Intersections: Fantasy and Science Fiction

By George E. Slusser; Eric S. Rabkin | Go to book overview

Victorian Urban Gothic: The First Modern Fantastic Literature

Kathleen Spencer

The record of what actually is, and has happened in the series of human events, is perhaps the smallest part of human history. If we would know man in all his subtleties, we must deviate into the, world of miracles and sorcery. To know the things that are not, and cannot be, but have been imagined and believed, is the most curious chapter in the annals of man.

-- William Godwin, Lives of the Necromancers

In classifying literary genres, as other entities, the natural human response is to construct a bipolar system: mimetic literature as opposed to nonmimetic, science fiction as opposed to fantasy.1 Yet neither of these systems is as neatly dyadic as we might think. Not only do both systems allow for an intermediate--a mediating--term, but the same genre can mediate in both systems: the fantastic, in which the ordinary everyday world of mimetic fiction is invaded by events or creatures out of the world of fantasy, creatures which violate our sense of the possible, of the real. The greatest difficulty in discussing the genre of the fantastic is, unfortunately, the term itself, which has become increasingly problematic with every new critical study of the genre. Some critics use fantasy and the fantastic interchangeably, while others consider one of the terms a subcategory of the other. Gothic, another term subject to this critical indeterminacy, is likewise often intermingled in the discussion of the fantastic. However, of the numerous competing models, the better-known theories of such critics as Todorov and Rabkin prove to be less helpful than that of Polish critic Andrzej Zgorzelski.2

The fantastic, Zgorzelski states, "consists in the breaching of the internal laws which are initially assumed in the text to govern the fictional world" (p. 298). All texts begin with metatextual informa-

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