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The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I

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By [[Jacques Lacan]]
The conception of the [[mirror]]-[[phase ]] which I introduced at our last congress, thirteen years ago, has since become more or less established in the [[practice ]] of the [[French ]] group; I [[think ]] it nevertheless worthwhile to bring it again to your attention, especially today, for the light that it sheds on the [[formation ]] of the I as we [[experience ]] it in [[psychoanalysis]].<ref>''Translator's note'': '<i>I</i>' is used here and throughout to translate [[Lacan]]'s '<i>je</i>', in 'le <i>je</i>', 'la [[fonction ]] du <i>je</i>', etc. '<i>Ego</i>' translates 'le <i>moi</i>' and is used in the normal [[sense ]] of [[psychoanalytic ]] [[literature]]. On '<i>je</i>', see Note 2 below.</ref> It is an experience which leads us to oppose any [[philosophy ]] directly issuing from the ''[[Cogito]]''.
Some of you may perhaps [[remember ]] our starting point in a feature of [[human ]] [[behaviour ]] illuminated by a fact of comparative [[psychology]]. The human offspring, at an age when he is for a [[time]], however short, outdone by the chimpanzee in instrumental intelligence, can nevertheless already recognize as such his own [[image ]] in a mirror. This [[recognition ]] manifests itself in the illuminatory [[mimicry ]] of the ''AhaErlebnis'', which Köhler sees as the expression of situational apperception, an essential [[moment ]] of the act of intelligence.
This act, far from exhausting itself, as with the chimpanzee, once the image has been mastered and found empty, in the [[child ]] immediately rebounds in a series of gestures in which he playfully experiences the relations of the assumed movements of the image to the reflected [[environment]], and of this [[virtual ]] [[complex ]] to the [[reality ]] it reduplicates the child's own [[body]], and the persons or even things in his proximity.
This [[event ]] can take [[place]], as we have known since Baldwin, from the age of six months, and its [[repetition ]] has often compelled us to ponder over the startling [[spectacle ]] of the nurseling in front of the mirror. Unable as yet to walk, or even to stand up, and narrowly confined as he is within some support, human or artificial (what, in [[France]], we call a ''trotte-bébé''), he nevertheless surmounts, in a flutter of jubilant [[activity]], the obstructions of his support in [[order ]] to fix his attitude in a more or less leaning-forward [[position]], and bring back an instantaneous aspect of the image to hold it in his [[gaze]].
For us, this activity retains the [[meaning ]] we have given it up to the age of eighteen months. This meaning discloses a [[libidinal ]] dynamism, which has hitherto remained problematic, as well as an [[ontological ]] [[structure ]] of the human [[world ]] which accords with our reflections on [[paranoiac ]] [[knowledge]].
We have only to [[understand ]] the mirror-phase ''as an [[identification]]'', in the [[full ]] sense which [[analysis ]] gives to the term: namely, the transformation which takes place in the [[subject ]] when he assumes an image -whose [[predestination ]] to this phase-effect is sufficiently indicated by the use, in analytical [[theory]], of the old term ''[[imago]]''.
This jubilant assumption of his mirror-image by the little man, at the ''[[infans]]'' [[stage]], still sunk in his motor incapacity and nurseling dependency, would seem to exhibit in an exemplary [[situation ]] the [[symbolic ]] [[matrix ]] in which the I is precipitated in a primordial [[form]], before it is objectified in the [[dialectic ]] of identification with the [[other]], and before [[language ]] restores to it, in the [[universal]], its function as subject.
This form would have to be called the ''[[Ideal]]-I''<ref>Throughout this article we leave in its peculiarity the [[translation ]] we have adopted for [[Freud]]'s <i>Ideal-Ich</i> (i.e. '<i>je-idéal</i>'), without further comment, save that we have not maintained it since.</ref>, if we wanted to restore it to a familiar scheme, in the sense that it will also be the root-stock for secondary identifications, among which we place the functions of libidinal normalization. But the important point is that this form situates the [[instance ]] of the ''ego'', before its [[social ]] determination, in a fictional direction, which will always remain irreducible for the [[individual ]] alone, or rather, which will rejoin the [[development ]] of the subject only asymptotically, whatever the success of the [[dialectical ]] syntheses by which he must resolve as ''I'' his discordance with his own reality.
