Lacanian Mirror Stage: Oedipus the King

Lacanian Mirror Stage: Oedipus the King

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Lacanian Mirror Stage: Oedipus the King


The essence of this paper is to determine whether or not Jocasta played a more important role in the rise and fall of the title character. The paper will examine the play Oedipus Tyrannus through the eyes of the French theorist Jacques Lacan. Specifically the paper will focus on the mirror stage of Lacan's theories.

As to the criteria that the paper will use, there are some "truths" that need to be established about the Lacanian division of thinking. In Lacan's way of thought, we all have repressed desires, and these desires can never be fulfilled. In language, there are similar"eternal desires" that cannot be satiated. Lacan carries this further in identifying the patriarchal society with which we live in as being founded on men's words. Therefore, women have no voice in this world and cannot be satisfied in their life times.

For one to better understand Jocasta's character, one must have a knowledge of Lacanian theory, on which it is based. Lacan's mirror stage, originally espoused by Freud, and its relationship to the conscious and un- consciousness. Freud believed that when a baby looked at an image of him/herself in a mirror, they would at a certain point in their development "realize" that the reflection was him/herself they were seeing. It is at this moment in a child's life that the "ego" is formed, or the formation of a "self-awareness". This ego is present in all people; it serves as a reminder of who we are and where we came from.

However, Freud reasoned that to be a fully developed human, we must move on from the simple realization that we are ourselves. We must know or come to know that we aren't the only ones in the mirror. The "child," our selves and our egos, must also realize that our "mother" is there in the reflection with us. In doing so we begin to understand that we are not the only ones in the image, and therefore, not the center of being. Moreover, we "turn" to our mothers and look at them, breaking the egotistic stare. It is the ability to break the primary concern of viewing ourselves that allows us to move into society. We must be able to break that self concerned stare and focus it on our "Mothers" or society as it were. Thus constitutes the mirror stage of Freud's theory.

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Lacan then took Freud's theory on this stage in human psycho evolution and related it to his theories on language. He explains that the image we see in the mirrors is the "I," which is ever fluctuating versus the "me", which is continuous. It is a split that can be best described when "we are trying to look at ourselves in the mirror without catching ourselves doing the looking." It is the separation of these two things that Lacan focuses on in his version of the mirror stage. He has termed them the "signifier" and the "signified". The image we see is the signified and we are the signifier. In his theory, these two separate pieces of self and I, and image and reality all relate to language. By "language," one must understand that not English, nor Spanish, nor German is meant, but rather the entire vocalization that humans have developed to communicate with each other.

Lacan states that this gulf creates an absence, or need. It was this universal "need" that created language as we know it today. In other words, humans speak to one another in an attempt to fulfill this desire or need that is ultimately insatiable. How does this all relate to Jocasta and Oedipus? Jocasta's early history provides an answer to this question.

When analyzing Jocasta's character, the first thing the reader must look at is her abandonment of her child. One must ask the question, "Is Jocasta a good mother if she can do such a thing?" If Jocasta had moved past her own self-realization, as stated in Freud's theory, then she would have understood her role at large to society in this incident in her life. However, it seems that she was more concerned with her own well-being and happiness. The prophecy for which Oedipus was abandoned stated that she would commit incest with him; nowhere in the prophecy did it say that the people at large would suffer. Thus the people were not in danger, only Jocasta's happiness.

It logically follows that if the people are okay, the kingdom would remain intact. A conclusion to rectify this problem would be to abstain from sex to prevent childbirth. However, this would again intrude on Jocasta's happiness; both from the pure physical dissatisfaction, and because of her husband's dissatisfaction. Who would want to be married to a wife who would not engage in physical relations? Especially if she was the wife of a king, who must bear off-spring to secure the throne for future generations. What could Jocasta do then? Could she in good conscience reject the king or should she run the risk of having a boy? If one looks at the story, then one knows her decision. But can this course of action be considered the right and just decision? Did she condemn herself, her husband, and her son to punishment, because she couldn't "turn" to her mother? This lack might be termed a mental retardation of psychology. By this I mean that it might be an indication of her inability to recognize her "mother" as society. When one considers this, it begins to coincide more and more with Lacan's theory. It is Jocasta's inability to articulate her concerns to Oedipus that eventually cause him to run-a-muck. It is Jocasta's silence when her child is taken away to be killed that allows that same child to grow up to fulfill the prophecy. One might go on indefinitely, but the core is the lack of fulfillment in regards to language. Jocasta's inability to express herself through language increases throughout the story. She has that unfilled desire and therefore she ultimately takes her life. In so doing, she breaks her mirror and her son's mirror; for she is his mother and there with him in the reflection. However, since she cannot turn to her mother, he cannot turn to his; the cycle continuous on down the line. Even the granddaughters are to be cursed among men as undesirables, or untouchables. So, down to the last of the line, there is a lack of fulfillment linguistically speaking. For what can these young innocent children say to excuse themselves of their father's sins? The answer is nothing according to the play. Again the inadequacy of language and meaning rears its ugly head to curse these people in their lives.

In conclusion, Lacan's theory holds true to the ways of the world. In any great conflict we know that the reason for the disagreement is an inability on both sides to express their views to the other; so friction arises and we have wars. The whole of the structure of language, even this very paper, is incomplete. For what have I done except add my view to that of countless others; or what has even Sophocles done? Did he created Oedipus to entertain the people or was he merely expressing his own dissatisfaction with words in the creative form of play writing? A paradox perhaps, but all of our cultures and lives are formed upon such paradoxes as this.
 
Works Cited:

Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” The Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.
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