As If

As If : Modern Enchantment and the Literary Pre-History of Virtual Reality

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Many people throughout the world "inhabit" fantastic imaginary worlds in a communal fashion, enthusiastically discussing the fine points of The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and Harry Potter, or banding together in online virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Second Life. These activities are often dismissed as harmless escapism or bemoaned as pernicious wish-fulfillments that distract from the serious business of life. Saler challenges such claims by excavating the history of imaginary worlds in the West since the late nineteenth century, when the communal and long-term immersion in such worlds first began with Sherlock Holmes. The book contends that imaginary worlds emerged at this time as sites of rational and secular enchantments for the modern age. They continue to represent distinct social practices informing political, social, and spiritual life. Individuals often use imaginary worlds as a playful space to debate serious issues in the real world; they also use them to hone their understandings of the interplay of reason and imagination and the provisional nature of all representations. Saler provides an overview of how imaginary worlds went from being feared by the Victorians to being inhabited by the Edwardians, and discusses in detail the creation and reception of the worlds of A.C. Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, and J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, among many others. The social practices of imaginary worlds will continue to play an important role in a future increasingly influenced by concepts of virtual reality and the rapid growth of gaming communities. Saler's book contributes the historical back-story of those deeply engaging imaginary universes, highlighting their vital lessons for how we can remain enchanted but not deluded in an age that privileges the imagination as much as more

Product details

  • Hardback | 304 pages
  • 160.02 x 238.76 x 22.86mm | 589.67g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195343166
  • 9780195343168

Table of contents

Acknowledgements ; Introduction ; Part One: Contexts ; Chapter One: Living In the Imagination ; Chapter Two: Delight without Delusion: The New Romance, Spectacular Texts, and Public Spheres ; Part Two: Cases ; Chapter Three: Clap If You Believe in Sherlock Holmes: Arthur Conan Doyle and Animistic Reason ; Chapter Four: From "Virtual Unreality" to Virtual Reality: H.P. Lovecraft and Public Spheres of the Imagination ; Chapter Five: The Middle Positions of Middle-earth: J.R.R. Tolkien and Fictionalism ; Envoi ; Bibliography ; Indexshow more

Review quote

Saler's book uncovers and identifies precursors to the shared imaginary worlds of our time. His argument is clear, his examples entertaining; the cumulative effect is startling and ultimately very useful, in that we are given a new and positive way to understand not only several currently emerging art forms, but also our entire cultural moment. I now see my kids' activities in a new light; it even seems as if our future could be good. * Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Galileo's Dream * Michael Saler's dazzling book adds a new historical dimension to our understanding of imaginary worlds and literature; through As If a surprising illumination of our modernity becomes possible. * Simon During, author of Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic * If modernity can be called an 'iron cage,' as it was by Max Weber, the para-modernity explored by Michael Saler is an Escher staircase. Composed of oxymoronic juxtapositions-animistic reason, detached immersion, ironic faith, and enchanted disenchantment-it transports us nowhere, but the journey is filled with such wonders that we keep moving along. As If is itself a triumph of imagination and wit, as well as an exemplary exercise in cultural history. * Martin Jay, author of Songs of Experience: Modern American and European Variations on a Universal Theme * This is the best cultural study of fantasy I have ever read. A powerful, liberating argument, woven together from an impressive array of sources, all treated well and fairly. Saler routs the assumption that enchantment and reason oppose one another. * Edward Castronova, author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games * Riveting stuff...Open[s] up a new vision not just of the literature of the fantastic, but of us as well. * Rick Kleffel, * Mr. Saler counterpunches vigorously against the whole edifice of literary snobbery... His book should be essential reading in every graduate school of the humanities. But it's much more fun than that recommendation suggests. * Tom Shippey, The Wall Street Journal * Brilliant... As If reminds us that, through real play in imaginary gardens, we can enhance the lives we lead in this alienated modern world. * Michael Dirda, The Washington Post * an engaging and adventurous literary history ... [a] lively and intelligent work * Patrick Curry, Times Literary Supplement *show more

About Michael T. Saler

Michael Saler is Professor of History, University of California at Davis. He is the author of The Avant-Garde in Interwar England: 'Medieval Modernism' and the London Underground (OUP 1999) which received an Honorable Mention for the 2000 British Council Prize in the more

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42 ratings
4.02 out of 5 stars
5 38% (16)
4 38% (16)
3 17% (7)
2 2% (1)
1 5% (2)
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