Fantasy (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
A set of mental images that generally have no basis in reality.
A fantasy is inspired by imagination characterized by mental images that do not necessarily have any relationship to reality. In psychoanalysis, fantasy is regarded as a defense mechanism. For example, after being reprimanded by a supervisor, a worker may fantasize about taking over the company and firing the supervisor. Similarly, a child may fantasize about running away from home in retaliation against her parents for punishing her.
Vivid fantasies are often a part of childhood, diminishing as a child grows older. In the majority of individuals, fantasy is not a cause for concern; as long as the fantasizer is aware that the fantasy is not real, the formation of these mental images may be considered normal. When the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred, however, it is possible that some form of mental illness is present. When the individual regards his fantasy as reality, it has become an hallucination. In such situations, the hallucination may be a symptom of schizophrenia, and professional evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist is required.
Klinger, Eric. Daydreaming: Using Waking Fantasy and Imagery for...
(The entire section is 212 words.)
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Fantasy (International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis)
A fantasy is a product of the imagination in the form of a script in the theatrical or cinematic sense and deployed in support of a wish-fulfillment. It may be a conscious creation, a daydream created by the subject to procure an imaginary satisfaction that is erotic, aggressive, self-flattering, or self-aggrandizing in nature. This wish-fulfilling function likens the daydream, or reverie, to night dreams, but it may also be compared to symptoms or behavior with similar aims. It must therefore be supposed that all these manifestations have a common origin, namely unconscious fantasy.
The term Phantasie was part of everyday language, where it signified "fancy," "imagination." It appeared very early in Freud's writings, notably in the Studies on Hysteria (1895d), where he noted the frequency of daydreams among hysterics. However, the word soon took on a more precise meaning and the concept was expanded centrally in the burgeoning science of psychoanalysis. In a letter dated May 2, 1897, to Wilhelm Fliess, Freud wrote, "I have gained a sure inkling of the structure of hysteria. Everything goes back to the reproduction of scenes. Some can be obtained directly, others always by way of fantasies set up in front of them. The fantasies stem from things that have been heard but understood subsequently, and all their material is of course genuine." (p. 239). Later, in Draft M (May 25, 1897), we find this: "Fantasies arise from an unconscious combination of things experienced and heard, according to certain tendencies. These tendencies are toward making inaccessible the memory from which symptoms have emerged or might emerge. . . . As a result of the construction of fantasies like this (in periods of excitation), the mnemic symptoms cease" (1985a [1887-1904], p. 247).
Already, then, at this early moment, Freud posited unconscious fantasy as the source of the symptom, of the dream (soon to be elaborated on in The Interpretation of Dreams,1900a), of daydreams, parapraxes, and so on. But the claim that "all [this] material is of course genuine" was significantly revised. On September 21, 1897, he famously announced to Fliess, "I no longer believe in my neurotica" (p. 264)hat is, in an etiology for hysteria attributable in all cases to a trauma actually experienced during childhood. This is not to say that Freud now abandoned his seduction theory. But in the wake of a sudden disillusionment, he entered a long period leading to his recognition that the traumatic event was never recorded exactly per se, and never endured in unmodified form but, quite to the contrary, was subject to incessant reworking after the fact. From that moment, indeed, Freud was convinced that "there are no 'indications of reality' in the unconscious, so that one cannot distinguish between truth and fiction that has been cathected with affect" (p. 264); or in other words between historical (or event-defined) reality and fantasy. It was possible, then, that in some cases the hysterical symptom was the product of "pure fantasy"; seduction nevertheless existed, especially in view of the fact that a child might read this connotation into "innocent" events.
The birth of the psychoanalytical concept of fantasy may thus be dated 1897; in Freud's self-analysis, its advent coincides with that of the Oedipus complex. As Freud wrote to Fliess on October 15, 1897, "I have found, in my own case too, [the phenomenon of] being in love with my mother and jealous of my father, and I now consider it a universal event in early childhood" (p. 272). This twin birth was acknowledged by Freud a quarter of a century later in An Autobiographical Study (1925d): "When, however, I was at last obliged to recognize that these scenes of seduction had never taken place, and that they were only phantasies which my patients had made up or which I myself had perhaps forced upon them, I was for some time completely at a loss. ...When I had pulled myself together, I was able to draw the right conclusions from my discovery: namely, that the neurotic symptoms were not related directly to actual events but to wishful phantasies, and that as far as the neurosis was concerned psychical reality was of more importance than material reality....I had in fact stumbled for the first time upon the Oedipus complex" (p. 34).
