CriticaLink | Lacan: The Mirror Stage | Guide to pp. 3-4, P 13-16

I myself have shown in the social dialectic. . .

In "Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis"--the essay that follows "The MIrror Stage" in the English translation of Ecrits--Lacan develops some of the implications of his concept of the mirror stage. It is important to understand that the mirror stage establishes a relationship beteen the subject and the image--the Ideal-I--and not an equivalence or unity of the two. Throughout the subject's life, the experience of the physical sensations and emotional impulses arising from the organic body remains something different from the subject's "I" enshrined in the image of the self. In the words of the French poet Rimbaud, to whom Lacan alludes in "Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis" (Ecrits 23), "I is an other." The mirror stage lays the foundation for what Lacan calls "paranoiac knowledge" (Ecrits 17). All humans are paranoid insofar as we are haunted by the sense of an "other" who influences our thoughts and actions. We need the image of ourselves in order to establish relationships with other people and in order to negotiate the physical and social reality of our world--in our imaginary map of the world, our "I" is the "dot" that indicates our location. This need arises from the fact that as infants we cannot fend for ourselves, and this sense of "organic insufficiency" persists throughout our lives. In this respect, we are also "haunted" by nature, by the physical vulnerability and mortality against which our self-concepts, relationships, and myriad strategies of personal care and defense must ultimately fail to protect us.

As the "dot" on our mental map of reality, the image of our "I" serves as a bridge between the internal world--the German word is Innenwelt--and external reality--the Umwelt, which also translates to "environment".

Unlike many animals, who soon after birth are able to move about and find food on their own, human beings are born "prematurely". Our development into relatively independent individuals is at once a physiological process of maturation in which we gain coordination and strength, but it is also a psychical process which confers on us the internal images which we use to orient ourselves in our reality. In Lacan's view, this psychical development does not so much overcome our initial helplessnesss as it gives us ways to cope with what Lacan calls the "dehiscence at the heart of the organism" which persists throughout our existence. The word "dehiscence" has particular applications in the fields of botany and physiology: it means to gape open or to splay, as when a seed pod bursts or when an ovary ruptures to release the egg. Significantly, these are stages in developmental processes, and for Lacan the term is not strictly metaphorical, but refers to the primordial nature of the human subject as physically uncoordinated and psychically split.

Lacan again turns to the domain of biology to claim that the human brain contains an organic component that serves to register the human organism's image of itself--a mirror inside the mind.

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