Michael O'Brien

Michael O'Brien

email - m.obrien.2@research.gla.ac.uk

Research Title

Mythological Speculation in Contemporary Religious Science Fiction and Fantasy

Research Summary

This thesis tests the hypothesis that SF and Fantasy authors such as Maya Kaathryn-Bohnhoff, Philip José Farmer, and Philip K. Dick require their protagonists to think mythologically to transcend the limits of their material universes. These authors use metaphor to blend science and religion throughout their work. This has implications for literary studies, philosophy and critical theory. Science and religion are blended in the psyches of the protagonists in unified cosmological paradigms, and the protagonists act using technological devices powered by spiritual forces. Current psychoanalytic theory cannot account for such religious cognition and critical theory is underequipped to critique fiction which employs it. This thesis addresses the critical gap, overcoming it by explaining how these authors blend spirit and matter, both in their protagonists’ psyches, and in their wider fictional universes at large. The authors manage this by dramatizing conceptual blending in heroic cognition and by developing blended material-spiritual universes which operate based on coherent rules. So far, I have written chapters two and three. Chapter two analyses the spiritual Fantasy of Bahá'í author Maya Kaathryn-Bohnhoff (The Mer Cycle), and chapter three focuses on the mythological SF of Philip José Farmer (Night of Light).

In chapter two I explain how Bohnhoff’s protagonists are vehicles for supernatural forces by virtue of spiritual cognition. To explain how Bohnhoff develops her protagonists’ spiritual cognitive abilities I have inverted the Lacanian mirror-stage to develop a theory of the Bahá'í mirror-stage. This theory inverts Lacan’s assumptions that the self is perpetually alienated and fragmented to show the Bohnhoffian heroic-self moves toward detecting deep personal integration within a unified material-spiritual cosmos. The adept Bohnhoffian protagonist uses spiritual cognition to discover knowledge of the universe depends on finding her inner Geist and by moving towards being-beyond-desire. This inversion of Lacan leads to my theory of the psychoanalytic god. In chapter three I show how Farmer highlights vitalistic tensions between Nietzschean and Jungian paradigms in the psyche of the psychopathic protagonist, Father John Carmody. I have compared the philosophies of Nietzsche and Jung (and contemporary cognitive psychology in general) to illustrate how they are diverse (but internally and externally consistent) interpretations of a singularly unified reality. Because Carmody is ultimately a Jungian hero who achieves self-realisation by allowing his transcendent function to overcome the tensions between the internally consistent modes of (material) Nietzschean will-to-power and (spiritual) Jungian self-realisation, I have had to develop a new blended description of the (psychoanalytic) universe to unite these two diverging worldviews.

Publications

2019

  • O’Brien, M. (2019) 2000AD. In: Levy, M. and Mendlesohn, F. (eds.) Aliens in Pop Culture: A Guide to Visitors from Outer Space. ABC-CLIO. (Accepted for Publication)
  • O’Brien, M. (2019) Evolving Dickian Criticism: The Exegesis and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In: Sandner, D. (ed.) Philip K Dick: Here and Now. McFarland. (Accepted for Publication)

2018

  • O’Brien, M. (2018) ‘Post-cyberpunk and the Potential Ontological Emancipation of Cyberspatial Education in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age’ Fantastika, Issue 3 (Spring 2018). ISSN 2514-8915. (Accepted for Publication)

2016

  • O’Brien, M. (2016) ‘Mythological Speculation in Philip José Farmer’s The Unreasoning Mask.’ Vector, Issue 282 (Spring 2016). ISSN 0505-0448.

2015 

  • O’Brien, M. (2015) ‘Reads of the Year: VALIS.’ Review of VALIS by Philip K. Dick. Glasgow Review of Books, December 2015, ISSN 2053-0560.
  • O’Brien, M. (2015) ‘Reads of the Year: The Diamond Age.’ Review of The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. Glasgow Review of Books, December 2015, ISSN 2053-0560.
  • O’Brien, M. (2015) ‘Reads of the Year: The Spirit Gate.’ Review of The Spirit Gate by Maya Kaathryn-Bohnhoff. Glasgow Review of Books, December 2015, ISSN 2053-0560.

2014 

  • O’Brien, M. (2014) ‘Reads of the Year: The Unreasoning Mask.’ Review of The Unreasoning Mask by Philip José Farmer. Glasgow Review of Books, December 2014, ISSN 2053-0560.
  • O’Brien, M. (2014) ‘Reads of the Year: Neuromancer.’ Review of Neuromancer by William Gibson. Glasgow Review of Books, December 2014, ISSN 2053-0560.
  • O’Brien, M. (2014) ‘Reads of the Year: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ Review of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Glasgow Review of Books, December 2014, ISSN 2053-0560.
  • O’Brien, M. (2014) ‘The Toxic Domestic: An Interview with Katherine Grant.’ Interview. Glasgow Review of Books, November 2014, ISSN 2053-0560.
  • O’Brien, M. (2014) ‘Thy Neighbour’s Piano: Desire and Power in Katherine Grant’s Sedition.’ Review. Glasgow Review of Books, November 2014, ISSN 2053-0560.
  • O’Brien, M. (2014) ‘EIBF 2014: Carol Ann Duffy’. Event review. Glasgow Review of Books, August 2014. ISSN 2053-0560.
  • O’Brien, M. (2014) ‘A Post-Lacanian and Postmodern Interaction with the Utopian Project of Modernity: Ideology and Power in Brave New World.’ eSharp, Issue 22 (Spring 2014), ISSN 1742-4542.

Grants

Grants & Awards

  • School of Critical Studies, 2013, £125, Science Fiction Research Association Conference
  • Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities, 2016, £100, Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities Conference 

Conference

  • ‘A Post-Lacanian and Postmodern Interaction with the Utopian Project of Modernity: Ideology and Power in Brave New World’. Paper given at ‘Brave New Worlds: The Dystopic in Modern & Contemporary Culture’, Newcastle University, April 2015.
  • ‘Philip K. Dick: Prophetic Healer or Alienated Psychotic?’. Paper to be given at ‘Science Fiction and the Medical Humanities’, University of Glasgow, July 2016.

Additional Information

Affiliations

  • Fully registered with the Graduate Teaching Council for Scotland, 2007 to date.
  • Editor for eSharp, the University of Glasgow’s online academic postgraduate journal, 2014.
  • Editor for Oxford Language Editing, Oxford University Press, 2014 to date.
  • Tutor with Kip McGrath Edinburgh, 2017.
  • Administrator for Student Representative Council, University of Glasgow, 2014 to date.
  • Member of the Bahá’í Faith.