Monday, November 30, 2015

The Family Romance

In his short essay, "The Family Romance," Freud talks about the common childhood fantasy of imagining oneself adopted, the child of some other, much better and cooler set of parents. He uses the phrase to talk about the conflicts between parents and children as the child necessarily grows up and grows away from his family.

Freud theorized that a denigration of one's parents replaces an early overestimation of them and that such feelings and desires are not only part of a “healthy” transition to adulthood, but are less about actually “hating” one's parents than kind of contradictory “expression of the child’s longing for the happy, vanished days when his father seemed to him the noblest and strongest of men and mother the dearest and loveliest of women. He is turning away from the father whom he knows to-day to the father in whom he believed in the earlier years of his childhood; and his phantasy is no more than the expression of a regret that those happy days have gone...”

The "family romance" fantasy also addresses the child’s question, “who am I?” and so expresses an attempt to place oneself in a broader social history. Thus, it can also touch on issues of social relations and relations between extra-familial generations as well issues of aging and the passage of time.

My question for our discussion of Fun Home is: Is some element of the family romance fantasy necessary to autobiography, or even memory itself?

(The image above is Charles Ray's "The Family Romance," a sculpture in which all of the members of a generic family have been resized to equal height. Because the figures are not quite either "adult" or "child" sized---they are roughly 4 1/2 feet tall---it's not easy to resolve if it's the parents who have been brought down to size or the children who've been enlarged. Nevertheless, whenever I see it, I see miniaturized parents before I see a gigantic baby.)

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