This fall, I will participate in the Nineteenth-Century French Studies Colloquium at Princeton. My presentation is titled: “Réintroduction à la littérature fantastique: Théophile Gautier, Immanuel Kant, and Object Oriented Ontology.”
Abstract: Studies of the fantastic and attempts to define the fantastic as a genre have always presupposed a human-centered ontology. But the anthropocentric hierarchies of Enlightenment thought, embodied by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, are precisely what the fantastic seeks to undermine. The fantastic posits a flat ontology where humans and objects stand on equal ground, where objects act, and where human subjects are objectified. After showing connections from Kant to Théophile Gautier through E. T. A. Hoffmann, I argue that Gautier’s fantastic undermines a human-centered worldview while theorizing the hidden life of things. This reading leads us to tentatively redefine the fantastic as a form “speculative realism,” as a genre that takes the presence and perspective of objects seriously, and that embeds this object-oriented ontology into fantastic texts in ways that trouble the reader’s subject-centered consciousness.