This Project concentrates on representations of the transformable, unstable, metamorphic body in British fantastic literature from pre-Romanticism to posthumanism. Its focus on shifting shapes is predicated on both the transformative aesthetic of the fantastic and on shifting concepts of the human body in Western culture. It breaks radically new ground by exploring fantastic body transformations in their relation to a) changing ideas about the body, b) changing forms and generic developments, and c) the creative processes by which the fantastic subverts the status quo and presents the impossible as conceivable.

The necessity of investigating this literature comprehensively arises from currents and practices in contemporary cultural and social life intimately connected with the body. Bioengineering, cloning and artificial reproduction, cosmetic surgery, gene therapy, computer surgery, organ transplantation, and information technology are suggestive of dramatic shifts in the conceptualisation of the human body (the body as animal, the body as machine, the body as a system of atoms and chemical functions, the body as cyborg, as a decipherable text written in DNA code, as a commodity, or a store of reusable organs).

Fantastic literature is the prime site for exploring this changeable metabody, which multiply interrelates with an ethos and aesthetic necessarily based on transformation. For fantastic literature permanently changes in response to the existing world. Gothic, romance, fantasy, and science fiction – each creates its own cognitive and emotional otherworld, employing shapeshifting to its particular ends: for producing horror, for creating a carnival world or a utopian/dystopian future, for effecting a wish-fulfilment pattern, etc. The fantastic in literature constantly re-negotiates the borderline between that which exists and that which cannot or, at a given time, could not, exist.
This Project is funded by the FWF, Vienna.

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