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"fantasy" (Fr. fantasme)

The concept of fantasy is central to Freud's work.[1]

Indeed, the oirgin of psychoanalysis is bound up with Freud's recognition in 1897 that memories of seduction are sometimes the product of fantasy rather than traces of real sexual abuse.

This crucial moment in the development of Freud's thought (which is often simplistically dubbed "the abandonment of the seduction theory") seems to imply that fantasy is opposed to reality, a purely illusory product of the imagination which stands in the way of a correct perception of reality.

However, such a view of fantasy cannot be maintained in psychoanalytic theory, since reality is not seen as an unproblematic given in which there is a single objectively correct way of perceiving, but as something which is itself discursively constructed.

Therefore the change in Freud's ideas in 1897 does not imply a rejection of the fundamentally discursive and imaginative nature of memory; memories of past events are continually being reshaped in accordance with unconscious desires, so much so that symptoms originate not in any supposed "objective facts" but in a complex dialectic in which fantasy plays a vital role.

Freud uses the term "[fantasy]]", then, to denote a scene which is presented to the imagination and which stages an unconscious desire.

The subject invariably plays a part in this scene, even when this is not immediately apparent.

The fantasized scene may be conscious or unconscious.

When unconscious, the analyst must reconstruct it on the basis of other clues.[2]

  1. "Fantasy" is spelt "phantasy" in the Standard Edition.
  2. Freud. 1919e.