Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?

Although it is very tempting to write about the fun we had in class with the “Slow Jerk“ video and the other professor walking in on us, I will resist and try to think about Lacan’s “Mirror Stage” a little more.

As discussed in class, “the Mirror Stage” is the moment in time of an infant’s life when he/she discovers his/her own body as total whole detached from a parental figure becoming aware of being a self. In “Bodies That Matter”, Judith Butler takes issue with the concept’s point that the infant realizes his/her sex at the same time as he/she identifies a self. Following Butler’s discourse on the construction of the biological sex – the body or its sex is not self-evident and is as much a constructed category as gender asking for boundaries and a definition like any other term, too – a sexed realization of the self is problematic, because it happens within a pre-existing discourse, within the heterosexual matrix.

This critique got me thinking about other moments in life than this very first realization where you come to understand your self through an image in a “mirror”. I know, self-perception is a tricky subject and something you may never fully grasp or come to terms with even though trying to find a self may be a substantial thought in your life. There are many ways through which you can define your self, for example clothes, a favorite music style, religion, a gender identity or a nationality. At the same time, all of these markers or signs are read by people outside your self who apply their own understanding of these markers and signals to your self. So, perception of a self always has a side that is rooted in a personal attempt to understand the self and make it understood, but the other side is to face a lot of “mirrors” that make you look at an image that can be far from what you see in your self.

Dealing with assumptions about the self is no abstract idea, but happens daily, and so you may have found a satisfying middle ground between your idea of the self and assumptions about your self with which you can get along. Those images with which you have to engage a self may have become too familiar, so you stopped questioning them, because they present a certain meaning within a certain context, for example a country, a religious group or a cricle of friends. Thus, the realizing of a sexed self is not the only realization that happens in an already existing context of beliefs and norms. Every realization of identification does.

These “mirrors” are all kinds of things and people through which and whom a self can be understood and reflected and you never know what a “mirror” makes you see in your self. Especially, if this “mirror” understands the world and you in ways that you have never encountered the world with, the middle ground contract between your self-perception and the “mirror’s” images loses its validity and suddenly a notion about you exists that can be very new and unsettling to you.

I don’t really know the answer on how to find a middle ground that is not as shaky, but I have learned that – unsettling as it may be – a good look in any “mirror” opens up some valuable possibilities to get closer to finding a self. Even if that simply means that you realize that this one particular image is ridiculous, I guess, thinking about it was worth the insight.

– franziska krause

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