The aim of this paper is to investigate the nature of the postcolonial Gothic through a focus on Black Australian literature (Plains of Promise by Alexis Wright and Mudrooroo‘s tetralogy, Master of the Ghost Dreaming, The Undying, Underground and The Promised Land). This paper focuses on the process of repossession of the European Gothic intertext and in particular canonical texts like Stoker‘s Dracula, which allows Mudrooroo to revive the subversive potential of the Gothic genre and use it to debunk the colonial discourse. It analyses the workings of the postcolonial Gothic and shows that instead of producing hybrid monsters through intertextual replays, Mudrooroo‘s and Alexis Wright‘s texts seem almost naturally Gothic, as if there was a certain Gothicism inherent in the postcolonial experience.
Recent criticism has increasingly asserted the centrality of gothic in the Canadian canon, and explicitly gothic conceptions of the forested and frozen North inform several of Margaret Atwood‘s novels, poems, essays and short stories. Her haunted wilderness settings are sites for the negotiation of identity and power relationships. This essay focuses on her 1970 poem sequence The Journals of Susanna Moodie and her short story `Death by Landscape (from her 1991 Wilderness Tips collection), considering them in relation to critical models of postcolonial gothic.
Defining the Relationships between Gothic and the Postcolonial
William Hughes and Andrew Smith
The Gothic has historically maintained an intimacy with colonial issues, and in consequence with the potential for disruption and redefinition vested in the relationships between Self and Other, controlling and repressed, subaltern milieu and dominant outsider culture. Such things are the context of obvious, visible irruptions of the colonial Orientalist exotic into the genre, whether these be the absolutist power and pagan excesses of Beckford‘s Vathek (1786), the Moorish demonic temptations of Zofloya (1806) or the perverse, corrupting influence of a western invader upon a primitivised European in the ImmaleeIsadora episodes of Maturin‘s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). These are, in a sense, horrors beyond, the exoticism of time and space distancing the problematic text from the comfortable, identifiable world of the contemporary and the homely a reassurance comforting even in a reading of the Irish episodes of Melmoth the Wanderer, where geographical marginality anticipates a borderland as distant from metropolitan sensibilities as effective as those of later writers such as Hope Hodgson, Machen or Rolt. The colonial is both kept at a distance and in a state of suggestive vagueness, of resemblance rather than obvious representation, its horrors accessible though thankfully not immanent.
That colonialism has associations with eighteenth century humanism is not a controversial claim. The eighteenth century with its fascination with how the subject knows has a central place in Foucault‘s account of the rise of the human sciences in The Order of Things. More recently Leela Gandhi has explored how the virtual construction of subjectivity in the eighteenth century was closely associated with the conceptual formulation of humanity. In these humanist constructions the human became defined by its relation to the non-human in a process where ideas about racial difference were used to form the hierarchies in which subjects were racially located. For Foucault, in the eighteenth century, the subject becomes both an object of knowledge (one that is understood ‘scientifically‘) and a subject who knows one that is interpreted `metaphysically`). This apparently scientific reading of the ‘objective status‘ of the subject reflects on the construction of race as an indicator of Otherness. The wider claim made by Leela Gandhi is that this position has a vestigial presence in much of todays `science‘. It is this correlation between race and certain pseudo-scientific taxonomies relating to race which underpin, in the nineteenth century, those theories of degeneration that attempted to account for perceptions of imperial decline, and it is these ideas that influenced Stoker‘s writings. Most notably Dracula has received considerable critical attention on the novels reliance on a model of degeneracy that articulates contemporary anxieties relating to criminality and race; this common view of Dracula is one that associates the Other (the vampire) with theories of degeneracy. The novel is also, arguably self-consciously so, about knowledge. The oddly unheroic pursuit of the vampire hunters is apparent in their search through documentation in order to develop an explanatory theory for vampirism. It is this pursuit of knowledge which is also to be found in A,Glimpse of America (1886) and The Mystery of the Sea (1902). Knowledge as knowledge of the national and/or racial Other is the central issue to which Stoker keeps returning.
