The spy novel as genre


“While it was once said of the mystery story that it was contingent upon the profession of the detective, the same cannot be said of the spy novel. We have always had spies … but the spy novel is a genre of our time. Only in the twentieth century has its time come round at last. It is a kind of mystery/ suspense story that we are especially susceptible to, and it speaks to us today with particular cogency and effect.” (p.58)

The spy of fiction cannot operate without his own invisibility: it is the essence of his (fictional) being. Everything about him – his job, his leisure time, his genuine thoughts, his personal life, if he should be so fortunate as to have one – must be either clandestine or disguised. And, more than any other character or occupational type, the spy must have freedom of movement.  Arrest, imprisonment, capture, or even revelation of his identity render his mission inoperative and his function in life useless. Thus, the spy of fiction should always be in danger of losing that mobility or in danger of exposure. Fear felt by the empathetic reader imparts the thrill to the thriller.” (p.58)

The subject of those fictions called spy novels

The Quiller Memorandum“The nature of the work itself has expanded in recent years. Before the 1960s, it was thought by the public to be largely spying and catching spies, but recent covert activities extend well beyond those limits: arranging assassinations, financing [-p.59] revolutions and training the combatants, bribing foreign soldiers to defect with their aircraft or their tanks intact, salvaging vessels that have sunk while on classified missions. All of these activities and hundreds more are now properly the subject of those fictions called spy novels…. The genre has been proven successful, the action of the surface suggests an excitement that is missing from most of our urban, well-regulated, bureaucratic lives, and the messages beneath the surface are compelling to our times.
The lives of real intelligence operatives, however, are frequently clerical and routine, at least as dull as our own.” (pp.58-59)

“The most natural plot for the work of the spy should be determined by the kind of adventure we would most likely expect him to have – in enemy territory – a plot we call THE SPY GOES OVER. Adam Hall’s best-selling Quiller Memorandum (1975) illustrates well many features in the narratives of this subgenre.” (p.60)

“The plot of Quiller [which the authors subject to a detailed, essentially structuralist, analysis, pp.60-66]shows how espionage fiction formulas work in context. The prime mover for the plot is the agent’s mission, which must be accomplished in secret. From this [-p.67] premise the events and episodes which comprise the bulk of the agent’s adventures are reasonably predictable. If secrecy and freedom of movement are the necessary conditions of his existence, then both must be continually threatened.” (pp.66-67)

“In THE SPY GOES OVER stories the spy does not have to go overseas on his mission. Quiller is already in Berlin. For an English agent Germany is foreign territory, but before he agrees to go on the Phoenix mission and thus change his network of secret involvements, he is on relatively safe ground. Once the mission has been accepted, however, his circumstances are  altered radically: he is still ostensibly the Red Cross representative, but now his real purpose is entirely different, and it is this deep purpose that controls his relation to his environment. Now, though he has been in a foreign city all along, Quiller is in a new sense in an alien land. The new, deeper purpose, and not a change of location, marks his GOING OVER.” (p.67)

“In a closely related structure, sympathetic characters strive throughout the narrative to achieve the BIG JOB, as in A Kind of Anger, where the JOB is selling secret papers to foreign agents…. In all of these fictions a task motivates the pivotal characters, while the others act to aid or hinder him (or her or them). Often the pivotal character attempts to prevent a major and dramatic crime, as in The Day of the Jackal.” (p.68)

“A second type of plot posits the pivotal character or hero as victim, most commonly of an agency in a spook war, though recently the agency need not be on the other side. For a good part of the time in this plot type, the hero will be ON THE RUN, even within his own land.” (p.69)

Six Days of the Condor“One’s own agency as the enemy is one of the most ominous developments in recent espionage fiction. The spy novel derives much of its appeal by striking a paranoid note: in earlier espionage fiction, such as that written before the 1970s, the secret agent had only to deal with the ostensible enemy and an occasional seeming neutral. And nearly all of those were identifiable because they were foreigners. In the past several years the secret agent of fiction may find that his own people are working against him, with lethal intent.” (p.70)

Journey into Fear“The hero is also the intended victim in a variant plot type in which he must reach a destination at a certain time or with a particular cargo intact. Often that cargo is human, and the hero functions as bodyguard. We call this plot structure, and Greene’s, after Ambler’s novel, The Journey into Fear. In the book of that title the hero is on shipboard from Turkey to Europe and the cargo he must preserve is himself. He succeeds.” (p.71)

“A third structural type, also commonly used, parallels the detective novel in its manipulation of reader sympathies and employs many of the same strategies and formulas that detective fiction does because in it, too, a criminal is sought. But in the novel of counterespionage, TO CATCH A SPY (closest in form to the detective novel), the criminal is guilty of spying. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is perhaps the best story of this kind yet written, a story in which the spy to be caught is a DOUBLE AGENT of the Kim Philby sort who schemed his way into CONTROL’s position.” (p.72)

