space and bilingualism in The House on Mango Street – Kuribayashi


Tomoko Kuribayashi made some really interesting comments on the use of space and language in Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street – they are really in line with some of the things that interested me about this text. Kuribayashi wrote:

“Cisneros’ narrative illuminates the linguistic, spatial and sexual oppression that racist society imposes on minority – more specifically Chicana – women, but also offers a somewhat hopeful perspective on future possibilities. Architecture is a central means by which society as well as Cisneros express and experience oppression as well as hope for change. In the beginning of Cisneros’ novel, Esperanza yearns for acquisition of cultural ideals of the white society, most specifically the white, middle-class house widely displayed in the mass media.” (p.166)

“Cisneros’ narrator, Esperanza, also wants a house just like the ones she sees on television and all her family members share her dream… Young Esperanza is keenly aware of how houses define and represent the resident’s social status; so simply having a roof over one’s head is not enough.” (p.166) However, as Kuribayashi notes “later her vision changes and she contemplates the possibility of housing the poor in her future house” (p.167)

“Owning and controlling her own space is to own her self. One cannot become oneself without having one’s own place. As Cherríe Moraga asserts, the “anti-materialist approach [that some white, middle-class feminists take] makes little sense in the lives of poor and Third World women”, when material conditions are so much a part of their oppression that coming into possession of material necessities is a must for becoming one’s own person.” (p.167)

“In The House on Mango Street, as sociocultural oppressions and future hopes are architecturally expressed, so are the female characters’ experiences of social and sexual violence inseparably linked to their spatial experiences.” (p.168) Kuribayashi’s discussion of the different ways space is inhabited, or prohibited to, the women of this text is a great read. I think the connection between space and body, as well as the point that Esperanza finally occupies another space entirely through her writing are fitting criticism of the text;

“Esperanza […] also has another vision of space outside, that is, a space that her imagination and her writing – and bilingual ability – will create for her outside and beyond the limits of her Mexican-American community and of the dominant white culture of America.” (p.169)

“Cisneros’ narrative highlights how language – and taking control of it – is a determining factor for Esperanza’s future. Taking control of language means taking control of one’s spatial experiences. The narrative of The House on Mango Street is a linguistic manifestation and product of the process in which Esperanza creates a new self and a new world. The text also testifies how she can do this through giving herself a new name and discovering a new language, without disowning the cultural background from which she comes.” (pp.169-170)

“Through the very text of The House on Mango Street the narrator moves back to her native community. The narrative is a textual documentation of the homeward movement of her body as well as of her spiritual homecoming.
The narrator’s leaving home is necessary, though, for her to find her self. Anzaldúa  says of herself, “I had to leave home so I could find myself, find my own intrinsic nature buried under the personality that had been imposed on me”. Esperanza is taking tremendous risks, and she is fortunate to be able to choose to do so, since so few of her group of people can afford it. As Anzaldúa says, “As a working class people our chief activity is to put food in our mouths, a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs”. While most women of her ethnicity have had to choose between “three directions… to the Church as a nun, to the streets as a prostitute, or to the home as a mother,” Esperanza is making the newly and sparingly available fourth choice, “entering the world by way of education and career and becoming self-autonomous persons,” or claiming a public identity.” (p.174)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Tomoko Kuribayashi “The Chicana girl writes her way in and out: space and bilingualism in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street” pp.165-177 Eds. Tomoko Kuribayashi and Julie Ann Tharp Creating Safe Space: Violence and Women’s Writing. Albany, State University of New York Press, c1998

the feminist kitchen


Ksenija Bilbija sums up much of the interest in the kitchen as site of story in Laura Esquivel’s Como agua para chocolate when she wrote:

“For feminists, the kitchen has come to symbolize the world that traditionally marginalized and limited a woman. It represents a space associated with repetitive work, lacking any “real” creativity, and having no possibility for the fulfillment of women’s existential needs, individualization or self-expression.” (p.147)

[As an aside, I also found her discussion of the kitchen and the alchemist’s laboratory, especially as the two spaces might be read in Cien años de soledad, p.149-, interesting)

