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Aspects of Specular reflection.

The reflection instrument (mirror) and specular reflection (mirroring understood as a process referring to our perceptive mirror stage) has multiple significances. These concepts have gone far beyond the catoptrical domain and could be be used not only in speculations of a physical nature, but also in the development of philosophical suppositions, "based on the idea of Verb, Vision, Representation, Creation, Remembrance" (Jurgis

Baltruisaitis). A miracle-object of instantaneous and complex reproduction, the mirror becomes an instrument of self-knowledge, which unveils both our own image and the relationship with ourselves. The relationships established between mirror -which is ambivalent by its own nature- and a human being are often conflicting. "Symbol of knowledge, metaphor of literature and art, starting point of all duality [1, p.134] this" foreign eye in which we search for the truth about us" [1, p.135] has given birth to the greatest fears, disillusions, anguish in human being's soul. In the so-called reflection instrument, the human being is permanently looking for its real image, finding all the time differences between his "self" and the reflected image: mysterious, silent, reversed. Fear to see one's own reflected image has perpetuated after the science of optics and psychiatry have made important progress, a fact explained by the complexity of modern man, who, quite often, discovers a representation which is "strange, unsettling, in which he perceives the image of the other one, definitely different, in which his awareness of himself is disturbed and alienated" [2,p.116]. An instrument of self-knowledge, but also of some magical experience, mirror shows us both the exterior image and the inner side, ghosts, the relationship with time and with ourselves. Being considered commonplace today, over time, the mirror stage has known fascinating interpretations, generating anxiety, prejudices, speculations. The image reflected in the mirror, lacking materiality and based exclusively on what our eyes can offer, can be interpreted as reduplication of reality, illusion or deceit. Quite often, it is more interesting than the original, ignoring its complementarity, being considered autonomous and independent.

Mirroring/ specular reflection means, first of all, a connection with otherness. The 20th century psychoanalysis, like other disciplines, approaches the confrontation of the self with itself in contact with the mirror. The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan identifies the mirror stage as a forming principle for the functioning of self, representing the moment the man-child becomes aware of seeing himself in the mirror, recognizes himself, occurring between the age of one and a half year and the age of two. It is kind of self knowledge, but not recognition, because before this age, the child has not discovered his own body. Noticing his own image in the mirror is, according to Lacan, the first stage when an individual becomes aware of his own self, his first self identification. This is "a moment of primary narcissistic identification which will represent the basis and prototype of all future identifications"[3, p.278], it will be the starting point of human psychic life, the beginning of self structuring. The mirror stage identified by Lacan has, from a psychoanalytic point of view, important consequences on the level of forming self, representing the moment the human being perceives itself as a dual split being.

The mirror stage represents the awareness of the relationship established between self and self, that is the existence of somebody exactly like you, reflected by the outside world. This concept points to the reflected image, which inspired Freud for the notion of narcissism. In elaborating the concept of mirror stage, Jacques Lacan used the studies about the psychology of child made by Henri Wallon, which describe children's reactions when they see their image reflected in the mirror. Wallon is of the opinion that the perception of image in the mirror is an essential stage in self perception and in the development of a notion about self, emphasizing the fact that specular function contributes to self knowledge, the mirror being the platform from which the manchild's complex thinking is launched. The function of specular reflection in outlining the self was also present in the research made by Francoise Dolto and the British Donald Winnicott, who support the opinion according to which, in the process of individuation, there is the stage before mirroring, the pre-specular image. Discussing the issues of thinking, Winnicott refers to the way mother mirrors her baby's status. When a mother looks at her child, she reflects his inner condition. For Francoise Dolto, too, the mirror is first a psychic surface, that is, the voice, the mimic maternal language, mother's face and, mainly, her gaze. The same author supports the idea that "it is not sufficient to exist a flat mirror. This will be of no use if the subject is confronted with the lack of his mirroring into somebody else"[4,p.154]. In this way, the relationship with the mirror has an overwhelming role in forming the human being. The specular reflection allows the subject to "become aware of himself"[5,p.328]. This initial identification, revealed by mirror stage, is considered by Lacan to be the "crucial experience of childhood, and, in fact, of life, a source of all identifications occurring later on", the first stage in the forming of human being. The child, still in a state of helplessness and lack of motor coordination, imaginary anticipates the perception and control over his body. This imaginary unification is achieved by the identification with the image of the individual as a complete being. Later on, this stage was considered to be a permanent structure, a paradigm of the imaginary, a stage in which the subject is permanently captivated by his own image, representing, at the same time, the initial setting of forming symbols and starting the imaginary act. Instead of being considered an object, the image and , first of all, the one in the mirror stage, is the one which allows the individual to turn into subjectivity. Therefore, the mirror stage is the initial adventure by means of which man lives for the first time his experience as a human being. This stage is the matrix and the design of what the self will be and, at the same time, it illustrates the conflicting nature of a dual relationship: I am another one, because he recognizes himself in the image of another one. Exactly as being the other one, he perceives himself and validates himself.

