The Mirror-Stage

The Mirror-stage, as defined by Jacques Lacan in his essay “The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience” (1949), is a “particular case of the function of the imago, which is to establish a relation between the organism and its reality – or as they say, between the innenwelt[inside word] and the Umwelt[the outside world].” (4). Lacan’s essay describes how the mirror stageis a crucial experience in developmental psychology, specifically in a child’s discovery of the “I”. By approaching the human subject from a psychoanalytical standpoint, Libidal dynamism[the connection between psychic and instinctual drives] and the egobecome relevant anchors in his claims (2).

According to Lacan, “we have only to understand the mirror stage as anidentification, in the full sense that analysis gives the term: namely, the transformation that takes place in a subject when he assumes an image.” (2); specifically, the “image” that influences behavior and thought, both, constructing a strong understanding of what this subject is in unity to the world, and simultaneously, how the subject is individualized (4). By comparing the psychology of a human with the psychologies of other animals, such as the locus and pigeon, we are given insight into the sensitivity of our understanding of the “I”; Lacan describes the essence of this sensitivity as pertaining to the “inexhaustible quadrature of the ego’s verifications.” (4). Our egos battle between what our instinctual drives tell us is right, and what absorbed social customs expect us to do. 

In Julia Kristeva’s essay “The System and the Speaking Subject” (1973), the “I”is evolved into the speaking subject, in which linguistics and semiotics become a relevant factor in describing an individual’s [subject’s] mode of communication. Kristeva describes “this ‘speaking subject’ … to be the transcendental ego” (77); an evolved version of the ego that is able to “[break off] its connection with … social, natural or [the] unconscious”. In reference to Lacan’s excerpt, Kristeva describes what, in a perfect world, comes after the mirror stageas she theorizes what a disconnection from the external world denotes. 

Both Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva touch base on how the perception of ourselves is established and affected [mirror stage], or developed [through a presumed transcendental ego] respectively. Through psychoanalysis, Lacan describes our ego ‘fighting back’ through dreams, as an aggressive tactic in expressing its true instincts as a form of dismemberment. Perhaps, on a larger scale, suggesting the corruptive nature of social constructs on our natural, biological drives [LibidalDynamism]; specifically initiated at the mirror stageof our development. 

BIG PROP II, 2014    Anthony Gormley


Anthony Gormley

WEAVE, 2014    Anthony Gormley

WEAVE, 2014

Anthony Gormley


Lacan, Jacques. “The mirror stage as a formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience” (1949), In Écrit: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (NY, W.W. Norton, 1982), 1-7.

Kristeva, Julia. “The System and the Speaking Subject” (1973), In A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader, 77-80.