There are references to fantasy throughout Freud's work, especially prior to the major theoretical revision of the 1920s. In his paper on "Screen Memories" (1899a), he revealed the role of adolescent fantasies in the work of reconstructing childhood memories. The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a), based on the idea of the dream as a wish-fulfillment, was itself a study of nighttime expressions of fantasy, while Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva" (1907a) and "Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming" (1908e) were centered on the eruptions of fantasy during waking life. "Hysterical Phantasies and their Relation to Bisexuality" (1908a) was a reconsideration, ten years after its initial formulation, of the theory of symptom production through fantasy. In spite of its title, "On the Sexual Theories of Children" (1908c) also examined the role of fantasy: certain "theories" were constructed by the child to explain the mysteries of sexuality, conception, and birth, but they were in effect also imaginary productions similar to reveries. In the "Wolf Man" case history (1918b ), Freud, returning at length to the problem of the relationship between event-defined "historical reality" and fantasy creation, ended by re-embracing the notion of "phylogenetically" transmitted primal fantasies, previously discussed in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a). Of special importance too is the essay "'A Child is Being Beaten"' (1919e), where Freud analyzed the genesis and structure of a particular fantasy in which erotic pleasure was tied to the evocation of punishment experienced by a (different) child.
The notion of fantasy nevertheless remained rather vague in Freud's work. It presented a number of problems for him, especially that of the relationship between fantasy and representation. More generally, there was the question of the role played by fantasy in mentation. For Freud, the instinct was the living source of all mental activity, as he clearly asserted in The Interpretation of Dreams. The dream was a wish-fulfillment, but the dual action of primary processes and secondary revision could bring about transpositions and distortions that permitted the latent thoughts of the dream to cross over into the dream's manifest content, to transform from unconscious fantasies into explicit images better able to break through the barrier of the censorship. In Chapter 7 of The Interpretation, Freud extended this model to psychic work as a whole in order to account for the transition from fantasy to mental representation, which were closely akin because of their common origin. The result, paradoxically, was that the difference between them was clearly pointed up: whereas the fantasy was an internal formation, created without reference to reality, mental representations drew their very substance from their relationship with the outside world. In "Formulations on the Two Principles of Mental Functioning" (1911b), Freud reiterated that fantasy served the pleasure principle exclusively, while mental representation, though it might transpose fantasy, answered strictly by the reality principle. Both the close kinship and the basic difference between fantasy and mental representation are easy to discern in Freud's account of hallucinatory wish-fulfillment, where he describes that founding moment when the infant obtains satisfaction by hallucinating the real, but absent, agent of satisfaction, and then, since the need remains, begins to "represent" that absence (the representation of the object arises from its very absence). W. R. Bion was a leader among those authors who have sought to thus develop a theory of mental activity designed to illuminate the relationship between fantasy and representation.
The fact remains that back in 1897 Freud ran into a difficulty that continued to occupy him for the rest of his life and is still a crucial question for psychoanalysis in the twenty-first century: If instinctual forces are indeed the live source of wishes or fantasies, which mediate them, how can the forms of those wishes be explained, and more specifically how is it that typical forms, seemingly derived from a common matrix, occur very widely among people whose history and psychic make-up vary considerably? Freud posed this question repeatedly in his account of the "Wolf Man" (1918b ), where he offered a meticulous, albeit hypothetical reconstruction of events that took place in his patient's life between the ages of eighteen months and four years old in order to explain his subsequent pathology. Yet Freud continued to feel that such an explanation, based on a person's real history, left something to be desired. He consequently appealed to an even earlier "historical reality"hat of the human species as a whole: "It seems to me quite possible that all the things that are told to us today in analysis as phantasy . . . were once real occurrences in the primaeval times of the human family, and that children in their phantasies are simply filling in the gaps in individual truth with prehistoric truth" (1916-1917a, p. 371). This echoed the "fiction" Freud had developed in Totem and Taboo (1912-1913a) according to which, at the time of the "primal horde," the sons killed their father and committed incest with their mother; ever since, the unconscious memory of that primal drama has left its stamp on every human being.