The sphere of the fictional spy situates him alone in a potentially hostile environment in which most of the dangers are unknown to him and sometimes to the reader. His characteristic stance is ON THE RUN, the ideally expressive signifier of the man without roots, with no security, with no solace to be derived from his society because in reality he shares little with it: his occupation is a cover, he can ill afford to have friends on ‘the outside,’ and his fellow agents may well be conspiring against him. He may have no recourse to the law (“The Department will disown any knowledge of you”), and he is continually vulnerable tot he hidden, silent enemy, within and without.” (p.74)

“Motif and Type Index of the Spy Story” according to Cawelti and Rosenberg (Appendix, pp.219-220):

Plot Types

The spy goes over
The big job
The hero as victim
Jouney into fear
To catch a spy

Characteristic Episodes (motifs)

Initial ennui
Assassination (attempted assassination)
Close call
Disguised encounter/confrontation
Narrow escape
On the run [-p.220]
The drop
The plant
Planted misinformation
Doubling/turning (an agent)
Turnabout (the hunted becomes hunter)
The tag

Dramatis Personae of the Spy Novel

The Hero’s Company
The hero agent
Control (the agency director)
Control’s immediate subordinate
Control’s satellites
Heroine (often a lure, and thus a false heroine, sometimes for the other side, when the male protagonist is the hero)The Adversary’s Company
Enemy agent
Enemy control
Enemy control’s henchman

Enemy agency entourage or natives of country hostile to hero
False heroine
Ambiguous Personae
Defectors (can defect to either side) 
Double agents
Plants (whose ultimate loyalties may not be apparent)
Neutrals may initially have innocent intentions but are usually exploited by one side or the other and eventually become unwilling helpers or dupes.

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) John G. Cawelti and Bruce A. Rosenberg (1987) The Spy Story. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago and London

Gated communities separate the home environment from the city


Jill L. Grant explains: Gated communities seek to create safe and quiet private realms that separate the home environment from the city…. In Canada, gated communities have private streets that limit connections to public streets, restrict parking, and often set very low speed limits. Canadian enclaves also usually lack such urban infrastructure as sidewalks. Some larger gated projects in the United States have commercial centers and schools within them: They may share the features of small towns and even seek municipal incorporation (McKenzie 1994; Tessler and Reyes 1999). Design standards are high and often allow a limited palate of colors and forms. The developments presume that residents will own and operate cars. Qualification requirements and narrow pricing ranges ensure a homogeneous population in terms of class, interests (such as golf), and age.” (p.487)

“Private governance proves endemic in new residential developments in the United States (McKenzie 1994, 2005) and appears to be increasingly common in Canada as well. The contemporary city, as Christopherson (1994) suggests, is based on control and separation, with the neighborhood defined as a protected private haven in a potentially dangerous environment. Privatization offers a measure of control that may appeal to nervous residents. In part, this accounts for the lure of both New Urbanist communities
and gated enclaves.” (p.492)

In a sense we can see gated and New Urbanist developments as alternative responses to the perceived crises of contemporary living. Consumers seeking new homes engage in a search not only for somewhere to live, but also for a neighborhood where they might find civility, community, identity, and character. Developers of enclaves and traditional communities try to sell these commodities.
Concerns about civility characterize a society in which murder, violence, rape, and other crimes flood the headlines in the daily news media and television shows about the police, the court system, and forensic pathology top the ratings. Fears about crime and “bad behavior” motivate the desire to find urban forms that might control behavior. The promise that good urban form can recreate the safe and comfortable town or village of days gone by, where people knew each other and felt secure, proves extremely alluring (Grant 2005a). New Urbanism seeks to tame behavior by making visitors feel that they might be observed at any time and by employing devices such as front porches and community retail to create interaction points for residents. Reconstituting the form of the traditional town or village aims to resocialize urban residents to appropriate behavior.” (p.492)

The search for community has deep roots in North America (Talen 2000). A perceived loss of connection with others and the hope of confronting difference in ways that avoid conflict contribute to the search for integrated social environments.” (p.493)

“In a context of increasing social polarization and global urbanization, enclaves create space for inclusive communities of like-minded souls. Beneath the veneer of a tolerant society that celebrates diversity may lurk a disdain for difference that drives gated development.” (p.496)

Ref: Jill L. Grant (2007): Two sides of a coin? New urbanism and gated communities, Housing Policy Debate, 18:3, 481-501

Gated communities – Atkinson and Blandy


Introducing a volume of papers on gated communities, Rowland Atkinson & Sarah Blandy explain that:

Gated communities (hereafter GCs) have been defined in a number of ways. These definitions tend to cluster around housing development that restricts public access, usually through the use of gates, booms, walls and fences. These residential areas may also employ security staff or CCTV systems to monitor access. In addition, GCs may include a variety of services such as shops or leisure facilities. The growth of such private spaces has provoked passionate discussion about why, where and how these developments have arisen. This volume presents an opportunity to gather together contemporary and diverse views on what is at least commonly agreed to be a radical urban form.
The apparently ‘unique’ characteristics of GCs present immediate problems for an accurate definition. Should we include flats with door entry systems, tower blocks with concierge schemes or partially walled housing estates, even detached houses with their own gates? Among this confusion we suggest that the central feature of GCs is the social and legal frameworks which form the constitutional conditions under which residents subscribe to access and occupation of these developments, in combination with the physical features which make them so conspicuous.