Ref: Ksenija Bilbija ‘Spanish American Women Writers: simmering identity over a low fire’ STCL 20(1) Winter, 1996; pp.147-165

politics of space in Chicano/a writing – Mermann-Jozwiak


A decade on again, I find my notes on an article by Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak that connected with my interest in (Mexican/American) place in Cisnero’s House on Mango Street. It still catches my eye. She wrote:

“In the preface to her edited collection Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo caras Gloria Anzaldúa uses the metaphor haciendo caras (making faces) for the construction of Chicana identity. This identity, she claims, exists in the interfaces, the spaces “between the masks we’ve internalized, one on top of another….[I]t is the place – the interface – between the masks that provides the space from which we can thrust out and crack the masks” (xv-xvi). Like Anzaldúa, other Chicano/a writers and critics situate Mexican-American women through various and recurring spatial metaphors of nepantla, borderlands, brinks, and interstices. Chicanas speak from the “cracked spaces” (xxii), which, according to Anzaldúa, are simultaneously the spaces of revolutionary potential (“gestos subversivos” [xv]). [end p.469]
Two decades have passed since Anzaldúa’s articulation of a spatial poetics of resistance and, I might add, since Sandra Cisnero’s famous departures from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space in her House on Mango Street (1984).” (pp.469-470)

Reviewing Mary Pat Brady’s Extinct Lands, Temporal Geographies: Chicana Literature and the Urgency of Space (2002, Durham: Duke UP), Mermann-Jozwiak observes that the “book’s focus […] is on processes that shape our understanding of places, as well as on the effects of space on subject formation.” (p.472)She notes that Brady “examines border discourses and the simultaneous aestheticization, militarization, and representation of the border as abjection machine.” (p.471) Indeed, Mermann-Jozwiak felt that “In her conclusion, […] she reiterates the now common insight of “the border’s centrality to the field of Chicana/o critical analysis”” (p.473)

Going on to review Monika Kaup’s Rewriting North American Borders in Chicano and Chicana Narrative (2001, New York: Peter Lang), Mermann-Jozwiak writes that “Like Brady, Kaup is interested in tracing Chicano/a interventions in spatial politics. Her discussion of writers’ rearticulations of the spatial ordr derives from Michel de Certeau’s analysis of spatial practices that have the potential to subvert relations of power. The migration narratives she examines, for example, challenge the construction of nation-spaces and its concomitant rhetoric of alterity. Women, she shows, effectively employ the discourses of architecture to renovate male-authored narratives’ construction of domestic spaces. As the interstitial gaps are the “locations [where] oppositional, subaltern histories can be found” (Pérez 5), and as the interface is the place of revolutionary potential (Anzaldúa xv), Kaup and Brady both convincingly demonstrate the “urgency of space” in Chicano/a literature, as the writers they discuss engage in discursive constructions and reconstructions of spaces important to Chicano/a history and culture.” (pp.475-476)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak (2004) Cartographies of resistance: poetics and politics of space in Chicano/a writing. Modern Fiction Studies, 50(2)Summer; pp.469-476

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

Measuring human space


Suggested titles from Claude-Henri Rocquet

“…given the task of making budding architects understand that human space cannot be truly measured unless it is oriented in accordance with the cardinal points of the human heart, I had no better allies than Bachelard of La Poétique de l’espace and the Eliade of The Sacred and the Profane.” (p.vii)

Ref:  Mircea Eliade and Claude-Henri Rocquet (c1982) Mircea Eliade Ordeal by Labyrinth: Conversations with Claude-Henri Rocquet. translated by Derek Coltman. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, London.

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 fear of crime as a phenomenon shaping the life of cities


Over a decade ago (and, perhaps significantly(?), before 9/11), Rachel Pain reviewed the literature on “fear of crime as a phenomenon shaping the life of cities” (p.899), focusing on  “debates on race, age, gender and fear in the city, as these are the social identities which have received most attention.” (p.899). She wrote:

