loving impossible fantasies

On Tues. in our make up class we discussed a number of examples of what Zizek terms “traversing the fantasy,” of learning to accept rather than resist the contingency of our images of what we want without denying that we still want them nonetheless.

this is a photo of a canadian skeleton racer about to race.  but we want to distinguish between the photo and the person photographed, right?  we say that the photo is just an inert thing:  it may capture something about the person but there’s no personhood in the photo itself.  But ask yourself:  what does this racer’s personhood consist in?  how do we see her subjective ‘mindedness’ at work?  she’s evidently psyching herself up for the race, maybe she’s envisioning the course, thinking about what she wants to do, mistakes to avoid, and trying to block out fears and doubts.  more than anything though it seems like she’s mentally bracing herself for competition, rallying herself into that take-no-prisoners mindset, ‘putting her game face on.’  What’s striking about this photo though is that this ‘game face’ –the mindset she’s coaxing herself into–is also precisely what we see on the surface. it’s as if she’s trying to become what the photo already is. it’s like a runner trying to inspire himself by thinking of a photo of his running idol.  who knows what image she’s actually using to psyche herself up.  but it’s hard to imagine a better one than this.  it’s a wonderful detail of the photo that there are warrior images on her helmet, and that the photo makes her look like a knight pulling down his visor before battle.  it’s hard to imagine a better image of the bad-ass warrior competitor who she is willing herself to be.  the photo, as a mere image as opposed to person, becomes itself the manifestation of a mind in action.   So personhood emerges in what we thought was just a thing.

Similarly I think the ad below very provocatively suggests the deadness of its own imagery:  in this chaotically black and white hall of mirrors it’s hard to distinguish the women from their reflections although the distinction means less than it might since the women are so mannequin-like to begin with.  Our gaze is captured by a woman whose own gaze is captured by another woman (or is it a mannequin?  how would be know? does it matter?) whose image we also see reflected but whose unreflected body (which is actually the object most directly before us) is headless even as it seems suspended by the neck.  And once we notice this morbid detail we might proceed to notice that the central woman’s eyes are rolled back in her head like a corpse’s.  The ad doubtless projects images of beauty, but it also draws a ruthless line of impossibility between such images and actual life.  This isn’t a beauty to be lived; it’s only place is in a fantasy that is outside of life.

Arguably this ad uncovers the deepest lie of consumerism which is its promise precisely to release us from consumerism.  The essential promise of every commodity is:  buy me and you’ll be liberated from your sense of inadequacy, your need to keep buying things.  The trick to experiencing consumerism in an emancipating rather than oppressive way is to quit fighting it:  quit pretending that you can actually possess and live the fantasy that ads are selling and instead learn to love the fantasy in its very impossibility. So what is involved in loving an impossible fantasy while acknowledging its impossibility?

Sample Impossible Fantasy #1:  Transcending Individuality

This clip from the movie “Bottle Rocket” is recommended mostly by how funny it is but I think it also illustrates the social appeal of a fanatic dream contrasted with the oppressive, normative (i.e. the opposite of fanatic) coolness of the guy in the bronco.  the Luke Wilson character embraces disappointment; he says “goddamn it” because he knows this plan is going nowhere.  In exchange though, he can appreciate the dream for its own sake, just for the sake of its dreaminess.   He gives up the need to possess values like coolness in order to sustain a dream.  But the movie suggests there’s something way richer and more intimate about this dream than about actually being cool (which in contrast seems rather dull and mean):  richer because we get closer to the point of our ideals of coolness, love, beauty, etc. by just dreaming about them than by claiming to realize and possess them, and more intimate because a kind of mind-meld is possible in the dream; we become indistinguishable co-authors of the dreams we share whereas claims to realize and possess our dreams cut us off from one another.

Impossible Fantasy Samples #2 & 3:  Transcending Time

This brilliant animated video is about a flightless kiwi bird’s dream of flying.  So the premise shares the Keatsian form of bridging unbridgeable gaps, imagining the impossible (e.g., hearing the inaudible, etc.).  It’s striking how the short video is able to register different orders of time:  it begins in the normal time of the lived present, but with the shot down the cliff we’re made conscious of how the present extends far back into history: the bird’s been nailing trees like this for years!  Knowing that this effort extends back for years becomes significant once the bird jumps and we realize what the purpose of all this work has been:  constructing the illusion of flying.  The video wonderfully draws us into this illusion by turning the camera so that the vertical fall appears as horizontal flight.  The effect of this maneuver is that it, like the ode on the urn, makes us see what we know is not there.  It crystallizes the fantasy of flight as a fantasy:  we’re inside the bird’s head, living his dream along with him/her.  The crucial point of Keats’s ode on the urn is that from this perspective the normal time of the living present and the temporal transcendence of the dream become indistinguishable:  insofar as we’re inside that fantasy of flight–the fantasy that existed only in the bird’s head for all those years of tree nailing–we’re outside of time.  In exactly the same way the urn’s unheard melodies confront us today exactly as they had confronted ancient Romans:  to attune ourselves to that inaudibility is to participate in the same experience that they had, and hence to step somewhat out of time.  Thus although this video ends sadly, insofar as time itself is transcended this sadness is transcended as well.

Similarly at the start of the movie “Before Sunset” Ethan Hawke describes how love can get encapsulated in a pop song that reveals “time is a lie.”

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