Event Review: Gothic Showcase at the University of Stirling, 18th July, 2015

Posted by Tanja Jurković on August 28, 2015 in Guest Blog, Tanja Jurkovic tagged with , , , , , , , , ,

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More than just a literary or cinematic genre, medicine the lively Gothic mode informs our everyday lives as much as it eerily entertains it. Ghosts, vampires, sublime landscapes and ancient castles are familiar images we love to celebrate during those candlelit hours which provide small comfort before dawn.”

Gothic Showcase Website

 

 

A month ago, on July 18th 2015, Stirling became a place of an interactive exploratory experience of Gothic literature and culture for the first time, at the University of Stirling. This one – day event of lectures, workshops and exchanging knowledge about the Gothic was organised by some of the most perspective and leading researchers of the genre in order to bring the Gothic in all its beauty and darkness to the public, and to raise awareness about epilepsy, collaborating with Epilepsy Scotland. Since Stirling University is the first to have an MLitt in Gothic Imagination program that gives its students an opportunity to become researchers in the ever expanding field of Gothic literature and culture, this event was bound to happen in order to involve this historical town in the story that is Gothic.

 

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Taking place in one of the conference halls of the Macrobert Arts Centre at Stirling University, the event was officially opened with a reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), read by Kelly Gardner, who beautifully captured  the atmosphere of one of the most famous works of Gothic, preparing the ground for an inspiring welcome address by Dr. Dale Townshend, the course director for the MLitt in Gothic Imagination program, and an active researcher in the field of Gothic, known for his work across the UK and abroad.

 

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After this warm welcome, Sonja Zimmerman presented an introduction to Gothic, written by Ben Noad, the organiser of this interesting event, offering the public a walkthrough of Gothic from its origins to contemporary influences. It was a story of the first known Gothic novel Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, and how Gothic movement influenced not only literature, but also architecture, art, music and film, among other things, enriching this world with some of the most beautiful representations of the dark arts, and forming the contemporary vision of the Gothic through films, musicals and other media present today.

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The series of lectures started with a presentation by Christopher Scott, who is currently completing a MLitt degree in Gothic Imagination, and whose interests lie in EcoCriticism and post-colonial studies. He introduced the public with the concept of EcoGothic, and its relation to the environment, as well as the representation of this concept in films like The War of the Worlds (1953), 2012 (2009), and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), asking us how far are we willing to go when it comes to environment and leaving the topic to further exploration and interpretation using some of the existing environmental issues and examples of nature’s creations like vampire squid to emphasize the presence of the Gothic in the natural world that surrounds us.

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Fanny Lacôte, a PhD candidate in Literature and Languages at the University of Stirling and Université de Lorraine,  introduced us to the existence of French forgeries of Ann Radcliffe in her presentation English Gothic served “à la française”, pointing out that many French writers used Anne Radcliffe’s name not only to conceal their true identities, because they didn’t want to be associated with the term Gothic, but also to address some of the political concerns behind the façade of Englishness in France at the time.

 

 

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Followed by grim readings of The Graveyard Poetry, with excerpts from The Grave (1743), by a Scottish poet Robert Blair, and Elegy Written in the Country Churchyard (1751), by Thomas Gray, fine examples of Gothic poetry from the 18th century that speak about mortality, the representative of Epilepsy Scotland introduced us to their mission and the dangers of epilepsy, as well as various ways how one can help a person with epilepsy and raise awareness about this condition. Epilepsy Scotland is an organisation that helps to raise awareness about epilepsy through a positive, rather than a negative, attitude toward this serious condition. They offer support in many ways to people with epilepsy and their families through an established Helpline service and many other fundraising events and services that enable them to continue their work and fight for a worthy cause to help others in need.

Since its origins, Gothic genre was entwined with medicine and neurology in one way or another. Many Gothic writers either had medical experience, like John William Polidori, the author of a famous Gothic story The Vampyre (1819) who was a promising physician, or they had members of their families involved in neurological research, like Bram Stoker’s brother, who was a prominent neurosurgeon at the time. Bram Stoker consulted his brother when he was writing medical scenes in his classic novel Dracula (1897). The Gothic was the perfect genre for these and many other authors to play with the notions of science and to popularize, in a way, some of the unusual approaches to neurology.

Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous piece, The Raven (1845), read by Sonja Zimmerman, therefore, fitted perfectly in the continuation of the program of this fascinating event.

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With that call from beyond the grave, zombie hordes were awaken in a presentation I, Zombie: The Development of Sentience in Contemporary Zombie Narratives by Kelly Gardner, a PhD candidate in her final year of research at the University of Stirling, who spoke about the development of sentience in contemporary zombie narratives, elaborating the term sentience as the ability of the individual to feel and to perceive, and applying it to contemporary zombie narratives, such as George Romero’s cycle of zombie films and the more recent example of a TV show  In the Flesh (2013 – 2014), where the process of zombification transcends the rotting flesh, giving zombies the opportunity to get back to their human state and again become the integral part of human society.

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After the exciting zombification, we entered the realm of circus freaks and horror, with Sonja Zimmerman’s presentation entitled More than One and not Quite Two: Conjoined Twins in Twentieth and Twenty – First Century Gothic, in which Sonja talked about sexual issues and social taboos that occur in the case of conjoined twins represented in literature, music, film and on TV, giving examples of the conjoined twins from American Horror Story (2011 – )TV show, among others, and further raising some relevant questions about the lives of these individuals that have been present in the Gothic and in horror since Victorian times.

109In Gothic meets Horror: Grand-Guignol inside the Penny Dreadful Demimonde, a presentation by yours truly, I spoke about the connection between Grand – Guignol, the French theatre of horror and the TV show Penny Dreadful (2014 – ), and how these seemingly two different worlds collide inside the adjusted literary narrative of the series.

 

 

 

 

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Finally, the last but not the least, Ben Noad, the organiser of Gothic Showcase event and a PhD candidate at the University of Stirling, whose research revolves around mental health challenges in contemporary Gothic fiction, presented a part of his research in a workshop entitled Epilepsy and Victorian Gothic. During this workshop, we were familiarized with the term epilepsy and the symptoms of this mental condition, the misconceptions of that same illness throughout history, differentiating facts from fiction, and how epilepsy is represented in some of the most famous classic works of literature, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847). Ben also presented a case of a patient named Archie F., from Stirling District Asylum Records, explaining the way in which epileptics were treated at the time in Stirling County.

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The Gothic Showcase event ended with a very persuasive reading of an excerpt from Stephen King’s novel IT, read by Christopher Scott, leaving the room full of chills, titillation and fear! The day ended with a fun and appropriate Gothic party at the Settle Inn pub in Stirling. Stirling Darkness DJs have walked us through almost all genres of Gothic music, which was a great way to end this day dedicated to the Gothic.

 

 

 

 

 

This innovative and interesting event was extremely successful, the audience comprising both of public and academic world. The Gothic is alive and very much present in Stirling, as one of the towns in Scotland with the darkest history, and this event has largely contributed to the foundations for further research in the field of dark arts. Thank you all for your support and see you again next year!

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Links:

Gothic Showcase Website

MLitt in Gothic Imagination

Epilepsy Scotland

Stirling Darkness

Photography: Aya Graves

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