Todorov's Fantastic Theory of Literature  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Todorov's Fantastic Theory of Literature[1] (1974) is an essay by Stanisław Lem in Science Fiction Studies on Tzvetan Todorov's book The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. It is a negative review.

Lem reproaches Todorov’s genre theory and his bibliography, and says "Among its twenty-seven titles we find no Borges, no Verne, no Wells, nothing from modern fantasy: all of SF is represented by two short stories. We get, instead, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Potocki, Balzac, Poe, Gogol, Kafka—and that is about all. What this structural account proclaims to us as the bounds of the fantastic is really quite an antique piece of furniture: the bed of Procrustes."

In Science Fiction Studies # 6 = Volume 2, Part 2 = July 1975, Robert Scholes defends Todorov by stating that:

"It seems to me that the main point at issue between Todorov and Lem involves the number and variety of texts that are going to be called "fantastic." Todorov wants to be exclusive. Lem wants to be inclusive. [...] The essential conflict between Lem and Todorov, as I see it, lies in this area of terminology, specifically in the word "fantasy" itself. Todorov has taken, here, a word normally used to designate a large and spongy tract of literature and given that name to a narrow pathway. [...] Todorov calls the larger territory simply "the imaginary," and he locates his "fantastic" on the interface between the real and the imaginary [....]. If Todorov had called his intermediate genre the "uncanny," or given it some other less broadly designative term, much polemicizing might have been avoided. [...] In ordinary English usage, at any rate, "uncanny" is much closer to the mark. Here Todorov's English translator has not helped much, by translating étrange as uncanny. Still, if we could separate a dispute about names from the dispute about concepts, we might find that there is actually less to dispute about than we had supposed."

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