‘Traversing the fantasy’ of dad on Father’s Day

I’m not really in contact with my dad anymore. He lives an ocean away, a few thousand miles away, inside a life that doesn’t intersect with mine very often. What I am in contact with, however, is my felt experience of him, transmitted through fantasies.

One of the most personally useful Lacanian ideas which I’ve picked up from my love of Zizek is the idea of ‘traversing the fantasy.’ I use this idea to understand what to do with my weird delusions and daydreams that populate my psychic life. Instead of ignoring these strange little thoughts- as is tempting to do because they’re often violent, frightening, and unflattering- I ‘traverse’ them, giving myself permission to delve and explore the darker mines of my mind. If there is one thing I have learned now, it is that relief from suffering lies, when I’m brave enough, in the going-into the heart of pain. Remaining curious about the stranger corners of my psyche and conjuring fantasy from my unconscious is one way into the core of me. The self portrait of me at the top of this post speaks to this practice: its a drawing of dreaming an odd, recurring fear I kept imagining over years and years, and I visited over and over again in dreams and drawings and therapy sessions.

As I’ve gotten more comfortable ‘traversing the fantasy’, the experience of entering into my daydreams feels like being Leonardo DoCaprio’s character in the film Inception. I press pause on a scene, and lower myself into it. I try to imagine the scene in vivid detail, get a 360 of the dreamscape, tease out the sensations, the underlying emotions. I come over the threshold with curiosity: What is this fantasy expressing, what can I learn about my inner life, about my desires and fears and wounds? It’s like a really exciting form of time travel. And maybe it is, time travel, in a way. A worm-hole into implicit memory, a personal tour of one’s history. Increasingly I have come to rely on this sort of knowledge (rather than, say, facts) because dreams and fantasy and poetry are charged with complex emotional information that is often elegantly compacted into a single image or a metaphor: I love dreaming as a means of producing truth about myself.

So, as it’s Father’s Day, I thought I’d share a few of my idle fantasies of my own dad.

The first one is rather unflattering and intense. I won’t put it down in writing here, although I talk about it often and I’d like to think most people know the difference between the symbolic and the real. However. I’ll tell you about it on a walk someday. The fantasy haunts me at my most powerless: when he wouldn’t come to my wedding, when he wouldn’t call or write me, when he wouldn’t acknowledge the suffering he caused by moving the family to the jungle and isolating us. My dad is impossible to wring anything out of: confessions of guilt, love, interest in his kids. He is a tight-lipped daydreamer with big ideas and an absent gaze.

I also imagine him as a desert father, able to subsist on locusts and silence and the buzzing of his own thoughts, sitting cross legged and floating in his self-sufficiency. He doesn’t need other people.

Or he haunts my memory in the form of architectural imagery. He is beautiful, impenetrable fortress. I imagine him as some modernist dome. Clean lines and elegant features. Pure. Perfect. He is a building that I am stuck on the outside of, an upturned porcelain bowl. Perfectly smooth, slippery, no footholds, no windows. And in my dreams and nightmares, I imagine the futile attempt to climb upwards into. A doomed attempt at intimacy. He was -and is -unknowable.

On Father’s Day I often turn over in my mind what forgiveness might mean. And I’m not at all sure. But I think I won’t try to climb up the upturned bowl anymore, to peer inside. I think, if I were let in, what I would find would be the underside of an upturned bowl: an intriguing bit of hollow, perfectly smooth surface. I’d like to think that once I’d glimpsed his emptiness, I’d leave, feeling a little flat and disappointed but maybe knowing there wasn’t much inside anyways, should I have been successful in my attempts to get something other than silence from the po-faced squatting desert father.

Copyright Diana Smith 2018

For more Zizek and the psychoanalytic theories of Lacan, an enjoyable place to start is his film, ‘The pervert’s guide to cinema’

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