Anyone familiar with Jake and Amir, one of the most successful web series to emerge from CollegeHumor, will recognize this video as a perfect encapsulation of the eponymous characters’ dynamic: Amir as the borderline-psychotic but somehow lovable counterpart to Jake’s role as perpetually tormented straight man. But more than eliciting laughs, I claim that this scene is a strikingly accurate example of fantasy as it’s defined in Lacanian psychoanalysis.
The classic, Freudian conception of fantasy defines it as an expression of strong and often times deeply repressed libidinal desires. In fact, it belongs to a diverse category of defense mechanisms and is utilized by the subject in order to transcend the limits of their true reality, upon which their satisfactions cannot subsist. Thus, the content of a Freudian fantasy stems from a desire whose resolution is inaccessible in real life.
Accordingly, the content of Amir’s fantasy should be no surprise insofar as he is possessed by an obsessive desire to befriend his all-too reluctant desk-mate. That the fantasy features an uncharacteristically enthusiastic and friendly Jake, then, is only natural. The plot starts to thicken, however, once we investigate the form by which this fantasy was manifested. Here, we find an obvious point: why the inclusion of the couples therapist? If Amir desires reciprocal affection from Jake, why didn’t a private interaction with him alone suffice for the fantasy?
The question of the therapist’s presence leads us to the Lacanian notion of fantasy. Fantasy, according to Lacan, is a scenario which stages the subject’s relationship with the Other. Recall that for a particular individual, the Other represents the trans-subjective, linguistic world of the Symbolic order. This symbolic framework is the ‘vantage point’, or gaze, from which all our attempts at identity-creation are presumed — automatically and unconsciously — to be observed. In therapy, the analyst plays the role of the Other, and the analysand plays out his ‘fundamental fantasy’ using the deliberately detached canvas of his interlocutor. Keeping these facts in mind, we shouldn’t ask, “what kind of identity are you trying to achieve?”, but “whose gaze are you presuming when you strive for this identity?”
A first-order analysis, then, would tell us that Amir — whose delusions regarding his friendship keep him firmly at odds with social wisdom and commonsense — creates in the fantasy some coordinates through which the Symbolic order, represented by the therapist, is for once on board with his conceptions. What is truly “getting at” Amir is not the unreciprocated friendship itself (for if it was, Jake alone would have sufficed in the dreamscape), but rather the fact that in the world’s trans-subjective construction of meaning, his notions of friendship as embodied in his actions are being rejected. The presence of the therapist stands for social affirmation in response to Amir’s bizarre and unorthodox views of what an ideal friendship is.
But there’s more to be said about this scene and its relation to Lacanian fantasy. In his later works, Lacan spoke of fantasy as being a scenario which fills out a void present in the Symbolic structure of signification. The void, this cut in the web of meaning, is an inherent product of socialization, which through the offer of language ensnares us and forever perpetuates a certain distance between ourselves and our desires. Fantasy is a “filling out” of this void by an imagined scenario, which spares us the otherwise unbearable enigma that we encounter in the face of the Other: Che vuoi? or, What do you want? In this way, our fantasies “put us to use” by constituting our desires in the face of an alienating symbolic network.
In Amir’s fantasy, we see him engaged in a reciprocated (albeit highly idiosyncratic) friendship in the presence of an encouraging therapist. We can now understand that the therapist’s role is not incidental or secondary: it is crucial to the aims of the fantasy itself. For by including himself as an object of the therapist’s gaze, Amir is establishing the coordinates of his desire for a friendship with Jake. To reiterate, the Lacanian fantasy should not be understood as desire-fulfillment; it is a scenario which sets ups the conditions for the existence of desire. Thus, Amir’s constant longing for Jake’s friendship should be interpreted not as a continuously frustrated desire, but as an activity which gives Amir’s reality consistency by establishing desire itself.
At least, that’s what I would say if I were Amir’s analyst.
Farid Alsabeh is a neuroscience student; he keeps a blog at prophemy.com whose subjects range from cosmology to psychoanalysis.