Alternate Worlds in Postmodern Fiction

A Cross-Genre Analysis of Gaiman’s Selected Works

One of the key features that marks the fiction of the postmodern era is the subverting of age old traditions and beliefs. This is most commonly done by proposing the existence of multiple realities. This trend has also given rise to what is now being called the transrealist movement. Transrealism is one of the major literary movements of the 21st century, that emerged by blurring the boundary between fantasy and reality. Many writers have written fiction about alternative worlds; Neil Gaiman is one of them. The study analysed three ‘alternate world’ novels namely; Coraline, The Graveyard Book, and Neverwhere by Gaiman as transreal works that address multiple audiences on social issues.

The research examined the social impact of the selected works across three genres of children, young adult and adult fiction, by employing a theoretical model based on Rucker’s Transrealist Manifesto, and Poststructuralist theories of Derrida and  Lyotard.

The analyses revealed that the selected works of Gaiman with ‘alternate worlds’ have transreal elements and satirize social reality of the world by presenting an alternate reality. This alternate reality experienced by the protagonists of the novels, highlights social problems regarding parenting, family ties, teen rebellion, class division, poverty and lack of compassion for the underprivileged. The conclusion derived therefore proves that the works studied being transreal; subvert consensus reality by offering variety of world-views and embed themes pertaining to social reality.


Speculative fiction of the 20th century is best exemplified by the growth of new genres, it is difficult to determine where science ends and where fiction begins, the wildest fantasies of science fiction writers have a way of becoming scientific fact. Science fiction always worked hand in hand with fantasy and came to be called “science-fantasy” as well, but postmodern fiction being a blend of genres and techniques, added realism to this combination in order to construct parallel worlds existing side by side the author’s world. These fictional worlds offered an alternative view of social reality and became an instrument of social criticism. This is how Transreal Fiction emerged, which though has elements of science-fantasy, is rooted in realism and represents higher reality of our own life, and its problems.

The focus of the current study is “alternate worlds” which are built with transreal elements across three genres of Children, Young Adult and Adult fiction. Neil Gaiman is known for crossover fiction and as a cross-genre writer; his works have immense academic scope and are counted among postmodern classics. The researcher chose to work on Transrealism because it is a revolutionary form of writing that demands recognition and appreciation. Crossover fiction crosses over from one audience to another and cross-genre writing is that which traverses genres.

Author of speculative fiction Damien Walter, who also writes for The Guardian defines the emerging genre of Transrealism as; “It’s not science fiction, it’s not realism, but hovers in the unsettling zone in-between (2014, para. 1). Additionally, another Australian critical theorist and Science fiction writer, Damien Broderick calls Transrealism the unleashing of the fantastical and strange into ordinary life(2009, p. 10). It has been found that Neil Gaiman can be considered as a transrealist, who has a way of highlighting realities of life through fantastic stories. This thesis focuses on Transrealist traits in Neil Gaiman’s three novels that have been chosen for study. The researcher has systematically explored how this mode of speculative writing and the literary devices associated with it bring out the social behaviours, attitudes and issues that the author has satirized.

Alternate worlds stand for looking at reality from a different angle and represent variety of world-views. The fiction which employs this approach can foster change in its readers, by letting them see an alternate reality better from their own social reality. Postmodernists being sceptic, and influenced by deconstructionist approach are concerned with the unreliability, uncertainty and imprecision of the knowledge that exists. This is why the contemporary fiction including science fiction, aims at deconstructing popular myths that are tools of mass thought-control. Postmodernism hence is all about possibility of multiple truths, alternate realities and possible worlds that man may not know of. Transreal approach to speculative fiction has a social value, because it addresses multiple audiences on themes concerning social reality, which is built upon certain repressive ideologies, and is questionable.

(I did my thesis on this topic, felt like sharing the abstract and introduction with those who are literature enthusiasts.)

Available on Amazon.com for purchase
https://www.amazon.com/Alternate-Worlds-Postmodern-Fiction-Cross-Genre/dp/6138937635

The Power of Words

Photo by Kaboompics

Think before you speak! Words hold the power to build, as well as destroy. Keeping a check on what we read, hear or say, can help us build a positive outlook on life, achieve goals and consequently improve our general well-being.

Words used as a weapon, can shape societies and individual thought patterns.

There’s a famous saying in Urdu language that when translated in English means, “A person who’s hurt using a sword heals faster, than the one who’s hurt using the tongue.” Put simply, it implies that the tongue is sharper than the sword!

