Saler, Michael T. As if: modern enchantment and the literary pre-history of virtual reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth are early examples of “empirically detailed” fantasy world-making. Their readers engages primarily with the made-up world instead of a character. They explore it, experiment it, interact with it and map it. They add or modify new elements through interactive immersion. And they build fandom communities around it (“public sphere of the imagination”).
It reveals a modern thinking conceptualized as “ironic imagination”:
- "As If" imagining (open-minded & receptive) instead of "Just So" believing (constraining & essentialist)
- willing adoption of pretense instead of suspension of disbelief
- being delighted instead of being deluded (or escapism or regression)
- just the positive/rational side of enchantment (“animistic reason”)
- emotional engagement, playfulness and ironic detachment
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A citation of Arjun Appadurai (anthropologist) :
« Until recently... fantasy and imagination were residual practices, confined to special moments or places. In general, imagination and fantasy were antidotes to the finitude of social experience ... As the deterritorialization of persons, images, and ideas has taken on a new force, this weight has imperceptibly shifted. More persons throughout the world see their lives through the prisms of possible lives offered by the mass media in all their forms. That is, fantasy is now a social practice ... »
Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 53–54 .