Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lacan's Imaginary Order – explanation and summary

As part of his model of the subject psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan suggested three mutual dependant yet separate orders: the imaginary order, the real order and the symbolic order.

The imaginary order according to Lacan is constituted through the birth of the "I" in what he terms as "the mirror stage" (age 6-18 months). The I of the imaginary order in constituted through vision, as a coherent image that the baby has of himself in the mirror or in the presence of someone else. This coherent image, according to Lacan, is at odds with the baby's motor experience at this stage, which is characterized by a sense of fragmentation. This dissonance, between a coherent image and fragmented sensation, will continue according to Lacan to be a part of the person's life for as long as he or she lives. Much like the baby in the mirror stage, which seeks a unified and coherent image of himself in the mirror, so do adults constantly seek identification with ideas (and not just images) in order to make up for their sense of frustration and aggression that result from lack of coherence and a sense of a fragmented self.

Therefore, the term "imaginary order" takes on a double meaning in Lacan's theory: imaginary in the sense of image, something seen or visualized, and imaginary in the sense of imagination, something which exists in the mind regardless of its existence in real life.

Lacan strongly opposed previous psychoanalytic perceptions of the self, claiming that the self is not a coherent thing that one can point to. The self, for Lacan, is rather a function which points to a failure of the consciousness originating from a basic alienation of the "I" from himself. This means that instead of presenting the self as autonomous the imaginary function constructs it as a product of identification with others. For Lacan, the imaginary order is linked to the manner in which the I is caught up in competitive relations with the other.

Suggested reading on and by Lacan: