Unconscious Fantasies and the Relational World

By Danielle Knafo and Kenneth Feiner

What is the role of unconscious fantasies in psychological development, in psychopathology, and in the arts? In Unconscious Fantasies and the Relational World, Danielle Knafo and Kenneth Feiner return to these interlinked questions with a specific goal in mind: a contemporary appreciation of fantasy in its multiform relational contexts. To this end, they provide detailed examinations of primal scene, family romance, and castration fantasies, respectively. Each category of fantasy is pushed beyond its “classical” psychoanalytic meaning by attending to the child’s ubiquitous concerns about sexual difference and feelings of incompleteness; her perceptions of the parental relationship; and the multiple, shifting identifications that grow out of this relationship.

Evocative clinical examples illuminate the manner in which patients and analysts play out these three core fantasies in the form of symptomatic acts and enactments, and especially in the transference/countertransference. But these fantasies, the authors stress, are equally linked to creative self-expression, especially in the arts. And so Knafo and Feiner balance treatment considerations with explorations of the generative side of unconscious fantasies. Separate chapters explore David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet as an artistic rendering of the primal scene; Jerzy Kosinski’s life and work as an illustration of the family romance; and French multimedia artist Orlan’s “carnal art” as a recreation of the trauma of castration.

Unconscious Fantasies and the Relational World is a tightly woven study of broad and basic questions. It is in equal measure a contemporary re-visioning of the grounds of fantasy formation, a relationally informed guide to clinical techniques for dealing with unconscious fantasy, and an examination of the generative potential of unconscious fantasy in the arts. Out of the authors’ broadening and broadminded sensibility emerges an illuminating study of the manifold ways in which unconscious fantasies shape lives and enrich clinical work.

“Knafo and Feiner have done a masterful job of rehabilitating and reinvigorating the concept of unconscious fantasy. Their erudition is worn so lightly that we are carried along by the sheer pleasure of seeing how the false dichotomy of fantasy and reality dissolves into a mutually interpenetrating dialectic. By combining modern classical and relational theory, they bridge a one-person emphasis on imagination and desire with a two-person focus on relationality and social context. The resulting synthesis not only attests to the centrality of fantasy as a problem-solving mode of thought; it also reestablishes the critical importance of fantasy for contemporary psychoanalysis.”
–Virginia Goldner, Ph.D., Founding Editor, Studies in Gender and Sexuality

“Through an interwoven mix of the clinical, the theoretical, and the psychology of the arts, Knafo and Feiner explore the crossroads where unconscious fantasy meets relational processes. They have produced an informed, highly readable, and stimulating book – a book at the center of current theoretical debates that will reward readers at all levels.”
— Fred Pine, Ph.D., Private Practice, New York City