Archive for October, 2013


Literary Emotion Methodologies Study Day

I’ve just come back from the East Coast after attending the CHE’s Literary Emotion Study Day at the University of Melbourne.


The session began with a talk by Peter Holbrook (UQ) on ‘Process Philosophy, Literature and the Emotions’. Peter drew attention to the work of Henri Bergson, citing from Bergson’s ‘Perception of Change’ (1911), and Creative Evolution (1907). These works were rather alien to me as the only branch of Bergsonian theory familiar to me is his theory of humor, which I’ve utilised in a forthcoming essay on the slasher film. In relation to the study of the emotions, Bergson states that ‘movement is reality itself’ : likewise, in appraising depictions of emotions in literary texts, one should always consider the fact that emotions are always in flux.


Rebecca McNamara talked about the subject of emotional communities and genre. How do emotional features of a genre shift across time? Can the concept of genre be regarded as an emotional community? Thinking about this with regards to the development of eighteenth century Gothic literature, can we think of the Graveyard Poets as occupying the space of an imagined ’emotional community’? Food for thought.


Stephanie Trigg then addressed the concept of the emotive in William Reddy’s work. She drew on some interesting examples to show how figurative language is often a characteristic feature of literary texts. If anything, Stephanie’s examples highlights the importance of ‘getting back to the text’ – looking at texts closely and focusing on close readings while paying attention to content and theme. Her examples resonated with Meridee Bailey’s approach the the following paper – Meridee drew attention to the benefits of utilising linguistic techniques as a means of close textual analysis. Note to self – check out Michael Halliday’s work on systemic functional linguistics!


We then heard from Aleksondra Huiltquist about the ‘amatory mode’ in eighteenth century works, in her paper ‘The Passions and Literary Love in the Eighteenth Century’. Kudos to Alex for being a wonderful organiser too! Finally, Grace Moore’s paper looked at campfires and emotions. Hers had a particular Australian emphasis on campfires in nineteenth century.


This symposium once again highlighted the challenges of coming up with a concrete working methodology for the study of emotions. The word ‘affect’ was thrown around quite a bit. Periodisation continues to be a challenge – everyone works in different time periods! But most importantly, we were mostly in agreement that in analysing the depiction of emotions in literary works, we can never assume that emotions are static. Note to self – changes are also important!


Opinion: ‘We Have Never Been Modern’ – Vampires, Zombies, and now….Homunculi?

Came across this trailer yesterday:

With recognisable set designs, blades, flying monsters and Bill Nighy (why, Bill why?), the film looks every bit like an Underworld clone. And Aaron Eckhart? He excels in roles where he plays smooth talkers (Thank You For Smoking, The Dark Knight), and as his performance in TDK shows, he is also capable of a lot more than exuding suave charm in a suit. But action/horror? Interestingly, I Frankenstein is actually based on a graphic novel from Darkstorm Comics, and the screenwriter is Kevin Grevioux, the bloke who played one of the werewolves in Underworld. Kevin’s actually written quite a few comic book titles of his own.


Seeing the trailer for the film, I can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers are trying to start a new ‘monster’ trend. The mid-noughties saw an explosion of vampire-themed films – the Underworld franchise (2003-2012), 30 Days of Night (2007),  Let The Right One In  (2008), Twilight (2008-2012), Daybreakers (2009), Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012). Neil Jordan’s Byzantium (2012) looks interesting, and can be added to the list too. From vampires, we then had a zombie renaissance: The Walking Dead TV series, I Am Legend (2007),  Quarantine (2008), Zombieland (2009), Para Norman (2012), Warm Bodies (2013), World War Z (2013), and Raimi’s Evil Dead remake (2013). Perhaps, with I Frankenstein – the creators of the film are attempting to make homunculi popular in the same way that vampire and zombies are/were?


