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“The fantastic”

September 15, 2011

fantastic and fantastical adj. 1 colloq. splendid; excellent. 2 colloq. enormous, amazing. 3 said of a story: absurd; unlikely; incredible. 4 fanciful; capricious. 5 strange; wierd. 6 unrealistic

fantasy or phantasy noun. 1 a pleasant daydream; something longed-for but unlikely to happen. 2 a mistaken notion 3 imaginings 4 the activity of the imagining 5 a product of the imagination; a fanciful piece of writing, music, film-making, etc.

etymology: 14c, in the sense ‘delusive imagination’: from Greek phantasia image in the mind, imagination  [Ref: Chambers 21st Century Dictionary]

(The) Fantastic. As Tzvetan Todorov has used the term, the fantastic is a type of narrative in which the reader is caught between interpreting plot events as a natural or supernatural in origin. For instance, the spectral appearances in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw can be seen as psychotic projections of the characters or as ghostly apparitions. Because neither view can be supported with absolute certainty, the reader must settle for both.”

[referring to Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Trans. Richard Howard. Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1973] (p107 The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism)

Fantasy.  Fantasy has two common usages in contemporary theory and criticism. The first is as a general description of any literary work whose action takes place in an extravagantly imaginary world, partakes of the supernatural, or generally flouts expectations about what can and cannot happen. The second and slightly more technical usage comes from psychoanalysis, where fantasy is roughly synonymous with ‘daydream’ – that is, a meditation in which consciousness gives ‘free’ rein to imagination and desire – insofar as the censoring mechanisms will allow it (conscious fantasies always express unconscious wishes in a disguised or distorted manner). There is, of course, a similarity between these two uses of the word, which is touched on by Freud in his 1908 essay ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming.’ In psychoanalysis, fantasy is therefore used for both conscious fantasies, like daydreams, and unconscious fantasies expressing repressed desires that analysis attempts to uncover. While some critics prefer the spelling ‘phantasies’ for those scenarios that are unconscious, others argue that Freud is concerned with showing how the latter always structure (as latent content) the manifest content of conscious fantasies, so that a distinction in kind is not justified.” (pp107-108 The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism.)

Ref: (blue, bold emphases mine) Eds. Joseph Childers and Gary Hentzi (1995) The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press.


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