Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 3 (April-June 1983) p. 63.


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The Fantastic as Verbal Fabrication

Alok Bhalla

The Literary Sign Language of German Romanticism Marianne Thalmann, translated by Harold A. Basilius . Detroit.

... and this life

Is but a dream, and dreams are only dreams. Calderon, Life ha Dream

OR CRITICAL texts constructed on formalist or structuralist assumptions, Romantic tales of the nineteenth century have become fabulous sources for a variety of spatial designs, structural models, signs, ornaments and images. For formalist or structural critics, confident of discovering a complex, recurrent and perpetually available grammar of signs, these romances are extravagant fabrications. Free from all concern with the Self or history, tales of fantasy and romance are for these critics primarily triumphs of elegant style, gorgeous craft or strange imaginings. It appears that there is a quest for "pure5 metalinguistic models (of which nineteenth century Romantic or Gothic tales are 'impure5 models)1 which would possess, like the analogical models of 'the fall5 or of the "noble savage', metaphysical priority2 over all such historically conditioned social and economic models within which we may attempt to give order to the unexpectednesses of our daily experiences. The readings of the Fantastic which emerge from these assumptions and longings are often subtle and illuminating.3 Yet these versions are neither adequate nor convin-cingfor they are touched by a falsifying nostalgia for structures which are unimplicated, or detached, from the disconcerting temporality of the world of human events.

Nineteenth century fantastic tales are often made up of a series of fragmentary stories of agony and decay, and they are told by a variety of narrators who are acutely self-conscious of specific moments of crisis within a culture. They do not always replicate the spatial order or


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