TRACES – Rik Loose

The Mirror Stage and the Body

"Writing is a trace in which an effect of language can be read"
— Lacan, XX, 121


NLS Congress presents

Rik Loose
The Mirror Stage and the Body

Lacan’s second sentence in his article – “It should be noted that this experience (of psychoanalysis) sets us at odds with any philosophy directly stemming from the cogito” [1] –  places psychoanalysis and the experience of the body therein directly within the history of philosophy, more specifically in relation to Descartes. 

The body that Freud was so interested in, especially since he discovered infantile sexuality, which allowed him to develop his theory of the drives – and the body that was such a crucial aspect of Lacan’s work from beginning to end – are very different kinds of body than the Cartesian-inspired conception of it. This body, as Miller suggests, concerns life under the form of the body and this living body is the condition for that which animates it – which animates life – namely, jouissance, which is unthinkable without the body. [2]  This body, being alive, and thus infused with the spectre of death, is a body that is more or less coherent against a background of “a primordial Discord” [3], but it is also a body caught up in a dialectic of desire, traversed with jouissance, affected by the material of language and traumatized and parasitized by the latter.  He presented his conception of the mirror stage in 1936 and published The Mirror Stage… thirteen years later.

I will comment on the following sentence from The Mirror Stage…: “the mirror stage is a drama whose internal pressure pushes precipitously from insufficiency to anticipation – and, for the subject caught up in the lure of spatial identification, turns out fantasies that proceed from a fragmented image of the body to what I will call an “orthopedic” form of its totality – and to the finally donned armour of an alienating identity that will mark his entire mental development with its rigid structure”. [4]  This sentence contains a number of elements that are especially relevant for our work on the bodily effects of language.

The ”armour of an alienating identity” is the ego but it may be interesting to read this expression against the background of a more “economic” expression, namely, an “internal pressure” that “pushes”. Earlier on in the text he used the expression “jubilant activity” in the context of overcoming the necessity for a prop for the child to hold itself up (In other words, the specular image has substituted itself for the prop). [5]  These terms or expressions are indications of the fact that the self-image or ego and the image of the other, i(a), are invested with libido. This is what Miller refers to in his Six Paradigms of Jouissance as “imaginary jouissance”, a jouissance that is “intra-imaginary”. [6]  This means that this jouissance belongs to the image itself, it livens-up and animates it. So, the Mirror Stage… is, as Miller suggests, Lacan’s attempt to interpret “the ego on the basis of narcissism and narcissism on the basis of the mirror stage”. [7]  From this can be deduced that libido is largely narcissistic and that, at this early stage of Lacan’s work, the drive (jouissance) is intimately connected-up with the image.

In this quote there are two related references to the body: there is “the fragmented image of the body” and the “orthopedic form of its totality”. Lacan’s use of the word “orthopedic” is interesting here. It’s modern use concerns that branch of medicine that deals with the correction of deformations, disorders, or injuries of the bones. These references to the body here are interesting, because they demonstrate that already in this early period of Lacan’s work Lacan thought that the body that we have is in a sense an orthopedic prop that prevents the body from fragmenting, buggering off, or doing its own thing.  Or, as Lacan says in Seminar XXIII: “because of form, the form that was so dear to Plato, the individual presents himself just as he has been put together, as a body” and he adds, that “the astonishing thing is that form offers up nothing more than the bag, or, if you like the bubble, because it is something that inflates”. [8]
Reading The Mirror Stage… is as relevant as ever, especially now that jouissance and the (speaking)body have found themselves centre-stage in the Lacanian orientated clinic. All kinds of phenomena from the clinic, such as fragmented body experiences, organs doing their own thing, out-of-body experiences and bodies being inflated, narcissistically offering themselves up to the Other’s gaze, can still be read against the background of a text in which life and death, unification and fragmentation, animation and aggression, love and hate, and, indeed, body and mind are either explicitly or implicitly referred to and which were already there as forces that form part of the same, topological, surface.

[1] Lacan, J. (1949). The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function, in: Ecrits, (trans. B. Fink), New York: Norton, 2006. p. 75.
[2] Miller, J.-A. (1999). Lacanian Biology and the Event of the Body, in: Lacanian Ink, nr 18, 2001, p. 22.
[3] Lacan, J. op.cit. p. 78.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid. p. 76.
[6] Miller, J.-A.  (1999), Paradigms of Jouissance, Psychoanalytical Notebooks, London: LSNLS, 1019, p. 17.
[7] Ibid. p. 16.
[8] Lacan, J. Seminar XXIII, The Sinthome, (ed. J.-A. Miller, trans. A. Price), Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016. P. 9.
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