Anal-ytic Exposition Dump Part 4: Exposition, exposition rush it out ASAP

The ego is not an object but an egoing.

Having established a first pass at analysis of the text’s global and local stasis, claim, justification, and stakes, it is time to turn our attention from analysis to exposition.  My understanding is that there is supposed to be a sharp distinction between analysis (the tool that allows one to get at the gooey insides of the text) and exposition (eating said gooey entrails and excreting them onto paper).  Okay, bad metaphor, but the idea remains.  Exposition is explication and elucidation which I take to be something like 1) making the implicit presuppositions explicit, 2) making the implicit connections explicit, and 3) making the implicit consequences explicit.

However, before I reassess my first pass at analysis and convert it into exposition, I want to parse the instructions to locate, if possible, any particular emphases that the exposition should have.  The assignment’s instructions say:

Explain what claim Lacan is making in this passage and what is at stake in that claim. In other words, why is this claim significant to Lacan’s larger argument in this essay? To do this, you will have to pay close attention to the precisely chosen language Lacan uses, but bear in mind that your task here is to explain his argument to your reader, not to repeat the terms in which the argument is made.

So, the preceptors will be looking for specific “precisely chosen language,” but will expect that students have explained and rephrased technical terms in a manner that demonstrates their understanding both of the term and what precisely tuned job it was meant to perform.  The most obvious example of such a precisely chosen verbiage is in the title of the essay.  The title promises an argument for the premise that the mirror function is formative of the “I-function” not merely the “I.”  I take this to mean that the “I” or ego is not to be considered an object created or constituted by the mirror-image event, but the I-function is the subjective identity that whatever thinking thing assumes as a result of seeing its alter-ego–the “egoing” rather that the ego.  Another significant term is “situate” which I take to mean “put into relationship with.”  The semantic range of the word situate includes the idea of creation, but based on Lacan’s project as a whole, it seems that the imago (mirror image) situates the egoing as a projection of the primordial “self” as an identity or mask between the primordial thinking (thing) and its imago.

Now, in continental philosophy one can get away with coining the new term “egoing” to mean the verb form ego, that is what an ego does.  Heidegger did it like crazy because the German language allows nearly any noun to take a verb’s ending and describe the sort of thing that thing functions as.  We also do this in English with some nouns: police–policing, governor–governing, etc.  However, analytic philosophies commitment to sounding scientific tends to frown on creating new–and silly sounding words–so I will acquiesce to its conventions are resort to metaphor.  Thus, a mask is a projected identity of a thing whose identity precedes it, but it, in itself, is not a new “thing” and cannot will or act.  One cannot confuse putting on a mask with another person being created, so the mask metaphor for “egoing” works as well as anything else analytic philosophy would accept.

Another word that does not appear in the assigned text itself, but in the directly preceding paragraphs 6 and 7 is “assume.”  It seems that Lacan uses the term in two ways playing off its ambiguity.  He speaks of “assuming” that is, to take on, the imago, but also seems to play with the idea that the infant must “assume” that is, to regard as true without compelling evidence, that the imago is him or herself.

The final significant words from our passage would seem to be the phrase “fictional direction.”  The phrase also seems to corroborate all the other distinctions that our precisely chosen words have suggested.  The imago points the primordial subject in a fictional–not false per se, but in a way like that of a fictional narrative e.g. telling the subject a story about itself–direction–not a destination that it can ever reach.  The subject is pointed–that is not fundamentally recreated (an object), but reoriented in what it is doing–toward a fiction.  The direction must be assumed to be real, but is actually fictional, but the direction must also be assumed as a role. The nature of the “egoing” mask is also a fiction, the identifier is not the thing identified and neither is the symbol the thing symbolized, yet it purports to be in its interaction with the world and itself.

With these emphases and distinctions in mind, I return to my analysis a final time.

Macro-level Reader’s Belief (stasis):

Readers might believe, in a Cartesian sense, that the “I” is a unified whole whose “thinking” is transparent to the self that it knows.  The “I” is only just the self-ascribed name or function of the thing thinking, but the “I” is an identity with the thing thinking I=thinking thing.

Other readers might believe, In a Freudian sense, the “I” arrises from a more primordial id–the internal drives.  The “I” arises in response to itself, the structures the mind creates are a result of its desire to minimize excitation and tension.  Thus, the “I” or ego is brought into being as a result of the need to reconcile the pleasure-seeking of the id with the demands of an internalized sense of reality’s limitations–the ideal-I. For Freud, “I” is the thinking part, just one of the three functions of the mind but the primordial mind is also “willing” with the id and “legislating” with the super-ego.

Macro-level Author’s claim:

Lacan argues that the “I” is an assuming identity or a name that the more primordial thing thinking takes on.  The thing thinking has parts, as in Freud’s conception of id, ego, & super-ego, but the mental creation of these parts is the result of interaction with the world rather than something caused purely by the warring drives.  The “I” arises as a response to external stimuli—its representation in a mirror image, its representation through the mother’s (an Other’s) caregiving, or even through the cerebral cortex’s self-reflection on the demands of exteriority.  The ego is placed in an orientation toward the world when the thing thinking is confronted by an imago, an idealized, mobile, and autonomous fiction that seems to be all of the thing thinking’s potentialities personified.  The ego is the agency of the agent striving to become all that the image promises, but that striving relationship is characterized by failure, disappointment, and frustration.

Local-level Reader’s Belief:

The ego arises through a purely internal process of id’s drives welling up, the ego attempting to mediate between those drive’s pleasure-seeking and the rules of reality so as to maximize long-term pleasure within the constraints of the real world.

Local-level Author’s claim:

“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 determine it. 

Author’s grounds:

It is taken for granted that examples of animal biological change or development in response to an external image is analogous to human psychological development in response to the mirror image.  Operating on this premise Lacan sites two cases where such change occurs in animals.  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.”

Author’s consequences (stakes):

Unlike Freud’s theory that seems to leave the internally constituted “I” fundamentally separate from the world–like its Cartesian forebearer—Lacan’s conception of the external imago constitutes the primordial ego already within a certain relationship with reality. However, the nature of this relationship is characterized by a gap between the nature of the person its capabilities and resources and what is demanded of it by reality (paragraphs 14 and 15). This “dehiscence” or gaping is prefigured in the distance between the infant subject and his representation in the mirror and later arrives in full force as the knowledge that subject is always late or lacking with regard his or her own obligations to reality.

So, obviously there have been massive rewrites with regard to my global entries and tweaks to the local entries.  The author’s grounds remain virtually untouched as does the author’s consequences or the stakes of the argument.  I am not entirely happy with the division between the claims of the assigned passage and the author’s consequences which are usually understood as the next phase in the argument.  The distinction that I would like to see is the claim sets up the origin of the ego with the imago, and the stakes make explicit its inherent failure of the egoing’s project.  However, the claim already hints at this failure when it says that “the fictional direction will remain irreducible” and “will only asymptotically approach the subject’s becoming [the imago]”.

As I have already exhausted my word count by a factor of two-thirds, I will save my first draft for a post this evening.  As always, assimilate this text at your own risk and I wish you all the best!


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