The Mirror Stage as formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience
Much like Freud, Lacan developed his own theories of the unconscious. But most of his theories broke away from Freud, which never made Lacan very welcome in the Psychoanalytical Society. Even though Freud recognized a fractured ‘Self’ because of the dichotomy of conscious/unconscious mind, he always propounded a method to unify the two in order to create a complete or whole ‘Self’.
For Lacan however, there was no such this as ‘I’ or ‘self’. It can never exist. Only as an idea. Lacan’s main theory looked at how this illusion the western world called the ‘Self’ was created, and how the child developed this notion. Like Freud, Lacan also believed in the ‘polymorphously perverse’ stage of being, seen in infants. But unlike Freud’s Oral, Anal and Phalllic stages of development, Lacan created the Real, Imaginary and Symbolic stages for the child to recognize the ‘self’.
The Real stage is the stage of ‘needs’. The child has needs and these needs are met immediately by the mother and so the child has no need for language. The polymorphously perverse child does not see itself as different from the mother and so has no sense of self. But as the child grows, the mother spends more time away. This imaginary stage is also the stage of demands. Here language begins to develop for the child demands the presence of the mother. The child is still not completely aware that it is the ‘other’ and not part of the mother, as its demands are also met.
The symbolic stage is the most crucial in development of the self, and is also called the stage of desire. The Mirror stage as Lacan calls it is when the child sees itself in a mirror and is forced to see itself as a complete, whole being in itself. The mother or others around the child, point to the image in the mirror and tell the child “that is you!” the child now knows that it is a ‘Self’ without the presence of the mother.
This is how the idea of the self is created in children from a very young age. But this theory has its limitations. For it depends completely on visuals and vision and is debatable in the case of congenitally, visually impaired children.
(Post by Mala Krishnamurthy. Notes made for class on 3rd Feb 2014. )