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The Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality: Modern Imaginary Worlds as Sites of Creativity

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 - 7:30pm
Joe Rosenfield '25 Center Room 101
Michael Saler
Professor of History, University of California, Davis

Today, millions of people throughout the world literally “inhabit" imaginary worlds, often in the company of others, for extended periods of time. But are fans of Sherlock Holmes, the Lord of the Rings, or Worlds of Warcraft merely escaping from reality, or are they learning to see that reality itself is partly an open-ended fiction amenable to revision? This talk will examine the history of imaginary worlds as a source of modern enchantment, encouraging both entertaining escapism and social engagement.

Michael Saler is Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, where he teaches Modern European Intellectual History. He is the author of The Avant-Garde in Interwar England: ‘Medieval Modernism’ and the London Underground (Oxford UP, 1999) and As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality (Oxford, 2012). With Joshua Landy, he co-edited The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age (Stanford UP, 2009), and he is the editor of The Fin-de-Siècle World (Routledge, 2014). He writes for the Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, and is currently working on a history of the modern imagination and its relation to contemporary fantasy and science fiction.