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'The Seven Veils of Fantasy' by Slavoj Žižek

Dance Of The Seven Veils is a painting by Otto Pilny
I . Introduction

The standard notion of the way fantasy. works within ideology, is that of a fantasy-scenario which obfuscates the true horror of a situation. For example, instead of a full rendering of the antagonisms that traverse our society, we indulge in the notion of society as an organic Whole, kept together by forces of solidarity and cooperation.

However, it is much more productive to look for this notion of fantasy where one would not expect to find it, in marginal and apparently purely utilitarian situations, like the safety instructions prior to the take-off of an airplane. Aren't they sustained by a fantasmatic scenario of how a possible plane-crash will look? After a gentle landing on water (miraculously, it is always supposed to happen on water!), each of the passengers puts on the life-jacket and, as on a beach toboggan, slides into the water and takes a swim, like a nice collective lagoon holiday-experience under the guidance of an experienced swimming instructor. Is this 'gentrification' of a catastrophe (a nice soft landing, stewardesses in dance-like style graciously pointing with their hands towards the Exit-signs), not also ideology at its purest?

Yet the Lacanian notion of fantasy, formalised as $ <> a, cannot be reduced to that of a fantasy-scenario which obfuscates the true horror of a situation. The first, rather obvious thing to add is that the relationship between fantasy and the horror of the real that it conceals, is much more ambiguous than it may seem. Fantasy conceals this horror, yet at the same time it creates what it purports to conceal, namely its 'repressed' point of reference. Aren't the images of the ultimate horrible Thing, from the gigantic deep-sea squid to the ravaging twister, fantasmatic creations par excellence? One should specify the notion of fantasy with a whole series of features.

II. The Seven Veils
1 . The fantasy is a transcendental schematism

The first thing to note is that fantasy does not simply realize a desire in a hallucinatory way. Its function is rather that of a Kantian 'transcendental schematism.' A fantasy constitutes our desire, provides its coordinates, i.e. it literally 'teaches us how to desire.'

This role of fantasy hinges on the fact that 'there is no sexual relationship,' no universal formula or matrix guaranteeing a harmonious sexual relationship with one's partner.[1] On account of the lack of this universal formula, every individual has to invent a fantasy of his or her own, a 'private' formula for the sexual relationship. For a man, the relationship with a woman is possible only inasmuch as she fits his formula. The formula of the Wolf Man, Freud's famous patient, consisted of 'a woman, viewed from behind, on her hands and knees, and washing or cleaning something on the ground in front of her.' The view of a woman in this position automatically gave rise to love.[2] In the case of John Ruskin, the formula which followed the model of old Greek and Roman statues led to a tragicomic disappointment when, in the course of his wedding night, Ruskin caught sight of his wife's pubic hair, which he had not found on the statues. This discovery made him totally impotent, since he was convinced that his wife was a monster. In Jennifer Lynch's Boxing Helena, the fantasy ideal is none other than Venus of Milo herself. The film's hero kidnaps the beloved girl and performs an operation on her in order to make her fit the ideal, and thus to render the sexual relationship possible. He cuts off her hands, makes a scar to match the place where the statue is truncated, etc. The point is, of course, that we are all doing in fantasy what the hero of Boxing Helena is doing in reality.

2. The fantasy has two dimensions

The second thing to note is the tension which runs through the very heart of fantasy. On the one hand, fantasy has a beatific side, a stabilizing dimension, which is governed by the dream of a state without disturbances, out of reach of human depravity. On the other hand, fantasy has a destabilizing dimension, whose elementary form is envy. It encompasses all that 'irritates' me about the Other, images that haunt me about what he or she is doing when out of my sight, about how he or she deceives me and plots against me, about how he or she ignores me and indulges in an enjoyment that is intensive beyond my capacity of representation, etc. Doesn't the fundamental lesson of so-called totalitarianism concern the co-dependence of these two aspects of the notion of fantasy? Those who alleged to have fully realized the (stabilizing) fantasy(1), had to have recourse to the (destabilizing) fantasy(2), in order to explain their failure. The foreclosed obverse of the Nazi harmonious Volksgemeinschaft returned in the guise of their paranoiac obsession with the Jewish plot. Similarly, the Stalinists' compulsive discovery of ever new enemies of Socialism was the inescapable obverse of their pretending to realize the ideal of the 'new Socialist man.' Perhaps freedom from the infernal hold of fantasy(2) provides the most succinct definition of a saint.

Fantasy(1) and fantasy(2) are thus like the front and back of the same coin. Insofar as a community experiences its reality as regulated and structured by fantasy(1), it has to disavow its inherent impossibility, the antagonism in its very heart, whereby fantasy(2), for example the anti-Semitic figure of the 'conceptual Jew,' gives body to this disavowal. In short, the effectiveness of fantasy(2) is the condition for fantasy(1) to maintain its hold.

Lacan rewrote Descartes' '. am thinking, therefore I am' as 'I am thinking: "therefore l am"' – the point being, of course, the noncoincidence of the two verbs 'am,' i.e. the fantasmatic nature of the second 'am.'[3] One should submit the pathetic assertion of ethnic identity to the same reformulation. The moment 'I am French (German, Jew, American, etc.)' is rephrased as 'I am the one who thinks: "therefore I am French",' the gap in the midst of my self-identity becomes visible. The function of the 'conceptual Jew' is precisely to render this gap invisible.

3 . The fantasy creates a multitude of subject-positions

The third point is that the question…