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9E. Romanticism and the New Gothic: Seminar Special
Joint Special Session with IGA: Jerrold Hogle
Note: This Special Session will be devoted to discussing and debating, rather than delivering, the papers. Conference participants are welcome, but are advised to request the papers in advance from the chair(e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Jerrold Hogle (Arizona): "Introduction: the Times of the 'Romantic' and the neo-'Gothic'"
Ranita Chatterjee (Utah): Buff Girls and Teen Angels: Romantic Desire in Latter-Day Gothic"
Eric Daffron (Mississippi U for Women): "Double Trouble: the Self, the Social Order, and the Trouble with Sympathy in the Romantic and Postmodern Gothic"
Spencer Hall (Rhode Island College): "'Beyond the Realms of Dream: Gothic, Romantic & Poetic Identity in Shelley's 'Alastor'"
Lilach Lachman (Tel Aviv): "The Aesthetics of Fear: Involutions of Time in DeQuincey and Dickinson"
Michael Macovski (Fordham): "Revisiting Primogeniture: Romantic Revisions of the Kinship Metaphor"
Arnold Markley (Penn State): "Mary Shelley's 'New Gothic': Parody and Social Critique in the Short Fiction"
John Rieder (Hawaii): "Patriarchal Fantasy and the Fecal Child in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and its Adaptations"
Jay Salisbury (Arizona): "Gothic and Romantic Wandering: The Epistemology of Oscillation"
Karen Weisman (Toronto): "Transcendence and the Gains of Lyric Pain: Romantic Gothic at the Site of the Body Snatchers"
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Although they generally have been dismissed and undervalued by critics of her work, Mary Shelley's short stories often proved to be the testing ground in which the author experimented with altering and refashioning gothic motifs in the service of a larger project of social criticism. This paper focuses on one aspect of Mary Shelley's project of recasting familiar gothic conventions: her frequent experimentation with the motif of the doppelganger. As she had done in Frankenstein, Shelley reworks the doppelganger motif in a handful of stories in order to illustrate the destructive potential of male homosocial desire for women, the family, and the social polity. Focusing on four tales written in the late 1820s and early 1830s, "Ferdinando Eboli," "The Elder Son," "Transformation," and "The Evil Eye," the paper considers how in each of these tales Shelley sets up a triangle of desire in which an intensely competitive and destructive relationship between men is mitigated through a female character. Shelley complicates each tale with the multiple doublings of characters, from blood brothers sworn to devotion despite the costs; to pairs of fathers and brothers, one good and one bad; to a young couple in love who perceive themselves as two halves of one perfect whole. A close look at her short fiction contributes to our understanding of the degree to which Mary Shelley devoted herself throughout her writing career to remodeling gothic modes, and to our understanding of one of the uses to which she put her distinctively remodeled "new gothic"--in the promotion of a reconfiguration of traditional gender roles, and a revaluation of the domestic affections, particularly in terms of their relevance to the political arena.
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The recent emergence of Gothic literature as a serious field for critical study has certainly helped raise questions about low- and high-culture distinctions, particularly in the uncovering of the complexity with which Gothic works conceal and reveal cultural anxieties through Gothic displacements onto the supernatural and the past. Since Anne Williams' "Art of Darkness" (1995), and its assertion that "'Gothic' and 'Romantic' are not two but one," a few critics have ventured to analyze the borrowings and rewritings of Gothic trappings and themes in High Romantic poetry with more emphasis on what such borrowing does in the poetry than on how Romantic poetry raises and refines "low-culture" materials. Whether one or two, the discourses which make up and compete in Gothic and Romantic texts do not so much parallel as continually cross between and within particular works.
The Gothic tends to displace contemporary fears onto the past to speak to the present, and often about its futurity. Certainly Godwin's "Caleb Williams" and "St. Leon" look both forward and back, and Maturin's "Melmoth the Wanderer," born as it is from one of his sermons, serves the purpose of a warning about present cultural practices and their effects on futurity.
Quoting Shakespeare and Milton, Shelley writes in "On Life" that "man is a being of high aspirations 'looking both before and after,' whose 'thoughts that wander through eternity,' disclaim alliance with transience and decay." I suggest that in and across the Gothic and the Romantic wanders the figure of the Wanderer, opening up novelistic possibilities and providing a point of crossing for a shared concern with the questions about bodies moving through worlds, and histories of worlds. From the myth of the Wandering Jew through Maturin's Melmoth, Wordsworth's wanderers and travelers, Coleridge's Mariner, Shelley's Alastor, Byron's adventurers, solitaries, and pilgrims, and Keats' dreamer/poet of the "Hyperion" poems, to give only a partial list of the various poetic voices and characters who "wander," the act of wandereing raises questions about the relations within a matrix of body/spirit and body/culture. Each binary involves competing discourses centered around the question of which term signifies the phenomenal and which the epiphenomenal. Between the pairings a further dialectic takes place, akin to what Foucault calls "jeux de verite" (games of truth), a kind of epistemological wanderering. As poets, poetic voices, narrators, and characters wander, embodied and disembodied, through events and history, accepting or representing different orientations between the phenomenal and the epiphenomenal, they open up Romantic and Gothic texts to "old" and "new" discourses of sciences, philosophy, economics, and subjectivity. With the figure of the Wanderer signs begin to wander; language begins to wander across meanings. The consequent disorientation at the point when language begins to break down as a coherent signifying system reveals the inadequacy of the "old" and "new" discourses to resolve themselves into a coherent and unified discourse of futurity. The Wanderer, damned to life, exiled from the transcendent that would make the relationship between signs and referents stable, haunts the works of Romantic and Gothic writers alike.
Interrogating a few Gothic wanderings alonside a few Romantic ones, I will examine how the dialectic occasioned by such an equivocal figure reveals the anxieties about, and complex investigatins of, the relationships between bodies, spirits, and cultural discourses of science, sexuality, and subjectivity.
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