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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter February 20, 2008

A New Periodization of Fantastic Literature according to Owen Barfield's Evolution of Human Consciousness and Language

Fanfan Chen
From the journal


Formalist definitions of the fantastic in literature, such as the well-known one by Zvetan Todorov, overlook the historical and cultural variants of the genre. Fantastic stories from different cultures represent the unlikely, the invisible, or the supernatural phenomena (such as dragons and ghosts) in similar ways, which suggests that the fantastic is universal but conceived differently in different cultures and epochs. Fantastic literature can be defined as poeticized storytelling about the imaginary of the unknown. Yet the unknown today may be known tomorrow. As the Chinese writer Lao Zi remarks: “The unknown is the commencement of all becoming; the known is the mother of all becoming.” Owen Barfield's theory of the evolution of consciousness, and Goethe's view of the evolution of the human mind, can be used for a new periodization of the genre, that divides the poetic renderings of the fantastic into four stages.

Published Online: 2008-02-20
Published in Print: 2007-12-01

© Walter de Gruyter

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