Forming the Other

Several days ago while trying to help a friend with a research paper I read an article that has now inspired this post. She ended up not using it for her paper, but since we both took so much time discussing it (seriously we were on chat for like four hours with this thing), I felt I should do something productive with it, even if just a blogpost.

To love your own reflection is narcissistic, and to love another that is a mirror image of yourself is a diluted form of self love (which I think I established in a post on a similar topic a few weeks ago). But to mirror yourself in the image of another is absolutely destructive – you lose yourself in the echo of their image, sometimes to the point where you can’t find yourself ever again. When you are at this point, the only alternative is not to keep searching, but rather reconstruct yourself from nothing through the eyes of the other – a false reconstruction at best.

In other words, what once may have started as a creative process, where you create the other in your image and consequently construct the other in your eyes, while you also created yourself, ends in a chain reaction of misrecognition.

In Lacanian terms, in the mirror stage, once an infant is able to perceive himself in the mirror and identify himself through his various parts, he is able to separate himself from the notions of unity with the mother and form his own identity. This identity depends on lack, in that the infant, in finding himself, is no longer a whole with the mother. Similarity as the lover and the love object unite to create one cohesive point through mirroring each other from two different perspectives, they are each further torn from themselves. As the lover looks in the mirror at his love he sees the similarities between himself and the image, but these similarities are highlighted through the differences, and it is these differences that alienate him from the image.

The article demonstrates this point through the Petrarchan sonnet, which operates in two ways, both leading to a series of misrecognitions. First, the Petrarchan lover must continuously pine for a woman he cannot, and will not have, and in the process elevates the woman onto an imaginary pedestal – he strips her of reality and builds a figure comprised of only her positive attributes, many of which are reliant upon himself.

Secondly, in the process of pursuing the unattainable woman, the Petrarchan lover also becomes elevate to a higher spiritual plain, as the love is considered pure, untainted by the physical, or the erotic. Even when the focus is upon the physical beauty of the woman, by virtue of her unattainability the love is for a higher order of beauty, the unadulterated idea of what the woman represents.

Except by creating her in his image he is essentially participating in an autoerotic act that nullifies his own purity, while maintaining hers. She remains untouched, especially since her image is not actually her own, but rather one superimposed upon her in an attempt to mediate the alienation caused by their differences.

This way of regarding her is unnatural, placing her into an ideal that she may not necessarily embody, and one that she arguably cannot embody. She is the perfection the lover wishes to be. Once she is cast there, to fulfill her role, she must first acquiesce to this image, and then play the part.

Her only means to properly form herself to her role, is through echo, mimicking back to the lover what she is essentially told she must say. She confirms and denies his existence. She is the Echo to his Narcissus.

He formed her while forming himself. She was formed by him, and then formed him. By loving her he loses himself in the false image of her.

And in the process neither can fully recognize the other, or themselves.

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