The literary marketplace in the United States, and to a considerable degree in Britain, tends to take seriously only products of so-called "realism," relegating to the organs of popular culture works that incorporate the "fantastic." Once so dismissed, even the profoundest of fantastic fictions has little chance of ever coming to the attention of the mainstream reader--that intelligent, discriminating soul who has been brainwashed for nearly a century by market forces that continue to impoverish American and British literature. It is to correct this imbalance that I, with the help of a good many friends in both our countries--publishers, writers, and readers who feel cheated, as I do--am developing an organization called CLF, the Council for the Literature of the Fantastic.

CLF is just gearing up here at the University of Rhode Island, where I am a tenured full professor who teaches virtually all of the advanced creative-writing courses offered on campus. I would probably leave well enough alone if I were not myself a writer of LF, the "literary fantastic," who has been struggling for many years against stifling mindsets that can afflict the editors of both "literary" as well as "commercial" or genre publications. And I am personally acquainted with some fine writers of non-realistic work who would be much better known today in "the world at large" if they did not have to suffer the kneejerk labeling of the marketplace.

The main goal of CLF is to break down this division in which literary realism sees itself as the sole stronghold of literary values, St. George fighting the dragon of popular culture, trying to fend off anything that smacks of the fantastic, because LR (literary realism) falsely equates the fantastic with mere escapism. CLF intends to accomplish this goal by providing major services to small-press publishers, editors, writers, and readers and to anyone else who has a stake in LF, the literature of the fantastic. By employing the resources of a large university--graduate and undergraduate students in various disciplines, faculty, computer services, office space--and by enlisting the contributions of sympathetic professionals both here in the U.S. and abroad, CLF will promote literary presses and writers and individual works that, in our best judgment, deserve wider recognition than they are getting.

THE LITERATURE OF THE FANTASTIC

The "Fantastic" as such encompasses all kinds of writing containing non-realistic elements, from ancient Greek myths to modern commercial science fiction and fantasy. The "Literature of the Fantastic," which is to be the focus of our organization, concerns only work of mature literary value (in the non-realistic mode) and therefore excludes purely escapist kinds of writing. It includes "literature" in the age-old tradition that encompasses Homer, Rabelais, Swift, Kafka, Borges, Paul Bowles and a thousand other "fantastic" writers, whether or not they also write in the mainstream realist tradition. Contemporary American writing in that ageless tradition, a lineage whose American past includes Irving, Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville, among others, has become increasingly marginalized over the course of most of a century during which realism has dominated the literary mainstream, and most Fantastic writing, the good lumped together with the bad, has been awarded scant critical attention and has been banished to the genre "ghettoes."

To restore the balance, those voices of the Literary Fantastic-- whether garbed in traditionalist or experimentalist modes--need to be given a cultural forum which keynotes their common independence from the strictures of Mainstream Realism. Noteworthy literary works in the above-defined "fantastic" mode, works that fail to receive adequate critical recognition whether they happen to appear in mainstream or genre publications, need to be properly assessed and brought to the attention of a larger public. It would be difficult to define here what I mean by a work of "literary" value, but suffice it to say that it must stand up to being judged by the light of all of world literature, by past accomplishments in the domains of both Realism and the Fantastic, and not lay claim to immunity from judgment by any criteria other than the limited, commercially assigned standards of its own contemporary market-niche or genre.

THE MARGINALIZATION OF THE FANTASTIC

The Pynchons and Atwoods and Vonneguts, although notable mainstream exceptions, do not contradict the general rule that the mainstream marketplace practises, by and large, an almost unstated ideology of neglect and marginalization of the fantastic. Magic Realism, for example, is acceptable to the mainstream American publisher, so long as it is a translation of a Latin American--or East European, or African--work, but our native literature of Magic Realism is so neglected that a small magazine called Magic Realism came into existence here very recently to attempt a corrective. In fact, the last several years have seen a significant but uncoordinated burgeoning of little magazines that serve to fill a deeply felt gap in the "fantastic" area. In addition to Magic Realism, a handful of such recent magazines springs immediately to mind: Black Ice, Blue Light Red Light, Century, Gaia, Gateways, Puck!, Nonstop, SF Eye, and The Silver Web, all of them of miniscule circulation. (This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I have given only some American examples.)

