Post-9/11 Aesthetics of Uncertainty in PlayDead‘s Limbo (2010)
This paper explores the Gothic videogame Limbo (PlayDead, 2010) in terms of an aesthetic and conceptual precariousness and preoccupation with uncertainty that, I suggest, are particularly associated with the traumatic legacy of 9/11. It engages with Judith Butler s post-9/11 reflections in her work Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (2004) on the loss of presumed safety and security in the First World. From here, she expresses the potential for shared experiences of vulnerability to inaugurate an ethics of relationality, without recourse to investment in systems of security. I then contrast this with an alternative critical trajectory that emphasises the use-value of such systems over a desire for moral purity. This critical framework is considered in relation to the treatment of vulnerability in Limbo, through its construction of a dialogic relationship between its diegetic game-world and the formal structure of its game-system. The former is found to articulate a pervasive experience of uncertainty, whilst the latter provides a sense of security. I draw upon psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott‘s theories of play and creative living to argue that the tension between game-world and game-system in Limbo creates a model of how uncertainty can be dwelt with, through a precarious balance between the use of systems of security and disengagement from them.
‘Transformational objects’ and the Gothic fiction of Richard Marsh
This chapter explores the treatment of objects, things, in Marsh’s major Gothic works: The Beetle, The Goddess and The Joss. The increasing popularity in the late nineteenth century of collecting and consuming objects offers a context in which boundaries between people and things become uncertain, with objects seemingly exercising a disturbing agency. Marsh’s texts present mutually transforming encounters between objects and characters that question the stability of identity. The chapter suggests that whilst transgressing boundaries between self and not-self is often explored in critical analysis through mesmerism, a more appropriate conceptual framework for Marsh is provided by object relations psychoanalysis, and specifically Christopher Bollas’s notion of ‘transformational objects’. Developing this notion in relation to Bill Brown’s ‘thing theory’, the chapter identifies Marsh’s objects as ‘transformational things’, encounters with which often lead to terrifying breakdowns of selfhood, conveying a pervasive sense of existential horror and exposing the precariousness of late-nineteenth-century identity.
Suicide as control and contagion in the works of Richard Marsh
Suicide clearly held a particular fascination for Richard Marsh (1857–1914),
one of the most prolific and popular fiction writers of the period, with
representations of suicide and reflections on it featuring widely throughout
his Gothic oeuvre. But this interest goes further than the astute
incorporation of cultural anxieties, which Marsh often used as a key
technique for heightening the disturbing effects of his work, to
considerations of its social, philosophical and scientific import. This is
evidenced not only through his fiction but also by a seemingly unpublished
essay (in the University of Reading archives), from 1891–1910, simply
entitled ‘Suicide’ (which includes the characteristically provocative
suggestion that ‘there may be something to be said even in favour of
suicide’). This chapter draws on examples from a range of Marsh's
multitudinous Gothic (or Gothic-inflected) texts, including Mrs Musgrave
(1895), A Master of Deception (1913) and A Spoiler of Men (1905), which
Johan Höglund identifies as containing arguably ‘the first instance of the
zombie character in British fiction’.