Thursday, February 26, 2009
To your scattered body go
I was saddened by last night's news of the death of Philip Jose Farmer. Farmer cracked my brain open at a young age, when I discovered his Peoria phabulism on the shelf of a branch library in a leafy old neighborhood, and wrapped my brain around the extent to which imagination permeates "real life" through its narrative infection of our minds. Farmer, perhaps more than any other writer, managed to transform the rawest pulp material into an X-ray lens that exposes unexpected revelations about consciousness and identity, partly by exploring the bizarre subtexts of mainstream genre narratives. I try to situate his contribution in the essay I will be presenting as part of the upcoming symposium on Parallel Worlds: The Impact and Influence of Science Fiction on Contemporary Culture at the Festival de Mexico March 16-20 in Mexico City:
Midwestern fantasist Philip Jose Farmer intuited what’s going on [with the increasingly slippery boundary in our heads between our fantasy narratives and consensus reality]. In Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, Farmer wrote biographies of great pulp heroes as if they were actual historical figures. And in the process of doing so, invented a metafictional postulate that all of the pulp heroes of the English language since the late eighteenth century were literal cousins, descendants of a small group of people exposed to a mutation-causing meteorite in 1795 Yorkshire. In the Riverworld novels, he imagined a meta-nonfictional purgatory realm in which everyone who ever lived co-existed, allowing for the novelistic protagonist (and readerly alter ego) to adventure with pulped-down versions of great figures from history — Richard Burton, Hermann Göring and Mark Twain on a quest to discover the secrets of heaven. The cartoon heroes are all real, the historical figures are all cartoons, and they all co-exist as non-player characters in the role-playing game of our elusive self.
He will be missed.
More at Win Scott Eckert's Wold Newton blog.
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