Anal-ytic Exposition Dump Part 4b: A sudden uncertainty

And this is what keeps me coming back to precept group… John you are amazing!

Well, I had hoped to have a rough draft of the three page Lacan paper finished by the time I made this post, but due to some unforseen eventualities I found the project set back considerably.  Now, lest you think that I decided to wear a diabolical Dr. Horrible costume to the MAPH Halloween party after all, allow me to recount the day’s intellectual events.

1) MAPH precept group threw a serious monkey wrench into my reading of Lacan when it was suggested that my answer to question number one back in that second blog post was about as wrong as one could get.  My reading of the machinery of the metaphorical mirror-stage has centered around the idea that “the form” which situates and constitutes the ego–inscribing in it its inherent nature from the moment of its appearance–is the imago.  Lacan writes specifically that it is the imago that constitutes the ego, not the ego that constitutes the imago and the words situate to fix or build (something) in a certain place or position) and constitute (to set up or establish, to found) are very, very similar in meaning.  Thus, the ambiguous assigned passage which deploys “the form” to refer to the thing that constitutes the ego was read as referring to the imago.

Imagine my surprise when it was suggested that “the form” could not possible refer to the imago, but must refer to a more primordial form of the ego constituting itself.  Now this is ego constitutes ego reading is problematic on two fronts in my opinion a) there is no ego to constitute an ego in a fictional direction until the ego has been called forth by the experience of the imago.  The ego constituting ego reading, then, seems to posit that the appearance of the imago calls forth a response from whatever is before the ego to an ego, and then for that ego to constitute another ideal ego which is the fictional direction.  This seems to be unnecessarily complex when we could say that the ego that is constituted by the appearance of the imago is already split–representing both the actuality of the primordial id’s condition and misrecognized ideal self of the imago.

This may seem like a little nit-picky thing, but–as I said–the whole reading of the text turns on the idea that the imago both calls forth the ego and constitutes its nature.  If the ego constitutes itself, I can’t make sense of Lacan’s mirror metaphor.

2) Post MAPH precept group I wormed my way through the crowds to ask the resident Lacan Guy, David Wray to examine the assigned passage and render a verdict.  He agreed with my reading that it is indeed the imago–and nothing else–that could possibly constitute and situate the ego in its fictitious direction.  HOWEVER, he also said that if I got a B on the paper because I quoted him he’d forget he ever knew me (I LOVE that guy!)  I took this to mean that if I did put forward my imago reading on the final paper I’d better just make it bullet proof rather than resort to star power.  In the process of researching in order to provide said armor plating I realized that Lacan’s larger program was really not to disagree with Freud’s conception of the nature of the ego–the position that had taken root in my brain–but to correct the timing of the split in the ego and the sort of mechanism that did the work.  Again, this seems to tweak the dominant reading that we were getting–or at least I was getting–from the lecture on the mirror stage.  However, to support this claim would demand even more careful comparison between the Freud and Lacan texts.  So, long story–long: six hours later and I’ve only just finished a draft of the introduction.  So here you go…

Rough draft–Introductory paragraph including Lacan’s claim and its stakes.

In the assigned text from The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function (…), the author argues that subjectivity is constituted by or in response to the presentation of an imago, the metaphorical mirror-image that serves to call forth an act of self-conceptualization to which psychoanalysis gives the name “ego.” Lacan agrees with Freud’s conception of the ego wherein the construct is characterized as–relatively–cohesive and unified,1 but betraying itself as divided when it encounters the conscience which compares the original ego to the newly formed ideal ego.2 Where Lacan intends to correct Freud’s mischaracterization is in regard to the point in time at which the ego ideal is formed and the mechanism that causes its division. Fraud argued that for the ego to become disunited it was necessary for one to both intellectually know cultural and ethical rules and also to have internalized them.3 Lacan argues that the ego is always, already in conflict with itself from the moment it is constituted or situated by an imago. The nature of the constitution of the ego results in 1) perpetual striving toward the ideal, 2) perpetual lateness and failure in its pursuit, and 3) perpetual dependent on the Other.


1Freud speaks of the difficulty of differentiating between the ego-instincts and the ego-libido, but acknowledges that the ego is a unity. Sigmund Freud, On Narcissism: An Introduction, p 76-77.

2Freud is less clear on this point than a careful student would wish, but in the second paragraph on page 95 of On Narcissism, he declares that “a special psychical agency [the conscience] which performs the task of seeing that narcissistic satisfaction from the ego ideal is ensured and which, with this end in view, constantly watches the actual ego and measures it by that ideal [ego].” This passage demonstrates that the more recently developed ideal-ego is not identical with the more primordial actual ego and also that the ideal-I is not identical with the conscience.

3Freud, On Narcissism, p 93.

I’ll be up bright and early to finish the rest of the draft which I will post as Part 5 and a polished version will follow as Part 5b on Saturday evening.  Now, get back to your Halloween party and leave me alone…


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