Much thinking about social identity and fear of crime has tended to be dichotomised. … For example, different groups of young people are widely constructed either as threatening, or threatened; there are powerful discourses which position people of colour as offenders or victims; and in much of the literature men are viewed as fearless but fear-provoking, and women as fearful and passive. Such dualisms reflect a wider criminological fallacy that certain groups commit crime and other are victims of it (except for people in low-income areas who are widely viewed as involved in both). Recent research is pointing to the diversity and complexity of issues around social identity and fear; so that although theoretical frameworks can and should be developed (one which emphasises social exclusion is applied in this paper), the currency of stereotypes and even the usefulness of gender, race and age as social categories need to be critically appraised and the intersections between different identities in their relationships to crime and fear require further explorationAnother set of dualisms which the geographical literature has begun to problematise is around the spaces and places in which fear is situated—for example, public versus private, safe versus dangerous, low-income estates versus suburbs—and the ways in which people negotiate them. In fact, most discussions of fear in the city deal only with public spaces which are shared with strangers. As recent research has shown, crimes such as domestic violence, acquaintance violence and elder abuse also have a role to play in the construction of fear. This paper includes in its scope homes, workspaces and other private and semiprivate places, which are as much a part of ‘the urban’ as streets, shopping malls and parks. While many people strongly associate fear with speciŽfic places, reflecting wider [-p.900] ideologies of public space as dangerous and private space as safe, fear and safety in different spaces are interconnected—for example, experiences of danger in private space affect feelings of security in public at an individual and societal level.” (pp.899-900)

For the purposes of this paper, Pain defines ‘fear of crime as “as the wide range of emotional and practical responses to crime and disorder made by individuals and communities.” (p.901)

Fear of crime can be considered to create and reinforce exclusion from social life and from particular urban spaces in a number of ways [which she goes on to discuss ].” (p.902)

“Almost every survey of fear of crime Ž finds that women report being more fearful of crime than men. Whether in the home, the workplace or the city, it is fear of sexual violence and harassment from men which underpins women’s higher fear (Gordon and Riger, 1989; Valentine, 1989). Feminists have viewed women’s higher fear of crime as a manifestation of gender oppression and a damaging form of control of women’s lives, reproducing traditional notions about women’s ‘place’ in society (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Pain, 1991; Valentine, 1989).” (p.903) “However, there are some conflicts between theoretical development and empirical evidence around women’s fear of urban spaces […and it has been suggested] that men’s fear may be considerably higher than previously thought….” (p.903)

“Much relevant research on women’s fear has revolved around two key paradoxes. / The Ž first and earliest is the paradox between levels of fear and violence discussed in the introduction—when women’s high fear of crime was Žfirst discovered, it appeared far greater than their actual risks of victimisation….” (p.903) “A second paradox has been identiŽfied and explored by geographers—most research shows a mismatch between the types of location in which physical and sexual violence usually occur (private space) and the locations in which most women fear (public spaces), calling into question the idea that levels of victimisation can explain fear alone. To resolve this spatial paradox, feminists have argued that women are misinformed about the main location of danger, through the institutions of the family, the education system and the media (Hanmer and Saunders, 1984; Valentine, 1989). More recent research has indicated that misinformation does underlie fear in public space; most women are aware that domestic violence is more common than stranger attacks, but this knowledge has little effect on their fear of crime unless they have personal experience of domestic violence (Pawson and Banks, 1993; Pain, 1997).” (p.903)

“…feminist writers such as Wilson (1991) have emphasised that the city is frequently a place of excitement and opportunity for women, not just a place to be feared. City centre spaces at once have varying meanings to different people (Pain and Townshend, forthcoming). / Different notions of femininity are also entwined with different constructions of the fear of crime. For example, some have suggested that the emphasis on ‘fear’ and its negative consequences in writing about women and crime reproduces notions about feminine weakness (Segal, 1990).” (p.904) [I couldn’t help thinking about the typical kick-ass female protagonist of much (recent!) urban fantasy here…]

“Koskela’s (1997) analysis of women’s fear of attack in Finland emphasises that women respond to the threat of crime with ‘boldness’ as well as fear and ‘spatial conŽfidence’ as well as spatial avoidance.” (p.904)

Meanwhile, “In direct contrast to women, men’s low reported fear of crime appeared anomalous from the earliest crime surveys because they experienced relatively high rates of violence. Aggregate data suggest that men are largely at risk from strangers and acquaintances in public places including streets, pubs and clubs, but there is also a risk from partners in the home.” (p.905)