I prefaced this post with a quote from philosopher Bruno Latour. In We Have Never Been Modern, Latour comments on the concept of modernity:


No one has ever been modern. Modernity has never begun. There has never been a modern world. The use of the past perfect tense is important here, for it is a matter of retrospective sentiment, of a rereading of our history. (p.47)


In thinking about shifting cultural trends such as the vampire and zombie film, I can’t help but meditate on this concept of ‘modernity’. The vampire flick might be a ‘modern’ product of the 21st century cultural industry, but in relation to the zombie film, can it still be considered ‘modern’? If we flip the coin and look at the zombie film, what if I, Frankenstein sets off a new trend? Should a ‘homunculi’ trend be kickstarted by this film, films like WWZ and Warm Bodies will undoubtedly be, as a consequence, seen as products of a particular zeitgeist, one that is dated. If we think of vampire and zombie films as repeated iterations of a singular theme, are these any different from the predictable plots of the eighteenth century Gothic novel?  A satirical poem from 1810 pokes fun at how predictable the plots of Gothic texts are, proposing that the ‘apparatus’ for a Gothic novel can be swapped with that of a sentimental novel:


Take the following, which may, like machinery in factories, accelerate the progress of the divine art. Where you find——

A castle……….put a house
A giant………..a father
A bloodstained dagger…………..a fan
Skeletons and skulls……………compliments and sentiments
A gliding ghost…………….a usurer or an attorney
A midnight murder……………a marriage


As is evident from this satirical poem, popular Gothic novels were awfully predictable. In this,the craze for Gothic novels in England in the eighteenth century mirrors the popularity of vampire and zombie films in the 21st century. Many popular Gothic novels of that period did not become literary classics in the way Shelley or Stoker’s novels did. The same goes for vampire and zombie films. Maybe there is something more to be said about universality, predictability and popular appeal.


But for me the real question, the biggest question of all is: If we have vampire/zombie films in the 21st century, and Gothic novels in the 18th/19th century, what about the time period before the ‘invention’ of the English novel? What were the ‘people’s monsters’, so to speak, of earlier cultures?


That is a question I hope to answer in time.


Opinion: Futurama, How I Met Your Mother and the Early Modern Sonnet-Sequence

I’m prefacing this post with a disclaimer that it is primarily an ‘opinion’ post. I’ve categorised it as such, and I’ll also preface this by stating that some spoilers for said TV shows mentioned in the title of this post might be present.


But what, you might think, is the connection between these disparate entities? Two television series and the early modern sonnet sequence?


Let’s begin, shall we?


Let’s start with some background. Futurama is/was a sci-fi animated TV series which ran from 1999 to 2013. It was cancelled after five seasons, but the series continued on in a set of movies. In 2011 the series was picked up for several more seasons due to popular demand, and the last episode of the series finally ended a month ago, in September.



A meme from Futurama



Futurama is about a young man called Fry who, in the year 1999, is frozen in cryostasis for a thousand years. He wakes up in the year 3000 (3013, if we are to adhere to continuity) and the series details his exploits in an imagined future. Through the course of the series, we witness the protagonist Fry adapt to life in the future. Throughout the many seasons, Fry lives, and eventually learns to love. A running gag in the earlier seasons is the unrequited love he suffers at the hands of his co-worker Leela who constantly brushes off his advances. His feelings are eventually reciprocated, and their relationship develops, culminating in his proposal to her during the final episode of the series.


As can be gleaned from its title, How I Met You Mother (HIMYM) is quite literally, a comedy-drama series about a man telling his children how he met their mother.


The 00’s: HIMYM. The 90’s: Friends.


Of course, there are plenty of sub-plots and side characters thrown in to extend the narrative. After it’s debut in 2005, the series is moving into its final season. The retroactive narrative structure of the series speaks for itself – we know that the protagonist will ultimately have his ‘happily ever after’ at the end of the series. Therefore, the emphasis of the series is not so much the destination, but Ted’s journey through life.


The appeal of these two TV series stems from their protagonists’ ordinariness. Fry is an ordinary human being living in a world where space aliens and sentient robots exist. Evan Almieda describes this perfectly:


Fry only wants to find love, and cherish it. He wants to love a significant other, his family and his friends. The true brilliance of Futurama was the show’s ability to take the broken man that had neither: love, family or friends in the year 1999 and turned him into a fully fledged Maslow Pyramid.


