Episode 99 – “Young Man’s Fancy”

The term “fancy” was used in 17th and 18th century philosophy as the name of the faculty of imagination, and what one fancied is what one imagined. Although the term isn’t used that way anymore, it is used in a related sense to refer to what one desires. You might be asked whether you fancy a hot fudge sundae as you pass an ice cream parlor. Perhaps you weren’t thinking about ice cream, but the question might prompt you to imagine a hot fudge sundae, and then to either desire one or not, and then to respond appropriately. “Young Man’s Fancy” is about what we would describe as a not very young man, Alex Walker, both imagines and desires. His ice cream parlor is his childhood home.

Alex apparently had a wonderful childhood, and has wonderful memories of it,  fueled by remaining in the home in which he was raised by his loving mother. Now, a year after his mother’s death and his recent marriage,  he has agreed to sell the home  and begin married life elsewhere.

The problem is that this new plan is not what Alex fancies. What he fancies is to be a child again, to be coddled and pampered by his mother, to delight in the toys in his toy chest, and to bask in the shelter of his home, away from adults, and their demands.

The episode explores the way that belief, memory, and imagination shape how we perceive the world. Alex and has new wife, Virginia, enter the same house, at the same time, but what they see is radically different. Virginia sees an aging, antiquated home, filled with outdated artifacts, like a grandfather clock that doesn’t work, but then seems to work, and an old-fashioned telephone, probably from the 1930s or 1940s. Alex sees the same objects, but seeing them sparks both his memory and his imagination. The thought of selling the house and its contents, of making a radical break from the past, becomes suddenly unbearable to him.

We confront these two, incompatible perceptions of the same house, and with it, ultimately two incompatible persons, with different memories, and as a result, different fancies.  It’s the same house to us, but two Alex and Virginia, there might as well be different houses, since the connection of what they see to their memories, imaginations, and desires differ so radically. Although our view is outside the perspective of the two interested parties, we can’t say who sees this world correctly. There is an argument for some form of relativity here.

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