Border crossing – Como agua para chocolate


Of Como agua para chocolate, Cecilia Lawless once wrote that “Laura Esquivel has written an unclassifiable work that simultaneously breaks and brings together boundaries of genre so as to concoct something new in Mexican literature.” (p.216)

“In linking the act of narration and the act of cooking, this novel doubles as a community cookbook. The novel intrigues me because it equates cooking and eating with both a sense of self and a sense of community. Like community cookbooks, which so often cross and collapse formal borders and share some characteristics of autobiography, history, etiquette, and folklore texts, this novel crosses boundaries as well. It collapses borders – those between fiction and instructive cookbook; reading about food and wanting to eat food; woman as provider of sustenance and woman as object of consumption. Indeed, rewriting and rethinking borders is a primary focus of this text. Like Water for Chocolate takes place along the Mexican American border, so that the setting underscores the novel’s exploration of the limitations of the woman’s role in the kitchen, and its movement between the forms of novel and community cookbook.” (pp.216-217)

She asked: “How does this cookbook/novel participate in the act of creating community among its readers?” (p.217)

“[An] association between food and sociability is a strong factor in Like Water for Chocolate, where constant slippage occurs between the narrative and cook-book discourses of the text. This novel demonstrates a particular Latin quality that encodes dining as a rite of eating, speaking, and narrating about food. As you eat, you tell stories of other great gastronomic moments. Eating and storytelling become intertwined. In such a way, food operates on various levels and rarely ceases to act as a mode of communication, a base for community.” (p.218)

Right up to the last chapter, the plotline follows with unnerving accuracy the recipe for a gothic novel. Here is Eve Sedgwick’s summary of the European gothic […]: “You know the important features of its mise en scene: an oppressive ruin, a wild landscape, a Catholic or feudal society. You know about  the trembling sensibility of the heroine and the impetuosity of the lover. You know about the tyrannical older man [woman] with the piercing glance who is going to imprison… them. You know something about the novel’s form: it is likely to be discontinuous and involuted, perhaps incorporating tales within tales, changes of narrators, and such framing devices as found manuscripts or interpolated histories.” The introduction of food in Like Water for Chocolate serves to subvert or at least parody these very conventions. In spite of many troubles – a brush with insanity, the jealousy of her sister, repression by her mother – Tita manages, through her cooking, to develop her own language and sense of self, combining erotics with independence.” (p.219)

“In Like Water for Chocolate the culinary “secrets” are made public.” (p.224) This notion of secrets being made public is certainly a theme throughout the novel and works on multiple levels…

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Cecilia Lawless ‘Cooking, community, culture: A reading of Like Water for Chocolate‘ in Recipes for Reading, Ed. Anne Bower, Amherst, Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts Press, 1997

pollution and horror


Jack Morgan once offered the following explanation for the appeal horror has:

“As opposed to the comic sense of life or tragedy’s dignified sense of death, horror embodies a sense of anti-life or unlife; it takes note of the demarcation between the wholesome and the unwholesome, the healthy and the monstrous – a clarity essential to the organic life. “We love and need the concept of monstrosity,” Stephen King writes, “because it is a reaffirmation of the order we all crave as human beings”. That is the fundamental sense underlying horror’s various traditional tropes and conventions. In this genre the healthy mind reconnoiters the regions of the [-p.66] unhealthy. Noel Carroll correctly notes that horror creatures – and this would apply to the genre more broadly – provoke not just fear, but loathing.” (p.65)

The Gothic underscores the multifold miasmas, poisons, fungi, plagues, viruses, that are out there and able to destroy our individual or collective systemic order. “It is not the physical or mental aberration in itself that horrifies us,” Stephen King writes, “but rather the lack of order these aberrations seem to imply”. Horror focuses upon the terror of that which is bio-antithetical, bio-illogical, a fear as viable today as it was in the middle-ages or in the imagined middle ages of 18th century Gothic literature.” (p.70)

“The most famous of Poe’s tales concerns disintegration and decline – a single, organic dissipation taking in family line, the contemporary Ushers, the house and grounds. Life is flow, dynamic movement, constant refreshment, elasticity; thus, we are repulsed by what is stagnant, stale, desiccated, musty – we recognize all the latter as anti-life, entropic, unwholesome.” (p.72)

