Friday, 3 April 2015

Oneiric Weirdness

In an omnibus review of four works of fabulist writing, Zachariah Wells wonders if our fiction is sometimes too rational for its own good:
In a recent interview Molly Peacock, talking about her collection of unconventional fictions Alphabétique, says “we’re missing out on the fable. Literature that comes out of essential needs for identity is necessarily realist. But there’s a different tradition of literature that comes out of the play of imagination. Because fantasy traditions come out of folklore, folk tale, fairy tale, mythology, and what we think of as 'old culture.' I’m wondering: is Canadian culture old enough to make a literature of fantasy?”

Even if one bristles at the too-oft-repeated canard about the youth of Canadian culture, it's hard not to nod along with Peacock's main point. While Canadians have made top-calibre contributions to the canon of the short story, the heavy-hitters we think of immediately—Munro, MacLeod, Gallant—are famed for crafting stories that reflect plausible, “real life” dramas. Which is not to say that such stories could ever be written without bringing to bear “the play of imagination,” nor that such stories are not, in their way, stylized artifices. Rather, the conventions of the realistic short story do not typically permit acts of magic, surreal leaps, or oneiric weirdness.
(Illustration of Inuit folktale by Eva Widermann)


Anonymous said...

I had a lot of trouble getting my last novel, The Tale-Teller, published, because of the editorial preference for realism, especially in historic fiction. I was told repeatedly that it was inappropriate to mix fantasy and history -- that I had to choose one genre and stick to it. This rigid belief in genre is usually attributed by agents and editors to the needs of readers but readers don't mind. Marketing people do.

Susan Glickman said...

I wasn't trying to be anonymous -
Susan Glickman

David Godkin said...

If we understand anything about history it's that too often it's written out of deep seated biases...male-centred, exclusively rational and "fact" based (as if there's ever been anything truly immutable in our notions of fact). Carlos Fuentes wrote a fantastic novel about the Spanish occupation of Mexico called "Terra Nostra". It, like Durrell's "Alexandria Quartet", throws a metaphysical hammer into our conceptions of the rational universe...