Saturday, December 10, 2005


[edited to remove the first two paragraphs - they referred to a former post title]

What I want to do is find a way to distill as wide a range as possible of behaviours and patterns into some basic elements. What I'm laying out here is purely conceptual; empirical application will come somwhere down the line.

I'm going to continue to dispense with citations. I'm not trying to steal the ideas of others and claim them as my own - I'm simply recognizing that no one reading this blog gives a crap who Jacques Lacan is.

So let's start at the root. Back here, I briefly mentioned the idea of the imago. Why do I use the word "imago" rather than the more obvious "image?" Because I'm not going to be talking about a "self-image," at least not exactly, and by using a different word it is easier to distinguish between the two.

The imago is one way of explaining how we come to view ourselves as subjects - how do we perceive our own desires, how do we explain our actions, etc.

I'm going to be making a series of statements that, in all rigor, require empirical evidence. Alas, I don't have access to any of that material now. So just follow the narrative for now and see how it goes for you.

As infants, we exist in a kind of... enclosed totality. What I mean by that is, the only thing that exists to our minds is our immediate needs. Other people, other objects, these go utterly unnoticed. Even our own extremities remain foreign to our minds. Everything just is. You lack nothing, you want nothing, you don't even know there is anything to lack.

A feeling of hungry appears - you lack something. You have a need. There's a literal hole in you. Suddenly there's a new sensation (the nipple in your mouth), you suck, and the hunger goes away. The hole goes away - everything is whole again. No more absence - there is just your mind. As far as you are concerned, you are connected to everything. Total and utter completeness. Freud called this the "oceanic feeling."

That is the first structural point in our development; no consciousness or anything else. Just the real and your needs that are either fulfilled or not fulfilled.

Eventually, you slowly begin to develop a sense of yourself - and the world as distinct from yourself. This is what is called the mirror stage - either literally or metaphorically, you see an image of yourself in the world. This could be one of your parents, or even yourself in a mirror. You look into the world and say "Ah-ha! That's ME!"

This is a new experience; you are suddenly distinct from the world around you. The wholeness that you experienced in your early infancy also disappears; suddenly there is a new absence that your mother's milk cannot fill.

As an early infant, you had a need for milk; when that was fulfilled, you returned to a sense of utter completion. Once you have a sense of "me-ness," this is no longer possible; you are now a forever isolated individual.

When you look at that image out in the world, it isn't actually you. You aren't your father or mother, and you aren't your image in the mirror. But you believe you are - you imagine you are. Basically, your imago is based upon a mistake; a misrecognition.

That's the second structural point - the imaginary identification with an image outside yourself. This is the spark of your imago.

During this second structural point, you still, of course, have a requirement for food. But this food no longer has the same effect on you that it once did; your demands, even when met, do not fulfill what you really want which is a return to the real, or a sense of total completeness.

Even so, you demand an object. You see an object in the world, and you pursue it. You see your imago in the world, and you attempt to become this image, to take it up. You can't actually do this, anymore than you can become your mirror image - but you pursue it anyways, with hopes of returning to the sense of completeness. You attempt to take up a structural position.

Do you see the progression here?

1) Real - Need structural point: you have a sense of completeness, and no sense of individuality. No subject/object distinction. The simple meeting of your biological needs is all you need. This is the

2) Imaginary - Demand structural point: you develop a sense of individuality through an imaginary identification with an external image. Your demands for objects to return to the sense of completeness ultimately goes unanswered.

The progression is that of increasing abstraction.

There's a third structural point. This is called the symbolic point; it is based on the aquisition of language.

Once you aquire language, and can begin to refer to yourself as "I," you are capable of articulating what you want. Note that language is the tool we use to articular ourselves to both others and ourselves - our self understanding is only ever a re-presentation of something incredibly abstract.

First, you simply want a sense of completeness. Then, you want objects to return you to that sense of completeness. In the third point, you are capable of articulating Desire.

Because mere objects such as food no longer return you to that "oceanic feeling," you seek something else out. You begin to seek out the Desire of other subjects. You want other humans to take you up as an object of desire; you want recognition.

If everything else in this post is boring, confusing and stupid to you, then just read this summary:

We are all chasing an image of ourselves in the world. We look into the world, see roles, beliefs and actions and say "ah-ha! That's ME!" and then attempt to fulfill those roles, accept those beliefs and perform those actions. We are attempting to be our imago in order to aquire recognition from other people; we want to be the object of their desire.

Confusing, confusing confusing. I know. When I was listening to my prof's lectures on this stuff, I was riveted but also confused and annoyed. It only made a tiny bit of sense, and it seemed incredibly complicated. It really wormed its way into my mind, though - when I was studying for the final exam, it all made perfect sense.

And before you roll your eyes at the number of un-argued assertions in this post, and there are many, remember my purpose: to explain myself, not to argue for the truth of this position.

There's more. Stayed tuned, if you wish.

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