A Review of Xavier Aldana Reyes’ Body Gothic (2014)

Posted by Rachey Taylor on December 10, 2014 in Uncategorized tagged with

The Great Work

Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes of Manchester Metropolitan University published his first monograph, Body Gothic, this year. Hopefully, it is one of many more to come.

 

Having always had a fascination with the gothic body, it has been a pleasure to review a text that takes this concept and turns it on its head, providing a much-needed addition to existing scholarship on this topic. Aldana Reyes begins the text with a chapter on this very subject, pointing out the necessity to ‘reclaim the importance of the body to the gothic text’ (2). He considers man becoming fly, artificially conjoined triplets, and the consumption of human flesh whether knowingly or otherwise.

 

For someone whose prior knowledge of the gothic lies mainly in eighteenth and nineteenth century studies, it was a relief to see that Aldana Reyes begin the text with a claim that the body as a gothic trope is not a strictly modern phenomenon. He harks back to Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), with a reminder of the scene where the monstrously cruel Abbess is literally beaten to a pulp. He also recalls the scene where poor Agnes is found in a subterranean prison with the putrefying body of her child clasped to her bosom in a morbid embrace. These scenes of horror evoke feelings of shock and revulsion and they are rooted firmly in the site of the body rather than the supernatural. He also compares contemporary horror flicks such as The Human Centipede franchise to the classic novel Frankenstein (1831) and the horrific experiments of Joseph Mengeles in the Nazi concentration camps, arguing that these sentiments are timeless. Perhaps they are timeless because they have all been written during an age of scepticism regarding the supernatural. This scepticism does not mean that that there can be no terror and horror. These concepts definitely exist but they have evolved to become entrenched in the atrocities that people can inflict on each other, which is often the cruellest horror of all.

 

Body Gothic provides a cultural history of the modern-day (or night?) phenomenon of corporeal horror in a scholarly and yet immensely readable way. Having dedicated a chapter to each genre of horror novel or film, Aldana Reyes draws each genre together into a final concluding dialogue, drawing on Clive Barker’s claim that no matter the depiction, ‘“horror fiction is over and over again about the body’” (166). In doing so, he marks the distinction between a literature of terror and a literature of horror. Each chapter flows as seamlessly as the surgeon’s blade, from ‘Splatterpunk’ to ‘Surgical Horror’. In each chapter, he describes each film and text so well that it makes the uninitiated reader like myself want to discover them for the first time. The nightmares that have ensued as a result of this unhealthy curiosity have luckily stopped though. The spectrum of themes Aldana Reyes examines in this text display that there are as many genres of body horror as there are bodies to experience them.

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