Volume 6. Issue 1.
This special issue is inspired by the "Embodying Fantastika" conference that took place at Lancaster University, UK between 8th and 10th August 2019. The conference sought to investigate how various bodily form are addressed or ruptured across a myriad of canvases, whether this was represented in terms of (re)construction, transposition, or destabilisation.
Download the full issue or scroll below for access to individual editorials, articles, and reviews.
‘SCEPTICAL SCRIPTOTHERAPY AND FANTASTICAL METAPHORS’: TRAUMA IN BRIT MARLING AND ZAL BATMANGLIJ’S THE OA (2016-2019)
This article examines the representation of trauma in Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s Science Fiction television series The OA (2016-2019). Canonical trauma representations tend to be phallocentric, featuring white male protagonists and presenting traumatic experiences from their perspectives. While numerous popular works also centre on white male characters, in popular culture since the early 2000s we nevertheless find an increased number of texts concerned with the trauma of marginalised groups including women, ethnic minorities, and the LGBTQ+ community. This is in part due to popular culture’s wider array of genres, particularly ones which incorporate the fantastic including Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror. These genres can enable texts to generate more suitable representations for the traumatic experiences of minorities. For example, superpowers in superhero narratives can be employed as metaphors for symptoms specific to the types of trauma largely experienced by women, such as mind-control as a metaphor for domestic abuse in Melissa Rosenberg’s Jessica Jones (2015-2019). However, it is important to also note that in canonical trauma fiction, there is a long-standing and problematic tradition to repress marginalised experiences including rape and domestic abuse by representing them in supernatural terms, as a means of excusing the actions of trauma perpetrators.
This article explores how The OA uniquely employs the supernatural to explore rather than repress the trauma of marginalised groups. I illustrate how The OA does this in two ways: first, by reading the series through a technique that I term sceptical scriptotherapy and, second, by analysing The OA’s depiction of the “Movements.
“IDENTITY ARISES IN CRISIS”: MULTIPLICITY, TRAUMA, AND IDENTITY IN ANN LECKIE'S IMPERIAL RADCH TRILOGY
The article dwells on the posthuman identity building in the characters of Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch Trilogy. The highly-technologized setting of the trilogy introduces posthuman entities, with a single mind controlling multiple proxy bodies, and the process of their identity transformation becomes crucial for plot development. The protagonist, an AI sentient spaceship with a mechanical body and human proxy-bodies is almost destroyed and left with one body implanted with the ship’s AI. This trauma initiates the transformation of its identity, challenging its worldview and design-imposed functional identities of the servant and the soldier, traditionally associated with the technological other. The identity transformation is a healing process associated with overcoming the limitations imposed by its designers and the biases absorbed through functioning in its social environment, as well as the formulation of an independent ethical stance. The protagonist’s transformation is contrasted to a similar experience of multiplicity in a human-centred posthuman entity – the Lord of the Radch. The theoretical framework of the article relies on critical posthumanism, putting the trilogy in conversation with works by Rosi Braidotti, Donna Haraway, and Karen Barad. The article employs literary trauma theory as represented in works by Roger Luckhurst and Robert Eaglestone to discuss the traumatic experience of both posthuman entities.
THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE WHOLE: INVERTING CORPOREAL MORALITY IN YE YONGLIE’S “CORROSION”
Virginia L. Conn
Science Fiction (SF) from China imagined a new type of idealized human that would be shaped by communism, embodying all the best physical and mental attributes humanity had to offer. Simultaneously, state literary regulations required that this idealized individual be imbued with health, beauty, and nationalistic zeal. In this humanistic construction, physical perfection represented ideological perfection, and thus the perfect citizen became co-constitutive with the perfect state. Yet by depicting an inverted relationship between beauty and morality, SF author Ye Yonglie’s 1981 short story, “Corrosion,” undercuts the idea of physical perfection and beauty as representative of moral perfection, with material embodiment and physical appearance posited as the inverse of ideological integrity. Working against socialist literary expectations, the story ultimately posits individual destruction and physical decay as prerequisites for national progress, holding up the ugliest individuals as the most capable of patriotic devotion. By stripping the image of the ideal socialist citizen from its reliance on individual physical perfection, “Corrosion” creates the potential for a more egalitarian social participation only possible within the estranging boundaries of SF.
A TENTACULAR TERATOLOGY: THE ABCANNY MONSTROUS
The tentacular monster is a recognisable staple in Fantastika as a metaphor and motif for an invading ‘otherness’ upon our established status quo. They simultaneously remind us of the wonders of our natural world but also defamiliarise it as something which is still significantly incomprehensible to us. Whether it is the real-life aquatic specimens of the Spirit Collection in the British Natural History Museum, the Weird Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft or more recent examples in popular culture, the tentacled monster is an alluring mystery, symbol of revulsion, and social metaphor, inviting us to consider our own physical bodies and materiality in our ever-shifting, incomprehensible, anthropocentric contemporary moment.
China Miéville describes such tentacular monsters as “abcanny,” referring not only to Sigmund Freud’s theory of uncanny repression being brought back to the fore but also using the prefix ab- to refer to a sense of abnormality. The choice of prefix also invites consideration of Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject and the repulsive disruption of physical boundaries. Gelatinous and tentacular monsters are the perfect encapsulation of this abcanny ideal, a formless mass of writhing biology at times eerily familiar but, more commonly, uncategorisable. Playfully mirroring Miéville’s essay defining the term, this article explores how theorisations of the abcanny body are developed through representations of tentacular monsters, demonstrating how a variety of texts apply fantastical teratology as a methodology for examining how we survive, negotiate, and engage various aspects of a contemporary culture which constantly shift and evade comprehension, as well as inviting communication of interspecies narratives which challenge anthropocentric values.