“…the remote vicinities within the dwellings in Gothic tale – cellars, attics, chambers long closed off, and so on. From what are they closed off? Essentially from life – air, sunlight, human presence and care. They are repulsive in that they bespeak abandonment and unlife.” (p.73)

The loss of all bearings, the absence of moral-ethical-rational compass, is an integral part of the horror illusion.” (p.76)

“But how to explain what Aiken and Barbald in 1775 noted: “the apparent delight with which we dwell upon objects of pure terror, where our moral feelings are not in the least involved, and no passion seems to be excited but the depressing one of fear…?” How is it that horror, as Emily Dickinson said of Hawthorne’s work, at once “appalls and entices?” How to account for the popularity of horror in its literary expressions – a highly unlikely popularity it would seem given the theory advanced here that the genre turns on our organic apprehensions – our fear of infirmity, pollution, and physical degradation?
It is first perhaps necessary to note the obvious fact that there is no pleasure to be gained from confronting the morbid and repulsive in real life; a ritual hunt-dance is not to be confused with the hunt per se. Ours is of course an aesthetic interrogation; it goes to the experience of the virtual morbid in the virtual space/time of literary art. The process is in part intellectual, but the experience of horror, like that of comedy, is centered in a bodily registration, a body-informed imagination. …
An hypothesis might be advanced here in keeping with the generally physiological nature of the thesis so far discussed. A small quantity of morbid material – smallpox vaccine for instance – provokes the body’s healthy energies to muster themselves, and tones them. Small doses of arsenic and like substances, according to homeopathic theory, can have the effect of invigorating the body’s immune responses, awakening listless organic functions.
Brought to a kind of analog confrontation with the horrid through the Gothic tale, readers are likewise reminded of the nature of their own participation in a biotic harmony and well-being. The virtual claustrophobic heightens our awareness of space in actuality; of good, well-oxygenate [-p.78] air in actuality; of our freedom in actuality. The demarkation between the healthy and the morbid is brought to consciousness and vivified. Our bodies take pleasure in the fact that we are not locked in some Gothic crypt nor the dismal, thirsty decks of the San Dominic, or walled-up hopelessly in the catacombs beneath an Italian city.” (pp.77-78)

“Through its negations, the macabre – canceling out its own morbidity – brings us round to a biological affirmation as comedy does, to an energized sense of our being-in-the-world. Stephen King recalls the effect 1950s horror films had on him: “There was that magic moment of reintegration and safety at the end…. I believe it’s this feeling of reintegration, arising from a field specializing in death, fear and monstrosity that makes the danse macabre so rewarding and magical”.” (p.78)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Jack Morgan (1998) ‘Toward an organic theory of the Gothic: conceptualizing Horror’ Journal of Popular Culture 32:3, pp.59-80

The Gothic and the Detective


“The Gothic is a genre based on the same warping or tearing of the social fabric that will be used to invoke the Detective. The causes of the threat are different, but the cure is the same; the Gothic dream world evaporates upon waking into the rational one.” (p.17)

“An impediment delaying the full development of the crime story was a difficulty that the Gothic did not solve: the absence of a language needed for straightforward talk about violence and death.” (p.20)

Ref: Charles Brownson (2014) The Figure of the Detective: A Literary History and Analysis. McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers: Jefferson, North Carolina

Dracula, East and West


Proposing a method for helping students make sense of the politics behind regional geography (using popular culture), Jason Dittmer writes:

