The Real Lies: The Simulacrum in Catherine Fisher's the Oracle

By Free, Anna | Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature, December 2008 | Go to article overview

The Real Lies: The Simulacrum in Catherine Fisher's the Oracle


Free, Anna, Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature


Fiction written for children and young adults has absorbed postmodern culture in many ways, overtly in some picture books, and more covertly in other young adult fiction. One aspect of postmodernism is concerned with what is real, what is more real, and what constitutes the simulacrum. The simulacrum concerns the surface of things, the ability to copy, and (in a postmodern sense) the ability of the original to disappear. Examples of this in young adult cultures exist in abundance, and yet even though the text chosen for this paper is set in an imagined world it illuminates the confrontation between the real and the unreal for the postmodern young adult subject. Drawing on Jean Baudrillard (1994) and Jacques Derrida (1974), I investigate the simulacra and the surfaces that represent belief and social order in Catherine Fisher's The Oracle (2003), where Mirany provides a sceptical subject position for young adult readers. I argue that peeling back the layers of representation, looking under the surface, reveals only more surface and more representation, making 'surface' (or 'outer face') a tautology. The 'realness' of the surface is deceptive. What can be seen with the eye, or touched with the hand is no longer trustworthy.

The use of a fantasy text to study the real is congruent with the selection of theoretical perspectives I have chosen for this paper. Baudrillard's concept of the simulacrum moves through various stages, from the masking of reality to the masking of a lack of reality The first stage is a reflection of a basic reality, the second a mask or perversion of that reality. The third stage masks the absence of a basic reality, and is illustrated with the often used example of Disneyland, which is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest [of America] is real' (1983, p. 12). The fourth stage is the 'triumph of the virtual over the real' (1995, p.50), where the simulation is so convincing that we no longer search for any truth behind it, or perhaps we do not believe that there is a truth to be found.

The surface is all that is left as the sign has no signified that can be accessed, pin pointed or held down: it becomes a self-referential cycle. Oras Derrida states: in the 'contrary movement of language the ... signifier of the signifier' is caught in the 'circulation of signs,' and subsequently 'conceals and erases itself in its own production' (1974, p.7): it is the 'play of signifying references that constitute language' (Derrida 1974, p.7), or the play of signs. The fantasy text provides unique opportunities to look at the 'Disneyland' of fiction in its subtle exploration of the real. I will use a young adult text to map phases two, three and four of the simulacrum, and where Baudrillard falls short, there is Derrida to lean on.

My focus text, The Oracle, is set in an ancient Egyptian society that is ravaged by drought. It follows the journey of Mirany as she moves from searching for something real behind an image, to adjusting her concept of what is real. Her battle with subjective agency is a battle with these concepts, and she engages with a process of discovering where her own boundaries lie. She is a young priestess-like (secret) non-believer, as she helps the god-on-the-earth (The Archon, similar to a religious figure head/pharaoh) attain his rightful place despite corruption in the temple. Mirany begins as a non-believer in the god, in a society that is based around its collective belief, and she serves the god as one of 'the Nine', priestess-like girls and women who devote their lives to serving the god. Each lives a privileged life enjoying all the luxury the poor citizens can give. In the text the god takes many forms though he is one consciousness, at times he is a voice in Mirany's head, or he is embodied in a boy Alexos (the Archon), and he even appears as a scorpion. At the beginning of the text Mirany has just been given the role of 'The Bearer' to carry the bronze bowl holding the god (as scorpion). …

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