Living in a gated community means signing up to a legal framework which allows the extraction of monies to help pay for maintenance of common-buildings, common services, such as rubbish collection, and other revenue costs such as paying staff to clean or secure the neighbourhood. However, such legal frameworks can also be found in many thousands of non-gated homeowner associations in the US, and indeed in blocks of leasehold flats in England. This leads us back to the important physical aspects of these developments. Where a combination is found of these socio-legal agreements and a physical structure which includes gates and walls enclosing space otherwise expected to be publicly accessible, we can finally achieve some clarity of definition. Gated communities may [-p.178] therefore be defined as walled or fenced housing developments, to which public access is restricted, characterised by legal agreements which tie the residents to a common code of conduct and (usually) collective responsibility for management.” (pp.177-178) [although Atkinson and Blandy do note further down that many residents are not well-read on the nature of these agreeements (p.183)]

Atkinson & Blandy continue: “While this definition may be useful it is often argued that gated communities express more than a simple constellation of particular physical and socio-legal characteristics. In the built environment around us we increasingly see examples of an attempt to boost defensible space and the means to exclude the unwanted. This has meant that we can now observe a continuum of ‘gating’ which can be seen moving between symbolic and more concrete examples. Suburban areas with booms across private roads, housing estates with ‘buffer zones’ of grass and derelict land, and cul-de-sacs all express a mark of exclusion to non-residents with varying degrees of efficacy. All of these built forms suggest a lack of ‘permeability’ in the built environment directed at achieving increasingly privatised lifestyles, predominantly through the pursuit of security. It is this attempt at self-imposed exclusion from the wider neighbourhood, as well as the exclusion of others from the gated community, which has driven a much wider debate about the relative merits of gating and other strategies to achieve security, when set alongside other key concerns such as freedom of access to the wider city, social inclusion and territorial justice.” (p.178)

Under the title “The Fortified Neighbourhood” (which I rather like), Atkinson and Blandy acknowledge that “It is now well documented that gated communities can be seen as a response to the fear of crime (Atkinson et al., 2004) but other drivers also appear significant. In particular the desire for status, privacy and the investment potential of gated dwellings all form important aspects of the motivation to live behind gates.” (p.178)

Many have argued that GCs represent a search for community with residents seeking contact with like-minded people who socially mirror their own aspirations. While advertising by developers (primarily in America) draws on this communitarian ideology it has been clear to some that the idea of a gated ‘community’ is something of an oxymoron. Increasing numbers of recorded neighbour disputes and conflict between residents and their management companies suggest at least as many problems as are found in ‘normal’ developments (see for example, Linford, 2001). …. In this volume Evan McKenzie picks up on this theme and argues that gated communities increasingly contain residents openly hostile to the strictures to which they have signed up…. The possibility that GCs contain some kind of built-in obsolescence may become increasingly apparent.” (p.179)

“Even before getting into a debate about the relative merits of gating we find systematic research which suggests that the shelter from fear that gated communities appear to
represent soon fades once residents move in. Research by Low (2003) suggests that living ‘behind the gates’ actually promotes fear of the unknown quantities of social contact
outside them. The lack of predictability and experience of people in social situations outside these compounds appears to play out most strongly for the young, particularly those brought up in gated communities. / In fact, perceived safety and actual crime rates have been found to be no different between gated communities and similar, but non-gated, high-income American neighbourhoods.” (p.181)

We have argued that the contractual legal framework is an essential characteristic of GCs. These detailed rules indicate a different and much more formal structure than the framework of informal rights and rules developed in a neighbourhood through “neighbours understanding the importance of maintaining a shared and reciprocated set of values and neighbourhood attributes” (Webster, 2003, p. 2606). It has been suggested [-p.183] that GCs are an example of a much wider rise in contractual governance, resulting from the new relationship between state, market and civil society, designed to address concerns about social order: the contract of membership takes centre stage in the age of ‘responsibilisation’, in which “exclusion from club goods may be tantamount to exclusion from key aspects of citizenship.” (Crawford, 2003, p. 500).” (pp.182-183)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Rowland Atkinson & Sarah Blandy (2005): Introduction: International Perspectives on The New Enclavism and the Rise of Gated Communities, Housing Studies, 20:2, 177-186

how everyday emotions are being transformed by post 9/11 measures and terror talk


