RECOMMENDED FOR READING
| Bridges to Fantasy -- Book by Eric S. Rabkin, Robert Scholes, George E. Slusser; Southern Illinois University Press, 1982
Introduction Toward a Theory of Fantasy: Essays from the Eaton Conference
One of the most significant aspects of modern culture is the resurgence of interest in fantasy on all levels--as element of human thought, as constant factor in man's social and intellectual environment, as generator of form in art and literature. In all these areas the focus on fantasy as category of investigation promises to lead to important modifications in accepted critical patterns, indeed to reevaluation of the role and purpose of artistic activity itself.
The central problem in the study of fantasy, then, is not merely to define another genre, but to circumscribe the tools and methods needed to approach works of art from a new perspective. Each of the essays presented in this volume seeks to provide a coherent theoretical model for such an approach. The essays fall, roughly, into three groups-structures, contexts, and themes--which provide general "angles of definition." These are only starting points, however, and each study uses its particular angle not to confine a given text or problem, but rather to open it out. The goal, in each case, is to investigate particular ways in which these categories ultimately interact to produce a work of fantasy. By crisscrossing the literary and artistic landscape, then, from multiple directions, this set of essays provides a beginning to the theoretical study of a complex and elusive mode.
Bracketing the essays in this volume are two highly personal statements about the nature of fantasy which are diametrically opposed in their approaches: Harold Bloom's intense analysis of a single work, Lindsay Voyage to Arcturus; and Gary Kern's wide-ranging "search" for a fantasy constant in disparate areas of literature across the ages. The other essays offer a mixture of theoretical stances on a sliding scale between these two poles. It is hoped that in this counterpoint of methods--with the focus on single works, periods, or national traditions constantly set against more general attempts to ground fantasy in Jung-In the lead essay, "Clinamen: Toward a Theory of Fantasy," Harold Bloom , extending critical categories--Gnostic and Freudian in inspiration--developed in his Anxiety of Influence to literary fantasy, discovers the aesthetic dynamic of this "belated version of romance" to reside in "its ironic or allegorical conflict between a stance of absolute freedom and a hovering fear of total psychic overdetermination." In this perspective, Bloom asserts, it is the compounding of Narcissism and Prometheanism which produces the clinamen, or "swerve," that initiates literary fantasy.
The next four essays, as a group, discuss from diverse and divergent angles the freedoms and limitations of this same fantasy process on the level of forms and structures. In seeking to define the generative system that informs the works of such diverse contemporary writers as Borges, Delany, Coover, and Italo Calvino, Larry McCaffery offers a model of literary creation which, while producing what might seem to be fantasy, in fact may actually obviate the concept of fantasy altogether. On the other hand, Marta Snchez, arguing against Todorov's claim that the twentieth century has produced no fantastic literature, would recuperate fantasy as a formal category valid at least for non-European literatures.
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| In her extended analysis of Cortzar's "Axolotl," she attempts to prove that its structures--which function, as in the works McCaffery discusses, also on a plane of linguistic experimentation--are fantastic, a transformation of the nineteenth-century form rather than its denial. From a different angle Arlen Hansen, in his essay on the closed, open, and looped structures of scientific fantasy, considers the implications--both liberating and requalifying--of the thesis that scientific as well as artistic propositions are "functional fantasies, not absolute truths," and concludes with a demand for a new look at science fiction as the contemporary literary form that most compels us to recognize that fantasy serves the ends of both science and art. Finally, David Clayton, beginning with the hypothesis that "fantastic discourse can be defined only by its differential relation--of conjunction and opposition--to another discourse and not to some extralinguistic reality," makes a sweeping examination of the interrelation of "noematic" and "fantasmatic" discourse, passing from linguistic categories to the models of structural psychoanalysis only to return to the study of individual texts and development in the historical context. Here, on this final plane, Clayton concludes that modern literature is not marked (as Todorov claims) by circumscription of the fantastic so much as by liberation of the fantasmatic "in its own right."
The next three essays examine the contextual parameters of fantasy. In "The Audience in Children's Literature," Roger Sale examines the possibility that children's literature, and, by extension, fantasy literature in general, are literary categories which more than any other define an audience rather than a subject, hence are areas where determining responses (that is, our receptivity as adults rereading what we read as a child) are clearest and most open. With G. Richard Thompson's essay, we pass from the rhetorical context for fantasy to broader national and intellectual ones. Asking why, in the age of Gothic fantasy, major American Romantic authors wrote so few out-and-out ghost stories, Thompson explores the relation of the Gothic in America to the dominant intellectual movement of the time--Transcendentalism--and contends that the absence of "straight ghosts" reflects this movement's uncertainties as to the apparitional nature of existence itself. Finally, Robert A. Collins sets as framework for fantasy creation the broad philosophical idea of "forestructures." Invoking Heidegger's concept of Dasein, Collins traces differences in contemporary perceptions of the fantastic to preconceptions, forestructures conditioned by the "philosophical climate" in which the critic or writer operates. He seeks to demonstrate, through analysis of the very different "grounds," or "worlds," of authors such as Ionesco, Tolkien, and Le Guin, that the difficulties in defining fantasy as a genre arise in large part from problems in defining the real, a category dependent on those preexistent structures that condition our perception of things.
The last block of essays deals with different thematic impulsions and restrictions which operate in fantasy literature and film. The first two essays make use of individual works or writers to raise general problems about the thematics of fantasy. John Gerlach considers the possibility both that the creation of fantasy may depend on certain themes and that these themes may have been "exhausted," may have lost their generative power. Through detailed analysis of a single story, Garca Mrquez "Very Old Man with Enormous Wings", a modern work which seems to have as its theme the impotence of fantastic themes themselves, Gerlach concludes that fantasy, if viewed as a linguistic process rather than as the result of that process, in fact has endless resources, becomes the "wings," or higher theme of language itself. David Ketterer, in his discussion of Mark Twain as author of proto-science fiction, uses the theme of power to demonstrate the difficulty of distinguishing between the genres of science fiction and fantasy on the basis of theme alone. He reveals how this thematic material shifts emphasis from one form to the other, showing a responsibility "in ...