Sei sulla pagina 1di 7

30 Interdisiplinary Journal of Research and Development, Vol. 4, no.

3, 2017

MA. & MSc. Blerina ZYLFO/LLESHI1

THEORETICAL & PRACTICAL PART OF ROSEMARY


JACKSON’S FANTASY AS AN INDEPENDENT
LITERARY GENRE2

Abstract

This paper will attempt to illuminate the use of fantasy in Rosemary


Jackson’s Fantasy novel. In addition to this study will clarify this genre of
“Fantastic” which will prove to be the writings that present unreal happenings
that hover between supernatural and psychological explanation, thereby leaving
the characters in the book and the reader in a particular state of suspended
understanding. Another aspect this study explores is “The traditional literary
genre: the menippea” which moves easily in space between this world, an
underworld and an upper world.. This theoretical introduction paves the way for
more in-depth analysis of Doris Lessing’s Briefing for a Descent into Hell, an
evidence of her shift to the mode of fantasy.
Key words: Fantasy, Menippea, natural, supernatural, uncertainty,
reader

Theoretical Part:

The etymological origin of the word “Fantastic” is mentioned by Rosemary


Jackson in her book Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. She mentions that
the word “Fantastic” derives from the Latin, phantasticus, which in turn from
a Greek word, meaning that which is made visible, visionary, unreal (13).
However, Martin Gray elucidates that the “Fantastic” are the writings that
present unreal happenings that hover between supernatural and psychological

1
Email: b_zylfo@yahoo.com; Faculty of Foreign Languages; University of Tirana
2
Paper presneted in “3 International Conference ‘Foreign Languages in a Global World,
Linguistics, Literature, Didactics” Durres, June 2017”
Interdisiplinary Journal of Research and Development, Vol. 4, no. 3, 2017 31

explanation, thereby leaving the characters in the book and the reader in a
particular state of suspended understanding. The uncertain status of Cathy’s
ghost, which Lockwood convinces himself is a dream, is an example from
Wuthering Heights (1847) (116). Enani says that the first mention of Fantasy as
an independent genre - in such works as Tolstoy’s novel The Vampire - comes in
1973 in Tzvetan Todorov’s The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary
Genre (28). Jackson adds that “Fantasy” - as a critical term - has been applied
rather indiscriminately to any literature which does not give priority to realistic
representation: myths, legends, folk and fairy tales, utopian allegories, dream
visions, Surrealist texts, science fiction, horror stories, all presenting realms
“other” than the human. It is evident that all these stories are based on an
overt violation of what is generally accepted as possibility. Such violation of
dominant assumptions threatens to subvert (overturn, upset, undermine) rules
and conventions taken to be normative (14).
Mikhail Bakhtin places modern fantasists, such as E.T.A. Hoffmann,
Dostoevsky, Gogol, Edgar Allan Poe, Jean-Paul Sartre, as the direct descendants
of a traditional literary genre: the menippea. The menippea moved easily in space
between this world, an underworld and an upper world. It conflated past, present
and future, and allowed dialogues with the dead. States of hallucination, dream,
insanity, eccentric behaviour and speech, personal transformation, extraordinary
situations, were the norm. The menippea is related to another concept in Bakhtin’s
theory: the carnivalesque (Jackson 15). Gray defines carnivalisation as a literary
phenomenon described by the Russian critic Mikhail Bakhtin, especially in his
work Rabelais and His World (1965). According to him some writers use their
works as an outlet for the spirit of carnival, of popular festivity and misrule.
They “subvert” the literary culture of the ruling classes, undermining its claim
to moral monopoly (53). Abrams says that it does so by introducing a mingling
of voices from diverse social levels that are free to mock and subvert authority,
to flout social norms by ribaldry, and to exhibit various ways of profaning what
is ordinarily regarded as sacrosanct (63). In this way many voices can participate
in the text whatever their position on the social ladder.
Todorov differentiates between three terms: “the marvelous”, “the fantastic”
and “the uncanny”. Todorov’s diagrammatic representation of the changing
forms of the fantastic makes this clear: they move from the marvelous (which
predominates in a climate of belief in supernaturalism and magic) through the
purely fantastic (in which no explanation can be found) to the uncanny (which
explains all strangeness as generated by unconscious forces). Thus:
32 Interdisiplinary Journal of Research and Development, Vol. 4, no. 3, 2017