According to Setha M. Low (writing from the USA 5 years ago): “We are enmeshed in a historical period when fear and anxiety are being manipulated to produce unhealthy political ends. The consequences of this social atmosphere are not just political, but produce increasing fears in children and an obsession with safety and security that is claiming ground and appropriating feelings even within the ultimate retreat – home.” (p.62)

Since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has mobilized a discourse of insecurity to create a psychological environment that allows the constriction of liberty in the USA, while continuing an unpopular war in Iraq.” (p.47)

She goes on to say that “political manipulation of terrorism and threat from outside is inscribing a new structure of feeling based on fear, and re-inscribing the paranoia of the Cold War period to further militaristic and imperialist aims. / This fear and insecurity discourse is becoming equally salient in Western Europe, in the form of a war against terrorism and discrimination against Muslim immigrant populations. These repressive actions have been justified by the well-publicized terrorist attacks in London and Madrid, while France has experienced widespread riots in the immigrant suburbs of Paris, based on anti-Muslim sentiment.” (p.47)

“One [-p.48] response to this production of insecurity,” Low writes, “has been increased surveillance and policing, as well as residential fortification, including the building of gated communities. Even though gating predates this period of homeland security and terrorist threat, it symbolically and materially accommodates these fears and provides a superficial sense of protection.
Catherine Lutz and Geoffrey White argue that the months of terror post-9/11 generated a tremendous overload of emotion and that this emotion has been ‘‘learned, half-learned, resisted, reformulated or ignored’’ by intense cultural tutoring that shapes how we make sense of what we feel (Lutz & White 2002:6). They conceptualize the emotions and the practices they represent as ‘‘emotive institutions’’, illustrating how media discursive practices evoke and reform emotions through television war news.
These emotive institutions are one component of the production of a new structure of feeling expressed in a variety of material and discursive forms including architecture and urban planning. Neoliberal practices of the shrinking state and the re-inscription of responsibility on individuals and communities are the second component in this process. Individuals and communities in cities are encouraged to protect themselves from perceived threats, thus contributing to the emergence of a new pattern of civic militancy even at home.” (pp.47-48)

“In this article,” Low explains, “I outline my concerns [about how everyday emotions are being transformed by post-9/11 measures and terror talk and how they are infiltrating the most private of spatial domains, that of home] and provide ethnographic illustrations from gated communities on how new emotive institutions are emerging and transforming the domestic emotional climate.” (p.48)

Low presents a very interesting discussion of how our concept of (and relationship with) the ‘home’ has developed in recent centuries (pp.48-50). She also presents a history of gated communities in the USA along with an ethnographic study of gated communities in New York and Texas (pp.50-61).

According to Low: “The gated community is a response to transformations in the political economy of late-20th century urban America. The increasing mobility of capital, marginalization of the labour force, and dismantling of the welfare state began with the change in labour practices and deindustrialization of the 1970s, and accelerated with the ‘‘Reaganomics’’ of the 1980s.” (p.51)

Walls can provide a refuge from people who are deviant or unusual, but this necessitates patrolling the border to make sure no-one gets in. The resulting vigilance necessary to maintain these ‘‘purified communities’’ actually heightens residents’ anxiety and sense of isolation, rather than making them feel safer (Flusty 1997). In some cases, the micro-politics of exclusion is about distinguishing oneself from the family who used to live next door. Status anxiety about downward mobility due to declining male wages and family incomes, shrinking job markets, and periodic economic recessions has increased concern that children will not be able to sustain a middle-class lifestyle. Middle-class status anxiety also takes the form of symbolic separation from other families who have fallen on hard times, families who share many of the same values and aspirations, but who for some reason ‘‘did not make it’’. The ‘‘exclusivity’’ and ‘‘status’’ advertised by new gated communities is being marketed to an already anxious audience created by the economic turbulence of the 1980s. Assurances that walls and gates maintain home values and provide some kind of ‘‘class’’ or ‘‘distinction’’ is heard by prospective buyers as a partial solution to upholding their middle- or upper middle-class position. / Crime and the fear of crime also have been connected to the design of the built environment.” (p.53)

Most gated community residents say that they are moving because of their fear of crime, but what residents are expressing is a pervading sense of insecurity with life in the USA. Policing, video surveillance, gating, walls and guards do not work because they do not address the basis of what is an emotional reaction. An ever-growing proportion of people fear that they will be victimized. Not surprisingly, then, fear of crime has increased since the mid-1960s, even though there has been a decline in all violent crime since 1990 (Brennan & Zelinka 1997, Flusty 1997, Stone 1996). It is not an entirely new sense of insecurity, but comes from increasing globalization, declining economic conditions and economic restructuring, the retreat of the state from social reproduction and the overall insecurity of capitalism. 9/11 and Homeland Security combined with neoliberal practices that have shifted the responsibility for security to individuals and communities have exacerbated it.” (p.56)

“Compared with most large cities, suburbs do not have many public places were strangers intermingle, and the relative isolation and homogeneity of the suburbs discourages interaction with people who are identified as the ‘‘other’’.” (p.56)

