It’s the uncertainty of the fantastic genre that draws me in. It’s the journey rather than the result itself; take me beyond the threshold. Borrowing from the European Gothic tradition, the American Renaissance morphs the gothic into a uniquely American form. In this blog, I will shine a light on the ‘fantastic’ genre, in hopes of uncovering the feelings or misperceptions we may have about the ‘dark side,’ or the obscure.
As I sat there thinking about what genre of fiction most intrigues me, I noticed the pending cloud storm heading my way, looming over the close horizon. I honestly don’t recall when I first began to succumb to the doom and gloom prescribed to horror. In Highschool I was a fan of science fiction and nonfiction. I would read Kurt Vonnegut, Hawthorne, books about relativity or about scientific theories about neutrinos in solar dispersion or other quirky components of our solar system. Horror wasn’t a thing for me. Even when I began college I was engrossed by the literate and the science fiction. Yeah, I studied English and writing, but horror wasn’t a dark spot yet.
I was uncertain about what it was that drew me to horror or dark fiction. And then it hit me; it’s that very uncertainty that draws me in. It’s the journey rather than the result itself, the anticipation or feeling I get when uncovering something.
Were you aware that the birth of the US nation incidentally coincided with the rise of fantastic fiction on the literary scene? Some main stream examples of this type of literature begin in the 1800’s. Authors such as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Sarah Orne Jewett, Ambrose Bierce, Jenry James, and even H.P. Lovecraft in the 1900’s.
First, the text must oblige the reader to consider the world of the characters as a world of living persons and to hesitate between a natural and supernatural explanation of the events described. Second, this hesitation may also be experienced by a character; thus the reader’s role is tso to speak entrusted to a character, and at the same time the hesitation is represented, it becomes one of the themes of the work. Third, the reader must adopt a certain attitude with regard to the text: he will reject allegorical as well as “poertic” interpretations. The first and the third actually constitute the genre; the second may not be fulfilled.
Ultimately, what we are looking for is not the supernatural or only the instances in which the traditional gothic tropes are challenged. As Todorov writes, “we might indeed characterize such events as supernatural, but the supernatural, though a literary category, is not relevant here. We want to find the crux – not between real and the supernatural, but in which ‘the hesitation occurs between the real and the imaginary”.
It isn’t the uncovering of the mystery, the end of the long hallway, leading you to the obscure figure which turns out to be the deranged ex wife of a wealthy man. The marvel is in the journey. It’s the constant feeling of existing between this world and another, not being able to stay afoot in either one. The second you set both feet in one world you have reached a mainstream genre; thriller, mystery, horror, humorous. There is no punchline but to feel that thought unravelling in your head, only to be turned over to repeat itself.
“The fantastic, we see, lasts only as long as a certain hesitation: a hesitation common to reader and character, who must decide whether or not what they perceive derives from ‘reality’ as it exists in the common opinion. If he decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we say that the work belongs to another genre: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous.”
The storm never came, the clouds continue to engross my position -leaving me with that ambivalent feeling. Yet, I find solace in this uncertainty, and I hope you too, will enjoy being on edge.