Eric Chen
Dr. Kate C. W. Liu
Selective Readings of Contemporary Literary Theories

14 Oct. 2002

Jacque Lacan’s “The Mirror Stage as Formative of
the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic experience”

An Outline

. Questions:

  1. What is “the mirror stage?”
  2. How does Lacan develop his dialectic in the essay by interweaving such key terms as imago, Ideal-I, and Gestalt?

. Key terms:

   captation, fragmented body, Gestalt, Ideal-I, identification, imago, Innerwelt, libido, meconnaissance, mirror stage, other, primary narcissism, subject, Umwelt (see here for explanation)

. Main idea of the essay:

   The mirror stage establishes a critical phase in the development of the ego. Through the human infant’s identification of the image which is reflected in a mirror or represented to the infant through primary caregiver, Lacan suggests that such a recognition “produces a psychic response that gives rise to the mental representation of an ‘I’.”


. Among the “Real,” the “Imaginary,” and the “Symbolic,” three critical stages that Lacan proposes as “equally important” in human’s psychic movement to the “formulation of subjectivity,” “the Imaginary originates in the human being’s fascination with form” (1281).

A.     The infant’s recognition of its image in the mirror composes “the founding moment of the Imaginary” (1281).

1.      Different reactions between human infant and animal (the monkey) toward the reflective images in the mirror display the infant’s recognition of his own image in the mirror.

2.      Lacan regards the recognition as an “identification,” a “transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image—whose predestination to this phase-effect is sufficiently indicated by the use, in analytic theory, of the ancient term imago” (1286).

B.     What the infant identifies with is not really him or herself, but a specular image.

1.      The specular image is something fictional, an other, with which the infant identifies.

2.      By following the imago, a fictional direction, the infant’s self begins to take hold in the mirror stage.

3.      Contrary to the infant’s “turbulent movements” that it feels as an animating force (1286), the imago with which the infant identifies has a united and stable quality.

4.      The infant experiences the imago as a Gestalt, a meaningful form.

5.      The Gestalt “symbolizes the mental permanence of the I, at the same time as it prefigures its alienating destination…” (1286). The “alienating destination” can be regarded as the “Ideal-I,” which the infant quests  through its whole lifetime to correspond with its wholeness but can never be fulfilled.

C.     By means of some biologistic notions in his case about the development of identity, Lacan reveals the relation between an infant and “nature” (1287-88).

1.      He thinks that the relation between an infant and “nature” is “inadequate and unsettling from the outset.” The infant’s “earliest movements are marked with insufficiency.” Thus, Lacan indicates that the human beings are a “premature” species.

2.      “Our early insufficiency leads us to experience the Mirror Stage as the anticipation of an integrated, sufficient self.”

(from )

. Conclusion:

   In the essay, Lacan develops a dialectic, proposing the mirror stage as a phase for the formulation of the I. Through identifying itself with the specular image, the infant constitutes its self in its quest for the Ideal-I, experiencing the mirror stage as the anticipation of a sufficient and stable self, though the anticipation can never be satisfied.


Works Cited:

Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism.  Eds. Vincent B. Leitch, et al. NY: Norton, 2001.

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