English & Irish Gothic:and Their Modernist Turns Ying-hsiung Chou firstname.lastname@example.org 幻奇文學跨界想像研習營 (Dec. 9, 2007)
In a Metro StationEzra Pound (1913) The apparition of these faces in the crowd Petals on a wet, black bough
Gothicism and Modernity • Gothicism in modern times: • literature, architecture, film, music, fashion, etc. • Modernity=Gothicism?
Two Faces of Modernity I (positive) • Modernist disenchantment (Weber) • Then: • Enchantment of the world dominated by myth and religion in the Medieval world • Now: • Its disenchantment through science
Modernity characterized by secularization (in religion, e.g., Protestantism) rationalization/legitimation., e.g., • capitalist rational management system • bureaucracy in governance through the rule of law
Representing Modernity I • Perspective in visual art • Harmonic principles in music • Liberalist realism in the novel*
*Liberalism and the Rise of the Novel • Liberalist emphasis on individuality (and development of its potentials) (Ian Watt) • Liberalist adversariality principle through which a person coexists with her fellow citizens • Human beings are rational and are thus capable of sorting out their problems in their community without recourse to absolute powers • For example, Bildungsroman (novel of formative education, e.g., Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)
Two Faces of Modernity II: Modernist (re)enchantment? (negative) • social pathology (vs. social progress), e.g., • anomie (social instability caused by the disruption of order, which is responsible for suicide, crime and mental disorder; cf. Durkheim) • alienation (Marx) • the gothic/grotesque
Gothic Modernityor, the underside of modernity • Woolf: haunted house of the mind • Joyce: capitalist specteralization
Woolf’s experimentations on • The mind and the world, and their interpenetration • By way of probing the underside of reality • A reality that is felt to be unacceptable (due to war, paternalism, materialism, etc.)
“A Haunted House”(from Virginia Woolf, Monday or Tuesday ) • A classic Gothic story with • A ghostly couple • A haunted house • Supernatural happenings • Innocent subjects
Gothicism with a Modernist TurnCognitive Hesitancies • A ghostly couple revisit their old house looking for “it” (that they’ve left behind or left unachieved before they died?) • They go about their search, trying as much as possible not to disturb the current tenants.
But the latter (the narrator being one of them) are already aware of their visit • While the house is haunted by the visitors, the ghostly couple are also being stalked by the narrator • And in the “melee” of knowing and being known, the house also takes on a life of its own and pronounces, “Safe, safe, safe”
To add to the confusion, nature--as an extension of the house, including what’s inside and outside --also joins in, making “sense” further inaccessible • The outside scene is seen darkly through the glass (cf. 1 Corinthians 12: “Now we see through a glass, darkly) • And as the natural world is projected unto the domestic space, it becomes free-floating and intangible
As the narrator pushes for an explanation for the visitation, death is introduced as it has already taken the ghostly couple away from each other hundreds of years ago • ”Death was the glass; death was between us”
The story ends with “I” (the narrator) waking up (cf. “human voices wake us, and we drown,”) crying, • “Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart”
Six Implications • Am I the one you’ve been looking for? Or, am I the light in the heart? (The perceiver turned into the perceived?) • And, like narrator, like reader: • Am I, the reader, the haunted, somehow suffering from my inability to know the world • And yet am paradoxically implicated in narration (i.e., the focus being no longer on the hard-nosed world out there, but the mind itself, asking: “What do I know” [cf. Montaign] )?
Strategies of a Modern Gothic Reading • 1. Floating pronouns (in the absence of fixed antecedents): they (the ghostly couple?), one (the resident in the house, I?), it (the buried treasure, the past, death?) • 2. countrapuntality of self and other
3. Seeing and being seen as two-way, reciprocal cognition • I, the narrator, am left undisturbed and • I stalk them even though they could not been seen, because, • we are separated by the glass, which is death
4. The interpenetration of the real and the ghostly • The world is seen darkly in/through the glass • The world casts its shadows in the drawing room—”spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the ceiling—what?” • But the world cannot be grasped empirically—”. . .my hands are empty”
5. The interpenetration of the animate and the inanimate • The house seems to be energized by the visitation and takes on a life of its own, providing a shelter to the visitants (“Safe, safe, safe”) • Above all, the house is intelligent and knowledgeable about the buried treasure
6. The interpenetration of life and death • Our eyes darken; we hear no steps beside us; we see no lady spread her ghostly cloak • Waking, I cried “Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart.” • (Existential and epistemological death-in-life?)
