A review of By Force of Fantasy: How We Make Our Lives by Ethel S. Person, M.D. New York: Basic Books, 1995. xi + 276 pp.
LET ME STATE AT THE OUTSET that this book is thoroughly enjoyable to read, full of rich clinical and literary examples and intriguing insights, and broad-ranging in its implications about the human condition. Dr. Person, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst associated with the Columbia Psychoanalytic Institute, has over a twenty-year period written about romantic love and its relations to personal imagery, about transvestite and lesbian expressions and fantasies, and about gender differences and social roles.
In this volume, she brings her extensive clinical experience and previous scholarship together in an effort to provide a comprehensive account of the central role that our childhood and adult daydreams play in the formation of our personalities, our social and sexual expectations, and, indeed, in our political perspectives. Using numerous examples, she covers the daydreams of daily life, the possible links between such fantasies and night dreams or play behaviors, the role of erotic fantasies, and the importance of our recurrent fantasies as guideposts towards careers, styles of intimacy, and sexual variation. The book includes intriguing chapters on shared fantasies, with which pairs of siblings, parents and children, or lovers feed and nurture each other's views of reality. The influences on personal and political behaviors of vicarious fantasies drawn from literature, film, or television are also reviewed. Finally, there is a daring chapter on how national or broadly culturally shared fantasies influence such varied historical trends as the way we view love and establish national goals. Her daring conclusion merits quotation.
Fantasy is to cultural evolution as mutation is to biological evolution, and cultural mutations, like biological mutations, may benefit us, but they may also kill us. (p. 217)