HIMYM’s Ted, like Fry, is the ‘ordinary one’ in his group of friends. Ted’s best friends from high school, Marshall and Lily, are high school sweethearts in a long term relationship. Occupying the other end of the spectrum is Ted’s womanizing, amoral yet charming friend Barney. Sandwiched between Barney and Marshall/Lily, Ted becomes, for many of us, the everyman in the same way that Fry is. Take the first two sentences of the quote from Almeida, replace Fry with Ted, and you have the exact same thing. Their stories are so compelling because we can see something of ourselves in them. Be it New York City in the year 2007, or the year 3007, at the heart of these TV shows is a narrative about an ordinary person who just wants to find love.


What, then, do these stories about an everyman have to do with early modern sonnet-sequences?


The poet/speaker of the early modern sonnet-sequence, like Fry and Ted, is an everyman. Despite being written hundreds of years ago, these poems speak of emotions that lie at the heart of the human condition.  The vernacular might sound strange, but the emotions contained within are real. Sometimes in love, we feel jealous:


O how the pleasant ayres of true loue be
Infected by those vapours which arise
From out that noysome gulfe, which gaping lies
Betweene the iawes of hellish Ielousie!

(Sidney, Astrophil and Stella 78 : 1-4)


Other times, a brief ‘crush’ on someone we’ve met torments us:


Since the first look that led me to this error
To this thoughts’ maze to my confusion tending,

(Daniel, Delia 18: 1-2)


On occasion, circumstances turn love into hate:


When none of these, my sorrows would allege;
I sought the means, how I might hate thee! 

(Barnes, Parthenophil and Parthenophe 13: 1-2)


At times, relationships become long-distance ones:


SInce I did leaue the presence of my loue,
Many long weary dayes I haue outworne

(Spenser: Amoretti 87: 1-2)


Each one of these sequences paint the picture of an individual who has but one wish – to find love and to hold on to it. In reading these sequences, we experience, with these sonneteers, the pain of unrequited love. While the contents of each sequence often lapses into exaggeration and hyperbole, the underlying message is simply for one’s affections to be reciprocated. How different is this from the experience of countless rejections felt by Ted and Fry? Of these poets, the only poet who ever obtained the object of his affections was Edmund Spenser. The only happily ever after that occurs in a sonnet-sequence is detailed in the wedding-song Epithalamion, a lyrical poem appended to his sequence Amoretti. Sidney’s sequence, for example, ends on an ominous note as he ruminates on the subject of death:


Then farewell world; thy vttermost I see:
Eternall Loue, maintaine thy life in me.

(Astrophil and Stella 110: 13-14)


And for Daniel, he is resigned to the fact that his beloved Delia will remain unattainable:


This is my state, and Delia’s heart is such;
I say no more, I fear I said too much.

(Delia 57: 13-14)


How different, then are the experiences detailed by these poets from their 21st century (or 31st) counterparts? Ted and Fry are fictional characters -so are Astrophil, Stella and Delia. Despite being centuries apart, these characters speak of that which makes us human. Are Astrophil’s laments any different from Ted’s incessant whining that he will never find ‘the one’? This, I believe, is what connects these texts. These texts tap into the heart of who we are as human beings, living in a world where love is always elusive, always one step ahead of us. Like Spenser, Marshall or Lily,when you find it, you celebrate it. As is evident from their efforts, these early modern poets knew, just as surely as we do now, that finding love is never easy.


Treehouse of Horror XXIV Couch Gag

Just came across this on the interwebs. Had to re-post! This opening to The Simpsons references so many horror/gothic/pop culture texts that reads as a great homage to the genre. Embedded are references to Del Toro’s films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Mimic, Blade II, and a blink-and-you’ll miss reference to Pacific Rim. There are also explicit nods to authors such as Poe, Stephen King, and Hitchcock. Great Cthulhu also makes a cameo appearance.

About time someone got together an edited volume on del Toro and the Gothic! Any takers?

'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.

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