The niche-defying sorts of fantastic literature that such publications tend either to include or foreground has begun to be called "slipstream," a coinage by Bruce Sterling that helps create a new literary-market space between mainstream and genre publication. "Speculative fiction," a related term, has been around for a long time, and often occurs as a sophisticated designation--confusingly abbreviated as SF--for the fantasy and science-fiction genres. In my view, however, LF, the Literature of the Fantastic, is a far more inclusive designation than "slipstream," which it subsumes as a subcategory, or "speculative," a word which suggests an intellectually focussed literature.

DISSOLVING THE DICHOTOMIES

In summary, our American marketplace for fiction tends to create false dichotomies, either/or situations that determine how a literary work is to be positioned in public consciousness. It is possible, however, for a non-profit literary organization like CLF to buck the tide, and in so doing become a creative force in the unleashing of major literary energies that normally are not welcome either in the genre marketplace (which tends toward the formulaic), or in the mainstream (which tends to see the Fantastic, no matter how well written, as the province of the-- presumably subliterary--genres). At the postmodern edge of the literary mainstream, the Fantastic seems to have found a new home, but largely in association with linguistic and formalistic experimentalism, so that the Fantastic as such tends almost nowhere to be foregrounded in the American literary consciousness. The media, of course, have a field-day with the Fantastic, undermining its thematic possibilities at every turn while stressing only the sensationalistic imagery in which it abounds.

THE CLF NEWSLETTER

A newsletter will be our chief instrument for accomplishing our goals. It will be distributed in hardcopy to the degree that we receive State or university funding. The hardcopy edition, initially distributed gratis, will eventually survive only if supported by subscriptions. Meanwhile, it will be made available over the Internet.

The newsletter will be "consciousness-raising" in that it will not only attempt to define the state of the Fantastic in the American and British marketplaces, but it will provide specific services in doing so--such as (1) reviews of journals and small presses that print LF--reviews that are both in-house and solicited from professionals in the field; (2) in-depth interviews with LF publishers, editors, writers; (3) ideas for expanding the markets for LF publications; (4) detailed market listings for writers in the field of LF; (5) suggestions for developing university courses in LF; (6) essays by distinguished LF pros; (7) a letters section; and (8) other valuable material that will eventually be suggested by our readers.

CLF AS CLEARING-HOUSE

The organization itself, i.e., CLF, will provide concrete communication and marketing services to journals, magazines, and small presses that, in our evolving collective judgment, publish at least some fine work in the area of LF (whether literary works or criticism), even, perhaps, if the publications' general emphasis were something other. To facilitate communication, we expect to set up an Internet BBS.

DISTRIBUTION SERVICES

We would also, as part of our mission to be a central clearing-house for LF, act as a distribution center for American, Canadian, and UK publications (others, too, perhaps?) that we judge to have high literary standards and to incorporate LF. Taking our cue from your own NSFA, we will support the survival efforts of largely marginal publishers by advertising and distributing copies of subscribers' journals and books to anyone interested--even offering specially priced packages of several LF-related magazines or books for readers to try out during a year. (We will also encourage cooperation among LF publishers: e.g., their printing free ads for each other's wares--a practice already haphazardly in existence; their displaying the wares of fellow CLFers at the bookstalls of the many conferences devoted to fantastic literature; and their informing authors of other LF editors who might be interested in their work. In this regard I'm pleased to have just learned that San Francisco publisher Brian Clark of PUCK magazine/Permeable Press is setting up a small-press marketing service, with a Mosaic graphic interface, on World Wide Web as of January, 1995.)

ANNUAL "BEST OF LF" ANTHOLOGY

Looking ahead, CLF could make itself an even more potent force in restoring the balance in Anglo-American letters by the publication of an annual anthology reprinting the "best" in LF, a selection made, perhaps, after nominations of works are solicited from LF publishers and other newsletter readers.

If you are interested in receiving news of CLF, including some form of the eventual newsletter, and if, in addition, you would like to contribute in some way to our efforts, please e-mail me at DPEARL@URIACC.URI.EDU or write me at the Department of English, University of Rhode Island, Kingston RI 02881/USA.


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