Two Modes of Death in Modern Life • Woolf: the ambivalences of human intelligence (i.e., its/her inability to know vis-à-vis the privileging of reverie) renders people less than human (epistemological aporia) • Joyce: the dehumanized condition of city life reduces people to a stage of paralyzed automatons and hence death
“The Dead”(from James Joyce, Dubliners [1907,1914]) • Biblical Gabriel: An archangel in the Bible, he was employed to announce the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and to announce the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary • Gabriel Conroy attends a Christmas party and despite his self-claimed voice of enlightenment finds himself increasingly alienated, even accused of being a stranger, a West Briton (149)
As the party winds down, Gabriel sees a woman standing at the top of the staircase listening to some indistinct music. The woman turns out to be his wife, • but there is something about her that he cannot quite see through • The distant music turns out to be a tune Gretta’s teenage lover once sang to her before he died soon after serenading her in the rain
Gabriel’s alienation multiplies. He is physically denied by his wife. • The story ends with Gabriel feeling the onset of death— • ”one by one they were all becoming shades (176). He imagines he sees “the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree”
“The solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling” (All That’s Solid Melts into Air.) • “The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward” • Voices from/of the other (world)
Psychological grounds for Gothicism • Progress or regression/degeneration • Reason or un-reason (the unconscious)
Historical grounds for Gothicism? • French Revolution • Industrial Revolution(s)
All That is Solid Melts into Air • What seems is not what is • Spectralization of modern life • “The Adoration of the Magi” (1897) by Yeats • “Midsummer Night Madness” (1932) by O’Faolain • “A Haunted House” (1921) by Woolf
Figuration between the Marvellous and the Uncanny • Accepting the supernatural as it is • Realizing the potential inadequacy of a rational epistemological (i.e., how we know what we know) outlook • Cognitive hesitancies
Hesitancies 1 • Past and Present/Future • Past coming back to haunt present, e.g., Carmilla, “The Words on the Window Pane.” • Self and Other • Self being possessed by Other, e.g., “The Adoration of the Magi”
Hesitancies 2 • Real and Un-real • Historical settings and characters transformed into their uncanny other, e.g., “Midsummer Night Madness” • Textual/Visual and historical • Textually constructed world superimposed upon the real world, e.g., Dracula
English and/or Irish Gothic 1(Cf. English Gothic slide 45) • Minerva Press (London) publishes a large portion of Gothic novels written during the 1790s by women on Irish themes • English Gothic: Contra-realist outlook* • things are not what they seem, esp. in modern times dominated by reason, technology and bureaucracy • representation of the uncanny as an act of empowerment
*RealismIan Watt, The Rise of the Novel (1957) • Decline of classical idealism (universal Idea) • In favor of a modern outlook with emphasis on the individual: • Possessive individualism • Liberal individualism
English and/or Irish Gothic 2 • Irish Gothic: • A branch of English Gothic • A uniquely Irish/Anglo-Irish or Anglo-Anglican mode • Attachment to Irish history and politics (McCormack 833), or
English and/or Irish Gothic 3 Anglo-Irish double bind (choosing between two unsatisfactory decisions) • demonization of the indigenous Catholic tradition (for its corrupt practices) • realization of their own identity with that which they demonize (cf. more Irish than the Irish)
Recap: Irish Gothic 1 • A branch of English Gothic, with specific local colors, e.g., • Catholic/Irish Church • Nationalism/sectarianism • national character(s), Protestant magic/occultism (Freemasons) • famine • etc.
Recap: Irish Gothic 2 • A unique mode of representing/reading the Irish experience; • But what precisely is unique about the Irish Gothic?
Speculations • Ireland as a Gothic space, which is paradoxical, anomalous • Demonization of Irish and Identifying with the Irish • Anglo-Irish writing in a Gothic mode to make up for their declining influence (Roy Foster, in Killeen 2) • Gothic writing as exorcism
English Gothic 1(Periodization) • Classic/Literary Gothic (1764-1820s), often dealing with dynastic disorders in an alien setting involving victimizations (of a hapless maiden) • The Castle of Otronto (1764): recovered text with dubious authenticity and dynastic disorders (cf. MacPherson, Ossian, 1765) • The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794): the heroine’s gradual realization of her identity as a illegitimate child (Miles 46-47)