Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: A Dancer, Her Psychosis, and the Black Swan of the Real

Laura Stephenson

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Jacques Lacan argues that self-identification occurs when individuals first see a mirror image of themselves, known in psychoanalytic theory as ‘The Mirror Phase’. Because the individual identifies with this image outside of the self, subjectivity is based upon alienation and misrecognition, creating a dualistic split in the human psyche, and a space between the Imaginary of infancy and the Symbolic of adulthood.

Using Black Swan (2010) as a cinematic case study this paper addresses what happens when an individual, during an episode of psychological disturbance (acute psychosis), encounters that problematic space, the Real, in a manner that propels them back into the pre-Mirror stage conflict with the image over an increasingly disarrayed subjectivity. Nina’s psychosis is articulated by the onset of a series of hallucinations, which take place in front of mirrors, signaling the disruptive regression to her infantile mirror phase where she has no unified sense of self.

Her psychotic hallucinations are the emergence of the horrific Real, erupting through her reality as she battles with a subjectivity founded on fragmentation and separation. Nina’s cinematic interaction with the Real visually portrays the tension between her malevolent inner ‘black swan’ and the innocent ‘white swan’ that functions as her imago.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-82
Number of pages18
JournalMEDIANZ Media Studies Journal of Aotearoa New Zealand
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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