Précis of “The mirror theory of eros”

I have referred to the mirror theory of eros once or twice now, but I realize that my argument regarding that view is somewhat scattered around this blog. Here is a précis that should help keeping the main points in mind.

When a person is infatuated, a cluster of psychological contents which are all related to the love object forms, called a phantasma. The phantasma must partly be understood in terms of narrative meaning for the person, in addition to their shared referent. A phantasma about a loved person, moreover, is special in that it can come to dominate and even absorb the entire conscious personality of the subject.

According to a theory taken from Renaissance neoplatonism (in particular, from Ficino in a reading by Ioan Couliano), which I call the “mirror theory of eros”, this case of a phantasma about a loved person supplanting the conscious personality shows how an unconscious image can dominate a conscious personality, metaphorically described as the soul of the person becoming a mirror. Metaphorically, furthermore, if the soul becomes a mirror and represents the love object, the subject “becomes” the object (or rather, they “become” the image). Though metaphorical, this language is in agreement with mythical representations of “becoming” one’s lover.

According to the mirror theory, however, this interpretation shows that eros is not even actually directed at another, but just at an image, and since that image is formed interiorly, that eros is, in effect, eros towards oneself, i.e. a form of narcissism. In order to support this reading of Ficino’s view, Couliano likens the description to Jungian psychology (in particular, possession by the anima). This, however, misrepresents the archetypal and collective (shared) nature of the anima in Jungian psychology, and is thus a personalistic fallacy (as Hillman would call it).

But we can still extract two viable components out of the mirror theory. First, the possession of the mirror by the phantasma accounts for the external world seemingly exhibiting meaningful connections; the mirror theory thus might be a part in a theoretical account of synchronicities. And secondly, an understanding of the psyche as comprised of autonomous, personalized figures (alternately: complexes) needs a non-circular picture of communicating psychological contents between such figures, and the mirror theory might be a starting point for that.

[This article summarizes a series of earlier posts on the mirror theory of eros (part 1: phantasmata, part 2: the spiritual mirror, part 3: projection, part 4: synchronicities). The relationship with the Narcissus theme was mentioned in a further post, and the connections with the visualization of the psyche as autonomous figures are explored in an ongoing discussion of a tantric Buddhist meditation (mentioned in Jung’s lectures).]

By Leif Frenzel

Leif Frenzel is a writer and independent researcher. He has a background in philosophy, literature, music, and information technology. His recent interest is Jungian psychology, especially synchronicities and the relationship between consciousness and the unconscious.

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