Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation offers a materialist theory of fantasy as the literature of estranged cognition, an entirely novel perspective that challenges all of the existing criticism on fantasy literature by proposing an outlook that emphasizes not impossibility, but infinite possibility. During the late-Victorian period, the form of the fairy tale shifted from the literary fairy tale to ‘fantasy.’ Three formal characteristics reveal that fantasy literature derives from the fairy tale: an indication, thematically or formally, that another dimension has been entered; the making and remaking of genres—stories—in dialectically overdetermined configurations; and a textual conflation between physics and ethics that results in estranged cognition. The making and remaking of genres provides a point of contact between SF and the fairy tale, resulting in radical fantasy. In radical fantasy the reality effect of the fairy tale becomes most obvious, because the reality effect of the tale is determined by scientific, empirical reality. So the fairy tale, through radical fantasy, begins to exhibit something like a cognition effect. But no matter how rigorous fantasy worlds may be, they are bound, like the fairy tale, by an ethical dimension that limits the constructed, rational basis of the tale. Fantasy estranges cognition by positing an infinite possibility that challenges the limits of even the most imaginative scientific rigor. Estranged cognition exposes the true limits of what can be thought and in this way points towards political understandings that look through and past both particulars and wholes. This dissertation pursues estranged cognition as it manifests in the work of Joanna Russ and Samuel Delany, culminating in the final chapter, which synthesizes the entirety of my findings through a reading of China Miéville’s BAS-LAG Trilogy. There estranged cognition uncovers a hidden textual promise of a better future, one not bound by particulars or wholes, a truly new way of organizing our collective political situation.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Freedman, Carl