I’m still having slight difficulties understanding all that Lacan meant by “obsessional inversion” in his essay “The Mirror Stage as Formative.” With the smartphone and its many cameras, I can’t imagine how
much deeper he could have gone with his theories. One of the most interesting areas of discussion would probably be these mirror selfies I see everywhere. Usually, their faces are the most unnecessary and hidden parts of these pictures, covered by their phones or huge Nikons… but, I digress.
Constantly, I have wondered why people would suffer through the task of assuming different shapes and sizes to get the perfect angle…
Indeed, it might be the show of flexibility that’s the aim here but it is intriguing to think of how much effort people seem to put in these mirror selfies.
Alas, I have often asked myself a couple of questions to get closer to the answer:
1) Is there no one that can help them take these pictures?
2) Do they only believe in their photography skills or don’t trust others with their cameras?
3) Are the frontal cameras of their phones unable to handle these incredible poses?
4) Or do “mirror selfies” look better than ordinary pictures?
It is important to note I did not just come up with these questions, these are thoughts I walk around the campus with as I scroll down my instagram page daily. After countless months of disgusted “argh , why didnt she just ask someone to take the picture” or sincerely worried “oh my God, will her back be okay after this”, Lacan brought up some important answers and raised even more complex questions. This is where Lacan’s theory of obsessional inversion comes in (yes, I was getting somewhere).
Firstly, the girls I see in similar pictures as the ones above all represent Lacan’s idea of a “subject caught up in the lure of spatial identification.” Is there no one that can take these pictures? Indeed, there are people that might be available to take the pictures that might just be good enough. However, Lacan could easily propose that these women do not want anyone else to take their mirror selfies because they want to capture the physical objects around their external space that form or reproduce how they want to be thought of. Lacan refers to this as
“a relation between the organism and his natural reality….between the Innenwelt and Umwelt.”
It even resembles an effort to explain why they are who they are (if you know them personally) or who they are going to be (if you are just a random internet stalker like me). For example, in Legally Blonde, when the camera placed the pack of blonde dye within our peripheral vision,
Elle Woods wanted us to understand that she was blonde and she embraces the societal dialectic of blondness within that discourse of that time. Though, I could not tell whether she meant that she could not avoid being “that blonde” or if she was saying my blondness is who I was even before I knew that my hair was blonde. In other words, did her parents interpellate who she would be based on what they thought blondes were supposed to be? When they found the first blonde strand of hair on her head, did they take her to finishing schools and buy her heels instead of sneakers? Perhaps, when they doubted her capabilities beyond her sorority, they might have been less mean and more afraid that any efforts outside her blonde boundaries will be efforts to deny her “essence”.
As I made all these parallels and comparisons between Lacan’s subject and all my high school frenemies that I follow on instagram, I realized they were all female. Actually, the second time I read Lacan’s essay, I paid particular attention to her use of gender within the text because I thought much less of the typical man doing what I thought was typical of the majority of females I know. Coincidentally, a male friend of mine sincerely asked “why is it that you girls have tons and tons of pictures of yourself that you take but never use?” As a firm warrior against generalizations i was about to take my sword out of my “What do you mean by ALL YOU GIRLS” shield, when I realized I might actually have a full hard drive of pictures…mirror selfies to be precise. So I laughed out a few guilty cackles and came up with, “am I supposed to only take pictures when I need a new passport.”
Does this mean that women are the only ones going through these formative stages? I think not. However, I do believe that it is much easier to use women as case studies because women are most scrutinized and valued for their physical attributes. I also thought that it would have a lot to do with the increasing rate of encouraged neotony among females. We talked about how women are often encouraged to be cute little puppies who just need someone to tie their shoe laces and maybe even a good spanking when they do something wrong because we all know 5 year olds need that kind of tough love sometimes. Lacan mentions that this formative stage usually occurs during between 6-12 months of the child’s life. However, I am able to form several parallels between her “subject” and these older women. Perhaps, when women hold on to their childishness for such a long time, they end up battling with this “drama” and only realizing their organic insufficiency when they are older. Or even worse, they never pass the stage where they recognize the “organic insufficiency in…natural reality” that Lacan speaks of.
Now, I have answers and new questions to think about which is exactly why I will just delete my instagram account.