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2.2: Slot 2-B
Donnerstag, 19.09.2019:
13:30 - 15:00

Chair der Sitzung: Thomas Scherer, Freie Universität Berlin
Ort: B (Seminarraum II)
Institut für Theaterwissenschaft, Grunewaldstr. 35, 12165 Berlin

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Increasing Diversity of Representation: An Unintended Consequence of Fantastic Utopias

BE Allatt

Independent Scholar, United States of America

Literature exists not in a vacuum but is interwoven with its authors and readers in an ongoing dialogue. No matter how utopic and escapist a novel might be, it does not stand alone and is not confined to negotiations of escapism through utopias. Considering recent social movements like #OwnVoices which aim to increase diversity of representation in literature, the impact of escapism in fantastic genres reaches beyond the words written in a novel. As a marginalized reader finds one’s self represented as an escape, one feels not only the comfort of inclusion but also the empowerment of reification — one discovers one’s voice, which is often used to further increase the visibility of marginalized representations in the fantastic. While I intend to briefly contextualize my argument with primary and secondary sources, I do not have to authority to speak beyond my own identity labels. Therefore, much of my argument will rest in a continuation of my current research (in a line of inquiry I introduced to fantastic scholarship at the 2016 GfF in Munster) into representations in the fantastic of non-mononormative romantic relationships. I argued that mononormativity, a term coined by sociologists Piper and Bauer (2006) to refer to the societal assumption of relationships as inherently monogamous, can be used as a theoretical approach to critically examine the fantastic. With respect to the escapism in the Romantic fantastic, as ethically non-monogamous readers increasingly find their identities represented in the fantastic, even more non-mononormative relationships begin to appear in speculative fiction. Similarly, more scholars like me feel comfortable critically examining how non-mononormativity interacts with other theories and themes in fantastic texts. Thus, regardless of the escapism a romantically fantastic utopia offers, the real-world social environment is impacted in a way that offers an avenue for marginalized subjects to realize a sense of belonging and act on it.

Who can live happily ever after? – Minority representation and the dynamics of realism in romance and fantastic literature

Sarah Faber

Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Deutschland

Today, prestige in literature is frequently attached to realism. What exactly ‘realism’ entails becomes a difficult question on closer examination, but its most wide-spread uses seem to refer to either representing a fictional world as similar to our real world as possible, or ‘gritty realism’, i.e., mercilessly showing the dark, bleak and violent aspects of the storyworld. This understanding places both certain genres – including fantasy and other fantastic narratives – and certain types of plots – particularly stories with a happy ending – in the less prestigious corner of ‘unrealistic’ literature.

While it is true that shocking and life-like descriptions of appalling events can be one way of advocating for social and legal change, I think we need to question the full extent of the dynamics of realism and whom they really serve in each individual case. In my presentation, I am going to argue that realism, particularly as an ostensible marker of artistic quality, is not necessarily the best way of framing social criticism and evoking change; realism can, on the contrary, be a tool for reactionary politics, upholding existing privilege and preventing discursive change, adequate representation of minorities and literary experimentation with possible alternatives.

To illustrate this process, I am going to use examples from romance, fantasy and romantic fantasy novels to examine how they employ, or refuse to employ, ‘realist’ techniques of depiction. A particular focus will be the depiction of minorities (people of colour, LGBTQIA, disabled characters and religious minorities) and how their disenfranchised status in society is shown to impact their lives in terms of the plot. It will become clear that (a) realism is a much less objective standard than it is popularly made out to be, and (b) that there is actually great critical potential in intentionally unrealistic modes of depiction, which we should not dismiss out of hand as escapist or meaningless.

Distopia: The politics of fantasy

Runette Kruger

Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa

This paper explores the capacity of fantasy – in its manifestation as world-making praxis – to bring about cultural and sociopolitical renewal, with specific reference to a politically inspired utopia, named distopia. Distopia is a utopia of subversion and of the alter (or, the ‘humanised’ other). The name distopia is a neologism meant to denote dissidence and difference, and purposefully invokes the term dystopia, generally positioned as the opposite of utopia, whilst acting as a utopia – a fantasy in the mode of sociopolitical critique. The term distopia indicates a productive paradoxical dynamic that positions it as the other of both utopia and dystopia, and distopia is offered as the region (time-space inflection) of dissent in the face of oppression, and of voluntary exile from hopelessness, without reverting to a state of naiveté.

This exploration furthermore seeks to identify the friction inherent in the term distopia as useful in dismantling the framing of fantasy as reactive and escapist, in order to re-position it as politically astute world-making which can address current social inequities along numerous vectors such as gender, class, and race.

This contradictory aspect of distopia is lastly applied to a reading of artistic projects such as the New World Embassy (Jonas Staal and Moussa Ag Assarid), Mundane Afrofuturism (Martine Syms), and the poetic constructed and mapped cities of visual artists Bodys Isek Kingelez and Titus Matiyane.

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