A literary genre featuring ghosts, vampires, and magical transformations, the fantastic thrives upon ambiguity and uncertainty. Focusing the-matically on disruptions of time, space, and matter, the fantastic engages in a sustained interrogation of what constitutes reality, yet refuses to provide univ-ocal answers. The fantastic disturbs ruling epistemologies without offering alternative solutions, and offers ambivalence and contradiction as the only acceptable, if paradoxical, forms of experience and knowledge.
As Tzvetan Todorov notes, the fantastic event shatters the laws of everyday existence, forcing both characters and readers to pause between two possible scenarios: Either they are the victims of a delusion, in which case the laws of the world as we know it are not disrupted, or the event really occurred, in which case the rules of nature are invalid. The fantastic exists in the space between these two poles—in the impossibility to reconcile the natural principles as we have constructed them in ‘‘realist’’ thought with the apparently supernatural event that has shattered these laws.
Whether there is any possible link between the fantastic and feminism is a challenging question. On the one hand, critics question whether women’s interest in the supernatural, the oneiric, and the fantastic bears any connection with feminist struggles in the sociopolitical arena. On the other hand, scholars have argued that women’s involvement in fantastic fiction reflects their desire to break free from the restraints of the dominant cultural order, by attempting to forge a world ‘‘other’’ than that represented in conventional realist fiction.
Contemporary feminist critics such as He´le`ne Cixous and Rosemary Jackson concur in arguing that the scientific, rationalistic, and patriarchal culture has narrowed the definition of the ‘‘real’’ to what is immediately familiar and rationally controllable. In this perspective, the fantastic enables women to produce texts that are outside the boundaries of rationalism. These texts subject the notion of reality to scrutiny, challenge the definition of that reality as provided by
Patriarchal codes, and question the presuppositions upon which traditional cultural systems are established and promoted.
Current anthologies and surveys of Italian writers of the fantastic give virtually no space to women writers. Although the tradition of women writers of the fantastic is still to be canonized in Italy, one should recognize, at least, the fantastic-surreal works by Maria Ginanni (1892–1953) and Irma Valeria, and the short stories that Ada Negri* gathered in the collections Le strade (Roads, 1926) and Di giorno in giorno (Day by day, 1932). These works are notable for their disquieting oscillations between the world of experience and the world of unreality, and the coexistence of multiple selves and different temporal dimensions within one single consciousness.
Bibliography: Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Trans. Richard Howard. Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1975; Bonifazi, Neuro. Teoria del fantastico e il racconto fantastico in Italia: Tarchetti, Pirandello, Buzzati. Ravenna: Longo, 1982; Farnetti, Monica. Il giu-oco del maligno. Florence: Vallecchi, 1988; Jackson, Rosemary. ‘‘Introduction.’’ In What Did Miss Darrington See? An Anthology of Feminist Supernatural Fiction. New York: The Feminist Press, 1989.
CRISTINA DELLA COLETTA
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