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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...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I've done a quick read-through of Apter's FANTASY LITERATURE, enough to realize that despite some promising insights here and there, this is just an adequate but theoretically unexceptional academic work. It isn't concerned with the exploration of fantasy-fiction as a whole, but with a more limited theme. I'd state this theme as "given how much litcrit territory has been taken over by psychological studies, in what ways does fantasy-literature FAIL to conform to psychological paradigms?"

Apter does an "apt" job of showing ways in which highbrow fantasy-writers like Conrad, Hawthorne and Borges diverge from those paradigms, which are always Freudian. Unlike Todorov and Barthes, who accept Freud's paradigms as heuristically sound, Apter frequently critiques Freud-- and yet, because she mentions him on nearly every page, the book ends up seeming less like a refutation of Freud's work than a compulsive obsession with his ideas. In contrast to thinkers like Fiedler and Bataille, who use Freud up to a point but make clear where they diverge from him, Apter doesn't succeed in communicating a greater vision of the many aspects of reality to which Freud was blind. She points out that "Freud's description of symbolic relationships is adequate only for an exceedingly naive allegory," which is an accurate pronouncement. But she fails to establish a heuristic model, as Fielder and Bataille do, that takes in what real insights Freud had and relates them to other spheres of cultural knowledge. Her judgments of various highbrow fantasy-authors seem reasonably sound, but her overall book is useless for anyone attempting to frame a general theory of fantasy, and for the same reasons as the Todorov work: an exclusive concern with fantasy only as executed by highbrow authors.

She does have, in addition to the critiques of Freud, a few telling criticisms of Jung. I think she underrates his insights as far as their usefulness in exploring literary fantasy, but I will admit that what most seems to turn her off-- Jung's sometimes unfortunate tendency toward the "platitudinous"-- is a fair hit.

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