he ostensible goal of narratology is the objective, almost scientific,
classification of literary texts. The extensive set of vocabulary
designated for this purpose creates an elaborate apparatus for explicating
the seemingly innumerable variations possible within literary texts. The
advantage of such narratological apparatus is that it provides for the
creation of new terms and groupings which refer to or help to describe new
species of texts. In narratological classification, as in scientific
classification, works are grouped according to a significant number of
shared features or characteristics. Systems of classification, however,
given the subjective observation of such characteristics, are inherently
subject to reconfigurations or obsolescence. These inherent shortcomings
in classification systems plague literary attempts to define genres and
scientific attempts to classify species. While the subjectivity of
classification has curtailed recent literary investigation into genre, to
the extent that, in some quarters, genre studies are regarded as
disreputable, scientific taxonomy continues.
While scientists may be more assured about the validity of classification,
literary theorists are perhaps more adept at recognizing new species upon
their initial mutations, at the moment they distinguish themselves, whether
through extra limbs or multicolored markings or imposing chelicerae, from
whatever else used to wriggle through the decaying leaves lining the forest
The specimens I have collected are connected by Irrealism, a term which I
would like to define as a peculiar mode of postmodern allegory. While my
attempt to examine the connections between these texts necessitates the use
of narratological methods, I am also aware of the impossibility of
comprehensive classification. However, the shortcomings of classification
reveal the attraction and validity of attempts to define Irrealism as a
prominent mode of expression characteristic of the postmodern. While
cultural materialist analytical methods demonstrate the connections between
a single text and a surrounding cultural discourse, perhaps Irrealism
accounts for the role of the artistic product in relation to a natural
world transformed by primarily economic factors. Irrealism provides a
means by which to account for the extent to which artistic products respond
to a culture whose economy seemingly depends on the mutation and usurpation
of the natural at a scale previously imaginable only on Dr. Moreau’s
The attempt to define Irrealism as a literary and artistic mode allows for
an analysis of a current of contemporary cultural development without
overloading the already cumbersome narratological critical vocabulary.
Irrealism is a term which does not define an entire genre, a single species
or family, but a group of characteristics adapted by different cloth-bound
creatures to accommodate for widespread variations in their increasingly
unnatural habitat. To define a new genre is an impossible project because,
to some extent, each individual text is its own genre, and each specimen a
species. In Introduction á la Littérature Fantastique, Tzvetan Todorov
uses Karl Popper’s statement that theorists are not justified in inferring
universal propositions from singular propositions to preface his own
attempt to define the Fantastic (Todorov 8). In this instance, Todorov
refers to Popper in order to indicate the limitations inherent in attempts
at the classification of literary texts. Later, Todorov provides the work
of Northrop Frye as an example, and refers to Frye’s misguided enthusiasm
in classifying. Todorov argues that even someone as well read as Frye
cannot make overt categories without acknowledging the fact that universal
categories are built from suppositions regarding a limited (and perhaps
arbitrarily chosen) number of texts. These statements are particularly
sobering when we consider genre classification. However, while the
selection of experimental sets for analysis is subjective, the coexistence
of tendencies in the works of certain twentieth-century authors and artists
validates attempts to classify, and hints at the prominence of a common
mode of expression, a version of postmodern allegory which can only be
called Irreal. Furthermore, these works which I classify as Irreal, such
as, among others, Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, Jorge Luis Borges’
Ficciones, and the paintings of Remedios Varo, are themselves interested in
patterns, puzzles, classification.
While Darwinian rules of evolution and imitation do not apply to
literature because a single work can change the entire structure of the
species, and specimens can directly react against investigators interested
in classifying their feeding habits, tracing their life cycle, recording
their mating calls, the observation of related dominant characteristics in
a wide variety of works merits investigation. In my experience,
narratological tools work best with closely related works or texts which
closely cleave to the confines of predefined genres, but they are more
useful when applied to solitary texts or entire groups of texts which do
not classify easily or to categories of literature which indicate the
existence of new genres and characteristics of literary play. Irrealism is
an attempt to understand narratives which may be regarded as the
cryptozoological aberrations of postmodern literature, the very Darwinian
mutations which, despite their internal logic, exist at the fringes of well
defined artistic and literary movements.
