My next book project: Here at the end of all things: Fantasy after History

Now that the final revisions to None of this is normal: The Fiction of Jeff VanderMeer are done, I can feel good about announcing my next book project: Here at the end of all things: Fantasy after History, which is under contract with the Johns Hopkins University Press. If you know me, you also know that I have been working on this project approximately forever, or at least since 2011, when I fist encountered Rochard Morgan’s The Steel Remains and thought that maybe, just maybe, I could teach a class on fantasy that was more than fan appreciation for a genre.

The project has undergone numerous iterations. There was a time when I conceived a larger project, The Generic, that would be seven books long.I have long since climbed down from that ledge, with help from colleagues and friends. More recently, I thought that this book would be a compartive study of fantasy, sf, and horror, with each genre read through the work of John Clute and understood as a means by which modernity deals with history. There is still a good deal of that here, but sf and horror are now firmly subordinated to the discussion of fantasy. It was simply too much to try to do all of that work in one book.

Sf is just fine in terms of criticism, and horror has new life as the muse of cultural geologists (in Mark McGurl’s potent phrase). In any case, while there is great fantasy scholarship out there (see Ryan Vu’s “Fantasy after Representation,” forthcoming in Extrapolation 58.2-3, edited by Gerry Canavan and yours truly), there is no theoretical investigation of the genre that articulates it with sf and horror as a means for thinking about history (or about ahistory, as it were). Much fantasy scholarship remains taxonomic to some extent, or insists that fantasy is too historicist and critical. I find both approaches limited insofar as they turn inward and ignore fantasy’s place in a larger conversation about modernity or reduce fantasy, all of its (admittedly problematic) peculiarities to having the same critical dimensions as those genres that stand opposed to it.

In any case, here is the proposal I sent to JHUP. I expect that some things will change here (for example, I now think that part one will be three chapters long, each shorter than those proposed here). Feedback is invited and welcome. Many thanks to those who have already provided feedback. It is dult noted and my gratitude will be expressed mre specifically in the acknowledgements.

Here is the proposal as a PDF.

You can also read the proposal below the fold.

Proposal to The Johns Hopkins University Press for
Here at the end of all things: Fantasy after History
Benjamin J. Robertson, University of Colorado, Boulder

A. Brief summary of project, its relation to its field, and its intended audience

Here at the end of all things: Fantasy after History is the first study of fantasy to investigate the genre from a theoretical perspective. Specifically, it investigates fantasy’s particular concerns with the problem of history in order to argue for the importance of fantasy in our contemporary situation, which is characterized by the exhaustion of historical progress as well as of critique and related forms of thought. It takes seriously Marxist/historicist arguments that indict fantasy as ahistorical wish-fulfillment. Rather than arguing against such claims, however, Here at the end of all things treats them as valid and true. I demonstrate that fantasy’s desire for an essential relation of meaning to being, beyond the constraints endemic to historical thought, provides the means to re-invigorate such thought. Such means are absent under posthistory, which produces cultural forms (such as horror) and critical practices (such as anti- and posthumanism) that render the future as, at best, a rote continuation of the present. As such, Here at the end of all things moves beyond extant studies of fantasy that treat the genre in terms of its rhetorical devices or in terms of the literary history of folklore, myth, and the fantastic in order to consider its relationship with contemporary culture more broadly conceived.

Fantasy scholarship has become a robust field in the past decade. However, outside of a few key essays, it does not consider the genre in relation to its cultural, theoretical, or historical contexts. The scholarship of the 1970s, which set the tone and agenda for the field, was unable to identify the parameters, components, or concerns of the genre beyond those declared by JRR Tolkien and a very few others. This scholarship took its cues from studies of folklore and myth or from Tzvetan Todorov’s description of the fantastic. Neither approach was capable of addressing literature set in secondary worlds such as that by Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Patricia McKillip. Much of the scholarship of the 1980s and even the 1990s found it necessary to continue to address Todorov, and often took his definition of the fantastic as settled and relevant for fantasy. At best this scholarship argued against Todorov, but in doing so condemned the field to a lengthy debate over taxonomy. Brian Attebery’s contributions to the field (The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature: From Irving to LeGuin [1980] and Strategies of Fantasy [1992]) are notable exceptions to this rule, but they have become dated in that they do not account for the transformations to the genre in the last two decades.

