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 the contemporary media make use of Lacan’s ideas and show how.
Fig. 1 Swans reflecting elephants (1936)
o Dali was a surrealist artist who was very interested in psychology, the subconscious, and the work of psychologists such as Freud and Lacan.
o He had knowledge of Lacan’s doctoral thesis ‘On Paranoid Psychosis and its Relation to Personality’ (Constantanidou, no date)
o Many of his works are full of strange things, and weirdly juxtaposed objects (as may happen in dreams-representing the ‘unknown’ subconscious?), often over a background of his childhood home in Catalonia (representing the ‘known’ ground/conscious?)
The painting (fig.1)
o This painting is strongly split in two vertically by a horizontal line- the reflective surface of a lake/watering hole.
o This line is the mirror. Above the line tonal values are lighter, colour saturation is lower, and objects are less focussed than below the line (as if they are further away- see aerial perspective).
o Perhaps they are metaphorically? do they represent the infant or younger child ? Certainly in reality one would expect the above relationships to be reversed in a reflected image…..
- The sky is full of fluffy clouds- they have little explicit shape, but remind one of a human form- perhaps the young child who is somewhat unformed and chubby, and non-threatening. An obelisk on the viewer’s left has similar characteristics.
o The swans are an object symbolic of grace, faithfulness between a single pair – and the story of the ‘ugly duckling’, the ugly infant becomes a beautiful swan when they grow up.
o This picture may take the beautiful swan back towards a more powerful and untamed beast- the elephant, who is symbolic of Power, and Memory ( in some respects then the loss of innocence), and a very social existence . In Dali’s time the elephant was also representative of foreign lands/strangeness because global travel was not common.
- These elephants may represent the end of the mirror phase- the identification through another image is ended, and followed by the development of the I through a social setting, signified by desire for others, maturation of bodily drives, and controlled by the pressure of social systems/order.
- One swan seems to have strayed into the other side of the picture and is being devoured by snakes- a horrific scene.
- The artist can be seen in the picture, somewhat camouflaged, and turning away from the action as if it is better not to look- it is frightening. His shadow- a reflection of his adult self is mis-shapen and distorted (showing the paranoia of the adult human?).
One reading of this painting might be along the lines of Lacan’s mirror-phase. Its artistic elements visually correspond to the different phases of the human, through body, imaginary and symbolic. The gentle swans are the baby at the mirror stage. Prior to this, as an ugly duckling, they are reliant on mum, they are dominated by fundamentals such as maternal care, and their own bodies (eg. Defecation).
In the transitory mirror stage the swans see their reflections, and begin to identify with themselves through another, something not of themselves….. this being the sight of their reflection or their siblings. Their reflection symbolises the difficult stage of their psychological development, through both the imaginary and symbolic stages, when they lose innocence, and become adults, with all the associated psychological dangers and paranoias. Many do not make the crossing without a significant amount of damage-shown by the devouring snakes.
Fig. 2 The difficult crossing (1926)
- Margritte was a key member of the surrealist movement.
- Mirrors are not explicitly shown in the picture (fig. 2) , but the many holes in the boards are mirror like, and the eye seems to look at them as if they are a mirror.
- The surrealist image in toto may echo the mirror phase- in this phase Lacan postulates that we become ensnared by an image of ‘the other’ and that this lack of reality (an imaginary phase) has importance in defining who we are (Lacan, 2003, p.621).
- The eye (a biloquet indicating the perception of humans) is atop a sort of standard lamp base. This base has no developed limbs. Is this the undeveloped form of the child – a ‘primordial’ I , which like the Freudian ‘id’ is defined through itself only?
- This base is strongly reminiscent of the ‘optical illusions’ such as ‘old woman or young beauty ?’ or ‘Two candlesticks or 2 faces ?’. Here we see a reference to how we perceive, which can change…. Over small and large time scales. We may see the unformed infant, or we may begin to see a human facial profile emerging against the background. This may reference the idea of gestalt – the whole being more than the sum of the parts.
- The eye represents our ability to perceive, and it is looking (so is the pigeon). This looking references the mirror phase when the child begins to identify itself in a more imaginary way through the image of others……this ‘ideal I’ represents Freud’s ego
- An adult fully formed hand is seen -this is separated from the infant. This represents the fragmented body, very common in dreams where the subconscious emerges (Lacan, 2003, p.622).
- Full bodily differentiation will occur at the adult/adolescent stage when the psychological stage is dominated by the ‘symbolic’- we are defined and constrained by social phenomenon (Freud’s superego).
