Ever since Narcissus glimpsed his likeness in a pool, Western culture has worried about the mirror’s deathly power of enchantment. The pool, as described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, is unnatural, untouched by falling leaves, and never visited by animals. It exists only to captivate the boy whose name is etymologically related to “narcotic.” Lacan had some of this in mind when he spoke about the “captation” of the infant by the imago in the mirror stage. Then there is the Claude glass, the convex black mirror that pensive Romantics carried on their excursions toward the picturesque. Movie, television, and computer screens are black mirrors when turned off, narcissistic reflectors when turned on. And what of sheesh mahals, sumptuous mirror-tiled rooms that graced the palaces of Mughal emperors? Or Aztec disks of polished obsidian, mystical containers for Tezcatlipoca, god of the smoking mirror?
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