Lacan was most intrigued by how infants aged between six to eighteen months, play and study their reflections in the mirror, whilst also recognizing his or her own movements. It is in that moment, that the child begins the construction of self, self referred to as I, by Lacan. The infant understands that it is himself and establishes a first impression, unconsciously aware that his first impressions are based on his appearance but also his surroundings and the existence of the world. This occurrence between the child, the child’s reflection and his progression is what Lacan calls “The Mirror Stage”.
One of many of Lacans focal points and references throughout the reading is that of the “Gestalt Theory”, which has great relevance in accordance to the “mirror stage” but also challenges its beliefs. Initially Gestalt is a German word that means form, pattern or configuration. In further depth, the Gestalt Theory is the character of human experience and behavior and focuses on wholes and whole patterns. As a result the way in which we see our reflection in the mirror, is unified by the actions of the brain, creating a recognizable image out of purely geometrical shapes, curves and lines.
Therefore, is there not a contradiction that lies between the Gestalt Theory and the Mirror Stage? Automatically when we look into the mirror and see our reflection according to the Gestalt Theory we see a shape, we see a body, and only afterwards do we search beyond just the body. So how then are we to recognize the image as our image if the Gestalt Theory recognizes shapes and the Mirror Stage recognizes Identity or Identification?
Could this be the reason for Lacans belief that we are “certainly more constituent than constituted”? That we are serving as a whole rather than being that whole? And that we are not real and we do not know the real us because of an illusion?
“The mirror stage can be understood as a form of identification”.
We look at our reflection; we study it and use this as a way of identity. The drive that comes from understanding our identity then gives birth to our ego, the ego is formed by the image of self and others. Because the gestalt theory explores human behavior perhaps this is the cause for us being able to identify the image in the mirror as ourselves, through ego. However in relation to Lacans use of the Gestalt Theory, he describes us to be “constituent than constituted”, we imagine a mental process involved in deciding our identity but perhaps we do not need an ego to recognize us as we are. The Gestalt Theory and The Mirror Stage Theory somewhat work hand in hand, as both theories adopt a kind of automatic cognitive recognition of our reflected image as our own.
At 0.14 seconds of “Zero Degrees”, dancers Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi, begin their choreography symmetrically in front of one another. The duet consists of the bodies mirroring each other dancing in unison and at moments performing different movements at separate times. The intertwining arms and tangled partner work, demonstrates bodies that are belonging and not belonging to each other, through symmetrical movement and opposite movement. There is this feeling of power and submission between the men, and in my way of thinking, it is similar to my idea of the Gestalt and Mirror Theory being different but similar. The choreography indicates the challenges between both theories, for example how seeing the body and just a reflection, is different to discovering the self as an identity. The synchronization of the moving bodies at moments where they were in symmetry imitates a body looking into the mirror, engaging in self-discovering, the same as a child would through the mirror stage. There appears to be an argument between Khan and Larbi as if they’re bodies discuss getting to know themselves but also the other person, as quoted by Lacan “the specular I turns into the social I”.
Lacan states that;
“...in an ambiguous relation, the world of his own making tends to find completion...”
At 0.37 seconds the dancers break away into a fall catching themselves by running backwards into the dark standing flat against the wall. The choreography, in that moment can deliberate upon Lacan’s statement, because even though the dancers seem to be finding completion, whilst mirroring one another in continuity, their abrupt break away showed that they felt there was a journey to be continued and that they desired “to find completion” . Perhaps in that moment they may not have discovered enough in their own reflections, (similarly to the child’s development through the mirror stage; and Lacan's principle about “paranoiac knowledge”) and demonstrated that by relying on the formation of self whilst looking in the mirror to make sense of the entire world, is not necessarily an efficient method.
Alike Mirror Stage and the choreography also, with all due respects, they both seem somewhat unfinished, hazy and in working progress, however both the Lacan’s “The Mirror Stage” article and Akram Khan and Sidi Labri’s “Zero Degrees” take you through a journey and really engage the viewer because of its many underlying surfaces. Both pieces may leave some questions unanswered but the advantage of that is it can be revisited repeatedly and still something interesting can be found and learnt.