The narcissistic relation to a fellow being is the fundamental experience in the development of the imaginary sphere in human beings. As an experience of the ego, its function is decisive in the constitution of the subject. What is the ego, if not something that the subject at first experiences as foreign to him but inside him? It is in another, more advanced, more perfect than he, that the subject first sees himself. Specifically, he sees his own image in the mirror at a time when he is capable of perceiving the image as a totality but when he does not feel himself as such but as living rather in that primal incoherence of all his motor and affective functions which lasts for the first six months after birth. Thus the subject always has an anticipatory relationship to his own realization which in turn throws him back onto the level of a profound insufficiency and betokens a rift in him, a primal sundering, a throwness, to use the Heideggerian term. It is in this sense that what is revealed in all imaginary relationships is an experience of death: an experience doubtless inherent in all manifestations of the human condition, but especially visible in the life of the neurotic.
If the imaginary father and the symbolic father are most often fundamentally differentiated, it is not only for the structural reason I am presently outlining, but also by reason of historic, contingent circumstances peculiar to each subject. In the case of neurotics, one frequently finds that the figure of the father, by some accident of real life, has been split. Either the father has died prematurely and had his place taken by a step-father with whom the subject easily falls into a more fraternal relation, quite naturally established on the level of that jealous virility representing the aggressive dimension of the narcissistic relation. Or the mother has disappeared and the circumstances of life have opened the family group to another mother who is not the real one. Or the fraternal figure introduces the fatal relationship symbolically and, at the same time, incarnates it in reality. Very frequently, as I have indicated, a friend is involved, like the mysterious friend in “The Rat Man” who is never found and who plays such an essential role in the family legend. All of that results in the mythic quartet. It can be reintegrated into the subject’s history, and to disregard it is to disregard the most important element in the treatment itself. All we can do here is to underline its importance.
What is this fourth element? Its name is death.