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The Inward and the Outward: Fantasy, Reality and Satisfaction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Christopher Cherry*
Eliot College University of Kent at Canterbury Canterbury, GB CT2 7NZ
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Imagination works upon desires and needs in a variety of ways. Different sensibilities will concentrate upon different of its operations and neglect - or even ignore - others. Thus Rousseau (and in some ways Plato, as we shall see) takes a very gloomy view of the uses of imagination. He sees only its dark aspect, under which it is a prime source of wretchedness:

It is imagination which enlarges the bounds of possibility for us … and therefore stimulates and feeds desires by the hope of satisfying them. But the object within our grasp flies quicker than we follow; when we think we have grasped it, it transforms itself and is again ahead of us … Thus we exhaust our strength, yet never reach our goal, and the nearer we are to pleasure, the further we are from happiness ... The world of reality has its bounds, the world of imagination is boundless; as we cannot enlarge the one, let us restrict the other; for all the sufferings which really make us miserable arise from the difference between the real and the imaginary.

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 1985

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1 Excerpted from Emile, trans. Foxley, B. (New York: Everyman's Library 1974). 44–5.Google Scholar

2 I am well aware that some psychotherapists swear by ‘fantasy therapies,’ but I have nothing so specific or technical (or suspect) in mind. And even if such therapies help in limited ways with, for instance, psychosexual problems it is worth remembering that remedies are also sought for excessive - and damaging — fantasising. Fantasts, it seems, are liable to horrors like Munchausen's Syndrome and Pseudologia Fantastica.

3 For fairly exhaustive treatments of fantasy by psychologists see Singer, J.L., Daydreaming and Fantasy (London: Allen and Unwin 1975),Google Scholar and Gilhooly, K.J., Thinking: Directed, Undirected and Creative (London: Academic Press 1982),Google Scholar ch. 6. Neither work appears even to recognise the existence of philosophical issues of the sort I pursue here.

4 Eliot, George, The Mill on the Floss (Ontario: Penguin Books 1979), 319–20.Google Scholar

5 Ibid., 320

6 Ibid., 383

7 Ibid., 383-4. The solution proposed, and promptly rejected, by Eliot to Maggie's problem of the ‘contrast between the outward and the inward’ is the one Rousseau stays with. Claiming that ‘misery consists, not in the lack of things, but in the needs which they inspire’ Rousseau exhorts us to minimize the difference between desires and powers (Ibid., 45). Eliot, by contrast, has Maggie come to realise that ‘renunciation remains sorrow, though a sorrow borne willingly’ (Ibid., 385).

8 George, Eliot, Adam Bede (London: Collins 1952). 143.Google Scholar Chapter 15 is in effect a description of Hetty's recurrent fantasies about herself and Arthur Donnithorne — her inward solution given the lack of an outward.

9 There need be no element of rehearsal, though. ‘[C]hronic prison daydreamers dreamed nearly always of the future — and of the past only as it might have been, never as it actually had been’ (Koester, Arthur, Darkness at Noon (Ontario: Penguin Books 1983), 45Google Scholar).

10 Eliot, , Adam Bede, 224.Google Scholar Hetty, George Eliot tells us, is ‘a woman spinning in young ignorance a light web of folly and vain hopes which may one day close round her and press upon her, a rancorous, poisoned garment changing all at once her fluttering, timid butterfly sensations into a life of deep human anguish’ (Ibid., 227).

11 ‘Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough’, The Human World, 3 (1971), 18-41

12 Analogously, why shouldn't the wishes which some people think are, on occasion, fulfilled in dreams be sometimes wishes only in dreams? Dreams would sometimes be the only way not merely to satisfy wishes but to have them in the first place. This would not, incidently, disallow dreams a role in the real world: a part of their purpose might still be to prepare us for any eventuality, including the worst. (As, indeed, Wittgenstein suggests in Culture and Value (Oxford: Blackwells 1979), 73.

13 Cartledge, Sue and Ryan, Joanne, eds., Sensual Uncertainty in Sex and Love, New Thoughts on Old Contradictions (london: The Women's Press Limited 1983), 42.Google Scholar

14 Ibid., 42 (Italics in original)

15 Ibid., 44

16 ‘Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough’, 31. Writing about fairy tales Freud aptly captures the world of autonomous fantasy, with its geography of ‘wishfulfilments, secret powers, omnipotence of thoughts.’ The ‘world of reality’ is left behind from the very start ‘by the postulates of the world of fairy tales,’ and things regarded as incredible become possible. (The Uncanny', trans. Alix Strachey, 250.) We need not of course follow Freud when he argues that primitive ‘forms of thought which have become surmounted-animism, belief in magic and the omnipotence of thoughts’ are in essence fantasies which, unlike fairy stories, refuse to leave the real world behind. The account more appropriately applies to pathological fantasts, who blur or ignore the boundary between fantasy and reality.

17 Plato, , The Republic (Ontario: Penguin Books 1974), 436Google Scholar

18 Ibid., 437. Cf. Wittgenstein, , Culture and Value, 87:Google Scholar God may say to me: ‘I am judging you out of your own mouth, your own actions have made you shudder with disgust when you have seen other people do them.’

19 Thus, one (but only one) reason why a person may be reluctant to categorise autoerotic fantasies is an uncertainty about what ought to be said, about what saying one thing rather than another commits one to. Until fairly recently it has been taken for granted by almost all writers on the subject that rational, non-pathological desire is for sex with a partner, masturbatory fantasising its surrogate, performed for want of anything better. Masturbation because nothing is better was rarely noted as an option — and, when it was, despised and condemned (Sartre calls it ‘dishonest,’ Laing ‘evasive’). But it has become increasingly clear that for some people sometimes, if not always, fantasised sex with themselves is the preferred and not a substitute mode: binary sex, with the intrusive presence of another, is either nowhere, or repugnant. See, for instance, Phillips, Angela and Rakusen, Jill, eds., Our Bodies Ourselves (Ontario: Penguin Books 1978), ch. 3;Google Scholar and Soble, Alan, ed., Philosophy of Sex (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield 1980),Google Scholar passim, and especially Jacqueline Fortunata, ‘Masturbation and Women's Sexuality.'

20 From a recent piece to entertain readers of the ‘Guardian’ newspaper about ‘some extra-ordinary men who lead extraordinary double lives.’

21 To develop this would demand exploring far more single-mindedly the idea of subrogation. How, for example, are we to construe claims like: Proust treated writing, and Plato treated virtue ‘as a continuation of life by other means’? I discuss some of these issues in ‘Can my Survival be Subrogated?’, Philosophy, 59 (1984) 443-56. See also my ‘Games and the World,’ Philosophy, 51 (1976) 57-61.

22 Segal, 45

23 Plato, Bk. 10, passim

24 Ibid., 432-3

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