As many images have been captured in the past 6 months, as have been taken in the history of humanity to-date (paintings, drawings, films, photos etc).
Donald Winnicott proposed that the mother establishes the sense of reality, of existence, in her infant by adapting herself to his internal world of sensation, and by acting as a mirror; reflecting back through her face – the baby’s internal sensations. (‘The Mirror-Role of Mother and Family in Child Development 1967).
On the other hand – Jacques Lacan observed (Le stade du Miroir 1949) that “when a child looks in the mirror he sees a unified image of his own disarray”. An actual mirror – presenting back to us, as it does, a unified visual image of ourselves – is a challenge. We don’t feel ourselves to be one single unified being as represented by the image.
The point is that our sense of Self has throughout millions of years of evolution been established by social reflection – first of our interior sensation in the face of our mother and then others. The actual visible reflection of our image is an entirely new challenge to the richness of who we really are or can be.
What then is the impact of so many images, captured by all of our mobile phones and then “tagged” and replayed to us constantly?
The self that is created in a social mirror -our sense of who we are as a sum of how we are perceived by those around – must surely be entirely different from a simple visual image. The image of our face has no bearing on the image of our person – in all its multiple facets. Is this not Lacan’s point from his 1949 paper? Now, however, we are deluged with this visual imagery – and increasingly also confronted with our ageing – because we have the record of our image from the past. Does this mean that we now construct our sense of self from the outside in – from multiple images back to who we are inside? Is this not a recipe for a plague of narcissim; and does the impact of the photograph not only steal from our other senses – but also usurp our very being?
Lacan and Winnicott were writing in the age before Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and the mobile phone. Is anyone investigating the change to our species of this aspect of our technological – “progress”?
As Adam Phillips puts it, the maternal mirroring process that creates the Self that is each of us…
“He (an infant) can only discover what he feels by seeing it reflected back. If the infant is seen in a way that makes him feel he exists, in a way that confirms him”
What impoverishment to have this reduced to the pixels on an iPhone..