We’ve heard so many stories about verbal abuse, we have seen many men and women cry recalling the hurtful words they heard in their childhood, we have read many blogs where authors literally bleed with their words!

Where words can bring people close to us, can counsel people to change, can soothe and persuade; they can also manipulate, drive people away, hurt and end some of the most beautiful relationships in our lives..

Words matter!

The way we choose our words, shapes our lives and our perception of it. Words, whether they are heard, read or spoken, elicit emotional responses in people, and leave a psychological impact on our minds. Hence smart people say, choose your words and your company wisely!

If you sit with a person who is a habitual complainer, you’ll soon start feeling depressed and unhappy. This is because a person who complains, and is not content with himself uses negative words, or negative terms that drain you out of your own positivity. Having such people around can make you pessimistic and focus on the shortcomings of life, instead of being grateful! Sometimes we all feel the need to cry, unburden ourselves and undergo a catharsis, but overdoing these may hint that we need therapy or counselling. Believe me, sharing your depressing thoughts or disturbing mental patterns with a professional, help more than sharing them with random people around you.

You must have experienced that spending time with people who are happy and content, raises your energy level, makes you stay optimistic and focus on the good side of things. Having such people in your life can do you a lot of good, and you’ll always be thankful for their presence!

Postmodern philosophers are of the view that “words create our reality”, and if we ponder over this, we’ll very much agree with it. We become our thoughts and our words. How words impact behaviour, responses and shape our experiences can even be felt by small children. If you talk to a stubborn child in a polite and loving manner, you have more chances of making them do what you require them to. On the contrary if you talk to a child in a taunting and threatening way, there are 99% chances that he or she is not going to listen to you, and even form a negative image of you in their minds.

There’s a reason that school teachers are told and trained to be patient, because the “words” they’ll use while teaching will strongly impact a child who’s personality is growing, and is undergoing a sensitive phase of its development. Telling a child or a grown-up repeatedly that they’re a failure or they can’t do anything right, will eventually shatter their confidence, rip them of self-esteem, while telling them that nothing is difficult, and that one should keep trying; will build resilience and perseverance in them.

Believe me, it’s all about “how” we say something using our “careful selection of words.” Books that leave a lasting impression, authors that compel us to think in a specific way do it all with just “words!”

Photo by Ylanite Koppens

Since we as an enlightened lot base our knowledge on scientific inquiry, lets come to the neurological aspect of the “use of words”.

Cognitive scientists view the brain as a prediction machine, constantly comparing what is happening around us to expectations based on experience — and considering what should happen next.

Our brain predicts what is about to come or happen depending on what we hear on daily basis. Bastien Boutonnet and Gary Lupyan, who published their research in the Journal of Neuroscience, say that we can “jump-start our vision with the power of words.” These scientists selected some words in audio form and made a group of people hear them, after each word the same people were shown an image. It was observed that after hearing those specific words, the people had made predictions about the pictures that followed. Hence it was concluded that a word cue has a strong connection to how brain processes visual information and that “language is shaping perceptual mechanisms to make more effective predictions of what is about to occur.”

That is why we often hear successful people say, make your dreams come true by changing the way you speak and think. If you take words like “I can’t” and “If only” out of your dictionary, and replace them with “I can, I will”, you’ll surely make it happen. Words hold power!

Your Free Coping Mechanism for Slaying the New Normal!

This blog post isn’t about buying toilet paper, sanitisers and hoarding household supplies! No!

<p class="has-medium-font-size" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">This blog post is basically about improving mental health, which should be a priority with you nowadays, AND this is why I say, a bit of a laugh during dark times, never hurt anyone! Laughter is the best medicine after all!This blog post is basically about improving mental health, which should be a priority with you nowadays, AND this is why I say, a bit of a laugh during dark times, never hurt anyone! Laughter is the best medicine after all!

I have a lot of time on my hands these days, and I was never a T.V. fan to be honest. I personally don’t watch the news coverage on COVID-19 nor I share the pandemic-related stuff to trigger panic in people. It is not because I don’t care, it’s because I care A LOT for myself, and those around me. Moreover, I believe ignorance is a blessing at times, it helps cope better with uncertain situations and stay alive! I know it’s boring staying indoors (I love travelling myself) BUT above all else, it’s better than taking the risk of getting stigmatised as a COVID-19 victim! That’ll give the already fearful people around you, the runs of their life! And THAT is what will eventually make you lonelier. So here’s how you slay the “New Normal”:

Tell yourself it’s perfectly okay!

