This essay examines the entanglement of Galin Tihanov’s three regimes of relevance of literature—literature as art, literature as high-minded social engagement, and literature as popular entertainment—in the encounter between a literary theoretician (Tzvetan Todorov) and a science fiction writer (Stanislaw Lem). The overt clash takes place in a polemical article by Lem, in which he attacks Todorov’s theory of the fantastic. Not so obviously, the writer’s revolt against the theoretician imbues Lem’s masterpiece “The Mask.” Kafka’s novella “The Metamorphosis” plays a considerable role in both Lem’s polemic and in his fictional response, raising questions of genre (and its dependence on the market and the entertainment industry), of subjective agency (and its philosophical and political implications), and of artistic ingenuity vis-à-vis despotic power. Although Lem’s reading of Todorov involves considerable misunderstanding, it nevertheless produces fascinating results and exemplifies the impossibility of relegating literary theory to a single regime of relevance.
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May 1, 2021
Research Article| May 01 2021
Of Bugs and Masks: Regimes within Regimes
miglena nikolchina is a professor of literary theory at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. In English, she has published Lost Unicorns of the Velvet Revolutions: Heterotopias of the Seminar (Fordham University Press, 2013) and Matricide in Language: Writing Theory in Kristeva and Woolf (Other Press, 2004). Her present research, “The Subtraction of the Human: Between the Zombie and the Robot,” is focused on humanist/antihumanist trends in philosophy since the 1960s and on the artistic and philosophical ramifications of the artificial being.
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differences (2021) 32 (1): 97–125.
Miglena Nikolchina; Of Bugs and Masks: Regimes within Regimes. differences 1 May 2021; 32 (1): 97–125. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-8956967
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