Freud in “The Uncanny” introduces a notion of the mirror stage with the concept of the double. [1] Following Rank he tells us that the double has connections with the mirror reflection, and is a creation from a very early mental stage. It has a friendly and an unfriendly aspect. Its origins in primary narcissism which is the friendly aspect assure the subject of his immortality. [2] Lacan has given me the idea that immortality is the key to Freud’s concept of narcissism. In its unfriendly aspect the double, one year before the death drive appears formally introduced, is the harbinger of death. [3] In this sense “The Uncanny” becomes the preface to Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

In his post war papers Lacan locates the death drive in the dual imaginary relation, calling it a narcissistic suicidal tendency. [4] It’s suicidal because a strike against the little other is a strike against the self. Freud refers to Rank (1914) who suggested the double had a paranoid aspect. This is in line with the two dimensions of Lacan’s mirror stage of libidinal dynamism and connaissance paranoiaque. The friendly aspect of the ego falls under libidinal dynamism where the ego is a little other invested with imaginary libido. The unfriendly aspect falls under paranoid knowledge. It wasn’t until 1923 that Capgras formalised the double’s status as a delusion and therefore as psychotic. [5]

Lacan himself understood the double in a relation between the imaginary and the real. There is no mention of foreclosure. “In the mirror experience it can happen that the image in which we believe changes. If the specular image in front of us which is our stature, our face, our pair of eyes, lets the dimension of our own gaze emerge, the value of the image begins to change- especially if there is a moment in which this gaze appears in the mirror and begins to no longer gaze at us ourselves. A feeling of strangeness begins which opens the door to anxiety [. . .] This passage from the specular image to the double which escapes me is the point where something happens, the articulation of which we give to the function of the object a, which allows us to show the generality, the presence in the whole phenomenal field.” [6] (My translation since there is no official translation.) The feeling of strangeness indicates loss of identifications. Instead we have the object gaze which no longer gazes at the subject. It doesn’t hold me in its gaze. It’s not the gaze of the Other which has ceased to exist. The double is not an object of identification. It cannot be grasped in the mirror. If it is perceived, it will not be experienced as an ego. The specular image becomes the foreign and invasive image of the double. The ego has been transformed into a persecutory phenomenon, a psychotic phenomenon. [7] The sign of a foreclosure is the transformation of an image or of something symbolic into the real. The double is non-ego which Freud calls the harbinger of death. Capgras’ paper had not yet been published, and I don’t know if Freud ever read it after it was published. In counterphobic activity the ego is often able to undertake to dress up the object (a) in a chasuble. The (a) nevertheless creates anxiety on occasion. [8]

The friendly libido is imaginary circulating between the specular image and the ego. It would be an imaginary enjoyment. The unfriendly libido comes with an injection of death drive, but it is still a drive worthy of the name enjoyment. Under libidinal dynamism the ego is identified with the little other of the specular image for its sense of self. Under paranoiac knowledge, the unfriendly aspect, the ego is at risk of being robbed by the little other of its sense of self, as Lacan puts it in 1946. [9] When the day of the matheme arrives, the friendly aspect will be formalised first simply as a then as i(a), the image of the little other. He borrows the former matheme, changes its use and indexes it on the unfriendly aspect where it loses its image functioning to become: (a). The object (a) is not part of the mirror stage. It is hidden by the mirror stage. Its interference in the imaginary is experienced as anxiety. Lacan gives the object little (a) the status of the real in S10.


Libidinal investment of the image requires the action of two identifications: the signifier of the ego ideal of the big Other which is symbolic and the image of the little other which is imaginary. Both identifications will be in play in a clinic of neurosis. [10] Identification with the ego ideal which is a signifier brings language into play in a relation to the image. The family signifiers swarm and the subject swims in them, identifies with them.