SOMETIMES; OTHER TIMES: UNSTITCHING GOTHIC AMBIGUITY IN SOFIA CARRILLO’S PRITA NOIRE/BLACK DOLL
Helena Bacon & Luis Daniel Martinez Alvarez
Dani Cavallaro suggests that ‘[n]arratives of darkness give shape to […] disorientating sensations […] by intensifying their power and frequency through an emphasis on the irreducible hold of the inexplicable’ (The Gothic Vision, 14); ambiguity and instability firmly have become firmly entrenched as apparatus of the Gothic, suggestive of an unsettling absence of meaning and a refusal to adhere to expectations. Sofia Carrillo’s Prita Noire/Black Doll (2011) is one such Gothic text, balancing the intense short form of experimental animation with immense narratorial and thematic uncertainty. In blending the human with the material. the corporeal with the psychological, and presence with absence, Carrillo’s film creates troubling composites that should create layers of meaning but, when examined through relevant critical frameworks, seem to resist such standard homogenerative constructions. Set in a fantastical location with minimal contextual or thematic referentials available to orientate the viewer, the film’s formal elements become key to understanding what such an animation is doing, or avoiding. We intend to explore how the film’s stop-motion animation and its recognisably Gothic traces work in symbiosis to construct a platform through which this process of disintegration and destabilisation can be observed, and how uncertainty becomes certainty and embodiment becomes disembodiment within the unusual confines of Carrillo’s heterogenous world.
"SHE LUSTED AFTER BUILDINGS, AND THEY LUSTED AFTER HER": OBJECTOPHILIA AND COMMODITY ANIMISM IN JUNJI ITO’S “WOODEN SPIRIT” AND “FUTON”
This paper views the social ramifications of Japanese capitalism in a Gothic framework, focusing specifically on the symbolic animation of inanimate objects, which are treated as substitutes for human connection. It uses Junji Ito’s manga short stories “Wooden Spirit” (2014) and “Futon” (2014) to demonstrate that objectophilia and commodity animism manifest as sources of horror because they facilitate a departure from conservative notions of wealth and gender, whilst also implying that transgression from social norms is only acceptable if it is carried out within the capitalist system. In “Wooden Spirit,” a woman seduces a cultural heritage site, which responds to her advances by transforming into a monster. In “Futon,” a man hides from malicious spirits under a trusted futon, only to discover that it is filled with hallucinogenic mould. Both stories privilege object obsession over human connection, framing the fetishisation of private property as a source of personal loneliness and cultural destruction.
However, for Ito, commodity animism is an ambiguous force. On one hand, it asserts itself as the protector of women who are reluctantly bound to their husbands. On the other, their liberation is dependent on purchasable objects and the possession of private property, suggesting that one system of governance (patriarchy) has been traded for another (capitalism). Thus, in “Wooden Spirit,” conservative ideologies are reinstated because objectophilia is framed as the only means of escape from domestic horror. Conversely, in “Futon,” conservative ideologies are reinstated because upholding the nuclear family is presented as the only escape from neoliberalism’s crippling physical and financial demands. As such, horror in these texts is derived from the assertion that liberation from gendered social constraints can only take place within the capitalist system. In this sense, the market dictates not only what it means to be alive but what it means to be human.
THE GREEN KNIGHT’S TOOL-BEING AND MAGICAL BODY-AS-THING: INVESTIGATING MATERIALITY IN SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight tells a marvellous adventure within the realm of the Arthurian courtly romance. This renowned, anonymous poetic narrative introduces the mysterious Green Knight (GK) who reveals himself as Bertilak of Hautdesert and as an envoy for the enchantress Morgan Le Fay. Through encounters with the Arthurian court and the knight Sir Gawain, the presence of the Green Knight/Bertilak evokes questions about his agency within the narrative as the Green Knight appears entangled in a mesh of materiality surrounding his body and knighthood. An investigation into the materiality of the knight through a close examination of the human and non-human objects associated with him, such as his holly-branch, his axe, and his own head, demonstrates the function of the GK’s body as a tool. Indeed, I argue that the GK’s body becomes a magical body-as-thing while evaluating Morgan Le Fay’s role as his puppeteer where the Green Knight becomes both object and objectified. An exploration of this thingification of the Green Knight permits an investigation of the bodily ecologies in the poem and how bodies-as-things become agents in a mesh of materiality that combines the human and non-human, as well as magical and non-magical things. This inspection of the Green Knight’s body-as-thing positions itself in contrast to notions of anthropocentric ideas while considering the theoretical insights of New Materialist theorists Bruno Latour, Jane Bennett, Ian Bogost, and Graham Harman.
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Review by Joana Rita Ramalho
Review by Jack Fennell
Review by Amy Bride
Review by Marita Arvaniti
Review by Miranda Corcoran
Review by Laura Winter
Review by Thomas E. Simmons
Review by Janet Brennan Croft
Review by Alexander Popov
Review by Rebecca Gibson
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A Review of Genshin Impact by Padraig Lee
A Review of Raised by Wolves by Lobke Minter
A Review of The Curie Society by Anna McFarlane
A Review of On the Origin of Species and Other Stories by Charlotte Gislam
A Review of Harrow the Ninth by Kimberlee Anne Bartle
A Review of Entanglements: Tomorrow’s Lovers, Families, and Friends by Thomas Connolly