“Barry Glassner (1999) argues that news reporting capitalizes on our greatest fears proposing that it is easier to worry about ‘‘Mexicans’’ or ‘‘workers’’ – focusing on symbolic substitutes – rather than face our moral insecurities and more systematic social problems. The bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 has [-p.60] added to this discursive repertoire of fear and insecurity for New York residents.” (pp.59-60)

West and Orr (2005) [found] ‘‘The more people talked about 9/11, the more worried they became about becoming a victim’’ (West & Orr 2005:99). Defensive behaviour of not going downtown and staying home, encouraging increased home surveillance (Low 2003), and hiring professional security guards (West & Orr 2005) as well as building home based safe rooms and keeping two weeks of supplies on hand in a safe place, have emerged as common home behaviours with negative– fearful and anxious–emotional reactions. 9/11 has had an impact on people not only in New York City but also along the entire Northeast corridor, and in other large cities like Los Angeles.
Whether it is black salesmen, errant workers or fear of a terrorist attack, the message is the same: residents are using walls, gates and guards to keep perceived dangers outside of their homes and neighbourhoods. Contact with others and symbolic substitutes or explanations for their sense of insecurity incites palpable fear and real concern, and in response they are moving to secured residential developments where they can keep other people out. The perceived threats of crime, other people, a porous neighbourhood that is easily entered, and terrorist attacks engender a defensive emotional climate within which residents attempt to create safe and comfortable homes. But the reactive emotions of home – fear, insecurity, worry, paranoia and anxiety – dominate their conversations.” (p.61)

“…fear of others and an emotional shift in the local environment play significant roles in the transformation of how residents feel about their home places.” (p.61) “These reactive emotions, however, are not independent of the historical moment in which they occur and are sustained by a social and political context of fear and distrust.” (p.62)

“A new structure of feeling promoted by the Bush administration is creating a citizenry more concerned with protecting their homes than with protecting social and political freedom.” (p.62)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Setha M. Low (2008): Fortification of Residential Neighbourhoods and the New Emotions of Home, Housing, Theory and Society, 25:1, 47-65

ABSTRACT Research on the fortification of residential environments and the spatial production of ‘‘security’’ within gated communities has lead to a broader understanding of how everyday emotions are being transformed by post 9/11 measures and terror talk. A new structure of feeling is infiltrating the most private of spatial domains, that of home, and further rationalizes and legitimates the practices of social exclusion, fortification, and racialization of space that mark current sociospatial politics. This article presents ethnographic illustrations from gated communities in New York and San Antonio, Texas, of how new emotive institutions are emerging and transforming the domestic emotional climate.

Reference is to: Lutz, C. & White, G. (2002) Emotions, war and cable News, Anthropology News, February, pp. 6–7.

Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times


In his essay, ‘The Night Side of Nature: Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times’, Roderick McGillis makes a couple of statements I totally agree with – and a couple more which are ‘boldly’ thought-provoking, … McGillis writes:

“I do not think the Gothic is inappropriate [for children or adolescents]. However, it does deal with the lurid and the taboo.” (p.227) “Its two great themes, according to Patrick McGrath, are transgression and decay (1997: 154), and we might think of children’s literature as a literature that promotes positive social behaviour and growth, rather than describing transgression and decay. Fragmentation and dissolution characterize the Gothic. This is a genre that seeks to disorient us.
In the Gothic, children may die and innocence may fall, tainted by infection growing from a bad seed. The Gothic is not, at least traditionally, a cheery genre. Human failure is possible in the Gothic. The Gothic world is decidedly not a pleasant place; it is ambiguous at best.” (p.227)

“…the Gothic gave us the post-human before we ever thought of genomes and cloning and other forms of altering the human form. Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Gothic fiction gave us humans as automatons, as composite creatures, vampires, and werewolves. These various forms of ‘othered’ humanity, of post-human being, continue to fascinate. The Gothic hero-villain is, by definition, both attractive and repulsive – a monster even as he exudes charisma. Characters in the Gothic must make hasty choices that turn out, more often than not, to be unwise choices.” (p.228)

“Unwise choices may explain why the Gothic is a genre suited to stories about children and adolescents.” (p.228)

“Why are this form and this sensibility with us so insistently now? My answer is that we live in fearful times and the Gothic reflects fear and maybe even combats this fear in some strange way (see Edmundson 1997; Grunenberg 1997).” (p.229) “…we live in a scary world. …but at certain times things get just a bit scarier: at the end of centuries, in times of war, [-p.230] in times of revolution, in times of rapid change. In such times, the Gothic finds purchase. It expresses fear even as it accepts fear as inevitable.” (pp.229-230)

