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This dissertation investigates the resurgence of the fantastic in twentieth- and early twenty-first-century Anglophone fiction. From James Joyce and Virginia Woolf to Thomas Pynchon and Karen Russell, I attend to texts that share a strategy of representing a current, recognizable reality as fantastic. In four chapters, I reconsider work ranging from 1924 to 2013 to open up new sightlines on the fantastic and the authors under study, practitioners of what I term the “twentieth-century fantastic.”,Less a stand-alone genre than a versatile narrative mode, the twentieth-century fantastic crosses generic and periodizing classifications. I define the fantastic as a capacious term for narratives in which “mystery [breaks] into real life,” as Tzvetan Todorov writes, through actual and apparent phenomena that defy rational explanation, leaving characters and readers stranded between conflicting natural and supernatural interpretations of events. My grouping of texts, however, challenges Todorov’s contention that the fantastic dies out after the nineteenth century. Fresh from a century when proclamations of a reality crisis became commonplace, we increasingly experience our own world as fantastic, a continual series of interpretative hesitations between rational and irrational, natural and supernatural explanations. These novels confound the tidy binary of “magical” and “realist”: in violating established scientific law, common sense, and the boundary between the living and the inorganic, they are paradoxically committed to a kind of mimesis. ,Recent theoretical work on the posthuman and nonhuman is important to my analysis, particularly in animal studies, object-oriented ontology, and Anthropocene studies, spearheaded by Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, N. Katharine Hayles, and Jane Bennett, among other thinkers who have reconceptualized agency and subjecthood. I introduce the fantastic nonhuman, which I argue is a crucial prong of the nonhuman that theorists have tended to overlook. Fantastic nonhuman encounters run from apparitions of supernatural beings to religious epiphanies; they may also involve inter- and intra-subjective communions that challenge the presumed boundaries of the individual human subject, or challenge its unity. Understanding challenges to secular humanism and anthropocentrism as fantastic can also inform our understanding of what John McClure has termed the “post-secular” and Amy Hungerford calls “postmodern belief.” I build on their recent work on miraculous religious and numinous experiences in literature and cultural discourse, linking it to a growing awareness of nonhuman agency and presence in daily (human) life.,In my first chapter, I read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and James Joyce’s Ulysses to show that the everyday magical is present in and inextricable from these two exemplars of high modernist fiction of the metropole. Even as these texts ostentatiously, parodically appeal to scientific paradigms and “laws of nature” in depicting human experience, they also deconstruct and denature the secular human subject in ways that render it fantastic. Orlando’s fluctuating gender suggests that the supposed “laws of nature” and gender identity, invoked ironically in the novel, are neither eternal nor unchanging. Leopold Bloom, self-proclaimed “man of science,” engages with animals, objects, and natural forces as animate agents in their own right, culminating in the hallucinatory, metamorphic “Circe” episode. I argue that Ulysses imagines subjectivity beyond the bounds of the human, leading to a broader understanding of ethical subjecthood. Further, I argue that the novels’ fantastic effects are produced at least in part by their experimental use of language and narrative styles – the hallmarks of their supposed “modernism,” which is usually generically segregated from the fantastic. Rather than interpreting their moments of apparent discontinuity and apparition as flashback, dream, or pure metaphor – a reading strategy that insists on reconciling them with realist conventions – I propose that we read Bloom’s flashes of scenes and people from the past, for instance, as actual, inexplicable numinous manifestations. ,My second chapter, on Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman and Samuel Beckett’s recently published short story “Echo’s Bones,” argues that these texts also enlist the fantastic to re-imagine and decentralize the human. In these narratives, human encounters with supernatural and even possibly divine forces ultimately give human life less meaning rather than more. In O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, miracles permeate on an atomic level, but have little legibility in human terms. Narrative itself is made less legible to humans: explanations, supernatural and naturalistic, frustrate readers and characters alike; superfluous explanations are offered and the reader is given no way to evaluate them. O’Brien’s narrative of a supernatural human afterlife where materiality nonetheless dominates resembles Beckett’s “Echo’s Bones,” in which the revenant Belacqua, inhabiting an un-Dantean afterlife where moral cause-and-effect remains inscrutable, somnambulates through a fairy tale landscape. ,In my third chapter, I turn to Toni Morrison’s Paradise and Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, to consider the particular relationship of the human to the divine in fantastic narrative, defining the divine as a nonhuman supernatural force that claims moral and creative authority over humans. I identify Morrison’s and Rushdie’s novels as narratives of a blasphemous fantastic, arguing that blasphemy in these novels emerges as the defining