CriticaLink | Lacan: The Mirror Stage | Overview
The idea of the "mirror stage" is an important early component in Lacans critical reinterpretation of the work of Freud. Drawing on work in physiology and animal psychology, Lacan proposes that human infants pass through a stage in which an external image of the body (reflected in a mirror, or represented to the infant through the mother or primary caregiver) produces a psychic response that gives rise to the mental representation of an "I". The infant identifies with the image, which serves as a gestalt of the infant's emerging perceptions of selfhood, but because the image of a unified body does not correspond with the underdeveloped infant's physical vulnerability and weakness, this imago is established as an Ideal-I toward which the subject will perpetually strive throughout his or her life.
For Lacan, the mirror stage establishes the ego as fundamentally dependent upon external objects, on an other. As the so-called "individual" matures and enters into social relations through language, this "other" will be elaborated within social and linguistic frameworks that will give each subject's personality (and his or her neuroses and other psychic disturbances) its particular characteristics.
Lacans ideas about the formation of the "I" developed over time in conjunction with his other elaborations of Freudian theory. He presented a paper on the mirror stage on August 3, 1936, at a conference of the International Psychoanalytical Association in Marienbad.(It is to this conference that Lacan is referring in the first sentence of the essay). Thirteen years later, on July 17, 1949, at a conference of the International Psychoanalytic Congress in Zurich, Lacan delivered another version of the mirror stage paper that later in the same year appeared in print in the Revue Francais de Psychanalyse. The essay was reprinted in the French publication of Ecrits in 1966. Jean Roussel prepared the first translation into English, which appeared in New Left Review 51 (September/October 1968): 63-77. This publication in English is significant, as it contributed to the introduction of Lacanian theory, and specifically the model of the mirror stage, into leftist intellectual circles in Britain at the time when cultural studies was emerging as a field. A new English translation by Alan Sheridan heads Ecrits: A Selection, which was published in 1977.