The Self and Self-reflected

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The Self and Self-Reflected
Sam Hickson
In this essay I shall be looking at how psychoanalyse produces internal mental states and to look
critically at the way psychoanalytic ideas have provided insight to the formulation of the self and its
parallels within art. I shall primarily be focusing on Jacques Lacan’s Mirror Stage essay.
The History of the Text
The French Psychoanalysis Jacques Lacan first introduced the conception of the Mirror stage in 1936.
Lacan 35 and still in analysis training and was presenting a paper entitled ‘le stage du mirior’. In the
second session of his reading, Ernst Jones abruptly brought the presentation to a stop after only
10mins. There where no records of this or reviews only what we read in Lacan’s notes. The work was
defined as a “evasive conduct” which was unacceptable by Ernst Kris. From this point Lacan’s mirror
stage was not brought forward again for another 13 years and actually Lacan disappeared from the
Psychoanalytic scene altogether. The text went through multiple changes through out the years; think
of it not as a final work but a stop along the way of which this small essay makes up a part of the
greater whole. I shall be looking at his work delivered at the 16 th International Congress of
Psychoanalysis in Zurich in 1949. The text used Sigmund Freud’s work “the Pleasure principle” as a
point of departure specifically that of Narcissism. What Lacan did was use a post Freudian idea to
explain the origins of the ego. In Freud’s text he was clear in his understanding of the ego, but does
not talk of what brings about this ego into being.
The Text itself
Through the physical evolution of the Homo sapiens ie, the cranial enlargement and narrowing of the
hips to allow us to walk on two feet demands humans are brought into the world prematurely and
mental development takes place outside the womb, unlike such animals as horses etc. The first six
months of a human’s development are crucial. Mental development and our primary understanding of
ourselves takes place. Lacan called this a state of Ontological retardation, in which the child’s
biological factor of premature birth that accounts for discord dependency of the other, specifically
meaning the mother. The child has no concept of a self and sees no difference between itself and the
‘a unified ego is not present from birth but has to be developed. There are though auto-erotic drives…
eg, thumb sucking.” (B,Benvenuto & R,Kennedy-1986 Free Association Press-p49)
Before the mirror stage, functions are fragmented – post mirror stage they see their whole gestalt.
Prior to this new found (whole body) love of self, he was only ‘auto erotic’ in love with fragments of
This reflex Freud’s narcissus stage in which the body is taken as a love object. This is the initial
understanding of the fragmented self, which has no concept of the body map, only what is before the
eyes and feels through suckling.
Ernst Haeckle talks of the process but in a linguistic sense. One that priorities the language as the
transferring medium of which a state of enlightenment is brought about.
'the new born infant has no consciousness. Preyer has shown that it is only developed after the child
has begun to speak; for a long time it speaks of itself in the third person. In the important moment
when it first pronounces the word 'I', when the feeling of self becomes clear, we have the beginning of
self consciousness, and of the antithesis to the non-ego.’ (E.Haeckel, Watts & Co, London, 1929,
p. 151)
Speech also allows the human being to reveal him or herself as ‘self’ but this being revealed through
speech is always twofold, since it comprises a revealed being as well as a revealing being. (Danny
Nobus – Rebuss Press – 1998-p112)
This is idea is post self awareness as it is the revealing of a predetermined being.

The Child in front of the Mirror
The Mirror stage is essentially the first understanding a child has of its own self in full form and
separate to others. The psychological effects of this realisation are course for a domino effect a chain
reaction of understanding. The Formation of a subjective idea takes place in the objective real. The
mirror stage takes place after the weaning stage.
Mahler – for the transference of the Idea of being an individual it is the facilitating mother who spurns
via her lacking ability to meet the babies needs. Like Winnicottian it’s the mother to fail the child for a
strong formation of self to form. Too early and a self will never form, too late and the self will be so