The term Irrealism signifies principally as an indicator of postmodern
allegory. Irrealism, then, is a tool which enables theorists to understand
why, both narratologically and phenomenologically, allegory, conceived by
the Romantics and Moderns as outmoded and reactionary, resignifies as a
dominant mode of expression. The purpose of an examination of Irrealism is
not, then, to collect and codify a series of texts. Instead, an
investigation of Irreal characteristics in a literary text or other
cultural product will reveal an allegorical scaffolding indicative of, as
the prominent Marxist critic Fredric Jameson has best termed it, “The
Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.”
Artistic representation and scientific classification are problematized by
the postmodern era, both theoretically (emblematized most specifically by
the anti-systemic impulses of poststructuralist criticism ) and
phenomenologically (consider the ethical, economic, and political problems
posed by bioengineered foods, such as the frost-resistant strawberry
species spliced together with genes taken from a species of arctic fish or
the RoundUp! Ready corn hybrids manufactured by the Monsanto corporation).
In order to examine the extent to which allegory resignifies as a
significant mode of expression for postmodern culture, resulting in the
representational mode of Irrealism, we’ll first consider medieval allegory.
The connections between postmodern and medieval allegory best demonstrate
the extent to which scientific development destabilizes traditional
The Christian allegorical canon which supplanted, some would say arose
from, Old English poetry developed a highly complex, but decipherable,
determinable, allegorical alphabet which was used to encode meaning.
As Umberto Eco discusses in The Limits of Interpretation:
in order to understand the meaning of the facts told by the Bible,
Augustine had to understand the meaning of the things the Bible mentions.
This is the reason for which medieval civilization, extrapolating from
the Hellenistic Phisiologus or Pliny’s Naturalis historia, elaborated
its own encyclopedic repertories, bestiaries, herbaries, lapidaries,
imagines mundi, in order to assign a symbolic meaning to every piece of
the furniture of the “real world.” In these encyclopedias the same
object or creature can assume contrasting meanings, so that the lion is
at the same time the figure of Christ and the figure of the devil. The
work of medieval commentators was to provide rules for a correct textual
disambiguation. Symbols were ambiguous within the paradigm, never
within the syntagm. An elephant, a unicorn, a jewel, a stone, a flower,
can assume many meanings, but when they show up in a given context they
have to be decoded in the only possible right way. (Eco 13, 14)
Such assertions apply to medieval cosmological allegories as well, where
the divine proportions between the series of interlocked celestial spheres
determine the proportions of musical tones (the music of the spheres),
architectural forms (as explained by Vitruvius), and the human form itself.
In this sense, as Eco indicates, medieval hermeneutics was determined by,
perhaps inscribed within, the forms of medieval representation. However,
such interpretation was never simplistic: the same object or creature can
assume contradictory meanings. Such interpretive strategies establish a
binary framework of signification. The lion, for instance, can, within a
Christian allegorical context, symbolize either the power of absolute good
or the power of absolute evil. But such symbols are still limited to
theological interpretation. Even if extended to the secular world, the
symbol is still identified with its initial theological interpretation.
Charlemagne used the lion as a symbol of worldly power but only in order to
connect himself, as exemplified by the Divine Right of Kings, to the power
of absolute good. But such a coherent system of symbol and allegory has
been fragmented, dismantled by modernity. While medieval commentators
sought for and explicated correct textual disambiguations, contemporary
literary theory denies the attribution of fixed meaning to words and letter
designated to fix meaning, distinguish ideas, objects, phonemes. The quest
for the new which drives contemporary literary investigation opposes the
medieval quest to rephrase the eternal Truth in new ways.