In “The Uncanny” two types of identificatory relations with the double are discussed. In the first type the subject substitutes, according to Freud, the extraneous self for its own self. The extraneous self is the little other. The little other becomes the subject’s own self, that is, the ego by way of an identification. The ego extracted from the image is interiorised under the influence of an ego ideal. This type is correlative to an operating ego ideal, stabilising the imaginary identification: tu es celui qui me suivras. It falls under the heading of libidinal dynamism. It can be externalised once again, for instance, in narcissistic object-choice: the subject loves an external object that was once a part of him/herself. This is why Lacan calls projection an imaginary mechanism. It is a projective identification. As a defensive operation, if we wish to go a little way along the Kleinian path, projective identification hides the bad internal object (object a) by dressing it up.

The second type of identificatory relation is, says Freud, based on identification with an external object that leaves the object external and the subject in doubt as to which its self is. The ego ideal is not operating, and the imaginary partner is not libidinally invested. It’s a foreign object preventing any degree of interiorisation. A real object is interfering in the subject’s imaginary identifications with transitivistic effects. It also leaves identifications at the level of the imaginary unstable. [11] When the ego ideal is not operating either because it has been foreclosed or because the subject is still dependent on the presence of the Other for its ideal functioning, transitivistic phenomena are dominant. Lacan borrowed the term which describes the effects of the unfriendly aspect of the ego in children’s play such as one child crying on witnessing a playmate fall, another child who hits his playmate makes an identification acting as though he were the one who received the blow. [12] It falls under the heading of connaissance paranoiaque.

In the friendly aspect circulating narcissistic libido between the ego and its imaginary partner is creating effects of Verliebtheit and of sexual overvaluation that come to the support of the sexual relation. In this situation the object escapes a certain amount of criticism. In the phantasy everything is more beautiful than it is. There is more detail in chapter 8 of Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego where Freud distributes love in this relation of idealisation between heavenly and earthly types. [13] Freud’s doctrine of love has religious connotations. He describes earthly love as common sensual love. It takes place with an object invested by the sexual drives (enjoyment) for the purpose of direct satisfaction. It seems to be an action that is the result of a failure of amalgamation of the two types of love. In effect, the drive and love are incompatible. Freud already asserted that love and hate are not attached to drives but appear in the relation of the total ego to objects. [14]

He cannot then be potent with a woman for whom he expresses heavenly love. He doesn’t evade castration with this type of object. Only debased women excite him. According to the Freudian myth, heavenly love emerges because he has killed the father in order to have one of his women. He purges this sin by keeping the field of love free of enjoyment in honour of the father. It demands the woman’s allegiance as well, and the law is sealed in castration. The allegiance is not to the woman but to the dead father which in Lacan’s orientation is one way of translating God. Lacan does not think Freud could have constructed this myth without an allegiance to the Judeo-Christian tradition in which the father deserves all the love in a tradition that demands that the subject suffer guilt. This tradition is kept afloat by the signifier of the Name-of-the-Father. At the level of the treatment, this guilt cannot be reduced by any sort of direct operation on it. There is something impossible in it. One has to de-idealise the Father to reduce the suffering. I never heard anyone suggest a total deculpation.


Freud had already excluded love from the field of the drive before 1920, namely in “Drives and Their Vicissitudes” (1915). Both texts are behind the proposition in Encore that enjoyment of the body of the Other is not the sign of love, where we can take enjoyment as synonymous with the drive. [15] There is no love in the field of enjoyment, renunciation of which is the condition of Freud’s doctrine of love, that is, castration. For Freud civilised man appears in the experience of castration. It makes the drives aim-inhibited, the aim being, of course, satisfaction. Freud’s principle is modified by a proposition that Lacan introduces later: there is love that allows enjoyment and desire to function at the same level. Desire is on the side of language. Enjoyment is incompatible with language. Love reduces the incompatibility between language and enjoyment enough to allow it to exist on the same level as desire. This is the amalgamation that Freud could have had in mind.

Freud has other ideas about love where the emphasis is not on the beautiful, rather on the eaubscène. [16] In an historical reference to erotic life in classical antiquity, the cradle of our civilisation, he comes down on the side of the drive. The ancients, according to Freud, laid stress on the drive itself. They honoured what we now judge to be an inferior object, he says. To lay stress on the drive over and above the partner is to emphasise the real of the body and not the image of the little other. It goes against an aesthetic principle which would count it as eaubscène. Freud’s contemporary subject despises drive activity and allows for it only in the merits of the object. [17] We might add that in Ancient Greece the subject avoided the monotheistic effects of the Name-of- the Father to become what Lacan called a dupe of the real.

