The mirror phase- In your BLOG…….

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.

  1.  

Swans Reflecting Elephants, 1937 (oil on canvas)

Fig. 1 Swans reflecting elephants (1936)

Dali

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?).

Summary

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.

.TheDifficultCrossingReneMagritte

 

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.

Bond Films

James-Bond-007-Quantum-Of-Solace-Free-Download-PC-Game

Fig. 3  Bond on a game cover (2016)

quantum-of-solace-gemma-arterton-strawberry-fields-bond-girl

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.

 Illustrations

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].

References

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/

 

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Project: The Mirror Phase.

  1. OCA Introduction
  • Lacan introduced the mirror phase as important to a child’s understanding of who it is.
  • At a particular age a child can recognise himself in a mirror and see this as being a ‘self’
  • But, the child knows he is truly himself, so the image set’s up a confusion- who am I?
  • Lacan’s ‘body as gestalt’ refers to this confusion – with respect to what is body and what is ground….

http://www.afn.org/~gestalt/fignd.htm explains the figure/ground idea.

 

When the child contrasts what it sees in the mirror with its ideal self  it sees that it is imperfect and this brings with it a feeling that it must attain an ‘unattainable ideal’.  Both advertising and broadcast media use the Lacanian ideas of the image when they show us images onto which we are invited to project ourselves (Haveland, 2009 p. 71).

  1. The mirror phase as formative of the function of the I      (by Jacques Lacan)
  • The mirror phase ‘sheds light’ on the ‘I’ as it relates to psychology
  • Lacan begins with a child who at a certain age, around six months, recognises his image in the mirror
  • He can’t yet walk or stand, but can transfix his gaze on his reflection.
  • This phase lasts until around 18 months.

(Lacan, 2003, p.620)

  • This phase seems to Lacan to objectify a ‘primordial’ I, different to that I which defines itself via ‘the other’, and that I which follows when language is attained.
  • This form is the ‘ideal I’ and represents the ego defined by a sort of fiction, rather than as it is later-through social concerns. This fictional ideal form will always remain unobtainable for the individual.

The body as gestalt

  • So the subjects idealised form is given to him in an exterior image, but also one which is of a different size and inverted with respect to the real self.

 

  • gestalt defn: something in which the total is more than the sum of all its parts (Cambridge dictionary, 2017)
  • This gestalt I both defines the subject but also alienates it (through inversion/size difference) as man seems alienated by statues, phantoms, and automatons- with which it also seems to be surrounded.

 This is quite difficult writing to understand

 Lacan discusses a biological situation/experiment where the full pigeon cannot grow (in this case it’s ovary) unless it sees another pigeon – and it’s own reflection is sufficient. This suggests that the ‘whole’ requires more than just the one pigeon…it requires additional images….. which may be the gestalt element of this example….

(Lacan, 2003, p.621)

  • Lacan seems to suggest that man has shown in ‘the social dialectic’, that he often thinks in a way that is different to reality…..eg. the surrealists…. And that the mirror phase is like a ‘spatial ensnarement’ and is a prefigurement of the importance that a lack of reality may have in defining who we are….
  • Lacan states ….‘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..’
  • This development changes through time, and includes ‘insufficiency’ , ‘anticipation’, and ( similar to the spatial fragmentation idea) ‘phantasies’ (whose root means ‘a making visible’) such as body-image problems and ‘alienating identity’
  • He seems to suggest that within this mirror stage lies the beginnings of all man’s psychological problems…..

The fragmented body

  •  The ‘fragmented body’ is common in dreams, when the body may be broken up, or bits sprout wings (like in Bosch paintings, or in the fractured personality of phantasy or hysteria)
  • In dreams the I is often pictured as a fortified castle, and it’s surrounded by a battlefield of difficulties. The id is like the inner castle- the safety, and the subject tries to reach it in safety
  • Similarly in mental life the neuroses of ‘inversion,, isolation, reduplication, cancellation and displacement’ are like the fortifications around the safety of the castle.

(Lacan, 2003, p.622)

 

  • Lacan warns that the idea needs to be grounded in experience and objectivity and this is established as ‘defence of the ego’. Various stages of the building up of the I are associated with different neuroses…
  • The mirror phase ends when the identification of the image in the mirror is ended by the development of the I through a social setting, and here all man’s knowledge is built around the desire for others and by maturation of bodily drives – which come under the pressure of social systems/order.
  • There seems also to be at this stage a libido which is driven toward destruction and death (Freud’s death instinct?) – this was probably the existential idea of ‘being and nothingness’

Existentialism

  • But existentialism is not quite the same-and existential analysis is not the same either (the writing here is particular difficult to fathom), as it’s aims are simply a lack of freedom, lack of personal power, suicide and murder…….

(Lacan, 2003, p.623)

  • Sufferings and neurosis are linked closely to the soul

(Lacan,2003, p.624)

This text was very difficult to decipher. The wording is very difficult to understand, and is not clear. I do believe that a large proportion of this is likely due to the time at which this was written- when the ‘democratisation’ of knowledge through clear prose was not prioritised. In contrast the philosopher, Peter Singer in his latest book, suggests that that although some philosopher colleagues still use  difficult language to explain difficult ideas, he believes that even the most difficult ideas, if they are of any value, should be translatable into simple words (Singer, 2017) . I tend to agree with this view.

I did some further reading around the subject of the mirror phase to solidify my understanding.

  1. The subject– Kaja Silverman

 

  • Lacan’s writing is famously remote, and his terms often shift meaning (see my paragraph above). The mirror stage is part of the imaginary order, preceding the ‘symbolic order’.

(Silverman, 1999 p.340)

  • Between 6-8 months the child’s view of itself in the mirror prompts an understanding of itself as other
  • The reflection is in some way more ideal than the self, and is the ideal self.
  • The child is thus alienated from himself as he can never fully know this image.
  • This image is similar to other items that he identifies with but are not self- eg. the mother, her breast etc…..
  • The child ambivalently likes the ideal image but also hates it because he is alienated from it. This ambivalence between binary oppositions characterises the imaginary order completely.
  • Images play an important role in the imaginary phase- making the visual image of film (and photography?) interesting in this respect.

(Silverman,1999, p. 344)

 

  • There is a link between the mirror phase and the later symbolic oedipal stage- they involve the child viewing another ideal subject and feeling ambivalence towards them. In fact the imaginary phase continues alongside the symbolic one, both of them shaping our characters.
  • The idea of the ‘ideal’ image during the mirror stage suggests that there is some cultural and values influence even here……
  • So the child is influenced early on by cultural matters… eg mum’s influence, the sorts of toys it plays with etc……
  • The child breaks out of the imaginary (ambivalent stage) stage through language, and into the symbolic stage.

(Silverman, 1999, p. 345)

References

Cambridge dictionary, (2017) Gestalt- a definition.  (website) at URL http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/gestalt (accessed 12 July 2017)

Silverman , K (1999). ‘The subject’. In visual culture: A reader. Evans, J and Hall, S (eds), London. SAGE Publications.   p. 340-355

Haveland, P. (2009)  Visual Studies 1 Understanding Visual Culture. Barnsley : Open College of the Arts. P.71-71

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.

Singer. P (2017)  Ethics in the real world (audiobook) at URL http://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Non-fiction/Ethics-in-the-Real-World-  (accessed 12 July 2017)