Saturday, March 15, 2014
Mrs. King mentioned Jacques Lacan's theory of the "mirror stage" in connection with Beloved. I don't know much about Lacan; however, I have read some articles about him and a lot of references to him. The Mirror Stage is when, at around 18 months old, a child can begin to recognize herself or himself in the mirror, signaling, according to Lacan, the formulation of what the child thinks of as a separate, individual self. In Beloved, of course, Toni Morrison writes a lot about identity, consciousness, and childhood. However, what always strikes me in anything to do with Lacan is how much of a complete, barely disguised charlatan Lacan was. Maybe my views should be taken with a grain of salt, since they are informed to a large extent by Alan Sokal (look up his paper "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", which is one of the most depressingly hilarious things I've ever read). However, I think a lot of the problems with his work are just blatantly obvious: for one thing, despite his lack of any scientific background, he uses a veneer of technical terms in nonsensical ways; for example, he compares i, the square root of negative one, to the penis, and often claimed a medical degree of legitimacy to his therapy, without subjecting it to any scientific studies. His writings is often criticized for being obscure to the point of meaningless. He also cultivated a cult of personality in certain French academic fields wherein many academics took his writings as dogma. Perhaps most undeniably and damningly, he was terribly unethical in his therapeutic practices: by the end of his career, he was charging for 50-minute sessions but spending only a few seconds with each patient, sometimes shouting incoherently at them or simply talking to them without listening as in traditional psychoanalysis. While Lacan has some philosophical justification for this (namely, that it reminds the patient that the analyst can have control over the time as well), it is hard to imagine that it was actually helpful for the patients, and it did mean that Lacan had a very profitable and not at all time-consuming practice.