Friday, May 2, 2014

Traversing Fantasy - Passage a l'acte

In contemporary art, we encounter often brutal attempts to a 'return to the real', to remind the spectator (or reader) that he is perceiving a fiction, to awaken him from the sweet dream. This gesture has two main forms which, although opposed, amount to the same. In literature or cinema, there are (especially in postmodern texts) self-reflexive reminders that what we are watching is a mere fiction, like the actors on screen addressing directly us as spectators, thus ruining the illusion of the autonomous space of the narrative fiction, or the writer directly intervening into the narrative through ironic comments; in theatre, there are occasional brutal events which awaken us to the reality of the stage (like slaughtering a chicken on stage). Instead of conferring on these gestures a kind of Brechtian dignity, perceiving them as versions of extraneation, one should rather denounce them for what they are: the exact opposite of what they claim to be - escapes from the Real, desperate attempts to avoid the real of the illusion itself, the Real that emerges in the guise of an illusory spectacle.

What we confront here is the fundamental ambiguity of the notion of fantasy: while fantasy is the screen which protects us from the encounter with the Real, fantasy itself, at its most fundamental - what Freud called the "fundamental fantasy," which provides the most elementary coordinates of the subject's capacity to desire - cannot ever be subjectivized, and has to remain repressed in order to be operative. Recall Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, the apparently vulgar conclusion of the film, when, after Tom Cruise confesses his nightly adventure to Nicole Kidman and they are both confronted with the excess of their fantasizing, Kidman - upon ascertaining that now they are fully awakened, back into the day, and that, if not forever, at least for a long time, they will stay there, keeping the fantasy at bay - tells him that they must do something as soon as possible. "What?" he asks, and her answer is: "Fuck." End of the film, final credits. The nature of the passage a l'acte ("passage to the act") as the false exit, as the way to avoid confronting the horror of the fantasmatic netherworld, was never so abruptly stated in a film: far from providing them with a real life bodily satisfaction that would render superfluous empty fantasizing, the passage to the act is presented as a stopgap, as a desperate preventive measure aimed at keeping at bay the spectral netherworld of fantasies. It is as if her message is: let's fuck as soon as possible in order to stifle the thriving fantasies, before they overwhelm us again. Lacan's quip about awakening into reality as an escape from the real encountered in the dream holds more than anywhere apropos of the sexual act itself: we do not dream about fucking when we are not able to do it; we rather fuck in order to escape and stifle the excessive nature of the dream that would otherwise overwhelm us. For Lacan, the ultimate ethical task is that of the true awakening: not only from sleep, but from the spell of fantasy which controls us even more when we are awake.
- Slavoj Zizek, "From Che vuoi? to Fantasy: Lacan with Eyes Wide Shut"

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