Marvelous Fantasy Uncanny


Supernatural Unnatural Natural
Christine Brooke-Rose has made a useful summary of the three conditions
that Todorov believes to be more or less standard components of the “pure”
fantastic:
The fantastic requires the fulfillment of three conditions. 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 entrusted to a
character… 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 “poetic” interpretation
(qtd. in Jackson 28).
The first and third of these conditions are claimed to constitute the genre,
whilst the second is an optional constituent. That is to say, the reader must hesitate
between natural and supernatural explanations of what happens in the work up
to its conclusion; this hesitation may be represented - i.e. it may be shared by
a leading character in the work (this, according to Todorov, is normal but not
essential); and the reader must reject both a poetic and an allegorical reading of
the work, as both of these destroy the hesitation which is fundamental to the pure
fantastic. If there is no hesitation, then either we are in the realm of some variant
of the uncanny (the events are seen by the reader to have a natural explanation),
or of the marvelous (the events are seen by the reader to have a supernatural
explanation) (Enani 28-29). Unlike the marvelous, the fantastic is a mode of
writing which enters a dialogue with the “real” and that dialogue becomes a part
of its essential structure. This theoretical introduction paves the way for more
in-depth analysis of Doris Lessing’s Briefing for a Descent into Hell.
Doris Lessing’s early novels do not fall completely within the confines of
the” realism” and also her later novels are not a radical shift to fantasy and
speculative fiction (Fahim 5). However, critics agree that Briefing for a Descent
into Hell is an evidence of her shift to the mode of fantasy. With a bird’s eye-
view, this paper will attempt to illuminate the use of fantasy in the novel.

Practical Part:

The subtitle of the novel is “Category: Inner-space fiction. For there is never
anywhere to go but in”. This is a foreshadowing for the events in the novel. This
Interdisiplinary Journal of Research and Development, Vol. 4, no. 3, 2017 33

is the first indication of fantasy because no one knows the inner life of anyone.
Every human being is a closed box that can never open its treasures but to the
self. There is a saying that indicates that “the truth is out there”. However, one
thinks that the truth is not out there but the truth is inside here. Man contains
the whole world inside him as Lessing quotes in the epigraph to the novel: “The
universe in the mosquito’s wing contained”. The sage Mahmoud Shabistari - in
The Secret Garden - writes that though the whole universe contains God’s throne,
the heart of a believer can contain the greatness of God in its tiny space. While
the universe is so vast, the human heart is so tiny. But sometimes weakness or
smallness is an indication of strength and capability. This is the case of man and
his uniqueness in the midst of a wide ocean, which is the universe. Not only
man is a wide universe in him but also each grain of sand is a tumultuous world
that has oceans and lands and organisms living on it. As Rachel Carson says in
The Edge of the Sea: “in a world so small that our human senses cannot grasp
its scale”. What can be concluded from this is that each being is an independent
world inside a wider world which in turn is part of a larger cosmos and so forth.
But each creature or entity is disable to grasp the inner life of the other. The
inner world is an invisible one to others; it is an unseen wilderness beyond man’s
perception. This theme of the unseen is a feature of fantasy as a literary mode.
The first page of the novel gives a report about a patient found by the police
wandering in the streets. The very essence of this report is the word “unknown”:
his name is unknown, his age is unknown, his address is unknown; he is a
man who has lost his identity. He is suffering from amnesia. From the very
beginning of the novel, the reader gets the feeling that nothing is sure. There
is sense of uncertainty. As Jackson says, “This epistemological uncertainty -
often expressed in terms of the madness, hallucination, multiple division of the
subject - is a recurrent feature of nineteenth century fantasy” (29). The identity
of professor Watkins is not certain. When he is asked by Dr. Y. about his name,
he gives different names. His name is uncertain. The kind of therapy that should
be used with Watkins is not decided for sure. Dr. Y. suggests using medicine
while Dr. X. suggests shock therapy. So, the best way of therapy is not certain.
Professor Watkins speaks - in confused utterances - about sailors, crew,
ship, raft, island and wind. All these words are ordinary in fantastic stories about
far away islands. These words are also reminiscent of Robinson Crusoe. Then he
speaks about “them” which is an ambiguous pronoun here. No one knows who
are “them” that he talks about. This ambiguity of pronoun is typical of fantasy.
Moreover, Watkins gives allusions to myths, legends, and classical stories. He
calls himself “Jason”, “Jonah” and “Odysseus”. All these names imply great
figures in classical myths and the Holy Bible. All these references to mythical
34 Interdisiplinary Journal of Research and Development, Vol. 4, no. 3, 2017

