Belonging / Including

by Guy Le Gaufey

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“Belonging” also has a strong meaning in elementary logic. Can this meaning be useful to conceive of the relationship between the Lacanian subject and its specular image, considered as the very foundation of its ego?


     If you want to learn anything about logic, from the first pages of the manual you turn to, you will be pressed into agreeing with a starting and startling difference. You will then be told to accept without any kind of demonstration that “belonging” is different from “including.” What is that about?

     This difference means that an “element” is to be conceived of as different from the class composed with this element only, called in this circumstance the “singleton” of this element. Indeed, from now on you will be invited to say and consider that this element “belongs to” its singleton, while this singleton (and only it) can be “included” in any kind of class, indefinitely. Thus, the element “a” can “belong to” the set (a, b, c) (for instance) even though the singleton “(a)” does not belong to this set. It will appear only if I list the subclasses of (a, b, c), that is: ((a,b), (a,c), (b,c), (a), (b), (c), (Ø)). Okay? You’d better say yes, because if not, there will be no going further, and you will be definitely lost between “elements” and “classes,” that is, lost for logic.

     Nevertheless, what is the difference between “a” and “(a)”? It is as clear as day: the difference is “(“ and “)”, “()”, the parentheses that isolate the letter itself. David Lewis[1] calls that a “lasso,” alluding to this kind of potato teachers draw on the blackboard when they want to show that the elements they point to are to be considered as gathered together into a set, and that they “belong” now to a new unity, something that did not exist when they were only dispersed.

     What is this lasso, typographically represented by a couple of parentheses? We discover something of it perusing the previous list of the subclasses of the set (a, b, c). I indeed added in this list, silently, an apparent newcomer that was not visible in (a, b, c) because I did not pay attention to the parentheses, this “Ø”, that is the mark of the so-called “void class,” a class that does not encompass anything, any “element.” When I break down such a class composed of many elements into its subclasses, I then discover that, encompassing my elements with the parentheses/lasso, I had in fact already used this void class that appears as such only at the end of my list, but that is clearly active in what frames every subclass I have made up with every element or every bringing together of some of them.

     Thanks to this void class, I can from now on not confuse the very nature of the “element,” and the kind of unity of a “class” (or a “set”; here I do not mind about these different names). Despite the definite article “the” I place in front of “element” when I mean that I consider only this one, I do not know if it has any kind of unity by itself. When I say “an element,” “this element,” I just mean that I do not point to two, or five, or 1428, or an infinity of elements. I give to it the number one because I consider it apart from possible others, but this is not any of its own properties; it is a relative property that speaks, too, about the “others” (they are not what I point to at that moment), a “second quality” as Descartes [2] would have said.

     On the contrary, “(a)” is invested with a unity of its own, readable in the “()”, a unity that allows it to be included as a unity in an indefinite series of bigger unities still to come, a unity we will make apparent only if we break down the final class into its subclasses.

     “Belonging to” is now the name of the mystery according to which the indefinite and uncontrollable multiplicity of an element is reduced to the unity of its singleton by “adding” to it this strange “no-thing” that is the void class. By adding this new and bizarre no-thing, I pass from the in(de)finite nature of the “element” to the asserted unity of the class composed of only this element, that is, its “singleton,” and this latter can easily be part of a calculus, while the former, which does exist, is much more difficult to integrate into any calculus, because of the silence about its relation to unity before it “belongs to” its singleton.

     Enough of that. Let’s put aside this logic stuff now, and let’s turn to another kind of “lasso” the infant comes upon between, let’s say, the age of six months to two years old, when he/she realizes that the image in the mirror in front of him/her is his or hers. I therefore mean what Lacan named the “mirror stage,” which became for him, beyond the birth of the ego (in the sense he gave to this word), a sort of metaphysical event – even though to Wallon (the French psychologist who discovered it first), the same event is but a psychological and neurological manifestation that testifies to an important moment of neuromuscular integration, and nothing else. What I call “metaphysical” in Lacan’s view is that he conceived this encounter with the specular image as the very foundation of the imaginary unity he later described as “unien,” which is precisely something of the nature of the “singleton” we just encountered. The crucial sentence in his brief text of 1949 is this one:

For the total form of his body, by which the subject anticipates the maturation of his power in a mirage, is given to him only as a gestalt, that is, in an exteriority in which, to be sure, this form is more constitutive than constituted, but in which, above all, it appears to him as the contours of a stature that freezes it and in a symmetry that reverses it, in opposition to the turbulent movements with which the subject feels he animates it. (2006, p. 76).

