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As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Pre-History of Virtual Reality [Anglais] [Broché]

Michael Saler

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Descriptions du produit

Revue de presse

an engaging and adventurous literary history ... [a] lively and intelligent work (Patrick Curry, Times Literary Supplement)

Brilliant... As If reminds us that, through real play in imaginary gardens, we can enhance the lives we lead in this alienated modern world. (Michael Dirda, The Washington Post)

Mr. Saler counterpunches vigorously against the whole edifice of literary snobbery... His book should be essential reading in every graduate school of the humanities. But it's much more fun than that recommendation suggests. (Tom Shippey, The Wall Street Journal)

Riveting stuff...Open[s] up a new vision not just of the literature of the fantastic, but of us as well. (Rick Kleffel,

This is the best cultural study of fantasy I have ever read. A powerful, liberating argument, woven together from an impressive array of sources, all treated well and fairly. Saler routs the assumption that enchantment and reason oppose one another. (Edward Castronova, author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games)

If modernity can be called an 'iron cage,' as it was by Max Weber, the para-modernity explored by Michael Saler is an Escher staircase. Composed of oxymoronic juxtapositions-animistic reason, detached immersion, ironic faith, and enchanted disenchantment-it transports us nowhere, but the journey is filled with such wonders that we keep moving along. As If is itself a triumph of imagination and wit, as well as an exemplary exercise in cultural history. (Martin Jay, author of Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme)

Michael Saler's dazzling book adds a new historical dimension to our understanding of imaginary worlds and literature; through As If a surprising illumination of our modernity becomes possible. (Simon During, author of Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic)

Saler's book uncovers and identifies precursors to the shared imaginary worlds of our time. His argument is clear, his examples entertaining; the cumulative effect is startling and ultimately very useful, in that we are given a new and positive way to understand not only several currently emerging art forms, but also our entire cultural moment. I now see my kids' activities in a new light; it even seems as if our future could be good. (Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Galileo's Dream)

Présentation de l'éditeur

Many people throughout the world "inhabit" fantastic imaginary worlds in a communal fashion, enthusiastically discussing the fine points of The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and Harry Potter, or banding together in online virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Second Life. These activities are often dismissed as harmless escapism or bemoaned as pernicious wish-fulfillments that distract from the serious business of life. Saler challenges such claims by excavating the history of imaginary worlds in the West since the late nineteenth century, when the communal and long-term immersion in such worlds first began with Sherlock Holmes. The book contends that imaginary worlds emerged at this time as sites of rational and secular enchantments for the modern age. They continue to represent distinct social practices informing political, social, and spiritual life. Individuals often use imaginary worlds as a playful space to debate serious issues in the real world; they also use them to hone their understandings of the interplay of reason and imagination and the provisional nature of all representations. Saler provides an overview of how imaginary worlds went from being feared by the Victorians to being inhabited by the Edwardians, and discusses in detail the creation and reception of the worlds of A.C. Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, and J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, among many others. The social practices of imaginary worlds will continue to play an important role in a future increasingly influenced by concepts of virtual reality and the rapid growth of gaming communities. Saler's book contributes the historical back-story of those deeply engaging imaginary universes, highlighting their vital lessons for how we can remain enchanted but not deluded in an age that privileges the imagination as much as reason.

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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Fascinating quick read for scholars or members of fandoms 24 juillet 2012
Par John McKnight - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Fascinating and enlightening look at the prehistory of fandom, from the late 19th Century to the mid-20th. I hadn't realized that fanfic, zines, convetions, cosplay predated Star Trek, aside from the bookish Worldcons. Saler reveals a world of Sherlockain fandom, Lovecraftian mult-author shared worlds, and a tension in Tolkien between the "as if" and the "just so" that continues through modern MMORPGs.

