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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


In this essay defining my term "metaphenomenal" I gave my rationale for introducing the new term, then compared it to the dominant use (in academic studies) of "the fantastic," a term propagated largely by Tzvetan Todorov in his book of the same name:

I consider [the metaphenomenal] a better catch-all for all things that owe their existence to mankind's imagination than the usual catch-all employed in academic studies: "the fantastic." There's both logic and tradition to using the latter term, yet it seems at times cumbersome when dealing with phenomenon that go beyond phenomenal limits within a given universe, and yet are not supposed to be regarded as "fantastic" within that universe even though they may be to the majority of readers. "Metaphenomenal," to my mind, efficiently takes in both the viewpoints of readers and of the characters designed for the story as to whether a given element is within the sphere of ordinary phenomena or not.

As I mentioned earlier I first encountered Todorov's definiton in my college years, and though I didn't write any essays on Todorov back then I'm pretty sure my contemporary version recapitulates my negative feeling toward Todorov, with particular reference to his overblown, quasi-Aristotelian emphasis on the quality of "hesitation" as it applies to "the fantastic." In a future essay I plan to shred hesitation with all dispatch.

In the Caillois resource I mentioned that Todorov had quoted one of Caillois' definitions of "the fantastic," and that I could not judge the original intent of Caillois since the book apparently has not been translated to English. Todorov also quoted another of Caillois' definitions from the same book:

“The fantastic is always a break in the acknowl­edged order, an irruption of the inadmissible within the changeless everyday legality.”

I might venture that if the first definition is a little too much on the "affective" side, saying only that the fantastic work conveys a "sense of strangeness," this one compensates in that one can imagine the "break" as being either an objective phenomenon (or "anomaly," to employ Frank Cioffi's term again) or a subjective one (the madness of a Poe narrator, for instance).

That's not to say that Caillois' definition is perfect. For instance, whatever one thinks of the LEFT BEHIND books, they are depicting a metaphenomenal reality where the Rapture actually takes place, but that "irruption" is hardly "inadmissible" within the sphere of Christian belief. One presumes that this contrarian view of the metaphenomenal stems from Caillois' affiliation with the Surrealists-- an improvement on the Marxists, but still not without definitional problems.

More on the metaphenomenal and its opposing number next time.

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