Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

The Self-Weird World: Problems of Being as the Fantastic Invasion in Small-Press Speculative Fiction

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

The Self-Weird World: Problems of Being as the Fantastic Invasion in Small-Press Speculative Fiction

Article excerpt

None of this is as simple as it sounds, but one must start somewhere even though such placement inevitably entails the telling of a lie.

--KAREN JOY FOWLER, "Lieserl"

THERE IS A PREVAILING SENTIMENT AMONG NON-LITERARY MATERIALIST SCIENCES that the world is not strange--not in any of the more bizarre forms one finds in contemporary, small-press speculative fiction--and this sentiment has been one of the prevailing criteria for differentiating artistic genres. To explore how this literature maps its own poetics and their relation to the world, we must do away with this mistaken sentiment, for the experimentation of this literature is not, as is commonly thought, what estranges the work from realistic, naturalistic, or mimetic work--indeed, this experimentation is what most aligns the work with cognition.

For ease of discussion, I refer to this literary mode as the little weird--a pastiche of the speculative genres, the fantastic, the uncanny, the sublime, magical realist, and most importantly, the experimental. In the little weird, the fantastic or the strange does not invade the normal to an estranging or dissonant effect; rather, the normal invades upon the strange, which is the form of self, of consciousness, and of cognition itself, as cognitive theorists such as Daniel C. Dennett, Paul J. Thibault, Ernest Keen, and Ulric Neisser have revealed. As a result, mundane problems of being become the ungraspable fantastic, not the timeslips, identity-blurs, recursions, and other common tropes of experimentation. In The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, Tzvetan Todorov points out that Sartre first identified this trend when studying Kafka and Blanchot. "According to Sartre," Todorov tells us, "Blanchot and Kafka no longer try to depict extraordinary beings; for them, 'there is now only one fantastic object: man. Not the man of religions and spiritualism, only half committed to the world of the body, but man-as-given, man-as-nature, man-as-society'" (173). Todorov concludes that "The 'normal' man is precisely the fantastic being; the fantastic becomes the rule, not the exception" (173). This, in many ways, directly opposes the formula for "realistic," "naturalistic," or "mimetic" fiction. It is this opposition that brings the little weird into closer step with how selves, consciousness, and narratives of being actually function.

I.

The state of the world "out there"--beyond the self--arises from perception. Of course, infinitely many processes occur in phenomenal space every instant, irrespective of any observing or participating self; however, their independence from our observation does not follow them into the worlds of our selves. In Wholeness and the Implicate Order, David Bohm begins his deconstruction of "reality" by elucidating the difference between what occurs out there and how consciousness reconciles itself with it: "fragmentation is continually being brought about by the almost universal habit of taking the content of our thought for 'a description of the world as it is'" (4). (1) There is no such thing as a purely objective observer. (2) Further, the idea that external phenomena are unstrange, mundane, and logically progressive is simply a normalizing narrative that selves tell, for we have nothing but our internalized reports of these phenomena, and the very weird processes of cognition generate those. As such, any literature that fails to take this into account in the attempt to realistically portray the condition of self is neither mimetic, realistic, nor naturalistic. It is poietic--it is creating, not representing; it is perpetuating a narrative of the mundane by adopting the material of the "normal" environment and paramimetically arranging it into a decidedly anti-cognitive flow of events. (3)

According to Catherine Lutz's theory of self-culture discourse in "Culture and Consciousness: A Problem in the Anthropology of Knowledge," the larger narratives of what a given culture is and what it is to be a part of that culture determine how a self should respond to what it perceives. …

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