The continued survival of regional geography classes within geography curricula reflects several factors. First, despite the general disdain for regional classes by geographers who favour systematic courses (Brunt, 1995), the classes continue to have tremendous appeal for students, who still associate geography with the study of specific regions and desire intimate knowledge of a region (Halseth & Fondahl, 1998). Second, the resurgence of place in recent theoretical debates has re-established the importance of local understandings, leading to an increased need for regional specialization within the discipline. Many geographers have illustrated the importance of place and region to social theory (Pred, 1986; Gregory, 1989; Massey, 1993).
Nevertheless, these regional courses pose a dilemma. The very scope and definition of the courses is contrary to much of geography’s current body of theory because it accepts the region as an object to be studied rather than a social process, constantly in the act of reconstruction. To engage in the act of teaching a region is, to a certain extent, to endorse a certain set of boundaries and characteristics of that region. For instance, to teach a course on the Geography of Europe is to select some geographic extent for Europe, and to base [-p.50] that decision on some cultural or other criteria. Often, this is dictated to some extent by the choice of textbook, although it is always possible to add to or subtract from the scope of the text. However, the alternative to fixing the boundaries is not palatable either; the goal is not to descend into an endless deconstruction of the metageography of place….” (pp.49-50)

How, then, do we give life to these theoretical and abstract thoughts in the classroom? How can we teach regional geography while still emphasizing the economic and political motivations behind the regions we discuss? The key is to provide the material and discursive bases through which regions are constructed, allowing the class to witness the process of region and identity construction that is so critical to the new regional geography (Warf, 1990; Paasi, 1996).” (p.50)

“…it is important to discuss the processes by which regions are produced as dominant constructions of reality.
In my Geography of Europe class I accomplished this by connecting the metageography of Europe to popular culture in a way that can be replicated elsewhere. In particular, I used the novel Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker as a lens through which to discuss the social construction of Eastern Europe. To do this, the class viewed Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). The movie differs from the book in a few plot points (notably, it includes a back-story for Dracula and a love story between the Count and Mina Murray) but is useful for class discussion because the students connect to the medium perhaps better than to a novel written in 1897 and also because Coppola uses dramatic [-p.51] visual clues to help constitute the difference between Eastern and Western Europe. Following the viewing, a discussion ensued in which the instructor’s role was to provide a summary of the geographic literature on the construction of Eastern Europe as well as a geographic interpretation of the novel. This paper begins with a history of the division of Europe between East and West, highlighting the role of travel literature and other writings in the development of an informal system of regions. Furthermore, the political and economic incentives and consequences for the perpetuation of these regions are discussed. In the next section, a geographic interpretation of Dracula is outlined, identical to the one used in the classroom discussion. This geographic interpretation outlines the dichotomies used to portray the fundamental differences between East and West. Finally, survey and test data are used to assess the success of this lesson in teaching students about the social construction of regions.” (pp.50-51)

Larry Wolff (1994) attributes the construction of an Eastern Europe that is separate from the civilized portions of Western Europe to Enlightenment philosophers (in particular, Voltaire and Rousseau) who perpetuated and mythologized each other’s accounts of a backward and barbaric homogenous region (despite some of these writers never actually
going there). For example, Voltaire’s History of Charles XII (1731) was critical in mapping Eastern Europe in the popular imagination by describing Charles’s march through Eastern Europe. This book was written in the first person and instilled a fantasy-filled image of Eastern Europe that later travellers would take with them, inserting a lens of preconceptions in their imagination. We know that the book was influential because it had several printings and translations, and its effect was far-reaching and long lasting.” (p.51)

“In addition to this representation from philosophers who may or may not actually have
been to Eastern Europe there were similar depictions available to the public from completely fictional travellers, such as those of Baron Munchausen (Wolff, 1994). While
there was a real Baron Munchausen who did travel through Eastern Europe, the stories
published about his namesake were tall tales written by Rudolf Raspe (1785) that portrayed Eastern Europe as a ridiculous and fantastic place. This representation became fashionable just as travel to the region increased…. At the same time, Southwest Asia and East Asia received a much more romantic image, perhaps because of its inaccessibility for most Europeans. The connection between inaccessibility and romance is reiterated by Goldsworthy (1998, p. 75), who notes: “the Gothic plot [as of Dracula] requires a setting which is sufficiently close to the reader to appear threatening, while nevertheless being alien enough to house all the exotic paraphernalia—the castles, the convents, the caverns, the dark forests at midnight, the mysterious villains and the howling specters”.” (p.51)

