What would happen if reflections did not exist?
No mirrors, no shop windows, no reflective surfaces at all to catch yourself in.
Catching the train, you would not have your image thrown back to you by the carriage doors as you pass through a tunnel.
You would not be able to tell how far your pesky melanin had made your freckles spread.
You would not be able to look at your reflection and imagine what you would look like as a mannequin.
How would we conceive of ourselves if we couldn’t see a comprehensive whole shone back to us?
Consider the following:
“The idea of the “mirror stage” is an important early component in Lacan’s critical reinterpretation of the work of Freud. Drawing on work in physiology and animal psychology, Lacan proposes that human infants pass through a stage in which an external image of the body (reflected in a mirror, or represented to the infant through the mother or primary caregiver) produces a psychic response that gives rise to the mental representation of an “I”. The infant identifies with the image, which serves as a gestalt of the infant’s emerging perceptions of selfhood, but because the image of a unified body does not correspond with the underdeveloped infant’s physical vulnerability and weakness, this imago is established as an Ideal-I toward which the subject will perpetually strive throughout his or her life.” (Taken from here.)
As infants, we see the whole but do not feel it. We see ourselves in a mirror and it is from this that we believe that we are a single ‘whole’ self.
But the lack of control we experience our own body, this fractioning of self, does not correspond with this sense of a unified self and thus begins the striving for an unattainable ideal: reconciling our fragmentation (which more often than not feels like a glass that’s been smashed by a hammer) with the single body we see reflected in the train door.
So, what if mirrors never existed?
What if we were only ever stuck with our fragmentation?
Is this the experience of blindness? Are blind people able to deal with their multiplicity of self without being haunted by this unattainable ideal of wholeness?
Imagine not struggling with the fact that you feel like Frankenstein’s monster, your roles (whether to be the student, the daughter, the lover, the musician, the doctor, the poet, from one minute to the next) sewn together like mismatched limbs, but look like a complete human being, sans stitches.
If there were no reflections, how would we conceive of ourselves? Would we find another way to create an unbridgeable gap between what we are and what we desire to be?
Inevitably, I think.
But how would it manifest if the mirror was taken away?