Politics & Fantasy

I want to point to this note by Josh Marshall not so much because of the (valid & insightful) analysis of current politics, but because of his use of the word fantasy to describe George W. Bush's view of the world. It's interesting, in a Freudian sense, that Bush's father was known as a political realist, but I'm not even so interested in the psychology of the son's relationship to his father as I am in the danger of fantasy. Not fantasy as such -- I teach Alice in Wonder Land in Freshman English -- but fantasy literalized. Fantasy, understood as metaphor, can illuminate the world & lend subtlety to thought; but fantasy taken as an image of reality is dangerous. It is maladaptive. Even pre-scientific societies make distinctions between dreams & waking, between the sacred & the profane, between fantasy & reality. Without these distinctions, human consciousness & the human species would have blinked out long ago & we wouldn't be here writing & reading blogs. It is only in the ideologies of post-industrial fundamentalists that we see an effort to collapse the distinction between these realms of being. It is easy to laugh at the twelve-year-old boy who has trouble separating the reality of Star Wars or Tolkien from everyday reality, so why is it so difficult for us -- & especially the adolescents of the press -- to see that there is a twelve-year-old with shaky reality testing abilities (to say nothing of intellectual mediocrity & lack of curiosity) sitting in the White House directing US foreign policy? Imagination -- the ability to see ourselves as other than we are & the world as other than it is -- is our species' most salient intellectual ability; unrooted in the facts of the world, imagination is what we call insanity. The great visionary poet William Blake wrote of the imagination as a kind of hot air balloon ( a new scientific invention in the 18th century), but Blake also wrote of the need for ballast in the form of bags of earth: imagination floating free from reality is a balloon without ballast. President George W. Bush is certainly floating free from reality; what is more troubling is that American cultural & political institutions, once known for pragmatism & realism, have for the most part joined the president on his untethered ride.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.