Review: Globalgothic


Ed. Glennis Byron. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013. 228 pages). ISBN 9781526106902

Glennis Byron’s Globalgothic is immediately both alienating and alluring on conceptual and titular levels. The unification of ‘global’ and ‘gothic’ into a single monster genre jars the reader of this critical collection before the cover has even been turned; unlike the common adjectival modifications of ‘gothic’ that have spread throughout literary and cinematic criticism with the rise of cyber gothic, war gothic, female gothic, and the rest, Globalgothic presents this new subgenre as a mutation of two commonplace ideas into something truly abominable. Byron describes the conceptualization of globalgothic without space or hyphen between the terms as an attempt ‘to decentre notions of “Gothic”, tacitly placing the term under erasure and marking the confluence, in globalized space, between divergent cultural traditions’ (p.4). In this way, Byron hopes to read the progression of the gothic as inseparable from the effects of globalization and to decentre the West in our perceptions of literature, cinema, and global impact.

Following this vein, Globalgothic presents a series of essays concerned not just with plotting the progression and trends of gothic in various locations across the globe, but demonstrating how these various geographic manifestations of the gothic are in fact interconnected as part of a single globalized phenomenon specific to the contemporary moment. Globalgothic emerges as a genre concerned with the threatening effects of globalization: the lack of clearly defined identities, disappearing barriers between the familiar and the alien, the infiltration of the Other into previously contained societies, and the cannibalistic nature of modern times, in which eastern and western cultures consume each other to the point where the distinction between the two is lost. Fred Botting and Justin D. Edwards, in their chapter on ‘Theorising globalgothic’ argue that this new gothic is a direct product of the globalization of capitalism, itself categorized as a gothic monster consuming the labour and life force of its workers, making the gothic threat of these narratives bigger and more ubiquitous than in any other previous manifestation of the genre. Claiming that the decentring of the West has resulted in a destabilization of governance, corporate structure, and the wider market, Botting and Edwards present globalgothic as an immediate threat to both the nation state and the individual. With national borders that formerly protected constructions of identity and essentialism now disintegrating as a globalized outlook overtakes the previously nationalised view of the world, Botting and Edwards locate the uncanny effect of globalgothic in the corporatized face of the modern world that hides the now shadowy and distorted forms of identity granted to the individual caught up in the multidirectional culture-clash of the modern age. This in turn displaces formerly defined spaces out of local context, and creates a social and cultural fluidity that reflects the contemporary media and financial environment in which communication is vast, fast, and occurs in the in-between-zones of cyberspace. As a result, everything that was previously known in terms of location, environment, culture and identity has now been stretched, dislocated, or destroyed entirely, leaving the reader of globalgothic alienated from both their home nation and themselves.

These concerns are then explored throughout the collection, the vast geographical spread of subject focus demonstrating the proliferation of these threats and the interconnectedness between apparently disparate cultures when dealing with the gothic. Charles Shiro Inouye’s essay on ‘Unburying Japanese figurality’ argues that Japanese gothic expression follows a cyclical pattern of ‘Animalism’, ‘Rationalism’, and ‘Re-animalism’ (p.203) in line with the oscillation of Japanese rule between polytheistic and monotheistic modes of worship, themselves influenced by various external nations that grow or shrink in global dominance across time and recreate Japanese culture in their image. Katarzyna Ancuta also analyses this infiltration and effect of the foreign in contemporary Thai horror cinema, demonstrating how the Thai horror film industry, which evolved quite separately from that of the West, has manipulated its traditional narrative patterns, monstrous characters, and expressions of fear in order to effectively connect with a global audience and incorporate alternative narrative styles from other cultures into their productions. Barry Murname discusses the Austrian director Michael Haneke’s intention to ‘disrupt uncritical consumption of violent images at the heart of Hollywood horror’ (p.105) by playing with the satisfaction of tension so that the audience is suspended in perpetual threat that could strike at any moment, mimicking the immediacy of globalized terror. That these scenes occur in transitional spaces such as motorways and holiday homes further disrupts the idea of safe havens and structured territories as possible in the contemporary era of uncanny border disintegration. Taking an alternative approach, Aspasia Stephanou reviews the development of vampire communities through the internet age, and how liminal cyber-space has allowed the construction of transnational vampire groups that were otherwise confined or restricted by their nationally determined identities as either eastern or western.

These along with the other essays collected in Globalgothic provide a truly diverse response to a mutation of the gothic that is both relevant and real to the contemporary reader. Specialisms ranging from creature studies, music, literature, cinema, and collective identities make this text an essential guide for anyone branching into globalgothic study, whilst leaving plenty of gaps for new advancements in the field. An unusual and dynamic read, Byron’s Globalgothic demonstrates the continued relevance and importance of gothic and gothic studies, albeit through highlighting a monster that, it would seem, is bigger and bolder than previously imagined: globalization itself.

Review by Amy Bride


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