And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus

Monday, April 29, 2013

Che Vuoi?

A couple of years ago, a charming publicity spot for a beer was shown on the British TV. Its first part staged the well-known fairy-tale anecdote: a girl walks along a stream, sees a frog, takes it gently into her lap, kisses it, and, of course, the ugly frog miraculously turns into a beautiful young man. However, the story wasn't over yet: the young man casts a covetous glance at the girl, draws her towards himself, kisses her - and she turns into a bottle of beer which the man holds triumphantly in his hand. For the woman, the point is that her love and affection (signalled by the kiss) turn a frog into a beautiful man, a full phallic presence; for the man, it is to reduce the woman to a partial object, the cause of his desire (the objet petit a). On account of this asymmetry, there is no sexual relationship: we have either a woman with a frog or a man with a bottle of beer. What we can never obtain is the natural couple of the beautiful woman and man: the fantasmatic support of this ideal couple would have been the figure of a frog embracing a bottle of beer - an inconsistent figure which, instead of guaranteeing the harmony of the sexual relationship, renders palpable its ridiculous discord. This opens up the possibility of undermining the hold a fantasy exerts over us through the very over-identification with it: by way of embracing simultaneously, within the same space, the multitude of inconsistent fantasmatic elements. That is to say, each of the two subjects is involved in his or her own subjective fantasizing - the girl fantasizes about the frog who is really a young man, the man about the girl who is really a bottle of beer. What modern art and writing oppose to this is not objective reality but the "objectively subjective" underlying fantasy which the two subjects are never able to assume, something similar to a Magrittesque painting of a frog embracing a bottle of beer, with a title "A man and a woman" or "The ideal couple". (The association with the famous surrealist "dead donkey on a piano" is here fully justified, since surrealists also practicized such over-identification with inconsistent fantasies.) And is this not the ethical duty of today's artist - to confront us with the frog embracing the bottle of beer when we are daydreaming of embracing our beloved? In other words, to stage fantasies which are radically desubjectivized, which cannot ever be assumed by the subject?

This brings us to a further crucial complication: if what we experience as 'reality' is structured by fantasy, and if fantasy serves as the screen that protects us from being directly overwhelmed by the raw Real, then reality itself can function as an escape from encountering the Real. In the opposition between dream and reality, fantasy is at the side of reality, and it is in dreams that we encounter the traumatic Real - it is not that dreams are for those who cannot endure reality, reality itself is for those who cannot endure (the Real that anounces itself in) their dreams.
- Zizek, "How to Read Lacan"

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