Leading to vacillation of the ego between irrational over estimation of the self and feelings of
inferiority.” (S.Frosh-1991 Macmillan Press ltd)
Allan Schore talks of the mother as also lacking he coined the phase Proximal Abandonment, the state
in which the mother is physically present but mentally distant. The Mother is the first inception of a
Psychobiological Regulator.
(D.W. Winnicott -Penguin books- 1991, p168)
It is not the object itself, of course, which is transitional; it represents the infant’s transition from a
state of being merged with the mother to a state of being in relation to the mother as something
outside and separate.
“A fragmenting experience usually transforms into an affirmation of the body unit. This transformation
happens when the person takes an image of self. In Lacan’s triad of being there is the imaginary the
symbolic and the real. For Lacan the symbolic had a more important structuring role than the
imaginary in the development stages. Because the baby is predetermined and is brought into the
existing myth of a family unit as such.” (Richard (2002)
This is a purely existential proposition imposed upon the child, this existing myth makes me think of J.P
Satre when he said “In choosing myself, I choose man” This optimism of having control is a common
trait in Satre’s work.
We are subjective and all others form object (objective) we “fail to locate our selves from the outset.”
A universe without objects is such that the self, lacking knowledge of itself, is absorbed in external
pictures for want of knowing itself. Moreover, these pictures center upon the self by failing to include it
as a thing among other things, and thus fail to sustain inter-relationships independent of the self. (J.
PIAGET- Basic Books 1954-p4)
Through an apparently paradoxical mechanism whose parallel we have described as apropos of the
ego-centrism of thought of the older child, it is precisely when the subject is most self-centered that he
knows himself the least and it is to the extent that he discovers himself that he places himself in the
universe and constructs it by virtue of that fact. In other words, egocentrism signifies the absence of
both self-perception and objectivity, whereas acquiring possession of the object as such is on par with
the acquisition of self-perception (J. PIAGET- Basic Books 1954p xii-introduction)
In Lacan’s 1938 essay he says that not until the child is of the age of sixth months does recognition of
the mirror image occur. In 1931, seven years prior to this Henri Wallon in his essay pointed out “at the
age of sixth months the child starts to explore the relationship between mirror images and real
objects.”( D, Nobus – Rebuss Press – 1998-P106)
This was a very brief understanding of the importance of this stage. Lacan goes on to say;
“What we have there is the first captation by the image in which the first stage of the dialectic of
identifications can be discerned...What I have called the mirror stage is interesting in that it manifests
the affective dynamism by which the subject originally identifies himself with the visual Gestalt of his
own body: in relation to the still very profound lack of co-ordination of his own motility, it represents an
ideal unity, a salutary imago (Imago = Idea ego); it is invested with all the original distress resulting
from the child's intra-organic and relational discordance during the first six months, when he bears the
signs, neurological and humoral, of a physiological natal prematuration.” (J.Lacan-Ecrits p18-19)
Freud’s late work of the ego was regarded as mental projection of the surface of the body’ this is
comparable with the notion of the mirror. But for Lacan it was a move from a fragmented/insufficient
self to an illusionary unity.
Because of the lack of unity, Lacan says people are in constant conflict with their surroundings and
But we can argue the mirror stage may be accompanied by pleasure. They are looking to control the
reverse movements.
“Then comes the discovery of existence of an image with its own properties” (B,Benvenuto &
R,Kennedy-1986 Free Association Pressp53)
The Other
If the understanding of the mirror image is not resolved then it is displaced into another “the Other”.
Lacan says that this other is a lacking other. “This impossibility of mastering the real splits the
subjective and the objective real.” (Richard (2002) The child can search to find what is
lacking in the other.
The child attempts to inscribe a lack in the other, ( the other being the mother) by seeking to
introduce, for example, a note of anxiety in the mother. By screaming or refusing to eat.( .”( D, Nobus
– Rebuss Press – 1998-p9)
‘It is both an object of knowledge and contemplation and an experiencing subject.’ (S, FroshMacmillan press ltd -1991-P2)

