Historical framing of fantasy and reverie. The original definition that is formulated in Instinct of death and knowledge


“Tell me where is fancy bred,

Or in the heart or in the head?

How begot, how nourished? […]”

Shakepeare, Il mercante di Venezia, atto III, scena II. (Fagioli, 2017, p. 11)


Massimo Fagioli opens with this quote from Shakespeare his first book, Instinct of death and knowledge, placing at the center of his research one of the many questions that have stimulated and guided his scientific thought: where does the imagination come from?

Fagioli, in the introduction to the first edition of Instinct of death and knowledge, counts among the reasons that led him to publish his discoveries, that of having managed to emphasize the unconscious fantasy, in a way that is certainly more exhaustive and profound than the texts of general, philosophical and psychoanalytic culture consulted by him during the years of his psychiatric training.

By analyzing the theoretical references that he himself cites in Instinct of death and knowledge, we are able to frame the historical context in which his thought and research for him develops, which however does not resemble his contemporary contributions. In particular, he analyzes the concept of reverie in a precise and innovative way, clearly differentiating it from that of fantasy: this work, which will then be carried out throughout all of his works.

Massimo Fagioli (2017, p. 29) already in the first chapter of Instinct of death and knowledge uses the term reverie as a negative unconscious reaction, linking it to the pulsione di annullamento. Starting from a detailed analysis of the philosophical and psychoanalytic literature of the terms fantastischeria and fantasia, it is immediately clear how Fagioli’s thought was revolutionary.

According to Fagioli (2008, p. 129): “The fantastic (fantastischeria, from ghost) is specific to the delusional and hallucinatory relationship based on craving. The term fantasy is specific to the inner creation of the image and of thought as the memory of a relationship of receptivity of the qualities and sexual investment of the object. The fantastic object gives rise to hallucinations. Seeing what is not in external reality. Fantasy gives rise to seeing what is and can be hidden, not apparent, latent.”

The term fantasia comes from the Greek language phantasia, which has the root phaino -show-.

The term is used by Platone mainly in the sense of “appearance”, mirroring, without a substantial difference with perception (Melone, 2003).

For Aristotle phantasia is what appears and is never used in the sense of creative imagination, the classic translation of Aristotelian phantasia with imagination is therefore wrong (Riu, 2009).

The Stoics use the term in relation to the Platonic universals, which they define phantasmata of the mind, which corresponds to a hallucination (phantastikon) (Alessandrini, 2016).

Even for the Stoics the meaning of fantasy is not that of creative imagination.

In the field of phenomenology who has dealt with these topics is certainly Sartre who in The Imaginary published in 1940, takes up the cornerstones of Husserl’s thought by defining the concept of incommensurability of perception and imagination, where the nature of the imaginative conscience and of the image are defined as an unreal object. Even with respect to Sartre, Fagioli maintains his own originality of thought, as precisely speaking of perception / fantasy he does not believe that there is an incommensurability between the two dimensions.

In psychoanalysis, starting from Freud, fantasy is a residue of infantile omnipotence, it is a regressive motion behind which the pleasure principle acts, it is a fulfillment of desire, it is used in the sense of conscious reverie.

Compared to Freud’s use of it, Melanie Klein introduces a much broader meaning of the term “fantasy” (Petrelli, 1995).

In her early writings, Klein insists that the fantasies present in her patients and their games have a phylogenetic origin. The meaning that the term had in Melanie Klein’s approach was made explicit by Susan Isaacs. For her, the unconscious fantasy is the transcription or translation at the mental level of sensations, perceptions etc. It is defined, in fact, as “the mental corollary, the psychic representative of instinct. There is no impulse, drive or instinctual response that is not experienced as an unconscious fantasy” (Genovese, 1995).

Authors such as Sandler and Sandler, Solms remain substantially in continuity with Freud’s thought, adding no noteworthy novelty to the concept of fantasy. Laplanche too, undergoing a strong influence from Lacan as well as Freud, emphasizes the importance of the phylogenetic theory of primordial fantasies as the beginning from which to start the unconscious.

In summary, none of these cited really detaches itself from Freudian thought and even worse from a religious vision of fantasy, that is: fantasy is always pathological, with an innate and phylogenetic basis. We can possibly recognize Klein and her followers the idea of ​​a child who at least enters into a relationship, not completely narcissistic, but still on a pathological basis (Steiner, 2018).

From this brief outline it is evident, how in psychoanalytic culture fantasy always has a pathological connotation, and this failure in the research on the unconscious “constitutes a condemnation for man” (Fagioli, 2017, p. 292), because it decrees that man is born sick, born crazy. Fagioli (2002) soon denounced how for Freud the fantasy is understood as masturbatory reverie, not at all grasping that the latter is the consequence of the annulment of reality.

The interpretation of the pulsione di annullamento, a completely unconscious phenomenon, allows you to set in motion, in the transfer, all the dynamics that would otherwise remain blocked (Fagioli, 2017, p. 285). In addition, he deepens by making fundamental connections that make the unconscious dynamics even better understood, that is, he links daydreaming to craving and fantasy, on the other hand, to the sexual investment of the other.

Conceptualizing the unconscious fantasy as Fagioli does has an important reflection on the cure: as he describes well in the introduction to the first edition, the interpretation of the annulment drive can also be done without “the repressed resurfacing” with free associations. “The knowledge of the disappearance fantasy leads to having a light, in the relationship with the psyche of others, which can guide us in the search for an exit from … the whale’s womb.” (Fagioli, 2017, p. 285).



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