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The Story of the "I": Mirroring and Identity in Literature

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Sheli Ayers

on 11 January 2016

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Transcript of The Story of the "I": Mirroring and Identity in Literature

The Story of the "I": Mirroring and Identity in Literature
The Horla as inner master
The Horla may (or may not) be a part of the narrator's psyche that is experienced as an alien invader. As such, it may be a tyrannical aspect of the super-ego or the id. The narrator feels that the Horla is the master and he is the slave.

The narrator is keeping a journal, but at some point we must ask, "Who is writing whom?"
Ego = the core sense of self; who we think we are

Super-ego = the critical and moral self that monitors and evaluates our actions

Id = unconscious drives and repressed psychic content
Freud's model of the psyche: Ego, superego & id
"I think where I am not; therefore, I am where I think not."
"I began to see myself through a mist in the depths of the looking-glass, in a mist as it were through a sheet of water; and it seemed to me as if this water were flowing slowly from left to right, and making my figure clearer every moment. [...] Whatever it was that hid me did not appear to possess any defined outlines but a sort of opaque transparency, which gradually grew clearer" (Maupassant 17).
Mimicry and the Mirror Stage
The mirror stage (Lacan): The child sees itself in a mirror and begins to understand itself as a separate autonomous being, similar to the bigger beings around it. Prior to this stage, the baby had no sense of self and other. Now it begins to develop a sense of self, yet it still feels inferior to the big, powerful adults. It idealizes its mirror image as the ideal and complete self that it has not yet become. This ideal self is called the "imago."

This theory implies two important ideas:
(1) The ego is founded on lack. We desire others/objects that we think will complete us, but we will never be complete.
(2) Our sense of self is mediated by others who act as "mirrors," giving us verbal and nonverbal feedback about who we are.


"The Spider": Richard Bracquemont and Clarimonda
Richard believes that he may be falling in love with Clarimonda. He finds it increasingly difficult to concentrate on his studies. They spend more and more time playing their mirror game; her responses to his movements are so immediate that it seems that they are becoming one. Eventually, he tries to resist, sensing some menace, but be finds that he is powerless. Like the narrator of "The Horla," his will is not his own.

In terms of the mirror stage, Richard's desire for Clarimonda is like each persons yearning for their ideal self (imago). Yet, in this story, this compulsion is a compulsion toward death.
Identity: The story we tell ourselves about ourselves
We have a split consciousness. Part of the self is always reflecting on the self, monitoring the self, narrating the self...
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