More recently, Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James’ A Short History of Fantasy (2009) addresses some of the literary history from which the genre in part descends, but it mainly offers a chronology of the genre in relation to itself and related forms. Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy (2008) must be considered one of the most important studies of the genre to date insofar as it, first, offers a clear vocabulary for discussing the means by which fantasy constructs and maintains its particular affects as a form of writing and, second, begins to connect the genre to questions of history and power. Nonetheless, it accomplishes these tasks largely without reference to extra-literary contexts in which the genre develops. Stefan Ekman’s Here Be Dragons: Exploring Fantasy Maps and Landscapes (2013) focuses on several of the genre’s conventions and has expanded the field beyond considerations of rhetorical structures and ruminations on how to define fantasy. Attebery’s most recent book, Stories About Stories: Fantasy and the Remaking of Myth (2013), situates fantasy in the second half of the twentieth century and first decades of the twenty-first to demonstrate how the genre updates myth for a contemporary audience. Although it makes some mention of current political and social issues with which fantasy interacts, this discussion is brief. It opens, rather than closes, such an area for further work. Helen Young’s Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness (2015) and Dan Hassler-Forest’s Science Fiction, Fantasy and Politics: Transmedia World-building Beyond Capitalism (2016) are the most politically and culturally oriented books on fantasy to date. Young’s book is concerned with representations of race in fantasy and Hassler-Forest’s book is focused on fantasy in the context of film, television, and other extra-literary media. As such, neither accomplishes what Here at the end of all things proposes: to situate the literary genre called “fantasy” historically in order to make clear how it affords forms of thought capable of imagining ways out of our posthistorical malaise. Clearly, the field is ready for a study such as the one proposed here; it will change how we think about the genre and what we can do with it.

Here at the end of all things is intended for advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, and professional academics in the fields of genre studies (fantasy, but also science fiction and horror), contemporary literature, literary history, and literary theory. It will be both field-defining and polemical and will, as such, appeal to those sympathetic to its arguments as well as to scholars who continue to understand the fantasy genre negatively as a sort of failed science fiction or mimetic literature.

B. Table of contents and estimated word count (Eliminated here. See PDF.)

C. Chapter summaries

Introduction: Fantasy and History
The book comprises three parts, as well as an introduction, conclusion,and glossary. The introduction answers the question “Why fantasy?” by making a case for the genre’s necessity in the present moment. Fantasy provides an antidote to the posthistorical condition, whether that condition is understood from a politically conservative point of view or politically progressive one, as in the work of Francis Fukuyama or Fredric Jameson, respectively. History, here understood as the “time” of human struggle or the narrative of human progress, conditions every account of posthistory. Under this condition, posthistory can only be understood as a final state of the world, one in which nothing new can happen; only history can drive progress. Fantasy, which takes “ahistory” as its premise, provides a glimpse of another way of thinking. This ahistorical form of thought does not seek to solve every historical problem or the problem of history itself by way of such a final state, but instead it re-invigorates such problems. Although we must not and cannot give up on historical thinking altogether, clearly other modes of thought become necessary after the end. Horror has come to animate our cultural imaginary with the decline of science fiction’s capacity to imagine a better future; it has provided such an alternate mode of thought and has therefore suddenly found itself at the center of cultural productions within, and theoretical considerations of, the posthistorical world. However, horror’s brave condemnation and discrediting of the liberal human subject, its politics, and its history, cannot be the only story we tell. Fantasy offers to human being a meaning neither science fiction nor horror can provide, even if this meaning remains impossible: a pure desire.

Part I: Fantasy and its Others
Part I comprises chapters one and two. It compares fantasy with two closely related genres, science fiction and horror, in order to reveal the limits of the first and the dangers of the second insofar as each assumes and produces particular forms of thought. Science fiction—which Marxists associate with critique, history, and progress—seems no longer capable of imagining a future better than the past or the present. I argue that its trust in critique, which allows for no pure belief or desire, short-circuits historical thought. This short-circuiting leaves horror in its wake, a condition under which there appears to be no solutions, but only problems, a condition characteristic of a cultural moment defined by radical political disagreement, distrust of science, and anthropogenic climate change (among other things). By defining fantasy in relation to these two genres throughout Part I, I set the stage for a positive definition of fantasy and description of what it can do in Parts II and III.

