Extrapolation

The Good Liberal and the Scoundrel Author

Fantasy, Dissent, and Neoliberal Subjectivity in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials

Extrapolation (2014), 55, (2), 199–219.

Abstract

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, has acquired an impressive critical reputation and acquired a favored role in British culture as a social commentator. This essay attempts to link the pleasures associated with the trilogy with the politics inscribed in them, and consider both in the context of Pullman's role in the civil society. The essay suggests that The Northern Lights offers pleasures in fantastical and metaphysical possibilities, and social confederacies that potentially offset the affective privations of neoliberalism. These possibilities are set in the context of recent theories of the "enterprise society." The essay draws attention to a number of discontinuities that unfold as the trilogy progresses, and suggests that these undermine the possibilities inherent in the first novel. These discontinuities throw the role of fantasy and alternative universes into question, and reveal the limitations of Pullman's fiction. The essay considers the limit and scope of Pullman's political vision, both as a function of his fiction and his public engagement with social issues, and suggests that he exemplifies Raymond Williams's concept of "bourgeois dissent" in which political critique and a continuing investment in traditional institutions and class hierarchy can be mutually reinforcing.

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Maddison, Stephen