==The Body as Gestalt==
The fact is that the [[total ]] form of the body by which the subject anticipates in a mirage the [[maturation ]] of his [[power ]] is given to him only as ''[[Gestalt]]'', that is to say in an exteriority in which this form is certainly more constituent than constituted, but in which it appears to him above all in a contrasting size that fixes it and a symmetry that inverts it which are in [[conflict ]] with the turbulence of the motions which the subject feels animating him. Thus, this ''Gestalt'' -- whose pregnancy should be regarded as linked to the [[species]], though its motor style remains unrecognizable -- by these twin aspects of its [[appearance]], symbolizes the [[mental ]] permanence of the ''I'', at the same time as it prefigures its [[alienating ]] destination; it is pregnant with the correspondences which unite the ''I'' with the statue in which man projects himself, with the phantoms which dominate him, or finally, with the [[automaton ]] in which, in an ambiguous relation, the world of his fabrication tends to find completion.
Indeed, where ''imagos'' are concerned -- whose veiled faces it is our privilege to see in [[outline ]] in our daily experience and the penumbra of symbolic efficacity<ref>Cf. Claude Lévi-[[Strauss]], ''[[Structural ]] [[Anthropology]]'', [[London ]] [[1968]], Chapter X.</ref> -- the mirror-image would seem to be the threshold of the [[visible ]] world, if we go by the mirror disposition which the ''imago of our own body'' presents in [[hallucinations ]] or [[dreams]], whether it concerns its individual features, or even its infirmities, or its [[object]]-projections; or if we notice the [[role ]] of the mirror [[apparatus ]] in the appearances of the ''[[double]]'', in which [[psychic ]] realities, however heterogeneous, [[manifest ]] themselves.
That a ''Gestalt'' should be capable of formative effects in the organism is attested by a piece of [[biological ]] experimentation which is itself so [[alien ]] to the [[idea ]] of psychic [[causality ]] that it cannot bring itself to formulate its results in these [[terms]]. It nevertheless recognizes that it is a necessary condition for the maturation of the gonad of the [[female ]] pigeon that it should see [[another ]] member of its species, of either sex; so sufficient in itself is this condition that the desired effect may be obtained merely by placing the individual within reach of the field of [[reflection ]] of a mirror. Similarly, in the [[case ]] of the migratory locust, the transition within a generation from the solitary to the gregarious form can be obtained by the exposure of the individual, at a certain stage, to the exclusively [[visual ]] [[action ]] of a similar image, provided it is animated by movements of a style sufficiently close to that characteristic of the species. Such facts are inscribed in an order of homeomorphic identification which would itself fall within the larger question of the meaning of beauty as formative and [[erotogenic]].
But facts of mimicry are no less instructive when conceived as cases of heteromorphic identification, inasmuch as they raise the problem of the [[significance ]] of [[space ]] for the [[living ]] organism; [[psychological ]] [[concepts ]] hardly seem less appropriate for shedding light on these matters than ridiculous attempts to reduce [[them ]] to the supposedly supreme law of [[adaptation]]. Let us only [[recall ]] how Roger [[Caillois ]] (who was then very young, and still fresh from his breach with the sociological [[school ]] of his [[training]]) illuminated the subject by using the term '<i>legendary psychasthenia</i>' to classify morphological mimicry as an [[obsession ]] with space in its derealizing effect.
We have ourselves shown in the social dialectic which [[structures ]] human knowledge as paranoiac<ref>See Jacques Lacan, ''Écrits, [[Paris ]] 1966'', pp. 111, 180.</ref> why human knowledge has greater [[autonomy ]] than [[animal ]] knowledge in relation to the field of force of [[desire]], but also why it is determined in the direction of that '[[lack ]] of reality' which [[surrealist ]] [[dissatisfaction ]] denounces in it. These reflections lead us to recognize in the spatial ensnarement exhibited in the mirror-phase, even before the social dialectic, the effect in man of an [[organic ]] insufficiency in his [[natural ]] reality -- in so far, that is, as we attach any meaning to the [[word ]] '[[nature]]'.
We are therefore led to [[regard ]] the function of the mirror-phase as a [[particular ]] case of the function of the ''imago'', which is to establish a relation of the organism to its reality -- or, as they say, of the ''Innenwelt'' to the ''[[Umwelt]]''.
