Traversing the Fantasy in the Twenty-First Century Bildungsroman: The Ontological Quest and Lacanian Psychoanalysis in David Mitchell's number9dream

  • Adina Sorian University of Augsburg
Keywords: David Mitchell, twenty-first century Bildungsroman, Lacanian psychoanalysis, fantasy, ontological quest


David Mitchell’s number9dream (2001) has been received as a ‘postmodern Bildungsroman’ that redefines the coming-of-age narrative through a postmodern frame. Useful as this definition may be in distinguishing Mitchell’s novel from the traditional coming-of-age tale, most readings building on the notion of his fiction as ‘postmodern’ have tended to misconstrue or underestimate important aspects of his art. In this article I argue this point using the theories of Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek, and Brian McHale. Taking my cue from McHale’s understanding of postmodernist aesthetics hitherto not applied to number9dream, I analyze the novel from the point of view of its ‘ontological’ (as opposed to ‘epistemological’) dominant, defined here as the way in which number9dream prioritizes questions about the ‘being’ of its protagonist’s world over those of how this world can be ‘known’. Crucial in this context is fantasy, which Mitchell understands not as an escapist mode but, akin to Lacan and Žižek, as reality’s ‘support’. Rather than being subordinated to the ‘reality principle’, fantasy acts in number9dream as a driving and transforming agent in the protagonist’s progress toward maturity: a process that entails the realization that the world he inhabits, rather than being ever-present, always emerges through his own ‘fantasmatic’ activities.

Author Biography

Adina Sorian, University of Augsburg
Lecturer, Department of English Literature