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

IX

WHAT IS

Le réel, décidément, reste
à inventer.

Mac Thivolet

The fantastic is not an expression of the rational content of our thoughts, which are totally alien to it; instead, it is an expression of everything that is not pure rationality. The work of fantastic expression, therefore, is at once a function and parallel of intuitive attitudes about reality and thus captures, in a necessarily brief moment, a certain equilibrium among all those attitudes. The fantastic is, then, synthesis; it is a synthesis of an objective structural expression that establishes a certain order and a synthesis of a subjective, emotive expression. It is an effective synthesis in that it discards the order of all primary structures, while confirming them via the very exceptions that it manages to accumulate to the precedents, always changing their meanings.

The fantastic is a scale of reality that author and reader traverse, always suspended on that ever-new horizon that, although outside any “real reality,” so to speak, ironically has the appearance of reality itself. And whereas in all the neighboring expressions, such as the magical, the marvelous, the uncanny, the supernatural, the terrorific, or the diabolical we are working from a reality and the presences those forms reveal are exceptions to that reality, the fantastic is capable of endowing that unexplainable “unconsciousness” that Lacan speaks of with a reality of its own, sentiment on an entirely different plane that is felt before it explains itself. It would be what Vargas Llosa83 has called a “third reality” whose relationship to the second reality—the reality of literature—is similar to the one that literature has with reality itself. In other words, more than tension or equilibrium—which reflect but do not constitute the fantastic—it is a permanent proximity, which takes us back to the concept articulated by Jean Lacroix with which we began this exploration.

The fantastic presents itself, then, as a spatial and temporal combination of the expressive object and of the sentiment expressed, in a parallelism that is, if not absolute, then at least sufficiently perceptible of its own structures and of the structures of our intuition.  But here is where the difficulty that stalks every effort to codify the fantastic comes in: if the “fantastic work,” so to speak, is a literary medium of expression like any other, its author has the right to use whatever writing procedures and mechanisms he considers to be effective to convey himself (to “real-ize” himself at the same time). But the combinations that he makes do not necessarily legitimize the work and will not necessarily give him the required fantastic symptoms, except to the extent that the reader is able to capture, to grasp the sentiment that he is striving for: the one that will alter his internal order of reality in the manner we have described. In the worst of cases, the fantastic will be condemned to remain just a game, a ludicrous expression wrapped up in its own artifice; in the best of cases, it can become the literary manifestation that gives the reader the greatest participation, requiring that the latter take an active role in the writing, participate in the descripture of the fantastic. Viewed in this light, the literature of fantastic expression is unquestionably the most revolutionary literary form. Are not the only truly great works those that create a new type of reader? The literature of fantastic expression “represents the quintessence of literature insofar as the questioning of the limit between real and unreal, proper to all literature, is its explicit center.”84

Critical rigor has no purpose unless we try to get to the very limits of our potential. However, in the subject that concerns us here, there are no limits. Indeed, one of the conditions of the fantastic—a word as tautological as the word symbol is for Malraux—is to signify itself using the absolutes by which our intuition operates. Equally endowed with an imagination of infinite possibilities, we can all either conquer or be conquered in the effort to find the keys to that fantastic—like Ariadne, pondering our rescue from abandonment and in so doing looking for ways out of the Labyrinth—.

All we can do is to separate reality into small pieces and use our intuition to try to get at a global understanding of All Reality. Theseus was perhaps the only one who, thanks to a kind of fantastic theosophy, managed to realize his potential, a victory for which Pluto punished him severely. We humans pour into art all our desire to be conquerors, even though we know beforehand that our lot will always be that of the conquered. Literature is but one of the manifestations of art; within literature, the form commonly called fantastic literature (and which we, for all the reasons explained here, prefer to call literature of fantastic expression) is the one that gives the reader the most opportunities for direct involvement in the very creation of the narrative and thus provides the reader with greater opportunities for understanding, through intuition, Reality—however remote and eventual that understanding may be.

No definition is truly fertile unless its premise is more a catalyst of new analyses than a solution to a given problem; and so it is with this essay. The one conclusion we might draw is that any inventory of the fantastic is and will always be provisional because, before being able to come up with definitive and irrefutable derivations about the nature of the fantastic, the latter demands that one succumb to its mystery, to the lyricism of its fascinating sorcery. This is the price that the heirs of Ariadne must pay for having peeked into the kingdom of the shadows and for having dared to disturb the slumber of its gods... Victor Hugo once wrote that “All we ever see is one side of things.” Teilhard de Chardin may have been responding to that observation when, so many years later, he suggested: “In the cosmic realm... only the fantastic has the chance of being true”.

In a forthcoming work we shall try to shed more light on these and other enigmas to which I confess to being an accomplice.