JFA 22.1 (2011)

Editor’s Introduction

“Introduction: The Fantastic in (Some of) the Arts”
Brian Attebery

The charge of this journal is to examine uses of the fantastic in all the arts. That in itself would make us interdisciplinary, though the nature of the fantastic also requires trips through a number of disciplines, from anthropology to zoology (especially cryptozoology, the study of hidden or imaginary beasts). The challenge of editing such a journal is also a large part of the fun. I get to learn a little bit about a lot of fields. I also have to locate readers capable of evaluating submissions touching on, say, African history or neuroscience, at least as those relate to literature.

For by far the bulk of our submissions focus on literary texts, with film coming in second and graphic novels or comics probably third. That leaves out a lot of arts. I have yet to publish a manuscript on opera, and yet many great operas invoke magic and the supernatural: The Magic Flute, Wagner’s Ring cycle, Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman, Gounod’s Faust. Ballet has a similar interest in fantasy and fairy tale, from enchanted swan-maidens to nutcrackers. I’ve seen no submissions on dance. We have published some articles on illustration, but very little on other aspects of the visual arts, including animation. What about the tradition of mythic painting from Titian to Picasso? Or surrealism? There is a similar tradition in sculpture, not to mention the many stories about statues moving or bleeding or coming to life. Photography is more of a challenge, although Roger Luckhurst’s guest-of-honor talk at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, published in our issue 19.2, made a strong case for the ability of photographers to estrange their subject matter, transforming a documentary image into a piece of science fiction without using double exposures or other trickery.

Is there fantastic architecture? Gaudi’s comes to mind. His seashell spirals and sandcastle turrets come about as close as one can in three dimensions to Escher’s impossible geometries. The challenge is to invoke the fantastic without referentiality. The more abstract an art, the less obvious are the ways to contradict norms and possibilities. Music, for instance, which is often compared to architecture, does not in itself refer to anything else. Only when words are put to the music in a song, or dancers move to its rhythms, or a title guides our associations toward moonlight or “la mer” does the music seem to describe something real or imaginary. Yet there is a form of musical composition called a fantasia. The form itself is perceived to be somehow fantastic: open-ended, ungoverned by sonata form or counterpoint, emotionally explosive. What is the relationship between fantasy and fantasia, or to other cognates, for that matter? What about phantasie (especially in the psychological sense) or fancy?

Then there are the other arts, especially the useful ones. Is there fantastic couture? Certainly there is costuming, and the more outlandish constructions of Paris and Milan. More generally, the way fashion represents the body underneath the fabric is fantastic in that it barely resembles the same body unclothed. How about fantastic gardening? Or cuisine? There is at least an article—an article for us, that is; the topic has been covered in other disciplinary publications—in the whole notion of cooking for the dead, from Mexican skull candy to funeral casseroles.

I hereby challenge scholars to investigate any of these or ones I haven’t come up with. In the meantime, there are good reasons to focus on the more traditional venues for fantastic narrative, especially when one can find new and provocative perspectives on those. In the current issue, we have a set of articles that focus on verbal, cinematic, and televisual art from fresh disciplinary perspectives.

Elizabeth McManus looks at the TV series Lost and the way it constructs time. She compares the narrative structure and constructed spaces of the series to the desert islands of Robinson Crusoe and Rousseau’s The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, drawing on narratological theories developed for analyzing fiction’s temporal shifts. McManus’s essay was the winner of the student essay award at the 2010 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. As with the past few winners, the essay also satisfied our peer review process. It is a complex and fascinating look at a version of imaginary space-time that was, I believe, ultimately more interesting than the narrative constructed within it.

Kyle Bishop looks at a generic mashup: Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, which he describes as a blend of horror movie and romantic comedy with the structure of a classic road film. Bishop emphasizes the interaction of genre and audience expectation. By simultaneously invoking more than one genre, the film manages to subvert assumptions about identities and social roles while still producing a satisfying conclusion.

Robert Mack’s “Voice Lessons” looks primarily at Frank Herbert’s Dune but also touches on David Lynch’s 1984 film and the more recent television adaptation. The focus here is not just the voice but the Voice—the use of specialized vocal techniques to control others. This technique, developed by the fictional Bene Gesserit order, might be summarized as the ability to turn every utterance into a performative one, in J. L. Austin’s terms: you say it, it happens. Mack draws on psychoanalytic theory as well as a movement once popular in science fiction circles, Alfred Korzybski’s general semantics, to look at how the Voice crystalizes a number of issues of gender, desire, and selfhood.

Finally, Donald Palumbo takes on the issue of adapting from one medium to another. Using Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and Alex Proyas’s film of the same title (I put it that way deliberately) as his examples, he explores the differences between the two texts in terms of cinematic and verbal art. Like the speaker in Ernest Dowson’s poem “Cynara,” Proyas has “been faithful to thee in my fashion.” The fashion in this case involves adapting not just the original story collection but Asimov’s whole take on robot-human interactions. Asimov himself kept reworking the plots and rethinking the concepts; hence, the film is more Asimovian in its departures than a literal transcription would be.

Until such time as someone builds a Lost theme park, choreographs a set of I, Robot dances, composes a set of lieder for voice and Voice, or concocts a nouvelle zombie cuisine (I don’t even like to think about it), these are the arts of the fantastic. And the ways we make sense of and respond to them will also carry over to other media, including fantastical arts not yet invented.


“Protecting the Island: Narrative Continuance in Lost
Elizabeth Berkebile McManus

“Vacationing in Zombieland: The Classical Functions of the Modern Zombie Comedy”
Kyle William Bishop

“Voice Lessons: The Seductive Appeal of Vocal Control in Frank Herbert’s Dune
Robert L. Mack

“Alex Proyas’s I, Robot: Much More Faithful to Asimov Than You Think”
Donald Palumbo

Review Essays

“Out of the Closet and Into the Classroom: Queer Gothic”

Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock

“Enter the Posthuman”
D. Harlan Wilson


Marcelo Novoa’s Años luz: Mapa estelar de la ciencia ficción en Chile [Light Years: Star Map to Science Fiction in Chile]
Rev. by Andrea Bell

Jason P. Vest’s The Postmodern Humanism of Philip K. Dick
Rev. by Ritch Calvin

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Cheek by Jowl: Talks and Essays on How and Why Fantasy Matters
Rev. by Amanda Cockrell

Janet Brennan Croft’s Tolkien and Shakespeare: Essays on Shared Themes and Languages
Rev. by Christine Cornell

Eric Carl Link’s Understanding Philip K. Dick
Rev. by Jason W. Ellis

Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik’s Le Gothic: Influences and Appropriations in Europe and America
Rev. by Muireann Maguire

David Butler’s Fantasy Cinema: Impossible Worlds on Screen
Rev. by T. S. Miller

Muhammad Husain Jah’s Hoshruba: The Land and the Tilism
Rev. by Anna C. Oldfield

Bracha L. Ettinger’s The Matrixial Borderspace
Rev. by Jeremy Powell

Colin Milburn’s Nanovision: Engineering the Future
Rev. by Alicia Verlager