Vision and Narcissism

Merleau-Ponty's Late Theory of Vision through the Prism of the Lacanian Mirror
By Olivier Putois

We propose to understand the Lacanian critique of Merleau-Ponty’s late theory of vision as a refusal to identify the visible with the image of the sense according to which the subject might recognize it (carnal narcissism). The mirror stage shows, on the contrary, that 1/ no image whatsoever – even the specular image of one’s own body – has any representative value so long as it does not receive its unconscious signification from a response offered in the locus of the Other under the form of a signifier; and that, correlatively, 2/ the primacy of such a symbolic response opacifies the image, by shedding light on its lack of intrinsic sense. Conversely, the schizophrenic’s fascination for the specular image that is characteristic of the mirror sign confirms the primacy of such a symbolic response by manifesting the depersonalization caused by its absence; it thus permits of clinically invalidating Merleau-Ponty’s carnal narcissism.


  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty
  • Jacques Lacan
  • vision
  • reflection
  • intentionality
  • narcissism
  • chiasm
  • specular image
  • mirror stage
  • schizophrenia
  • mirror sign
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