- Modern Allegory and Fantasy: Rhetorical Stances of Contemporary Writing
Reading Lynette Hunter's heroic attempts to wade through and disentangle the morass of contradictory critical definitions of allegory and fantasy, I was reminded of Jacques Derrida's statements in "The Law of Genre" (Glyph 7 1980), that genre (as "Law") is "madness." "The genre," Derrida says, "has always in all genres been able to play the role of order's principle: resemblance, analogy, identity and difference, taxonomic classification, organization and genealogical tree. . . ." As a kind of Law, genre is madness. Yet "There is no madness without law." And thus madness and genre are inextricably intertwined.
Hunter's text demonstrates well this "madness" inextricable from "genre." The more Hunter tries to get definitional clarity, both about genre itself and the subsets, fantasy and allegory with which she is concerned, the further this clarity recedes, evading her and the reader. For Derrida, this is no surprise, because "in nature and art, genre, a concept that is essentially classificatory and genealogicotaxonomic, itself engenders so many classificatory vertigines when it goes about [End Page 340] classifying itself and situating the classificatory principle or instrument within a set."
Hunter's summaries of different critical positions on fantasy and allegory are useful to a certain point. Hunter makes some important distinctions, as I discuss below. But this reader at least long remained puzzled as to the point of it all—the point of the time and energy invested in reading and reproducing all these generic arguments. I kept wondering why is it so important to have consensus on definitions of allegory and fantasy; why agreed upon definitions of literary modes matter; why it matters what genre any one text is put in. I kept thinking, again, of Derrida, when he says that "Every text participates in one or several genres, there is no genreless text; there is always a genre and genres, yet such participation never amounts to belonging. And not because of an abundant overflowing or a free, anarchic, and unclassifiable productivity, but because of the trait of participation itself, because of the effect of the code and of the generic mark" (emphasis mine).
Hunter's stated aim at the outset of the book is to clarify "the confusion in critical theory about the terms fantasy and allegory and the wildly contradictory readings that emerge from books labelled with either term." She aims to reduce confusion by "looking at rhetorical stance, which tries to describe the interaction between writer, reader and words in the text." But paradoxically, partly as a result of Hunter's opaque writing style, what she means in the latter sentence never becomes clear.
The awkward, at times unreadable, language in this book, as well as the many irritating typesetting errors, is unfortunate in that Hunter's ultimate concerns, as far as I could grasp them, seem important. One example of an unreadable sentence: "I would suggest that genre, which has been carefully removed by recent theory from the fixed definitions of prescriptive technique to be described in terms of kind and mode against the background of historical, epistemological and ideological strategies, is effected even in that removal in another manner by the stances of rhetorical activity." For careless typing errors: "confortable," "reccommended," "may be read as as a savage. . . ." For odd language; see page 43, and elsewhere, as in "Homo Ludens is superficially outwith the concerns of fantasy." One concern in the book has to do with distinguishing fantasy from allegory in terms of the relation of each genre to "the external world." Hunter tries to argue that fantasy is a genre that reflects an author's desire either to dominate the world or to escape from it. Fantasy is what she calls "end-directed," and texts having "ideologically defined rules" belong in it. Allegory, on the other hand, "is not only realized in mode but firmly based on an overt stance: one that directs itself to ways of interacting with the external world rather than dominating it."
Hunter is obvíously on the side...