True to form, I find that I’m going to be behind already on this second post. So much for orderly progression through a set schedule. I also find that already in my three questions from yesterday I have misunderstood some the text’s points of comparison with Freud’s tripartite formulation of the mind. Every time I have set out to write one of these things I find that I was fundamentally wrong about what I thought the text said on my first reading. Frankly, that is the only reason that I can find to enjoy writing analytic expositions–their combination of forcing me to bury my head in the text and explain what I think I read actually forces me to understand how it works and what it does rather than being able to trust my initial gloss. So, without further ado, here are yesterday’s questions with their–more firmly held–answers.
1) What is “this form” that “situates the agency known as the ego?” Specifically, why does Lacan employ such a vague placeholder (this form) in this statement that appears to be a sort of summation of an argument or the final form of a claim? What would the danger have been in using another, more specific term?
“The form” according to paragraph 7 and 8 is the imago. The presence of this mirror-bound, primordial form of the super-ego (the imago) places the infant subject (primordial ego) in the position of striving toward an “ideal-I” to put Lacan’s ideas in the familiar language of Fraud.
Lacan doesn’t call the mirror-bound form “the super-ego” precisely because that ego that calls itself “I” comes later—after social and linguistic determination. In this social determination the ego is constituted by its “objectification” by the other egos for whom it is an object of observation and who are, in turn, constituted as objects of observation by the newly minted ego. Lacan’s shorthand for this process is “dialectic of identification” (paragraph 7) and it is followed by a linguistic parallel in which the ego knows itself to be the “other” that another “I” speaks of when that other says “I see you” and which knows itself to be the “I” when it speaks of another saying “I see you.” However, Lacan’s mirror-bound imagos come before these later (super) egos constituted by “social determination” (paragraph 8 ) and linguistic function as the subject “I” (paragraph 7).
Now, why doesn’t Lacan christen this mirror-bound ideal-I the “imago” in the assigned passage’s formulation—rather than the vague “this form”? One possibility is that because the imago becomes the super-ego after its social determination kicks in and linguistic convention secures its status. Lacan doesn’t want his readers to misunderstand and merely posit the existence of an imago that functions to limit the excesses of the libido (libidinal normalization) and another thing, the ego that functions as mediator between the ideal-I and the id (the super-ego). I think than explanation works as well as any, but it is also possible that Lacan is just not concerned with making his prose specific and easy to follow.
2) What exactly are the two parts of this “dialectical synthesis and in what direction are they interacting?” It seems fairly obvious that one part is the subject who stands in relationship to its reflection (the ego) and the other is the idealized reflection of the mirror (the imago). Yet, in the last sentence it appears to be the “ego” that asymptotically approaches “reality” and this suggests that it is the ego that leans forward to resolve the distance between itself the real world. However, that reading is problematic because, in the rest of Lacan’s argument it is the ego that is real (broken, fractured, immature) and the imago that is the idealized (whole, unified, competent). The question becomes: who is the ‘him’ referring to in the last clause (“his discordance with his own reality”)?
Okay, there are already some problems in the question… After spending some more time with Lacan and brushing up on my Freudian tripartite mind, it seems fairly obvious—ha,ha that the infant subject cannot be the ego, but must be the id. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out whether the imago became the ego or the super-ego. Because Lacan is at pains to make sure that his readers know that the mirror image is not yet the ego, the natural temptation is to call the mirror-bound imago the ego, but if you consider the function of the imago, it actually seems to better fit with the super-ego. Lacan wrote this paper well after Freud had a conception of the three-part mind, but he chose not to use id, ego, and superego perhaps because he wants to keep the ideal-I/super ego consistent with a primordial not yet ego rather than the later developed socially and linguistically determined ego/ super-ego.
So, the dialectical synthesis seems to be a Hegelian tick, that is, Lacan seems to be using this language because he is suggesting that the infant subject is a thesis and the mirror-bound imago is its antithesis which together are taken up together in a synthesis which is what?–the ego? It seems possible, as the infant subject is a chaos of libidinal yearnings that are narcissistic (id), the imago the mirror-bound organized that seeks to please the id’s yearnings while conceding to the demands of reality (ego), and the super-ego ideal-I that thing which mediates between the passions of the id and the controlling and judgmental super-ego.
So, the (id) is the infant subject who sees (the imago) a sort of primordial super-ego in the mirror and leaning forward, striving the primordial ego tries to close the gap between the id and the imago. Using Fraud’s language is easier than trying to use Lacan’s but, because Freud considers the ego and super-ego to be socially and linguistically determined and Lacan does not, Freud’s terms are somewhat misleading when discussing this primordial stage.
Correctly identifying the subject (id), imago (super-ego), and striving (ego) seems to address the latter part of my original question pertaining to direction. It is the primordial ego who—as the later constituted “I”–must resolve the demands of the super-ego and the id.
3) What is the relationship between the two clauses in the center of the assigned text? It would seem that number 4 is meant to be parallel to number 3 but to more precisely explain number 3. But, if that is the case, how am I to understand “irreducible” as being parallel with “asymptotically approaching?”
I take clause 3 “in a fictional direction that will forever remain irreducible for any single individual” to mean that the ego is placed in a particular orientation of striving toward the image represented by the ideal-I/super-ego/imago that is fictional in that it cannot be attained and cannot be reduced or sublimated by the ego in that the ego lacks both the desire—owing to its own id—and the ability—as the imago is an idealized picture that no one can attain.
I take clause 4 “or, rather, that will only asymptotically approach the subject’s becoming” to mean that the ego will strive—despite the id and its unrealistic goal—and succeed in reaching toward, but never attaining, its idealized goal.
So, the imago and the ego are not reducible in mathematical terms—that is, they are not commensurable to use philosophical terminology as the ego only asymptotically approaches what it would be to take on the qualities of the imago.
Now, I had planned to also treat the global and local, author and audience, claims and stakes in this post. However, I’m already well over my thousand word limit, so I’ll have to wait. On the plus side, I think that the answers above go a long way to answering–at least–the author’s claims both global and local. I will try to get a post up tomorrow morning addressing all those things before I turn my attention to Lacan’s argument in the evening.