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Mirror Phase

  Mirror Phase is one of the key concepts in the work of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901 - 1981). Lacan re-examined Freud\'s therapeutic and theoretical systems, using the model of the French linguist Saussure. He explored the language of the unconscious, and viewed development as a process which produces linguistic structures that make sense of experience for the child and initiate it into society.

Mirror Phase happens during the Imaginary phase at around six to eight months. The Imaginary phase in an infant\'s life is when it believes itself to be part of the mother and sees no separation between it and the world. During this stage the child develops a body image of itself and what is called a body ego. This is a profoundly alienated entity as at this time it is perceived as an entity separate from itself, with which it merges and identifies. Having this dual identity makes the child vulnerable to its own and others\' projections.

The Imaginary phase is brought to a halt by the Oedipal crisis which precipitates the Mirror Phase and facilitates the child\'s entry into the Symbolic Order of the father (society). In the Oedipal crisis the father\'s presence splits up the mother and child. The father\'s possession of the mother and superior strength is represented by the phallus, which causes in the child the fear of castration. This activates the child\'s recognition of its separate identity and place in society. In the Mirror Phase the infant realizes both ‘I am’ and ‘I am not’, the latter being the recognition of the lack of the phallus. The self is constituted as ‘difference’. All human life, according to Lacan, is dominated by the Symbolic Order which is acknowledged in the Mirror Phase. As in Freud, the end of the Oedipal phase and Mirror Phase (entry into the Symbolic Order) closes off the unconscious. The unconscious emerges as a result of repressed desire. The desire behaves like a language moving ceaselessly from object to object. Just as language can never fully seize on meaning, so desire, for Lacan, is a driving force with no ultimate satisfaction.

Lacan returned to the unconscious because he was critical of the emphasis on the Ego in psychoanalysis (mainly in the US), with its politically-charged notion of making people acceptable to themselves and others. Lacan involved structural linguistic concepts of sign and signifier to explain how the onset of language splits the conscious from the unconscious. As we accept control over thoughts (given by language) we are thereby committed to ‘the endless chain of signification’. MJ

Further reading D. Archard, Consciousness and the Unconscious (chapter 3).



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