In this article I attempt to trace the first stage of Lacanian theory regarding the subject in psychoanalysis. Working from the canonical text dedicated to the so-called “mirror stage”, I call attention to the phenomenological mediation of understanding of the subject by Lacan. The decisive experience is the identification of oneself with an entire and complete vision of one’s own ego – according to Lacan, this boils down to recognizing one’s own reflection in the mirror – which becomes the basis for all later identification. The essence of this experience, however, is that it reveals not the “real” face of the subject, but the awareness of the fictitiousness of this face. Nevertheless, this is a necessary fiction, and a condition for all human acts of cognition. Referencing Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of perception, I demonstrate how Lacan, taking a similar path, stepped outside the realm of traditional phenomenology. The subject ceased to be a transparent, self-supporting ego of perception, because – as the experience of psychoanalysis shows – it is entangled from the very beginning in the web of language.
This radical “weakening” of perception and of the Cartesian Cogito brings Lacan to the conclusion that an act of cognition, and consequently the entire system of human knowledge, is unable from the start to give any truth about the subject. This is because truth is not revealed in the undisturbed, pure realm of perception of cogito ergo sum. Difficult and complicated investigation into the truth of the subject brings one to the experience of psychoanalysis and its inconclusive character.
Finally, I show how Lacan, delving into the well-known Freudian thesis wo Es war, soll Ich warden, relocates the subject of psychoanalysis in the structure of speech. In other words, I will connect the entire range of possible interpretations of the subject with speaking and speech. It is in the structure of speech, and only through this structure that the subject’s ego can appear in language.