Ethics and the Gothic

Chloe Germaine BuckleyMMUh

Though the cultural production of the Gothic and its academic critique have proliferated in the twenty-first century, Gothic Studies faces the same crisis as the broader humanities. That is, it must confront the question of what function it serves in these uncertain times. This panel suggests that an ethical framework for reading the Gothic offers ways forward for the discipline. The papers reveal how the Gothic mode is fundamentally premised upon the central difficulty of the ethical relation. We also suggest that the mode gestures to ethical models that engage with the myriad of problems attendant upon our present.

Guests, Hosts, Ghosts: Towards an Ethics of Gothic Writing (Dale Townsend)

Dale Townshend is Professor of Gothic Literature. His most recent publication is Gothic Antiquity: History, Romance, and the Architectural Imagination, 1760--1840 (OUP, 2019).

To what extent might we read the Gothic as an ethical mode? Alternatively, to what extent does Jacques Derrida’s account of the ethics of hospitality draw strongly upon Gothic affect? Drawing upon a broad range of fictions from the eighteenth century to the present day, this paper explores, through the theoretical insights of Derrida, the ethics of Gothic writing, showing how, at its most characteristic, the mode is poised on that aporetic hinge or ‘brisure’ between ‘ordinary’ hospitality, on the one hand, and ‘radical’ or ‘impossible’ hospitality on the other. And while the significance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the Gothic and to Derrida’s later ethical turn have long been acknowledged, the paper argues that, in both, it is often an appropriation of Macbeth that determines and underwrites the ghostly ethical relation.

Stranger Danger? The paradoxes of hospitality in Hilary Mantel’s Eight Months in Ghazzah and Fludd (Ginette Carpenter)

Dr Ginette Carpenter is a Senior Lecturer in English whose research interests include contemporary women's writing, feminist practices, constructions of femininity and textual articulations of space and place. She is co-editor, with Eileen Pollard, of Hilary Mantel: Contemporary Critical Perspectives (Bloomsbury, 2018)

This paper argues that in Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1998) and Fludd (1999) Hilary Mantel mobilises motile anxieties about foreignness to demonstrate systemic, cultural and embodied in/hospitalities. I deploy Derrida’s conceptions of the host and the guest to demonstrate the unlikely parallels between a novel located in an expatriate Saudi Arabian community and in a parochial Catholic enclave in Northern England. These correspondences are explored via the lenses of burial and excavation, both literal and metaphorical, and the dogged surveillance that pervades both communities. I argue that the texts operate on a studiedly maintained tension between welcome and rejection and that this results in the novels' proliferation of uncanny spaces and places, spaces and places that are simultaneously - and impossibly - hospitable and inhospitable. The paper concludes that this 'impossibility' produces an ethical slipperiness that insists upon an re/evaluation of the foreign other: ultimately the texts position danger as much closer to home.

Gothic Entanglements: Ethics and Materiality in the work of Frances Hardinge (Chloé Germaine Buckley)

Chloé Germaine Buckley is a Senior Lecturer in English. Her research areas include the Gothic, children’s literature, fiction and ecology, and games. She is author of Twenty-First-Century Children’s Gothic (EUP, 2017). 

This paper proposes “entanglement” as the ethical ground from which matter and meaning emerge. Reading contemporary fiction with new materialist philosophy and theories originating in quantum physics, I suggest that the Gothic imagination challenges enlightenment fantasies of human separability and objectivity. Relational ontologies proposed by physicists and philosophers (e.g. Barad 2007) imply an ethics of responsibility that precedes human notions such as duty or religion. This idea is not new in philosophy: Emmanuel Levinas (1961) anticipates Barad’s concept of ‘intra-action’ when he suggests that being is founded on a primordial responsibility to and for the other. The work of Frances Hardinge proves an ideal companion through which to think these ideas. In her novels, matter and meaning are thoroughly entangled. Imperilled Gothic heroines navigate their becoming within a complex web of material relations – agentive assemblages of girls, ghosts, animals and plants, each entangled with the other in continually shifting relations. Only through such an imaginative ontoethics can we confront the grave challenges that result from humanity’s embeddedness in a material world.

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