Imaginary Social Worlds: A Cultural Approach

By John L. Caughey | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Social Relations in Fantasy

What is fantasy? In popular American usage the term is sometimes equated with imaginary sexual activity, sometimes with visionary fancy, and sometimes with fictions about life on Mars. Even where "fantasy" is restricted to mental processes, many different meanings are employed, often with pejorative connotations.1

In the technical literature of psychiatry, fantasy is sometimes used very broadly, as "daydreaming," "woolgathering," "imagination,"2 and, more narrowly, as "an imagined sequence of events or mental images" that "serves to express unconscious conflicts, to gratify the unconscious wishes, or to prepare for anticipated future events."3 Frequently it is defined as a quasi-pathological "defense mechanism": "If . . . the gratifications of reality are insufficient, thinking may not be controlled by the demands of reality but may serve as a regressive or substitute satisfaction. Such musing is known as fantasy. . . . The psychotic patient may live simultaneously in two unrelated worlds--one of fantasy and one of reality."4 Such definitions point to some basic characteristics of fantasy. They also offer problems because they suggest that fantasy is unnatural and pathological. This is erroneous. All my informants report fantasizing regularly. Like psychotics, normal people characteristically live simultaneously in two different worlds, one of fantasy and one of reality. The definitions above are also too broad since they fail to differentiate fantasy from other kinds of mental processes such as anticipations. If fantasy is understood as a sequence of mental images that occur when attention drifts away

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