3 Fantasy Stories

IMG_0988It seems appropriate that my last year of university has, so far, been concerned with challenging my perceptions of society right before I am properly thrown into the world. This past weekend, I have had the pleasure of reading, back to back, an excerpt from The Transmission of Affect by the late Teresa Brennan and “Part Eight: Primitive Accumulation” from Karl Marx’s Capital. Both of these texts feature overlapping theorizations of human existence and experience that inspired this first blog post. Overall, the ideas represented in these texts made me think more critically about my ecology project that will feature Rockaway, Queens and how binary societal understanding may contribute to the continuing issues with preserving Rockaway and the surrounding community. 

In certain ways, both Marx and Brennan discuss the way our current society is not the result of natural linear human progress but rather purposely molded to satisfy a means to an end. Brennan aids the reader’s understanding of what she calls “foundational fantasy” by describing how the relationship between a mother and an infant is made to be understood as passive and active (Brennan). The mother is the active cause of the infant’s “rage and pain” because she actively “dumps” “irritation and distraction” onto the passive subject (Brennan). Dorian Stuber, in her article “Review of Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect”, clarifies that Brennan uses this example to describe the “fantasy that governs Western modernity” in that this idea promotes the oversimplified “subject-centered, self-interested point of view” found in our society (Stuber). Stuber calls this framework “(destructively) operatic” in that it isolates people from feelings of responsibility and the need to think negative things (Stuber).   

In a similar way, Marx, in his book Capital, discusses the “nursery tale” that serves as the founding myth of capitalism (Marx). Marx writes that there are “two sorts of people; one, the diligent, intelligent and above all frugal elite; the other, lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living”, similarly bringing us back to the idea that our society depends on the acceptance of the passive and active modes of existing (Marx). Marx refuses to accept this particular “foundational fantasy”, which is meant to make our capitalist society appear inevitable when in reality, capitalism was engineered and systematically bloody.  

In a sense, both Marx and Brennan underline how, in Brennan’s words, fantasy is “a mental activity that allows us to alter an unpleasant reality by making it into something more pleasurable”, thus creating a way of living that does not provide a population with the social means to confront urgent issues (Stuber). In an article published on citylab.com titled “Rockaway Beach is Disappearing and Resurgent All at Once”, Laura Bliss lists all the ways Rockaway residents have attempted to call attention to the quickly disappearing beaches (Bliss). She also highlights that “[i]n Far Rockaway, more than two-thirds of residents describe themselves as African American or Hispanic, and nearly a quarter live below the poverty line” (Bliss). This made me think about the perpetuated “fantasy” of the “lazy welfare recipient” that historically played a big part in Ronald Reagan’s campaign and is often the reason policymakers today resist helping poor diverse communities like Rockaway. In the most literal sense, this “fantasy” echoes Marx’s “nursery tale” and Brennan’s apprehension towards the passive-active way of understanding society. Even though numerous studies, such as “Debunking the Stereotype of the Lazy Welfare Recipient: Evidence from Cash Transfer Programs”, have proven that the idea of poor people becoming passive and lazy if given aid is wrong, the idea itself allows other people to separate themselves from the crisis and its victims and prevent the flow of money toward these communities (Abhijit). Though Marx and Brennan discuss different versions of “foundational fantasy” that have become embedded in society, I feel that the danger of  “fantasy” that both texts call attention to is prevalent in understanding why places like Rockaway are under constant threat regardless of rising awareness. This is the reason I bring up the racist “fantasy” of the welfare recipient. The “fantasy” operates in all the same ways that Brennan and Marx’s fantasy do in that it only functions as a way to achieve an end for people who benefit off of the binary understanding of society, in this case, the end being allocating fewer dollars towards helping these communities and also works to separate individuals who exist in our “self-centered” society from responsibility and negative realities. Though Marx and Brennan’s texts are definitely more complicated and dense than I go into here, I think that the three narratives present here will allow me to further continue developing my ecology and more sensitively approach the challenging social issues that are bound to confront my endeavor. -Tom

Works Cited

Abhijit V. Banerjee, Rema Hanna, Gabriel E. Kreindler, Benjamin A. Olken, Debunking the Stereotype of the Lazy Welfare Recipient: Evidence from Cash Transfer Programs, The World Bank Research Observer, Volume 32, Issue 2, August 2017, Pages 155–184, https://doi.org/10.1093/wbro/lkx002

Bliss, Laura. “Rockaway Beach Is Disappearing and Resurgent All at Once.” CityLab, 19 Aug. 2019, http://www.citylab.com/life/2019/08/rockaway-beach-hurricane-sandy-climate-change-gentrification/596080/.

Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect. Cornell University Press, 2004.

Marx, Karl, et al. Capital: a Critique of Political Economy. Penguin Books in Association with New Left Review, 1990.

Stuber, Dorian (2006). Review of “Review of Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect.,” Bryn Mawr Review of Comparative Literature: Vol. 5 : No. 2

~ by Thomas Paparella on September 23, 2019.

6 Responses to “3 Fantasy Stories”

  1. Most informative: I appreciate how you’ve put both older, classic theorists and contemporary, lesser known scholars into conversation. Before reading your post I was familiar with Marxist theory, but was unaware of the nursery tale that it was birthed from. I found the mediation of foundational fantasy that Bennett does to be the most challenging concept to grasp from her reading, but I think your blog post helped simplify it for me by basing it in society, and this active/passive distinction.

  2. Your blog post is well-structured and extremely informative. I like how you bridge the concept of “foundational fantasy” brought up by Brennan, in addition to Marx’s argument, to understanding the precarity of Rockaway in the premise of “binary societal understanding”. The three fantasy stories effectively help me understand the complexity of the issue.

  3. I think your post was very informative; I certainly scrolled away knowing more than I did before. You took the time to think critically and explain the readings in your own understanding which I think makes all the difference to having me understand the approach you’re taking to your research. I found especially interesting the way you connected the foundational fantasy to the racist fantasy of the welfare recipient. I would not have thought to apply the psychoanalytic theory to our societal fantasies in that way. Made me think about my own research differently. Good work!

  4. Most Informative: This is the most informative post because it sets up the framework for your argument positioned through Marx, as his writings effect the modern world and how this story has happened time and time again. It may not be the most informative ecology blog post, because I am eager for more information about the Rockaway’s. “Marx refuses to accept this particular “foundational fantasy”, which is meant to make our capitalist society appear inevitable when in reality, capitalism was engineered and systematically bloody.” is a line that sticks out powerfully, because I relate it to how I (imagine) Rockaway’s was built.

  5. Best Overall: I thoroughly enjoyed your piece! I love how you were able to dive into the “foundational fantasy” and ” nursery tale.” I know many people would describe Rockaway as a beautiful beach that they love to go to during the summer, however, the picture and your blog post really exposes that false fantasy of what it actually is.

  6. Best overall: I think the way you use concepts from both Marx and Brennan to build a framework and to approach your ecology is great. The inclination of people to make an unpleasant thing into something more pleasurable and acceptable is also a process due to the human-center narrative: people always perceive “others” as inactive and your analysis of two different texts further this idea.

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