Reconfigurations of the dominant ideological forces informing allegory,
most clearly exemplified by the diminishing adherence to an exclusively
theologically determined allegorical framework, clearly distinguish
medieval allegory from its postmodern progeny. This results in significant
changes in the symbolic language utilized by postmodern allegory. The
exegetical difficulty of much postmodern allegory results from the lack of,
or developing nature of, a constant symbolic vocabulary.
This is not to deny the exegetical difficulty of Christian allegory,
however. Such obscurity is allowable, even encouraged, given the
traditions of Biblical exegesis, which ascribe “the obscurity of Scripture
.. . . to the clouding of man’s insight as a consequence of the Fall”
(Fletcher 235n). However, the Irreal work differs from traditional
allegory because it indicates the extent to which the language of allegory,
and therefore the function and exegesis of allegory, is altered by
unprecedented changes in the physical world. While social and political
changes also distinguish the Irreal work from Christian allegorical
function because of the broadening of symbolic interpretations, the
shifting relations beyond tropes and symbols destabilized by secular and
nonwestern influences result in a reconfiguration of the symbolic alphabet
of postmodern allegory. In postmodern allegory, the “daemonic,” which
Angus Fletcher discusses in Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode, is
transposed into the electronic, the scientific.
To illustrate this, I’d like to examine two paintings by two artists:
Hieronymous Bosch and Remedios Varo. I choose Bosch to demonstrate the
influence of the allegorical as a prominent mode of medieval artistic
expression. While many critics seek to imagine Bosch as a proto-modern
painter, Bosch’s paintings utilize the familiar alphabet of symbols derived
from Christian tradition. Robert Delevoy remarks that the phantasmagories
of Bosch’s paintings represent the “disjecta membra of holy texts” (Delevoy
66). While the forms of Bosch’s images allow for modern estimations of
individual style, the symbols recall, among others, the works of Augustine,
Albertus Magnus, and St. Bernard.
The figures of Bosch’s The Conjurer, for example, are derived from
Biblical sources and common symbols, motifs apparent in other works such as
the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Cure of Folly as well. This work is
deceptively simple, particularly in comparison to more ornate works such as
The Last Judgment, which forms “a complex symbolism in which each color
conveys a message and the whole reveals itself as a highly complex pattern
of interlocking, superimposed, and overlapping signs . . . [which] relate
to Christian legendry, primitive ‘analogies,’ the ethical theories of
Ruysbroeck, the secret doctrines of alchemy” (Delevoy 104).
But I want to avoid concocting a lengthy catalogue of symbols in The
Conjurer. Instead, I want to draw your attention to a single figure in
this painting: the owl nestled in the wicker gamebag suspended from the
conjurer’s belt. While the main “point” of this painting corresponds to
the Flemish proverb that proclaims that “he who lets himself be fooled by
conjuring tricks loses his money and becomes the laughing stock of
children,” the simpleton’s lack of discernment also leads to heresy,
symbolized by the owl. This bird, “the dark bird of Satan,” recurs through
Bosch’s work and, here, connects the painting more directly to the
spiritual, revealing the work as Christian allegory.
Now, consider a treatment of the same subject by Remedios Varo, a
Spanish-born artist who associated with the Surrealists and settled in
Mexico. In The Juggler, Varo creates a personal allegorical system which
relies on the predetermined symbols of Christian and classical iconography.
But these are quickly refigured into a personal system informed by the
scientific and organized like a machine. The work features a host of
symbols familiar from Christian iconography and demonology: the lion, the
owl, the goat, the pentacle- shaped juxtaposition of the Juggler’s magician
hat and eerily forked facial hair. But this system is disrupted by
personal symbols which recur throughout Varo’s work. Who is the girl in
the Juggler’s cart? Why the horde of identical observers all wrapped in a
single cloak? In the Irreal work, allegory operates according to an
altered, but constant and orderly iconographic system. Or, as Octavio Paz
states in Visiones y desapariciones de Remedios Varo, “the secret theme of
her work [is] harmony . . .. lost equality” which produces “a mirror-image
painting. Not the world in reverse, but the reverse of the world.”
