[or notes on reading about the gothic]

A few months  I decided it was high time I stopped denying my ultra-goth aesthetic leanings and instead turn fully into exploring them. This was mostly thanks to the phenomenal collection of essays Dark Museum by Maria Negroni, translated by Michelle Gil-Montero and published by Action Books. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I realized that there is perhaps a way of approaching the gothic as a latinx that would allow me to circumvent the embarrassment/shame I feel whenever I embrace gothic aesthetics in my writing.


Me, in 1997, a goth girl in a tree.

It also occurred to me, as it has been more and more lately, that the gothic aesthetic, or the things that appeal to me most about it (ornament, sentiment, intensity, passion, excess) are directly in opposition to what is generally the mainstream aesthetic norms in the U.S.A. (minimalist, sterile, ironic, reserved). I wonder about how the gothic is informed by femininity and otherness, or at least how it might be. So inspired by Negroni and a great conversation with Johannes Goransson I decided to try to educate myself about the gothic.

I started with scholarship because that’s where I usually start when trying to educate myself about something new. A Very Short Introduction to the Gothic in fact. And basically according to this book the gothic aesthetic is pretty much invented/owned by the British. That seemed not so accurate to me, but was unsurprising given that the author is a UK scholar and it was published by Oxford University Press. My reading notes:

The Gothic as an aesthetic (architectural) style was invented, like most aesthetic concepts, in retrospect by the Enlightenment humanists. Gothic is the foreign, messy, excessive, dark “other” against which they can define the aesthetic values of their own preferences as order, logic, symmetry. The feminine and the masculine, the gay and the straight, the excess and the order, the dark and the light. Multitudinous, pluralistic, and varied rather than pure/singular.

I’m always more interested in multitudinous and pluralistic, messy and foreign.

Next up: The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Where I wondered: is the gothic inherently colonialist? an expression of the fear of the other, the horror and terror of the subjugated on the part of the subjugators? Can the gothic be an anti-colonialist aesthetic?

“The Gothic is the form of western fiction-making, from novels to films to videos (witness Michael Jackson’s Thriller of 1982), where such symbolic ‘abjection’ most frequently occurs precisely because its highly mixed form allows both the pursuit of sanctioned ‘identities’ and a simultaneously fearful and attractive confrontation with the ‘thrown off’ anomalies that are actually basic to the construction of a western middle-class self.”

That expulsion of what is messy and mixed, of what is monstrous and mongrel, allows for the fiction of a unified, stable, singular self, notably a self that is economically stable enough to own property as a crux of identity. But the self as a unity is a lie, the self needs to disintegrate, the darkness needs to inrupt.

“The deep Feminine level, as the Gothic mode has developed, is but one major form of a primordial dissolution that can obscure the boundaries between all western oppositions, not just masculine–feminine… The reason that Gothic others or spaces can abject myriad cultural and psychological contradictions, and thereby confront us with those anomalies in disguise, is because those spectral characters, images, and settings harbor the hidden reality that oppositions of all kinds cannot maintain their separations, that each ‘lesser term’ is contained in its counterpart and that difference really arises by standing against and relating to interdependency.” (11)

Gothic predicated on paradox – hesitates between revolutionary and reactionary (maybe oscillates is a better term).

“Partly because it comes from mixing discourses and postures so blatantly, often with their incompatibilities fully in view, the Gothic can both raise the sad specters of ‘othered’ and oppressed behaviors, crossings of boundaries, and classes of people and finally arrange for the distancing and destruction of those figures or spaces into which the most troubling anomalies have been abjected by the middle class. No other form of writing or theatre is as insistent as Gothic on juxtapositioning potential revolution and possible reaction—about gender, sexuality, race, class, the colonizers versus the colonized, the physical versus the metaphysical, and abnormal verses normal psychology—and leaving both extremes sharply before us and far less resolved than the conventional endings in most of these works claim them to be.” (13, emphasis mine)

“Third, the rise of feminism, gay liberation, and African-American civil rights in the 1960s has assaulted the ideological supremacy of traditional values where straight white males ostensibly control the public sphere. …” (260)
The gothic, like the cyborg and the mongrel, is a figure of liminality. Occupying a space that is neither/both instead of either/or. Inhabiting the borders between categories and by merely existing representing a threat to those categories, a threat to the rationality and logic of a ultimately false way of ordering the world. The excluded, the categorically rejected become inhabitants of a between-space, a shadow-land, that dismantles and infects the proximal categories.
I’m still wondering about the possibilities of gothic aesthetics to threaten whiteness, colonialism, reason, logic, rationality, and sexism. “Dark puncta constitute the possibility of imagination, thought, and projection.” (295)
Reading/listing/further thinking recommendations appreciated!