In man, however, this relation to nature is impaired by a kind of dehiscence of the organism in the womb, a primordial Discord betrayed by the [[signs ]] of discomfort and motor inco-ordination of the neonatal months. The [[objective ]] [[notion ]] of the [[anatomical ]] [[incompleteness ]] of the pyramidal [[system ]] and likewise the [[presence ]] of certain humoral residues of the [[maternal ]] organism confirm the view we have formulated as the fact of a [[real ]] ''specific [[prematurity ]] of [[birth]]'' in man.
Let us note, incidentally, that this is a fact fully recognized by embryologists, by the term ''foetalization'', which determines the prevalence of the so-called superior apparatus of the neurax, and especially of the cortex, which [[psycho]]-surgical operations lead us to regard as the intra-organic mirror.
This development is lived as a [[temporal ]] dialectic which decisively projects the formation of the individual into [[history]]; the ''mirror-phase'' is a drama whose [[internal ]] impulse rushes from insufficiency to [[anticipation ]] and which manufactures for the subject, captive to the [[lure ]] of spatial identification, the succession of phantasies from a [[fragmented body]]-image to a form of its [[totality ]] which we shall call orthopaedic -and to the assumption, finally, of the armour of an alienating [[identity]], which will stamp with the rigidity of its structure the [[whole ]] of the subject's mental development. Thus, to break out of the circle of the ''Innenwelt'' into the ''Umwelt'' generates the endless quadrature of the inventorying of the ego.
==The Fragmented Body==
This fragmented body, the term for which I have introduced into our [[theoretical ]] [[frame ]] of reference, regularly manifests itself in dreams when the movement of the analysis encounters a certain level of [[aggressive ]] disintegration in the individual. It then appears in the form of disjointed limbs, or of those organs figured in exoscopy, growing wings and taking up arms for intestinal persecutions -- the very same that the visionary Hieronymus Bosch has fixed, for all time, in painting, as they climbed, in the fifteenth century, to the [[imaginary ]] zenith of modern man, but this form is even tangibly revealed at the organic level, in the lines of 'fragilization' which define the anatomy of [[phantasy]], as exhibited in the schizoid and spasmodic [[symptoms ]] of [[hysteria]].
Correlatively, the formation of the ''I'' is [[symbolized ]] in dreams by a fortress, or a stadium -- its inner arena and enclosure, surrounded by marshes and rubbish-tips, dividing it into two opposed fields of contest where the subject flounders in quest of the haughty and remote inner castle, which, in its shape (sometimes juxtaposed in the same scenario), symbolizes the ''id'' in startling fashion. Similarly, on the mental plane, we find realized the structures of fortified works, the [[metaphor ]] of which arises spontaneously, and as if issuing from the symptoms themselves, to describe the mechanisms of [[obsessional ]] [[neurosis ]] -- [[inversion]], [[isolation]], reduplication, cancellation and [[displacement]].
But were we to build on this merely [[subjective ]] data, and should this be detached from the experiential condition which would make us derive it from a language [[technique]], our theoretical enterprise would remain exposed to the charge of projecting itself into the unthinkable of an absolute subject. That is why we have to find in the [[present ]] hypothesis, grounded in a conjunction of objective data, the guiding grid for a ''method of symbolic reduction''.
It establishes in the ''defences of the ego'' a genetic order, in accordance with the [[wish ]] formulated by Miss [[Anna Freud]], in the first part of her great [[work]], and situates (as against a frequently expressed prejudice) [[hysterical ]] [[repression ]] and its returns at a more archaic stage than obsessional inversion and its isolating [[processes]], and the latter in turn as preliminary to paranoiac [[alienation]], which dates from the deflection of the mirror ''I'' into the social ''I''.
This moment in which the mirror-phase comes to an end inaugurates, by the identification with the ''imago'' of the fellow and the drama of primordial [[jealousy ]] (so well high-lighted by the school of Charlotte Bühler in the phenomenon of [[infantile ]] ''[[transitivism]]''), the dialectic which will henceforth link the I to socially elaborated situations.
It is this moment that decisively shakes the whole of human knowledge in the mediatization by the desire of the other, constitutes its [[objects ]] in an abstract equivalence by virtue of the competition of the other, and makes the ''I'' into that system for which every [[instinctual ]] thrust constitutes a [[danger]], even though it should correspond to a natural maturation -- the very normalization of this maturation [[being ]] henceforth dependent, in man, on a [[cultural ]] go-between, as exemplified, in the case of the [[sexual ]] object, by the [[Oedipus ]] complex.
