restricted access The Shape of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Seventh International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (review)
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Reviewed by
Olena H. Saciuk, ed. The Shape of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Seventh International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy 39. Series ed. Marshall B. Tymn. New York: Greenwood, 1990. 284 pp. $42.95.

Among scholarship's various forms and approaches, none are so daunting as the interdisciplinary, intercultural, and history of ideas. The International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (now in its twelfth year) nurtures these expansive approaches; The Shape of the Fantastic is the fruit of its seventh gathering in 1986. This volume, part of one of the two largest critical series that focus on the many forms of the fantastic, is wide ranging and eclectic. For example, authors who receive primary attention in the twenty-five essays include John Brunner, Franz Kafka, Henry James, Mark Strand, Ursula K. Le Guin, Julio Cortázar, Théophile Gautier, Sherwood Anderson, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Raymond Chandler, James Joyce, Kateb Yacine, Dion Fortune, J. R. R. Tolkein, E. M. Forster, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Crowley, Leopoldo Lugones, and Villiers de L'Isle-Adam. Although the volume is dominated by literary concerns, it does venture into other forms (as the conference itself does to a much greater extent than this particular proceedings does). Patricia M. Burnham's "Gender Issues in American Angels," one of the anthology's highpoints, explores pre-1900 gender consciousness in the visual arts and is most revealing in its tracking of the rise of female forms. However, the plates should have been more representative and complete; Burnham offers important insights for which there is no matching art (for example, Thayer, Wheeler, and Low). Brooks Landon's "The Insistence of Fantasy in Contemporary Science Fiction Film" also reflects the conference's scope by showing the tension between attempts at realism and "out-and-out fantasy" as well as showing the lack of pure science and extrapolation in the science-fiction film. [End Page 675]

Among the more predominant literary essays, it is difficult to draw generalizations for obvious reasons. However, two minor ones can be made—one fortunate, the other less so. There is a general preoccupation with postmodernism and deconstruction that is valuable for its and the fantastic's abilities to reenvision the canon. This is highlighted by Lance Olsen's lead essay, "The Country Nobody Visits: Varieties of Fantasy in Strand's Poetry," which engages Strand amid an expansive literary context that enlightens the nature of the fantastic in much modern literature. Brian Attebery, drawing particularly on John Crowley's Little, Big, in an intellectual tour de force demonstrates that most "postmodernism in literature is fantastic."

The less attractive generalization is the singular focus among too many of the essays on the superseded and simplistic theories of Tzvetan Todorov's Introduction à la littérature fantastique (1970). Five of the essays cite Todorov as the only reference to any critical theory, the nadir being Julia Cruz's "Todorov's Pure Fantastic in a Story by Julio Cortazar [sic]" in which the story is used to "vindicate" the theory, an obvious horse-and-cart confusion. One would think scholars of the fantastic would have access to a broader range of critical theory.

Beyond this, the essays almost uniformly yield richness, diversity, and erudition. Brian Aldiss laments the effect of popularity on science fiction, and science fiction's too-frequent failure to communicate real experience, and Colin N. Manlove raises telling questions on the nature and goals of fantasy literature, as does Leo Daugherty in his exploration of the excessive value attached to the "sense of wonder." Among the more specific essays, Nancy C. Mellerski limns valuable semantic considerations in the zone between life and death—de L'Isle-Adam's intersigne —and given the provocative nature of this and many of the other essays, one would have wished she had extended her discussion into the realms of rebirth, resurrection, and the descent into the underworld. Holly Ulmer York continues the linguistic focus in her examination of the artistic function of language difficulty in Gautier. On it goes, thoughtful essay upon thoughtful essay: Vernon Hyles comments tellingly on world-wide Romanticism through the...


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