Structure and Functions of Fantasy

By Eric Klinger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
An Approach to the Structure of Fantasy

Structure, in the words of Chapter 2, refers to the duration, complexity, sequence, continuity, and syntax of fantasy segments. Applying the term "structure" to fantasy requires assuming that fantasy can, in fact, be decomposed into discriminable segments.

The classic statement of the problem is still the chapter on "The Stream of Thought" by William James ( 1890). James was impressed by the continuity of the feeling of consciousness, its lack of "breach, crack, or division [p. 237]. He denied the existence of perceptible gaps in consciousness or of instantaneous transitions in content. Although he recognized "a kind of jointing and separateness among the parts. . . breaks that are produced by sudden contrasts in the quality of the successive segments of the stream of thought [p. 239]," he maintained the position that the segmentation is only apparent, arising partly out of faulty conceptualization and partly out of faulty observation. The belief in the segmentation of the thought process as such, he wrote, proceeded from a confusion "between the thoughts themselves, taken as subjective facts, and the things of which they are aware [p. 240]," and he added, "The transition between the thought of one object and the thought of another is no more a break in the thought than a joint in a bamboo is a break in the wood [p. 240]." Nevertheless James accorded variations in the stream of thought full psychological significance and recognized a distinction that recurs also in other theoretical systems between alternating "substantive" and "transitive" parts of thought, which he likened respectively to the resting places and paths of flight in the activity of a bird.

Jame's insistence on the continuity of thought was directed against a tradition of associationism which held all consciousness to be composed of discrete sensory elements. This "elementarist" view is identified particularly with Hume, the Mills, Bain, and Wundt. Wundt ( 1902), for instance, defined consciousness as an "interconnection of psychical compounds [p. 223]," and wrote, "All psychical compounds may be resolved into psychical elements [p. 101]." The subjective sense of continuity of con-

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