But this is not a one-way street and although the child’s lack of understanding leads him/her to believe
they are one with another. The mother can also reflect these ideas back in the fact that what Miller
says in 1979 that the mother see’s the child as an extension of ones self, to go beyond to achieve
goals lost in there own life. Then the child becomes the mirror
Creation and destruction the dance of Shiva. The Creation of a self-awareness and the destruction of
the “other” from our presence. This destruction of objects around us creates a sense of Loss.
When objects come and go from our surroundings this must be unsettling and uncertain
The post Freudian idea of libidinal dynamism by ‘Lacan 1977’ With the boundary-formation of identity
comes separation, and the image is perceived as distinct Other. Separation also creates a sense of loss
and a lifelong desire to regain the jouissance of the connected wholeness. By identifying with its mirror
image, which is not really its own self, the infant escapes from primal discord into a kind of selfimposed alienation. (Richard (2002)
“This entire notion of individuality is a direful delusion” (Speed Levitch – The Cruise – Charter Films
It is a state of loss one experiences with the reflection in the mirror. For the gestalt is external and not
one with our selves we are dislocated and alienated.
“Alienation is this lack of being by which his realization lie in another actual or imaginary space.”
(B,Benvenuto & R,Kennedy- Free Association Press 1986-p55)
If we think of Ishmael in the story of Moby Dick and how he contemplates ‘the meaning of that story of
narcissus, who, because he could not grasp the tormenting mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged
into it and drowned’ and he resolves’ ‘but that same image we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It
is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life.’(H, Melville, Moby dick, London, 1986 p95)
From loss comes desire and the desire for a unified gestalt. Lacan says we are forever looking for this
unity and it is a futile search controlled by the ego. The unified view is only external and yet the
gestalt is impossible.
‘however, others argue that the self, like the psychoanalytic ‘ego’ is an alienating fiction, produced as
a defence against the painful realities of desire.’…’ for that matter rationality is itself an ideological
fiction, imposed upon the irrationalities of psychological reality; intellect subordinating emotion,
repression constraining desire. (S, Frosh- Macmillan press ltd -1991 P3)
“In other words, desire is not a movement towards an object, since if it were then it would be simple to
satisfy it. Rather, desire lacks an object that could satisfy it, and is therefore to be conceived of as a
movement which is pursued endlessly, simple for the (jouissance) of pursuing it. “(D, Nobus –
Rebuss Press – 1998-P5)
This mirage remains distant and obscure; the inaccessible Lacanian (post modern view) object of
desire sometimes called by Lacan the Phallus.
Desire must have its objects perpetually absent as its not the ‘it’ you want but the fantasy of ‘it’. This
is what Pascal said “that we are only truly happy when daydreaming about future happiness.”(Alan
Park,2003) The hunt is better than the kill because you are doomed not to want it.This is a paradox
that we are only free within boundaries. Hence Lacan say in the actual text. ‘;a freedom that is never
more authentic than when it is within the walls of a prison.” (J.Lacan -Ecrits, P(6))

The Artist & Ego
In Lacan’s view, the ‘me’ is not the presentative of reality, as Freud conceived it, but a showpiece of
illusionary mastery, a simacular of individual control. (D,Nobus – Rebuss Press 1998 p117)
This notion of a persona, originates from Latin translation of the Greek ‘prosopon,’ meaning the mask
used in drama, that of character or role that the mask represented. “The mask or persona-was made
locus for a theory of general rights and duties as a legal ‘person’ and citizen of the state. Formed in
Rome.” (J.Woods-Marsden -yale press 1998 p13)
To this notion of a ‘person’ with citizenship and other rights, Christianity later added the concept of an
inner conscience and inner life. “Even the slave, albeit not in possession of his own body, was given a
soul.” (J.Woods-Marsden -yale press 1998 p13)
This view of a internal self as agent or subject was later coined in the 15 th -16th century, phrased by a
group adopting the name ‘studia humanitatis’ from Cicero and others as their occupation.

It was Pico who said that man ‘ is entirely detached from that hierarchy and constitutes a world in
himself “ thou art the maker and the moulder of the self’.
In portraiture, the relationship between painter and sitter is the crucial component informing the work
of art, and all portraiture implies a silent dialogue between these two agents. (J.Woods-Marsden
-Yale press 1998 p25)
In the case of self portraiture this dialogue is between self and self. The awareness of a divide of the
self out there in the mirror and the one here.
If we think of the greatest portrait artist Rembrandt not as an ego centric self publicising artist but
instead as a lonely painter communicating with himself.
He did not step in front of the mirror with questions but a clear plan. Using his own expressions as
understudies for larger paintings, he was filled with purposed not searching for a sense of ‘Self’. But in
the process of doing so he created
a celebrity presence.
Actual Self-portraiture, was more of an 18th century concept of the romantic rather than the 17 th But if
we consider that in the 15th century the modern development of undistorted mirror-images must have
had a huge effect on self awareness – “a persons sense of his own singolarita – and can be said to
have been essential to the cultural climate that gave rise to self portrait. “(Rivaseccghi 1987 p20419)
“Fundamental to portraits…. Is the necessity of expressing (the) intended relationships between the
portrait image and the human original…Throughout history, portrait artist have ……sought to discover
some central core of personhood as the proper object of their representation. They have done
so…..because they wanted to capture, unmistakably the special…. Qualities of their subject…that
invisible core of self.” (R,Brilliant, Reatikon books,1972)
I believe this is what Lacan meant in the mirror stage when he talked of there being something missing
from the symbolic. ‘The Other’ is a lacking other. But this is a Romanized concept not an anxiety
forming conflict in our everyday.
I want to look at two paintings only; the first of them is Rene Magritte. When we consider the
statements of Lacan that understanding of self comes through reflection of our movements and that
there is an element of pleasure in trying to control these movements. This is almost a forced rule put
upon the external reality of better understanding., Or is it distilling a sense of rejection and alienation
that the person in the mirror has actually turned his back on you? I think the following text embodies
some of our confrontation when stood apposed with your reflected self.
“O strange face in the glass!
O ribald company, o saintly host,
O sorrowest my fool,
What answer? O ye myriad
That strive and play and pass
Jest, challenge, counterlie!
I? I? I?
And ye?’
Ezra Pound’s – (National Portrat Gallery -p6)
Now if we consider Norman Rockwell’s Self Portrait, It was Cicero who said;
“All action is of the mind and the mirror of the mind is the face, its index the eyes.”
Rockwell’s eyes do not peer at us from behind the picture like a surprised child caught being
mischievous nor does it come from himself sat in front, no it protrudes mystically from within his
painting within the painting. The roman helmet sits above the canvas like a golden crown the images
of Rembrandt and Van-gough sit waiting like an audience as Rockwell crowns himself. Look at his
signature already complete and sit boldly in the frame. By glazing the lenses of his glasses he closes
down a dialogue between the viewer and him, the windows to the sole are closed. He literally points
with his paintbrush to where he wants you to look and it is that of his imagined self, only what he
divulges in his portrait he is perfectly in control. In the past the mirror has been used as a metaphor as
an indulgence in sin as vanity I think for Rockwell this is the case. “Mirrors are like empty eyes, blind
until I step back in front of them then they produce copies of my eyes, staring back at me. At night the
hollow socket of the mirror looks on quietly, waiting for morning. I can feel, as I see it in my sleepy
eye---or in my sleepy minds eye, since my eyes are closed now—that it is some how like an eye with
nothing to see. Its emptiness is not just a vacuum but the absence of an eye, the absence of sight.”
J, Elkins-A harvest book 1997 p48)

