OFF IN YOUR OWN LITTLE WORLD: THE MEANING OF (QUEER) FANTASY
WORDS BY JULIAN ROONEY
Our fascination with fantasy represents a collective disdain for normalcy. In place of the real, our imagination, our cinema, our literature, injects new forms of experience, novel narratives and futures not yet formed. Not all fantasy needs a purpose, but it incidentally serves one; it lets us imagine what is missing in our societies as they are and what is possible for them to become. Our escapism into the world of fantasy can be a symptom of our displeasure, but more so, it doubly functions as a pleasure in and of itself.
This is not to suggest that the popularity of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein and J.K. Rowling – and their ability to transport their readers away from the ills of the real world into the trials of theirs – can reveal the particularities of what we want our world to look like. They are revered for the catharsis that escape into their imagination provides; though not all literary fantasies offer the same relief. Science fiction arrives in the place that could be our future, or for Kurt Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick, as a warning of what society may become. Whether oriented towards the mythical past, or the dystopian future, in fantasy we find a narrative which draws people away into their escape.
“Otherwise the genre could, as in Alice’s Wonderland, detail a narrative which projects the viewer beyond their current world, beyond the struggle for equal rights and queer acceptance.”
Beyond the novelty of escapism, fantasy symbolizes new becomings; representations of new realities that we desire to move towards and total inversions of what and how, we know. Epitomized in the works of Lewis Carol, fantasy is a personal, albeit alternative, experience of one’s own desire:
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
Philosopher Luce Irigaray interpreted the inverted world of Alice’s Wonderland to be a revolutionary ideal for feminist politics. Writing herself into her works as ‘Alice Underground,’ she took the fantasy of the impossible world as a symbol for the world beyond present political possibilities. It is only in fantasy that she could imagine her impossible politics, taking a glimpse beyond the visible horizon of political struggle.
“Not all fantasy needs a purpose, but it incidentally serves one; it lets us imagine what is missing in our societies as they are and what it is possible for them to become.”
In works like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ there is no set, nor incorrect, interpretation of what fantasy means. It functions as a revolutionary ideal as much as an escapist delight. Common to both is the reader’s imaginative investment into fantasy, a pioneering premise for our engagement with the genre itself. New forms of cinema and literature provide further means for queer fantasy to act as both a release and an ideal beyond mere aesthetic pleasure.
If the genre can be understood in its productive capacity then the value of a specifically queer fantasy becomes self-evident. It empowers the political imaginary as much as offering an escapist delight. Rather than being limited to queer interpretations of conventional narratives, the genre would speak directly to the community that it concerns. This can be novel, as in the case of LaBruce’s ‘Otto’ (2008), a horror-goth film centering on a gay zombie, which – inviting a political analogy – traces his persecution for his undead predicament. Otherwise the genre could, as in Alice’s Wonderland, detail a narrative which projects the viewer beyond their current world, beyond the struggle for equal rights and queer acceptance. The possibilities for queer fantasy are endless and so may project the political imaginary towards desirable, though not yet attainable, futures.