twentieth-century mode of religious practice. What other critical work has termed “ambivalence” in these novels between secular and religious worldviews, I contend, is better described as narrative irreverence, a process of active, contentious negotiation and even antagonism between the divine and the humans who find themselves sometimes unwillingly conscripted into divine service. The blasphemous fantastic functions in these novels as a narrative mode that straddles form and content, employing narrating entities that can be understood as divine observers. Both novels feature narrating voices that intermittently intrude on the events of the text, voices that convey judgment, empathy, control, and occasionally hint at their own involvement in the events they narrate as well as tempting readers toward transgressive interpretations and then variously implying judgment or empathy toward them. These narrator-gods recall and send up the trope of the postmodern self-conscious narrator who claims to narrate the text in the process of its composition. However, self-conscious blasphemous fantastic narratives paradoxically reinforce, rather than wholly disrupting, the illusory world of the novel by making that narratorial compositional power supernatural in addition to literary: within the world of these novels, the narrators have real creative, transformative supernatural power over the unfolding events. Their presence allows for the fantastic content that they narrate, even as they sometimes explicitly acknowledge its caprice and impossibility and hint blasphemously at their own insouciance.,Expanding my argument on the fantastic as a dimension of the nonhuman, I continue to explore experimental fantastic narrative in my fourth chapter, which turns to the supernatural revenants fostered in two nonhuman-dominated landscapes, the unmappable Floridian swamp of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! and the similarly burgeoning virtual wilderness of the “Deep Web” in Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge. I read these novels as responses to a world where significant portions of daily life are technologically mediated, and even conducted entirely in the virtual space of the Internet. The swamp of Swamplandia! remains impenetrable to human efforts at control via technology, a landscape that hijacks and repurposes the technological to fantastic effect. In Bleeding Edge, migration to a technologically-mediated wilderness becomes a strategy for anti-authoritarian resistance and escape: human “refugees” flee a post 9/11 New York City to seek refuge in the simulated world of the online virtual, where laws of physics and nature can be defied. This possibility stands in contrast to Fredric Jameson’s account of a dark unnavigable “technological sublime” of political surveillance and control. Just as Joyce’s narration of inner life inevitably becomes fantastic in translation to the page, Pynchon’s matter-of-fact narration of online life produces similar fantastic effects. In increasingly long passages where the virtual world is narrated as the primary reality, excluding any mention of events or bodies back in physical “meatspace,” entities waft into being and vanish, destroyed buildings rise again, dead men are resurrected. The virtual world becomes a new spirit world, where the living can mingle with the murdered and silenced, who may still speak and act there.,Ultimately, the reality-disrupting narratives of the twentieth-century fantastic imagine a broader scope for political action, a scope that extends political agency beyond humans, and expands political possibilities for humans as well. However, this fantastic expansion of potency is the result of reconceiving the human beyond recognizability as a monad subject, and indeed may not be oriented toward or comprehensible to subjectivity-bound humans at all. Likewise, in a fantastical reflection of recent philosophical work on extended cognition, the human mind is no longer monadically bounded, nor is it tied to and limited by, a distinct physical body. Twentieth-century fantastic fiction returns to enchantment, but with a difference, and a distinct consequence: miracles, and even apparent encounters with the divine, do not confirm the primacy or integrity of human beings in the newly reenchanted cosmos. Nor does the ability to violate natural rules signal increased agency for human individuals as traditionally understood. Greater ontological freedom for human beings also means an end to human beings as such.,The twentieth-century fantastic re-tells history through refiguring and expanding subjectivity. In doing so it defamiliarizes and re-presents the present, and thus imagines a future beyond the scope afforded by strictly realist conventions that have proved insufficient for taking in the world at hand. The ramifications are not only literary but sociopolitically and ethically relevant: these (re)-imaginings and re-enchantings hint at and even depict new ways of accessing justice for past and present wrongs, especially those that have come to seem intractable. Indeed, by granting subjectivity through fantastic or fantastic-seeming means to agents that have previously been invisible through a realist lens, these narratives reveal injustices that have likewise been imperceptible as such. Justice and injustice are figured on a wider scope, encompassing not just institutionalized disenfranchisement but various forms of what is figured as cosmic disenfranchisement beyond the bounds of secular humanist rights: death, ontological illegibility or abuse based on species and perceived sentience, limitations imposed by biomorphic or other material considerations, the progress of linear time.


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