First of all, tell yourself, it’s PERFECTLY OKAY! Put those fears, anxieties and looming depression to rest! You’re not alone in this, it’s a global crisis. We were so used to that sense of rush, that hustle and bustle that this quiet secluded time doesn’t look normal, BUT this has somehow become the new normal. Hence bear with it people! AND it isn’t going away that soon, rest assured. Don’t panic, take control over your emotions, and think over what you can do to make the best of this quarantined life.

Coming to a serious note, there are some universal truths that even the deconstructionists won’t deny (Pardon me Late Mr. Jacques Derrida, but this somehow will resonate with you as well; the way I’ll elaborate it):

We have heard many people say that “nothing’s ever permanent”, which actually holds true because the world is ever-changing. Just like the Deconstructivist theory suggests that language is fluid and meanings are not fixed, the word “permanent” does not mean what it means. It actually means what it does not mean, like there are implicit meanings or underpinnings to every text and you need to question it. Ironically, the only thing that’s constant is “change”! So, if something claims to be permanent, you must not believe it. This pandemic isn’t permanent either, it’ll go away when it’s time to go. There’s no such thing as “normal”, it’s just a matter of perspective. You don’t look now like you did twenty years ago, you too have changed, so give the world this liberty too! Accept and embrace the new normal, I hope I make my point here.

History has it!

Now digging some history, you’ll notice that infectious diseases have been gracing the earth since humankind’s hunter-gatherer days. Epidemics like malaria, leprosy, tuberculosis, influenza and smallpox are all commonly heard of and are among the very first that have embittered our race.  There were many pandemics in history, our ancestors are a witness to it. The earliest recorded pandemic, which happened in Athens somewhere around 430 B.C. was more or less like typhoid fever, and killed almost two-thirds of population. This was also one of the reasons Athenians were defeated in the Peloponnesian war. Then in 160 A.D there was this Antonine plague which had symptoms like smallpox. This disease which claimed life of a famous emperor, started with The Huns and spread through the whole Roman Empire till the end of 180 A.D. There was another called Cyprian plague in 250 A.D and so on. We have also heard of Black Death, The Great Plague of London, Spanish Flu, SARS and now COVID-19. So the point I want to make is, that it has always been there, it’s how humans have evolved, adjusted, been immuned and survived. Phew! This was quite a spoonful for your knowledge banks! Hey don’t call me a mood-spoiler because I mentioned death and disease, all I’m saying is that it’s quite normal and it aint NEW! This too shall pass, as they say..

For the fun of it, laugh it off!

Amidst all the misinformation, there’re also some bizarre stories circulating on social media and for the fun of it I’m sharing a few. I just read a psychic prediction that this pandemic was long due, and that it will be over one day…THE FAULT is actually in OUR SARS! I mean STARS!! Astrologers have suggested many ways to harness this virus, they say anything that has a name, has a Zodiac sign and Coronavirus is actually Gemini. The number 19 associated with the virus represents the Sun, which in turn stands for popularity and fame, Hence the Coronavirus was destined to be famous, or notorious! Call it whatever you may, BUT it sure has claimed it in the negative context!

Then there are these conspiracy theories to add some salt and pepper. Researchers are working day and night to come up with a vaccine but it’s going to be a “nanotechnology microchip”, that will be implanted in our bodies and will control us all! AI has sure made a lot of progress. Now I’m sceptical about getting this one, though my immunisation record is up-to-date. Some people are using vodka as a hand sanitiser, some are stuffing themselves with garlic and onions, others are holding their breath for 10 seconds! Heck! These are all unfounded but sure give you a good laugh.

Let’s now come to those who still believe in UFO’s and Extra-terrestrial life “COVID-19 has come from space!” According to Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe, of the Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, “Covid-19 arrived on earth via a fireball from space that burnt up in China last October.” The Russian Government on the other hand, has unleashed lions in streets to enforce social distancing!  And if you’re a pasta fan, there’s this story about a giant Wembley Stadium lasagne being baked by the UK Government, and a ginormous garlic bread by the French Government. And while we’re listing eatables, some optimistic party-goers (dooby-doos) have claimed that cocaine and marijuana can cure Coronavirus, hence they should be termed “essential” rather than “outlawed”. Another cure according to some is cow-urine, which sounds a bit unpalatable but you know, you need to develop a taste for some things just like sushi. Some jokes about cheap flights to Mexico on a Coronavirus discount are hilarious! I’m sure a lot of you are now chuckling, if not laughing..

