Intervention of the Real (What is Fantasy? From a Psychoanalytic perspective)

“Fixation”, from Freud, is the constant desiring of something beyond reasonable limit. It is something that persists from when one is a child to when one is an adult. What we are fixated on is the object of fantasy, an object that promises fulfillment when we attain it. We crave fulfillment because we, so long as we are social creatures, are always characterized by a lack. This lack is called castration—the restriction of desire. In castration (lack) we don’t lack any specific thing. This lack is the condition of which we enter the symbolic universe. (Characterized by the end of the mirror stage, when I know that I am an “I”, a person, distinct and separate from other people, desiring different things and constrained in my desire. Before that we are like Nietzsche’s Übermensch, only that as infants we identity ourselves completely with the mother, whereas the Übermensch identifies with fate and therefore is not castrated.) Because of this, the lack cannot be filled so long as we are a person.

Lacan said: “Desire is the essence of reality”, and fantasy is that point from which we learn to desire, and the point that we believe can satisfy our desire. We have overt fantasies (like fantasizing about a member of the opposite sex), but also an unconscious fantasy that organizes one’s entire world, the fantasy from which we identify our own position. This unconscious fantasy is similar to the “master signifier”, a signifier that grounds our use of all other signifiers (words/symbols). (One can also see it, from a Kierkeggardian way, as the object of faith for the Knight of Infinite Faith.)

—More technical point: Hegel says that self-consciousness “has itself for object” and is “all certainty”. This means only that we normally never access the Real (reality as such), but our imagination as reality. Other people are the projection of our imagination, the world’s ontology is forged by the self (Heidegger’s understanding of being or, if you like, the Kantian schema). Self-consciousness is “all certainty” because it recognizes itself everywhere in reality. It also, therefore, recognizes its own desires therein. Fantasy is fantasy on top of this imaginative layer of the world, it is Fantasy (capital F) of fantasy.

Now after the theoretical discussion, comes the concrete payoff of the theory:

  1. We will always desire. We will always be lacking in something. We may fantasize about a thing, thinking that it is the panacea, but the achievement of one only leads to a lack of the object for desire. It does not eliminate desire.
  2. In lacking this object of desire but still wanting to desire, there is a wonderful shock involved. This shock is the moment in which we can peer into ourselves: to understand that we are just this pure desiring subject who desires for the sake of desiring. When our Fantasy of fantasy breaks down, ‘fantasy’ (as in the imaginative reality) breaks down too, and this peering into ourselves is the peering into the Real.
  3. This is why the attainment of fantasy can often be traumatic. (Žižek’s favorite example is that a girl who fantasizes being raped is traumatized much harder than the girl who doesn’t think about it when they both are raped.) We only think that we want to attain our fantasy, when in reality we would rather not. For the attainment of one fantasy only means that we realize how nebulous is the subject of the I that I normally feel is (who hitherto was defined in relation to fantasy and remained stable and intelligible).

The attainment of fantasy is the beginning of hell.

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