Weird Fiction: A Catalyst for Wonder

Wonder, Education and Human Flourishing: Theoretical, Emperical and Practical Perspectives (2020)
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Abstract
One of the vexed questions in the philosophy of wonder and indeed education is how to ensure that the next generation harbours a sense of wonder. Wonder is important, we think, because it encour- ages inquiry and keeps us as Albert Einstein would argue from ‘being as good as dead’ or ‘snuffed-out candles’ (Einstein 1949, 5). But how is an educator to install, bring to life, or otherwise encourage a sense of wonder in his or her stu- dents? Biologist Rachel Carson suggests that exploring nature and specifically undertaking walks along the rocky coast of Maine would keep alive a person’s inborn sense of wonder (Carson 1984). Philosopher Jesse Prinz thinks that exposure to art will encourage wonderment because artworks, as he puts it, are “inventions for feeding the appetite that wonder excites in us” (Prinz 2013). Weird fiction (a subgenre of speculative fiction) – and in particular the work of one of its greatest exponents, the early-20th-century American author How- ard Phillips Lovecraft – is likewise a catalyst for wonder. The reason behind this is that Lovecraft’s ‘wonder-stories’ are densely packed with wonder per design; and in support of this claim I shall in what is to come 1) provide a brief introduction to Lovecraft and weird fiction; 2) present a working definition of wonder; and 3) clarify what is meant by something being ‘densely packed with wonder’ via bringing to the fore evidence of Lovecraft’s literary wonder- mongery. The paper ends with some reflections on the notion of ‘dark wonder’, why this peculiar label might be suitable for the kind of wonder we find in Lovecraft’s work, and why exposure to ‘dark wonder’ can be edifying, and in that sense educational.
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