Chapter 1: Limiting Critique and Critiquing Limits
In chapter one, I explore the relationship between fantasy and science fiction. Science fiction leads to the posthistorical impasse at which such thinkers as Fukuyama and Jameson find themselves. In Carl Freedman’s argument, science fiction’s close connection to critique makes it the form of literature most capable of thinking historically and progressively. However, when it is deployed ubiquitously and constantly, critique leads to a split between human being and human meaning no progress can overcome, as I show in my discussion of speculative realist philosopher Quentin Meillassoux. This problem is older than the genre called science fiction, of course, and it goes back to at least the Enlightenment epistemologies John Clute claims produce fantasy, science fiction, and horror in the first place. Kant deployed critique in order to describe a certain type of subject and its historical mission. In the wake of Kant, those who thought un- or pre-critically became associated with immaturity and childishness. Freedman and others understand fantasy in precisely these terms, as uncritical and thus immature, childish, or even pathological. Science fiction, by contrast, is mature, sober, and critical. When we further examine some of the assumptions behind this contrast between the critical science fiction and the uncritical fantasy, namely our assumptions about what is and is not possible, certain problems endemic to historical and critical thought reveal themselves. Possibility, the traditional domain of science fiction, becomes less a guide to the future than a constraint upon it when we find ourselves only able to desire the future in terms of what we already assume to be possible. Fantasy affords a purer and freer desire insofar as it allows us to use our imaginations in the service of what we do not yet know to be possible. Fantasy may be ahistorical, it may involve wish-fulfillment, it may be uncritical: these qualities allow it to produce forms of thought that overcome posthistorical malaise.

Chapter 2: Story, Paradigm, Disappointment: Fantastika and Desire
In chapter two, I further elaborate the relationship between fantasy and science fiction, and the relationships of each to horror, by deploying and developing John Clute’s descriptions of the narrative structures of each genre in relation to Bernard Stiegler’s post-critical theory. Story, the structure of fantasy, emerges here as an impossible state characterized by the fulfillment of desire, a perfect concordance of human meaning and human being. By contrast, science fiction’s paradigm narrativizes the pursuit of this concordance, but it remains forever incapable of settling into such a final, posthistorical state. Paradigm, defined by its investment in history and critique, can only “end” with the implication of even more history and more critique. This progressive historical tendency within science fiction fails over and over again to produce the utopia (or dystopia) it promises and gives way to a static posthistorical condition called disappointment, the narrative logic of horror. In disappointment, the human comes to understand that history has always been a lie. This knowledge severs the relationship between human being and meaning finally. My general discussion of story, paradigm, and disappointment next turns to a description of the respective parts of each. The resemblances and differences amongst these structures’ homologous parts reveal how each genre understands the narrative movement towards something that can only exist outside narrative: a final state of history and the fulfillment of desire or the negation of such. Namely, fantasy seeks such fulfillment, science fiction defers and thus attenuates it, and horror describes its permanent and irrevocable elimination. Thus I draw three genres into productive conversation with one another even as I demonstrate that each must be thought according to its own logic rather than only in terms apposite science fiction and history. More importantly, this chapter makes clear how fantasy describes impossibilities that balance what science fiction and horror each offer to contemporary thought, history and posthistory respectively. In fact, fantasy’s ahistory provides the basis to reaffirm history while avoiding posthistory.

Part II: Story
Part II comprises chapters three, four, and five. It moves to a consideration of fantasy on its own terms by way of an archaeological investigation of its narrative logic, “story.” It focuses on specific texts, and their position within fantasy at particular historical moments, by reframing the genre as a discourse (in Michel Foucault’s sense of the term). This reframing begins with the recent past in order to discover the effects The Lord of the Rings’ discourse-defining statements had on the generic fantasies of the 1970s, and 80s. The particular configuration of story in The Lord of the Rings is taken as a given by these “invariant” texts. As such, these texts do not think through story as a problem in the manner The Lord of the Rings does (for good or ill). In short, this text’s singular statement long prevented fantasy from developing other configurations, or variants, of story. I therefore work back through the history of fantasy to texts produced prior to The Lord of the Rings. Even if they do not belong to the genre/discourse properly understood, these texts imply a manifold and diverse story rather than a simple and singular one. They thus suggest new starting points for history and critical thought.

