Anal-ytic Exposition Dump 3: Through a glass darkly – Argument by analogy?

Welcome, my friends, to the homework that never ends.  In this post I hope to address Lacan’s justification for the claim that

The primordial ego arises through an encounter with external stimuli—the mirror’s imago. The imago (ideal-I) constitutes the nature of the primordial ego as something that will spend its entire existence striving to resolve the unresolvable conflict between the libidinal drives of the id and the demands of reality in the form of the imago—even before that primordial ego can be socially or linguistically determined as the ego. (the claim from Anal-ytic Exposition Dump 2b)

or more specifically that,

“I” or the ego is the name that a more primordial self calls itself after an encounter with an external stimuli–the mirror’s imago.  The presentation of the imago necessitates this act of self-conceptualizing naming.  However, the imago also presents that newly constituted ego identity with a representation of itself that is superior to what the ego knows itself to be and be capable of.  The ego struggles to re-form itself in the likeness of the gestalt-form presented by the imago even before social or linguistic demands are made of it.  (my current version of Lacan’s claim)

The trouble is that, unlike our earlier analytic exposition’s assigned passages this week’s text does not include any justification for the claim.  In fact, the assigned passage is the only the claim.  Therefore, one would assume that the justification must have been written either just before or just after Lacan’s claim summary.  Looking directly before the assigned text the only passage that comes close to justifying–rather than merely stating–Lacan’s claim is paragraph six’s last sentence.  Paragraph six in its entirety reads:

It suffices to understand the mirror stage in this context as an identification, in the full sense analysis gives to the term: namely the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image–an image that is seemingly predestined to have an effect at this phase, as witnessed by the use in analytic theory of antiquity’s term, “imago.”

It seems that Lacan is appealing to a historical fact that imago has traditionally included the idea of an “image that is assumed.”  So consulting the International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, I find:

The term imago first appeared in work of Carl Gustav Jung in 1912, and the same Latin word was adopted in various languages. The concept was borrowed from a novel of the same name by Carl Spitteler (1845-1924), published in 1906. In Jungian psychology, the term imago eventually replaced the term complex.

The year 1906 is hardly “antique” when Lacan is writing in the thirties and forties--The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function was delivered on July, 17 1949, but was a second version of an earlier paper on the same subject partially delivered thirteen years earlier.  However, presumably the term imago was not created with all its denotation and connotations in 1906 when Spitteler published his novel, so it is possible that there is historical precedent that linguistically justifies the reality of the assuming of a mask that Lacan takes the term to mean.  However, even if this presumed historical precedent that “proves” that word imago refers to the action that Lacan says it does exists somewhere in antiquity, that precedent would not prove that such an “assuming of image” exists as Lacan argues in the mirror stage.  So we continue to hunt after the assigned passage and find in paragraph 11-12:

The fact that a gestalt may have formative effects on an organism is attested to by a biological experiment that is so far removed from the idea of psychical causality that it cannot bring itself to formulate itself in such terms.  The experiment nevertheless acknowledges that it is a necessary condition for the maturation of the female pigeon’s gonad that the pigeon see another member of its species, regardless of the sex; this condition is so utterly sufficient that the same effect may be obtained by merely placing a mirror’s reflective field near the individual.  Similarly, in the case of the migratory locusts, the shift within a family line from the solitary to the gregarious form can be brought about by exposing an individual, at a certain stage of its development, to the exclusively visual action of an image akin to its own, provided the movements of this image sufficiently resemble those characteristics of its species.  Such facts fall within a realm of homeomorphic identification that is itself subsumed within the question of the meaning of beauty as formative and erogenous.

But mimetic facts, understood as heteromorphic identification, are of just as much interest to us insofar as they raise the question of the signification of space for living organisms–psychological concepts hardly seeming less appropriate for shedding light here than the ridiculous attempts made to reduce these facts to the supposedly supreme law of adaptation.

Thus, it would seem that Lacan is supporting his claim by an appeal to an analogy between mental maturation in humans with biological change/maturation in animals.  The two–presumed–analogous cases are 1) the mirror reflection of a pigeon presented to itself providing the necessary impetus for maturation of its single ovary–yes, female pigeons only have one, but male pigeons have two testes.  2) The image of another of its species can provide the necessary impetus for a non-gregarious locust and its lineage to transform to the biologically dissimilar gregarious form.  These two cases stand as Lacan’s evidence.  Lacan’s warrant for the applicability of this analogy comes in his argument that psychological causations do not seem any less appropriate than the biological or physical causation suggested by what he mockingly calls “the supposedly supreme law of adaptation.”  Bracketing off the question of whether evolutionary biology really fails to explain these test cases of mimetic transformation, Lacan’s argument still fails to impress.  Even if adaptation can’t sufficiently explain these biological changes and even if it could be proven that psychological factors better explain these biological shifts–they are still biological changes being presumed as parallel with psychical changes and animal development being judged parallel to human development.

What Lacan would need to make this argument by analogy would be another warrant that demonstrated the logical connection between biological and psychical change–between animal physiological and human psychological maturation.  Sadly, he does not provide any such warrant.  In fact he admits as much in the first sentence of that passage I pulled out: “the fact that a gestalt may have formative effects on an organism is attested to by a biological experiment that is so far removed from the idea of psychical causality that it cannot bring itself to formulate itself in such terms.”  However, in the world of analytic exposition, ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to write and cry.

Author’s justification:

1) birds do it

2) locusts do it

Thus, 3) even uneducated “MEs” do it



2 comments on “Anal-ytic Exposition Dump 3: Through a glass darkly – Argument by analogy?

  1. baddhorse says:

    You have exerted far more thought on this than Lacan ever did.

    • maphman says:

      While I appreciate witty one liners, I would be remiss in pointing out that Lacan’s work continues to this day to provide a rich field for exploration. So, if he didn’t expend much thought on formulating his theories, he was extremely lucky to get so many things right, and if the whole of the academy has been bamboozled into thinking he did something great, the whole of the academy is filled with morons.

      I’m not comfortable suggesting my intelligence is superior to that of the whole of the academy… so I’d prefer to say Lacan was on to something worth chasing.

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