distinction with a difference

In an “ontological fantasy,” characters from “our” niche interact with sentient beings from other niches, as in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The reader is not at liberty to doubt the existence of trolls, orcs, and elves, even if a character within the fiction does. Often the interaction borders on the sacred, as in Hamlet’s encounter with his father’s ghost. Walter M. Miller Jr., in a passage from A Canticle for Leibowitz, makes a clear distinction between ontological and epistemological fantasy. Dr. Cors and Abbot Zerchi are debating the merits of euthanasia. The skeptical doctor speaks,

“If I thought I had such a thing as a soul, and that there was an angry God in Heaven, I might agree with you.”
Abbot Zerchi smiled thinly. “You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body temporarily.” (W.M. Miller 242)

Given leisure from hagiography, the abbot might enjoy an ontological fantasy. Dr. Cors might read an epistemological fantasy, though he would likely prefer psychological realism.
—David M. Miller, “Mommy Fortuna’s Ontological Plenum: The Fantasy of Plenitude”, in Contours of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Eighth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, edited by Michele K. Langford, Greenwood Press, 1990, pp. 208-209

One thought on “distinction with a difference”

  1. The song reamains the same

    Hello Michael,

    I was introduced to your journal by a mutual friend, and I’m hooked. I went so far as to set up my own journal, but have not yet made an entry. Life, at the present time, precludes me from sharing my own head with the world; so I delve into the heads of others for inspiration.

    Following your link to the Wikipedia synopsis for A Cantible for Liebowitz, my first thought as I perused the entry was …. the song remains the same. No matter how far we search for deeper meaning the themes repeat themselves. Empires are built, self destruct, and in examining the past we impart great relevance on items that were probably not revered by our ancestors. A grocery list becomes a miraculous sign. I haven’t read the book, but that struck me as rather funny.

    Also, I could be mistaken, but a rock rolled back to reveal a cave…..a boulder rolled back to reveal an empty tomb….the sojourn in the dessert….hmmmm…sounds vaguely familiar.

    Fantasy or realism, the message is so often the same. Don’t you think?

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