Saturday, October 29, 2005

Lacan's "The Mirror Stage"

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Lacon begins his essay with a definition of the “mirror stage”. This is the stage of childhood development when the child is first able to recognize his own image in the mirror, even though the child’s brain is no more developed than a chimp’s brain. The chimp, however, quickly tires of his reflection, while the human child sees the mirror as a continuous interacting stimulus. It is through this special stimulus that the child begins identification and the development of the self. The reflection of the child in the mirror serves as an example of Gestalt, the concept that objects embody certain qualities of the viewer.

Lacon claims that the function of the mirror-stage is to establish a relation between the organism and its reality – the same function that all images serve. The mirror is the reflection of the self just as much as art is a reflection of the artist and his world. During the mirror stage, the child begins to see himself as a subject and object simultaneously, a concept similar to the “reflexive” part of speech. Thus the child sees not only himself in the mirror, but also the way that others see him. The mirror begins his initiation into the social world, with all of the self-consciousness and insecurities that come with it. His word, méconnaissance, cleverly expresses self-knowledge as it literally translates as “knowing me.” While the mirror stage may seem idealistically revelatory in this regard, it may also be the beginning of psychopathology. No matter how much this child will want to know himself, he cannot completely do that. And suppose, years later, the child sees something about himself that he does not like. This leads to self-loathing and a desire to change himself into something he can never be in order to satisfy others or himself.

Lacon’s final statement is a quite poignant comment on the limits of psychoanalysis, as well as all other clinical practices. As clinicians, we can help our patient know himself and his disease, but we cannot go back in time to correct it. We can only perform an intervention at the primary, secondary, or tertiary levels. Just as scar tissue remains in the body after medical procedures, the mind also remains scarred after intervention. The best that we can hope to do as clinical psychologists/psychiatrists is to expose the disorder to the patient so that he may come to understand it and cope with it. The disorder will not go away; it is naïve to think that it will. Psych disorders are preventable precisely because their origins can be traced. But this can only be done through the benefit of hindsight, and there is no guarantee that if a different path had been taken the disorder would not have occurred anyway or that a different psychopathology would have emerged altogether.

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