Colonising Europe in Bram Stoker‘s The Lady of the Shroud
Postcolonial criticism is preoccupied for the most part with the implications and the cultural consequences of European interference in a vaguely delineated territory which could best be termed `the East‘. This statement, which might justifiably be regarded as being simplistic, provocative or even mischievous, must however be acknowledged as having some currency as a criticism of an occluded though still discernible impasse within an otherwise vibrant and progressive critical discourse. The postcolonial debate is, to borrow a phrase from Gerry Smyth, both characterised and inhibited by a `violent, dualistic logic‘ which perpetuates an ancient, exclusive dichotomy between the West and its singular Other. In practical terms, this enforces a critical discourse which opposes the cultural and textual power of the West through the textuality of Africa, Asia and the Far East rather than and at the expense of the equally colonised terrains of the Americas and Australasia. This is not to say that critical writings on these latter theatres of Empire do not exist, but rather to suggest that they are somehow less valued in a critical discourse which at times appears,to be confused by the potentially more complex diametrics implied in the existence of a North and a South.
One of the dominant impressions given by the sculpture of Anish Kapoor is of haunting. In and around the definite presences, the manifest shining, brightly coloured forms, lie a series of baffling absences; the shades of presences that are in excess of the work, or the shadows of meanings not yet grasped. Perhaps this is most evident in the work that announces its haunting in its title, the spectral sculpture Ghost (1997), in which a sliver of light, caught dancing in the polished interior of a rugged block of Kilkenny limestone, becomes not only the `presence‘ that occupies the work but also a symbol of all that it is unable to embody and leaves hovering about its fringes and borders. This Ghost is Kapoor‘s haunted house sculpture; a sculpture in which the mysterious agency that unnerves the viewer is both the most significant occupant of its limestone mansion and, paradoxically, its most insignificant, or unsignifiable omission.
Fantasy and the supernatural are everyday expressions of the imaginative experiences of Malaysian and Singaporean women writers who use the Gothic to explore and expose the contradictions within their societies, constraints upon peoples lives, and most specifically, womens roles. In tales of wealthy families and their bondmaids, growing up, investment, education, marriages, the supernatural and fantasy run everywhere alongside realistic factual accounts to critique contradictions, and highlight little ironies, some of which have been generated by or supported by the,colonial presence, and some of which emanate from their own cultural traditions. Many cultural and individual contradictions are generated by recognition of the need to simultaneously maintain what is valuable in tradition, benefit from what was brought by colonialism, and move on to create new ways of being. Through the gaps and fissures of colonial homes and those of grand Chinese or Malay families leak tales of repression and silencing legitimated by cultural, economic and gendered differences. The repressed return, as they do in all good Gothic tales, to bring cultural and personal discrepancies to the notice of the living.
, constantly hover[ing] on the edge
of an abyss’. 8 In
Unsettled Remains: Canadian Literature and the PostcolonialGothic (2009), Cynthia Sugars and Gerry Turcotte explore
settler–invader relations that recognize how initial examples of
the Gothic mode in Canadian literature reflected, as Frye has argued,
‘terror in the face of the unknown wilderness’ but show
how ‘a more
's short story ‘Gräns’ (2006; ‘Border’, 2012) is set in Kappellskär, a port located an hour north of Stockholm, a location that becomes the site of an intersectional, and overtly post-normative and postcolonialGothic story. Similarly, Peter Høeg's Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne ( 1992 ; Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow , 1993), discussed below, clearly investigates postcolonial themes, but locates them mostly to the urban spaces of the Danish capital Copenhagen.
In addition to the body of international and Nordic Gothic texts that take place in
Cynthia Sugars and Gerry Turcott. Unsettled
Remains: Canadian Literature and the PostcolonialGothic
(Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2009), p. 85.
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (Toronto:
McClelland and Stewart, 2003), p. 224. Subsequent references are to
this edition and are given in parentheses in the text