“The art of the Gothic haunts us in order to elicit not only the scream or the gasp – sounds that signal a closing of reflection in the instant of fear – but also to elicit the shock that prompts desire for change. Like all fantasy, the Gothic is a manifestation of desire, only it demonstrates that our desire for what Lacan designates the ‘real’ may be a desire that leads to disintegration. We need to look carefully at our fantasies; we need to consider carefully the world we want.” (p.230)

Gothic appeals to the young for the same reason it appeals to the less young: it delivers characters who transgress. The Gothic hero is most often a villain who runs roughshod over conventions of piety and civilized restraint. This character has charisma. Gothic hero-villains … display their darkness without reserve; they wear their outlandishness on their sleeves. They invite our gaze while staring unblinkingly back at us. They unsettle us with their returned gaze. They position us to see the world awry. They remind us that freakishness just may be the human norm. Gothic hero-villains are us in our most unrepressed moments. They perform the polymorphous perverse we have necessarily repressed. They either clarify the need for control or satisfy vicariously desire’s reach. Whatever other cultural service they render, Gothic fictions keep reminding us that we are haunted beings, plagued by frightening forces both inside our psyches and in the world out there where we play out our social selves. And our haunted condition need not render us helpless, running into the dark forests of the night or down dark highways. / Adolescents are, perhaps, as intensely haunted or even more haunted than the rest of us. Their bodies as well as their social milieu are in flux, changing as they – both body and social group – morph (or should I say grow? into maturity.” (p.231)

“In the Gothic we are in the territory of teratology, and today’s Gothic just may suggest that we find the real monsters in positions of influence and power. And it may also suggest that we are not helpless in the face of such influence and power. The Gothic presents its characters with choice – the choice between right and wrong.” (p.232)

“…humour is one of the ingredients of a Gothic that typifies young adult and children’s fiction.” (p.233)

McGillis considers Thirsty, by M. T. Anderson (1997) in this essay, writing: “Traditionally, or at least in the Bram Stoker brand of vampire story, the battle between vampire and human is a battle for the human soul, and usually the humans manage to stem the tide of vampires lead by an anti-Christ such as Dracula. In Thirsty, however, things are confused, because the Gothic hero-villain does not side with either the Forces of Light or the Forces of Darkness. He is a lone wolf, so to speak, out for himself. He’s a good capitalist looking to sell his services to the highest bidder. He manages to find gainful employment and to ignore the terrible goings-on in the world: ‘starvation, and fighting in the Middle East, and senators talking about the national debt’ and ‘those other stories [-p.238] about the mobs, the lynchings [of vampires in this storyworld], all over America’ (138). At the end of the book, Chris is left with nothing but his fight to remain connected to humanity.” (pp.237-238)

The protagonist, Chris, is “left at the book’s end crouching behind a door, beseeching a lower case ‘god,’ and moaning, ‘I…am…so…thirsty’ (Anderson 1997: 249). These are the final words of the novel, and they leave us with the vision of desire.” (p.238)

McGillis’s reading of Thirsty leads him to ask: “What is left once we see humans and vampires as equally rapacious?” (p.239)

McGillis also explains: “K. A. Nuzum reads Thirsty as an exercise in ‘mythic’ literature. The struggle is between a mythic time that removes one from the flux of history and places one in a liminal space that is outside history. The novel ends, Nuzum points out, with Chris ‘completely isolated from linear time, from human companionship, from human existence’ (2004: 217). True, Chris is alone, isolated, and fearful as the novel comes to a close; however, I am less certain that this condition of loneliness places Chris outside of linear time. The mythic trappings in this novel …are just that: trappings. They deflect us from seeing Chris’s real problem as a human problem, and seeing the vampires as aspects of humanity. The book performs a demythicizing of monsters.” (p.239)

The trauma this book confronts is the trauma of life without direction, only choices every second for which we have no transcendent guidance. …This vision of a world without end, and without anything but the ongoing working of desire, is not mythic. It is decidedly historic. It is the world we face every day with its mob violence and socially sanctioned killings and predatory activity and senators discussing the national debt. The only difference between humans and vampires is that vampires are perceived by humans to be outside humanity; they are akin to homo sacer, those who are exiled from community; outside the polity and dispensable. Humans can kill vampires with impunity.” (p.240)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Roderick McGillis ‘The Night Side of Nature: Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times’ pp.227-241 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to: Edmundson, M. (1997) Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism and the culture of the gothic. Cambridge, MA: Londond: Harvard University Press.

Grunenberg, C. (Ed.) 1997) Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in late Twentieth-Century Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Patrick McGrath (1997) Transgression and decay. In C Grunenberg (Ed.), Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in Late Twentieth Century Art (pp.153-158). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Defining gated communities / Privatopias


There are a number of private, heavily fortified schools in recent YA fictions (I’m thinking Vampire Academy and Gallagher Girls Academy)…. While not technically ‘gated communities’, the use of such settings for these stories of adolescence kind of interests me. I can’t help wondering what role the setting plays (and thinking about literature on gated communities in response). According to R. Atkinson and S. Blandy:

“Defining gated communities is difficult and contentious. There are two aspects of such residential neighborhoods which make them distinct from other examples of secured accommodation (such as high-rise condominiums with concierge staff or individual houses with gated access). The first aspect is, of course, the physical constitution of such neighborhoods, but even then there may be differing degrees of ‘gatedness’. In some gated communities we may find gates or booms across the road and in others it may be that gates block car access (or theft) while adjacent pedestrian thoroughfares are not controlled in the same way. The main differentiating physical feature of gated communities is that where access would ordinarily be expected in an ‘open’ neighborhood, it is restricted or available for control in a gated community.

