Lacan uses the term Gestalt to indicate the body-image. According to the psychology from which he takes it, it is a global figure quite different from its parts considered separately. It’s an auto-erotic, fragmented body held together by the mirror. He says of it that it is more constituting than constituted. These terms were deciphered a long time ago by Jacques-Alain Miller. The constituting axis tends to be on the side of the symbolic and the constituted axis more on the side of the imaginary. Lacan’s topology of the real, the symbolic and the imaginary is not yet in place, and he is using other terms. The specular image in the constituting axis has a different function than in the constituted axis. In its constituting axis it is articulated to the ego ideal by a vertical (hierarchical) identification. This axis is symbolic where the image is linked to language. The constituted axis is imaginary linked by horizontal (imaginary) identifications. Lacan in his early teaching refers to Freud’s diagram on p. 116 of Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921).
The ego ideal situates the agency of the ego in a fictional direction, according to Lacan in 1949. Something symbolic misleads something imaginary. It’s not just the imaginary that is deceptive, illusory. The Ideal imparts to the ego a remarkable capacity to imagine the world other than it is. At another point in his teaching he introduces this symbolic deception as truth structured like a fiction, then still later as the semblant. His supposition of the symbolic as misleading sits uneasily next to the trust he shows in the symbolic as a guide for the treatment. In the early years of this teaching the principle was treatment by the symbolic. He remained, however, ambiguous about it.
Examined closely, Lacan has considered the symbolic as unavoidably alienating ever since the beginning of his psychoanalytical career. Alienation by identification with the ideal signifiers installs a scene structured by the symbolico-imaginary in which the subject is alienated from ex-sistence. Ex-sistence is a depositioning. The drives ex-sist to the scene. The depositioned subject if not anterior to the decentred subject is going to emerge as the stronger theme in Lacan’s orientation. He doesn’t use the term repression for the drive but a topological term which puts the drive outside the scene but close to it. The ego in the scene imagines the drives other than they are in an act called fantasy which is in the said fictional direction. The mirror stage is a fantasy machine, generating the fantasy of a total body by which the subject understands that the previous phase was a fragmented one. The ego becomes a defence against another fantasy called the body-in-pieces. In the mirror stage these partial images are worked up into a fantasy indexed on i(a), the image of the little other which is the ego’s imaginary partner. The matheme has another interpretation in which i represents the above-mentioned Gestalt, and the (a) the auto-erotic parts held together in the image.
The symbolic and imaginary elements conspire to give reality a fictional consistency in which the real is hidden. For Lacan reality is grasped as the reality of discourses in which a social bond is established. The social bond through ideal identifications produces the homogeneity of a given community. Otherwise, reality has no intrinsic existence. The ego is neither a measurer nor a measure of reality precisely because it measures the world other than it is. The ego ideal-ego system as an operator of the reality principle is a bit of a laugh.
In a reference to Sartre and Levi-Strauss he puts forward for argument a first epoch which gives us the world and a second the scene. The mirror stage saddles the world with a scene and not with reality. Lacan finds a binary there which he is going to elaborate a little: world/scene. The world is not the scene. The scene is the world of recognition but not the world. In this binary world/scene is hidden another existential binary, namely existence/essence. The scene provides us with essence and the world with ex-sistence. The scene is established in the dimension of historical time and cosmic time belongs to the world.