Where men have been the subject of qualitative research, this has suggested that, at least for some, the effects of fear may be just as great as for women (Gilchrist et al., 1998; Stanko and Hobdell, 1993). Gilchrist et al. (1998) examine the cases of fearful men and fearless women in order to demonstrate that fear and boldness, although they may be gendered, are not essentially female or male qualities.” (p.905)

“…it is inappropriate to deal with race, gender, age and other social identities simply as descriptive categories in analysis of the fear of crime. Rather, in each case, fear of crime (and the crimes feared) are often structured by age, race and gender, as this paper has outlined. When gender, age and race are viewed as social relations which are based upon unequal distributions of power, they begin to explain who is most affected by fear, and where.” (p.910)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Rachel Pain (2001) Gender, Race, Age and Fear in the City Urban Studies, Vol. 38, Nos 5–6, 899–913

the meanings and mysteries of places – Dovey


Declaring himself to be “fascinated by the meanings and mysteries of places – rooms, buildings, streets and cities…” (p.xii), Kim Dovey wrote a book, Framing Places, in which he “investigates how the built forms of architecture and urban design act as mediators of social practices of power.” (book blurb) It’s one of those really interesting reads which is written in simple language but manages at the same time to share complex and interesting ideas. He introduces Framing Places with some of the following provocative statements:

What do justice, democracy or liberation mean with regard  to built form?” (p.xii)

Architects and urban designers engage with the articulation of dreams – imagining and constructing a ‘better’ future in someone’s interest. This optimistic sense of creative innovation largely defines the design professions which are all identified with constant change. Yet architecture is also the most conservative of practices. This conservatism stems from the fundamental inertia of built form as it ‘fixes’ and ‘stabilizes’ the world – space is deployed to stabilize time. It is this antinomous quality – coupling imaginative innovation with a stabilizing conservatism – that makes the interpretation of place so interesting yet problematic.” (p.xii)

“Social theory has turned its attention towards spatial issues in a major way since the 1980s and scholars such as Foucault, Derrida, Eagleton, Giddens, Lefebvre, Habermas, Bourdieu and Harvey are widely cited in architectural discourse. Yet these theorists rarely write about the specifics of built form and the ways in which their work is applied to design practice, and public debate is generally superficial. Theory can be used as a form of insulation from the world as easily as a tool of engagement. How does such theory help us to engage in the invention of the future? How does one articulate the ‘public interest’ or decode the meaning of the latest grand project for a public audience? What, if anything, is wrong with another shopping mall, suburban enclave, theme park or corporate tower? The bridge between theory and built forms, between academic dialect and public debate, is crucial to the task of changing the world.” (p.xiii)

“As human interests are more clearly articulated so are the possibilities for new forms of design and discourse.” (p.xiii)

Architecture and urban design ‘frames’ space, both literally and discursively. In the literal sense everyday life ‘takes place’ within the clusters of rooms, buildings, streets and cities that we inhabit. Action is structured and shaped by walls, doors and windows, framed by the decision of designers. As a form of discourse, built form constructs and frames meanings. Places tell us stories; we read them as spatial text. The idea of ‘framing’ contains this ambiguity. Used as a verb, to ‘frame’ means to ‘shape’ things, and also to ‘enclose’ them in a border – like a mirror or picture. As a noun, a ‘frame’ is an established ‘order’ and a ‘border’. ‘Framing’ implies both the construction of a world and of a way of seeing ourselves in it – at once picture and mirror. In each of these senses, the design of built form is the practice of ‘framing’ the places of everyday life. A frame is also a ‘context’ which we relegate to the taken for granted. Built form can ‘frame’ its subject in a place where not all is what it seems – as in a ‘frame-up’. Through both these literal and discursive framings, the built environment mediates, constructs and reproduces power relations. The ambiguities of ‘framing’ reflect those of the nexus between place and practices of power.” (p.1)

“The nexus of built form with power is, at one level, a tautological truth – place creation is determined by those in control of resources. Placemaking is an inherently elite practice. This does not suggest that built form is inherently oppressive. However, it does suggest that places are necessarily programmed and designed in accord with certain interests – primarily the pursuit of amenity, profit, status and political power. The built environment reflects identities, differences and struggles of gender, class, race, culture and age. It shows the interests of people in empowerment and freedom, the interests of the state in social order, and the private corporate interest in stimulating consumption.” (p.1)

