Saturday, August 30, 2008

Ninth Street and the Mirror Stage

On Friday, I was walking through downtown Columbia to teach my morning class, and watching the people, the diverse crowd that always seems to include some students, some homeless men and women, and some people whose jobs or paths or lives have given way to walking there for a few minutes. I saw a girl, who may have been about three, looking at her reflection in the window of one of the stores, and making this noise of joy at what she saw there. Her mother said, "Do you see yourself there?" She didn't answer for a second, and I walked past and didn't hear whether she said yes or no. Whatever she was thinking, I was thinking about Lacan's description of the infant finding a specular self in the mirror, that's separated when we see that the mirror is a naturally occurring thing that only represents what's put in front of it, and that this helps to break us away from the necessary narcissism of infant dependency.

I've been thinking, too, about how Lacan apprenticed himself to Freud, and seemed to find his genius not by a process of deduction but by this sense of entering his own mirror stage with Freud, after the infancy of being immersed in Freud's work, not leaving his sense of questioning behind but examining its continuities, its harmonies, and, finally, finding the place where the study of the mind and the study of the signifier met, both of them aligned in his thinking so that the imperative to start to speak to his community began, powerfully enough that his force and passion drew crowds to whom his reasoning came home. In this passing on of language, not solely for its logic but also for the beauty of its construction, he was carrying out the role of the poet that Plato describes in Ion, demonstrating it himself, first and foremost, by being a conduit for the ideas of Socrates.

The girl staring into the window, making a sound, was making poetry, and we can see her not being stumped by the question of who the girl is in the window, but seeing her own face superimposed on the colors and shapes in the store, the people moving there, at the point when the mirror turned into glass.


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