The fantasy is the most real thing : exploring desire in the 21st Century : Zizek and ideology.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis considers how desire might be theorised in the twenty first century against the backdrop of New Zealand society, culture and film. Methodologically, this exploration is addressed with reference to Žižek’s return to a critique of ideology, whose conceptual basis is drawn from Marx, Althusser and Lacan, and which is significant in its analysis of contemporary desire as emanating from social conditions and constellations of power. Žižek’s challenge to call for a new Master is one that this thesis responds to enthusiastically. Such a response is posited from a location which intersects Lacanian psychoanalysis and sociological theories. The method this exploration employed focus groups and individual interviews from which talk of desire is constructed and critically explored. Focus groups and individual interviews were conducted following a viewing of the New Zealand film, Heavenly Creatures, which enabled an exploration of how participants offer competing ideological locations which can reveal the hidden and not so hidden mechanisms regulating social relations and ambiguities. The participant profiles of the focus groups were designed around key themes relating to the film: fathers of teenage daughters; those working or heavily involved within the creative industries; young women aged between 18-25; and those who grew up in Christchurch during the 1950’s.
Heavenly Creatures is a film interpretation of the actual murder of Christchurch resident Honora Rieper in 1954 by her teenage daughter and this daughter’s friend. In exploring both the themes of friendship and the figure of the mother, Heavenly Creatures deliberately conflates fantasy with ideology, so that it is from this intersection that possibilities of subjective desire are confronted. When addressing desire set against this particular film, participants confront deadlocks and misrecognitions, in particular the disintegration of those ideological conditions with which they are identifying. These include the limitations of modern capitalism, concerns about the ‘environment’, the pervasive engagement with cynicism, and frustrations with the inability to intimately and socially self-express. In order to understand and articulate desire various locations are posited in the guise of subjective truth. These points of fixation are structured by the conditions of dominant social and cultural ideologies, which the participant seeks to symbolise in returning to the ambiguity of the promise of the Master’s discourse as proposed by Lacan. This thesis critically explores three of the modalities through which Lacan’s construct of the Master is revealed in participants’ talk about desire: these are the precarious position of belief, the fragmented body, and love as an ideological act. It is argued that these modalities work within discourse in such a way as to offer participants ideological personification as well as a complexity of circumstances from which they can designate the objet a (the truth of one’s desire in psychoanalytic terms) insisted by the superego. In this way these three modalities are configured as enabling a speaking, or a saying, from a position of knowledge. This position in turn insists that the subject does not have to abandon the problem of desire but rather engage with knowledge attained through confronting and developing a literacy of desire. Desire read alongside the modalities of belief, the body and love posit a contemporary ontology in which the gaze commands an ethical and somewhat moral dimension from which the subject can construct a Master which not only seeks to recognise and speak about desire, but also manage it within daily life.