or Skype/Facetime since you have the option of watching yourself talk to the other as you converse using that particular media.
Narcissism and advertising
Earlier I highlighted different levels of narcissism which begin to form at the time defined as the ‘mirror phase’ by Lacan. More recent ideas present narcissism differently and theorist, Dr. Craig Malkin, has suggested a scale between 1-10. Ideal healthy narcissism, the sort that would begin to form during the mirror stage as we begin to self identify as a subject in our own right, and which we need in order to eventually take care of ourselves, exists in the middle of the scale. Too much or too little is potenially problematic. The end of the mirror stage according to Lacan should turn the “mirror I into the social I“, unless some form of secondary narcissism emerges to thwart it. Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell are authors of The Narcissism Epidemic in which they argue that many sections of western society are currently more narcissistic than ever, often displaying associated traits such as grandiosity, exaggerated sense of self-importance, or entitlement, which they argue have infiltrated acceptable social norms. The book has been criticised by some who say it exaggerates, and incorrectly damns an entire generation. Nevertheless, in it advertisers, although not described as wholly responsible are held to account. “Advertisements are not mere entertainment. They are part of a system that transmits cultural values to people” (185). And Judith Williams in her book Decoding Advertisements, says, “Advertisements are one of the most important cultural factors moulding and reflecting our life today.” (Williams, 2002;11). Her use of the word reflecting suggests advertisements operate as a mirror, selling products by making us identify with them, or at the very least comparing ourselves with others when we yearn to identify with the goods they have bought.”Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”, we the consumer might ask. The advertisers reply,” You are, Consumer, when you buy our stuff”. The second advert I’ve chosen at first appears to address something one might usually associate with commonly held assumptions about narcissistic characters – having an authentic or a fake ‘persona’, and the identity that emerges out of the mirror stage might be seen as the core of that process. That could be considered a tenuous connection to the project aims, and so the first advert is all about an actual mirror being used in the advert and the process of ‘being seen’ by a virtual self-Other.
Advert available here: http://www.bitrebels.com/design/badass-bathroom-mirror-advertising/
This is a difficult advert to deconstruct fully because it was in Beirut, a culture I know very little about, but that may be a good thing as I will need to concentrate on the mirror phase aspect to it only. A short article by Diana Adams (2012) (included in link) for a technology website that focuses on internet culture, social media and technology is the main source of information available.
- Advert is for a nightclub called Riveira Prive in Lebanon
- It consists of a close up of a pair of aviator sunglasses being worn by someone, and is situated on the mirrors of public bathrooms to provide the illusion someone other than yourself is looking back at you.
- To the bottom right is the Riveira Prive logo and the words BE SEEN above that
- According to Adams, in Lebanon people want to feel they are being noticed and this advert responds directly to that desire
- The original function of the mirror continues only because the aviator sunglasses are reflective, and so people may continue to use that part of the mirror
- Due to the opaque sunglasses any one washing their hands is essentially being looked at by an Other whose eyes are hidden from them
- That, for me, combined with the size of the face (dependent on the mirror) makes the overall effect seem sinister
- When in Calais I have been advised not to keep my sunglasses on as that prevents the inhabitants from being able to see my eyes, and so prevents a connection
- A former SAS member recently told me that certain soldiers from another country who he worked with would deliberately keep their sunglasses on when dealing with local people in the Middle East in order to retain a degree of separateness and superiority, while he and his colleagues would be careful to remove theirs
- The nightclub advert picks on Lacan’s mirror stage by encouraging the reader to identify with their club, but subverts it. If we humans see and recognise a copy of ourselves when we look in the mirror, a whole self that we can imagine when considering who we are, then this advert replaces that self-Other with an Other we cannot connect with, but who is also far larger and potentially more powerful than we are
- This alludes to a deity in one sense, an authoritative Other that can see us even though we cannot see them
- Beirut has 12 official religions and is the most religiously diverse country in the Middle East but with just 3.3% atheists according to a 2014 survey (Wikipedia)
- There is something comforting in thinking there is an authority figure who sees you
- There is also something frightening about it
- Adam’s suggests people want to be seen in Lebanon and that is what underlies this advert’s intentions, giving people a sense of being noticed
- Lacan talks about “voyeuristic-sadistic idealisation of the sexual relationship” – this advert seems to tap into that somehow. A bathroom is a very private place, so to place a huge pair of hidden eyes in order to satisfy a need to feel seems somewhat perverse, however, those are my own feelings, coming from a very different culture
- Lacan also refers to “the awareness of the other which can only be satisfied by Hegelian murder”, and this advert, with its size and closeness, intrustion into a private space and opaque sunglasses provides not only an Other that sees readers who want to be noticed, but an Other who is potentially a great deal more powerful than they are
The next advert is for Emporia.com. I am working from a magazine version which is slightly different to the online version I have found available here:
The description below describes the off-line version.
