Thursday, December 14, 2006

Childish literary criticism

In the New Statesman, Ursula Le Guin defends fantasy in fiction. She says that by the mid-19th Century, when literature was dominated by realism, fantasy literature, "in which magic works, or animals speak, or the laws of physics yield to the laws of the human psyche", took refuge in children's books. It flourished so well there, she says, it began to be perceived as being for children only.
The modernists extended this misconception by declaring fantastic narrative to be intrinsically childish.
They did? Which modernist made this declaration? Le Guin leaves us guessing. Was it the author of A Report to an Academy, The New Advocate and Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk? Maybe it was that arch-modernist from Buenos Aires who wrote Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius? How dare they look down on talking animals and fantastic tales about physics!


  1. Anonymous4:47 am

    Not to ruin the point of the post but I can easily imagine T.S. Eliot saying something like that, the priggish bastard.

  2. Yeah, perhaps. But he's a modernist not "the modernists" as a whole. Why didn't Le Guin specify?

  3. I'm researching the fantastic in literature at the moment, and the mid to late 19th century was considered to be its moment of glory, in France at least. Todorov's definition of the fantastic is entirely based on work from that era - Gautier and Balzac were writing in the 1840s, and then Maupassant and Nodier joined in later on. But there's also narratives like Frankenstein (1818), The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) and Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) to bear in mind. I suppose all I'm saying is that it's always difficult to make sweeping statements about genre. I have no idea to which modernist Le Guin refers, by the way.

  4. Anonymous4:44 pm

    Yes, the former writer was right saying that the present public boom to read and watch all those childish fantacie. it could be also indication that this soose generation is looking for some sort of escapism from the empty but alwys changingrealitty.

  5. Anonymous12:25 am
    Steve, just in case you hadn't picked up on it the url for Bernhard interview. dimitri

  6. Thanks Dimitri - yes, I'd seen it already. I found this more sour than the others.

    I've also seen Ruth Franklin's excellent New Yorker review.

  7. litlove said:

    "it's always difficult to make sweeping statements about genre"

    I agree, which started me thinking on the modernists. Which of the modernists consciously addressed themselves as modernist writers. Or is this something which happened with hindsight?


  8. Anonymous12:28 am

    What about John Ruskin and his pathetic fallacy. I think he started something, a little something, that wasn't felt for a while, and then at some point, early 20th century, "realism" became more of the thing. Maybe Le Guinn meant "realism" instead of "modernism?"

  9. Just read Josephine the Singer. What a thing! Curiously generous/hopeful. And not just to the rest of the mice.



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