Perhaps it could be said that the mirror stage, as conceived by Lacan, introduces teleology into being. The story is well known. In the dimension of the Imaginary, of the image– in a sort of Peircian Firstness –the infant experiences its body as a chaotic mass. This is a dismembered body such as that hinted at by Bosch. Here there is not a body. Rather, there is a sound here, an itch there, a scent floats by. There is perhaps a foot, but it is not attached to an ankle or a leg. Or perhaps it is. Perhaps the thigh and calve is not experienced at all, but rather the foot is attached directly to the torso like one of those wind-up toys that waddles across the floor. Nothing really works in this body. My arm might as well be orbiting another star. I gaze upon it. It seems to be mine. Yet I cannot will it to move and when I do I stab my thumb in this other strange organ of which I wasn’t even aware, my eye. It is a chaotic field of intensities, of disoriented sensations and motions, without any center, unity, or “ownness”. You can still sense this primordial body sometimes in moments of extreme fatigue, sleep paralysis, or delirium brought on by fever or in some other fashion.
When the infant encounters its image in the mirror, when it beholds that that image is its own— its doppleganger –it experiences the great joy of a promise. Here it should be noted that the identification with the image, the formation of the imago, is often accompanied by the presence of a second person. Someone over the infant’s shoulder says, with delight, “that’s you!”. In “On Narcissism” Freud speaks of a “primary narcissism” that precedes a love of ones image. That primary narcissism is this spectral voice of delight that accompanies identification with the image. It is a performative act that echoes subsequently in our unconscious: “you are that!” From that moment on the infant will aspire to become a mobius strip, to perform a sort of origami on herself, whereby the chaotic and dismembered body becomes a continuous or single surface with the image. For the promise of the image is that of unity, wholeness, oneness, and, above all, mastery. This is its teleology. Henceforth, the lived body of intensity will try to map itself on to that sterile body of unity, wholeness, and mastery. It will strive to become a surface for the gaze of the Other.
The imago is thus one form of pharmakon. It is both cure and poison. For the imago is a frozen statue, whereas the body of intensities is a dynamic and ever changing thing that eludes our complete mastery. As much as the imago is cause for jubilation, it is also becomes a frozen scream. The teleology introduced into the system, while a solution, also becomes a new form of hell. I can never be that, while nonetheless being that, because the image is frozen, whereas my body of intensities is not. I never manage to achieve unity and wholeness, while nonetheless perpetually striving to be it. I aspire to be dead, because that’s precisely what it means to identify with a frozen image.
We shouldn’t take the role of the mirror too literally. Anything will do. It can be the eyes of another person. Perhaps this is one reason that the loss of love is so painful. It can be the image of another person. Over a lifetime we never cease collecting status, identifying with images, and forming ourselves about these identifications in the way that crystals form about a seed. You are legion. This is how it is with Meno’s paradox. We’re led to wonder how learning is possible. To learn we must know what we seek, yet we don’t know what it is we seek. Yet there are plenty of imagos available and we can identify with these as teloi in our self-formation. In any event, this fold between the body of intensities and the body of the statue repeats itself throughout our entire life.
And perhaps this is what makes writing so painful, for writing is no less a sort of origami or fold between a body of intensities and the body of the statue. In every writing there is the writing and the written. This much is obvious. Writing is a verb. It is the activity of writing. The written, by contrast, is a monument or statue. It is that which remains after writing has happened. The written is the splendor of a complete and well-formed sculpture. The written– especially what others have written –seems complete, total, whole, such that all of its elements fit together and entail one another. We experience it as a gestalt. The written haunts the writing. In writing we experience chaos, loose ends, disorganization, and the way in which language, what we wish to say, slips away. Writing is a night of the world in which all decomposes and we experience a terrifying aphasia. This is, in part, an effect of how the written haunts writing, just as the imago comes to haunt the body. Primary narcissism, that voice that proceeds any regard for our own image, haunts writing, tormenting us with the demand to be that and filling us with the dread that we cannot be that. I do not know how to live this fold, how to endure this origami. Perhaps it is ineradicable and all one can do is write and hope that a unity or whole is produced accidentally, even if it is never there for you.