Mirror Stage and Social Media: Authorization and Embodiment — Işık Barış Fidaner

In this text I support my Žižekian theory of two sutures [1] by a novel approach to Lacan’s mirror stage, and briefly comment on social media. In An Introductionary Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Dylan Evans writes the following about the mirror stage:

The mirror stage shows that the ego is the product of misunderstanding (méconnaissance) and the site where the subject becomes alienated from himself. It represents the introduction of the subject into the imaginary order. However, the mirror stage also has an important symbolic dimension. The symbolic order is present in the figure of the adult who is carrying or supporting the infant. The moment after the subject has jubilantly assumed his image as his own, he turns his head round towards this adult, who represents the big Other, as if to call on him to ratify this image (Lacan, 1962–3: seminar of 28 November 1962).

Thus the mirror stage has two aspects: The imaginary aspect of the infant’s body image that is reflected on the mirror, and the symbolic aspect of getting the adult’s approval. I call these two aspects embodiment and authorization. In the usual jubilant assumption of the image, authorization and embodiment are synchronous, and they form a fetish of the body, alienating the infant in misrecognition [2]. This is the imaginary mode of the objet a.

In time, the child will comprehend the authority and the body as separated from one another, based on their own grounds: The authority is grounded on the adult’s will, whereas the body is grounded on the system of the mirror. Then the authorization and the embodiment are at a distance from one another, and there is an embodiment of a symptom instead of a fetish. This allows the child to comprehend the mirror system as the “other side” of will and desire. This is separation, which involves the real mode of the objet a.

The adult authorizes the child as a subject by assigning him/her to the image. Authorization is the symbolic suture of S1 which “holds within the signifying order the place of what is excluded from it” (Sex and The Failed Absolute) and embodiment is the real suture of objet a which “holds in [the external reality] the place of the symbolic process” (ibid).

In symbolic suture:

essence appears because it is incomplete/thwarted in itself, i.e., what appears is not the overwhelming inner wealth of the essence; appearance is rather the return of what is repressed in/from the essence itself. (ibid)

In other words, the adult ratifies the child essentially as the phallus or by whatever repressed symbolic value that the adult attributes to the child within the context of the adult’s own unconscious mind that is “incomplete/thwarted in itself”. The authorization of the child is attributed to the adult’s will, even though there is always the question of the adult’s unconscious desire behind the veil of the appearance of a will. When the child will be able to perceive his/her own will and desire, (s)he will be able to self-authorize [3] himself/herself, and think for himself/herself, as a subject. This is the Cartesian “I think” [4].

In real suture:

essence itself is only essence insofar as it appears, it has to appear as essence in contradistinction to “ordinary” appearances, i.e., within the sphere of appearances, essence itself has to appear as an appearance that stands for the beyond of appearances. (ibid)

In other words, the mirror image of the child “stands for the beyond of appearances”. It is real in the sense of being an extraordinary image that stands for the essence itself e.g. the freedom of movement. When this extraordinary essence comes directly from the adult’s authorization, the embodiment in the mirror is a fetish, and the suture is imaginary rather than real: The child is alienated in the adult’s symbolic authorization. On the other hand, when the extraordinary essence of freedom is mediated by the will and desire that grounds the child’s authorization, then the embodiment in the mirror is a symptom, and it’s a real suture: The child achieves separation and real authorization. In this case, the system of mirrors that grounds the symptom’s embodiment becomes accessible as the “other side” of the will and desire that grounds the child’s authorization. This is the Cartesian “I am”.

Nowadays, the prominent locus of these two sutures can be found in social media. A social media post is an embodiment grounded by a complex system of “mirrors” (replication of frames on the web). The “likes” and reactions under a social media post are authorizations that ratify its “jubilant assumption” by its viewers, just like in the mirror stage. The interactions on social media are fetishistic insofar as the embodiment of the post cannot be detached from the authorization of the likes. When the authorization of the likes come as aggregates from anonymous sources, they are reduced to large or small numbers that fetishize the embodiment of the post by becoming attached to it. In this case, the will and desire that ground the likes remain indiscernible and disavowed. The fetishization of the posts is also transferred to the fetishization of the social media users who are directly authorized by follows. Such fetishization effectively conceals the systems of the social media companies that ground both of these embodiments. The way to defeat this fetishism is to support an embodiment of a symptom with the real authorization of a “General Will” (Rousseau). However, this is rendered impossible by the interventions by the state and the capital, even if we disregard the “natural” fetishistic tendencies of the dominant social media users. An example embodiment of a symptom on social media is Greta Thunberg, a strong non-state and non-capital actor that shouldn’t be dismissed as pointless fetishism.


Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner


[1] See “The Separation of Authorization (Symbolic Suture) from Embodiment (Real Suture)”

[2] For fetish and symptom, see “Authorization and Embodiment in Fetish and Symptom”

[3] See “Symbolic Authorization of Fetishes and Real Authorization of Symptoms”

[4] For thinking and being, see “Separation of Authorization from Embodiment”


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