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1) Revolt of the means: We approach our everyday world in a very instrumental fashion, which is to say that we see the objects and institutions around us as a means to an end. Thus when I sit down to write something with a pen and paper I fully expect the pen to serve that purpose, unless of course it's somehow broken or out of ink. But if it's in perfect working order, and simply refuses to write for reasons of its own or willfully transforms itself into something different that will not serve my purpose (perhaps a pencil when I must sign a legal document), then I have been plunged into the fantastic since, as Sartre says, "the fantastic is the revolt of means against ends." Examples: insolence of the nose in Gogol's The Nose; the tea party that refuses to be a tea party (Alice in Wonderland); the legal and bureaucratic processes that, in The Trial and The Castle, not only refuse to serve the applicants, but subsume them.

2) Instrumentality: When we are dreaming all of the objects and people in the dream are invested and instrumental to the dream -- even the ringing of the clock's alarm is a part of the dream until we wake up, and it's only when we realize that the alarm is "neutral matter" (that is, independent of the dream) that we realize that we have been dreaming. The irreal work must, like the dream, create a totality of the irreal in which all objects must be integral to its illusions. It is therefore not possible for, let's say, K. in The Trial to look on something or someone as a "neutral" or impassive object. If he did, it would mean that such things had their own independent reality and that K. could potentially escape to that normalizing reality, which would destroy the irreal effect.

3) Authorial distance, or reticence: the author gives only very limited descriptions of people and surroundings, leaving the rest to the reader's imagination. This more closely approximates the dream state, since the background and physical details in a dream are usually assumed rather then displayed in detail. Kafka especially utilized this, and it was one of his stylistic points of departure from the richly descriptive expressionism that so many of his contemporaries utilized.

4) Intentional undermining of the conventions of realism (verisimilitude): This can be accomplished in two ways. The first involves the absence of psychological plausibility of the characters (such plausibility could be considered to be the foundation of realistic literature). An example of this is the strange obsession of the protagonist in The Unconsoled to fulfill the role others had laid out for him -- e.g., to be the husband of a woman he doesn't know, and with whom his only connection is that her father is the bellhop at the hotel where he is staying, or to act as the arbiter of a cultural dispute of which he knows nothing. The second way to undermine realism is to subvert empirical notions of cause and effect. Thus, if somebody were to lose his or her nose, we would naturally expect in "realistic" fiction for there to be grievous physical consequences (such as bleeding). When no such thing happens, the seeming realism of Gogol's story is undermined.

-- related genres of the unreal --

5) Free flights of fancy: Is similar to the fairy tale in that the fantastic is present, the laws of physics are ignored and yet none of the characters in the story feel the fantastic to be strange or unusual. Is very dissimilar to the fairy tale in that the reader feels the tension between the real and the irreal. Thus, the flight of fancy does not open with "Once upon a time..." nor use any of the accepted conventions such as flying carpets, witches, etc. which tell the reader it is a story that only inhabits the fantastic. On the contrary, on one level they often seem to be based in reality, such as Stanislaw Lem's Ijon Tichy stories, which seem to be based on science, and yet deliberately ignore science, or in Kublai Khan, where we are left wondering, since Kublai Khan was a real historical person who ruled over an empire, whether there really is a "Xanadu" with a river named "Alph."

6) Narrative psychopathology: The story is from the point-of-view of a narrator or protagonist who, however, reflects (or may reflect) a psychopathological reality such that the reader doesn't know what is and what isn't "true" reality. Examples: Diary of a Madman, Expensive People, Good Soldier Schweik.

7) Confrontation with the unknowable: The story, though following the conventions of realism, confronts something (e.g. alien civilization) which is so utterly alien to us and our sensibilities that it appears to be fantastic to the protagonist and the reader and remains so throughout the work (Lem's Solaris, His Master's Voice, Fiasco; Boris and Arkadii Strugatsky, Roadside Picnic).


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