In the field of Belgian literature, the success of the fantastic genre is quite remarkable. It has, among other things, been considered as a revolt against the dull everyday grind. A new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, explores the works of the two Belgian authors Jean Muno (1924�) and Hugo Raes (1929-).
Fantastic literature describes reality but integrates supernatural twists. The texts therefore contain both realistic and non-realistic elements.
By exploring the French-speaking author Jean Muno and the Dutch-speaking author Hugo Raes, the thesis underlines that the tradition of fantastic literature in Belgium can be traced back to pictorial art of the Middle Ages. It also shows that the genre is used as a revolt against conventional and conformist values.
'Although Jean Muno and Hugo Raes operated on different sides of the French-Dutch language divide, they both wrote texts that belong to the fantastic domain, and they also share the revolt theme', says Åsa Josefson, the author of the thesis.
Muno's texts describe the struggles of his main characters against the pressures and demands imposed by the world around them. Josefson says that it is usually the supernatural elements in the texts that enable them to revolt against this kind of oppression.
'In L'homme qui s'efface from 1963, François Rami, a teacher, flies away with his umbrella and eventually lands in the middle of a painting that he likes very much. Without the "supernatural" wind, he would never have been able to free himself from parental oppression and general boredom', says Josefson.
This is an example of how Muno's texts take off in the fairytale world, often combined with the fantastic, which in itself can be thought of as a revolt against the rules of reality. Josefson also briefly comments on the fact that Muno's texts relate to paintings by, for example, Pieter Bruegel and René Magritte.
Revolt against society
While the revolt in Muno's texts is existential, it is linked to societal criticism in Raes's texts. Raes's works are strongly influenced by the resistance movements of the 1960s and 70s, and this is clearly reflected in his novels. His points of departure are realistic and may address for example scientific experiments that go awry, environmental destruction and capitalistic values (which are described as cynical).
'I show that the function of the fantastic in the case of Raes is not primarily to facilitate revolt, as in Muno's texts, but to illustrate and reinforce the message of the text by letting realism slip into a state of nightmarish surrealism. There are also clear parallels between Raes's questioning of authority and the anarchist conviction present in Hieronymus Bosch's paintings', says Josefson.
Rather few Belgian studies have included works from both branches of the Belgian literature, making Åsa Josefson's thesis relatively unique. Josefson's aim with her study is also to contribute to the discussion on the genre of fantastic literature in Belgium, which started more than half-a-century ago.
Title of the thesis: Fantastique et révolte chez Jean Muno et Hugo Raes
Author: Åsa Josefson
The public defence of the doctoral thesis will be held on Saturday 6 March 2010 at 2pm, Sorbonne-Paris IV, Maison de la recherche, salle D040, 28, rue Serpente, 750 06 Paris
Faculty opponent: Professor Martine De Clercq, Brussels