Q: What is Lacan’s “mirror stage” theory?

A: The “mirror stage” is, according to Lacan, a stage of psychological development in which a child recognizes himself or herself in the mirror and becomes conscious of selfhood.  Lacan maintained that this stage occurs sometime before the child is 18 months old and it is the first time the child recognizes that he or she is separate from others.  It begins the process of developing an identity distinct from others and yet, at the same time, dependent on the images of others to determine itself.  This stage also marks the end of psychological development; from this point forward, the individual will primarily use language to form identity.

Tags: jacques lacan, mirror stage

Q: In what ways did Lacan build on Freudian theory?

A: Lacan took a number of Freud’s theories and developed them further to explore their meaning as relating to human behavior and identity.  For example, Lacan’s theory of the “mirror stage” built on Freud’s notion of the id and the ego.   In this “mirror stage,” a child discovers the separate “I” and “other”; in other words, the child can finally recognize a sense of boundary lines between the self and other.  At this stage the child recognizes, for the first time, that he or she is actually an individual and not just a body reliant on others for everything.  Lacan also built on Freud’s ideas about sexuality and unconscious desire. Freud made the claim that dreams are like riddles that, when solved, disclose the truth about the individual’s unconscious desires that are always a reflection of the desires of others; Lacan went on to argue that desire is always dependent on others.  More specifically, when it comes to sexual desires, Freud highlighted the importance of sexuality and sexual behavior as an indicator of unconscious desires; Lacan further theorized sexuality to suggest that people must be taught and are always learning what to desire.  We might think, for instance, of advertisements and how they tap into this idea that desire is actually constructed outside of individuals, rather than just emerging organically from inside of them.  Advertisers can convince viewers to desire a particular kind of car, brand of clothes, or type of food.  Another major theory that Lacan revised is Freud’s Oedipal complex.  Freud’s Oedipus complex theory describes one of the psychosexual stages of a child called the “phallic stage,” usually between ages 3 and 5.  According to Freud, the child develops anger for the father and a desire to replace his father because of a desire for his mother.  Lacan imagines that the child acquires an obsession with trying to discover what the mother wants and tries to be the fulfillment of that desire.  Ultimately, however, the child comes to recognize that the external force of the “Law”—embodied by the father figure—actually influences that maternal desire and the child identifies himself or herself with a larger “cultural collective,” rather than the limited world of the mother’s desire.

Tags: jacques lacan, psychoanalytical criticism, Sigmund Freud

Q: What is Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage theory?

A: In psychoanalytic theory, the mirror stage is, according to Lacan, a stage of human psychological development in which a child identifies his or her image for the first time and thus comes to understand his or her self as a whole body with a distinct identity. Lacan maintained that this stage occurs sometime before the child is 18 months old, and that this stage marks the first time the child recognizes that he or she is separate from others. According to Lacan, this stage initiates an understanding of the ego as a unified self in social interaction with others. Thus, the mirror stage begins the process of developing an identity that is distinct from others and yet, at the same time, an identity that is dependent on images of others in determining itself. From this point in his or her development, the individual enters the symbolic order—which, according to Lacan, is the realm of social interaction in which language is the medium through which identity is further developed.

Tags: jacques lacan, literary criticism, literary theory, mirror stage, psychoanalytic criticism, psychoanalytic theory, the symbolic order

Q: In what ways did Jacques Lacan build on Freudian psychoanalytic theory?

A: Lacan took a number of Freud’s theories and developed them further in order to explore their meaning—particularly those ideas dealing with human behavior and identity. For example, Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage built on Sigmund Freud’s notions of the id and the ego. According to Freud, the id is an innate part of our personality that is driven unconsciously by basic human instinctual desires. The ego, on the other hand, is a component of our personality that develops to engage with reality in such a way that our basic needs get met but in ways that reflect our social realities and constraints. For Lacan, the mirror stage is the point at which the ego develops as a way of containing and constraining the unbounded desires of the id. In other words, the boundary between the id and the real world constitutes the ego—an I that distinguishes itself both from its own formless self and from the Other in the real world. During the mirror stage, Lacan argued, the child discovers the difference between the I and the Other; in other words, the child comes to recognize a sense of boundary between his or her self and the “other selves” in the world. At this stage, the child recognizes, for the first time, that he or she is actually an individual and not just a body reliant on others for everything. The child also begins to negotiate his or her relationship to others through language. Lacan also built on Freud’s ideas about sexuality and unconscious desire. Freud made the claim that dreams are like riddles that, when solved, disclose the truth about the individual’s unconscious desires, which Freud argued are always a reflection of the desires of others. More specifically, Freud highlighted the importance of sexuality and sexual behavior as an indicator of unconscious desires. Lacan further theorized sexuality to suggest that people must be taught desires and are always learning what to desire. As a contemporary example of this idea, we might consider, for instance, modern-day advertisements and how they tap into the idea that desire is actually constructed outside of individuals, rather than solely emerging organically from inside us. That is, advertisers often successfully convince viewers to desire a particular kind of car, a brand of clothes, or a type of food. Another Freudian idea that Lacan revised was Freud’s theory of Oedipal complex. The Oedipal complex describes one of Freud’s psychosexual stages of childhood development. Freud said that this stage usually occurs between the ages of 3 and 5. Freud called this period the phallic stage and argued that during this time, a male child develops anger towards his father and sexual desire towards his mother, resulting in the child’s wish to replace his father. Lacan built on this idea, suggesting that, as the child evolves to use language as a medium for engaging with the world, the notion of the father comes to be understood through its opposition to other terms in the symbolic realm of language (e.g., the father as opposed to the mother or I).

Tags: ego, id, jacques lacan, literary criticism, literary theory, mirror stage, Oedipal complex, otherness, phallic stage, psychoanalytic criticism, psychoanalytic theory, psychosexual stages, Sigmund Freud, The Other, the symbolic order

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