a Lacanian Analysis of “The Double Secret”
Before this analysis of “The Double Secret,” I feel as if I need to stress that this is not the objective way to interpret this painting, surrealism as a movement is heavily influenced by the post-modern thought of its time. There are many ways to interpret such a piece like this, but I am only here to give my opinion and my own analysis of it as someone who is reading into and applying the thought of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan whenever possible, this being such a case. For those of you who are watching on YouTube, hello, and I will do my best to explain my thoughts in a way that can be easily understood by itself, but I also want to try my best to visualize it via graphic organizers and photos on the screen, though that is something that is difficult to do for a concept and topic as dense as this is.
Getting into the actual content of this analysis, I want to give you a literal description of the painting below (or on the screen here). In the painting, painted by the ever-so-great Rene Magritte, there seems to be an androgynous person by themselves near a body of water, there is no land nearby though you can only see the upper half of their body. The person is starting at nothing, no reflection in their eyes or nothing of interest that is in front of them. The most obvious aspect of this piece, then, is the way in which the body is not complete, half of the front side of their body is broken, exposing the innards of the person, though no organs are shown, there does seem to be an elaborate system of life being exposed under the blank face of the person. The piece of the person that is missing (part of their face, neck, and chest) is sitting to the left side of the person, just out of reach.
The first part of the analysis will offer some foundation for the latter parts. First, the person is unconscious, and the painting does not exist in real life. For the way that the body is fragmented without any reaction from the person in the painting, to their seemingly random location. Another thing I want to state is that there is more to this person than you can see at face value. With the non-human, mechanical aspect of the inner parts of the body, there is something symbolic to be said about the state of this person that overlooks the biological aspect of humanity.
Now, let me give off my thoughts on what this painting means, and then I am going to go piece-by-piece and explain my reasoning little-by-little.
This painting represents Lacanian Desire. The main subject is going to be known as the Ego, as It is the subject of focus in the painting, the fragmented portion of the “Ego” will be known as the “S-Id,” as the symbol of desire, and the part of the ego that we can see with the lack of completion will be called the “lack”.
There is always an inherent incompleteness that people feel every since birth which takes place in many different shapes and forms, for example (though this isn’t the best example because psychoanalysis focuses purely on the unconscious desire), you see yourself who is fully fed as a more complete version of the hungry version of yourself. Let’s use another example, you really admire people on Instagram who are undeniably attractive, because you do not see yourself as one of these people you unconsciously see yourself as incomplete. Your desire to fulfil that lack takes place as a spectacle, and more specifically, these conventionally attractive Instagram models. So the version of you that goes through with the desire to become conventionally attractive is, in theory, a more complete version of yourself that the version of you that is scrolling through Instagram.
This lack isn’t anything physical or biological, instead it is a phenomena easily seen in psychology, but in this painting the lack is noticeable via a good depiction of incompleteness. Lack, being completely symbolic, can still be well understood via physical comparison. And this is something that “The Double Secret,” does very well. For another representation for what I mean when I describe the inherent lack in the ego is this this screencap from the T.V show “Spongebob Squarepants,” where the best friend of Spongebob, Patrick, has a very clear, physical, hole in his stomach.
For Lacan, desire takes shape in many different forms, objects, actions, and even people. No matter what it is, though, it still takes place as a part of us. We are what we have as much as we are what we don’t have. What you don’t have is a part of your identity as well. For example, I have brown hair, but I also do not have black, blond, or red hair (nor do I have blue hair, for those conservatives reading/watching this).
This means that desire (the forms in which the key to completeness takes form), as well as lack (the symbolic incompleteness) are both parts of the Ego (the individual, in this case the person in the painting).
This is best reflected in structuralist linguistics, where the signifier (the word) also carries with it, it’s antonym. Up also carries with it the concept of down, as does hot with cold, and so on.
Of course, this can be applicable in many ways.
Let us go back to the painting for a second, the Ego, the S-Id, and the Lack. We can now get a better understanding of my claim in the beginning.
The subject, the Ego, is fragmented and cannot become whole. Not because they are literally broken or dead, but because this fragmentation is purely a symbolic thing, taking place now in the form of a piece of the body (literally being a part of the Ego in this case, though no matter the form, we have established that it would still be a part of the Ego). Exposed now, we can see the lack, what is missing, and what is underneath this lack. Inside of the person there is a clear mechanical aspect of this person, symbolising the structuralism of the mind. As Lacan said,
“The Unconscious is structured like a language,” Jacques Lacan
But with there being a lack, there is now need for something to take the place of wholeness (or what Freud and Lacan call, the Ego Ideal) and this piece is what I call in this case, the S-Id, or again, the symbol of desire. In this painting there is no movement or action, just strange peace with oneself, but this does not mean that there is not something to be desired. People are always desiring something, whether conscious or unconscious. And in this case there is a clear form of desire, that being the fragment of the body which is broken off of the Ego.
Therefore, in conclusion, this painting can clearly be seen as a valid representation of Lacanian Desire. The Ego, S-Id, and the Lack all have a dialectical relationship with each other and yet they all are a part of the Ego. Think of the way in which the Holy Trinity is depicted in Christian Theology.
Each aspect of the Ego are shown clearly as separate things (or lack there of, haha) yet they each play a role in checking eachother out and one does not focus without the other.
Lacan is someone who was revolutionary in the field of Psychoanalysis, and being able to inspire such great people like Zizek, Guattari, Fanon, and Althusser (though he isn’t “great” morally, with the whole wife killing thing) is a huge feat for someone who didn’t even identify with Marxism in the way that they did. I really hope that those reading were able to see a very applicable way to view Lacan, and can at the very least let me know if I didn’t, I will be glad to see any criticism at all.
And remember, praxis makes perfect!