CFP: Hobgoblins of Fantasy: American Fantasy Fiction in Theory

Special feature in The New Americanist
In association with the American Studies Center, University of Warsaw
Fall 2019
Stichtag: 31.07.2018

The New Americanist would like to announce a general call for papers for its third issue (Fall 2019). The New Americanist is an interdisciplinary journal publishing scholarly work on the United States and the Americas broadly considered. We are especially interested in work which includes a global perspective, introduces new critical approaches, and proposes theoretical frameworks to the study of the US. We welcome contributions from scholars from around the world and across the humanities and social sciences.

“A frightful hobgoblin stalks through Europe. We are haunted by a ghost, the ghost of Communism.” The Communist Manifesto (1850)

A frightful hobgoblin stalks through genre fiction, too. Fantasy is haunted by that same ghost, the ghost of critical theory. The fantastic, the hobgoblin, and fantasy literature as we know it were “always already” present in the early articulations of critical theory. Fantasy, though, does not merely echo within, or from, Marx and Engels. It presents unique challenges to critical theory, both to readers and to literary critics, not least because of its seeming opposition to realism, materialism, and history itself. That is to say, critical theory’s ostensible rationalism confronts fantasy’s vision of itself as myth. Even the word “myth” carries such different meanings in the theories of Horkheimer and Adorno, Barthes, or Lacan, rather than in fantasy, that the two can barely understand each other. That instability roots fantasy in a “negative capability,” possibly even an antifoundationalist tendency, when it comes to theorizing it. Suvin or Jameson, for example, set it in opposition to science fiction, its twin genre. So while fantasy finds more traction than SF in political allegory or feminist critique, that very capability clashes with the class theory of history, the critique of neoliberalism, that SF ostensibly contains. The result is that fantasy vacillates between Marxist critique, with its determinism and false consciousness, and social commentary, with its direct representation and even accusation.

What are readers to do? Must the hobgoblin be exorcised, or do we find a medium through which to communicate? Is the hobgoblin itself a product of the struggle between fantasy and rationality? As a special feature in the newly-relaunched The New Americanist, and in association with the American Studies Center at the University of Warsaw, “Hobgoblins of Fantasy: American Fantasy Fiction in Theory” seeks articles on critical approaches to American fantasy fiction. The special feature section is open to articles from any critical paradigm and of any period in American fantasy but is particularly interested in readings of fantasy that draw on the conflicts among competing critical methods. This collection reflects debates around definitions, sub-genres (urban fantasy vs. heroic fantasy, or high & low fantasy, etc.), periodization, historicization, gender & sexuality in reading communities, reception theory, and so forth. Portals into the critical fantastic include (but are not limited to) some suggestive tensions:

  • China Miéville observes in Red Planets that the SF project had begun subtitled “Marxism, Science Fiction, Fantasy.” Whence fantasy and why this trend?
  • Jameson and Suvin welcome fantasy into history with the departure of magic, or precisely when it ceases to be fantastical. Are other historicizations of fantasy possible?
  • Urban fantasy has flourished through identity politics (gender, LGBTQ+, “minority” communities), but what of concepts of consolation, inoculation, or cultural appropriation that question foundational works in the sub-genre?
  • The rise of Afrofuturism in SF suggests a parallel Afrofantastic. What of other communities find voice through (or represented in) fantasy? What voices do Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American, and other fantasy communities find in the genre?
  • Reader response and reception theory in pulp fiction has largely related to romance reading communities—in what ways is fantasy divergent from (or contiguous with) this established critical project?

Other questions might include (but are not limited to):

  • Is there a “Hard Fantasy,” and is it complicit in the potential toxic masculinity of demands for a Hard SF?
  • Fanfic studies have concentrated on SF, often in relation to identity and communities of resistance in underground publications, yet S/K echoes very differently in the commercial success of Fifty Shadesresponding to Twilight. What are the sexual politics of fantasy fanfic? What are its genders and communities?
  • What are fantasy’s nationalisms? Is there a manifest destiny stalking American fantasy?
  • Is “Cli-Fi” necessarily a subset of SF’s cognitive estrangements, or is a fantastic confrontation with nature “always already” allegorizing anthropogenic climate change?
  • Do Animal Studies or human/non-human networks find unique representations or opportunities in fantasy and/or in fantasy audiences?
  • Do we confront, through Klein, Lacan, Žižek, et al., the “phantasy” in fantasy, linking it to desire, the Other, and radical transformation, or must we also remain discontent with metonymic substitutes as a function of fantasy?

Please submit 1-page abstracts and a short biographical note for proposed articles to James Gifford ( and Orion Kidder ( by 31 July 2018. Selected articles (6,000–8,000 words) will then be due by 31 December 2018 for peer-review. The third issue of The New Americanist will be published in Fall 2019 with “Hobgoblins of Fantasy: American Fantasy Fiction in Theory” as its special feature.

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