As If is short, and an easy and quick read. Even so, there are redundancies, and the two back chapters, psychologically focused biographies of Lovecraft and Tolkien, don't fit seamlessly with the more theoretical and socio-cultural introductory and Holmes chapters. The turn to the personal, and reading works through the author's life, is an odd departure for a work focused on the early history and role of shared imaginary worlds. Still, the chapters are interesting, and pass quickly, but the meat of the book is in its well-reasoned beginning.

This is well worthwhile for anyone with an interest in fannish things generally, or fan studies specifically - the academic parts are graceful and painless, and yet will give even the most jaded and overburdened scholar some fascinating new ideas and conceptual tools.
6 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Secondary Worlds explored in depth 19 mars 2012
Par Michael Cunningham - Publié sur
`The theatre of my tale is this earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imagery. [...] [S]o naturally it feels familiar, even if a little glorified by the enchantment of distance in time.'[1]

The above extract, from a letter by Tolkien, offers an appropriate combination of narrative formulas examined in greater depth by Saler within `As If'. Taking a cue from the recent developments in both corporate and leisure aspects of the software industry, Saler looks at the continuity and typologies of Secondary Worlds and their seeming ease of accessibility in affording individuals a virtual key of sorts. A key by which one may escape from perceived entrapment within an `Iron Cage' constructed of bars of monotony washed grey with Society's apparent absence of any sense of magic or enchantment. Saler begins by meticulously examining the concept of Secondary Worlds. From literary beginnings when the landscapes of literary fiction began to blur with those of reality as liminal boundaries meshed within the minds of respective readers, through to the virtual on-line worlds.

`As if' borrows its title from Vaihinger's manifesto of `Factionalism', and Saler, in part, extends that work. Two introductory chapters present the case for Saler's arguments as he defines and evidences the progression of facets that imaginary seekers who first sought to address the disenchantment of a Post-Darwinian industrialised world began to utilise. The remaining three chapters examine the literary style and works of three of the most influential Secondary World architects: Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R Tolkien, respectively.

Saler is adept at scene setting and maintaining interest as he demonstrates how modernity and disenchantment began to seep from the machinations of the Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century, followed by the Age of Enlightenment wherein tales of the fantastic began to be perceived as bothersome distractions in a time of empirical scrutiny. From here Saler draws out and clarifies the essentialism at the core of `Just So' stories (in essence, the logical interpretation of experience), to that of `As If' stories (those which evolve and sustain worlds of the imagination). Here, Saler further illustrates how an author may become almost secondary in the sense that they may become of less importance than that of their fictional character(s) or narrative landscapes. However, Saler also notes that Lewis' Narnia was not able to wholly enrapture reader's imagination because that Secondary World possessed a narrative link to the Primary World, and as such its autonomy was fractured. Additional elements of the Secondary World are also remarked upon, such as paratexts: footnotes, charts, appendices, photographs, as well as other material an author may wish to add to embellish a sense of authenticity and depth to their Secondary World.[2]

Saler's introductory chapters draw to a close by examining the expansive nature of Secondary Worlds as a hungry readership continue to evolve and experience those worlds through role-playing games - from the table-top variety through to the vast on-line worlds and communities of the internet. Here the consensual hallucination propagated within public spheres of the imagination facilitates communal growth to such an extent that Secondary Worlds may be realized as a `real' experience, albeit one held in check by the ironic imagination as fantastic elements intermingle with those of reason in a mutually beneficial process producing aspects of realism and logic amongst the fantastic.

The author chapters then open with Arthur Conan Doyle and his well known creation of Sherlock Holmes. Saler outlines the establishment of fan societies and their dialogues concerning Doyle's creation; even to the point of journalistic musings that even alluded to Holmes being a real person and discussing him in depth while ignoring his creator: Doyle, whose narrative was kindling a spark of glamour and magic within the minds of readers as they themselves projected a nostalgic and glowing vision of Victorian London on top of its layers of squalor and poverty.

