Social Media and The Specular Image: The Floating Head


For Jacques Lacan, “the specular image” can be envisioned through the example of one seeing oneself in the mirror. The act of seeing the perceived wholeness of oneself in the reflection of the mirror is captivating for the child. It is this captivating gaze that produces the specular image (Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis). Is it not the same with us in our daily lives: looking in the mirror to make sure that our hair is properly set, brushing one’s teeth and checking to make sure there are no toothpaste stains on the cheek or in the hazy moments upon awaking, looking at oneself in the mirror while wiping away the grime of sleep that sits in the eye.

A Body in the Dark

The specular image is actualized through the imagination. It is imaginary. One can truly experience this by trying the following: dim the lights or stand in a dark room. Look intently at one’s image in the mirror and try to grasp the face in all of its strangeness. Notice the shifting contents of the face, the transformative powers of the imagination come to life in this simple exercise. The body in the mirror reflects back the body’s surface. We cover our body in our imagination. Again, the Encyclopedia of Lacanian Psychoanalysis writes, “The specular image refers to the reflection of one’s own body in the mirror, the image of oneself which is simultaneously oneself and other — the ‘little other’.”

Social Media: The Collectible Friend

In 2004, when I first began using social media for artistic purposes, I realized the oddity of MySpace using the word “friend” as the person who adds you or you can add to your site. Moreover, the visual representation of that “friend” gave me a certain warmth and, at the same time, mixed with hysteria. One’s friend count seemed to be the measure by which others were ranked. The music side of MySpace was blossoming and I quickly sustained hundreds and eventually thousands of collectible “friends,” which is pretty impressive given that what I was creating was pure chaotic analog/digital noise. The specular image of oneself as a collectible” friend to others, reduced to an icon meant that one had to choose one’s visual mode of representation wisely, or at least fashionably…Moreover, the fascination of altering the image, my ‘little other’ increased while I worked to expand my network. What I did admire about those times was the willingness of others to collaborate. MySpace seemed like the perfect place to collaborate, share and establish lasting connections and I believe it was.

I’m Shrinking

How is one’s specular image represented in one’s use of social media? What kind of secret identities, code names, nicknames, aliases emerge and make space. How does the online self, the labyrinthine self navigate and make itself relevant? How is one’s disembodiment experienced through the use of that horrifying device: the web cam? The web cam shrinks one’s specular image to a reversed 2D image. One only needs to adjust the angle in order to transfigure the appearance of the face. NOTE: this was also heavily used in the hand-held Myspace profile shots or in ultra-close-ups, framing the face as point of personality, the floating head.

The Floating Head in Troll 2

In the film Troll 2 (dir. Claudio Fragasso), there is a scene where the young boy, Joshua is trying to communicate with his deceased grandfather’s spirit-body by concentrating on a mirror and willing for his grandfather to appear. The first part of the grandfather’s body which comes into being is nothing but a floating head, which quickly morphs and materializes into a violent goblin. This shift is interesting to me. First, we see the floating head coming from the nether world, but upon materialization there is a rift and the image of the grandfather is overtaken by an ugly monster. Who is the other that one addresses through the specular image of the camera or the web cam? Does it matter? How much do you stake on the online representation of the other? What, to you, is the experience of meeting the flesh-and-blood other after having interacted in a computerized networked environment?

No Subject: Lacan
Troll 2