Lacan’s interpretation of Merleau Ponty is instructive because of its emphasis on what a split or fracture within being itself between semblant and reality, rather than in pursuing the old philosophical problem of representation and the opposition between appearance and reality. The former opposition, the semblantreality split, has a clinical basis but is also detectable, Lacan believes, even in the purely natural world. Alongside the account of Merleau Ponty we therefore find Lacan discussing Roger Caillois’ work on the three functions of mimicry in the natural world, disguise, camouflage and intimidation. Caillois’ thesis is that the phenomenon of mimicry displays something inexplicable in merely functional or instrumental terms and gives the lie to the view that everything in nature can be explained in terms of an instinct for survival; rather, mimicry supports the conclusion of autonomous forces which he rather boldly calls “aesthetic.”

Caillois presents an ingenious argument to substantiate this claim. He first points out that humans find astonishing and bewitching beauty in surprising places in nature. The perfect geometrical proportions of a Nautilus shell, the incredibly delicate and regular ribbing found in Radiolaria, or even the shell of a humble seaurchin – all seem to indicate a spontaneous geometrical beauty arising from out of the forces of nature itself. However, he continues, the beauty is purely accidental since the regular, and pleasing, geometrical shapes are a result of the governing principle of maximum strength from a minimum of material. This principle is utilitarian and, it seems a reasonable assumption to think that it has strong survival value. In marveling at the beauty of nature in this way we are therefore anthropomorphising a principle of economy and seeing in it a drive to create a beautiful form.

Caillois further claims, however, that this cannot be extended to everything in the natural world without exception. Consider butterfly wings. Marshalling evidence of various kinds, Caillois reasons that the beauty of the shapes and colors on butterfly wings cannot be explained entirely on instrumental grounds, and this leads him to conclude that there must exist an autonomous aesthetic force in nature. It is a very interesting thesis and well argued; though, based as it is a single example from the natural world, the conclusion seems too hasty and the argument requires more support.


why not use delta = Δ for a semblant, like phallus is phi = Φ


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