Book Reviews: The Fantasy Principle

Michael Vannoy Adams, The Fantasy Principle
Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2004.

Michael Vannoy Adams's new book The Fantasy Principle reads like drinking a cool glass of water on a hot day. Here are the most intellectually refreshing ideas I have encountered in a long while. With intelligence and wit, Adams suggests that all psychology - its theories, concepts, constructs, structures, models and paradigms - is a fantasy. It is time to unclutter the field and, at last, to work imaginally. . . .
I really love intelligence, especially when it shows up in a psychoanalyst!

- Ginette Paris, Core Faculty Member,
Mythological Studies Program, Pacifica Graduate Institute

Altogether this is a fine and well-argued, as well as thought-provoking, book, exploring much more than the usual Jungian heartland while taking Jung's Psychology, so I believe, into a future fit for a fresh millennium.
- Peter Tatham, Jungian analyst


The following book review by Ginette Paris is from the Journal of Analytical Psychology, 50,1 (February 2005): 109-10.

Any intellectual discipline benefits from an occasional radical clean-up. Otherwise, the conceptual debris and theoretical junk pile up. We lose the capacity to distinguish a rotten idea from a fresh one. We begin feeding on jargon and self-fulfilling prophecies. The capacity for critical thinking is lost. Michael Vannoy Adams's new book The Fantasy Principle reads like drinking a glass of cool spring water on a hot day. Here are the most intellectually refreshing ideas I have encountered in a long while. With intelligence and wit, Adams suggests that all psychology - its theories, concepts, constructs, structures, models and paradigms - is a fantasy. It is time to unclutter the field and, at last, to work imaginally. Adams writes:

Does Jungian analysis need a structural theory? Or can it do very well without one? I maintain that there is little to be lost and much to be gained if Jungian analysis dispenses entirely with the structural theory of the persona, ego, shadow, anima or animus, and Self - and relies instead on a post-structural theory. . . .

  1. that the structures that are ostensibly "in" the psyche are actually constructs "about" the psyche;
  2. that these constructs are concepts;
  3. that these concepts are abstract generalizations and therefore content-poor in information in contrast to images, which are concrete particularizations and therefore content-rich in information.

In place of a structural theory, what I propose is a post-structural theory that is an imaginal theory of the psyche.

Post-structural, in Adams's proposition, also implies moving to a post-conceptual kind of psychology which, in turn leads to an imaginal theory of the psyche, a position he defends with intellectual deftness. Although he rejects many cherished Jungian concepts as outdated, Adams champions Jung's most basic and original contribution - the psyche speaks only in the language of images. "Jungian psychology is what I would call imaginology, and Jungian psychologists are imaginologists."

Adams's wittiest passages are his critique of the Freudian-Kleinian object relations theorists. It is the best kind of critique, as it comes not from a theoretical enemy, but from an insider, honestly looking at a collective obsession with the female breast and the habit of translating every image into a concept. Adams writes:

The Freudian-Kleinian method employs what I might call a "conversion chart" by which analysts translate images into "something else," usually something sexual [for example . . .] Segal does not just translate a pillow into a breast. She also translates a chamber-pot into a breast, three watches and two small drawers in a chest of drawers into breasts, a paint box into a breast, a bowl of porridge into a breast, and two glasses of beer into breasts. I do not know about Kleinians, but when I, a Jungian, order a pint in a pub, I do not expect to drink milk.

Adams's critique spares no one; Freud, Jung, Klein, Fairbairn, Hillman have all more or less "conceptualized the imagination." In doing so, even the archetype becomes another theoretical construct and the particular quality of the archetypal image is lost. It detaches from the experience. Translating images into concepts does to the image what a certain school of feminism has done by conceptualizing and positing "the feminine" as if it meant something tangible. We all know - and Adams reminds us of it - that "the feminine" (or "the masculine") really does not exist. We can only examine our richly differentiated images of men and women, but we tend to forget this. Having heard it ad nauseam, I cringe when a psychoanalyst writes of the structures and archetypes of the psyche, forgetting that all are really only fantasy.

I really love intelligence, especially when it shows up in a psychoanalyst!


The following book review by Peter Tatham is from Harvest: International Journal for Jungian Studies, 50,2: 198-201.

The guiding notion behind this book is a simple one, which is to say: Sigmund Freud was committed to the Reality Principle in his psychology, while Carl Jung, his erstwhile and closest follower, became throughout his own, self-idiomatic work, faithful to its very opposite: named here, by the present author: 'The Fantasy Principle'. For this reason, the Swiss analyst was banished into outer, psychoanalytical, darkness, from once having been its 'crown prince'.

