Sunday, June 29, 2003


The Way of the Actor by Brian Bates
Published by Shambala in 1987

(Chapter 9. Dream: Images of Power. pages 128 - 130)

Fantasy is taboo. In the secular, instrumental world of today, to indulge in fantasy is to dwell in a 'realm of unreality'. It is considered to be a waste of time. An indulgence.

      Liv Ullmann decries this, but thinks it is important to distinguish between different sorts of fantasy. 'I think there's good fantasy and bad fantasy. The bad fantasy is what you see on television - the commercials that tell you if you use this hair spray, a fantasy life will follow - your husband will come home on a white horse. That is dangerous fantasy because that is not how life is.' This is the sort of fantasy that we all recognize as unreal, and the promotion of unrealistic expectations about life Ullmann considers dangerous and frustrating, '. . . People live in anguish because they've based their whole lives on unreality.'

      But she considers that there is 'good fantasy', which is a recognition that in human terms there is no 'objective, real world', but rather one in which we interact creatively with our environment, colouring it with our own contribution to the active process of perception, 'Good fantasy is . . . The wonder of a flower of a season when the trees get their leaves, and you make it alive . . . And that is a wonderful fantasy because it enriches what is already there with what is already in you. Even in reality there are lots of beautiful dreams.'

      We tend to forget that fantasy is an ever-present element in everyday perception. Instead, to indulge in fantasy is sometimes even considered pathological. In psychiatric terms, '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 know as fantasy . . . The psychotic patient may live simultaneously in two unrelated worlds - one of fantasy and one reality.'

      We all have a stream of inner consciousness which consists of memories - images of events past, anticipation - images of expected future events, and reality - related thinking, coping with immediate events in the external world. And we all have, in addition, unrealistic images which are not directly connected with the 'objective' world in which we live. In their private, inner world, most people experience fantasies about love, sex, success, happiness, material wealth and revenge. In other words we all live simultaneously in the world of fantasy and reality.

      Caughey has described how, 'We do not live only in the objective world of external objects and activities. On the contrary, much of our experience is inner experience. Each day we pass through multiple realities - we phase in and out, back and forth, between the actual world and imaginary realms.'

      He points out how we awake in the mornings after spending hours in the image-laden world of dreams, and how, in our early morning routines, we frequently drift off into an internal stream of reverie - moments from the past, imagined scenes from the day ahead. Travelling to work, most people are only partly aware of the familiar route, 'Much of the time we are "away". Lost in anticipations of the hours or years ahead or in fantasies about how things might otherwise be . . . and so throughout the day, hour after hour, day after day.'

      The world of inner fantasy is intensely personal and emotionally potent. And inevitably the stream of inner images affects dramatically the way we see the external world of supposed reality.

      Of course, there are people who become lost in the world of fantasy and who cannot find the way back to the equally important realm of rationality. Psychiatry fuctions to help these people. But these unhappy extremes should not seduce us into thinking that 'sanity' means living a totally rational, fantasy-free life. A totally rational person would be insane.

      Fantasy is integral to our whole way of life - not some aberrent, time-wasting indulgence which can be forgiven if practised during leisure hours. Fantasy is psychologically a fact, for all of us. In its own way, fantasy is reality.