“The relations of architecture to social behaviour are [-p.2] complex and culturally embedded interactions. Like the frame of a painting or the binding of a book, architecture is often cast as necessary yet neutral to the life within. Most people, most of the time, take the built environment for granted. This relegation of built form to the unquestioned frame is the key to its relations to power. The more that the structures and representations of power can be embedded in the framework of everyday life, the less questionable they become and the more effectively they can work. This is what lends built form a prime role as ideology. It is what Bourdieu calls the ‘complicitous silence’ of place as a framework to life that is the source of its deepest associations with power.” (pp.1-2)

Ref: Kim Dovey (1999) Framing Places: Mediating power in built form. Routledge: London and New York.

Haunted spaces and Gothic emotion


Bruno Lessard explains:

“Gothic space differs from ancient Greek space, again according to Worringer, on the basis of the former’s wresting from space “a vitality of expression” (158) that facilitates the coming to life of the sensuous pathos of Gothic that is to be desired in the first place. As Worringer describes it, Gothic architectural space relies on a visual spectacle and embodied impact that force us to reconsider the legacy of Gothic through the ages in order to investigate the transformations it has incurred in other artistic phenomena and media environments. When Worringer mentions that, upon entering a Gothic cathedral, one “encounters an intoxication of the senses … a mystical intoxication of the senses which is not of this world” (159), we can rest assured that affect, sensation, and emotion have become as primordial in the construction of the cathedral as they are in art historical discourse. The sensuous and affective dimensions of Gothic can only take form in the context of a critical practice that will be attuned to these aesthetic and corporeal dimensions, which equally rely on their hypostasized presence in the work. The overwhelming nature and often violent enrapture of Gothic space, as “sensuous-super-sensuousness” (176) or “Sinnlich-Übersinnlich” and affect-value, would undergo a crucial transformation in what is known in literary studies as the “Gothic revival.” A primordial characteristic of Gothic, as noted by a number of scholars, is its reliance on visuality and spectacle. Insofar as this can be relayed through the written word, Gothic writers’ descriptions of emotional states often went beyond their medium of expression in a way that sought to question the boundaries of expressive forms: “Though [Gothic writers] always insist on the powers of feeling and imagination, they tend to concentrate on external details of emotional display while leaving readers to deduce for themselves complex inner psychological movements.” The rise of Gothic cannot be separated from a dual emphasis: the heightened display of emotion and the visual characterization of emotion to the detriment of inner motivation and psychology. The creation of Gothic emotion has to be linked to exterior stimulation, a point that has led to the critique of Gothic as a mode that relies too heavily on sensation, melodrama, and theatrical display. Therefore, the intermedial ambiguities at the heart of Gothic seem as disturbing as the plots of the novels themselves, and the fact that these novels provoke pictorial effects, or ekphrasis, appears equally problematic in terms of defining what Gothic affect is.” (p.218)

“…commentators on Gothic and horror film have noted a first difference [between literary and film Gothic] that would lie in the production of emotion and affect. On the one hand, literary Gothic would rely on an invisible presence that incites a plurality of interpretations; meaning thus becomes overdetermined in the field of suggestion. On the other hand, cinematic Gothic would tend to show the threatening agent, thereby reducing the number of possibilities. Therefore, the production of affect and emotion would always be accompanied by the production of subjectivities in a dichotomous scheme that leaves little room for the contradiction and hybridity that has always fueled Gothic.

