The Stuff of Dreams by Kirsty Hall

Many texts about anxiety are based either in the philosophical tradition or within the medical model under the guise of discussions about post-traumatic stress disorder. In the case of fantasy, however, the usual sources of discussion are in literary and cultural criticism. Bringing the two together offers the scope for a book with an original theme. The aim throughout is to make technical psychoanalytic ideas easily accessible to the general reader. The balance between clinical ideas, philosophical ideas and literary sources is aimed at keeping both potential audiences interested. Clinicians may find the idea of thinking ‘dialectically’ helpful with their patients. Although this approach is implied in both Freud and Lacan, this is the first book to put dialectics ‘centre stage’ in terms of understanding the patient’s discourse. As far as general readers are concerned, most texts on fantasy do not ‘home in’ on the contribution of anxiety to the constantly changing content of fantasy.


This book offers a new approach to the problem of anxiety. It suggests that our fantasies (both public and private) offer the key to understanding our anxieties and vice versa. If, instead of flopping in front of the latest episode of Star Trek or The Simpsons, we stop to ask ourselves, ‘Why are we watching fantasy on TV?’ then this book provides some answers. The principle sources for understanding the phenomenon of fantasy combined with anxiety are drawn from the worlds of psychoanalysis, literature and popular culture. At times, the book offers clinical examples of fantasy/anxiety interactions; at others, literary or popular cultural sources are preferred. The variety of references endeavours to reflect the chimerical nature of both fantasy and anxiety.


‘How can we keep our anxieties from overwhelming us, while at the same time containing the knowledge that our life ends in death, Hall asks. Central to an answer to that dialectical question is the role of fantasy. We need our fantasies, whether they are described in the gothic novel, science fiction, popular TV programmes or religious ritual, to help us with our anxieties, she suggests. However fantasies can also be used to avoid facing the Real. It is here that the psychoanalytic discourse of Freud and Lacan have helped us to understand that we cannot avoid anxiety, that it is indeed part of what it is to lead a life, even though we create elaborate defences against this knowledge. This is an arresting book that brings together ideas from popular culture, literature and psychoanalysis, while addressing deeper philosophical question of the meaning we give to life in the face of the inevitability of death.’ – Prophecy Coles, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist

‘In my experience, a title like The Stuff of Dreams: Fantasy, Anxiety and Psychoanalysis usually refers to a book treating everyday life in a very complicated way, thus concealing the author’s failure to understand what he or she is writing about. Kirsty Hall’s book is exactly the opposite. Using ordinary language, she demonstrates the importance of our commonplace fantasies and anxieties. Furthermore, she writes very well – reading this book was a genuine pleasure for me. The combination of her clinical experience, cultural references and knowledge of differing psychoanalytic theories becomes more and more a rarity that we have to cherish.’ – Prof. Paul Verhaeghe, PhD; Chair of the Department of Psychoanalysis, University of Ghent, Belgium


  • Introduction
  • Variations on a theme of negation
  • Other minds, other worlds
  • Working without a safety net
  • What happens when the plot gets lost
  • Gothic tales and other stories
  • I believe…
  • The meaning of fantasy and anxiety
  • Fantasy terminable and interminable

About the Author

Kirsty Hall taught psychoanalysis as a body of theory at Middlesex University and currently teaches both theory and practice on a number of trainings. For a while she was the managing director of Rebus Press, a publishing house whose list reflected her own wide interests. She continues to work in private practice and to write about issues in the field.