Consider the reemergence of the owl in another of Varo’s paintings, The
Creation of the Birds. While the owl recurs through Bosch’s work as an
indicator of the Satanic, the significance of Varo’s owl is developed in
this painting. Here, the owl-like features of the artist-scientist recall
Minerva. But this Minerva is also a juggler, a conjurer, skilled in the
use of a triangular magnifier, similar to the triangular prism used by
another Conjurer, Newton, to divide light into the colors of the spectrum.
Unlike Newton, however, and revealing her owl nature, our artist-scientist
refracts moon beams.
This interplay of spiritual and scientific reveals the extent to which the
allegorical system of Irrealism is distinguishable from that which
undergirds Christian allegory. For Varo, even destiny is described in
mechanistic terms. In a passage which echoes the philosophical system
established by G.I. Gurdjieff in Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, destiny
is a hybrid forged from the mystical and the mechanical: it is, as Varo
describes in a personal letter, “a complicated machine from which come
pulleys that wind around . . . and make [people] move.”
Allegory exists as an attempt to understand the natural world, to decipher
metaphysical reality. But science and technical culture have changed
perceptions of the natural world, have significantly changed the natural
world itself, thereby altering the vocabulary of symbols applicable to
epistemological and allegorical attempts to understand it. The symbolic
vocabulary of allegory must also accommodate new signification caused by
Besides being detached from the theological order of the Church, Irreal
works also respond to detachments from the natural order predicated by
industrialism and global capitalism. The example I’d like to focus on
examines a specifically postmodern variety of mutation as an allegorical
trope, as exemplified by the recent Hollywood version of Godzilla.
Godzilla 1998 begins with a grainy yellowed sepia-like montage which
superimposes 1950’s nuclear tests in the South Pacific with sea iguanas
swimming, basking in the sun, occasionally leering into the camera. The
particular species displayed are Amblyrhynchus cristatus, described by
Charles Darwin as “imps of darkness” on his initial voyage to the Galapagos
Islands (Darwin 334).
On the Galapagos, Darwin found evidence of constant species mutation and
transformation. Each island of the archipelago hosts an entirely different
array of endemic species. Besides dragon-like sea iguanas, the Galapagos
are also home to the dreaded vampire finch, which, though only three to
four inches in size, lands on the back of flying birds, pecks through their
skin and laps up blood. I mention the vampire finch not simply because it
is excessively odd, but because Darwin pieced his evolutionary theory
together primarily from Galapagos finch identification. From his
observations, Darwin concluded that minuscule variations between individual
finches, as caused by minor habitat variations, resulted, over time, in
vastly different species. The vampire finch, which display behavior
patterns which seem most unfinchlike, is still a finch. It is
distinguished from the standard pet-store variety of finch by the niche
which it fills, the variation of the evolutionary game each species
plays. The opening montage of Godzilla 1998 posits human nuclear
experimentation as the direct result of Godzilla’s emergence from the sea
and indicates the extent to which such experimentation creates niches. The
images of Galapagos sea iguanas hint at mutation as a natural, but
accelerated, form of evolution.
But to return to medieval allegory, and to clarify the distinction between
medieval and postmodern which my development of Irrealism seeks to address,
let me pose a question: how would Pliny or Augustine classify Godzilla’s
mutation? In Godzilla 1998, mutation may be interpreted allegorically
using Goethe’s assertion that allegory transforms experience into a concept
and a concept into an image in such a way that the image always defines and
expresses the concept (Goethe 112). However, this mutation, cased by
nuclear testing, fails to signify as a trope defined by medieval Christian
tradition. One could like it to signs of the end times, as an indication
of the fulfillment of horrific prophecies, but such a reading would impose
a false humanism on a work which valorizes the mutated. Humankind has
caused the mutation, but the mutated soon leave humankind behind. Though
Godzilla 1998 ends with the thousands of Godzilla-spawn destroyed, the
movie hints at the possibility that at least one has survived. This type
of mutation, caused by overexposure to radiation, precipitated by nuclear
testing and global warming, does not fit into the predetermined allegorical
alphabets mentioned by Eco.
