Unconscious Fantasies and the Relational World: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Unconscious Fantasies and the Relational World

1st Edition

By Danielle Knafo, Kenneth Feiner


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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 perception 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. They are balanced by chapters that explore the generative side of these same fantasies in the arts. David Lynch's film Blue Velvet provides an artistic rendering of the primal scene; Jerzy Kosinki's life and work illustrates the family romance; and French multimedia artist Orlan's "carnal art" recreates 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 broad-minded 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 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 between 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 and 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

"In Unconscious Fantasies and the Relational World, Danielle Knafo and Kenneth Feiner critically examine the classic psychoanalytic constructs of the primal scene, family romance fantasies, and castration from a relational perspective of the intrapsychic, interpersonal, and artistic world of the individual. They resurrect these developmental phenomena and take them to heights that soar away above the usual relational framing of internal psychoanalytic processes. In the hands of Knafo and Feiner, classic psychoanalytic processes come alive. The book is a lucid and creative realignment of the role of unconscious fantasies in our relational world. It is a strong and needed addition to clinical practice and is highly recommended."

- Annie Lee Jones, in PsycCRITIQUES 51.40, 2006

"The clinical material provides excellent, detailed examples of the three types of fantasies and the manner in which unconscious fantasies can influence and even determine the unfolding of a life…Additionally, the application of psychoanalytic methods to analysis of film, memoir and performance art holds a certain interest for the reader."

- Martha Dupecher in The International Journal of Psychoanalysis Vol.89, No. 3.

"Unconscious Fantasies and the Relational World packs much rich material into its pages, raises many of the current issues and debates in psychoanalytic theory, provided thought provoking forays into psycho-biography and applied psychoanalysis and finally but not least requires us to look at the place of psychoanalysis in today's culture. Given the deluge of journals we attempt to plow through, to have so much in one slim volume is indeed a boon."

- Helen B. Levine, Ph.D., Psychologist-Psychoanalyst, 2008

Table of Contents


1. Unconscious Fantasies and Psychic Structure

I. Primal Scene Fantasies

2. The Primal Scene: Variations on a Theme

3. Blue Velvet: David Lynch's Primal Scene [cinema]

II. Family Romance Fantasies

4. Not in the Family: Family Romance Fantasies and Enactments in Psychoanalysis

5. Fact, Fantasy, and Fiction: Jerzy Kosinski's Family Romance and Imposture [literature]

III. Castration Fantasies

6. Castration Fantasies, Sexual Difference, and Mind-Body Matters

7. Now You See It, Now You Don't: A Case Study of Castration and "Omnisexuality"

8. Art on the Cutting Edge: Orlan's Medusan Female [visual/performance art]

About the Series

Relational Perspectives Book Series

The Relational Perspectives Book Series (RPBS) publishes books that grow out of or contribute to the relational tradition in contemporary psychoanalysis. The term relational psychoanalysis was first used by Greenberg and Mitchell (1983) to bridge the traditions of interpersonal relations, as developed within interpersonal psychoanalysis and object relations, as developed within contemporary British theory. But, under the seminal work of the late Stephen Mitchell, the term relational psychoanalysis grew and began to accrue to itself many other influences and developments. Various tributaries—interpersonal psychoanalysis, object relations theory, self psychology, empirical infancy research, and elements of contemporary Freudian and Kleinian thought—flow into this tradition, which understands relational configurations between self and others, both real and fantasied, as the primary subject of psychoanalytic investigation.  

We refer to the relational tradition, rather than to a relational school, to highlight that we are identifying a trend, a tendency within contemporary psychoanalysis, not a more formally organized or coherent school or system of beliefs. Our use of the term relational signifies a dimension of theory and practice that has become salient across the wide spectrum of contemporary psychoanalysis. Now under the editorial supervision of Lewis Aron and Adrienne Harris with the assistance of Associate Editors Steven Kuchuck and Eyal Rozmarin, the Relational Perspectives Book Series originated in 1990 under the editorial eye of the late Stephen A. Mitchell. Mitchell was the most prolific and influential of the originators of the relational tradition. He was committed to dialogue among psychoanalysts and he abhorred the authoritarianism that dictated adherence to a rigid set of beliefs or technical restrictions. He championed open discussion, comparative and integrative approaches, and he promoted new voices across the generations.  

Included in the Relational Perspectives Book Series are authors and works that come from within the relational tradition, extend and develop the tradition, as well as works that critique relational approaches or compare and contrast it with alternative points of view. The series includes our most distinguished senior psychoanalysts along with younger contributors who bring fresh vision.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Applied Psychology
PSYCHOLOGY / Psychotherapy / General
PSYCHOLOGY / Mental Health