Special Panel: Beyond the Wall of Belief: The Hyper-real Metatextual Occulture of The King in Yellow : Area for Esotericism, Occultism, and Magic at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association annual conference, Feb 23-26, Albuquerque, New Mexico

George Sieg's picture
Type: 
Conference
Date: 
February 23, 2022 to February 26, 2022
Location: 
New Mexico, United States
Subject Fields: 
Humanities, Literature, Philosophy, Popular Culture Studies, Religious Studies and Theology

As one of our area's special events for the Southwestern Popular/American Culture Association's return to live annual conference activity this February 23-26, 2022, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Area for Esotericism, Occultism, and Magic invites presentations for a special panel (or, depending on the level of response, a series of related special panels) examining the diverse significance, influence, and impact of The King In Yellow in all of its expressions.  Any of the angles suggested in the brief call below, along with any other insights into the text and metatext will be considered for inclusion.  Proposals from any and all disciplines, interdisciplines, and transdisciplines are welcome; close readings and analyses of specific texts or elements of texts (including, of course, The King In Yellow itself) as well as broader examinations of themes, influences, and trends such as those examined in the below CFP are equally appropriate and equally of interest.  Similarly, investigations into the adaptation and use of the content of The King In Yellow as well as its themes, techniques, and devices are encouraged, whether in representation or in interactive practice, inclusive of the entirely liminal context of nominally fictional aesthetics --- in the alternate realities of gaming or the potentially 'altered' realities of esoteric, occult, and magical experience.  Please direct all inquiries, from questions to full proposals of 200-500 words to the Area Chair, Dr. George Sieg, at georgejsieg@gmail.com .  Further details follow, intended more as inspiration than limitation:

The King In Yellow (1895) has become the best known work of the American author Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933), popular in his lifetime for his wider and more conventional oeuvre.  Despite the range of his work, this single short-story anthology has had greater impact than the rest of Chambers's fiction combined, having influenced H. P. Lovecraft and the development of the weird.  Nevertheless, until its recent accessibility to mainstream television audiences via its significant presence in Season One of True Detective (2014), prior to its becoming the focus of its own table-top roleplaying game, The Yellow King (2019, Pelgrane Press), a four-volume collection with content and scenarios spanning multiple historical eras, The King In Yellow was generally referenced only in the context of the Lovecraft Mythos and its reception as an open, collaborative mythology, whether in gaming or in fiction included with, or strongly influenced by, the weird.  It is also chiefly in the context of the "Lovecraft Mythos" that the contents and concepts in The King In Yellow have been utilized in contemporary esoteric, occult, and magical practice, whether by individual practitioners employing a weird aesthetic or within the shared textual and ritual lexica of organized groups.  While all of these examples exhibit, at least to some degree, the remarkable metatextuality of The King In Yellow and its subsequent reception, only the most recent Pelgrane Press multi-volume publication equally and consistently emphasizes elements of The King In Yellow that foreshadow the multi-layered fourth-wall-blurring-and/or-breaking applications of metatextuality and the self-referential aesthetics of the hyper-real that have become increasingly common across fictional media, while also giving equal if not greater focus to the significant role of concepts of alternate history and the counterfactual in the text, alluding perhaps to the elusive "meta-reality" of a "metaverse" frequently conceptualized in shared-world fictions as the underlying basis shared by various alternate continuities.  

While the trend toward self-referential aesthetics and structures was perhaps initially most apparent in media fiction inspired by esoteric worldviews (particularly those inspired by Gnosticism, often relying on conceits and devices inspired by conceptions of virtual reality, anticipated by concerns of authors such as the much-adapted Philip K. Dick with simulation, simulacra, and counterfeit), this trend has now extended its influential "trendrils" through multiple media and transmedia phenomenon.  Although "alternate reality games" are the most stereotypical and direct example, Live-Action Roleplaying also frequently, if unofficially, facilitates the blurring and breaking of the fourth-wall, and although few interactive digital games have achieved this fully "hyperfictional" effect, many now suggest it through metafictional aesthetic or in contexts of irony. These examples are not limited to interactive fiction: the effect is a primary conceit of the creepypasta style, and across genres, antiheroes and villainous protagonists who directly address the audience continue to proliferate.  However, Chambers's remarkably liminal intersection of conceptions of alternate reality with fourth-wall-breakage and self-similar aesthetics also anticipated the later popularity of counterfactuals and alternate history in speculative fiction; the direct engagement with such contents simultaneously with motifs of simulation and virtuality continues to be rare, though it is notable than the Amazon Prime television adaptation of Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle adapts not only the story but Dick's use of the metatextual device itself as well.  

Nevertheless, the extent to which The King In Yellow has been directly or indirectly influential on later works and trends, as well as the broader possibility that Chambers anticipated multiple later developments in this single anthology work, has received little academic investigation and attention.  Similarly, the conflation of his anthology with the Lovecraftian weird has tended to obscure the presence of its notable and distinct features summarized here, though it might be of related interest that the adoption of the Lovecraftian weird throughout diverse expressions of contemporary esoteric, occult, and magical practice seems to more resemble the metatextuality of The King In Yellow than it does the ontological liminality or cosmic horror of The Necronomicon.  Finally, The King In Yellow suggests a "hyperreal" quality that can be compared but also profitably contrasted with the ontological pressure that inspires Necronomicon constructions -- insofar as The King In Yellow was first referred to in the actual published work by that name, unlike The Necronomicon.  This metatextual hyperrealism (perhaps "transtextuality") lends itself to a broader range of adaptational styles and metatextual references (though, so far, rather less frequent ones), including the reference in the Lovecraftian-mythos-themed board game Death May Die (published November, 2019) to the Yellow King's return to the world through a ten-year series of viral outbreaks beginning in 2020, making this special panel particularly suitable for our return to the world of live conference events this 2022.

Contact Info: 

Dr. George J. Sieg : georgejsieg@gmail.com

(505) 440-2105

Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (Area Chair: Esotericism, Occultism, and Magic)

Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (Liberal Arts: Philosophy and Literature)

 

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