Moving on

Hello, update here: I have regretfully abandoned posting in the past few weeks, so here are a few additional signs of life.

First of all, my thesis has begun taking on its final form. The first 20,000 words are looking very good – I’ll have to wait for what my supervisors will say when I send the excerpt to them after Easter, but it feels great to see where things are going.

That said, the number of condolences and kind words I have received after Terry Pratchett’s passing are amazing. When I heard the news, it felt like a remote but nonetheless much beloved friend had gone out of my life. Then the messages started coming in. In the beginning I thought it rather surreal – Pratchett and Discworld have been my ongoing project for more than three years now, but I had had no personal contact with him except through his books. As more messages of condolences arrived, however, I felt touched. More than that, I felt not alone. A student and good friend of mine even called to see whether I was all right. Parts of me were.

I regret never meeting Pratchett. I feel sad about knowing that Discworld – if there will be future novels – is never going to be the same again. And I could still cry thinking about Neil Gaiman and what he must be feeling now.

But then again, I have written so much these past few weeks. It is looking really, really good. Many things will still need to be changed. But I know where it is going.

And I also know whose name will feature even more prominently in my acknowledgments.

…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…

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…