As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary PreHistory of Virtual Reality
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Named One of the "Best Books of 2012" by the Editors of The Huffington Post Many people throughout the world "inhabit" imaginary worlds communally and persistently, parsing Harry Potter and exploring online universes. These activities might seem irresponsibly escapist, but history tells another story. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, when Sherlock Holmes became the world's first "virtual reality" character, readers began to colonize imaginary worlds, debating serious issues and viewing reality in provisional, "as if" terms rather than through essentialist, "just so" perspectives. From Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos and Tolkien's Middle-earth to the World of Warcraft and Second Life, As If provides a cultural history that reveals how we can remain enchanted but not deluded in an age where fantasy and reality increasingly intertwine.
Sherlock Holmes Society of London, 99, 116–17, 121, 122f, 123–25, 230n60 British National Front, 162 Brontë, Charlotte, 35–36 Brooke-Rose, Christine, 211n70 Brown, Fredric, 92–93 Brown, Joseph M., 76, 78, 79f Burne-Jones, Edward, 181 Burrow, J. W., 217n69 Cabell, James Branch, 213–14n26 Cameron, James, 103 capitalism, 8, 11, 30, 34, 82 Carter, Lin, 28–29 Carter, Paul, 224n88 The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars (Boucher), 107 Castle, William, 205n16
texts, New Romance literary prehistory of virtual reality, 56, 198 literature. See children’s literature; fiction; imaginary worlds; specific genres Little England, Tolkien’s, 168–75 Little Nell (Dickens), 37, 107 Lloyd, John Uri, 76, 77f London, Jack, 42 The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien), 5 Aestheticism of, 180 allegorical interpretation of, 19 Bible and, 190 Catholicism in, 180, 239n116 Dutch translation of, 179 essentialist interpretation of, 19, 162
“Justin So.”) The imagination and imaginary worlds received further legitimation at this time as idealist philosophers, and scientists influenced by them, contended that reality itself was imaginary to some degree. In reaction to the mid-nineteenth century school of materialist psychology, which reduced consciousness to physiological processes, neo-Kantian and neo-Hegelian thinkers in the second half of the nineteenth century illustrated the complex role played by the imagination in the
participation.14 Parker observed that fans “trade their cherished fantasies with each other,” resulting in a synergistic meeting of minds that elaborated imaginary worlds, virtual realities of the imagination shared by participatory reading communities.15 Parker was prescient, but contemporary virtual worlds—defined here as acknowledged imaginary spaces that are communally inhabited for prolonged periods of time by rational individuals—began even earlier. Imaginary worlds of fiction first
estimate what is happening at the present sub specie aeternitatis”) and also that fundamentalist pronouncements could be expressions of the will to power.161 He not only rejected allegory because it confused Secondary with Primary Worlds, but because its formulaic interpretations represented an attempt to overmaster the reader’s free will. “I dislike real allegory in which the application is the author’s own and is meant to dominate you,” he wrote; “I prefer the freedom of the reader or