Shattering the fantastical mirror

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Writing about escapism, I asked in a roundabout way how we might escape in fantasy, when the fantastic is the accepted structural norm. When fantasy is no longer an escape in and of itself, but a paltry reflection of ideology, what then is the route of escape from what is purportedly already an escape?

Well, psychoanalysis has a response—and it deals with the fantasy under which we live, not those we write.*

Žižek, in Event, writes:

What psychoanalysis aims at is not such a disintegration of fantasy, but something different and much more radical, the traversing of fantasy. And while it may seem obvious that psychoanalysis should liberate us from the hold of idiosyncratic fantasies and enable us to confront reality the way it is, this is precisely what Lacan does not have in mind: traversing the fantasy does not mean simply going outside fantasy, but shattering its foundations, accepting its inconsistency. In our daily existence, we are immersed in ‘reality,’ structured and supported by the fantasy, but this very immersion makes us blind to the fantasy frame which sustains our access to reality. To ‘traverse the fantasy’ therefore means, paradoxically, to fully identify oneself with the fantasy, to bring the fantasy out…

Now what could be more fully identifying with a fantasy than creating an entire world based on it?

To disintegrate the reality, or to understand deeply the reality in which we live, we must delve into the fantasy that supports it (by looking at the fantasies we write) and we must shatter them (by writing subversive fantasy).

It is not enough to merely look at the aspects of the fantasies we create, and point out the superficial reflections of the world, the pale analogies, and the lumbering symbols—rather, in writing fantasy, we aim to deconstruct as the writing takes place: deconstruct the written fantasy itself, and through writing it deconstruct the foundational beliefs and ideologies that form the symbolised real world that the fantasy purports to reflect. By saying such and such a world, or event, or character is an analogy for a real-world mirror, we are trivialising the power of the creative act. It is like saying every dream snake is a phallic symbol—what if the person is afraid of snakes, what if they are from a culture that worships the snake, what colour is it and what does it say? To oversimplify the symbolic aspects (and, of course, to recreate them thinking only of that shorthand symbolism—the very definition of cliché) strips from the image the richness of meaning, denies it any exploration beyond that superficial level, and therefore brings the fantasy down to the real world level. There is no longer a point in using the fantastic as a setting or thematic framework.

Psychoanalysis aims to enter the fantasy to shatter it, not merely explore it. We can shatter the fantasy genre through subversive forms, or by critical reflection of the real world—not just passive reflection. But we must recognise it is a mirror before we take a hammer to it.

The aim, then, is not to remove fantasy, not to unburden ourselves of the myths that support our ideology, but to fundamentally alter the way we operate within it, our relation to it.

So fantasy in and of itself is not bad—it is not regressive that we write about such things—and in doing so we can do some important analytical work on our culture, and our society’s prevailing myths/fantasies through that exploration of how they inform our ideology. The writer is both the patient and the analyst.

This, then, is how fantasy reflects reality. Back and forth, acceptance and shattering. It is a reflexive process—fantasy and reality holding one another to account.

We must shatter the fantasies we write, so that we may learn how to shatter those under which we live.

*I am aware that the term used in the psychoanalysis context does not refer directly to fantasy as a genre of writing. It is a multiplicitous term, but I am willing to interchange them (where appropriate) on the assumption that the fantasy genre is by its nature an expression of the underlying fantasies of the individual (and society, by extension). This confluence is neither by coincidence, or by design, but because they have the same basis. And one can read the latter as a specific case of the form, an example.

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