This week’s readings were a little, ahem, challenging, but were certainly good practice in helping us learn about different ways of looking at a text as well as the pleasures and the pitfalls of theory.
Some of the issues that came up were:
1) Theorists like the sound of their own voice, or their own typewriter, and can be loquacious to the extreme. (Textual irony in the use of loquacious intended).
2) The use of examples is much appreciated as it makes understanding complicated ideas far easier.
3) Theories are just theories and should be interrogated and pulled apart sometimes just for the fun of it. They can be pieced together like Frankenstein’s monster to create a disturbing new way of looking – with the warning that whatever comes of this may return to haunt you destroying your latest beloved ideas.
4) Language is flexible – it both informs our way of thinking and is our way of thinking. Words return with different meanings: at once familiar but strange, filled with an uncanny power. In the same way, the Gothic bleeds from fiction into non-fiction thus what should help us to understand the world of fiction and clarify who exactly is the monster only distorts what we see further. The looking glass is cracked.
All three authors dealt with modes of looking or thinking about the ‘real’ world and how these inform the world of fiction, from Gothic, to cybergothic, to cyborgs.
Zizek’s use of Levi-Strauss’s village model, ie, what role you fulfill in the village informs how you understand the structure of the village as a physical reality, helped to elucidate how it is possible to have two versions of the Real co-existing. It was pointed out that The Turn of the Screw shows this perfectly: whilst we read the text we are able to believe both that the ghosts exist and the children are haunted but also that the governess is mad, or haunted herself. Trying to ‘solve’ the text and find the final, dominant explanation or viewpoint actually stakes the Gothic.
As Botting’s exploration of the ‘fort/da’ game in relation to the Gothic suggests, the power of the Gothic is that once you think you understand what’s going on (the children are haunted, the ghosts are real), this understanding moves away from you to the opposite point of view (no, no, you correct yourself, that’s ridiculous, the ghosts aren’t real, the governess is mad). Whatever stance you take, its’ double (the ‘Other’ meaning) returns to haunt the text. Note: that which ever meaning takes the form of the Other haunting your understanding, as Zizek suggests, is much to do with your stance on reality. This repetitive movement between the two distracts from the absence at the heart of the Gothic: that which cannot be signified – which the mind can’t encompass.
Haraway engages the concept of multiplicity: stepping outside the dualistic framework of Western rhetoric: man/ woman, civilisation/ nature, human/ animal, good/ evil, fort/da(?). For her, the future is of many voices that create affinities to bridge the chasms between the different view points to form a cyborg way of looking: hybrids as stronger because they are not looking for a single origin. Haraway attacks the myth of there being this single origin, a moment in history when we (in all its possible meanings) were one, a pre-Lapsarian state to which we dream of returning.
(Zizek also invokes ideas of Utopia both as a timeless place outside of our concept of linear history but also, to a postmodern world, as a more innocent, natural past. Botting suggests that the Enlightenment – as the root of the Gothic – promoted a narrative in which the past is brutal and we are moving towards a civilised future; in this framework of understanding the past is like a state of childhood but not one of idealised innocence but rather controlled by its primitive urges).
We can use Haraway’s model of a cyborg future to suggest that our attempts to find one true meaning in a Gothic text is part of the myth of trying to return to this perfect, simple past where there is one truth.
The questions we were left with were:
1) Can there be a Gothic text set in the future? Or is the Gothic necessarily historical? In which case is sci-fi the opposite of Gothic?
2) How do we naturalise ideas such as the Law and Science? And how do these concepts come to inform our moral and political judgements?
3) And finally, the million dollar question: if all modes of thinking are simply reflections of their time are our ideas not simply reflections of contemporary culture thus our attempts to think beyond this are, like any good Gothic heroine, doomed?
And on that positive note, I leave you for today.