From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Fantastic literature, fantastic fiction or fantastic tales is a literary genre. A great deal of literature, from every part of the world and dating back to time immemorial, falls within the category of fantastic. Fairy tales like The Book of One Thousand and One Nights and epic literature like the Romance of the Holy Grail are within the scope of this genre.
Fantastic as a literary term was originated in the structuralist theory of critic Tzvetan Todorov in his 1970 treatise The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Todorov describes the fantastic as being a liminal state of the supernatural. A truly fantastic work is subtle in the working of the feeling, and would leave the reader with a sense of confusion about the work, and whether or not the phenomenon was real or imagined. Tzvetan Todorov holds that fantastic literature involves an unresolved hesitation between a supernatural (or otherwise paranormal or impossible) solution and a psychological (or realistic) one. His term hesitation is reminiscent of the terms ambiguity and ambivalence used in the definition of the grotesque.
Todorov compares the fantastic with two other ideas: The Uncanny, wherein the phenomenon turns out to have a rational explanation such as in the gothic works of Ann Radcliffe; or the marvelous, where there truly is a supernatural explanation for the phenomenon.
Fantastic art is an art genre. The parameters of fantastic art have been tentatively defined in the scholarship on the subject ever since the 19th century. However, the genre had to wait for the inter war period to be mentioned by name at the "Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism" exhibition of winter 1936/1937 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which displayed pre-surrealist works such as The Titan's Goblet by Thomas Cole.
Fantasy has been an integral part of art since its beginnings, but has been particularly important in mannerism, magic realist painting, romantic art, symbolism, surrealism and lowbrow. In French, the genre is called le fantastique, in English it is sometimes referred to as visionary art, grotesque art or mannerist art. It has had a deep and circular interaction with fantasy literature.
Fantastic art explores fantasy, "space fantasy" (a sub-genre which incorporates subjects of alien mythology and/or alien religion), imagination, the dream state, the grotesque, visions and the uncanny, as well as so-called "Goth" art. Being an inherent genre of Victorian Symbolism, modern fantastic art often shares its choice of themes such as mythology, occultism and mysticism, or lore and folklore, and generally seeks to depict the [inner life] (nature of soul and spirit).
The fantastique is a substantial genre within French literature. Arguably dating back further than English fantasy, it remains an active and productive genre which has evolved in conjunction with anglophone fantasy and horror and other French and world literature. In French criticism, the term was first widely used to describe the work of German Romanticism, especially E.T.A. Hoffmann, after Jean-Jacques Ampère's 1829 translation of Hoffmann's Fantasy Pieces in the Manner of Callot (1814).
Chronological bibliography of the fantastic in literature and art
- Das Unheimliche (1919) / The Uncanny - Sigmund Freud
- La carne, la morte, e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica (Italy, 1930) / Romantic Agony - Mario Praz
- Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism (1936) exhibition catalogue by Alfred Barr and Georges Hugnet.
- Le Moyen Age fantastique (Paris, 1955) Jurgis Baltrusaitis
- The Grotesque in Art and Literature (1957) - Wolfgang Kayser
- Arts fantastiques (Paris, 1960) - Claude Roy
- L'Art et la littérature fantastiques (1960) - Louis Vax
- L'Art fantastique (1961) - Marcel Brion
- Au coeur du fantastique (Paris, 1965) - Roger Caillois
- Dreamers of Decadence: Symbolist Painters of the 1890s (1969) - Philippe Jullian
- Introduction à la littérature fantastique (1970) / The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre - Tzvetan Todorov
- 200 Jahre Phantastische Malerei (Berlin, 1973) - Wieland Schmied
- Zauber Der Medusa: Europaische Manierismen (1987) by Werner Hofmann
- The Occult in Art (1990) - Owen S. Rachleff
- Les peintres du fantastique (1996) - André Barret
Notes: nature and scope of the fantastic as genre
On a semantic level, the term fantastic is ambiguous because it can mean greatness as well as a certain sensibility in the arts, where it is used to denote works which defy natural laws and traditional ideas of reality. In the visual arts this sensibility has been always important but it came especially to the fore in Mannerism, Romanticism, Symbolism, the Decadent movement and Surrealism.