Mirror stage | Sunday Observer
Behind the Mask

Mirror stage

19 September, 2021

We are going through a period called mirror stage and that is referred to as the imaginary stage in Lacanian theoretical teachings.

The attempt to identify the subject itself in the mirror stage described by Lacan is the process of ego building. In the mirror stage, the child engages in a primary identification with himself, in the same way that in symbolic order secondary identification takes place.

The relationship a child makes with his or her own image in a mirror is imaginary. This imaginations influence all the subsequent developments in him.

The child sees himself as a gestalt in a mirror. Until now, he was dependent on others and did not see his body as a whole. Thus it is narcissistic for him to perceive his body.

The child has so far had a heterogeneous disorganised understanding of himself. That is because he did not yet have a consistent understanding of his body or coordination of his senses. Seeing himself in mirror, he shifts from heterogeneity to homogeneity and it gives him an organised perception.

How does the child in front of a mirror accept his image? He thinks he sees a real image.

The so-called true image is an ‘other’ to him (here the term Other does not refer simply to “other people”.

As Dylan Evans concisely explains, ‘the other’ is both another subject, in his radical alterity and inassimilable uniqueness, and also the symbolic order which mediates the relationship with that other subject.)

The child identifies with this other. So, ‘the other’ in the mirror is an illusion. He then realises that the image he sees is not a real image but only a reflection. In this context, he understands it as his own image, but realises that it is fictional.

However, this is how the child comes to identify with the whole body instead of being identified as a fragmented body in the mirror stage. This process is very important for the future mental development of the child.

A person who has not passed the mirror stage properly will have to face the problem of not being able to identify as a whole body throughout his life. Violence is associated with that problem and it is a temptation to oppose that imaginary image (Re ad the Death Drive by R.B. Buthbi).

For Lacan, the longing to dismember the body is the desire to return to the state it was in before it was imagined. This is present in any subject and is self destructive.

The desire to have one’s body dismembered is fulfilled by other substitutes. That is, instead of destroying oneself one destroys something external. There are times when this is accomplished even in a dream.

You may see in a dream that your body will disintegrate and float in the sky. This mental motive can be identified in the tendency to make violent films as well as to watch them. When we see people being torn to pieces in film, violent acts are shown in which, we are satisfied with the desire to return to the pre-imaginary stage. Lacan describes the paintings of fifteenth-century artist Jerome Bosch and explains that such a state of mind is evident in the paintings.

So far we have been talking about the role that the mirror plays in building our subjectivity. We discussed at the outset that the cinematic spectatorship we are talking about is similar to building subjectivity. This means that the spectator sees himself in the movie screen just as a child sees himself in a mirror.

Although he is not physically on screen, it does happen by identifying with a certain character in the film. In brief, on screen he sees his own desire.

We find an opportunity to make the above point clear in the ‘Harry Potter’ stories.

The first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (which was made into a film as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), reads about an amazing mirror called ‘the Mirror of Erised’ at Hogwarts school of magic. Harry Potter stood in front of this mirror and stared at it for hours.

There he sees his dead parents and he sees himself with his parents. Surprised, Harry Potter takes his friend Ron and makes him to see it.

But Ron sees in the mirror that he has won the trophy at the school’s magical game of ‘Quidditch’. Ron is also seen in the mirror as the school’s head prefect. Ron sees it as a prelude to the realisation of his dreams.

They raise the issue with Dumbledore, the school’s principal. Dumbledore explains that what they are seeing there is nothing but illusion. In fact Harry Potter as well as Ron sees their own fantasies in the mirror. That are, the mirror reveals the desire of both of them.

The reality of taking the cinema screen as a mirror is same. Thus the cinema screen is the opportunity for the spectator to see his own desire.

The simple fact here is that the cinema screen itself is not a realistic phenomenon. It is a representation of reality. Acting of actors as well as actresses is not a live experience for us. Dialogue and music is a recorded secondary expression. In brief a cinematic experience is an illusion.

I will postpone writing for more detailed commentary on this juncture. It will be based on Asoka Handhagama’s cinematic work.

To be continued