Temporal Discombobulations: Then and Now

I attended the Temporal Discombobulations: Time and the Experience of the Gothic conference at the University of Surrey.  This is by no means an exhaustive write up of the conference just my commentary on some of the highly enjoyable panels I was privileged to attend. You can take a peek at the full conference schedule here.

Panel 1: Gothic Spaces

In her paper ‘Night as Gothic Time in Charles B.Brown’ Sarah Cullen presented a convincing argument that Charles Brockden Brown is critiquing the darker side of early American Republican values in the nighttime activities of his male protagonists. This includes murdering women to save them and generally wreaking havoc. Don’t trust a Republican sleepwalker.

Panel 2: Victorian Gothic

Christopher Lynch explored ‘Temporality in Machen’s White People’ and how the story’s tale within a tale structure alters the temporality of the narrative as a female narrated past bypasses the present and future. He also skillfully showed how the density of the text itself–with wall to wall words and few paragraph breaks–frustrates the reader’s attempts to understand it. One author described Machen’s story as a “Lovecraft plot told by James Joyce.” I also loved the design of his presentation–clean, minimalist in shades of grey–that influenced the design of my own presentation later in the conference.

Gisele M. Baxter took us on ‘Bluebeard’s Victorian Gothic Grand Tour’ tracing the Bluebeard legend from its origins to interpretations in contemporary cinema with the short film Little Lamb (2012). She also raised the concept of the female Bluebeard a la Jessica Chastain’s character Lucille Sharpe in Crimson Peak (2015). Bluebeard which would continue to haunt the conference, popping up in other presentations and even coloring my own later reading of Northanger Abbey (1817). My favorite part of her presentation is when she mentioned Mia Wasikowska’s  character Edith Cushing in Crimson Peak was intended to be a detective and one of her outfits was meant to be her “Nancy Drew dress,” but dashed my hopes when she questioned whether Edith was truly a detective or whether Lucille merely lets her discover the truth…

Panel 3: Female Gothic

Caryss Crossen’s presentation on female poisoners ‘‘I’m going to put death in all their food and watch them die’: Poison, Time and Gender in Gothic Texts’ brought up the power of poison to disrupt a victims sense of time. Poisoning can inflict blackouts, loss of time and other temporal disturbances. Poisoning generally takes a long time, during which the poisoner can hide their crime by tending to the sick victim. According to Sherlock Holmes “poison is a woman’s weapon” and female poisoners are a monstrous conflation of woman as both nurturer and destroyer. Aside: This is something I think Gillian Flynn’s novel Sharp Objects (2006) explores really well. Learning about Crossen’s previous work on  female werewolves led me to make a connection between female poisoners and these beast women as unnatural females.

Lousie Benson James enlightened us about ‘The Spectre of Menopause’ that awaits us all, and how modern descriptions of this natural phenomenon use gothic language to describe the horror of an unsexed woman.

Likewise, in her presentation on ‘Atavistic temporalities: fin-de-siècle Maenadism and the New Woman in political cartoons and cultural debate, 1870-1910″ Rebecka Klette described how male critics of the New Woman harnessed the atavistic metaphor of the Maenad to represent the horrors of women stepping outside their traditional roles.

Panel 4: Troublesome Narratives

Dr Madelon Hoedt’s ‘“The only me is me. Are you sure the only you is you?”: The unreality of time and space in Del Toro and Kojima’s P.T.  had me clutching the edge of my seat. The game was a playable trailer for the now defunct Silent Hills video game and forces the player to tread a hallway leading to a door than places them at the beginning of the hallway again. Things get increasingly disturbing as the player goes deeper into the playable environment, disrupting the player’s sense of time and reality. Great stuff.

Panel 6: Gothic Children

This was by far the creepiest panel of the conference and featured ghost children and a doll named Robert who wants to kill (eep). In ‘When the Nursery Bell Tolls: Revenant Replay in the Ghost-Child Narrative’ Jen Baker looked at vengeful child ghosts in the following tales and film:

  • Elizabeth Gaskell’s “The Old Nurse’s Story” (1852)
  • Margaret Olyphant’s “The Open Door” (1889)
  • M. R. James ” The Haunted Doll’s House” (1923)
  • Nick Murphy’s The Awakening (2011)

She also brought up the concept of the anniversary reaction:

“A temporal trigger that permits the emergence of repressed conflict which is brought closer to consciousness as the individual approaches the death date.”-Gabriel  Anniversary Reactions: Trauma Revised” (1992).

Panel 7: Fantasy

Rob O’Connor diagrammed the ‘Time Pockets, Weird Photographs, and Monster Mansions: Gothic Obscurities and Temporal Displacement in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ much to my delight (what software did he use!?)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2011) is a portal fantasy wherein subjects enter a fantastic world from a portal, moving from a realist space to a fantastic one. This movement parallels the movement from childhood to adulthood. Unfortunately the portal skews time and years can pass in the fantastic world while only seconds do in the real world.

“Does time itself reveal itself as the horizon of being?”–Heidegger Being and Time (1927)

Miss Peregine’s time loop complicates the temporality of the fantasy world and can be construed as abusive since the children are essentially trapped, living the same day over and over again but never aging.

Panel 8: Anne Rice’s Gothic

Daisy Butcher made us all realize the ‘Vilified, Deified and Mummified! The Sexual Woman through time in Anne Rice’s The Mummy’ = vagina dentata. Done.

Panel 9: Trauma and the Gothic in Practice

Because a few presenters couldn’t make it, I was luckily paired with the lovely and inspiring filmaker Helena Astbury whose film ‘Not Jane’ uses camera tricks to explore the concept of the double from Jane Eyre (1847).

Then there was my presentation ‘Horror Occupied Her Mind: Misinformation, Misperception, and Detecting the Trauma of Gothic Heroines’ where I explored how the temporal ruptures left by trauma frustrate the detection of gothic heroines.

Final Thoughts

It was comforting to find a community of people who are also invested in looking at the problem of time in gothic literature in so many diverse ways. Many thanks to the dedicated organizers who made this possible and I look forward (perhaps) to Temporal Discombobulations II: To be continued…

Stray Observations

  • Sucker Punch (2011) is so good, but it has so many problems (e.g. male fantasies of what female empowerment looks like = machine guns and mini-skirts). Would fit a gothic/noir temporal disruption reading nicely though with its multiple levels of dissociative reality.
  • Sparkly vampires are unacceptable.
  • Bluebeard is really popular.
  • I need to play more video games. For research purposes of course.
  • There is a Queen of Roumania (Marie?) who went undercover as a tourist on holiday to write a book.
  • There is a Swedish town called Visby which still retains its medieval walls.

What to Read

What to Watch

  • A Jury of Her Peers (1917)
  • Dickensian (2015)

What to Play

  • Life is Strange