C’est que la forme totale du corps par quoi le sujet devance dans un mirage la maturation de sa puissance, ne lui est donnée que comme Gestalt, c’est-à-dire dans une extériorité où certes cette forme est-elle plus constituante que constituée, mais où surtout elle lui apparaît dans un relief de stature qui la fige et sous une symétrie qui l’inverse, en opposition à la turbulence de mouvements dont il s’éprouve l’animer. (1966, pp. 94-95).

     “Un relief de stature…” [3] Even in French, the expression is odd, and a precise and quick meaning is here out of reach. “Relief” is most certainly common in sculpture (“bas-relief,” “haut-relief,” etc.), or in geography, but in what way could a “stature” have a “relief”? Especially on the mere plane of a mirror! So that the only meaning available is to understand this word as a way to stress this Gestalt as perfectly visible, something that stands out in the frame of the mirror as something possessing a new kind of unity.

     We, therefore, now have two closed lines: the one that is unnoticed at the edge of the mirror (there is never an infinite mirror), and the one at the edge of this “stature” that can move when the “subject”[4] feels like moving. A fixed frame and, inside that, a sort of mobile frame, a moving “lasso” outlined by its mobility, the latter allowing it to appear as a unity despite the numerous features it is composed of, because all of them move in concert and in response to bodily movements.

     But there is not any reflexivity prior to the identification (the anteriority of the agent to the act is but a metaphysical prejudice). In Lacan’s text, this identificatory event takes place at the end of our first quotation: “dont il s’éprouve l’animer.” The French elision reduces the pronouns to sheer letters: “s’” refers to what stands in front of the mirror, “l’” to the image in the mirror. They are strictly contemporaneous.[5]

     The “metaphysical” point of view, then, is to consider the mobile frame of the specular image as the die casting of any set unity to come.

     What is in front of the mirror, whatever its name can be, just before the imaginary identification, is nevertheless not a “fragmented” body in Lacan’s view. There is here a very common reading of the Lacanian mirror stage trapped in a Kleinian understanding: the child would feel first his/her body as fragmented, and then, thanks to the mirror image, he/she would discover, at last, his/her body as a unity. That is, after the schizoparanoid phase and its fragmentation, the depressive phase would bring a soothing unity, thanks to a sort of mourning, in the way of natural development progress from chaos to order.[6] Lacan’s conception is not of that kind: he starts from the idea that we cannot say anything of the way “what stands in front of the mirror” grasps his/her body before the imaginary identification, that it would be a mere invention to say anything about that.

     A “fragmented body” should indeed be composed of “parts” and, in that case, each of them should be, like our previous subclasses, “one,” caught in the kind of imaginary unity produced by the imaginary identification and passed on to every “part.” On the contrary, Lacan considers that before such a unity, there is no kind of unity, and that consequently there are no “parts,” no “fragments”; maybe an incredible swarming, maybe only sensation and not perception – but we just do not know what kind of general feeling this pre-identified being experiences; here, I cannot use the adjective “own” to qualify his/her body, because this reflexivity is still on the verge of emerging. The only thing we can say at that point is that this anticipation of unity given by the mirror image produces, as a result, the feeling of a fragmented body, each part of it being then capable of coming to light as a component of the ego built with the mirror image. Lacan says:

The mirror stage is a drama whose internal pressure pushes precipitously from insufficiency to anticipation – and, for the subject caught up in the lure of spatial identification, turns out fantasies that proceed from a fragmented image of the body to what I will call an “orthopedic” form of its totality – and to the final donned armor of an alienating identity that will mark with its rigid structure all his mental development (2006, p. 78).

Le stade du miroir est un drame dont la poussée interne se précipite de l’insuffisance à l’anticipation – et qui pour le sujet, pris au leurre de l’identification spatiale, machine les fantasmes qui se succèdent d’une image morcelée du corps à une forme que nous appellerons orthopédique de sa totalité – et à l’armure enfin assumée d’une identité aliénante, qui va marquer de sa structure rigide tout son développement mental (1966, p. 97).

Once the subject is “caught up in the lure of spatial identification,” then the fragmented body can appear, trying to find its way to an “orthopedic” form of totality.

     Thus, we cannot say or think much about this strange “subject” that would identify the mirror image he/she will “belong to” from then on, with, consequently, this “alienating identity” Lacan describes. This so-called “subject” is neither one nor many, neither “united” nor “fragmented,” neither “this” nor “that.” It is to be conceived of like the “element” of our previous set logic: we talk about it as “one” to differentiate it from possible “others,” but we must stick to the fact that we do not know how he/she feels “himself/herself” because there is no such reflexivity, even if for the others this baby is obviously only one being, affected by different feelings, and already very active in his/her apprehension of outside reality.