- Description – portrait of a women from the nose down
- She wears several rings with ruby coloured gemstones on each of her fingers and a necklace and earrings, also with gemstones
- The jewellery is mostly gold by the looks of things, if not all of it – some is hard to work out, it may be white gold or platinum
- The woman holds her fingers up to her lips
- Her mouth is open expectantly – a common trope in advertising for perfume and designer fashion
- The heading is strong white upright lettering and says FAKE NOTHING
- To the bottom right is the logo, a crest, below which is the company name which we see is a website name (.com included in band name) and below that in smaller letters it says ALWAYS GENUINE GEMSTONES
- There is some blurb to the left that looks as if it is a column in a magazine or newspaper, because it is typed on white, as if a strip of paper is pasted over the photograph
- The blurb starts with “In the beginning there were the gemstones”
- Their aim is to restore gemstone as the most personal of possessions
- Key snetences: “We denounce fakes and mass-produced synthetics that have flooded the jewellery market for the last few generations”
- “We encourage women around the world to be at one with nature – to fake nothing”
- “We truly believe you are spiritually naked when dressed without a gem of nature”, and that
- prices start from just £54
- The gems come from Madagascar, Thailand and Burma
The connoted message; Wear these gems and you will come across as authentic. Not only that, the sellers are authentic and genuine, just like the gems. Everything about their process from the sourcing of the gems to the marketing of them is done with truth, and good intentions in mind – it all embodies authenticity. The company are doing things this way because they want women to feel connected to nature, as opposed to existing under the pressure of modernity and all that entails, including today’s pressure on Instagram with trout pout lips and selfies and filters. They seem to say that they want to take women back to some sort of Edenesque place, possibly even earlier – as seen in the first line of the copy which echoes the start of Genesis, and that it is possible to do that with their gems. They confuse that imagery by then suggesting that women are ‘naked’, if not actually, then certainly spiritually without gems on their fingers. – i.e. their inner pre-verbal being, the one that god gave them. And that would be a bad thing.
The denoted message is – wearing these gemstones will invite men and sex. As well as playing on the idea of authenticity, the word fake is also often associated with sex and orgasm. So, wear gems and have great orgasms. Here we are being told that women need wear nothing but the particular gemstones during sex for it to be good, and enjoying sex is an attractive quality. Without the gems a women might not be that attractive, nor that good in bed. Someone who fakes their orgasims.
Deconstructing and looking at how a Lacanian mirror phase is in place
As I said earlier, I chose this advert because it seems to link directly to the development stage, which leads to a degree of self-love that we all require to function well in life. It does so by providing us with a mirror that harks back to the beginning of our development, as suggested in the Genesis-like start to the copy. In the rest of the copy there are references to the spiritual self, which is often viewed as the core inner being that makes us who we are. What’s more, the mirror that any child identifies with offers an image that is not real, but allows an infant to imagine his or her self in a whole form. Here, the fact eyes have been left out means we are being offered an image of the self where the Other who stares back at us has no eyes, and so prevents us from imagining that identity as someone who can see, or needs to see. Why would one need to see if they were wearing the gems as they are the most important element in the image?
Most strikingly, the heading of the advert claims that everything about this company is the very opposite of fake. “Fake Nothing”, it tells us. However, at the very least, the logo crest is made to look old but the company started in 2012 (Google). In the copy we are told the company’s quest is to restore genuine gems to the market – although their quest must be to make money. They claim they are interested in ensuring women round the world are at one with nature. Given their gems start at £54 one might wonder about the welfare of their workers, some of whom may well be women, mining their gems. The woman in the advert is represented with an overtly sexualised gesture, which may be one man’s authentic versions of a women but it is not everyone’s.
Both adverts utilise theories associates with the mirror phase, offering readers an invisible Other in place of the virtual self-as-Other which we see in the mirror. The second advert plays on our neurosis about being a genuine self, the core of which ideally emerges from the mirror phase.
Both adverts hide the eyes which are associated with seeing.
Williamson, J. (1978). Decoding advertisements. London: Boyars.
Twenge, J. and Campbell, W. (2009). The narcissism epidemic. New York: Free Press.
Gale, M. (1997). Dada & surrealism. London: Phaidon.
Harrison, C. and Wood, P. (2003). Art in theory, 1900-2000. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.