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Unraveling the Real: The Fantastic in Spanish-American Ficciones

Cynthia Duncan

Publication Year: 2010

In literary and cinematic fictions, the fantastic blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. Lacking a consensus on definition, critics often describe the fantastic as supernatural, or similar to, but quite different from fantasy, science fiction, and magical realism.


In Unraveling the Real Cynthia Duncan provides a new theoretical framework for discussing how the fantastic explores both metaphysical and socially relevant themes in Spanish American fictions. Duncan deftly shows how authors and artists have used this literary genre to convey marginalized voices as well as critique colonialism, racism, sexism, and classism. Selecting examples from the works of such noted writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and Carlos Fuentes, among others, she shows how capacious the concept is, and why it eludes standard definition.


Challenging the notion that the fantastic is escapist in nature, Unraveling the Real shows how the fantastic has been politically engaged throughout the twentieth century, often questioning what is real or unreal. Presenting a mirror image of reality, the fantastic does not promoting a utopian parallel universe but rather challenges the way we think about the world around us and the cultural legacy of colonialism.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I have written journal articles about some of the authors that I discuss in this book, but my treatment of them here differs significantly from those earlier publications. Readers interested in the fantastic short story in Mexico can consult ...

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Introduction: The Fantastic as a Literary Genre

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pp. 1-46

All types of fiction originate in the writer’s imagination, yet some works inevitably strike the reader as more imaginary than others. Almost automatically, we tend to categorize stories and novels in terms of the reader’s perception of reality; if the narrative describes a recognizable and verisimilar world, we think of it as realistic, but if the work presents a world which...

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1. Modernist Short Stories and the Fantastic

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pp. 47-75

Critics and readers who insist on a strong dose of “reality” in literature have often dismissed the fantastic in Latin America as an evasion and an irresponsible disregard for the many political and social problems that confront people on a daily basis in many parts of the New World. Even in the context of modernismo, a movement that elevated art and artifice to a...

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2. The Fantastic as an Interrogation of Literary Practices

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pp. 76-104

The fantastic, born as it is of ambiguity and contradiction, takes an equally indeterminate stance about its own position as literature. On the one hand, it draws readers into a situation in which the willing suspension of disbelief is an essential part of the reading strategy: they must be willing to entertain the notion that certain things, although...

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3. Reclaiming History: Fantastic Journeys in Time and Space

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pp. 105-130

In Latin America, the notion of realism in literature has often been tied to the examination of social problems stemming from centuries of colonization, racism and class struggle, and the development of realist fiction parallels the growth of nationalism during most of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Jean Franco recognizes that literature in Latin...

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4. Psychoanalytic Readings of the Fantastic

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pp. 131-152

Fantastic narratives that call attention to the indeterminacy of language, to the impossibility of capturing reality in words, to the relative nature of concepts like “true” and “possible,” and that seek to undermine some of our most commonly held notions about literature, the narrative process, the act of reading, and our relationship as readers to a written text open...

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5. The Fantastic and the Conventions of Gothic Romance

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pp. 153-178

Critics have tended to view gothic romances and the literature of the fantastic as closely related genres, sometimes erasing boundaries altogether in their treatment of eighteenth- and nineteeth-century European texts. Seen as a product of romantic sensibilities, this type of fiction reveals “a preoccupation with themes, events, incidents, or characters...

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6. Women Writers of the Fantastic

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pp. 179-201

Whenever an author sits down to write a piece of narrative fiction, one of the first issues he or she must face is the question of who will tell the story and from what perspective. More than a mere technical detail, the choice of narrative voice and the vision that gives rise to that voice implies an ideological stance on the part of the writer, for as Michel Foucault has...

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7. Cinematic Encounters with the Fantastic

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pp. 202-224

Film criticism has tended to regard the fantastic as a broad category that encompasses horror, science fiction, and fantasy, with little attempt to differentiate between the various subgenres. Beneath this tendency lies the supposition that film, as a visual art, differs from the fantastic in literature and cannot be expected to produce the same kind...

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Conclusion: Fantastic Literature in Spanish America in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 225-235

In the 1970s, Julio Cortázar urged Latin Americans to identify reality in their own terms and to leave room for the fantastic in their conception of the world. According to him, the fantastic assumes the important function of “taking us for a moment out of our habitual little boxes and showing us, although it might only be vicariously, that perhaps things do not...


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pp. 237-246


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pp. 247-260


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pp. 261-264

E-ISBN-13: 9781439902424

Publication Year: 2010