The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience
Lacan's conception of the mirror stage has been called his most famous and significant contribution to the field of psychoanalysis. It's also essential reading for anyone interested in Lacan due to the prevalence of the mirror stage's concepts found throughout his entire oeuvre.
This particular rendition of the mirror stage was "delivered at the 16th International Congress of Psychoanalysis, Zürich, July 17, 1949". It is short in length, but quite dense and difficult. I'll attempt to summarize the mirror stage's main features below.
Primarily concerned with identity, subjectivity and fantasy, Lacan claims the mirror stage takes place between the ages of six to eighteen months when an infant recognizes its self in connection with the image of the specular self. The result is a fantasized, fictional self that is unified and made whole via the image in the mirror, or “the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image.”
Due to the self and the specular self not being identical, there is a discontinuity between the two that is psychically alienating. This gap or lack of a unified sense of self, Lacan argues, is where desire stems from—a desire to become whole again. The mirror stage in this sense paradoxically contributes to the “decentering” and unification of the subject through a continuous process of repetition. The following sentence sums this idea up best:
“The mirror stage is a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency to anticipation—and which manufacturse fo the subject, caught up in the lure of spatial identification, the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented body-image to a form of its totality that I shall call orthopaedic—and, lastly, to the assumption of the armour of an alienating identity, which will mark with its rigid structure the subject’s entire mental development.”
It’s also important to note that Lacan’s notion of the mirror stage shares affinities with Freud’s conception of identification and narcissism—the latter contributing to the formation of the ego.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
See also Wikipedia article