Chapter 3: Invarying Story
Chapter three introduces the methodology that informs the rest of Here at the end of all things and begins to investigate fantasy in terms of story, its narrative logic. Michel Foucault’s archaeology and Siegfried Zielinski’s variantology allow me to discuss and describe story as a discourse. As a discourse, story involves statements, where “statements” refer to acts of language that can neither be interpreted nor judged according to their meaning or logic. Rather, statements provide the conditions under which interpretation and other judgments take place. In the context of this methodology, the most generic fantasies reveal the effects of specific statements that shape the genre to this day, namely those I call affectivity, desirability, and positivity. “Affectivity” refers to how story positions its characters and readers with regard to conflict, how it entangles its subjects in threats to the narrative world and the stakes thereof. “Desirability” refers to how story resolves conflicts and to the reconciliation of meaning with being such resolution ideally entails. “Positivity” refers to story’s sheer presence, a presence implied by the necessary relationship of affectivity to desirability and the coherent transition from one to the other. I explore these statements through three fantasy series, all of which began publication in the 1970s and 80s and all of which are amongst the most generic of fantasy: Terry Brooks’ Shannara, Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and David Eddings’ The Belgariad/The Mallorean. My discussions of these series make clear how affectivity, desirability, and positivity place the subjects of story—both those living it as characters and those consuming it as readers—in irreducibly impossible situations. Affectivity requires the subjects of story to accept that any new threat is both unprecedented and eternal, each and every time it arises. In the case of Shannara, such a contradictory threat appears at the outset of nearly every new book in the series (of which there are more than twenty). Desirability requires the subjects of story to accept that conflict ends, but also will inevitability begin again because of the very actions that brought the end about. In the case of Covenant, every ending contains the seeds of more conflict, every narrative juncture spins out into innumerable problems that only multiply as the series continues. Positivity requires the subjects of story to accept the givenness of fundamental internal relationships that connect story’s conflicts to its resolutions—in short, the metaphysics that grant story its coherence. In the case of The Belgariad/The Mallorean, every event is essentially meaningful and necessary even as it is also utterly absurd and accidental. Otherwise put, every event is both connected to and disconnected from every other event. Only the fact that story all unfolds within the covers of the same book holds it together. These “invariant” fantasies thus remain uncritical insofar as they demand that their subjects accept what they present without question. However, their understandings of affectivity, desirability, and positivity are themselves not essential, but accidental. They are this way, but could be otherwise. Why they are this way and not otherwise is the subject of chapter four.

Chapter 4: Stating Story
That the generic fantasies discussed in chapter three exhibit the effects of the statements I call affectivity, desirability, and positivity, implies the presence of such statements prior to the publications of these fantasies. In chapter four, I discuss a singular text in the history of these statements: JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. However, even if The Lord of the Rings “states” numerous subsequent fantasies, its statements remain historically and ideologically specific. In other words, the configuration of story presented in The Lord of the Rings—its disposition of affectivity, desirability, and positivity—is not essential. Even as it desires and points towards ahistory, it remains accidental, which is to say historical. In fact, The Lord of the Rings makes clear that the desire for ahistory can only come about under historical conditions and, moreover, can be an animating force for history itself (even if the text remains politically and culturally conservative if not atavistic). To make this point clear, I demonstrate how The Lord of the Rings, in a manner apparently similar to the series discussed above, positions its subjects as believers who must forgo their critical capacities. Unlike these other fantasies, this fantasy endeavors to produce such belief in its subjects rather than assuming they already experience it. I draw upon Farah Mendlesohn’s description of the portal-quest fantasy, as well as Tolkien’s discussion of belief, in order to situate this configuration of story as a reaction to a certain understanding of modernity, one endemic to the aftermath of the wars of the first half of the twentieth century. The Lord of the Rings posits story not simply as the essential, true, magical, and prelapsarian state of the world, but as the essential, true, magical, and prelapsarian state of the world standing opposed to a specific understanding of modernity even as it is destroyed by that modernity. Although this statement of story and its components has exerted considerable influence within the fantasy genre/discourse in the decades since the publication of The Lord of the Rings, my discussion of it in this chapter makes clear that its accidental nature implies, or even demands, other possible statements and configurations. These other configurations do not, however, simply arise negatively against The Lord of the Rings in its aftermath, but may be found positively in the “variant” fantasies that precede it.