     This ignorance about the quiddity of what stands in front of the mirror before the identification is crucial in analytic practice: what is to identify the mirror image and its innumerable features deserves to be qualified as “subject” because we must suppose an agent capable of supporting a close and stable (although difficult at times) relationship with this image, but this subject, we just know nothing about – neither its qualities nor its fate.

     The new definition of this subject during the first session of the seminar The Identification[7] as “represented by a signifier for another signifier” maintains an identical absence of knowledge about such an entity “in itself.” We are taught that it is but the link between two signifiers, an effect of the signifying chain (according to a new meaning of the word “signifier”), and nothing else.

     This double detour by elementary logic and Lacanian mirror stage revisited allows us to consider what “belongs to” anything, as a subject; that is, a being of a very special kind, very close to what Charles Sanders Peirce called “firstness”:

The First must therefore be present and immediate, so as not to be second to a representation. It must be fresh and new, for if old it is second to its former state. It must be initiative, original, spontaneous and free; otherwise it is second to a determining cause. It is also something vivid and conscious so only it avoids being the object of some sensation. It precedes all synthesis and all determination; it has no unity and no parts. It cannot be articulated thought; assert it, and it has already lost its characteristic innocence; for assertion always implies a denial of something else. Stop to think of it, and it has flown! That is first: fresh, new, initiative, original, spontaneous, free, vivid, conscious and evanescent. Only, remember that every description of it must be false to it (p. 183).

     Once this element “belongs to” its singleton, when it manages to identify with the set of features it feels composed of, then this new unity can be included into any combination because it is possessed now of the closed unity that allows us to count it as “one.” Psychopathologists can insert it as much as they want in their classification, but it would be good if psychoanalysts could not forget the impossibility to “describe” the element all that encompasses, this element being bound to be conceived of as an entity deprived of any kind of reflexivity;[8] therefore, impossible to know as such, according to Peirce and to Lacan as well.

      You may, therefore, “include” yourself in any kind of association, band, batch, bevy, bunch, camp, category, circle, class, clique, clump, cluster, company, couple, congregation, faction, formation, gang, gathering, organization, pack, party, posse, set or troop, but remember that, in a remote past, you have had to add this evanescent void class to actually gather together the innumerable features you are composed of (most of them still to come, then), and that each of them lacks this void class that only you are capable of adding in. Remember, too, that the French poet Charles Baudelaire considered that two rights were missing in the French Declaration of Human Rights and the Citizen: the right to contradict, and the right to go away.



The author thanks Dr. Michael S. Garfinkle for his editing assistance.



[1] More about that in David Lewis, Parts of Classes. Cambridge, MA, Basil Blackwell, 1991, p. 29.

[2] If I say that lava is around 1300°F and 2000°F, I describe a physical quality referred to a physical scale, that talks about the velocity of molecules, and so on. If I add “it is very hot,” I refer then to living beings, who cannot stand such temperatures. “Hot” is a “second quality”; “2000°F” is a “primary quality.”

[3] Fink translates this as “the contour of his stature,” which is too much; the “stature” in question is not, for the time being, “his.” It is very close to becoming so, but not yet, only just after the imaginary identification.

[4] Another strange word here, and Lacan uses many different words in this short text to mean what stands in font of the mirror: “the human child,” “a nursling,” “the subject” (many times), “the little man at the stage infans,” “the I.”

[5] Of course, not for us, who see the mirror image as a physical phenomenon long before the “subject” notices it.

[6] Years ago, in his book Scientific Imagination: Case Studies (1978), Gerald Holton showed splendidly that, in the history of physics, the idea about what comes first in physical reality – chaos or order – was nothing but a prejudice he called a “themata,” without any consequence to the research itself, but founding different families of thought among scientists. We are caught in the same problem here.

[7] In December 1962, twelve years after the text of the mirror stage Écrits, written in 1949, after a previous text given in 1936 at the IPA Congress in Marienbad.

[8] This lack of reflexivity is a fundamental property of the Lacanian subject, but of the object (a) as well – a very strange property for any object.



Lacan, J. (1949). Écrits. Tr. by B. Fink, H. Fink & R. Grigg. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006, pp. 76, 78.

Lacan, J. (1949). Écrits. [in French]. Paris: Seuil, 1966, pp. 94-95, 97.

Peirce, C.S. (1974). Principles of philosophy. In Collected Papers. Volume 1, eds. C. Hartshorne & P. Weiss. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p. 183.


Address correspondence to:

Guy Le Gaufey

Guy Le Gaufey was a member of the École Freudienne de Paris until its dissolution in 1980. In 1981, he and four friends and colleagues created the Lacanian review Littoral (31 issues till 1989). Mr. Le Gaufey co-founded the École Lacanienne de psychanalyse in 1985. Since 1973, he has authored many papers and books, almost all of which are available at


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