Introduction: The Fantastic in (Some of) the Arts

By Attebery, Brian | Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Introduction: The Fantastic in (Some of) the Arts


Attebery, Brian, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts


THE CHARGE OF THIS JOURNAL IS TO EXAMINE USES OF THE FANTASTIC IN ALL the arts. That in itself would make us interdisciplinary, though the nature of the fantastic also requires trips through a number of disciplines, from anthropology to zoology (especially cryptozoology, the study of hidden or imaginary beasts). The challenge of editing such a journal is also a large part of the fun. I get to learn a little bit about a lot of fields. I also have to locate readers capable of evaluating submissions touching on, say, African history or neuroscience, at least as those relate to literature.

For by far the bulk of our submissions focus on literary texts, with film coming in second and graphic novels or comics probably third. That leaves out a lot of arts. I have yet to publish a manuscript on opera, and yet many great operas invoke magic and the supernatural: The Magic Flute, Wagner's Ring cycle, Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman, Gounod's Faust. Ballet has a similar interest in fantasy and fairy tale, from enchanted swan-maidens to nutcrackers. I've seen no submissions on dance. We have published some articles on illustration, but very little on other aspects of the visual arts, including animation. What about the tradition of mythic painting from Titian to Picasso? Or surrealism? There is a similar tradition in sculpture, not to mention the many stories about statues moving or bleeding or coming to life. Photography is more of a challenge, although Roger Luckhurst's guest-of-honor talk at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, published in our issue 19.2, made a strong case for the ability of photographers to estrange their subject matter, transforming a documentary image into a piece of science fiction without using double exposures or other trickery.

Is there fantastic architecture? Gaudi's comes to mind. His seashell spirals and sandcastle turrets come about as close as one can in three dimensions to Escher's impossible geometries. The challenge is to invoke the fantastic without referentiality. The more abstract an art, the less obvious are the ways to contradict norms and possibilities. Music, for instance, which is often compared to architecture, does not in itself refer to anything else. Only when words are put to the music in a song, or dancers move to its rhythms, or a title guides our associations toward moonlight or "la mer" does the music seem to describe something real or imaginary. Yet there is a form of musical composition called a fantasia. The form itself is perceived to be somehow fantastic: open-ended, ungoverned by sonata form or counterpoint, emotionally explosive. What is the relationship between fantasy and fantasia, or to other cognates, for that matter? What about phantasie (especially in the psychological sense) or fancy?

Then there are the other arts, especially the useful ones. Is there fantastic couture? Certainly there is costuming, and the more outlandish constructions of Paris and Milan. More generally, the way fashion represents the body underneath the fabric is fantastic in that it barely resembles the same body unclothed. How about fantastic gardening? Or cuisine? There is at least an article--an article for us, that is; the topic has been covered in other disciplinary publications--in the whole notion of cooking for the dead, from Mexican skull candy to funeral casseroles. …

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