Friday, 4 November 2011

What to say to kids about fantasy


Kids read and watch vast amounts of fantasy and make believe - many kids, (and I was one) find the world of fantasy more appealing than this world.

Indeed, it seems that this world - for all its distractions and excitements - is simply not enough.


Kids want so much for the fantasy to be real.

They ask: But is it real?

(If not real here and now, is it real at some place and time, or could it become so?)


So there is, on the one had, this world - which is not enough to satisfy the human spirit; and, on the other hand... what?


There is the perspective which says nothing.

That this life is real and all there is, fantasy may be nicer, but it is make believe and exists only in your mind.

And if you don't like this life, then that's tough - your life will be a miserable waste of time.


What can this perspective advise? There is only one thing: you must try to enjoy this life: it is absolutely imperative.

You must cease to yearn for the impossible, and make do with the attainable. The attainable may seem crumby - but that is all that is on-offer.

Grab and hold as much attainable pleasure as you can cram-in; don't waste a moment, fill your life with it (and use attainable pleasures to displace dissatisfaction and the yearnings).


Yet if this advice succeeds, then all it achieves is to convert a miserable waste of time into a pleasurable waste of time.

Is that what we should tell our kids?

Is it true?


For much of my adult life, especially the decade c 1998-2008, I was a sort-of Jungian; which was in fact not much different from the above.

As well as Jung, I  read deeply in James Hillman, Joseph Campbell, Daniel C Noel - and sampled 'new age' writers widely.

Although this Jungian view claimed to have solved the problem of meaningless this life versus meaningless fantasy, in fact the problem was still intact.


The Jungian view has it that everything is psychology - nothing is outside of psychology - but psychology is shared.

Reality is wholly subjective, because the mind 'creates' everything; but not solipsistic exactly because the mind is (in some way) shared between people.

So, for Jung and his followers, everything is as-if. Fantasy is just as real as this life; but neither are realer than ideas in human heads.


But if my own imaginations are inadequate for life, then so is Jung's psychology; because it merely expands the scope from my psychology to human psychology - but does nothing to affect reality - because reality is regarded as a product of psychology.

In effect, Jung says that delusional reality is the only reality, but asks us to be happy about this because at least the delusion is (to some extent) shared among all humans.

We are not alone in our delusions...


Talking with a child makes one realize that while such tortuous abstractions may (apparently) satisfy adult intellectuals - they do not satisfy the basic human craving for reality.

Children want to know 'but is it real': they are at root not satisfied with make believe, even if that make believe can be sustained almost indefinitely by the abundance of modern media.


A thought experiment.

Suppose you love The Lord of the Rings and were totally absorbed by it on first reading. Suppose you feel that the fantasy world of Tolkien is more real than this life.

Would it be enough to spend your whole life reading LotR?

Okay - you would get used to it, habituated, it would lose its effect...

But, supposing your memory was wiped between each reading; such that each time you read LotR it was like the first time and undiminished?

(Something of this type happens in certain forms of brain damage, and might in principle be possible with some technical interventions.)

Would that be enough?


Ah, but you would know at the back of your mind that LotR was fantasy...

Suppose that that knowledge could be removed; suppose you dwelt in LotR as you read it - like an alternative or virtual reality, and unaware of the fact?

(Technically, this might too be possible - insight and awareness disappear in some psychotic illnesses - so they should be able to be abolished artificially.)

SO - you can read and re-read Lord of the Rings each time as fresh as the first, and this is taken to be this world in which you dwell - is it enough?


Well, is it enough for the creature who actually dwell in Middle Earth? The Hobbits, Men, Elves, Dwarves, Ents?

Is Middle Earth enough for them?

Obviously not.


So when a child yearns for the reality of fantasy, and implicitly recognizes the inadequacy of this life; in fact the fantasy is not itself an answer.

So this life does not satisfy, and the fantasy would not satisfy even if it became our own life (or was apparently our own life, by some kind of technical intervention - some kind of subtle brain damage).


The child's yearning, sparked by fantasy, in in fact a profound statement of the human condition; and a heart-felt recognition of the inadequacy of this world, and of any imaginable world, to our desires.

At this level the problem is inevitable and insoluble.

The problem can, indeed, be solved only at a transcendental level; and in a manner which cannot be understood.

Just as any actually imaginable fantasy would leave us yearning; so we cannot imagine what would satisfy our yearning to be ourselves-yet-transformed in a world which was like this-world-but-transformed.

Yet that is precisely what we yearn for; and nothing less could or would ever satisfy.

That is what the child's question 'but is it real?' is telling us.