Thursday, 23 April 2015

Gravitational Grotesque, or, How I Learned to Stop Being So Meta and Love the Gothic: A story of one man’s fall back into the genre.

Buried alive in metafictional research is in an interesting and disturbing place to be. I found myself lost and alone, dug nose-deep into William H. Gass’s Willie Master’s Lonesome Wife, chasing footnotes between the pages only to be lured to the bottom of one where the author suddenly exclaims ‘Now I've got you alone down here, you bastard[…]’ and where do you go from there? Something had to give. A mind cannot live on self-aware fiction alone.

Luckily, there was a Gothicist to hand.

It’s sometimes hard for a researcher in a specialist subject to pull themselves out of their own sphere, out of their own little niche of the world, but the Gothicist working nearby was a constant- and very much wanted- draw away from the pitfalls of post-postmodern contemporary fiction. When asked, she would happily launch into descriptions of these exciting, romantic worlds beneath her fingers which I had spent so far away from.

Worlds of the grotesque, the gory, the taboo, the unexpected. Worlds of women fighting for their freedom against madness and the dark. Worlds far flung from the destructive self-obsessed texts I had planted myself in. They were wonderful and interesting to me, pulling me in with their lurid moments of depravity or the heroism of their heroines.

Then came the day the clarion call of Poe was sounded out amongst the halls; the Gothic Reading Group, with Poe puns aplenty, poster-bombed the walls and called all to come and read. This new admiration for the Gothic texts of the nearby Gothicist combined with my long forgotten love for the man himself and fused into a singular desire to attend. Lost memories of undergrad days spent buried alive, behind a wall, under the floor, with teeth ripped free, screaming at ravens and lamenting Annabel Lee, all came tumbling back and suddenly I was in attendance.

Going Gothic with Marceline the Vampire Queen

The Gothic Reading Group was fantastic, forgiving of amateurs and undeniably interesting in all ways, and for days afterwards my reading began to take on a new light as buried Gothic ideals began to shine out from my contemporary texts. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Abrams and Dorst’s S, even watching Adventure Time- a guilty pleasure- was an activity suddenly filled with secret smiles as I thought back to the readings and some of the tropes that were being harkened back to or subverted. (Damn you Marceline!)

Then, another poster put up by our friendly neighbourhood gothicist revealed to me that this change wasn’t just affecting me but the entire of the little work-pod of floor two, who have all been swept up in the Gothic Fever. The Re-Imagining the Gothic symposium and showcase caused a ripple of excitement through all of us- film students, romanticists, early modernists, even we hardened creative writers. We had all been re-imagining Gothicism in our own ways in the interim, lured in by outlandish and forbidden tales of perverted monks and wandering Jews and launched ourselves wholly into this project. Now I am happily sat preparing this blog, with an extract for the conference forming next to me, discussing ideas for a creative collaborations with at least one more of us. We have all been sucked into the gravitational vortex of the grotesque, the taboo and the incredible.

But it never stops; the ideas seemed to relate, strangely, to the work I was doing in contemporary literature. There was a developing idea of overlap between these two spheres; my beautiful metafictional fetish was suddenly rife with ideas of the Gothic, or rather, of romanticism.

What happens in Gothic Reading Group...

These classic romantic ideas, of man’s relation to nature –whether subverted by hybrid animal-human combinations in bat and wolf form- an emphasis on individual’s expression of emotion and imagination, rebellion against established social norms and conventions- all related to a very contemporary trend, namely that expressed in the return of a New Romanticism in metamodernism. 

Metamodern theory expresses a growing cultural reaction to the era of postmodern irony, a reaction that lends itself to the exploration of ideas of a new romanticism and it is here that I find the overlap, with contemporary metafiction using the Gothic in order to express and explore new and old romantic ideals, bringing them to the fore. To me, this is exciting- the idea that centuries old texts, stirring, dramatic and bloody texts, are still affecting our relationship to literature in so strong a way. In the deepest, darkest throws of this developing Gothic obsession I now dare to dream of a supreme Gothic-filled literary revival and, as a non-specialist it surprises me, pleasantly though, how easily I have been drawn in.

Academically or not, though, the Gothic now has me firmly in it’s grip. Not just me though, the whole of the Floor Two who have been swept up in the G-Fever. All of us are willingly infected and loving every moment of it.  So as I sit preparing this blog post instead of reading the next Gass experimental piece, wondering if I should watch Buffy, poorly resisting the call of Cthulhu,  I am happy to have Poe watching over my shoulder once more, repeating in my mind:

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night.
[The Tell-Tale Heart]

-and I am infinitely happy it does.

Danny Southward is a second year PGR in Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield. He's relatively new to the whole Gothic thing but his ability to fight terrifying sea monsters has proven invaluable.

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