Lacan’s Talk on “The Mirror Stage”

In his talk on The Mirror Stage as Formation of the I Function, Jacque Lacan talks about the relationship between identity, love, and freedom.

Identity Formation in the Mirror Stage

"Mirror Effect," by George Hodan. For Lacan, identity is formed in the mirror stage.
“Mirror Effect,” by George Hodan.

Identity formation and initial alienation is something he refers to as “The Mirror Stage;” so called because it is characterized by an infant viewing himself in the mirror, and thinking of himself as a distinct whole; the exterior visual form of which comes to symbolize to himself his person; his “I.” This process, in Lacanian terms, could be described as unconsciously linguistic; that is, imagistic. The child, at around six months of age, associates with his sense of identity, the image that he sees of himself in the mirror.

The Alienative Jubilation

This initial alienation of self from everything else that is, is accompanied by a sense of jubilation. And one could certainly imagine why that would be the case. Surely, to the perceptual world of an infant, his mother, father, and other towering figures which exert their wills upon the surrounding existence, must seem like awesome gods of humbling power and presence. To then realize that his point of perspective is the center of a nascent divinity of his own is surely a very understandable cause for the deepest kind of jubilance.

Lacan and the Born Again Experience

When you take this insight into Lacan’s discussion (further on) about the prematurity of human birth, you can see that there is a potentially life-long precedent of being “born again” that could be imagined to be set in the process of initial alienation. This recurs, generally, in several stages throughout life, although, like bullets fired on a windy day, the direction and trajectory of the souls may become increasingly spread out the further along their respective journeys they are to be compared. The historicity of temporal egoistic experience is what accounts for this spread. The first birth is physical. The second – psycho-alienative. Perhaps the third is social; and this one is characterized, in Lacan’s own words by “cultural intervention,” which brings about “normalization,” and “maturation.” It is in this stage that primary narcissism becomes transformed into obsessional or hysterical exterior cathexis.

Love and Identity as Freedom from the Dystopia

This process of self-reinventing cathexis becomes the way out of the Nietzschian-Heideggerian dystopic vision of a last-man utilitarian social system which he allows us to briefly glimpse near the end. The keystone thought of the talk occurs three short paragraphs from the end: “…psychoanalysis alone recognizes the knot of imaginary servitude that love must always untie anew or sever.” The “passions of the city” are an anarchic force in which the imaginary order is relentlessly smashed and reimagined over and over and over again. The new narcissistic ecstasy of reimagining the “Thou art that” again and again, are obsessively and hysterically exteriorized over and over, relentlessly tearing down the gates that the enframing seeks to impose.