The second key hallmark of gated communities is their legal constitution. As developers have built gated communities they have effectively created privately organized neighborhoods with their own infrastructure, including internal roads, common spaces, and services such as refuse collection. Unlike open neighborhoods, where roads are managed and repaired by the local state, gated communities are run by residents’ management committees, known as homeowners’ associations in the US. These governance organizations are often controlled by the developer in the first instance, and are then taken over by residents who pay an annual contribution for the maintenance of infrastructure and services provided to residents. These services may also extend to the employment of maintenance staff and security personnel and the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems. Many gated communities also have their own amenities such as gyms and swimming pools, or are built around golf courses or sailing lakes, which are also paid for and managed by the residents.” (p.297)

“The relatively more recent trend toward purposebuilt gated developments as the preserve of the affluent began in nineteenth-century North America, and has accelerated over the last 50 years to the point where in some US states it is now almost impossible to purchase a new dwelling that is not located in an enclosed private neighborhood. It would be wrong to conclude that the parallel growth of gated communities worldwide has necessarily been influenced by developments in the USA. However, such developments are now common both in countries where this type of built form represents a relative novelty, as well as in regions, notably China and the Middle East, where inward-looking, multi-occupied residential developments have always been part of the architectural heritage.” (p.297)

“Gated communities can be broadly differentiated between three types of development, each meeting different consumer needs. ‘Prestige’ gated communities enable their residents to enjoy an urban lifestyle while providing complete security. ‘Lifestyle’ developments incorporate exclusive leisure and other facilities, while the third type is the ‘security zone’, an inner-city or inner-suburban area retro-fitted with walls, gates, and other security features, usually at the request of residents. Subsequently, analysis of the 2001 American Housing Survey has undermined the usual assumption that gated communities are the preserve of wealthy homeowners, by showing that low-income, non-white, renters are now more likely to live in gated developments than owner occupiers.” (p.298)

“From residents’ points of view, in high-crime societies like Latin America, the USA, and South Africa, the recent increase in gated communities can be seen as a relatively rational response to a fear of violent disorder and personal harm.” (p.298)

“The small amount of evidence on whether gated communities prevent crime or not for such neighborhoods is contradictory.” (p.298)

“Gated communities appear to be growing in their prevalence by appealing to people with concerns about crime, as well as delivering prestige and privacy for those motivated by such issues in their residential decisions. However, the limited anthropological evidence available so far tends to show that, in fact, the residents of gated communities are highly susceptible to fear of crime directed at those outside the boundaries of gated communities, as well as at service personnel who continue to connect these spaces of relative privilege with less-well off communities outside, and who are therefore also viewed as a possible threat.

Since gated communities have not been a regular feature of urban life until perhaps the last 15 years, and then predominantly in Latin America, South Africa, and North America, the longer-run implications of social life in these kinds of neighborhoods have not been fully thought through. However, some writers have begun to ask what will happen to children who grow up in the kind of predictable, racially homogenous, and privileged spaces of gated communities. These fears, of a withdrawn, shy, fearful, and affluent class have recently been realized in cities like Moscow where the growth of a super-rich social elite has led to the protection of their children in gated communities, as well as being trailed by personal bodyguards. Again, the implications of these lifestyles for the future views and social politics of affluent classes brought up in protected neighborhood environments is unlikely to be positive, with possible impacts on a lack of empathy with people from different social backgrounds, as well as a fear of such difference.” (p.299)

“Everyday life within a gated community is largely regulated by legal documents, which set out the rules with which residents must comply, and the arrangements for self-governance by the homeowners. These non-negotiable legal instruments undermine the concept of gated neighborhoods as voluntary communities able to develop their own informal controls
and sanctions. Existing evidence on life within gated communities thus suggests a high degree of regulation that must be accepted in order to find distinctiveness and safety for the purchaser’s household. Such developments may offer security or privacy but in a context in which, ironically, the freedoms of residents need to be sacrificed to achieve the apparent benefits of ‘gated’ living.” (p.299)

“Gated communities have figured in significant literary examples. For J. G. Ballard, collectively privatized neighborhoods have formed a significant setting for many of his novels, particularly Running Wild, Super Cannes, and Cocaine Nights. In fact the idea of enclosure and rarified environments in which often affluent residents run amok outside the normative restraints of mass society has become a recurring theme for Ballard.” (p.299)

