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Through the Looking glass

The Letter, Issue 4, Summer 1995, Pages 13 - 26


Helena Texier

Reflecting for a moment on the title that I found I had chosen for this paper today, it occurred to me that, for those of us whose mother- tongue is English at least, this phrase Through the Looking Glass immediately evokes a reference, - not to Jacques Lacan, but rather to Lewis Carroll and his Alice's adventures. Following quickly on this, it occurred to me that really Man did not have to rely on the emergence of psychoanalysis in order to grasp the means by which he could come to realise the full weight of the mirror's effect on his being, or the possibility of a life beyond the looking glass. Even if psychoanalysis had never existed, man's reflections on his relation to his image would still be available to us in the field of the Arts and especially so in the field of the Letter. If Freud had not written about the ego, narcissism, the image, the eye, the automaton and Man's curious relation to his optical instruments in The Uncanny , we would still have Hoffman's tale of Nathaniel and his beloved doll in The Sandman, and we would still have Dostoyevsky's sad account of Mr Golyadkin in The Double. If Lacan had never seen fit to describe for us what is involved in his famous looking-glass phase we would still have at our disposal the essence of what is at stake in a work penned by our own Oscar Wilde. I am of course referring to his short novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and in particular to the following passage:

Dorian made no answer, but passed listlessly in front of his picture, and turned towards it. When he saw it he drew back, his cheeks flushed for a moment with pleasure. A look of joy came into his eyes, as if he had recognised himself for the first time. He stood there motionless and in wonder, dimly aware that Hallward was speaking to him, but not catching the meaning of his words. The sense of his own beauty came on hime like a revelation. He had never seen it before. [1]

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