Takeaway

Finally, to conclude I would say that you were living in a sense of rush ever since industrialisation set in, ever since technology took over lives, technoculture ruined our mental peace. It’s time we slow down, become mindful of what we do, of small things or small pleasures. It’s time to re-bond with our family, our children who took refuge behind screens of phones and tablets due to our busy schedules and lack of work-life balance. We must model this positive behaviour for others to follow. Declutter our minds, our living spaces, detox our bodies and indulge in self-care routines.

It’s time we return to physical activities within our houses, help family member with chores, utilise our yards, gardens and patios. Play some kind of sport, explore the unexplored, take nature-walks, feed your passions of reading, writing or whatever we like. Leisure has always been important, and these times have taught us that balance is essential to human mental-psychological health. I hope my blog post helps us connect no matter how socially distanced we are. Humanity will always bring us together, and we’re there for each other emotionally, if not physically. To be honest, if we think positively, some parts of our normal life are not worth rushing back to, so why fret!

I aimed at minimising the anxiety each one of us is enduring by dropping in some humour, it’s a well-known free coping mechanism. As Chris Murphy rightly said, “Comedy, as frivolous and inessential as it may seem, is humanity’s free coping mechanism, a medium that both distracts us from the horrors of the world while allowing us to get our best and worst thoughts out of our heads and off of our chests.”

After all, now you can proudly say you were part of the history when Coronavirus was making HEADLINES! Take care 🙂

Do share your coping mechanism with me in comments!

When To Expect That First Laugh You’ve Been Waiting For?

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To parents, their baby’s milestones matter just as much as the birth of the baby itself. Every parent awaits their baby’s first giggle and when that happens they feel like the happiest people on the face of the earth. Babies usually smile when they are somewhere around 6 to 12 weeks old. Some smiles are totally spontaneous or reflexive, and can surprisingly be seen while babies are sleeping.

Laughter as a developmental milestone

Babies communicate by making different kinds of sounds from cooing to gurgling and laughing. In fact, babies after coming to this world, basically start learning about it through experimentation and observation. Various stimuli can trigger a myriad of responses in them, and we as parents can help babies explore their own sounds by providing those stimuli. Most researchers say that smiles and laughter are an important communication tool when it comes to a baby’s social-emotional development. They listen around for different kinds of sounds, even their own voice, and try to make sense of their surroundings. Growing infants usually recognise their fathers and mothers through their individual voices and are quite smart at it. Babies are in a process of constant exploration through making sounds and their first laugh is actually a part of this on-going process, which eventually leads to the development of their communication skills when they’re older. Speech therapists are of the view that the initial strange sounds that babies make develop into laughing and eventually talking, hence their laughter is sign of a key social skill. Ms. Elizabeth Gerosa, an American certified Speech Language Pathologist observed, that a baby’s gurgling and cooing are actually early signs of it developing its speech skills, babies experiment with their voice by moving their tongue and mouth in specific ways. Hence, we can say laughter is a healthy sign of a baby that’s growing normally.

Babies laugh according to their individual growth patterns

Though every child is different, you can hear your baby’s first laugh around 3 or 4 months old. Don’t panic if you don’t hear that first giggle, babies can be tough depending on individual growth patterns and the time of the day when you expect them to respond with a laugh. Babies are cranky specially when it’s their feeding time or bed time, so that’s not an appropriate moment to expect them to give you a joyful laugh. You can encourage a baby to respond by talking to them while changing their diapers or clothes, though they aren’t conversational they’ll listen and this is how they pick language and learn social skills in an innate manner.

Some factors may count when we want to trigger that response of laughter in a baby. For example, babies who are well-rested and well-fed are more likely to react with smiles and laughter when you make goofy faces to stimulate them. You can also make a baby chuckle and laugh by playing peek-a-boo, by light tickling or by making noises like zipping up something. Gerosa says, that the first laugh may come out of nowhere because it’s “reflexive”, while later we can expect laughing to be as more of a “physical reaction” to something that feels good.

Baby laughter: The psychologist’s take

Dr. Gina C. Mireault who is a developmental psychologist, has studied infant laughter for more than ten years in her laboratory at Johnson State College in Vermont. In her research titled “Laughing MATTERS” she says that “Laughter can reveal a considerable amount about infants’ understanding of the physical and social world.” She further states that laughter in humans has value of a “social signal” and that’s why “it comes as factory-installed; as part of an infant’s native hardware.”

Takeaway

As parents, what we can do is resist from comparing our baby to other babies, because every one of them follows its own unique developmental pace. If there are other developmental milestones at a particular age that your baby isn’t showing any signs of, you must see a paediatrician. Laughter as a milestone is something that will come naturally, and may come earlier to some than others.