Chapter 5: Varying Story
Chapter five turns to fantasies that precede The Lord of the Rings, namely Lord Dunsany’s King of Elfland’s Daughter, Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. If “fantasy” refers to the genre/discourse that emerges in the wake of The Lord of the Rings, none of these texts properly belong to it. They nonetheless present “variants” of story: positive configurations of story and its components beyond the one produced by Tolkien and taken as given by the invariant fantasies of chapter three. I discuss these variants as statements that did not “become,” as articulations of story that did not or could not achieve greater visibility for one reason or another. I draw here upon Siegfried Zielinski’s “variantology,” which developed as part of the articulation of Foucault’s archaeology in the context of media studies. Variantology traces alternative histories of media objects (or, here, texts within a genre/discourse). It demonstrates that what appear, in retrospect, as smooth and linear narratives of progress obscure the conflicts that produced the present state of affairs. Variantology also addresses actually existing objects and texts that could have produced a different present under slightly different circumstances, but did not. The objects under consideration here—fantasies by Dunsany, Anderson, and Peake—suggest a genre/discourse far weirder than what The Lord of the Rings states. The story they “vary” (as opposed to “state”) is more complex and less human than what Tolkien offers the genre. Drawing upon Mendlesohn’s articulation of “immerisve” fantasy, which allows characters and subjects to be critical but denies them a safely knowable world in which to deploy such a faculty, I discuss how these fantasies produce and destroy belief, present inhuman points of view on history, and threaten the knowledge practices associated with modernity. Each of these fantasies produces a configuration of story that does not so much refute history, but provides rather a different manner in which to ground historical thought in ahistory. I conclude this chapter with a very brief discussion of fantasies—by Ursula Le Guin, M. John Harrison, and Patricia McKillip—which come after The Lord of the Rings but nonetheless mainly avoid its statement.

Part III: Imagining the Impossible<
Part III comprises chapters six, seven, and eight. It turns to both brief and in-depth discussions of various contemporary fantasies by China Miéville, Patricia McKillip, NK Jemisin, Brandon Sanderson, Nnedi Okorafor, Saladin Ahmed, Steph Swainston, Richard Morgan, Patrick Rothfuss, Michael Swanwick, Daniel Heath Justice, Lev Grossman and others. Many of these writers work from subject positions excluded or marginalized by the fantasy genre and the cultural milieu which supports it. They operate in the wake of Tolkien and his imitators, but re-imagine story by treating it as the site of experimentation rather than as a given. Some do so negatively by refuting Tolkien. Others do so positively by returning to the variant fantasies discussed in chapter five or by drawing upon mythical, national, or ethnic traditions beyond the Anglo-European, masculine, and Christian ones that dominate the genre. They explode the genre and its reliance on The Lord of the Rings. They make clear the historical contingency of that text’s statement as well as its limited capacity to understand the uneven impact history has on various groups of people. They reveal that there is not one story, but many stories. They thus re-open fantasy to an appreciation of the impossible that it could not otherwise have.

