As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Pre-History of Virtual Reality (Anglais) Broché – 9 janvier 2012
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Description du produit
Revue de presse
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, Bookotron.com)
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)
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com
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.
Briefly, the books thesis is that virtual reality as we understand it has pre-computer forebears which emerged at the end of the 19th century as a reaction to the lack of enchantment that the modern world seemed to provide. This thesis is developed in the first two chapters. The following three chapters are deep dives into three prominent examples: Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Lovecraft's "Cthulhu Mythos" stories, and Tolkien's Middle-earth. Throughout the book are references to other "virtual realities" like Star Trek's Federation, World of Warcraft, Second Life, the Marvel and DC comic book universes, etc.
This all makes for very interesting reading whether or not one agrees with the author's conclusions. It is easy to be put off by the academic tone of the book which makes it less than completely accessible to the lay reader. An example is the constant use of the term "fin-de-siecle" which for the intended academic audience is no doubt well known but few lay people such as myself would be familiar with it. I constantly had to use my Kindle's dictionary for unfamiliar words and phrases. This is, of course, one of the many strengths of e-texts; it makes specialized works more accessible to non specialists.
The book can be recommended with the warning that the lay person will have to work at it. I found it to be rewarding and came away enchanted.
Unfortunately the book itself is almost entirely the usual empty grad school B.S., apparently designed largely to meet the needs of what Saler explicitly refers to as 'The Academic Ghetto.' Early hints that the book is optimized for the Academic Ghetto rather than everyday readers include the heavy use of grad school jargon ('foregrounded' where a non-grad student would say emphasized, 'heuristic' when he means method, 'dialectic' when he means discussion), plus quotations from people who write briskly-selling, jargon-heavy, turgidly empty books like the current reigning pope of academic bullsh**, Harold Bloom.
Saler's thesis is this: Why did readers in USA and England suddenly start buying adventure novels around 1900 AD? His answer is that the industrial revolution and science had killed much of the sense of enchantment of the world, triggering a new development Saler calls 'Ironic Imagination,' which allowed people to enjoy stories without believing them to be literally true.
There are three immediate obvious problems with Saler's thesis:
1. From 1870-1900, both England and the USA passed literacy acts. Surely there's some connection between nonwealthy people suddenly knowing how to read and those same people becoming interested in books? Saler mentions the literacy laws in passing, but firmly pushes them to the background in favor of his dubious thesis.
2. What Saler calls 'Ironic Imagination' – the ability to enjoy a story without believing it to be literally true – the rest of us already have a word for: imagination. What Saler calls 'Imagination' – taking any story as literally true – the rest of us already have a word for: delusion. Saler has coined his new term, 'ironic imagination,' to describe an experience which has existed for at least thousands of years and for which Samuel Coleridge already coined the term 'suspension of disbelief' way back in 1817. His book takes perfectly ordinary, usable words, redefines them incorrectly, then present this clumsy verbal sleight-of-hand to readers as a revelatory insight into human consciousness. He tries to drive the thing home by using his term 'ironic imagination' hundreds of times, on every page, as if simply repeating a claim over and over somehow makes it true.
3. That is simply not what the word irony means (irony is when a thing's true nature is precisely the opposite of its apparent nature, not simple detachment). Saler seems to have come across the term 'ironic detachment,' decided that although 'detachment' was the actual idea he had in mind, 'irony' sounded more trendy, and he'd have a better chance of fulfilling his daydream of fame and attracting the benedictions of Oprah (a daydream he shares with readers on page 197) if he deliberately mangles the English language.
Students who seek a college degree in science fiction/fantasy always seem to pass through 2 distinct phases:
BEFORE: "I've persuaded the university to grant me a degree for reading science fiction/fantasy books! Ha-ha, I've cheated them! "
AFTER: "The university charged me half a million dollars for a degree on reading science fiction/fantasy books, which I have learned is of no value in finding a job, nor indeed of any value whatsoever! ONOZ!, they've cheated me!"
...they also discover that spending 8 years of one's life reading science fiction and fantasy novels in no way guarantees that they will find a single thing to say on the subject which anyone else finds either entertaining or informative. Mr. Saler seems earnest and well-meaning enough from his TED talk (available on YouTube), but with this book, at least, he comes across as so desperately impatient for fame and success that he's willing to bully his readers with pompous academic jargon rather than clear communication, offer a grandiose-sounding but empty thesis (that the willful suspension of disbelief did not exist till 1883, and Saler is the first to name it), and finally to court controversy by taking a weak pot-shot at Tolkien.
95% of this book is the usual modern humanities grad school mix of unsupported claims and empty no-duh statements ("In broad outline, modernity has come to signify a mixture of political, social, intellectual, economic, technological and psychological factors, several of which can be traced..."), but there are one or two outright lies that will enrage the hypothetical reader who makes it past the first few chapters. Most striking of these is Saler's claim that Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' is allegory – even though Tolkien explicitly said in his forward that he strongly dislikes allegory and LOTR is absolutely not allegory – and that the entire point of this allegory is that Sauron and Saruman represent America! Saler’s two pieces of supporting evidence are: (1) Late in life, Tolkien twice drew a connection between the evils of industrialization and America [although as Saler acknowledges, Tolkien is on record as strongly resenting the encroachment of industrialization in England for many decades before he ever drew a connection between factories and America], and (2) Saruman's nickname while he industrialized the Shire was Sharkey, which according to Saler "connotes an American gangster's nickname," ergo Tolkien’s readers are meant to infer that Saruman = USA.
Two stars rather than one because Saler obviously wrote this with enthusiasm and love for the subject, I enjoyed the photographs of maps and other supporting elements from 1900-era adventure novels, and the chapter on Sherlock Holmes fans as the world's first hardcore literary nerd fan society was worth the time it took to read.
Overall Reaction: Mostly empty grad school B.S., but the claim that Tolkien devoted his entire life to writing an allegory on the evils of the U.S.A., then for some reason explicitly lied about it in the forward to his own book, goes beyond empty time-wasting pretentious Academic Ghetto posturing and becomes something genuinely irresponsible and offensive. Like most avid readers I sometimes find a book disappointing, but I can't remember the last time a book made me furious. Bleh. :-(