Afterthought to Le grand meaulnes

I recently visited the inspiring exhibit at the Royal Academy of the Nude in the Renaissance, another topic, along with envy, sycamores et al for a future blog. But, in relation to my observations of my grandson Zac and his first smiles of recognition, I wanted to reflect on an image that was not inside of the exhibition but positioned immediately outside of the exit.

The Mirror Sir Hamo Thornycroft 1890

All I wanted to observe is that so often theory, or sometimes it is a mumbo jumbo of jargon, often follows on belatedly from the creative act whether in literature or image. Pages and pages of twentieth century literary criticism and psychoanalytic theory have been written about when the child first recognises its face in the mirror. Lacan, Andre Green, Winnicott and Derrida are the first to come to mind. Shakespeare also knew a few things about mirrors and the ‘self’ as did Tolstoy. This wonderful nineteenth century image speaks for itself in multiple. Not only is the baby absorbed by the independent and mechanical discovery of himself. (His physical development and hand control suggest him to be approaching a year, give or take, just as the later theorists will attest.) But, his mother also reflects back her baby’s ‘self’ through another form of mirroring, the engagement of her gaze. The positioning of the mirror, whether intentional or due to lack of technique – this was Thornycroft’s submission for his diploma – suggests that the baby has for this moment in time been distracted from his task by the energetic connection of his mother’s gaze. Despite his admiration for Greek sculpture and symmetry there is something precociously psychological in the artist’s observations of his daughter’s relationship with her mother, who were the subjects of the sculpture.

I find it beyond frustrating that the human machine has been so designed that we can never know how we are being seen by another. Sitting in my consulting room as I do for several hours a day – always facing another human enigma – I feel thwarted by the fact that I have no idea as to what I look like to ‘the other’. Yesterday, I was seeing someone to the door where the light is brightest and this person said, somewhat unexpectedly, ‘Oh you really do look tired.’ Then they paused and added, ‘Or am I projecting my tiredness on to you.’ I did not think they were expecting me to answer and who knows what each of us sees unspoken in the other…

With sleep-drugged eyes I gaze intently at her face and suddenly she has become ever so tiny and small – her face no bigger than a button; but I can still see it all quite clearly: I see her glance at me and smile. I like to see her so tiny. I screw up my eyes still more and she becomes no bigger than the little me that I sometimes see in somebody else’s pupils – but I move and the spell is broken. Tolstoy, ‘Childhood’.

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