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Fantasy

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French: fantasme

Sigmund Freud

The concept of fantasy is central to Freud's work.[1] Indeed, the origin of psychoanalysis is bound up with Freud's recognition in 1897 that memories of seduction are sometimes the product of fantasy rather than traces of real sexual abuse. This crucial moment in the development of Freud's thought (which is often simplistically dubbed "the abandonment of the seduction theory") seems to imply that fantasy is opposed to reality, a purely illusory product of the imagination which stands in the way of a correct perception of reality. However, such a view of fantasy cannot be maintained in psychoanalytic theory, since reality is not seen as an unproblematic given in which there is a single objectively correct way of perceiving, but as something which is itself discursively constructed.

Therefore the change in Freud's ideas in 1897 does not imply a rejection of the fundamentally discursive and imaginative nature of memory; memories of past events are continually being reshaped in accordance with unconscious desires, so much so that symptoms originate not in any supposed "objective facts" but in a complex dialectic in which fantasy plays a vital role.

Freud uses the term "fantasy", then, to denote a scene which is presented to the imagination and which stages an unconscious desire. The subject invariably plays a part in this scene, even when this is not immediately apparent. The fantasized scene may be conscious or unconscious. When unconscious, the analyst must reconstruct it on the basis of other clues.[2]

Jacques Lacan

Protection Function

While Lacan accepts Freud's formulations on the importance of fantasy and on its visual quality as a scenario which stages desire, he emphasizes the protective function of fantasy. Lacan compares the fantasy scene to a frozen image on a cinema screen; just as the film may be stopped at a certain point in order to avoid showing a traumatic scene which follows, so also the fantasy scene is a defence which veils castration.[3] The fantasy is thus characterized by a fixed and immobile quality.

Defence and Clinical Structure

Although "fantasy" only emerges as a significant term in Lacan's work from 1957 on, the concept of a relatively stable mode of defence is evident earlier on. This concept is at the root both of Lacan's idea of fantasy and his notion of clinical structure; both are conceived of as a relatively stable way of defending oneself against castration, against the lack in the Other. Each clinical structure may thus be distinguished by the particular way in which it uses a fantasy scene to veil the lack in the Other.

Neurotic Fantasy

The neurotic fantasy, which Lacan formalizes in the matheme ($ <> a), appears in the graph of desire as the subject's response to the enigmatic desire of the Other, a way of answering the question about what the Other wants from me. (Che vuoi?)[4] The matheme is to be read: the barred subject in relation to the object. The perverse fantasy inverts this relation to the object, and is thus formalized as a <> $.[5]

Fantasy of the Hysteric and Obsessional Neurotic

Although the matheme (S <> a) designates the general structure of the neurotic fantasy, Lacan also provides more specific formulas for the fantasy of the hysteric and that of the obsessional neurotic.[6] While the various formulas of fantasy indicate the common features of the fantasies of those who share the same clinical structure, the analyst must also attend to the unique features which characterise each patient's particular fantasmatic scenario.

Fantasy and the Subject

These unique features express the subject's particular mode of jouissance though in a distorted way. The distortion evident in the fantasy marks it as a compromise formation; the fantasy is thus both that which enables the subject to sustain his desire,[7] and "that by which the subject sustains himself at the level of his vanishing desire."[8]

Fundamental Fantasy

Lacan holds that beyond all the myriad images which appear in dreams and elsewhere there is always one "fundamental fantasy" which is unconscious.[9] In the course of psychoanalytic treatment, the analyst reconstructs the analysand's fantasy in all its details. However, the treatment does not stop there; the analysand must go on to "traverse the fundamental fantasy."[10] In other words, the treatment must produce some modification of the subject's fundamental mode of defence, some alteration in his mode of jouissance.

Image and Symbolic Structure

Although Lacan recognizes the power of the image in fantasy, he insists that this is due not to any intrinsic quality of the image in itself but to the place which it occupies in a symbolic structure; the fantasy is always "an image set to work in a signifying structure."[11]

See Also

References

  1. "Fantasy" is spelt "phantasy" in the Standard Edition.
  2. Freud, Sigmund. "A Child Is Being Beaten," 1919e. SE XVII, 177.
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre IV. La relation d'objet, 19566-57. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. pp. 119-120
  4. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 313
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 774
  6. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 295
  7. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 185; Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 780
  8. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 272
  9. Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 127
  10. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 273
  11. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 272