Psychology of Utopias Agnes Balint The concept of Utopia



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Utopias and fairy tales

Utopias resemble the world of the fairy tales in many ways. They both depict coherent (though fictive) worlds that enable the heroes to find their happiness. In both genres wish-fulfillment predominates. In fairy tales happiness comes true at the end while in utopias it should not be reached since it has been given. The worlds of utopias are the worlds of happiness. Utopias usually start where most fairy tales end: “And they lived happily ever after.” Utopias save conflicts: in their worlds the aims, values and ideals that guarantee the happiness of their civilians have already been achieved.

The Bettelheimian “good-enough tale” term (that refers mainly to folk tales) reflects the infantile world-view, which operates with sharpened contrasts, rather than with sophisticated distinctions. Thus the heroes of fairy tales are one-dimensional: they are either very good or bad, beautiful or ugly, and so on.3 As Bettelheim says, children draw ideas from the tales to rearrange their inner chaos.4 The clear contrasting pairs of fairy tales motivate the children to find their way in their own chaotic worlds. Thus children can observe the operation of these simplified emotions, features and desires, both separately and together. By means of identification and projections to heroes of fairy tales, these things become comprehensible and easy to elaborate for children.5

The worlds of utopias seem to share common features with the infantile world view. The civilians of the utopias are just as one-dimensional as the heroes in fairy tales, with the exception that all represent the “right” side, since there is no “wrong” in these ideal societies. So in utopias only the morally “right” halves of the contrary pairs are projected to the heroes. Morally “right” things, of course, imply many different features (e.g. diligence, truthfulness, love, loyalty, etc.), which can be represented by different persons or groups. The nature of the values of the contrasting pairs characterizing the societies of utopias depends on the authors' personalities, actual desires and conflicts.

The analogy of the two genres is also affirmed by the often similar beginning as well. In fairy tales the heroes must leave their homes (either they are expelled or lose their way) and start wandering to pass through adventures that contribute to a new integration of their personalities. Utopias, as I have already mentioned, begin also with the turn that the heroes find themselves in a totally unknown world. The analogy ends at this very point, because the traveler is not the real hero of the story, at least not in the same sense as the hero of a tale. It is not his integration of self that is important: his adventures in the strange world do not mean the symbolic levels of self-integration. The traveler mainly concentrates on the intellectual comprehension of the ideology of the strange world. Of course, just like the hero of a fairy tale, the traveler also faces a series of difficult tasks, because the familiar, common logic does not predominate in this world.

As for the space and time relations, there are also some parallel features. Neither fairy tales, nor utopias are linked to space and time – things happen somewhere and some time. Both fairy tales and utopias seemingly concrete the locality, saying “over the hills and far away”, or “in the middle of the round forest”, or “on the island”, or “on the Moon”, or “under the sea”, but all these are, of course, only the symbolic labeling of the fact that the heroes are wandering beyond their real localities, deeply inside their soul. The time of fairy tales (if we can speak about time dimension at all) is rather the past – the linguistic past tense of the story refers to this, and the almost obligatory beginning sentence, saying “Once upon a time”. This past, of course, should not be meant in a historical sense; it rather symbolizes the psychologically ancient and infantile part of the soul.

The time of utopias can also be the past, the withered golden age – this is true mainly for the utopias written in the ancient times. The longing for the golden age relates to the archaic-mythic world-view and to ancient people’s relationship to transcendence. In psychological sense the past golden age is the same as the past time of fairy tales. From the 16th century the time of utopias switched mainly to the future, which can easily be explained with the appearance of the trust in progress, and the hope in the future results of progress. Future, in psychological sense, is the time of wish-fulfillment. Thus, utopias are, in modern sense, tensed moments of future; the seemingly eternal moments of fulfilled wishes.

The two genres urge the comparison from another aspect as well. This is the aspect of sexuality. According to Bettelheim, fairy tales provide the ideal sexual education – proper to the child's age and level of personality development.6 Without any contents referring to sexuality, the story promotes the emotional maturation. With the help of fairy tales the child finds the role of sexuality both in his inner and the outside world.

In the worlds of utopias there are no emotions, at least not in their complex, conflictuous and ambivalent forms. There is no sexuality either – these worlds cannot handle the questions of love affairs and families. The authors are too busy with the depiction of social relationships, institutions and economy, and they have no time to deal with “minor details” like these.7 They show up an “ideal” form of life that resembles monasticism. If family as such appears at all, it has no elaborated function and role, unless in economical sense. The phenomenon that utopias ignore and deny sexuality can refer to problems with intimacy and can also be interpreted as a regressive feature.

Due to psychoanalytic studies, the relationship between fairy tales and the unconscious is obvious, and the interpretations of some symbols are well-known. All the main heroes in the story (three brothers, seven sisters, etc.) refer to the same person. The split of the person into different heroes promotes the observation of how the unconscious operates, what happens if desires take over the control, and how maturing it could be to act according to the principle of reality. The elder brothers motivated by the pleasure principle never succeed, while the youngest, who is able to reconcile his desires with nature (for example he gives food to the hungry mouse), comes to know his unconscious wishes (he can speak the language of the animals), is able to delay his needs (he does not drink from the well despite of his thirst), is capable of solving critical situations. All these give the child the hope that he himself will become capable of solving difficulties by “domesticating” the unconscious and undertaking the demands of the principle of reality.8

The relationship between utopias and unconscious is not so obvious. It is certain, that the world depicted ideal can be regarded the fulfillment of unconscious wishes. The role of the pleasure principle and the principle of reality played in wish-fulfillment need some further explanation.



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