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Framing Fantasy for Pragmatic Purposes

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Organizer: Julie Allen

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In his 1947 essay "On Fairy Stories," J.R.R. Tolkien defends the importance and value of fantasy to a world skeptical of its relationship to rationality and observable fact. He argues that "Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy of even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of scientific verity. On the contrary. ... For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it."

Sine Tolkien’s day, fantasy has become a staple of literary, cinematic, and artistic traditions around the world, but it continues to suffer from the mistrust that Tolkien addresses, particularly in academic settings, where it is often derided as inferior or irrelevant to such practical subjects as STEM fields. The integral connection between fantasy and reality is frequently misunderstood, despite the fact that fantasy, whether depicted in literature, cinema, or art, derives its meaning from that relationship and serves as a commentary on the reality it adapts. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, fantasy has stepped up to grapple with some of the most pressing questions of gender, race, social class, ableness, identity, psychology, and technology, to name just a few.

Taking as its point of departure Tolkien’s defense of fantasy as grounded in but independent of the constraints of scientific facts but without limiting itself to high fantasy, this seminar seeks papers that will explore ways of framing the academic exploration of fantasy literature, cinema, and art in the service of such pragmatic purposes as higher education, gainful employment, and ethical world citizenship, among others. How does fantasy’s autonomous relationship to observable reality facilitate the development of readers’ real-life skills? What work can literary, cinematic, artistic, and musical works of fantasy do to address the concrete, polarizing, often life-threatening challenges of the modern world?

Topics to be addressed may include, but are not limited to:

Posthumanism and Human-Animal Studies

Spirituality and Existentialism

Social and political critique

Gender, sexual, and racial inclusivity

National, ethnical, and linguistic specificity

Metafictionality and genre b(l)ending

Interdisciplinary hybridity

Psychological and psychedelic elements

Pedagogical and curricular approaches

Supernatural creatures

We invite projects that discuss prose, poetry, cinema, or any aspect of the audio-visual arts.


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