The literature of the fantastic uniquely offers productive space for expansive political imagination, as well as consideration of factors threatening its foreclosure. Speculative fiction projects dynamic futures between utopian and dystopian extremities. Fantasy literature describes epic histories and mythic worlds within which anyone might rise to supreme power or fall into cruel ignominy. Horror stories relegate their characters to fearful ordeals typically leading to terrible ends, but not before informing the concerns of mundane existence with greater significance. Borrowing tropes from these discrete genres, the recently revived hybrid of the weird forecasts even stranger locations of wondrous destiny and sublime doom. The space of the fantastic overall compels readers to contemplate extraordinary possibilities within states of exception, where unimaginable change, for good or ill, becomes extraordinarily eminent. Such exceptionalism may be traced to the appraisal of America and American-ness as "exceptional" in Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1835; 1840), or to the popular emergence of American exceptionalism in early 20th-century social thought. But the national scope of this stubborn allegiance to exceptionalism seems opposed by the global scale of the fantastic and its growing international reach. Jameson refers to the national articulation of exceptionalism as "delusional" and identified its mythic impulse as a sign of "ideological bias" (1981). In contrast, the fantastic may serve to subvert such ideological impulses and, in their place, activate a more progressive space for the exceptional, despite the well-deserved criticism the concept has received. The fantastic is a provisional space for cultivating varieties of political imagination that may lack clear rhetorical ground in the mundane, including the residual concept of exceptionality. This panel examines the range of such political imaginaries, exceptional or otherwise, supported by narratives of the fantastic—in literature, film, and other media.
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