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Collection: INTERAMER
Number: 55
Year: 1997
Author: Harry Beleván
Title: The Heirs of Ariadne



All the specialists we have reviewed and studied have used the term reality quite insistently and have made it a kind of conceptual axiom. However generalized the notion of reality may be, it still requires a somewhat precise definition, which is exactly where the specialists come up short. We have seen how criticism, which is traditional in its approaches (even the most daring like that of Todorov and even Bessière) has approached the fantastic using a method that sought to decipher the forms and the themes of the fantastic, but not the episteme itself.

When questioning “the traditional methods for studying literary creation,” Goldmann complained about the negative extremism of those methods that “for methodological reasons, prevent one from getting at the essence of the literary artefact.”65 As we have already noted, many analysts of the fantastic are teleological more often than not and seem to have developed their critical discourse either on the basis of a reading of texts (what one might call a thematic approach) or on the basis of genres that have been thought out, established and parceled out a priori. Thus, in their peculiar gnoseology not only have they failed to literally escape “the fantastic” as they concentrated on “the fantastic themes” or “the fantastic genres,” but have built verbal constructs whose logic was predetermined.

We believe we have shed light on the ambiguity that exists between two such apparently contradictory categories as reality and imagination, but it bears repeating: all the constitutive elements of the imagination are within reality! (The same is true of the fantastic, since “the fantastic world ... is the soul of all reality”: George Sand). The fantastic hypothesis thus becomes fully valid as it is just one more element of reality, one that is translated literarily and embodied through the imagination.

What do we understand by reality or, to be slightly less ambitious, what part of reality is incumbent upon us? As overwhelming as the question is because of the precision it demands, it nevertheless has to be asked. What the answer to this question teaches us about reality will help us pin down the fantastic as a vacuum (manque: Marcel Brion) in that reality.

All the scholars of the fantastic appear to gloss over this question. When speaking about his “general novelesque,” Jean Bellemin-Noël calls it “more or less realistic,” adding that the general novelesque “relies on a certain shared view that we presumably have about the reality of the external world and its forms of manifestation or perception”;66 Irène Bessière speaks to us of the “realia” that are the grist of the fantastic, the “reconstruction of the real,” “what is commonly admitted” and “the opinions about the real” (in just two paragraphs of her book!),67 without ever pinning down for us the real that the fantastic—according to her—supposedly questions, denies or transcends. For his part, Todorov speaks of “...reality as it exists in the common opinion”68 and Merigot, when locating the “locus of application” for the unheimliche, states that it is in “everything...that deviates from the realist norms of the narrative”. The other authors don’t even trouble themselves with a passing reference to this question, taking a notion as basic as what we are to understand by reality as just one more conceptual given.

Without presuming to make a detailed analysis of reality, the study of which would in itself require a treatise beyond anything we could attempt here, in the case that concerns us reality presents itself as the general corpus of all revelations of the spirit which must have certain vectors to transmit them if they are to come about (to real-ize themselves). The part of reality that concerns us here, therefore, is not its facticity, the immutable objectivization of the world reaffirmed by what we might call the collective consciousness created by the mere storage of facts (that essence, in the Sartreian sense, that informs and then builds the ‘for-itself’ of the universe, “conventionality,” shall we say, of the following type: The planet we inhabit is called earth; women are of the feminine sex...) because it constitutes a closed system. Our concern is, rather, with what one might functionally call the interpretive side (the side subject to “alteration”) of reality (Hegel’s ansich or in-itself) which constitutes an open system. (Obviously, this “alteration” would seem able to affect only the for-itself of reality, since reality is [is-one] and embodies a universal Totality; even the most forced and seemingly successful attempts to “escape” perpetrated against it, nevertheless belong to that Totality. Yet even the dictionary contributes to this illusion of “escape”; for example, it opines that the fantastic does not have a reality and consists solely of the imagination. From the dictionary, then, one would deduce that there can be something apart from reality, like imagination and the fantastic, a dangerous ideographic circumlocution that complicates notions that are themselves already confusing!) Nor are we presupposing that reality deconstructs only in two systems——do either of these two systems accommodate what we understand by “morality” and “truth,” for example?—or are not mutually complementary. For example, scientific thinking illustrates the point quite neatly: we know that science aspires to be a body of autonomous and universal knowledge [closed system] even though every science rests upon certain initial value judgements [open system], as recently demonstrated. Thus, the popular myth of the “purity” and “objectivity” of science has been debunked.69 This open system is the part of reality where the fantastic will find its place and from whence it will emerge, not as logomachy but as episteme; it is the part of reality that we know intuitively.)

We know, too, that for the Sartreian phenomenology, which we fully share, the primary mode of evidence or perception is intuitive, intuition being a conscious act whereby the object of study is confronted rather than being spoken of in absentia. We accept this proposition because we believe that any intellectual inquiry has to be based on intuitive acts, even when additional modes of evidence (i.e., inductive reasoning about the external world as opposed to perceptual intuition, etc.) have to be used.70

Not to dwell too long on this point, which could deviate us from our original purpose, we can nevertheless visualize the realm of reality—a word that is by nature as broad as the domain it encompasses—where the fantastic has its place.

We were saying that reality needs vectors to convey it, one of which is imagination. This, in turn, is a transmission of the fantastic, understood now as an object of intuition and not as a genre. As a perception in the phenomenological sense, the fantastic cannot be grasped, i.e., it can be neither codified nor categorized; (we recall how the fantastic presents itself only as hesitation or vacillation). Having said this, we now also know the form of hesitation at work in the fantastic: it is a hinge situation between reality—as we understand it—and dereality that appears as the grammar of the Bleuler proposal that Freud labelled dereistisch. Thus, the fantastic is a kind of verbal locution of the imagination, an equilibrium or intuitive doubting among its components (of the unheimliche type; in other words: text-concept), but with no corpus of its own.

Being a manifestation of symptoms or signs, the fantastic becomes a reference for the various genres that transmit it and that can be classified.

We had suggested that the fantastic descripture needs to be made part of a literary genre. Hence, the fantastic appears—and in this respect there is no “inscription” per se, i.e., a deliberateness, a will or choice on the author’s part “that it be so”—71 almost exclusively in those literary genres that, because of their particular textuality, are the ones that lend themselves most easily to translating the kind of eschatology that underlies all fantastic descripture.