In the light of this conception, the term primary [[narcissism]], by which analytical [[doctrine ]] denotes the libidinal investment characteristic of that moment, reveals in those who invented it the most profound [[awareness ]] of semantic latencies. But it also illuminates the [[dynamic ]] opposition of that [[libido ]] to sexual libido, which they tried to define when they invoked destructive and, indeed, [[death ]] [[instincts]], in order to explain the evident connection between [[narcissistic ]] libido and the alienating function of the ''I'', the [[aggressiveness ]] which it releases in any relation to the other, albeit that of the most Samaritan aid.
They were encountering that existential negativity whose reality is so warmly advocated by the contemporary philosophy of being and nothingness.
But unfortunately that philosophy grasps negativity only within the confines of a [[self]]-sufficiency of [[consciousness]], which, as one of its premisses, [[links ]] to the constitutive mis-recognitions of the ego, the [[illusion ]] of autonomy to which it entrusts itself. This flight of fancy, for all that it draws, to an unusual extent, on borrowings from psychoanalytic experience, culminates in the pretension to provide an [[existential psychoanalysis]].
At the climax of the historical attempt of a [[society ]] to refuse to recognize that it has any function other than the utilitarian one, and in the anguish of the individual confronting the concentrational form of the social bond which seems to arise to crown this attempt, [[existentialism ]] must be judged by the account it gives of the subjective dilemmas which it has indeed given rise to: the [[freedom ]] which never claims more authenticity than when it is within the walls of a prison; the [[demand ]] for commitment, expressing the [[impotence ]] of a pure consciousness to [[master ]] any situation; the voyeuristic-[[sadistic ]] [[idealization ]] of the sexual [[relationship]]; the [[personality ]] which realizes itself only in [[suicide]]; the awareness of the other which can be [[satisfied ]] only by [[Hegelian ]] [[murder]].
These propositions are denied by all our experience, inasmuch as it teaches us not to regard the ego as centred on the ''[[perception]]-consciousness system'', or as organized by the 'reality [[principle]]' -- a principle which is the expression of a scientistic prejudice most hostile to the dialectic of knowledge. Our experience shows that we should start instead from the ''function of [[misrecognition]]'' which characterizes the ego in all its structures, so markedly articulated by Miss Anna Freud. For, if the ''[[Verneinung]]'' represents the patent form of that function, its effects will, for the most part, remain [[latent]], so long as they are not illuminated by a light reflected in the plane of fatality, where the ''id'' is revealed.
We can thus understand the inertia characteristic of the [[formations ]] of the ''I'', and find there the most extensive definition of neurosis -- even as the ensnarement of the subject by the situation which gives us the most general [[formula ]] for [[madness]], not only the madness which lies behind the walls of asylums, but also the madness which deafens the world with its sound and fury.
The sufferings of neurosis and [[psychosis ]] are for us the school of the passions of the soul, just as the scourge of the psychoanalytic scales, when we compute the tilt of their [[threat ]] to entire communities, gives us the [[index ]] of the deadening of the passions of the city.
At this junction of nature and [[culture ]] which is so persistently scanned by modern anthropology, psychoanalysis alone recognizes this [[knot ]] of imaginary servitude which [[love ]] must always undo again, or sever.
For such a task we place no reliance on altruistic [[feeling]], we who lay bare the aggressiveness that underlies the activity of the philanthropist, the idealist, the pedagogue, and even the reformer.
In the recourse of subject to subject which we preserve, psychoanalysis can accompany the [[patient ]] to the ecstatic [[limit ]] of the 'Thou art that', wherein is revealed to him the cipher of his mortal destiny, but it is not in our mere power as practitioners to bring him to that point where the real journey begins.
( 1949 -- ''translated'' by Jean Roussel)
* [ Linkcom/ Liability Insurance NY] ==See Also==* [[Le stade du miroir comme formateur de la fonction du Je]]* [[Mirror stage]]
[[Category:Works by Jacques Lacan]]
[[Category:Jacques Lacan]]
* "[[Le stade du miroir comme formateur de la fonction du je, telle qu’elle nous est révélée, dans l’expérience psychanalytique]]." ''[[Écrits]]''. Paris: Seuil, 1966: 93-100 ["[[The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience]]." Trans. [[Alan Sheridan]]. ''[[Écrits: A Selection]]''. London: Tavistock, 1977; New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1977: 1-7].
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