R.Magritte 1937

N.Rockwell - 1960

I would like to just conclude with one statement of D.H.Lawerence which encompasses a silent
dialogue between one and the ‘Other better than I ever could.
"When I meet another man, and he is just himself - even if he is an
ignorant Mexican pitted with small-pox - then there is no question
between us of superiority or inferiority. He is a man and I am a man.
We are ourselves. There is no question between us.
But let a question arise, let there be a challenge, and then I feel he
should do reverence to the gods in me, because they are more than the
gods in him. And he should give reverence to the very me, because it
is more at one with the gods than is his very self.
If this is conceit, I am sorry. But it's the gods in me that matter.
And in other men.
As for me, I am so glad to salute the brave, reckless gods in another
man. So glad to meet a man who will abide by his very self.
Ideas! Ideals! All this paper between us. What a weariness.
If only people would meet in their very selves, without wanting to put
some idea over one another, or some ideal.
Damn all ideas and all ideals. Damn all the false stress, and the pins.
I am I. Here am I. Where are you ?
Ah, there you are! Now, damn the consequences, we have met.
That's my idea of democracy, if you can call it an idea."
(E. Greenspan & J.Worthen- Cambridge University Press 2003p50-51)
Richard Webster. (2002). The cult of Lacan Freud, Lacan and the mirror stage. Available: Last accessed 21st Aug 2011.

Jaques Lacan (1949)Delivered to the 16th International Congress of Psychoanalysis,
Zurich.Ecrits, pp. 18-19
The Works of Jacques Lacan by Bice Benvenuto & Rodger Kennedy-1986 free association
DW Winnicott - the child the family and the outside world penguin books 1991, p168
Haeckel, The Riddle of the Universe, Watts & Co, London, 1929, p. 151
Key Concepts of Lacanian Psychanalysis – Danny Nobus – Rebuss Press – 1998
The object stares back--on the nature of seeing—james elkins-A harvest book 1997
Identity crisis – modernity, psychoanalysis and the self-stephen frosh-1991 macmillan
press ltd
Staging the Self-self portrait photography 1840’s -1980s – national portrait gallery 1987
Professor Paul Fry Yale - Literature lecture The Construction of Reality in the child – Jean PIAGET- Basic Books 1954
Renaissance Self-Portraiture-joanna woods-marsden(yale press 1998) p13
Rivaseccghi 1987 204-19
Richard Brilliant, Portraiture- Reatikon books, London, 1972
The Cruise, 1998- Documentary-Bennett Miller-USA– Charter Films
Studies in classic American literature -E. Greenspan & J.Worthen- Cambridge University
Press 2003p50-51)
The Life of David Gale-2003-Film-Directed by Alan Parker –USA-Universal Pictures
(Pascal is referenced in a lecture in this film)
Rene Magritte La Reproduction Interdite 1937 / Not to be Reproduced from
Norman Rockwell-Triple Self-Portrait, 1960

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