Chapter 6: Affectivities of Story
In chapter six, I examine how contemporary fantasies rethink affectivity, the relationship of fantasy’s characters and readers to conflict. For many fantasies, this conflict involves story’s corruption, i.e. the fall into history, and the continued exacerbation of this initial corruption. This dynamic reveals story as newly absent or impossible and thereby gives rise to historical subjects who feel, process, or otherwise operate under this privation. The Lord of the Rings presents this condition in terms of an ineffable and unspeakable sadness. By contrast, the variant fantasies discussed in chapter five understand it as something regrettably necessary, as something temporary, or as something that potentially improves the state of the world and the lives of the subjects thereof. In short, the fantasies discussed here each suggest their own affectivity of story and thus their own way of understanding how conflict and subjectivity reciprocally affect one another. In addition to briefer mentions of numerous other fantasies, I mainly deal here with three. Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Cresent Moon presents a pseudo-Islamic world that stands in contrast to the pseudo-Christian world assumed by a good deal of the fantasy operating in the wake of The Lord of the Rings. As such, the affectivity it involves has less to do with a purely divine salvation than with an ongoing tension within the understanding and management of the sacred and secular aspects of existence. Steph Swaintson’s The Year of Our War also endeavors to overcome certain Christian aspects of the fantasy genre, but does so by imagining a world in which god has gone missing and the immortal guardians left behind seek to extend this state of affairs in order to maintain their own power. Swainston’s world offers a weird mirror on our own history, but can in no way be reduced to it. Its affectivity becomes the object of conflict (insofar as the immortals seek to control it) and yet remains finally unknowable (insofar as the history of this world remains always obscure). NK Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms situates its protagonist, Yeine, in the wake of an eternal conflict amongst the gods, a conflict that has for her additional political and familial dimensions. However, even if this war implies a state of lost wholeness, it likewise produces a new story that determines Yeine’s meaning in ways contrary to what she would choose for herself if given the chance. These affectivities do not allow for abstraction, do not offer a configuration of story tout court, but this is precisely the point. They imagine diverse worlds and alien histories that afford specific forms of conflict and therefore produce new subjectivities.

Chapter 7: Desirabilities of Story
In chapter seven, I examine how contemporary fantasies rethink desirability, the manner in which story resolves conflict and reconciles the rift between meaning and being conflict entails. For many fantasies, this resolution involves subjects coming to understand their involvement in story, the degree to which story dictates their actions. Following from this understanding, the conflict should end with the world being reset to the pristine condition it enjoyed prior to its fall. (This state remains ideal rather than real in most, if not all, fantasies.) The Lord of the Rings understands desirability as a natural progression. This configuration of story fulfills desire, and thus eliminates it, by producing a perfect concordance of being and meaning; that is, this configuration of story overcomes history altogether by rendering history as something that retroactively never took place. By contrast, other fantasies understand desirability as problematic in one way or another. For example, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy begins in the the long aftermath of a failed quest, after a dark lord’s victory has produced a static world in which there can be no progress of any kind. The world of this “Final Empire” lacks desire altogether until revolutionary subjectivities emerge capable of restarting history and progress. Thus, in Mistborn, desirability involves the re-emergence of an historical world out of a posthistorical state. Similarly, Richard Morgan’s A Land Fit for Heroes begins “after the end,” but imagines the world that has defeated an existential threat. However, far from producing a new paradise, as some configurations of story promise, this victory only serves to expose and deepen pre-existing historical conflicts. The realm marginalizes its heroes to the point that they become a new threat that might destroy the world from within. A Land Fit for Heroes thus imagines what happens after the conclusion to the generic fantasy by imagining desirability as a tool used by power to maintain itself through epochal shifts. In China Miéville’s The Scar, the story and desirability of fantasy come into contact (and conflict) with the paradigm of science fiction. The Scar reveals the limitations of each genre understood on its own and manifests a dangerous, duplicitous, and pluralist desirability, one that leaves its subjects somehow both wounded and whole, that allows them to both return from where they came and to arrive at a place they have never been. As with the multiple affectivities discussed in chapter six, my discussion here does not suggest a meta-desirability that might account for every possible configuration of story. Rather, it makes clear the manifold nature of the concept, especially insofar as it can become malignant, beneficial, or both.

