Is the Fantastic Really Fantastic?

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Is the Fantastic Really Fantastic?
The notion of the fantastic per se is one of the most controversial issues discussed in literary and interdisciplinary studies. Many time-honored definitions and concepts of the fantastic are now viewed as either too limited or too vague. Until recently, the word ‘the fantastic’ had been used in European and American theory (from Caillois to Lachmann) as an umbrella term to identify any fantastic imagery belonging to any period of literary history. A more adequate term seems to be ‘fantastika’ suggested by John Clute. His ingenious invention does not make the term the fantastic redundant. It is equally indispensable, since it directs the critical attention to the ways the writers picture the strange, the alien, the extreme (the excessive or the deficient), the abnormal, the destructive, and the unstable.
Any genre of fantastika directs our cognition towards an unknown or under-discovered strangeness. Still, we are able to recognize the genres because it is the fantastic, the unreal that is different in each of them. One may presume that it is the specificity of the unreal that shapes the genre. However, this statement does not stand the genre test. Indeed, monsters or specters as such do not predetermine the genre. The specificity of the strange should be approached in terms of its cognizability.
The proliferation of cross-genres of imaginative literature creates another problem. Reading a pseudo-science fiction which the writer infested by wizards, the critic cannot ignore the fact that the implicit contract between the reader and the writer has been broken. One might ask whether we really need the terminological limitations that we voluntarily imposed on ourselves? The role of the critic is, perhaps, that of assisting the readers with very general formulas allowing them to assess new writing by ‘comparing like with like’ instead of comparing anything with everything.
Despite the benefits that the use of both terms - fantastika and the fantastic - offers, the following questions remain:
1. Is the fantastic present in any genre of fantastika?
2. Does the presence of the fantastic in the text signify that the latter is a sample of fantastika?
To answer these questions, I will concentrate on the utopia. A major theoretical problem arises from the fact that numerous utopias contain seemingly fantastic images that were recognized as feasible by their authors - if not in the near future then in theory.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExploring the Fantastic
Subtitle of host publication Genre, Ideology, and Popular Culture
EditorsIna Batzke, Eric C. Erbacher, Linda M. Heß, Corinna Lenhardt
Place of PublicationBielfeld
Number of pages30
ISBN (Print)9783837640274
StatePublished - 2018

Publication series


Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


  • the fantastic, fantastika, genres, cognizability, cross-genres, implicit contract, the role of the critic, feasibility


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