- The hand clutches a red pigeon which looks at the strange infant- is this the pigeon which must see itself or another in order to fully develop sexually ? (Lacan, 2003 p. 621)
- Danger is shown by the rough sea, lightning, and a ship in distress- symbolic of the vulnerability of humans against the vagaries of nature. This scene represents those fortifications and difficulties which surround the safer ‘id’ within dreams. It might also represent the difficulties and neuroses of psychological development, which Lacan says can result in ‘inversion,, isolation, reduplication, cancellation and displacement’ within ourselves (Lacan, 2003 p. 622). This development into the psychologically complete (but damaged) adult is the ‘difficult crossing’ suggested in the title, and visible is the seascape.
3.James Bond in the Film ‘Quantum of Solace’.
Film and psychology
- Lacan’s theories are particularly suitable for the analysis of Media such as film, especially his triad of real, imaginary and symbolic stages of psychic development in the human.
- Media deals with ideas such as representation, perception, the subject, and meaning in the same way as pyschoanalysts (such as Freud and Lacan), and semiologists (like Saussure).
- Cinema acts like an embodiment of the experience of the mirror stage (Loos, 2002)
- The film screen acts like the mirror in which the infant sees his ‘ideal’ self in the mirror stage.
Fig. 3 Bond on a game cover (2016)
Fig. 4 Strawberry Fields (2016)
- James Bond in the successful movie franchise represents the successful hero or ideal man
- The films use methods which convey both imaginary meaning and symbolic meaning.
- The Bond films are male dominated (just like the psychological theories of Lacan and Freud), and very phallic- men dominate the action, and men are most likely to watch them
- The male viewer sees a hero figure on the screen (Bond), just as the infant sees the idealised / non fragmented image in the mirror. This image is more ideal than the ordinary viewer, or the fragmented infant body, respectively.
Bond as hero
Bond is handsome, tall, swarthe (fig 3), intelligent and brave. Bond fights the bad guy and wins, attracts the beautiful girls, and consummates the relationship within hours (fig. 4). He uses big guns and modern technology. All these attributes make him ideal, and enviable- but it’s certainly beyond the average male cinema-goer’s mundane lifestyle (I wish!).
We obtain meaning through the film by identifying with him as the hero Bond, but there is a gap in the connection- which causes some ambivalence and tension in our minds. In Lacanian terms, it is useful to think of the images in the film- the women, the cars, the guns etc… as of the imaginary phase (as when the infant sees his reflection). In Saussurian terms they are the signifiers. The meanings of the images/signifiers are highly cultural, and correspond to the Lacanian symbolic stage, and the Saussurian signified-
3.idealised / non fragmented image in the mirror. This image is more ideal than the ordinary viewer, or the fragmented infant body respectively.
Bond as hero
Bond is handsome, tall, swarthe, intelligent and brave. Bond fights the bad guy and wins, attracts the beautiful girls, and consummates the relationship within hours. He uses big guns and modern technology. All these attributes make him ideal, and enviable, but it’s certainly beyond the average male cinema-goer’s mundane lifestyle. We obtain meaning through the film by identifying with him as the hero Bond, but there is a gap in the connection- which causes some ambivalence and tension in our minds. In Lacanian terms, it is useful to think of the images in the film- the women, the cars, the guns etc… as of imaginary phase (as when the infant sees his reflection). In Saussurian terms they are the signifiers. The meanings of the images/signifiers are highly cultural, and correspond to the Lacanian symbolic stage, and the Saussurian signified.
Fig. 1 Dali, S. Swans Reflecting Elephants, (1937) (oil on canvas) at Dali, Salvador (1904-89) / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images [accessed 12th July 2017].
Fig. 2 Magritte, R. A difficult crossing (1926) (oil on canvas) at http://www.rene-magritte.com/difficult-crossing [accessed 12th July 2017].
Fig. 3 rgmechanics Bond game advert (2016) (film still) online at URL http://www.rgmechanics.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/James-Bond-007-Quantum-Of-Solace-Free-Download-PC-Game.jpg [accessed 12th July 2017].
Fig. 4 Brannon, A. Strawberry Fields(2016) (film still) online at URL http://eyeonbond.com/2016/01/03/strawberry-fields/ %5Baccessed 12th July 2017].
Constantanidou, D. (no date) When Lacan Met Dali: Lacan’s “Paranoid” Reading of Saussure’s Theory of the Sign online at URL file:///D:/Lacan%20and%20Dali.pdf [accessed 12th July 2017]
Lacan, J. (2003) ‘The Mirror-Phase as Formative of the Function of the I’ In Harrison, C. and Wood,P. (eds). Art in Theory 1900-2000. Oxford. Blackwell Publications. p.320-324.
Loos, A. (2002) symbolic/real/imaginary online at URL https://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/mediatheory/keywords/symbolicrealimaginary/