In Dracula, as in other literature of the time, Western Europe and Eastern Europe are portrayed as opposing spaces, which together embody a series of dichotomous relationships. As mentioned previously, this process of othering was enabled by Western [-p.55] Europe’s hegemonic economic and cultural power. Senf (1998, pp. 24, 37) alludes to some of these dichotomies, but the importance of them to the constitution of Eastern Europe is not fully recognized. The first of these dichotomies is Western Europe’s civilization versus Eastern Europe’s barbarism. This opposition is one of historic importance, as ‘civilization’ is a value-laden word that originally meant simply a settled, non-nomadic existence (Davies, 1996) but has since come to be associated with good manners, ethical decision-making, distinguished culture and other normative goods. Barbarian, in its original formulation (by the ancient Greeks—see McNeill, 1997), simply meant one who does not speak Greek, but has since become associated with all that is uncivilized: poor hygiene and appearance, cruelty to enemies, a lack of distinguished culture and a lack of attachment to place. This normative geography is inscribed in Dracula’s text, as Transylvania and the Count himself are both portrayed as barbarian. For instance, Jonathan Harker writes this in his journal on the way to Transylvania (Stoker, 1897, p. 3): [‘]The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who were more barbarian than the rest, with their big cow-boy hats, great baggy dirty-white trousers, white linen shirts, and enormous heavy leather belts, nearly a foot wide, all studded over with brass nails. . .. On the stage they would be set down at once as some old Oriental band of brigands.[‘]” (pp.54-55)

Dracula partakes in a longstanding tradition of representing Eastern Europe as a place of sexualized violence.” (p.56)

“In a similar manner to the distinction made between Western mind and Eastern body, Stoker’s novel maintains a historical distinction between Western science and Eastern magic.” (p.56)

“That Eastern Europe is a place of fantasy and magic is a long-held truism in travel literature. This is a fundamental theme of Baron Munchausen’s travelogue. (p.57)

“Eastern Europe is portrayed as a place eternally of the past, with London (and all of Western Europe) portrayed as the dynamic source of change and innovation.” (p.57)

Dracula must be seen in its full literary and historical context. The Count must be
from Eastern Europe for the story to have its maximum cultural resonance; the story is as horrifying as it is because Dracula is this emblem of Eastern European danger threatening the West.
Dracula is not the only novel to take advantage of this geographic imaginary— Goldsworthy (1998, p. 76) notes that: “Typically, because of the need for a dichotomy between the familiar and the exotic, Gothic locations are on the edges of a particular geographical area, in its remote corners and on its borderlands.” Indeed, the entire Gothic genre helped construct difference between Eastern and Western Europe, even if that was never its specific intention. Stoker wrote the novel for the same reasons as most authors: to profit. Therefore, he exploited the already-existent division of Europe as the geographic framework of his novel, and through that hugely successful novel he inadvertently perpetuated that division, perhaps contributing more to it than any previous author or philosopher. The success of Dracula and books like it has vast political and cultural ramifications, as that success helps to structure the geographic imagination of its many millions of readers.” (p.58)

Dracula is particularly important within the genre because of its literary longevity and its role as the inspiration for an entire genre of books and movies, as well as a sub-culture, each of which reconstructs the division of Europe into east and west and makes it more of a taken-for-granted fact of life.” (p.58)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Jason Dittmer (2006): Teaching the Social Construction of Regions in Regional Geography Courses; or, Why Do Vampires Come from Eastern Europe?, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 30:1, 49-61

ABSTRACT “This article describes the difficulty of teaching about the construction of regions in regional geography courses, which are themselves built on a metageography that often goes unquestioned. The author advocates the use of popular culture to make this very complex issue palpable for undergraduates. Thus, the construction of Eastern Europe within a larger European framework is clear through a study of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the movies that the book has spawned. Included in this article is an analysis of the geography presented through the Dracula narrative, and the contents of the classroom experience created by the author to teach that analysis. The article concludes with survey data that illustrate the reaction of the students to the lesson as well as evidence that the lesson improved student learning.”