figures are features of fantasy. There are also references to gods and goddesses
like Mercury and Minerva, who play important part in the novel.
The most important features of fantasy are the conditions that are stated
by Todorov for any work to be described as fantastic. The first condition is the
hesitation between the natural and supernatural explanations of what happens in
the work up to its conclusion. The reader till the end of the novel cannot decide
whether what happens in the story is the working of the unconscious world
inside Watkins or that these events happen really to him. This is called binary
opposition, between reality and fiction, between conscious and unconscious,
between scientific or psychological interpretation and supernatural interpretation.
The possible natural explanation is that professor Watkins is suffering from
schizophrenia. This is plausible because this happens in actual life with Professor
John Nash who won Noble Prize in 1993 in Mathematics. A schizophrenic patient
creates a whole world in his imagination that has nothing to do with real life. This
is what happens with both professors. In A Beautiful Mind, the movie that shows
the life story of Professor Nash, the same kinds of therapy that are used with
Watkins are used with Nash: medicine and electric shock. Both recover from their
illness and both survive the storm. In this way Lessing seems a prophetic writer.
So, perhaps professor Watkins suffers from the same psychological disorder. This
is the possible natural explanation of Watkins’ case.
The supernatural explanation is that Watkins experiences an adventure with
all its dimensions in this world and the other vague world where he meets the
Greek gods and goddesses. It is a saga that is full of adventures on an isolated
island and then to an unknown place where he is showed a Forecast and has
a conference. All these happenings can be seen through the odd eye of the
supernatural.
The second condition is optional. This condition is that the hesitation is
shared by the leading character. And this condition is applicable here. Watkins
himself is confused. He cannot decide whether he had some strange experience
that he forgets at the end or he is just suffering from some psychological disorder.
Nothing in the novel gives ocular evidence to decide which explanation is the
right one.
The third condition is that the reader must reject any poetic or allegorical
reading of the text because if the reader accepts such a reading, this will negate
the hesitation between the natural and supernatural explanation. The reader
of the novel cannot adopt an allegorical reading of the text because nothing
can be decided for certain. Nothing is sure. No one can be sure about what
Watkins sees. Jackson says, “What is crucial here is that within the text itself
supernatural and natural explanations of strangeness are made redundant;
Interdisiplinary Journal of Research and Development, Vol. 4, no. 3, 2017 35

there is a foregrounding of the impossibility of certainty and of reading in


meaning”(28). Also, the fantastic problematizes vision (is it possible to trust the
seeing eye?) and language (is it possible to trust the recording, speaking “I”?)
Another important point about the fantastic in this novel is the use of dialogue
and incorporating it in the structure. Lessing uses dialogue in many sections of
the novel. And this is a feature of the fantastic.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, there are five more features of the fantastic which are in
evidence in this novel. Firstly, the shady worlds of the fantastic construct nothing.
They are empty, emptying, dissolving. Secondly, an emphasis on invisibility
points to problems of vision, which is central theme in the fantastic. Thirdly, the
landscapes of fantasy are the hollow world - mere absence. Fourthly, classical
unities of space, time and character are threatened in fantastic texts. Finally, the
fantastic tries to make visible the unseen and to articulate the un-said. The sins
of humanity that man always tries to ignore are seen on the island in the struggle
between the animals. The seven deadly sins are crystallized in the worst form
on the island: Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Anger, and Sloth. All
unspeakable atrocities are expressed in the most degrading way on the war on
the island. Even the yellow beasts that follow Watkins in his roam on the island
are some part of the human nature that follows man wherever he goes. All these
aspects that cannot be expressed in such an explicit way in realistic novels are
expressed here in this fantastic novel.
36 Interdisiplinary Journal of Research and Development, Vol. 4, no. 3, 2017

WORKS CITED

1. Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th.ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt,


1999. 63
2. Enani, M. Modern Literary Terms. Beirut: Librairie Du Liban, 1996. 28
3. Fahim, S. Shadia. Doris Lessing and Sufi Equilibrium.London: St. Martin’s
Press, 1994. 5
4. Gray, Martin. A Dictionary of Literary Terms. 7th.ed.Beirut: York P, 1997.
116
5. Jackson, Rosemary. Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. London, N.Y:
Methuree, 1981. 5
6. Lessing, Doris. Briefing for a Descent into Hell. London: Jonathan Cape.
1971.