Overvaluation of the object allows some drive activity, but it also intensifies the object’s status of fiction. When overvaluation goes too far, heavenly love is introduced. Then the subject has to devalue the object in order to introduce drive activity. If the subject didn’t overvalue the object in the first place, he would not have to devalue it in order to enter the sexual relation. In antiquity it was the image that was swept out of the field of the drive: enjoyment of the body of the Other is not the sign of love. The imaginary is associated with love.

The mirror stage whether at the level at which it is symbolised by the ego ideal or at the imaginary level of the ego in a relation to the little other is a defensive structure. Any drive thrust constitutes a danger for the ego ideal, Lacan says. [18] Drive thrust is seen as breaking into the imaginary relation. Castration and phantasy are going to come into play at this point where drive is interfering. The effect of the ego ideal is repression on pain of castration. The ego defends against drive by fantasy and fantasy must he held in the domain of castration: $<>a. The mirror stage is a fantasy machine. It generates the fantasy of a global image which in the first instance is a defence against another fantasy called the body-in-pieces. These partial images are not resolved but concealed by the mirror stage. The partial image is not an imaginary structure precisely because it is not a global image. The object little (a) begins its elaboration as a partial image.

Co-relative to these two types of identification of the mirror stage desire exists in two states. In one state outside language desire is seen solely in the little other, according to Lacan. [19] Desire in its state outside language foreshadows the concept of jouissance by quite a long time in his work. The cause of desire is the object of the other’s desire. The experience is of being robbed of one’s desire by the little other. We rely on the image of the little other for our sense of self. It’s the friendly aspect of the mirror stage. But the little other can equally rob us of our sense of self. [20] The effect is an aggressive rivalry to the point of the disappearance of the little other. [21] That’s unfriendly enough. It’s the structure of the sibling relation. Enjoyment is reintroduced into the sibling relation where Lacan illustrates invidia (envy) with a scene described by St. Augustine in which a subject is gazing amare conspectus, with a bitter look, at his brother nursing at his mother’s breast. [22] It was a look that tore his brother to pieces with an effect of poison on himself. Envy is the desire to possess goods which would be of no use to the person envious of them. As a desire outside the law, it’s more like a descent towards enjoyment.


In another state of desire the subject inhabits the domain of the symbol where its desire is susceptible to mediation by the law without which every human function, he says, would exhaust itself in the unspecified wish for the destruction of the other. In the first state the death drive has free play. In the second state the wish for the destruction of the other is calmed by the Ideal. The Other is interiorised, and the ego ideal is operating. Desire in language is virtually synonymous with the law. [23]

Freud demonstrates his mirror stage with his own psychical material. It’s about Freud’s failure to recognise his specular image. “I was sitting alone in my wagon-lit compartment when a more than usually violent jolt of the train swung back the door of the adjoining washing-cabinet, and an elderly gentleman in a dressing gown and a travelling cap came in. I assumed that in leaving the washing-cabinet, which lay between the two compartments, he had taken the wrong direction and came into my compartment by mistake. Jumping up with the intention of putting him right, I at once realised to my dismay that the intruder was nothing but my own reflection in the looking glass on the open door. I can still recollect that I thoroughly disliked his appearance. I failed to recognise my double.” [24] That is to say, he failed to recognise his own specular image which had become the foreign and hostile double. His double is his own specular image externalised in the optical play of the plane mirror. Freud is suffering a momentary depersonalisation, a loss of imaginary attributes, not a delusion. The image is not libidinally invested. It’s the unfriendly aspect of the mirror stage. When the disinvestment goes far enough and no longer has a sense of self, it’s not, in fact, functioning as a specular image. It is the object of Unlust inscribed in the ego as non-ego. [25] Freud crossed the plane of identification and symbolised it in his footnote in an ironic way.