The homelike-ness of schools in pop-Gothic texts (and canny vs. uncanny) – Jackson


In her study of The Time of the Ghost (Diana Wynne Jones, 1981), Charlotte Sometimes (Penelope Farmer, 1967) and The Haunting (Margaret Mahy, 1982), Anna Jackson addresses the question of heimlich vs. unheimlich and canny vs. uncanny (drawing on these differences for her theoretical premise). She begins:

“The first harry Potter film ends, as a proper school story should, with everyone on the platform, bags packed, saying their farewells, ready to go home; except that, as Harry says, “I’m not going home. Not really.” For Harry, the boarding school of Hogwarts, despite being haunted not only by the mostly benign school ghosts but also by Voldemort, the embodiment of evil, is home in a way that suburban life for him can never be home. / For most of the last century, the uncanny has been understood in terms of Freud’s definition of unheimlich as not quite the opposite of heimlich, and so perhaps it might not seem surprising that the Harry Potter books, the twentieth century’s most successful Gothic publishing phenomenon, should be set in a school, that home-away-from-home. Nor perhaps is it surprising that Buffy should slay her vampires on the grounds, or just a little out of bounds, of Sunnydale High. Much has been made not only of the homelike qualities of the fictional schools of pop-Gothic texts like these, but of the familiarity, the homelike-ness, of the school genre itself.” (p.157)

In this essay, Jackson “discuss[es] three children’s novels that are all about hauntings, that all draw on Gothic conventions to evoke a real sense of the uncanny.” (p.157) Having alluded briefly to the interplay between heimlich and unheimlich in The Haunting, Jackson explains:

“However, the school setting can also be understood in relation to the English word “uncanny.” Just as the German word unheimlich seemed to have little to do with the word heimlich until Freud teased out the significance of the etymological link, “uncanny” doesn’t usually operate as the opposite of the word “canny.” Like the German unheimlich, the English uncanny means both unusual and unnatural – spooky, eerie, unsettling. Canny as a recently republished children’s book Cannily Cannily (French 1981) helpfully informs the reader on its back cover, means “knowing, sagacious, shrewd, astute; skilled or expert, frugal or thrifty.” The words are not quite opposites, since the quality of uncanniness seems to belong to a situation or event, as an effect the situation or event produces, whereas canniness is a quality that properly belongs to a person. It might make sense, however, to understand the uncanny as that which cannot be understood cannily; as those events, situations or phenomena that do not allow for a knowing, sagacious, shrewd, and astute reading of them.” (p.158)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Anna Jackson (c2008) Uncanny Hauntings, Canny Children pp.157-176 in Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats, and Roderick McGillis The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York and London

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.

The vampire genre reveals a great deal about our questions and fears


“It is wise to scan popular culture to seek hints of spirituality. There we can discern currents and movements in the collective psyche. The vampire genre, and how it is currently being treated, reveals a great deal about our questions and fears.” (p.204)

Bearing in mind the date of this article’s publication (i.e., 2000 – and so, pre-half-of-the-vampire-literature-currently-on-the-market), Kevin O’Donnell considers the changes in vampire fiction in recent times (and from a theological perspective). He states that vampire fictions “are written or filmed to entertain, first and foremost, and the chill and thrill of being scared and horrified is what makes people pick them up. It’s rather like a roller-coaster ride – it’s exciting to feel something unpleasant, briefly, in hyper-reality. It’s a cheap, superficial brush with the nasty side of life, a ‘time-out’ session that would be worrying if people became obsessed and infatuated with it.
The stories tend to be sexist as well as bloodthirsty, with Dracula’s brides, or Hammer film blonde-haired virgins. There has always been a strong sexuality about the genre, and even Anne Rice’s novels, though written by a woman, have women, usually as the victims, except for the age-old vampire, Maharet, who is cold and calculating. Seduction and the vampiric bite are all of a piece, and the blood drinking is orgasmic for the Undead. A parallel with AIDS has also [-p.205] been made in recent times, an infection through the blood. Vampire tales might seem shallow, nasty, rather tacky, and out of place in a discussion of serious theology, but there are deep issues to be drawn out in modern examples. The tired, old cliches of the genre have given way to new directions and energetic characterization.” (pp.204-205)

