Eisoptrophobia

Anna Karenina’s last morning —

“’Who’s that?’ she thought, gazing in the mirror at the feverish, scarred face with the strangely glittering eyes looking out at her. ‘Why, it’s I!’ she realized all at once, and looking at herself full length she suddenly seemed to feel his kisses on her, give a shiver and moved her shoulders. Then she lifted her hands to her lips and kissed it.

‘I must be going out of my mind!’ she said to herself…”

In 1910, Sabina Spielrein, one of the first female psychoanalysts, looked in the mirror and saw a wolf.

According to Patrick French’s biography of Naipaul, Naipaul once asked his mother, “What form did my father’s madness take?” and she replied, “He looked in the mirror one day and couldn’t see himself. And he began to scream.”

French subsequently quotes this 1960s letter of Naipaul’s — “There must be something wrong with the long mirror in this hotel room. It throws back an awful, unbelievable dwarf-like reflection, which I do not recognize but which I fear might even be true.”

From “Nightmares” by Borges — “These are my most terrible nightmares: I see myself reflected in a mirror, but the reflection is wearing a mask. I am afraid to pull the mask off, afraid to see my real face.”

The fear of mirrors is one I can imagine inducing in myself, were I to think about it enough. In Lacan’s mirror stage, the infant sees its image in the mirror, and the wholeness of the image threatens the infant with a sense of its own fragmentation. Pamela Anderson is afraid of mirrors too, so Justin Schamotta reports.

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  • The other Olga

    My favorite (dangerous) literary mirror is in Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Snow Queen" — the story is set in motion by a wizard who makes an evil mirror and then breaks it into a million pieces.

  • James Warner

    I've always been impressed with the way that story starts, since childhood when I saw an animated TV version of it: the devils have a mirror that makes all good things appear bad – when they fly up to Heaven to try and reflect God in their mirror, it shatters, and a tiny shard pierces a child's heart so that the child becomes cruel.

    Fear of mirrors = really fear of self-knowledge?

  • Anonymous

    I was always confounded by why "Mirror mirror on the wall" does not fully terrify children.

    I am disturbed more by photographs of myself, then mirror images of myself.