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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: March 2012

9 - Modernism and postmodernism

from PART II - WAYS OF READING

Summary

Jorge Luis Borges's flash fiction story ‘On Exactitude in Science’ (‘Del rigor en la ciencia’) features an incredibly detailed, albeit cumbersome map, similar to the one in Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893), that is drawn exactly to the same scale as the world itself, matching the terrain ‘point for point’. As Alfred Korzybski notes, however, ‘A map is not the territory.’ Even when a cartographer precisely records the exact dimension of every twig and pebble in the empire, s/he will fail to capture the unique character of the mapped terrain itself. This is especially true when mapping abstract, epistemological or metaphysical countries. Critics of fantasy are continually mapping the territories of the fantastic, and this essay represents a foray into the critical and generic landscape of modern and postmodern fantasy, all the while recognizing the futility of an expedition that obsesses over the precise demarcation of boundaries and borders. Even if we could produce an exact map of the Fantastic (Post)modern Empire, adding landmarks work by work until the map becomes as big as the empire itself – this is modern fantasy; that is postmodern fantasy – we would fail to capture the qualia (the essential, defining quality) of the territory itself. Such a perfect, meticulously drafted, scale map would ultimately prove useless, good only when ripped into tatters for critics and scholars to huddle under in the deserts of literary criticism, like the beasts and beggars in Borges's story.

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