“This particular genre of gothic horror has never ceased to enthral since Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. He reworked simpler, cheaper, gothic tales of vampyres and wraiths into a classic. The timing was cruciaL A. N. Wilson, in his introduction to the Oxford University
Press edition, says:
Since Dracula was written, history has been a catalogue of evils which no amount of hitting with a shovel can obliterate. Stoker, an amusing old rogue who was merely doing his best to write a yarn which would make your hair stand on end, in fact did something much more. He reflects the very bewildered sense, still potent in a world which was (even in 1897) preparing to do without religion, that mysteries can only be fought by mysteries, and that the power of evil in human life is too strong to be defeated by repression, violence, or good behaviour. Virtue avails the characters in Dracula nothing. It is the old magic – wood, garlic, and a crucifix – which are the only effective weapons against the Count’s appalling power.’
Wilson touches on two important themes. First, in the vampire genre, evil is portrayed in the raw. It is condensed, frightening and personaL More than this, it is an apotheosis of virtue, an utterly corrupted individual who treats others as objects in its struggle for survival. This is a projection, a symbol, and provides something of a catharsis for the viewer/reader. It helps us face the darkness of life at a safe distance. It is a deflection, too, for by looking at a fictional evil, totally out there, we avoid what is here and now, around us. Western society does not like talking about evil too much, but we know how real it is within us….” (p.205)

Wilson’s second point is that the vampire tale delves into the depths of mythology, and this primal, unconscious side of our lives sits uneasily with a modem, liberal consciousness. Postmodernism is struck with it, spun round in a dance, and does not know how to take the lead. Vampires are about ancient magic, and the struggle of light and darkness. There is the final fight, as daylight streams into the chamber and a cross robs the vampire of its power. This gives a numinous quality to the genre, as we find, also, with the Gospels. While these are superficially about a holy man set against religious and secular tyrannies in the first century, there is a deeper struggle between light and dark, God and the devil.” (p.206)

Stoker’s Dracula was a rather two-dimensional character […]. The Count was a creepy gothic horror with little charm, depth or personality. He was little more than a spook, a shadow, which took over people’s lives. This was played out in the feature film versions, and despite the power of Lugosi’s stare, and the energy of Christopher Lee, they were not real characters. This was overturned in a new breed of vampire writing with the novels of Anne Rice, ‘The Vampire Chronicles‘, about the vampire Lestat and his associates.” (p.206)

Rice humanized her monsters, giving them feelings, personal agonies, and longings. They feel repulsion and guilt….” (p.207)

Ref: Kevin O’Donnell Fall, Redemption and Immortality in the Vampire Mythos. Theology 2000 103: 204

The system running itself


Actually, on that note, according to Do Rozario, Allan Lloyd Smith has also argued “that technological change suggests a scenario of ‘the system running itself, for itself; and hence generates antihumanism, plots beyond comprehension. Either there are plots or, perhaps worse, there are none, an unendurable void of meaning.'” (Do Rozario citing Smith, p.212 Fantastic Books)… we are talking about the Gothic, but we could also be talking about a number of premises for YA fiction (and not just Gothic YA fic)…

Ref: Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario ‘Fantastic Books: The Gothic Architecture of Children’s Books’ pp.209-225 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to: p.16 Allan Lloyd Smith (1996) Postmodernism/Gothicism. In V. Sage & A.L. Smith (Eds.), Modern Gothic: A Reader (pp.6-19). Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press.

The Gothic, cultural crisis, and negotiating the anxieties of the age


“The Gothic is frequently considered to be a genre that re-emerges with particular force during times of cultural crisis and which serves to negotiate the anxieties of the age by working through them in a displaced form.”
~ David Punter and Glennis Byron

This is a nicely concise statement and it sums up a lot of what is said about the Gothic (consider just the fact that Punter and Byron, cited by Do Rozario, are now being cited by me…). What interests me is that it also rings true, in many ways, of adolescent and children’s fiction. (Do Rozario doesn’t exactly argue this, but perhaps implies it in her essay, ‘Fantastic Books’, from which I take the above quote). Both children’s and adolescent fiction often address the concerns of the age (particularly as they relate to our concerns for the future and to current pedagogy). Even the novels that deal with eating disorders, bullying, or more general adolescent angst often concern themselves with the wider societal changes that enable such difficulties… I wonder how ‘YA Gothic’ negotiates the anxieties of the age…

How do protagonists of YA Gothic face up to their fears and difficulties?

