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Monday, November 02, 2009

The Fantastic is in the Genes

If you trace back through time you can see through every generation and era the presence of the fantastic. By fantastic, I mean anything that could be construed as fitting into science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, fairy tale, myth, religion, and any other such genres or subgenres in which something we know is not entirely true occurs. The fantastic is somewhat like a virus in that it worms its way into everything and evolves to fit into new shapes so that it may survive in some sort of dominant mode. So, when I say fantastic, I am using a liberal definition of the term, much as literary theorists have, in some respects.

The fact that the fantastic has survived through generations and eras, despite a monumental effort to suppress certain forms of it, is astonishing, and leads me to conclude that there must be something in us, something wired into our DNA, that makes mankind susceptible to the whims of the fantastic (we'll call it fanty from now on, just so it can have a cute name like SF does--i.e. sciffy--and if you're really clever you'll catch the Firefly/Serenity reference).

We know this from history: the fantastic is woven into us more finely than a nano-fiber coat (if such a thing exists). The cavemen and other early cultures had some idea what it was, and drew it and exchanged stories about it without realizing that was what they were doing. Numerous religions were founded on the very prospect of the fantastic too, and one cannot deny the relation all religious share to one another, even those religions in existence today. So much of our existence is founded in principles of fantastic discourse as figured through all mediums (fine art, writing, spoken word, etc.). So, is it any wonder that fantasy, as a genre, is doing so well, or that science fiction film (and even fantasy film, for the most part) have such a strong hold on the visual market? The fact that young adults and children gobble this stuff up like so much candy is testament to our human desire for the fantastic; as adults, we may shed some of the "silly" aspects of our youth, but there is always that thread (of course, some of us never grow up, and that thread is still wrapped around us as a coat).

Now, the question is: is it possible to cut ourselves off from the fantastic (assuming we wanted to), and if we did, what would the consequences of that be? Would we lose a part of our souls, or would it be like losing a toe (no big deal at all)?

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  1. When you think if the technological advancements the original Star Trek alone is responsible for, I would say that without people who think about "the fantastic", and feel compelled to explore it with science, or invention, or merely fiction, that our progress as a species would die out.

  2. Anonymous7:47 AM

    A very astute observation--humanity doesn't seem able to get away from the notion that there is something more out there than just what we see in front of our noses day-to-day.

    Everyone craves the fantastic--even those who say they don't, or look down on it as "childish." For example, I know people who scoff at the notion of fantasy and sci-fi movies, yet they enjoy fast-paced action/thriller movies (which usually have extreme or "fantastic" story lines outside the norm of everyday experience.) This is a small example, but it illustrates the need we all have to take part it something that is beyond what we normally go through every day.

    I personally believe that to lose the sense of the fantastic is to lose a part of yourself.

    Rachel Heston Davis
    Up and Writing

  3. I think that it is safe to say that humans need the fantastic. Whether it comes in the form of fairy tales, religious scriptures, or fantasy literature/films, we have a need for the fantastic and if we ever lost that need I think that we would lose some of our humanity.

  4. rachel: Thanks and agreed :)

    stace: Oh, I totally agree. We've got to be able to see beyond the present into other worlds, into things that don't exist to preserve something of our species and to move forward.

    Dave: Agreed!