In other words, “if scriptural interpreters were warranted about their
‘right’ reading of the Scriptures because of a long tradition which
provided the criteria for a correct interpretation, what will happen now
that the profane world has been devoid of any mystic sense and it is
uncertain under the inspiration of whom (God, Love, or other) the poet
unconsciously speaks? In a way, the theological secularization of the
natural world implemented by Aquinas has set free the mystical drives of
the poetic activity” (Eco 17). But here, Eco ignores the considerable
influence this secularization has had on other areas of knowledge,
engendering the perplexing mix of systems which confounds definitions of
allegory and myth. Because of these vast ranges of influences, the
teleology of postmodern allegory is distinguished from its medieval
precursors. In medieval allegory, meaning was interpretable because of
contextually derived clues which referred to a set of defined symbols, the
constancy of which extended beyond the confines of a single work.
Scientific and social developments redefine symbols and tropes while also
providing new ones. Likewise, relationships between symbols established by
their interpretation within a single hierarchy disappear when the system of
interpretation is itself displaced, replaced, or mutated beyond recognition.
While this explanation concentrates primarily on mutation as a trope
reconfigured in postmodern allegory, by no means is mutation the only
trope which justifies such a reconfiguration. This example from Godzilla
1998 indicates a variety of mutation which, though a natural process, is
made unnatural, accelerated and manipulated by human involvement. Such a
mutation creates a different world, repopulating it with creatures which
exist beyond human systems of classification.
But classification is based on observation: taxonomy results from
grouping individuals according to characteristics. Such systems group
specimens into groups according to external characteristics. With
invertebrates and unicellular organisms, successful classification depends
on scientists’ capacity to observe these characteristics. Consider the
debates biologists have regarding Kingdom Monera. Monera is the only
kingdom composed of prokaryotic organisms, or those with cells lacking a
membrane-bounded nucleus and membrane-bounded organelles. All other
kingdoms (protoctist, fungi, plant, and animal) consist of organisms which
are eukaryotic, and have cells with membrane-bounded nuclei and
membrane-bounded organelles. Recent investigation, however, has revealed
that not all prokaryotes are equal: higher resolution microscopes have
revealed differences between organisms which were originally viewed as
unilaterally prokaryotic. Such reclassifications echo the creation of new
genres, and result in reconceptualization of the criteria necessary for
distinguishing individual specimens. Likewise, developments such as the
Hubble telescope and advances in macrophotography have made accessible
macro- and microcosmoi previously beyond sensory perception. These
variations in the scope of perception could allow for organisms previously
beyond customary visual perception to form a recognizable allegorical
Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics uses variations in perception in order to
expand the possibilities of point of view. The single narrator of
Cosmicomics, the ubiquitous Qfwfq, is emblematic of unity amidst the
heteroglossic variety of possibilities offered by expanded degrees of
perception made possible by scientific devices. In one story, Qfwfq is
a dinosaur, but in other stories he is also a fish, a small mammal, a
subatomic particle eternally plummeting through the void. Qfwfq’s
constantly shifting position in the universe, despite his consistent
first-person narration, suggests the extent to which his form accommodates
his point of view. In “The Aquatic Uncle,” which precedes the story of the
last dinosaur, Qfwfq, here featured as some sort of protoamphibian,
venerates the reptilian and eschews his ichthyoid “roots”. In
Cosmicomics, Qfwfq encompasses all points of view except for non-existence.
As a result, his various incarnations cannot be contrasted: they are all
linked to one another. While Qfwfq venerates the reptilian and consciously
attempts to conceal his water-bound past, in “The Dinosaurs,” none of the
mammals recognize that Qfwfq, a dinosaur, is actually a dinosaur.