What resources do they have to do so?

What form do their fears and difficulties take in this fiction?

How is this fiction different from ‘adult’ Gothic (if it is different)? And how is it different from any other genre of adolescent fiction?

Note: Do Rozario also cites Allan Lloyd Smith as stating: “The information revolution, by providing too much information and [-p.212] boundless signs without referents, subjects the protagonist to a sensory disarray comparable to the confusions of a Gothic victim.” Again, …Gothic victim/ Adolescent protagonist… there’s a conceptual overlap!

Ref: (David Punter and Glennis Byron, cited p.211; Allan Lloyd Smith, cited pp211-212) Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario ‘Fantastic Books: The Gothic Architecture of Children’s Books’ pp.209-225 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to: p.39 David Punter and Glennis Byron (2004) The Gothic. London: Blackwell Publishing

p.15 Allan Lloyd Smith (1996) Postmodernism/Gothicism. In V. Sage & A.L. Smith (Eds.), Modern Gothic: A Reader (pp.6-19). Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press.

Australian Gothic (and its families) – Smith


Anna Smith’s study of how Gary Crew and Sonya Hartnett situate families in their (Australian) Gothic tales is an enjoyable one. Some of her statements which I found appealing include:

“Fear thrives on distorting the familiar: nothing is more terrifying for a child than to find that ghosts, aliens and bad fairies can haunt a real bedroom, a school, a neighbourhood. Making connections between stories and places is thus an integral part of childhood, one could almost say an integral right of growing into one’s culture. That these pathways between imaginative tropes, texts, and places are highly varied, though, is what makes children’s literature so arresting.” (p.131)

“…if the Gothic has any determining feature, it is in its claims to deal with unfinished business: with hauntings, returns, doublings, and with secrets that won’t go away – things  undead, in other words.” (p.133)

Gothic Hospital“…if Gothic Hospital is empty of sick children, it’s simply humming with the baroque fall-out from an oedipal scene. Castration anxiety and fears of a devouring doctor/father figure, and uncanny resemblances between things that are familiar and those weirdly out of place cannot help but affirm the Gothic’s enduring indebtedness to Freudian dysfunctionality. The ambiguity of this latter expression is deliberate. In his early work, Freud never disguised the fact that his interpretation was sired by taking the anomaly and turning it into the narrative of a general, universal condition: a dysfunctional narrative of dysfunctionality, if you will.” (p.136)

It is an accepted convention of the genre that Gothic writers cut figures from the dark imagination of popular, as well as literary culture, which is why the trademark of a Gothic text is the curious, resurrected feel that animates the characters: a trace of that return from the dead (a limp, a stutter, or a coterie of peculiar eccentricities) remains to mark their behaviour with the sign of the made-up.” (p.136)

“It has frequently been said of Gothic tropes that they not only ‘transfer an idea of otherness from the past into the present,’ but because of this action, they inevitably import an anti-historicising context into the contemporary (Sage & Smith 1996: 1).” (p.137)

“Hartnett’s Gothic pays its dues to a different rendition of ‘scary,’ one where the physical and emotional dangers are more real than textual….” (p.134)

“In The Devil Latch, random native objects acquire that menacing resonance traditionally associated with Gothic landscapes. Instead of a pine forest and snow-covered crags, Hartnett offers the glimpse of a nervy bird without tail feathers, oleander leaves that can poison, and Kitten Latch’s antique farm tools perfectly restored.” (p.138)

The Devil latchUnquestionably, the Gothic genre lends itself particularly well to dramatizing narratives of lost and broken families. Contemporary writers for children and teenagers have adopted Gothic chronotopes with the same finesse with which they have appropriated other adult modes of writing. The covert question that drives this paper, however, has little to do with whether we are beginning to see a local [Australian] tradition of children’s writing which could broadly be called Gothic. Rather, it seeks to investigate whether the ‘Gothic’ can stand for anything other than a failed or psychotic family. Do scary narratives, in other words, always have to address – and spring from – scary families?” (p.139)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Anna Smith ’The Scary Tale Looks for a Family: Gary Crew’s Gothic Hospital and Sonya Hartnett’s The Devil Latch’ pp.131-143 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York