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The Bestiary

An extraordinary compilation where the paradigmatic struggle between observation and vision so crucial to the Fantastic is constantly played out. By the time of the early Enlightenment, the Bestiary, like its more recnent relative the Encyclopedia, participates in the totalizing intent of a catalogue whose purpose is the scientific understanding of the world. Empirical observation banishes from these increasingly imposing tomes any creatures that have not been observed in their environment. So the unicorn and the dragon, the griffon and the sea serpent, and all their relations take refuge in the annals of folklore, until the fantastic and its adjudant, surrealism, release them once more into literary discourse from the prisons where rational inquiry had consigned them.

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  • Roland Schaer, ed. Tous les savoirs du monde. Paris: Flammarion/ Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1996.
  • Baxter, Ron. Bestiaries and their Users in the Middle Ages. London: Alan Sutton/ The Courtauld, 1998.

Literary works:

  • Borges: The Book of Imaginary Beings, Dream-Tigers.
  • Angela Carter, Burning Your Boats.

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