Though Calvino connects all these characters through the point of view of
a single character, each is concerned with classification, with
individuation. In “The Dinosaurs,” Qfwfq is no longer sure which category
he belongs to because, while he is its phenotype, he is also its only
remaining specimen. And, as the tales the mammals tell of dinosaurs
attests, his physical characteristics do not correspond with the category
of dinosaur which they have fashioned. While he is a dinosaur, the only
one left, he is not really a dinosaur because no one categorizes him as
such. The category he belongs to, if any, is incarnation of Qfwfq. All of
the characters in Cosmicomics are specimens of the group called Qfwfq,
despite the fact that none of these specimens, or narratives, for that
matter, physically resemble one another. This type of organizational
pattern, though, recalls not the logic of scientific classification but the
logic of the labyrinth of Irrealism, exemplified here by, as Jorge Luis
Borges notes, “a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium
of Benevolent Knowledge” which discusses a system of animal classification:
On these remote pages it is written that animals are divided into (a)
those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are
trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray
dogs, (h)those that are included in this classification, (I) those that
tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones (k) those drawn with a
very fine camel’s hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken
a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance. (Rabkin 5)
An initial reading of these connections dismisses their logic: these are
random, non connections intended to dazzle but not suggestive of an
alternate system of logic. But their appearance in a supposed encyclopedia
attests to some sort of order: encyclopedias are based on form and logic,
where lists of categories suggest that the items are mutually exclusive.
Which they are. Even the encyclopedia which details Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis
Tertius obeys a logic, though this system is otherworldly. The book
itself is another world unrestrained by earthly logic.
Cosmicomics allows for variations in perception which transcend perceptual
boundaries in all directions, and features narratives which stretch across
billions of years of the Earth’s development. But not all narratives
attempt to span such a great range. Some, instead, turn their focus toward
the minuscule, concentrate on the other worlds which always border our own.
Insect narratives, for example, also characterize the allegorical
possibilities widened by scientific developments. While insects “have long
been powerful spiritual symbols” (Clarke 84), tales featuring insectoid
protagonists are more prevalent in the postmodern era.
Insects had figured most prominently, and seriously, in Egyptian
mythology. The scarab was sacred, and carvings of the scarab, often
inscribed with passages from The Book of the Dead, were placed in graves
and temples. Also, the sun god Ra was symbolized as a scarab continuously
rolling the sun across the sky. In Greek myth and drama, the dung beetle
appears most often, primarily as a source for scatological humor. In
Aristophanes’ Peace, for instance, Trygaeus flies to Olympus on the back of
a dung beetle, requesting advice on how to end the Peloponesian War.
But neither of these examples show people attempting to identify with
insects. The field of macrophotography, however, allows for the creation
of texts which reconcile the similarities between the man-made and the
insectoid. This technological development, then, allows for insects to
resignify, thereby altering the vocabulary of allegory.
To demonstrate this process more concretely, consider the pioneering
insect photographs produced by David Fairchild in the early 1900s. These
photographs, which first appeared in the May 1913 issue of National
Geographic, depict insects head-on at a time when most textbooks showed
insects from above, pinned and etherized. Fairchild desired to present
“these monsters to the public as a showman might” and designed an
expandable camera capable of rendering the microcosmos super-sized.
Such a technological innovation allows for insects to resignify. Their
spatial representation, presented through immense magnification, allows
for insects to interact on a human scale. Consider Kafka’s Die
Verwandlung. Fairchild’s article appears in 1913, thereby engendering the
possibility of man-sized insect. Bertolt Brecht discusses similar
connections between technological innovation and cultural possibility in
“On Form and Subject Matter.” For Brecht, new technologies create new
subject-matter the moment the technologies come into existence: as an
example, he indicates that “the extraction and refinement of petroleum
spirit represents an new complex of subjects, and when one studies these
carefully one becomes struck by quite new forms of human relationship”
(Brecht 29). While petroleum distillation, or any new technology, comes
first, the new relationships are secondary. A new art must, then, account
for the technology, in terms of artistic content and artistic form.
