Presentation: SCMLA 2015

“Enduring Silence: The Impossible Sound of Stolen and Sacred Names in Fantasy Fiction”

I've been digging back through old work and 
came across this recording that I forgot I had. 
I LOVE the two books it's analyzing
(Tigana is one of my top favorites of all time)
and I miss working with straight up fantasy. 
Maybe I need to get back to that a bit 
now that the dissertation is done. 
This was back when I was but a young Ph.D. candidate 
and had just passed my comps the semester before. 
I'm pretty sure I murder half of the names and place names
and words from the authors' invented languages. 
It sounds like I know exactly what I'm pronouncing
but that just wasn't the case 
and I feel terrible for whatever
injustice I did to these authors' imagine worlds. 

From the introduction:

In Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, a conquering sorcerer strips the country of Tigana of its name in retribution for its Prince killing his son. In Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Avatar, Phèdre searches for and then holds within her the vast complexity of God’s name, needed to save her oldest friend. One name stolen, the other sacred, both are lost throughout the majority of these texts to a silence that defines characters and drives plot. Even at their climaxes, when these silences break and these names are once again heard, both texts strain under the impossibility of representing an unrepresentable sound: all the stories, the tragedies, the meanings these singular names have come to hold.

In this presentation, I investigate the contrasting ways these two texts engage with the fantasy trope of names-as-power and depend on and depict the tension between silence and sound. While the violent and tragic silence of a curse drives Tigana, the sacrosanct and unfathomable name of a god inspires Kushiel’s Avatar. Taken together, however, these contrasting approaches illuminate how sound and silence work in fiction, specifically fantasy, to not just advance plot and complicate characters, but to also address questions of how we can represent the unrepresentable struggles—with power, love, war, hate, redemption, forgiveness, memory—that we face in reality every day. Rosemary Jackson argues, “… fantasy characteristically attempts to compensate for a lack resulting from cultural constraints.”  It is, she says, “a literature of desire, which seeks that which is experienced as absence and loss.” These two texts in particular, I argue, demonstrate how fantasy can illuminate and investigate that which exceeds representation, in other words, the extra-linguistic experience that mere explanation or description can never seem to contain.

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