Monday, March 1, 2010

Who are you? Can we really articulate who we are?

In this scene from Disney's Alice in Wonderland, the caterpillar asks Alice who she is.  She explains that she does not know who she is because she has undergone several changes since the morning.  While the changes that Alice refers to are merely changes in size and height, she seems to be under the impression that these changes affect the core of who she is as a person.  This scene begs the question, how do we define ourselves?  Is definition found in what we see our image to be? Or, is self-definition more than the image we face in the mirror?

Alice's inability to define who she is suggests that her notion of self is connected with the image that reflects back at her in the mirror.  In other words, she is at what Lacan calls the "mirror stage," a stage where a child "finds reflected back to itself in the mirror a gratifyingly unified image of itself" (Eagleton 143).  Alice identifies with the image in the mirror, an image that seems to reflect a particular size and height and thus, a particular identity.  The changes in her physicality signals for Alice a change in self-definition.  This is because the mirror stage resides in the realm of the imaginary and "[t]he imaginary for Lacan is precisely this realm of images in which we make identifications, but in the very act of doing so are led to misperceive and misrecognize ourselves" (Eagleton 143).  In this sense, Alice does not yet have a "true" notion of self.  Alice's self-definition is a misrecognition of what or who she is, defined solely by the physical reflection found in the mirror.  She is still at the stage of narcissism where selfhood is fictional.  She has yet to arrive at the point where she can truly articulate who she is outside of the mirror.

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 2008. Print.