“A film such as Wise’s The Haunting already problematizes the aforementioned distinction between literary and cinematic Gothic. The problem may arise when, as in Wise’s film, Gothic does away with the immediate visible presence of the threatening agent; the house replaces the monster. Instead of a physical presence haunting space, we have physical space h(a)unting the characters. Characters and spectators hear pounding and thumping noises and see doors bend. It is therefore appropriate to speak, as Misha Kavka does, of the cinematic Gothic’s use of the “plasticity of space” to convey emotion and affect, thereby disclosing “an underlying link between fear and the manipulation of space around a human body.”” (p.219)

Kavka argues that in Gothic “something … remains shadowed or off-screen,” while the horror film would present “something terrifying placed before our very eyes but from which we want to avert our gaze” (227). Kavka goes on to refine the dialectic between seeing and not seeing by adding that in the horror film there is something to see that we try not to see. In the case of Gothic, she maintains, the dialectic is different in the sense that it is “part of the structure of visualization itself” (227). Indeed, she suggests that it is not that we do not want to see, but that we cannot see: “Rather than the horror film’s challenge to the audience to open their eyes and see, the feared object of Gothic cinema is both held out and withheld through its codes of visual representation” (227).” (p.220) [NB Lessard goes on to complicate this distinction through consideration of Wise’s The Haunting]

“…perhaps it is Worringer who stated it best about haunting, life, and the use of CGI in contemporary Gothic films when he said that “[b]ehind the visible appearance of a thing lurks its caricature, behind the lifelessness of a thing an uncanny, ghostly life, and so all actual things become grotesque” (82).” (p.222)

Ref: Bruno Lessard Gothic Affects: Digitally Haunted Houses and the Production of Affect-Value, pp.213-224 in Esther Peeren, and María del Pilar Blanco (Eds.). Popular Ghosts : The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2010.

Reference is to: Misha Kavka ‘The Gothic on Screen’ in The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, ed. Jerrold E Hogle (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University press, 2002)

Wilhelm Worringer, Form in Gothic, trans. Herbert Read (New York: Schocken, 1957)

Ghosts and time in the Gothic


According to Arno Meteling:

Gothic literature, film, or television series with ghosts as popular stock characters usually ponder the rules of communication between the living and the dead. In most cases there is an asymmetry between them, for although the ghosts admittedly inhabit the world of the living, they have no natural place in it. Moreover, ghosts, like images or characters on a photograph or in a film, are usually not able to change or develop. Like the psyche’s reaction to trauma, ghosts are often forced to repeat the same thing over and over again or at least to stay in the same place forever. As a consequence, ghosts tend to establish a timeless zone of inertia in the flow of the narrative, creating a cyclical ahistoric or posthistoric state, or, as Jacques Derrida puts it, the “end of history.” Despite Derrida’s reference to Hamlet as a central context for his hauntology, ghosts in literature, film, or television series are usually not responsible for time being completely out of joint. Instead, ghosts seem to be specific figures of anachronism, or more precisely, of asynchronicity, representing a static moment of the past haunting the present. As literary or filmic devices, ghosts therefore often operate as erratic monuments or hieroglyphs that signify a disturbing incident that happened in the past, a secret that has to be deciphered in order to understand the repercussions for the present.” (p.187)

Meteling continues: “One of the chief literary precursors of the modern ghost novel is the Gothic fiction of the eighteenth century, a literary genre that, besides dealing with ghosts, family curses, damsels in distress, and evil villains, evokes fear not only by describing horrific events, but by creating a certain mood of terror or horror derived from its setting. The Gothic novel is always about spatial arrangements, most obviously about architectural spaces like haunted houses, castles, dungeons, cemeteries, attics, [-p.188] or crypts. Significantly, Horace Walpole not only names the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764), after its setting but emphasizes its realism in the preface of the first edition[ in which the setting is described in detail].” (pp.187-188)

“Considering that the novel is a fantastic one,” Meteling notes, “with supernatural effects that border on the comical and the grotesque (including a giant helmet that falls from the sky and kills the villain’s son), the emphasis on the spatial authenticity of the castle is conspicuous and proves the importance of setting for the Gothic novel. Since its reformulation in the nineteenth century, the dark and brooding atmosphere of haunted houses and castles also increasingly reflects the inner conflicts of the characters. …Most modern ghost novels adopt this Gothic correspondence between characters and building, sometimes transforming the house itself into a storehouse of repressed memories and thereby anthropomorphizing it….” (p.188)

Ref: Arno Meteling Genius Loci: Memory, Media, and the Neo-Gothic in Georg Klein and Elfriede Jelinek, pp.187-199 in Esther Peeren, and María del Pilar Blanco (Eds.). Popular Ghosts : The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2010.