Original Articles

On the Meaning of Being Real: Fantasy and ‘the Real’ in Personal Identity-Formation

Published in: South African Journal of Philosophy
Volume 31, issue 2, 2012 , pages: 278–289
DOI: 10.1080/02580136.2012.10751775
Author(s): Andrea HurstNelson Mandela Metropolitan University,

Abstract

With the help of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, this article addresses certain perplexities concerning personal identity that emerge from different kinds of interpersonal encounters. Lacan’s notion of the ‘fundamental fantasy’ incorporates the insight that phantasmic projections (of both self and other) form the basis of personal identity and interpersonal relations are a complex interplay between such projections. Nevertheless, in face of disconcerting pretence phenomena, the notion of a real self plays a profoundly important part in interpersonal relations. To call some phantasmic projections ‘pretensions’ or ‘delusions’ is simultaneously to admit that some must, by contrast, embody or express a real self. Lacan’s paradoxical answer to the question of whether the fundamental fantasy embodies the real self is ‘yes and no’. To explain this, I unpack the notion of the fundamental fantasy insofar as it is construed as the basis upon which we construct a complex identity (a semblance) imperfectly shielded from the traumatic Real. I offer an indirect account of the Real, via a critique of Rowlands on absurdity. I then sketch the developmental formation of a complex semblance, guided at its core by the fundamental fantasy, which structures the comportment of the self with a three-fold other. While the fundamental fantasy forms the core of a person’s identity and might be named the basis of the real self, Lacan warns that one must traverse it to acknowledge the Real in oneself. I elaborate on this via Derrida’s conception of the parergon. My aim is to demonstrate the irreducible complexity of identity formation and to show that to be real is to accept the uncertainty associated with acknowledging the Real in me that exceeds both my pretensions and the phantasmic reality that structures my identity.

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