Date of Degree
Access restricted until 08/31/2020
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
This dissertation considers why fantasy has been so slow to be valued in literary circles, how those conditions are changing, and the implications of these changes for the broader topic of literary value. What makes literature worthy of study? It has become commonplace to observe, on the one hand, the increasing significance and ubiquity of cultural productions, and on the other hand, the waning significance of the humanities in higher education. Literary study, in particular, has seemed to be in danger of losing the basis for its justification. Over the last several decades, critique has become one of the most popular means of justifying the study of literature, as a practice of awakening resistance to ideological forces. And yet, literature has much more to offer besides critique, such as the affirmative values of communication, integration, and well-being. This dissertation seeks to enhance the relevance of literary study by outlining ongoing revisions to literary value through interpretations of contemporary fantasy.
Previously, under modernism, literary value was defined as autonomy from the marketplace. However, following the rise of postmodernism, this ontological definition of literary value became questionable, legible only as a cultural construction. Critique functions as a means of preserving the movement towards, if not the content of, ideals of autonomy. The method of critique locates value in the insights of the critic or the author who demystifies, debunks, or otherwise criticizes social and cultural structures. To the extent that literary value has become identified with the aims of critique, these practices of negation offer an apparent certainty that glosses over the fact that constructions of value continue to require acts of faith from both readers and authors. Recent shifts in literary value point towards the inclusion of affirmative practices of construction, in addition to negative practices of deconstruction. Taking up these trends, this dissertation interprets how recent fantasies work to reconstruct the grounds for faith in literary value.
Since the turn of the twenty-first century, especially, fantasists have begun to experiment with new ways of combining the values of critique with the values of affirmation. A postcritical approach to fantasy re-opens avenues in academic valuing for discussing the positive, embodied elements of literary value—particularly the value of escaping into a different world in order to understand, and to cope with, one’s own world better. As a form of genre fiction involving the mode of enchantment, fantasy has long been devalued along gendered lines, criticized for its supposed positioning of readers as passively manipulated. Part One, “Recovering Enchantment,” considers how fantasists have built on the growing recognition of the role of genre as a mode of communication; through enchanted reading, both authors and readers engage in relatively passive acts of absorption, which can be constructed to be more nourishing than other acts of consumption. Building on the substance of enchantment, Part Two, “Integrating the Values of Critique and Affirmation,” interprets how recent fantasies overcome the theoretical divergence that associates critique with literary autonomy and affirmation with popular manipulations, moving towards solutions for re-enchanting literary value. The methodology emphasizes the contributions of individual texts in the context of emerging and established uses of fantastic genres. Because reading fantasy involves an encoded act of faith, this literature is particularly suited for investigating new directions in literary value, and for producing literary artifacts that both recall and progress the inquiry into what it might mean to ‘believe in books.’
Enchantment, Fantasy, Literary Theory, Literary Value, Literature, Post-Critical
vi, 267 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 248-267).
Copyright © 2018 Kelly Budruweit
Budruweit, Kelly. "Believing in books: twenty-first century fantasy and the re-enchantment of literary value." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2018.