Reframing the Gothic

Ok, I have just sent off my paper proposal for the Hamburg conference in September. Hope they’ll like it!

My proposed topic is called “Reframing the Gothic: Narration and Reflexivity in House of Leaves and The Southern Reach Trilogy”. In one sentence, I claim that both of these works use fantasy techniques to confuse readers. Let me elaborate that a bit:

Nearly all fantasy literature features a secondary world – a complete world which is not crucial for the story per se, but which gives us nice and interesting background information about flora, fauna and all those bits of history in between. In fantasy, this technique is used to make the world appear real.

Now Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach Trilogy both also feature extensive background information that lurks around the corners of the main story. Yet instead of making the worlds of the House or Area X appear to be real, they add to their irreality. Why do we have all those footnotes and excerpts from diaries in House of Leaves? Why do we learn of the true implications of the twelfth expedition into Area X (and what really happened to the eleventh) only when it is already too late?

In both of these texts, the world continues off-page, but you don’t want to leave the marked paths…


…and back again

So here’s the middling-to-major update I promised you almost two weeks ago:

– First of all and the cause of my delay: My conference paper is finished! I have tried to approach Mervyn Peake’s Titus books from a postmodernist Gothic perspective, claiming that the humongous size of Gormenghast castle creates a labyrinth both in stone and in mind – if something horrible appears to be infinite in all directions, it sooner or later will screw up your mind. I will be presenting this claim today in a week at the conference in Zurich and hope to publish the paper afterwards.

– Secondly, I have also one week left to decide about whether and what I want to send in as a paper proposal for another conference in November in Hamburg (or was it Marburg? I’ll have to check later). So far, my ideas are circling around Frankenstein, Piranesi’s Carceri d’Invenzione and a really obscure Swiss author you have never heard of.

– Apart from that, business as usual. I am already missing England again (blame it on the remarkable choice of good ales, ciders and foods in general) but I’m not sure if I’ll make it there anytime soon. My thesis demands more attention and would like to be finished by July, and to do that, I more or less have to lock myself in my office and hide under my desk whenever someone knocks on the door.

More news whenever they arrive…

Still here (and there)

Just a quick sign of life because there is a lot going on at the moment. In no particular order:

– Perhaps the biggest time-consumer right now: Run-throughs of our theatre production of Albert Camus’ State of Siege at the English seminar. Tonight we have the main rehearsal with tech and lights and everything. I’m still trying to get used to eyeliner although applying it is really fun. So is yelling dictatorial announcements from a balcony and feeling threatened by officials. Premiere is this Saturday, so if you remember, keep your fingers crossed at 7pm GMT!

– I am rereading a few of my old seminar papers to check for any parts worthy for publication. Especially my 2008 paper about Frankenstein still seems to be quite sensible…

– The final sessions of my tutorial are coming up and so far, they can be coordinated nicely with the theatre production. We are going to watch Hogfather on 16th December as part of our seminar Christmas Movie Night, and I am somewhat hoping for a very tall and thin Father Christmas speaking in SMALL CAPS to drop by for some punch and cookies.

– And I have nearly finished my paper proposal for the Zurich conference. More on that once I’ve sent it in.

Not to speak of preparations for Christmas and pre-Christmas…

Penny for the Guy?

And back again. The conference was a smashing success, geeky and slightly wonky but also filled with too many excellent papers and panels. People were generally amazed by my coming over from Europe just for Mythcon and a week in New England – but hey, I got to meet academics from North and South and East and West, so it was basically a bit of all the US condensed into a campus!

I guess what I enjoyed most was the annoyingly curious attitude of American smalltalk. People don’t wait and think of possible topics that could be used in conversation, they just start talking to you and ask who you are and where your funny accent is coming from. A refreshing change from some of the stop-and-go conversations that characterise the middle of Europe.

Anyhow, I am now catching up with what I thought I had left behind (e.g. PhD, teaching, generally administrative matters) and do hope that my university will pay for at least some of my expenses during the trip. I will of course pay for hotels and my week o’fun in Providence and Boston, but I’d be glad to be compensated for Mythcon costs and my 100-dollar taxi ride from the airport to campus…



Phew. My To-do-list is finished for the time being. Before I’m off to Scotland tomorrow and you probably won’t hear from me for three and a half weeks, here are some of the things that I have managed to do:

First of all, I’ll be teaching another tutorial next semester – and this time, it’s about Pratchett, Pratchett and more Pratchett. We are going to read The Colour of MagicThe Light FantasticWitches AbroadMen At ArmsHogfather and Raising Steam. The goal of my course is to highlight the development of the Discworld in the light of postmodernism and narratology (amongst other theories). So yes, it’s basically me discussing my PhD thesis with 30 other students and getting precious, precious feedback. I’m really looking forward to this!

Secondly, I will present my thesis to a larger audience at my university this autumn. In order to encourage fellow students to write a master’s thesis or a PhD, me and other doctoral students are going to talk about our projects, our ups and downs and in-betweens. Also looking forward to that, although I still have no idea how to express all my ideas in ten minutes…

Thirdly, my conference in August has turned into a small trip. I planned on paying a short visit to H.P. Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence after Mythcon, but now I’m staying for nearly another week in Boston! If anyone of you lives near the area and would like to meet up, let me know… I promise not to bore you too much with my thesis!

But for now, I wish you pleasant days and safe journeys. If I’m lucky and get enough internet running, there might be a picture or two of Scotland coming up in the next weeks… have a good time!

mistspinner asked: Are you going to make this essay available online somewhere? Because I would totally, in a heartbeat, read it.

Probably not because it will most likely be published by the Mythopoetic Society after I have given my presentation. But I could certainly send the essay to you if you’re interested and refrain from using it commercially – unless we share the wages, of course 😉

Best laid plans

Writing an essay for a conference and planning a three-weeks trip to Scotland have strange similarities. Everything I need must be put on paper because otherwise I’ll forget about it again. By the time I arrive there, I’m sure that something really obvious and important will have slipped my mind.

In both cases, the magic word is improvise.