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Žižek, S. (1991). Formal Democracy and its Discontents. Am. Imago, 48(2):181-198.

(1991). American Imago, 48(2):181-198

Formal Democracy and its Discontents

Slavoj Žižek

Violations of The Fantasy-Space

“The Stuff of Madness,” a short story by Patricia High-smith, reads like a variation on the motif of “pet cemetery.” Christopher Waggoner's wife Penelope is pathologically attached to her pets: in the garden behind the house, all her deceased cats and dogs are exhibited, stuffed. When the press learns about this peculiarity, journalists want to visit her, write an article on her and, of course, take photos of the garden. Christopher resists this intrusion into the privacy of his home to the utmost, but when he is finally forced to give way to his wife's resolution, he devises a cruel vengeance: he secretly manufactures an exact wax-replica of Louise, his former great love, and then puts the statue on a stone-bench in the center of the garden. When, next morning, Penelope takes the journalists on a tour of the garden and sees the statue of Louise, she collapses with a heart-attack (she knew very well that Chris had never loved her and that Louise was his only true love). After she has been taken to hospital, Chris remains alone in the house; the following morning, he is found dead in the garden, stiff like a doll in the lap of his Louise. The fantasy around which this story turns is of course Penelope's, not Chris's: the garden-space, the fantasy-universe of the stuffed pets, is a construction by means of which Penelope masks the ultimate failure of her marriage. The inconsiderate cruelty of Christopher's act consists of including in this fantasy-space the very object which must be excluded, i.e. the object whose presence disintegrates the fantasy: the figure of the Other Woman who embodies the miscarriage of the sexual relationship between Chris and Penelope.

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