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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


No anti-fantasy rhetoric had greater impact than the argument that "fantasy is compensation for the unpleasantness of reality." Professor Tolkien refers indirectly to this compensation theory in his objection to the notion that fantasy is merely "escape." Tolkien offers an ingenious re-reading of what it means to "escape"-- mentioning that escape from a prison may not be irresponsible, but entirely logical in the right circumstances.

Still, the spectre of compensation endures, usually being understood as an entirely negative phenomenon, despite the fact that Adler himself allowed for both positive and negative manifestations of the psychological phenomenon.  Sometimes negative compensation is even invoked by practitioners of fantasy themselves:

Clark Kent grew not only out of my private life, but also out of Joe Shuster's. As a high school student, I thought that someday I might become a reporter, and I had crushes on several attractive girls who either didn't know I existed or didn't care I existed.-- Jerry Siegel.

And certain stories in the Superman canon certainly confirm that Superman was used to act out daydreams of supremacy, a fantasy evidenced by the first cover to feature the character:

No one, reading this or similar stories, can doubt that this particular story is all about a helpless fellow getting even with bullies-- i.e., negative compensation, at least in its narrowest definition.

Yet, not all fantasies are reducible to this easy formula.  Here's a cover from the 1971 short-story collection, NIGHT'S YAWNING PEAL:

For what lack of power, for what anxiety, does the image of wolves with snake-tongues "compensate?"

In Part 2, I'll deal in more depth as to why such an image should be viewed as "positive compensation," as well as relating this theme further to my formulation of the two sublimities.

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