Freud had an unfriendly encounter with the real which is the reason for what some people would call psychotic effects. The episode was too brief to call a brief psychotic reaction. It happened in a flash because the neurotic subject cannot spend too much time with the real. Language is the instrument used to symbolise the real. The symbolic is an essential dimension of the mind since it is all about our use of language in relation to trauma. The real is symbolisable to varying degrees. Most subjects can symbolise enough of it. Some schizophrenics can hardly symbolise any of it. Freud symbolised the entire (flash) episode with ironic effects. The subject restored irony to the encounter which is, according to Lacan, equivalent to curing the neurosis. [26] In this footnote one finds Freud’s savoir y faire, the ironic effects of which reveal a dupe of an attenuated real.

Richard Klein, Finsbury Park, London

About the author:

Richard Klein is a practising analyst living and working in London. The following papers issue from clinical experience, textual labour and his characteristic commitment to the transmission of psychoanalysis in the Lacanian orientation.


  • [1] Freud, The Uncanny (1919),SE XVII, pp. 234ff.
  • [2] Strachey was introduced to Freud by one of the presidents of the Society for Psychical Research, Frederic Myers. Freud knew about the English desire to cheat death. I don’t know if he knew about the Russian one.
  • [3] Freud, op. cit., p. 235.
  • [4] Lacan, ‘Presentation on Psychical Causality’ (1946), Ecrits, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, pp. 152-3.
  • [5] Capgras et Reboul-Lachaux, ‘L’illusion des “sosies” dans un délire systématique chronique”, Bull. Soc. Clin. Med., 11, 1923.
  • [6] Lacan, J., Le Séminaire, livre X, L’angoisse (1962-3), Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2004, p. 104. The citation in the text translated by the present writer.
  • [7] It’s a bit ambiguous whether the unfriendly aspect of the ego that Freud calls the harbinger of death is an ego or an object (a) in what Lacan makes of it in the notion of the double. If the object (a) is real, it is non-ego and not simply the unfriendly aspect of the ego. The ego that functions autonomously from the ego ideal in the matrix of the ego that Jacques-Alain Miller calls the autonomous ego is not an object (a). The object double is an effect of foreclosure. The little other in the matrix of the ego creates transitivistic effects through imaginary identifications.
  • [8] Lacan, J., Discours à l’Ecole freudienne de Paris (1967), Autres écrits, op. cit., pp. 262-3.
  • [9] Lacan (1946), op.cit. p.147.
  • [10] Freud thought that the ego ideal was established by means of object-choice.
  • [11] Freud, “The Uncanny” (1919),SE XVII, pp. 234ff.
  • [12] Lacan, J., “Aggressiveness in Psychoanalysis” (1948), Ecrits, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, p. 92.
  • [13] Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1920),SE XVIII, p. 111.
  • [14] Freud, ‘Drives and their Vicissitudes’ (1915), SE IV, p. 137.
  • [15] Lacan, J., The Seminar, book XX, Encore (1972-3), W.W. Norton & Co., 1998, p. 17.
  • [16] Lacan, J., ‘Joyce le Symptôme’ (1975) Autres écrits, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2001, p. 565.
  • [17] Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), SE VII, p. 149 n1.
  • [18] Lacan (1949), p. 79.
  • [19] Lacan (1953-4), op. cit., pp. 170-1.
  • [20] Lacan, J., “Presentation on Psychical Causality” (1946), Ecrits, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, p. 147.
  • [21] Lacan, J., “Aggressiveness in Psychoanalysis” (1948), Ecrits, W.W. Norton & Co., 2006, p. 92.
  • [22] Lacan, J., The Seminar, book XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1964), The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977, p. 116.
  • [23] Lacan (1953-4), op. cit. Pp. 170-1.
  • [24] Freud (1919), op.cit., p. 248n.
  • [25] Lacan, J., The Seminar, book XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1964), The Hogarth Press, 1977, p. 240.
  • [26] Lacan, J., “Réponses à des étudiants en philosophie” (1966), Autres écrits, Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2001,

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