The mirror stage "is a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from
insufficiency to anticipation." It creates fantasies of both a very fragmented
body and an alienating identity, or the idea that our "self" is protecting
something more real within, or perhaps keeping us from having "real" interactions
with others. As the specular mirror stage ends and the "I" must become
social, we find ourselves at odds with ourselves. Instinct and desire become
things that could destroy the ideal-I. But our very ability to say "it's
me" depends on the external effect of some image of ourselves reflected
in an exchange with the "other" (most often mom, a lover, a close friend).
Built into the maturation process, then, is "méconnaissance," or
misrecognition, of ourselves. It is the "différance" that creates
the "I" (sound familiar?)
Before you go completely mad, here are a few more thoughts about Lacan's work: Lacan concerns himself with the concept of lack as central to the human psyche. When baby looks in the mirror and has the complete vision of him or herself, it is an image in contrast with his or her actual experience of the world and the self as fragmented. The difference between the ideal image and the fragmented (le corps morcelé: the body in pieces) experience of the infant constitutes lack. The infant first knows itself as lacking. Similarly, Lacan works out a model of desire that, like lack, is deeply rooted in the psyche and cannot be completely fulfilled. He describes it in terms of infant feeding: the little baby, when breastfeeding (or bottle-feeding for that matter) has a primary experience of completeness in that he or she is getting food and love all at the same time. When the baby cries, he or she is asking for food and love together. But as weaning occurs, either from the breast or from a primary caregiver to another, the child is forced to separate the two. The child still cries for love and food togther, but may only get food. Thus begins the great space of desire, which will characterize the rest of our lives, propelling us in quests for the ideal man, the ideal woman, the ideal job, the ideal child, etc. in which we set ourselves up for chronic disappointment.
The implications of Lacan's thought are rich, and I wouldn't pretend
to summarize them here. We should note, however, the way that Lacan's model
of the subject (the self) is very close to Derrida's
analysis of différance; the "I" produces its idea of self relationally
(like signs do). It seems to overcome its own lack and fragmentation as
an adult, but is in fact always threatened by the thought of "going to
pieces" or of discovering its own unreality. Literary critics have used
these concepts to talk about the haunting effect of "others" to a character
and the ways that the impossible desire for unity and completeness (to
be without lack) drives characters' lives and, sometimes, writers' literary
texts. Think about the ways you could do a Lacanian or a deconstructive
reading of "Kubla Khan" as a text.
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