Date of Award

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Christopher Orchard

Second Advisor

Christopher Kuipers

Third Advisor

Kenneth Sherwood

Abstract

In this dissertation, I will apply Jean Baudrillard’s concept of the hyperreal and Umberto Eco’s notion of the “absolute fake” to three Otherworld journeys from three different time periods: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and American Gods. Each text uses the Otherworld journey to highlight the hyperreality of a perceived real world—one that has become, essentially, “fake.” In Gawain, Bertilak’s realm serves as an ethical counterpart to Arthur’s court, one in which the values of chivalry are faithfully upheld, causing one to question Arthur’s position as the idyllic monarch. In Alice, Wonderland serves as a vivid and frightening representation of Alice’s future, contradicting the idealistic rhetoric upholding middle-class motherhood in Victorian England. In American Gods, Shadow learns that the world he has understood to be real is only a small part of the whole. Here, the larger Otherworld is superimposed onto the “absolute fake” of modern America, which, once revealed, causes one to question belief, the human/divine relationship, and even the American Dream.

For the purposes of this proposal, the term “Otherworld” is defined as an alternative realm beyond the initial setting of a story, existing on a different plane and having its own rules of time, space, and behavior. To further this definition, I will use Lacan’s definition of the “Real”: the absolute, objective “truth we repress,” which is immediately lost the moment we start to give it thought and shape. Arguing that society has caused this “Real” to disappear due to the infinite number of signifiers used to define it, Baudrillard suggests that we live a simulated, or hyperreal, world. According to Eco, “the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake.” Essentially, the fake subsumes the “Real” due to its obvious, larger-than-life, and ubiquitous presence. These theoretical concepts set us up to question reality, and the Otherworld journey gives us an alternative upon which to base this questioning. While the Otherworld does not displace the “absolute fake,” it does expose it for what it is: a hypercolor plastic overlay that we treat as “Real.”

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