Man can perceive his real image only in the process/act of mirroring, but this phenomenal manifestation does not always and accurately acknowledges his expectations. Between model and copy there interfere deep anxiety and substantial ontological crises. When we approach the issues of the mirror, we enter, in fact, in another world, an altus mundus, where reality and illusion mingle or where our dual eternal, that is our specular image, exists under the sign of simulacrum. In childhood, the relation with the mirror is a moment that our memory does not keep (it is less probable for someone to remember the moment he looked himself in the mirror for the first time), but whose impact, at that specific moment, must have been very strong. We think that something similar must have happened when the prehistoric man caught a glimpse of his image in the surface of water or reflected on a shiny surface--he began to look for the truth about himself. The more so, as the mirror gives the image of the invisible, because a man, looking at the mirror, will see his image, which in normal circumstances is hidden. It is without doubt that this reflecting instrument, in a certain sense, becomes a measure of human dimension, is the favorable environment of self perception and self knowledge, sometimes resulting in contradictory or paradoxical meanings connected to his own consciousness, the sensation of a labyrinth of inner imaginary by the impact with his own image, at the intersection with the other ego of the self. It is evident that this object was not only considered to be magical , but it also had a special charm. It inspired the search and investigation of the self, the quest to find doors to other worlds, it generated the idea of a transcendental world of which we have only a glimpse by means of the eyes of the mind, it revealed a reversibility of things; the certainty of the evident and the incertitude of the existing stage. Placed at the confluence of several disciplines (history, mythology, art, sciences, psychoanalysis), the multitude of significances proper to the mirror is present in a special way in literary fiction, concomitantly taking part in the development of the text and its meanings. The specular reflection is to be found in the feminine prose between the two World Wars (H.Papadat-Bengescu Woman in front of the mirror, Henriette Yvonnes Stahl The star of the slaves in the contemporary novel (Woman in front of the mirror by the French writer Eric Emmanuel Schmitt, the story of three women, belonging to different epochs and from different places, who be come a mirror to each other, three centuries in front of the mirror) etc. The mirror allows the heroines in the Romanian feminine prose to have access to the obscure zones of their souls and subconscious. The authors, convinced by the fictional and symbolic force of this topos, make use of its sources and esthetic effects. Rejecting the categorical distinction between the real and the imaginary, the mirror fiction creates the conditions for characters' duality, betraying their need to get into contact with their own ghosts. The reflection of the self appears to be disorganized, revealing the crisis of the soul structures of the characters. Mirroring gives birth to a dual specular, a profound, problematic and hallucinating self. The theme of the dual is constantly taken over, beginning with the romantic literature. In the works of the romantic writers, the dual appears as the mirror of a deep, problematic and hallucinating self (Hoffmann, A. Poe, Gautier etc). The dual specular gaze (mimetic and introspective) confronts the literature character with significant experiences, revealing his hidden, stifled side. Mirror confrontation with his own image reveals a dual alienated foreigner, whose phenomenal manifestation worsens the serious existential crises.


The authors state that they are no declared conflicts of interest regarding this paper.


(1.) Evseev I., Dicttionar de simboluri si arhetipuri culturale, Timijoara, Editura Amarcord, 1994

(2.) Melchior-Bonnet S., Istoria oglinzii, Bucurejti, Editura Univers, 2000

(3.) Marshall G., Oxford. Dictionar de sociologie, Bucurejti, Editura Univers Enciclopedic, 2003

(4.) Dolto F., Imaginea incojtienta a corpului. Opere 2, Bucurejti, Editura Trei, 2005

(5.) Boldea I., Poetica ji critica literara, Targu-Murej, Universitatea "Petru Maior", 2008

Galina Anitoi--PhD researcher, The Institute of Philology of the Academy of Sciences of Moldova


Aurelia BORZIN, Ph.D. Student, Faculty of Philosophy and Social-Political Sciences "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" University, No. 11 Carol I Bd., Iasi, Romania,

Submission: 28 Nov 2017

Acceptance: 15 jan 2018
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Title Annotation:Multidisciplinary contributions
Author:Anitoi, Galina
Publication:Bulletin of Integrative Psychiatry
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EXRO
Date:Jun 1, 2018
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