Gregor awakes as an “ungeheuren Ungeziefer” [monstrous vermin] (Die
Verwandlung 7) and, while critics may debate the exact composition or
species or appearance of this insect, the insect still interacts with the
human world. Fairchild’s desire to present insects as a showman might
echoes Darwin’s comment regarding the atlas beetle that if it were
magnified to the size of a dog or horse “with its polished bronze coat of
mail and its vast complex of horns . . . it would be one of the most
imposing animals in the world” (Evans 52). Fairchild’s innovation
precipitates this magnification, this verwandlung.
Likewise, a film such as Microcosmos, which features the epic battles and
exploits of insects in full screen cinematic glory, effectively combines
the allegorical daemonic and mechanical in rigid exoskeletal forms. This
film, in a manner recalling E.O. Wilson’s The Ants, dramatizes insect
behavior with a classical music score which matches the intensity of insect
lives. We are the insects engaged in the age-old pursuits of nature,
hunting, mating, building, and we squeeze our dates softly while violins
whisper and snails slide together in a soothing slime coated embrace.
The filming techniques used in Microcosmos, painstakingly developed by
Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou in order “to let insects have real
roles” (Microcosmos 128), allow for a powerful catharsis with seemingly
alien forms. And these forms, ridged, aerodynamic, baroque, suggest the
form of our future while symbolizing an ancient pre-Jurassic past. While
in the past, insects “do not appear as commonly as other creatures . . .
[in artistic representation] . . . because of their diminutive stature and
supposed insignificance” (Evans 141), films such as Microcosmos impose the
insectoid, Godzilla-sized, on the popular imagination.
These possibilities indicate that changes in the natural environment and
our perception of it necessarily change attempts to communicate through
narratives and art. While the premise may seem somewhat elementary, it
does validate this distinction between traditional allegory and Irrealism.
While the use of allegory has traditionally varied from texts which
“abstract the narrative . . . into the theological or doctrinal structure
that informs it” to more ironic allegories which “challenge the authority
of the pretext by drawing it into history and so marking its lapse into
semantic mutability” (Clarke 23), the form and content of allegory itself
has transformed in response to technological developments.
As such, the Irreal extends the domain of the allegorical by
reallegorizing from a broadened spectrum of tropes. It responds to the
postmodern era, which Umberto Eco describes as a new Middle Ages, the end
of an omnipresent order, the ideas and prohibitions of which are punctured
by marauding “barbarians.” This process is exemplified by Irreal
resignification. The Irrealist work, then, operates within a given system
and attests to its plausibility, despite the fact that this system, and the
world it represents, is often a mutation, an aberration.
Brecht, Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic.
Trans. John Willett. New York: Hill and Wang, 1964.
Calvino, Italo. Cosmicomics. Trans. William Weaver. New York: Harcourt
Clarke, Bruce. Allegories of Writing: The Subject of Metamorphosis.
Albany: State University of NewYork Press, 1995.
Darwin, Charles. Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle.
Ed. Nora Barlow. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1934.
Delevoy, Robert. Bosch. Trans. Stuart Gilbert. Lausanne: Editions d'Art
Albert Skira: 1960.
Eco, Umberto. The Limits of Interpretation. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1990.
Evans, Arthur V. and Charles L. Bellamy. An Inordinate Fondness for
Beetles. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.
Fletcher, Angus. Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode. Ithaca:
Cornell University Press, 1964.
Godzilla 1998. Dir. Roland Emmerich. Tri Star, 1998.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Maximen und Reflectionen über Literatur und
Ethik. Weimar: Bibliographisches Institut, 1907.
Kafka, Franz. Die Verwandlung. Prague: Vitalis, 1996.
Nuridsany, Claude and Marie Pérennou. Microcosmos: The Invisible World of
Insects. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1996.
Rabkin, Eric S. The Fantastic in Literature. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1977.
Todorov, Tzvetan. Introduction á la Littérature Fantastique. Paris;
Éditions du Seuil, 1970.
Dean Swinford is a Ph.D candidate in the English Department of the
University of Florida. He recently presented a version of this article at
the First European Conference of the Society for Literature and Science,
which was held at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels, Belgium.
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