On the Modern Daemonic

Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus (1947) employs the Faust myth in a similar way: the ‘demonic’ spirit is one which reveals everything as ‘its own parody’, and which sees through forms to the formlessness they conceal. Through Leverkühn, the artist, a demonic voice calls nature ‘illiterate’, mere vacancy, and the universe a space filled with signs deprived of meanings. Transformations of the Faust myth epitomize the semantic changes undergone by fantasy in literature within a progressively secularized culture. The demonic pact which Faust makes signifies a desire for absolute knowledge, for a realization of impossibility, transgressing temporal, spatial and personal limitations, becoming as God. But this desire is represented as increasingly tragic, futile and parodic. In a general shift from a supernatural to a natural economy of images, the demonic pact comes to be synonymous with an impossible desire to break human limits, it becomes a negative version of desire for the infinite. In the modern fantastic, this desire expresses itself as a violent transgression of all human limitations and social taboos prohibiting the realization of desire. In these versions of Faust, the naming of the demonic reveals a progressive pull towards a recognition of otherness as neither supernatural nor evil but as that which is behind, or between, separating forms and frames. ‘Otherness’ is all that threatens ‘this’ world, this ‘real’ world, with dissolution: and it is this opposition which lies behind the several myths which have developed in the modern fantastic.

—Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion

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