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fantasy ( fantasme) The concept of fantasy (spelt 'phantasy' in the
Standard Edition) is central to Freud's work. Indeed, the origin of psycho-
analysis 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 psycho-
analytic 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 veracity of all memories of sexual
abuse, but the discovery 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 fantasised scene may be conscious or unconscious. When
unconscious, the analyst must reconstruct it on the basis of other clues (see
Freud, 1919e).
While Lacan accepts Freud's formulations on the importance of fantasy and
on its visual quality as a scenario which stages desire, he emphasises the
protective function of fantasy. Lacan compares the fantasy SCENE (OR fTOZen
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 (S4, l 19-20). The fantasy is thus
characterised by a fixed and immobile quality.
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 (see, for example, Lacan's remark in 1951 on 'the permanent modes by
which the subject constitutes his objects'; Ec, 225). This concept is at the root
both of Lacan's idea of fantasy and of 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. The neurotic fantasy, which Lacan formalises in the matheme (SO 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?) (see E, 313). 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 formalised as a OS (Ec, 774).
Although the matheme (SO 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 (S8, 295). 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.
These unique features express the subject's particular mode of ./OUISSANCE,
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 (Sll, 185; Ec, 780), and 'that by which the subject
sustains himself at the level of his vanishing desire' (E, 272, emphasis added).
Lacan holds that beyond all the myriad images which appear in dreams and
elsewhere there is always one 'fundamental fantasy' which is unconscious (see
S8, 127). 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' (see S11,
273). In other words, the treatment must produce some modification of the
subject's fundamental mode of defence, some alteration in his mode of
Although Lacan recognises 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' (E, 272). Lacan criticises the Kleinian
account of fantasy for not taking this symbolic structure fully into account,
and thus remaining at the level of the imaginary; 'any attempt to reduce
[fantasy] to the imagination . . . is a permanent misconception' (E, 272). In
the 1960s, Lacan devotes a whole year of his seminar to discussing what he
calls 'the logic of fantasy' (Lacan, 1966-7), again stressing the importance of
the signifying structure in fantasy.
== def ==
Fantasy (fantasme)

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