Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 224: Fun Fact Friday - Lacan's "Mirror Stage"

This cat looks exactly my Diesel, except smarter.
I have an admission: I'm really skeptical of psychoanalytic theory.  As much as I love Freud's insistence that many of our behaviors can be only explained by subconscious desires, I'm pretty sure that his "penis envy" theory is a load of crap that could only have been imagined (or - ahem - subconsciously inspired!) by a privileged-and-pervy white guy.  I avoid psychoanalytic theory whenever possible, which is sometimes difficult in academic circles.  And yet, I couldn't write a year-long blog about mirrors without addressing Lacan's "Mirror Stage" at least once!  Here goes:

Jacques Marie Émile Lacan, a controversially regarded French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, introduced his concept of the "Mirror Stage" at the 1936 International Psychoanalytical Association conference.  Lacan's "Mirror Stage" refers to the developmental stage at which an infant is able to recognize himself/herself in a mirror.  (Recall, back on Day 168 we learned that both 2-year-old humans, Chimpanzees, and Orangutans should pass a "mirror-guided self-recognition test")  Lacan saw the "Mirror Stage" as integral to a child's development of "symbolic activity".  As explained by Sabine Melchior-Bonnet in her book The Mirror: A History,
"The child takes pleasure in the spectacle of himself and, at the same time he understands the difference between the image and its model; standing before the mirror he acquires a new capacity for mental projection." (emphasis added by me)  
Okay, well - other than the obnoxious use of male pronouns to represent both genders - I think that this is a pretty cool (and non-pervy) concept!

I can't help but wonder... do mirrors directly facilitate the development of these capacities, or do they simply allow psychoanalysts to observe them ?  In other words, did people pass through the "Mirror Stage" before mirrors existed?

Do any of you parents out there remember what it was like to watch your child recognize herself in the mirror for the first time?  (Ahem, Mom?) How about pets not recognizing themselves in the mirror? Cute stories and photos requested!

Check out what my mom just emailed me:
It's baby Kjerstin (ME!) looking in the mirror!  
I'm not sure if I recognize myself, but I sure seem to like what I'm seeing!
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  1. Ugh. Don't get me started on Sigmund FRAUD. I do not have penis envy, nor do I have unnatural "feelings" for either of my parents. I have often wondered if this supposedly brilliant man was simply projecting his own shortcomings on the rest of us. And in doing so, validating them.

    As for kids in the mirror, I can remember the wide-eyed look of shock that came into my daughter's eyes when she first became "aware" in the mirror. Very cute! I wish I had captured it on video.

  2. LOVE this. And I love the pet reference! I have an amazing pet-not-recognizing-themself-in-a-mirror story... but the video is the only thing that does it justice (and it is almost 4 minutes long and involves a lot of barking so I don't blame you for not watching it.... or not watching all of it)....

  3. I remember having a great time looking in the mirror with all four of my babies - but I think they were busy looking at my image and possibly even thinking they were me (as in, "I am my mommy until I realize I am a separate person"). Fun stuff to think about. Thanks for always providing such thought-provoking questions! I just love your project!

  4. I'm a junior in college and have taken a couple of psych classes and always always always am so skeptical of psychoanalytic theories and am so thrilled to find someone feel the same! It makes me feel not feel like such a terrible the way, I love your blog and your project! Sorry to be such a silent subscribee--I'm shy, ok?

  5. Well, I think my dog recognizes herself in the mirror or any kind reflective surface such as the book case. At least, she does not bark at herself...

  6. The mirror stage does not necessarily require a mirror. Of course im sure a mirror facilitates it, however the main idea is that the self get reflected, this could be understood in both the physical sense and the psychic sense. For example, people can work to reflect an "image" back to a someone. I think this is the natural way in which people interact with one another, using each other as types of mirrors to understand themselves.

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