H.P. Lovecraft and his Secondary World are examined next. Lovecraft's Secondary World was haunted by aeon - aged nightmare entities that inhabited other worlds, deep chthonian depths, and even fractured minds. Saler lightly reflects upon the cosmologies and aspects of Lovecraft's Cthulu Mythos - as it later became known. Rather there is more focus on Lovecraft's reactionary conservatism within his narratives. A missed opportunity by Saler is his omission of Lovecraft's `dreamland tales' such as evoked in `The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath' and `Through the Gates of the Silver Key'. Tales that contain a flavour of Dunsany and involved out-of-body travel that occurs during the protagonist's sleep. The underlying motive for the construct of the Dreamland would appear synonymous with the reasoning for some of the Secondary Worlds already espoused by Saler. Especially when one considers one of Lovecraft's literary fragments, `Azathoth' which opens opining that `[w]hen age fell upon the world, and wonder went out of the minds of men; when grey cities reared to smokey skies tall towers grim and ugly, in whose shadow none might dream of the sun or of the Spring's flowering meads [...] there was a man who travelled out of life on a quest into the spaces whither the world's dreams had fled.'[3] Unfortunately Saler does not tarry too long speculating over Lovecraft's narrative creations before moving onto the largest author chapter in the book; that of J.R.R. Tolkien. Given the expansive nature of Tolkien's narratives and his continuing influence on nuances of the epic fantasy genre, it is hardly surprising that Saler devotes just fewer than forty pages to him. Of course, Tolkien himself examined the concept of enchantment and the Secondary World and extracts from his lectures `On Fairy Stories' and `The Monsters and the Critics' are given place within the chapter. The richness of Tolkien's `The Lord of the Rings' is further illuminated by Saler's commentary on characters being aware of their part within a greater narrative, as well as the fragments of songs and tales from Middle-earth's antiquity which help to create a larger narrative historicity for the reader. Tolkien's nationalistic values are also examined within the wider context of shifting contemporary attitudes and cultural upheavals such as the First World War. Saler also includes mention of the malign `Hobbit Camps`, established by right-wing Italian extremists for the purpose of politically grooming youths, and how elements of the American white supremacy movement sought to align themselves with Tolkien's Secondary World. However, Tolkien's remark to Rayner Unwin in a 1955 letter that he thought `[...] of the `Dwarves' like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue...' may have caused Saler to take the remark beyond the geographical displacement of a people and almost, it seems, to a physiological comparison that reads as somewhat tenuous.[4] Although on the same page Saler also reprints Tolkien's consternation in terms of Nazi ideology to a German publisher in 1938 concerning their question of his `arisch' origin that also includes Tolkien's prescient remark that `[...] the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.'[5] With Tolkien it is evident that Saler has found a rich seam from which to mine and, in turn, build upon regarding the creation and narrative integration of Secondary Worlds within public spheres of the imagination, and this in itself is reflected in a very thought provoking chapter that also contains nuggets of ancillary information. Saler also devotes a number of pages to the development of the Tolkien Society, its purpose as well as publications and discussions.

`As If' closes with Saler's summation of the benefits of imaginary and Secondary Worlds, not just in terms of escapism but how a reader may absorb values and ideals present in a narrative world, and transmute them into their own lives - such as environmentalism expressed through Tolkien's vivid landscapes. While Saler's work is not for the casual reader it does however remain relatively accessible as Saler's evident passion for the subject outweighs the academic gravity of style, and ensures that `As If' provides a bold and assured historical timeline through the enchantment of disenchantment. The book is further served by an extensive collection of endnotes.


[1] Tolkien, J.R.R. `The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien', Unwin Paperbacks, 1990, p. 239

[2] A note of interest here may be the artificially aged map within H. Rider Haggard's `King Solomon's Mines' and the `Leaves from the Book of Mazarbul' by Tolkien which is lavishly reproduced in Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien, George Allen and Unwin, 1979, plate 23

[3] Lovecraft, H.P., `Dagon and Other Macabre Tales', Granada, 1985, p. 407

[4] Tolkien, J.R.R. `The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien', Unwin Paperbacks, 1990, p. 229

[5] ibid p.37-38, see also p. 55-56
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