Revisiting the Gothic and Theory: An Introduction

Article excerpt

With this issue, Gothic Studies celebrates its first ten years of continuous publication. Its inaugural issue appeared during the latter half of 1999 at the culmination of two decades in which a striking emergence of serious critical attention to 'Gothic' literature and film - signaled most powerfully by David Punter's The Literature of Terror (1980) - ignited an expansion in studies of the Gothic in all its various forms that greatly extended what the Gothic was seen to encompass and opened up a wide range of critical approaches that collectively made the Gothic come alive (like Frankenstein's creature) as an important, multi-layered, and profoundly symbolic scheme for dealing with Western culture's most fundamental fears and concerns. By this last turn-of-the-century, there were so many reasons for a top-level journal about all exfoliations of the Gothic using all the best possible approaches to it that Gothic Studies quickly proved, and has proven itself since, to be an essential addition to literary, media, and cultural analysis in Western (and now, we are beginning to see, Eastern) academia. Among the causes for this 'Gothic revival', aside from the cross-generic dynamism in the Gothic that has made it so transformable to suit changing times, are the advances in theorising about literature and culture, especially since the mid-1960s, that have finally brought the Gothic forward from its marginal status in earlier twentieth-century criticism to be a major focus for revisionist psychoanalysis and Marxism, feminism and gender studies, post-structural deconstruction, 'new' historicism and cultural studies, and the even more recent extensions of all these, especially the latter, into queer theory, critical race studies, postcolonial criticism, and the interdisciplinary analysis of interdependent media. It is particularly fitting, then, that Gothic Studies celebrate this evolution and its own tenth anniversary by offering here a series of all-new arguments that reexamine the interplay between the Gothic and theory from the several perspectives on that relationship that are now most prevalent and revealing in 2009. Hence the following essays articulate the ways in which the Gothic can best be theorised and explained today, the reasons why theory is attracted to the Gothic for examples of its arguments, and even the occasional construction of theories out of Gothic ingredients as the Gothic actively instigates discourses appropriate to it rather than just passively providing evidence for theory's retrospections about literature, art, drama, and film. These pieces come from scholars widely dispersed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, like this special issue's co-editors, and thereby underscore the boundary-crossing scope of this theorising of Gothic and this Gothic-ising of theory, a long-standing aim of the International Gothic Association.

In point of fact, this momentary reunion of Gothic and theory helps us recall, not just the most recent three decades of Gothic criticism, but those final forty-to-fifty years of the eighteenth century in which theory and the Gothic were so closely intertwined that they constantly fed into each other at the very time that Gothic was first rising to cultural prominence in fiction and drama. Whether one locates the genesis of so-called 'Gothic' fiction-making simply in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764) or in the stirrings of its ingredients in 'graveyard school' poetry beginning with Thomas Parnell's 'Night Piece on Death' (1821), the 'Gothic interlude' of the 'labyrinth' of 'fear' in Tobias Smollett's Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom (1753),1 Richard Hurd's Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762) with its extolling of a distinctive 'Gothic' style as a 'lost . . . world of fine fabling',2 or the mid-eighteenth-century resurgence of Shakespeare as England's most essential, as well as best 'Gothick', playwright,3 one finds fiction leading rapidly to theory or theory begetting fiction at virtually every significant point. …