Sartre’s ‘Secret Face’ as Factical Imago: A Lacanian-Existentialist Conception of Death Drive Desire




Borowski, Allia Larissa

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Sartre’s and Lacan’s bitter philosophical feud notwithstanding, these two French contemporaries had more in common that they’d care to admit. In this thesis, I identify that the function of Sartre’s ‘Look’ and Lacan’s ‘mirror stage’ is the same; viz., to reveal to the subject its inherent splitness. Both Lacan and Sartre ascribe to a theory of split subjectivity, in which the human being is split between its subjectivity and its objectivity—for Lacan, the innenwelt and the umwelt, and for Sartre, the for-itself and factical being in-itself and for-others. Hence, in both existentialism and psychoanalytic theory, I am other to myself, and my in-the-world ego is ‘not-me.’ But whereas Lacan describes the ideal-ego—the imago—as an imaginary construct, from the perspective of the (m)Other, my imago is not an impossible ideal-ego; on the contrary, it is me. Something is missing from Lacan—something which Lacan leaves out, and only Sartre affirms: namely, the imago is not merely ‘imaginary,’ but factical. This ‘me’ is real; it is in-the-world. Thus, I on principle can never reach a one-to- one self-identification with my imago, yet in an important and true sense, I nevertheless am it. This ‘me’ that I cannot experience and yet nevertheless am, Sartre calls the ‘secret face.’ The secret face is my factical self—my being-in-the-world-for- Others—the ‘out there’ness of my umwelt, that on principle escapes me. In this thesis, I view Sartre’s look as analogous to the mirror stage, in which the imago that I apprehend in the eyes of the Other is my ‘secret face.’ By making this analogy between Lacan’s imago and Sartre’s secret face, I want to show the connection between the imago I desire and facticity (more specifically, my own purely factical being, devoid of subjectivity), which describes the death drive, the desire for the dissolution of subjectivity. And by viewing the imago not as some imaginary construct, but as an actual thing in-the-world, we see desire (of the imago) as more directly linked to death (the dissolution of subjectivity), where ‘death’ describes becoming my immanent, purely factical being, both ontologically, as my secret face which is ‘me’ devoid of my ‘selfness,’ or subjectivity, and literally, as my dead corpse. In this way, Sartrean Existentialism and Lacanian Psychoanalytic theory work together to generate a more comprehensive and sophisticated account of the imago and of death drive desire, categories which describe the tragic drama of human split-subjectivity.



Sartre, Lacan, Death drive, Secret face, Mirror stage, The look