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Tag: literature

Todorov on the Fantastic

“While there is as yet no comprehensive theory of the ghost story, Tzvetan Todorov has given us a theory of “the fantastic” […] Hesitation is the prime characteristic of the genre: if the supernatural is shown to be not just apparent but actual, the fantastic modulates into the marvelous; if the apparently supernatural act is explained by the laws of nature, then the fantastic becomes what Todorov for some reason calls “the uncanny.” The fantastic hovers between, hesitating. This hesitation can be seen as connected to the disturbing epistemological questions raised by the status of mental visions. For as Todorov goes on to articulate in his analysis of the fantastic he is also articulating many of the same problems raised by visionary images: Do they exist in the mind or outside us? In what sense, if any, are they “real”? How do we distinguish between the creations of delusion or madness, and those of normal perception? […] For Todorov, “The fantastic is a kind of narrow but privileged terrain, starting from which we may draw certain hypotheses concerning literature in general. This,” he adds, “remains to be verified, of course.” Nevertheless, it is almost axiomatic for Todorov that “what the fantastic speaks of is not qualitatively different from what literature in general speaks of, but that in doing so it proceeds at a different intensity.” Of what then does literature speak? Not only of its ostensible themes, but always already of its own self. […] If all literature partakes in the fantastic, as Todorov suggests, it becomes not a well-wrought urn but a floating fantom, unsettling in the extreme.”


Peter Schwenger – Fantasm and Fiction. On Textual Envisioning.

Leonard Michaels on Jonah’s Sleep

“Finding Jonah asleep, the shipmaster thinks it’s shocking and unintelligible, but sleep is simply consistent with Jonah, a man in flight from consciousness and God.
Now Jonah is thrown down into the chaos of sea and swallowed down by a great fish that has been prepared for this moment by God. Since Jonah would flee God’s voice and go down into the hold and sleep, there is justice in his fate, which he himself requested. If you want to sleep, Jonah, sleep there in the belly of the fish. […] In the belly of the fish, Jonah sings the blues, and his theme is again about going down: “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains.” Ultimately, in his flight from God, Jonah goes down into the deepest solitude, into the primeval wilderness, or what lies within himself. Insofar as he would flee the presence of God, who is other than Jonah, or outside himself, Jonah must descend into himself, what lies within. There is no place else to go. This doesn’t seem a too fanciful idea if we remember that everyone, from little babies to adults, tends to go to sleep when under great stress.”


Leonard Michaels – “The Story of Jonah” in The Essays of Leonard Michaels

Joyce Carol Oates on Simone Weil and Sainthood

“In what was she [Simone Weil] deluded…? Not initially in religion, but in philosophy. In Absolutes. There are none, of course, except in texts and (temporarily, for conversational purposes) in people’s minds. But she behaved as if there were. As if there must be, should be. One dies on earth in terms of an Absolute elsewhere, like an actor whose suffering is being witnessed and recorded… and if it turns out there is no Absolute, no elsewhere, one never learns; one is simply dead. What is the ethical difference between a person who dies in terms of an Absolute, as Simone Weil did, or one who dies out of spite, stubbornness, a simple wish to die and have the complexities and disappointments of life finished…? People who believe in the divinity of words would have the former a saint, the latter a suicide. But it doesn’t seem to me so clear-cut.

How intellectuals deceive themselves! – with what timid gusto they elevate one of their own to sainthood! It would be hilarious if it were not so dismaying.”


Joyce Carol Oates – “1977” in The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates

Mavis Gallant on Writing

“Samuel Beckett, answering a hopeless question form a Paris newspaper – “Why do you write?” – said it was all he was good for: “Bon qu’à ça.”

[…] I have been writing or just thinking about things to write since I was a child. I invented rhymes and stories when I could not get to sleep and in the morning when I was told it was too early to get up, and I uttered dialogue for a large colony of paper dolls. Once, I was astonished to hear my mother say, “Oh, she talks to herself all the time.” I had not realized that that kind of speech could be overheard, and, of course, I was not talking but supplying a voice. If I pin it down as an adult calling, I have lived in writing, like a spoonful of water in a river, for more than forty-five years.”


Mavis Gallant – Preface to The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant