Pseudologia Fantastica

Or How I learned to Design the Future

Fiction interests me deeply, because stories rely on memory, and memory as we know is selective. History is rewritten through unconscious influences that impact how events are remembered, thus stories become a grand mélange of fact, fiction and confabulations.

I acknowledge the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustav Jung, and James Hillman who through their work in depth psychology have identified the unconscious and how deeply it influences every layer of our polytheistic psyche. These stories are in honor of psyche, and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and who gave birth to the nine muses. Hence I surrender Raisin Bread Toast (an early book of short stories) to the muses and the invention of a style of writing I call pseudologia fantastica. But what is this exactly?

Autobiographical narratives that chart the life story of a person by focusing on defining moments can also be viewed as a form of fiction. These defining moments, both simple and numinous, combined with specific and historic events, become through memory embellished with fantasy and confabulations. These memories thus become fictions, which are enhanced realities and altered interpretations of past events mitigated by experience. An author, a poet of fictions, has the task, as Dennis Slattery suggests in The Wounded Body, of “both forming and deforming images and stories to arrive at something of their essence, some inherent pattern or design that resonates a universal or archetypal significance” (Slattery 2000, p. 10). The notion that fictions are significantly psychological and can offer insight into psychic depths, is also taken up by James Hillman in Re-visioning Psychology where he suggests, “an author’s fictions are often more significant than his own reality, containing more psychic substance, which lasts long after their ‘creator’ has gone” (1975, p. 12).

Two key ideas emerge from the above quotations: that authors, poets and
writers are conspiratorially inclined because they form and deform images.
Thus the resulting stories became fictional restructuring’s that perhaps are
more close to reality than what we know as true reality. The other idea is that the psyche itself, the poet’s soul, the creative genius, has an independent voice and demands to be heard. This is the message and theory James Hillman explores in his book The Souls Code; he says it’s about calling, “about fate, about character, about innate image. Together they make up the ‘acorn theory,’ which holds that each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived” (1997, p. 6). Throughout the book, Hillman uses many terms for this seed that contains the Oak tree.

Hillman’s ‘acorn theory’ and metaphor, already presents uniqueness, thus, he interchangeably uses, “image, character, fate, genius, calling, daimon, soul, and destiny” (Hillman, 1997, p. 10), to describe this calling. Hillman has amplified on the ideas that Plato suggested in his book, The Republic. In the last section of the book, in the Myth of Er, Plato posits the idea that we elected who we are to become, that each of us is given a unique daimon before we are ejected into the world. Elsewhere in The Souls Code, Hillman suggests that the daimon itself selects a pattern or an image that must be lived out.

This remark suggests that we are destined to live out our pattern or image, or myth, or perspective. Another way of understanding this idea is to consider that the person chooses the circumstances that suit the soul and that this choice isn’t really a choice but that it belongs to necessity. The living out of such a plan then, becomes most clear in the conspiratorial, fictional writings of an author who unconsciously is revealing soul or the daimon’s necessity through the wounds and experiences of the character in the story.

Not only is the individual author telling his or her own story but they are also living through the calling that the acorn demands. This destiny, this daimon then, is in essence an undeniable force that guides, cajoles and steers a person towards his fate. However, in our modern, indeed postmodern consumer culture, both consciousness and the daimon have in a sense been forced underground. Recognizing the voice of the daimon and the very ability to listen to soul’s voice has atrophied in modern man. The symbolic order of being has been thwarted; the relationships between ego’s needs and the daimon have been breached, causing a fissure. Paradoxically, precisely this thwarted relationship that nourishes an author’s fiction for it reveals unconscious content, thus enlightening and illuminating the daimon’s voice. Robert Romanysyn, in his book The Soul in Grief, discusses a concept that he calls the backward glance.

This is hindsight through reverie coupled with imagination which produces memories, which I suggest are authors’ fictions. These fictions, revealed in the fissure, as I have suggested, are imbued with unconsciousness content and the acorn’s own inherent entelechy. A ‘truer illusion’ is thus disguised in fictional memories.

Psychiatry has an old word for these ‘truer illusions’, pseudologia fantastica.
The term describes a form of tale telling where stories are invented and tall tales are told. In the most extreme cases these fictional narratives are called, Munchausen syndrome, named after the fictional Baron who told marvelous tales and had a particular penchant for flamboyant and dramatic disguise. Thus I suggest literary genres and the depth psychological understanding of them are classic terrains of such truer illusions.

Fabulous fictions, flamboyant memories infused with fantasy are thus colorful signposts towards a revival of soul, a place where the daimon is nourished into life Plato, in his Myth of Er uses a word which I believe suggests the ‘true’ value of these truer illusions, it is paradiegma, which Hillman translates as a “form that encompasses your entire destiny” (Hillman, 1997, p. 9). It is this full encompassing of destiny, that is most realized in literary genres such as grand epic narratives and Greek tragedies.

This theme of inexorable destiny and fate is most apparent in Sophocles’ Three Theban Plays. Sophocles brilliantly captures the fundamental guilt and anxiety that is experienced by Oedipus, for he can do nothing to avoid his inevitable fate as foreordained by the Oracle. Robert Fagel’s translation of Sophocles in these plays captures the essence of modern man’s terror of an unknown future and haunted sense of being caught in a trap, when he suggests that “our deep fear [is] that every step we take forward on what we think is the road of progress may really be a step toward a foreordained rendezvous with disaster” (Sophocles, Fagles, 1984, p. 133).

My point is that an author’s fictions may not just be more significant than reality, but in fact indicate the daimon’s teleological drive towards fulfilling its own destiny. Fiction writing thus unmasks the disguise of reality and presents to us a ‘truer illusion,’ through the art of pseudologia fantastica.

DestinyOS my latest book (on Amazon) teaches you how to write fiction with a purpose. Yes, some writing needs to be fantastic, extraordinary and “out there” but it must also be tempered by process and structure. In the book you’ll learn how to explore, discover and write scenarios. These scenarios or “future histories” become the blueprint and map for you to follow. DestinyOS is fundamentally about becoming a futurist and learning how to design your own future.

Give it a try––write a truer illusion of who you will be in the future.

DestinyOS by Michel Glock Ph.D.

Michael Glock Ph.D.


Hillman, J. (1975). Re-visioning psychology. New York, Harper & Row.
Hillman, J. (1997). The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. New York, Warner Books.
Slattery, D. P. (2000). The Wounded Body: Remembering the Markings of Flesh. Albany, Sate University of New York Press.
Sophocles, R. Fagles, et al. (1984). The Three Theban Plays. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England; New York, N.Y., Penguin Books