when that something disappears the pseudo-image in the mirror disappears too.
Since the Antiquity, this ambiguous status of mirror image is closely related with the problemof representation. In
s accountof the painter as
the man with the mirror
assimilates mimetic representation with specularreflection only to establish the superficial andillusory character of
s mistrust of images, Classical anti-quity provides us with at least two founding mythsof representation which are both tales of reflec-tions: Narcissus and Medusa.Indeed, during the Renaissance the platonicrepressed comes to the surface but this time beinginverted, that is, used as an argument for andnot against image-making. Recuperating in Ovid
the myth of Narcissus, Leon Battista Albertirefers to the latter as the founder of painting,associating the narrative with a reflexivity whichis the one of the liberal arts, the noble artsof the spirit, rather than with a skin-deep attach-ment to the appearance of things. At the begin-ning of Book II of
, Alberti writes,
Consequently I used to tell my friends thatthe inventor of painting, according to the poets,was Narcissus, who had turned into a flower;for, as painting is the flower of all the arts sothe tale of Narcissus fits our purpose perfectly.What is painting but the act of embracing bymeans of art the surface of the pool?
Baskins points out that Alberti does not actuallyrecount a
of Narcissus, but allegorizes theaccount instead:
Alberti conflates two aspects of Narcissus
transformation; the flower and the reflectionin the pool both seem to signify the mimeticsurface of painting. (
. . .
) The canonicalinterpretation of the Narcissus trope inAlberti takes the reflection of the pool to beanalogous to the imitation of surface appear-ance, stripped of narrative components andconcentrating on the physical property of water to reflect an image in the real world,Narcissus
reflection corroborates our under-standing of the naturalistic, illusionistic goalsof early Renaissance painting.
It is also Ovid who establishes the link betweenNarcissus and Medusa.
As noted by CamilleDumoulie
, the association of the two myths alsooccurs in Desportes
(1857), underlining thesimilarity of the victimization process being atwork: since the individual is considered to havebeen the victim of his own reflection, the victimi-zer is absolved from all blame. The specularimage is hence associated with the narrative of an originating crime, a suicide in fact, which givesbirth to representation as an image of death
thedeath of its own referent. Capable as it is toimmobilize all who came within its purview,Medusa
s gaze was endowed with the power of creating figures. By killing her, Perseus has stolenthis power for himself. The appropriation of thegaze is the principal theme of the myth which,in Ovid
s account, begins with the theft of an eye.
The use of the shield as a mirrorstresses the split-second
in which Medusa had been
turned into stone. The mirror inverts the relationbetween subject and object, transforming powerinto weakness and vice versa. Perseus insertsMedusa into a closed system where the seer isidentified to the seen.
According to Freud, decapitation refers to thefear of castration, associated with the act of seeing,the visual shock caused by the lack of mother
sphallus which constitutes the decisive momentof fetishism. Medusa
s hair, most commonlydepicted as snakes, would be in that sensesubstitutes of the penis, the absence of which isthe origin of the horror
and desire. The multi-plication of the phallic symbol hence signifiesthe fear generated by the visualization of itsloss, making Medusa
s head a fetish, a displacedrepresentation of female genitalia.
Beyond theFreudian interpretation, Owens pointed outthe correspondences between the myth
s centralepisode and Lacanian psychoanalysis, recognizingin the instantaneous identification of the actof seeing with its own sight
the duality, thespecularity, the symmetry and immediacy thatcharacterize Lacan
s Imaginary order
Thepsychoanalytical perspective is important hereinsofar as it places the specular image in theheart of the structuring of the subject, crossingthe philosophical
approach of self-consciousness as identification.
Lacan definesthe essence of the imaginary as a dual relationship,a reduplication in the mirror, an immediateopposition between consciousness and its otherin which each term becomes its opposite and islost in the play of the reflection
Why do vampires avoid mirrors?
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