The OF Blog: Augusto Monterroso on Fantasy

Monday, July 12, 2010

Augusto Monterroso on Fantasy

I was reading the prologue that Antonio Fernández Ferrer wrote for the posthumous Borges collection, Prólogos de La Biblioteca de Babel, when I noticed he included a quote by Augusto Monterroso (whose "Mister Taylor" you may recall me saying last week that I had translated for the upcoming The Weird) on fantasy literature:

Cuando oímos las palabras literatura fantástica la mayoría de nosotros imagina saber de qué se trata, e incluso algunos aceptamos invitaciones para disertar sobre ella como si lo supiéramos.  Por supuesto, exagero; pero la verdad es que, por fortuna, hasta ahora no existen definiciones o, mejor pensado, a la fecha existen en el mundo tantas definiciones, limitaciones y condiciones para determinar la existencia de este género, que cada quien puede, si no formular la suya de manera universalmente aceptable, sí, por lo menos, llegar a un acuerdo consigo mismo y suponer que sabe de qué habla cuando habla de literatura fantástica. (p. 11)

When we hear the words "fantasy literature" the majority of us imagine knowing what it is about, and some of us even accept invitations to expound upon it as if we knew it.  Of course, I exaggerate; but the truth is that, fortunately, until now no definitions [of fantasy literature] exist or, better said, to date exist in the world such definitions, limitations, and conditions for determining the existence of this genre, that each one who can, if not formulating his own of a manner universally accepted, thus, at least, manages to arrive at an accord and supposes that he knows of what he speaks when he speaks of fantasy literature.

I'll leave it to you to interpret it as you may.  I may refine this first, rough translation draft later to make it read smoother in English.


Jonah said...

I can't really disagree with that. The best I've ever been able to do with fantasy is suggest that I know it when I see it.
Does the "until now" in your translation hint that Mr. Monterroso proposed some definition or otherwise stated that fantasy had been defined, or is that reading too much into a hasty translation?

Chad Hull said...

I can't remember who said it first but, "All fiction is fantasy." Monterroso definition seems to be very similar.

Larry said...


It could have also been rendered as "up unto this point," meaning that nothing has been done in the past and (presumably) nothing in the present/future.


Perhaps, or maybe it's just that he's saying that does it really matter if there is a strict definition of terms when it comes to varieties of writing? I'm one of those who take it a step further and view all forms of literature, fiction and non-fiction alike, as being integral part's of a society's material culture. But I do have a professional bias there, so take a few grains of salt with that!

Chad Hull said...

"Does it really matter if there is a strict definition of terms when it comes to varieties of writing?"

I like that definition. I can't argue with your other comments (even the implications!); as I whole-heartedly agree.

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