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    Volume 4: Imaginary Artifacts & Design (Fall 2024)

    “In everyday usage, the word object denotes a solid, visible, tangible, and inanimate thing; the notion of a nonexistent or merely imaginary object must appear as a contradiction in terms” – Winfried Nöth.

    The fantastic is replete with imaginary objects, often imbued with great power. Fantasy plots often revolve around possession of magical objects, such as the rings of power in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or the infinity stones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In science fiction, a new technological object is often the novum that differentiates the universe from our own, such as the existence of a time travel machine in Back to the Future or an intelligent operating system in Her. In horror, occult objects are often the source of the uncanny, from “The Monkey’s Paw” to Hellraiser’s configuration puzzle box. Artifacts are frequently plot catalysts (as in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings), totalizing concepts (as in Boye’s Kallocain) or sentient constructs with a symbiotic or prosthetic relation to the protagonist (Jarvis in Iron Man). Studies of the fantastic, however, often subordinate these objects to understanding their influence on characters and the fantastic universe. In light of new intellectual movements such as object-oriented ontology, with its insistence that objects are not defined solely by their relations with humans, perhaps it is time to re-examine fantastic objects in their own right?

    Unlike imaginary beings, which often combine ontologically distinct categories, imaginary artifacts are harder to define. Some imaginary objects could theoretically be created, leading us into the world of design fiction. What happens to fantastic objects when they become real? Other fantastic objects are fundamentally impossible but essential to the plot, such as magical or demonically-possessed artifacts - can such objects be considered within intellectual frameworks such as object-oriented ontology? On screen, the creative work of art directors often plays a crucial role in imagining and developing the storyworld, with their designs often reshaping the narrative by suggesting new possibilities. In what ways has production design influenced the creation and development of different fantastic universes? How does sentient AI with the ability to communicate appear when approached as either imaginary being or object, as design fiction or fundamental impossibility?


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