Chapter 8: Positivities of Story
In chapter eight, I examine how certain contemporary fantasies rethink positivity, the relationship between affectivity and desirability. If affectivity establishes conflict and the subjects thereof, and desirability resolves conflict and the forms of subjectivity involved with it, then positivity connects conflict to resolution. In so doing, positivity establishes the sheer presence of story as the ground, condition, or context for the fantasy narrative, for the quest, for the fall into and ascension out of history. The Lord of the Rings understands story to have existed once upon a time, but to have become unreachable because of the conflict which caused the fall out of it to begin with. The Lord of the Rings’ desire for an ahistorical existence is thus tempered by its knowledge of the impossibility of such. Contemporary fantasies rethink the transition from conflict to resolution as well as the past and future possibility of story’s presence. For example, Quentin, the protagonist of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, lives a life informed by genre fantasy and the conflicts it involves. He longs to take part in these conflicts and for story to grant his life meaning. However, he is constantly reminded of his historical existence and the impossibility of story, until he discovers that the story that has, in fact, been “telling him” casts him as a minor character rather than as hero. Quentin is granted meaning when he discovers that story may in fact exist, but this meaning exacerbates rather than solves his problems. Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle offers the story of an apparent, and to some degree cliché, hero, Kvothe. Kvothe tells his own story, one that seems simultaneously accidental and necessary, both utterly contingent and unquestionably destined to happen just so. The Kingkiller Chronicle offers a story that is shaped by a particular subjectivity and that likewise shapes that subjectivity. Its aspect of fatedness emerges only by way of its telling, its conflict a function of chance and resolution dependent on the way in which this chance becomes constructed, through narration, as necessity. Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, set in a post-apocalyptic Sudan, offers the most complex and opaque positivity of story of the several fantasies I examine here. Its protagonist, Onyesonwu, completes her quest by rewriting the entirety of her story to accord with the new world she has created by way of her actions. Okorafor perhaps offers the clearest example of story’s positivity in all of fantasy and, at the same time, makes clear that the presence of story, the coherence that all narratives seek, can only be achieved retroactively by way of a radical rewriting of the real events of history. Who Fears Death articulates the relationship between fantasy and history in a way humanist, Western epistemologies remain incapable of imagining. Each of the fantasies discussed here challenges historical thought and, as such, offer glimpses of how such thought can be redeployed.

Conclusion: Happily Ever Aftermath?
Here at the end of all things ends with a final account of posthistory, a reading of a single novel, and a claim about what story can and cannot do. Paolo Virno’s Déjà Vu and the End of History rethinks the problem of posthistory in the context of Henri Bergson’s account of memory. Virno concludes that, in order to retain its force, history requires a pre-history it cannot directly include. However, Virno argues that capitalism, as the first fully historical form of organizing life, captures and historicizes this meta-history, thereby valorizing and potentially destroying its force. In the present moment, when genre fictions have taken on greater value than ever before in literary, filmic, televisual, and multimedia environments, it is worth remembering the extent to which this value cuts against such fictions’ productive aspects. David Mitchell’s 2014 World Fantasy Award winning novel, The Bone Clocks, engages with this problematic on two levels. First, it represents the continued deployment of generic structures and conventions by writers not simply associated with genre and thus the continued mainstreaming of these structures for commercial purposes. Second, it demonstrates the potential failure of story by way of its own narrative, which describes an eternal battle between good and evil. Good ultimately wins, but the world is lost nonetheless because of anthropogenic climate change and the economic collapse it produces. Story makes for a nice story, so to speak, but has little impact on history. However, I conclude that the force of story has less to do with the future it might imagine—which remains the province of science fiction—than with the past or, better, the unreachable and idealized pre-history of the present moment that it must imagine and re-imagine as the condition of of historical thought itself. That is, fantasy does not offer new interpretations of the past, a re-ordering of what was, but rather glimpses of the grounds for such interpretations, an impossible desire for a coherent world that must come before any such coherency.

As Here at the end of all things develops a great deal of new vocabulary and refines a good deal of extant vocabulary for thinking about genre fantasy, I offer brief definitions of these terms.


6 Responses to “My next book project: Here at the end of all things: Fantasy after History”

  1. […] a longer talk I had given a few weeks earlier. This material comprises part of chapters 3 and 7 of Here at the end of all things: Fantasy after History. The HTML below is the long version. You can download PDFs of the short version or the long version […]

  2. […] to think about something than the actual thought itself. In any case, I am planning to be done with Here at the end of all things in the first half of the summer, and this paper (along with my essay on Dragonlance and my review […]

  3. […] see Rothfuss doing. In any case, this is some very basic preliminary work for the final chapter of Here at the end of all things, which concludes with a chapter on Rothfuss’s and Okorafor’s respective […]

  4. […] is my ICFA 2019 paper, which in part is taken from Here at the end of all things. At ICFA, it was presented on a panel on Michael Moorcock, along with papers by Tim Murphy and Mark […]

  5. […] is my paper for SFRA 2019, which is a highly edited version of the first half of chapter 7 in Here at the end of all things: Fantasy after History. (Which is to say: the first half of chapter 7 in the project’s current form, which is a bit […]

  6. […] Resources for my talk on chapter three of Here at the end of all things. […]

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