“More recently T. C. Boyle has [-p.300] used the desires of an affluent community to gate their estate as a literary device in The Tortilla Curtain, in which an affluent young couple are confronted by their own fear and prejudices as they encounter desperate poor Mexican migrants on the US border. As fears of the Mexicans increase, fueled by the prejudices of a minority of residents, a surrounding fence and gates are finally installed against their instinctive rejection by the story’s ambivalent hero. Dystopian fictional treatments like these highlight the way in which gating can be seen as a zeitgeist through which we understand a series of wider social and physical transformations affecting an increasing range and number of cities.” (pp.299-300)

“…privatization of what would otherwise be public spaces has driven wider debates about the relative influence of gated communities on social life in urban areas which have, particularly in the European context, been associated with the diversity and democracy of the street. This raises a broader question about the implications of forting up for the character of Western urban life. If we take away freedom of access to the street what does a city become? For example, some commentators have that this form of hyper-segregation and fortification represents a new and critical moment which has transformed cities with earlier histories of open and democratic public spaces into a series of enclaves which protect affluent residents, while leaving an envious and poorer class of residents outside these protected bubbles.” (p.300)

“Gated communities are also notable for their growth in societies characterized by lower prevailing crime rates and higher levels of social cohesion. In this sense such ‘communities’ may be seen as social barometers indicating much deeper undercurrents of social fear and aspiration toward ex-territoriality as the signifier of membership to an affluent and secure class. In this context the significance of gated communities lies less in their number and more in what they say about a wider bundle of social forces that are directing where and how people live. Nevertheless, the continued growth of gated communities suggests that they are an increasingly significant proportion of dwellings, both responding to and perhaps also generating anxiety.” (p.301)

Ref: R. Atkinson, S. Blandy (2009) Gated Communities/Privatopias  pp. 297-301 International Encyclopedia of Human Geography

The Myth of Evil


Just came across a book that looks interesting: The Myth of Evil, by Philip Cole…. Reviewing The Myth of Evil, Niall Scott writes:

The Myth of Evil does not just concern the words in the title, but is a sophisticated treatment of evil in general, focussing strongly upon both the coherence of the concept and the attribution of the description ‘evil’ to phenomena and human behaviour. Cole’s aim throughout the book is to show that evil is a myth, that as a concept it is neither philosophical nor psychological, nor religious, which is quite a challenge. Although he argues that we would be better off without the concept of evil altogether, flying his flag in this way from the outset does not diminish how serious he takes the discourse of evil to be. This is evident in his willingness to recognise how the term and associated adjectives are used. In his introductory chapters, he provides a truly illuminating history of the devil, and challenges what is meant in descriptions of human behaviours as diabolical or demonic.
Although predominantly a politico/philosophical enquiry, the book offers much more than this. It is an argument drawing upon literature, history, and popular visual culture, and as a result it speaks to a range of disciplines. Cole addresses contemporary questions that have arisen around the multi-faceted concept of evil, such as fear and horror. This is also a political work that does not just provide a treatment of evil as a myth. It engages directly and importantly with the now frequently encountered political discourses regarding the holocaust, terrorism, Iraq, and the Bush and Blair administrations’ participation in disseminating discourses of fear and (in)security. These use the terminology of evil, the demonic, and the monstrous in contemporary conflicts, and the frequent occurrence of ‘evil’ functions as an explanatory device in the justification of appalling human behaviour. Cole provides four possible ways of conceptualising theories of evil. They are: (1) a monstrous conception, (2) a pure conception, (3) an impure conception, and (4) a psychological conception.” (Scott, p.97)

Apparently, Cole’s “concluding chapter presents a challenge to the reader where it addresses the contemporary state of world politics in the context of discourses of evil, with a detailed analysis of terror, terrorism, and violence. Cole spends time laying out the Iraqi problem, drawing parallels between the language of terror and fear and the phenomenon of witch trials and the eastern European vampire myths dealt with earlier in the book. Cole’s strategy is again seductive. At times, he tempts the reader into agreeing with the description of, for example, the western regimes and the terrorist as monstrous and demonic. However, it is clear that if one has paid any attention to his preceding argument, such very understandable, but simplistic assessments of terrible and horrific human actions require a more responsible treatment. So he refers to the sheer monstrous arbitrariness of terrorist victims in recent terrorist activities, and rhetorically asks that ‘Surely this arbitrariness fits the model of Monstrous evil?’ (234). But it is this very description that he challenges. We can move beyond evil in our understanding of such events and come to a position that even the arbitrariness is not without significance, and this reminds us that literary monsters have a history of grievance and need not be characterised in terms of a model of monstrous evil.” (p.100)

Ref: Niall Scott (2009) Has Evil Run its Course? Phillip Cole, The Myth of Evil, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006, 256 pp. [Review] Res Publica (2009) 15:97–101 DOI 10.1007/s11158-008-9062-2