It is not unreasonable to have reservations about this speculation. Nevertheless, clinical psychoanalysis has verified the role of "fantasies" that can be qualified as "primal," however one regards their historicity, in that they are the basis of every individual fantasy. Freud mentioned three varieties: "I call such fantasiesf the observation of sexual intercourse between the parents, of seduction, of castration, and othersprimal fantasies"' (1915f, p. 269). But this enumeration should not be looked upon as definitive; it should no doubt include the fantasy of a return to the mother's breast (for further discussion of primal fantasies, see Laplanche and Pontalis).
Among post-Freudian developments, Melanie Klein's contribution is the most important. Continuing the line of enquiry that Freud opened up in "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes" (1915c) and reorganized after 1920 by introducing the life and death instincts, Klein assigned a leading role to the play of fantasy in the mental life of young children; indeed, she even seemed to make the apprehension of reality subordinate to fantasy in the context of a battle royal between love and hate that aroused massive anxiety. The beginning of mental life was envisaged by Klein as the scene of a tragedy played out by fantasies of invasion, cannibalism, deadly attacks on the breast and by the breast, explosion, laceration, and so forth. This approach was further advanced by some of Klein's followers, notably Donald Meltzer. Significant theoretical support was supplied by Susan Isaacs in her paper "On the Nature and Function of Phantasy" (1948).
A very different approach was taken by Jacques Lacan, who compared fantasy to freezing the frame of a moving picture. In contrast to the Kleinian view, the emphasis here was on the defensive function of fantasies, which sought to "freeze" the evocation of violent scenes, and first and foremost those responsible for castration anxiety. For Lacan, the neurotic fantasy was an attempt, always fruitless, to respond to the enigma of the desire of the other. However varied individual expressions of fantasy themes might be, the aim of analysis was always to circumscribe the typical basic fantasy of each analysand, its place and role in the symbolic structure that determined that analysand's particular mode of gratification (jouissance).
Michèle Perron-Borelli (1997) has taken an entirely different tack, providing a general overview of fantasy in the context of an original theoretical reformulation of the problem. Noting that every fantasy is centered on a representation of action, whether active in nature (e.g., seducing) or passive (being seduced), she defines fantasy in terms of a three-part structure comprised of an agent, an action, and an object of the action. This structure is analogous, for Perron-Borelli, to the basic grammatical subject/verb/object pattern; this is no accident, perhaps, if one accepts that language reflects the development of thought itself, and its origins in fantasy. All fantasy activity, therefore, and indeed all thought, may be conceived of as a system of transformations of this basic structure by a variety of means: changing of places by the subject and the object relative to the action (change from activity to passivity or vice versa), the replacement of the object or the subject, the assumption by the subject of the viewpoint of an outside observer; and so on. In this view, the subject comes into being and develops by virtue of these transformations themselves. At a deeper level, the starting-point is sought in a "primal fantasy matrix" in the autoerotic life of the infant.
See also: Act/action; Adolescent crisis; Amnesia; Anxiety; Archaic mother; Autism; Body image; Castration complex; Combined parental figure; Creativity; Depression; Family; Fantasy, formula of; Fantasy (reverie); Graph of Desire; Group analysis; Idea/representation; Identification; Identification fantasies; Internal/external reality; Internal object; Masochism; Myth of origins; Mythology and psychoanalysis; Need for causality; Neurotica; Object a; Oedipus complex, early; Perversion; Phallic woman; Pregnancy, fantasy of; Primal fantasies; Primal scene; Primal, the; Projective identification; Real trauma; Reparation; Rescue fantasies; Reverie; Screen memory; Seduction scenes; Symptom-formation; Unconscious fantasy; "Vagina dentata," fantasy of.
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