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…

Interlude

I have just read Pratchett’s short story Dragons at Crumbling Castle and am so happy and feel so privileged to write a doctoral thesis about such a talented, warm and funny man.

I normally try to avoid fanboying for fear of losing objectivity, but right now I can do nothing but sit here and marvel at the simple yet wise message of this story.

Starting tomorrow, I will put this feeling into more elaborate words and hope to express it with the same vigour.

Old wor(l)ds revisited

Excellent news: My paper proposal for the Images of Identity conference in Zurich has been accepted!

So what I’ll be working on in the weeks to come is a revisitation of one of my favourite literary places: Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. His Titus books (or Gormenghast novels, whichever you prefer) were the topic of my master thesis, and I hope to combine my old conclusions with new discoveries.

If you haven’t read Mervyn Peake, do so. He is demanding, but definitely worth it. Castle Gormenghast is still one of the most tangible places in literature I can remember, an experience both exhilarating and terrifying. For starters, imagine the biggest Gothic castle you can think of. City-sized, possibly even bigger. A labyrinth filled with other labyrinths. A whole dynasty of major and minor aristocracy including countless servants inhabit the castle, but large parts of it have been abandoned or simply forgotten or fallen into decay. For thousands of years, the Groan family has been ruler of the castle, but they effectively have become prisoners to an ancient and incomprehensible system of laws and sub-laws. But with the birth of Titus, the 77th Lord Groan, everything is about to change…

What I aim for in my paper is an analysis of the Titus books from a post-World-War-II perspective. The books were published roughly around the time of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and there is a strong sense of the fantastic or even fantasy in Peake’s magnum opus. Yet his characters and locations are far too British (Regency and Victorian) compared to classic fantasy, and castle Gormenghast is the ultimate Gothic space. Add all of this together, and you have an old and crumbling empire that sees the dictatorial threat of a usurper and the coming of age of a young and rebellious heir to the castle. I don’t want to read the books too allegorically and say that they represent the state of Britain after the Second World War (an idea as wrong as equalling Sauron/Saruman with Hitler), but Peake’s absurd and eerie situations are definitely reminiscent of the horrors of war and the stale continuity of post-War agendas.

In any case, Mervyn Peake is an author you shouldn’t miss. His books are quite easy to get and classics by now. Just make sure you don’t get lost in a derelict hallway of Gormenghast without provisions…

In Ink

It is official: My article “Toying With Fantasy: The Postmodern Playground of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Novels” will be published in Mythlore Issue 125 Volume 33, Number 1 Fall/Winter 2014.

Order your copy here: http://www.mythsoc.org/subscriptions/

Actually, the new issue of Mythlore journal is being printed right now, so it’s quite exciting to see my academic career work for me for a change…

To be published!

Well, those were short 4 to 6 months. I have received an e-mail from Mythlore yesterday stating that they are going to publish my essay on Pratchett and Tolkien! This trip to the US has just become even sweeter in retrospect…

I will keep you updated about when exactly the essay is going to appear in Mythlore journal.

Oh, and the presentation yesterday also went well. It was rather weird talking in German about what I normally work on in English, but professors and students seemed to like it. Now to start with plans for my next essay on fantastic architecture (I hope my two semesters of art history will be sufficient to tackle the topic) and write, write, write…

Encore

Hey y’all. My presentation on Pratchett went well – so well, in fact, that I can repeat it in a week at a meet’n’greet day for literary critics of our Uni. Now I’ll just have to translate my slides from English because the German seminar launched the whole event and I don’t want to confuse them any more than necessary.

Apart from that, next week’s lesson includes The Light Fantastic and the first half of Witches Abroad. I’ll still have to figure out how to squeeze in so much content into two hours.

Oh, and my new summary of my methodology and theoretical background is also due in a week. Once again, busy times, good times… this time with Adorno and Lyotard to follow me around. (Memo: Ghosts of postmodernism past and present?)