University of Idaho
Some ten years ago, Diane Long Hoeveler suggested in Gothic Feminism that a wave of Foucauldian studies, attuned to the broad discursive and institutional transformations underway at the end of the eighteenth century, might be poised to supplement a tradition of psychoanalytic studies of the Gothic (53). Dale Townshend’s monograph, The Orders of Gothic, courageously takes up this challenge, and, like Hoeveler’s study, it refuses to discard psychoanalytic insights just because Foucauldian ones prove illuminating. The Orders of Gothic offers a compelling combination of Lacanian and Foucauldian approaches, while grappling with an enormous range of Gothic writing to deliver fascinating reinterpretations of signal texts. The study is clearly written and accessible—even, I suspect, for readers mildly allergic to the specialized vocabularies of Lacan and Foucault—and for the most part it maintains the integrity of its diverse theoretical investments. It marks a significant and welcome contribution to the current critical conversation on the Gothic.
The chapters are organized around topics such as incest, vision, torture, and paternity; each considers several Gothic texts under a thematic cover, a strategy enabling Townshend to return to texts discussed in previous chapters armed with insights gained along the way. Still, it is within the earlier chapters that The Orders of Gothic makes its most significant contributions to the field. Over the first three chapters Townshend ushers carefully historicized close readings into a genuinely fresh theoretical paradigm, building the argument adroitly. Admirably, the analysis stems from close and extended engagement with specific texts: I was surprised to find that the close readings, embedding these texts in contested cultural, economic and intellectual contexts, are as much examples of new historicist scholarship as of Lacanian or Foucauldian. Townshend proves to be a responsible and convincing historicist, and, except in an analysis of Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya, which is psychoanalytic from the start, the Lacanian apparatus is basically superadded. But the addition is compelling and necessary, as the historicized readings illustrate how the Gothic produced the individuated subject of psychoanalysis in a peculiarly Lacanian way. To this, Townshend always appends a Foucauldian layer of meta-explanation, as for him the subjects of psychoanalysis and the Gothic are aligned in a way that Foucault can help us understand: building on the foundation laid by the last chapter of Foucault’s The Order of Things, here the literary emergence of a subject of the unconscious demarcates the very transition between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thus Townshend ultimately reads the Gothic as a symptom of the bourgeois form of liberal modernity emerging at the end of the British eighteenth century. As Townshend is well aware, this is an argument already familiar to readers of Emma Clery, Robert Miles, Jerrold Hogle, and indeed Hoeveler. But Townshend takes a significant next step in claiming that Gothic literary conventions, generating nostalgia for a fading aristocracy within a decidedly modern rubric of disciplinary and supervisory power, were uniquely poised to confer legitimacy, continuity, and lineage on this nascent liberal modernity. The Gothic, in Townshend’s view, did not make readers choose between old discourses (like alliance, bloody punishment, and darkness) and new ones (like sexuality, bloodless discipline, and visibility). Instead, it reaffirmed the continuing presence of these old systems even as it was describing and stabilizing a new discursive regime (88). This argument thus recalls Foucault’s commentary on panopticism, modernity, and Radcliffe in “The Eye of Power,” which Townshend discusses here very productively at several stages of the argument.
Townshend’s main theoretical achievement—a considerable one—is the nesting of Lacanian psychoanalysis into Foucauldian historicism. Lacan and Foucault have been treated as incommensurate in Lacanian books like Joan Copjec’s Read My Desire or James Penny’s The World of Perversion. David Halperin, coming at this issue from the Foucauldian side in Saint Foucault, describes Foucault as the only genuine alternative to psychoanalysis (121). Sharply breaking with these assumptions, The Orders of Gothic reminds us that the psychoanalytic version of subjectivity is the product of the very shift that Foucault narrates, and that psychoanalytic reading is necessary to the extent that it can account for the traumatic remainder of enjoyment that necessarily attends such broad cultural shifts. For Townshend, the relation between Lacan and Foucault cuts both ways: Lacan is a necessary supplement to Foucault because “Historicity thus inscribes in man the trace of the Other to which he finds it difficult, if not impossible, to be reconciled,” even while “Foucault’s genealogy of vision shows Lacan’s gaze of the Other to be, at once, both highly historical and deeply enmeshed in the disciplinary power structures of modernity” (39, 304). The Gothic is a privileged site of this collision, since for Townshend it “deals in the remainder” (14). This assumption proves convincing over the course of the study, even if it tends to give Foucault the upper hand over the Gothic and Lacan: in most cases, the latter two terms are shown to be compatible with Foucault’s genealogies and archaeologies of power and knowledge.