On this book's cover the two pioneers are drawn, sitting closely side by side, smoking a cigar and a pipe respectively. The author imagines Freud about to tap cigar ash into Jung's crotch, perhaps to emphasize sexuality as the basis of psychoanalysis. In response, my own fantasy is that a cheery Jung seems about to push his pipe into the corner of the mouth of a rather mournful Freud, while crying out, 'Put that in your mouth and smoke it.'

These are not just silly jokes, in poor taste, for the principle of fantasy, as a basic mode of psychic functioning, says Michael Vannoy Adams, is the guiding light behind all of Jung's psychology, in contradistinction to 'the reality principle' of Freudianism. In fact, it remains today a measure of our adherence to this principle of fantasy, within and behind all that we look for, believe in, or interpret, says Adams, that is the touchstone of our working life as Jungians. If we fail to see through 'reality' for the fantasies that underlie it and towards which it is directing us, then so he insists we are not true followers of Jung.

This can be a hard row to hoe, without falling into simplifications, or fundamentalisms of various sorts; yet it remains the undoubted measure of our Jungian heritage and the mark by which we are and must be measured: creative fantasy no more and no less. Adams insists that we should go beyond all structural theories (including Jung's archetypes of shadow, anima, animus, Self, old man, puer aeternus, and so many others) in order to embrace 'image', which is the only language truly spoken by the psyche, in our dream images and by fantasy. This is closer to the imaginal psychology first put forward by James Hillman, with whom Adams was associated after the former left Zurich for Texas. The author is directing us towards a post-conceptual, imaginal, psychology that 'sticks' faithfully to any and all images spontaneously produced by and within each individual psyche, seeing them as 'content rich' rather than as poor in content structures as shadow, anima, animus, etc.

The author makes his point convincingly by means of closely argued chapters. In one, for instance, he explores the diaries of Schreber (first introduced to Freud, by Jung himself), without which the ultimately schizophrenic diarist fancies (as well as wishes) that he is turning into a woman. If, insists Adams, the two pioneers had realized that Schreber was, in reality, yearning for his own feminine and imaginal soul, rather than expressing a desire for physical 'womanning'; and if either of them had seen Schreber in therapy with this in mind (instead of just interpreting his diary for their own purposes), the outcome for that individual might have been different from his eventual diagnosis as schizophrenic.

Such statements lead Adams to insist upon the importance of a wide knowledge of comparative mythology for all analysts, so as to understand the true nature of the human psyche as mythopoeic. We do not project myths into the psyche's dreams and fantasies. We find them there instead (Adams is quite clear about this), freely created by the psyche as a means of expressing its own true nature. What is more, the psyche requires our assistance in understanding such spontaneous irruptions of imaginal material as is its inborn habit to produce: in order that we, on psyche's behalf, may understand and play back what it gratuitously produces so as to make such statements plain to conscious awareness.

However, the author is no classical or fundamentalist Jungian, who sees everything only in the ways that Jung and his close followers saw it, without deviation. Adams also has a deep knowledge of psychoanalysis: of Kleinian ideas as well as the theories of 'object relations', as put forward by Fairbairn and Guntrip. He examines such theories as these sympathetically, as well as critically.

Yet, it is to Hillman's ideas and those of his followers that he returns, approvingly, time and again, especially the notion that 'individuation' should represent a process of differentiation: from the 'one' to the 'many' and from a monotheistic psychology towards a polytheistic one, where multiplicity rules and differences, or contradictions, are not only to be tolerated, but explored as well. Such a move would be a creative one, in a spirit of inclusiveness that overrides any tendency of a single-minded ego-consciousness to think that it alone 'knows best'. The clinical examples that he produces and dissects, for us are wide-ranging, from across the whole analytic spectrum, being both pertinent and to the point, while moving his themes onwards.

Altogether this is a fine and well-argued, as well as thought-provoking, book, exploring much more than the usual Jungian heartland while taking Jung's Psychology, so I believe, into a future fit for a fresh millennium.

The author's likeness, inside the book's front cover, is at first sight a bit disturbing. He looks straight at us, with a quizzical smile on his face, and from right over the left hand side of the picture. Of the remainder, almost fifty per cent is blank. (The smile and positioning are similar to the photo in a previous book, The Mythological Unconscious, so he seems to be making a point!) Yet in the present case there does appear to be another, indistinct, shape within that shadowy and 'empty' area. Could it be another face, lurking in the shadows? And if so, what does this image tell us? It is to the author's left and seems further back than he is. Maybe he knows it is there, invigorating his thoughts. Or, perhaps he wonders what we'll make of it: just hoping for us to fantasize about it which is, after all, the very message of his excellent and important book.