Review: IGA 2017

Posted by Timothy Jones on October 02, 2017 in Uncategorized tagged with , , ,

A Review of the 13th Biennial Conference of the International Gothic Association: Gothic Traditions and Departures Co-authored by Harriet Fletcher and Sophie Raine

 

In July of this year, we had the privilege of attending the 13th Biennial IGA conference held at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP) in Cholula, Mexico. The conference exceeded all of our expectations in terms of academic engagement, innovative research, and support from the IGA community as a whole.

 

Opening Ceremony and Wine Reception

The first day began with the opening addresses from the IGA organisers, including Enrique Ajuria Ibarra and Catherine Spooner who discussed this year’s theme of Gothic traditions and departures and Latin America’s ties to the Gothic. At the wine reception, the postgraduate bursaries in memory of Diane Long Hoeveler were awarded followed by the announcing of the annual Allan Lloyd Smith Memorial Prize, chaired by David Punter. This Gothic criticism award was co-won by Marie Mulvey-Roberts for her book Dangerous Bodies: Historicising the Gothic Corporeal (2016), and Timothy Jones for The Gothic and the Carnivalesque in American Culture (2015).

 

Keynote Speakers

This year, the IGA had three engaging and insightful plenary presentations. The first keynote was delivered by Isabella van Elferen from Kingston University whose paper “Dark Sound: Being and Timbre in Gothic” set the high standard for the remainder of the conference. The paper discussed how, since Gothic scholarship grew out of the Goth music scene of the 80s, we should “sing, not write, our criticism.” Following on from this claim, van Elferen went on to discuss the relationship between Gothic sound and Gothic literature, referring specifically to Lovecraft’s Nyarlathotep. As part of this lively and interactive paper, we were asked to identify Gothic aspects of music recordings. This paved the way to discuss how the Gothic is presented via sound through timbre. Focusing particularly on the work of post-punk band Bauhaus, van Elferen demonstrated how timbre is as essential to the Gothic as darkness and, through the industrial and synthetic sounds, non-spaces are created – this absence being fundamentally Gothic.

The second keynote took place on Wednesday 19th July and was delivered by Maisha Wester, Associate Professor in American Studies, and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University. The subject of Wester’s paper was “Duppy vs Ghost, Obeah vs Witchcraft: Dueling Folklore in Black Diasporic Gothic Fiction”. She discussed traditional figures of Caribbean folklore and how they have been appropriated by Western Gothic narratives. For example, the Duppy – a restless spirit that brings trouble to the living. Wester argued that ghost stories are being possessed by the West, which represents a form of colonialism. She aligned this cultural theft with a Western obeah that zombifies its subjects, leaving them empty. As with Western monsters, Caribbean folkloric figures reflect a historical and cultural identity. We must therefore reconnect with the culture that has been erased by acknowledging these figures of Caribbean folklore and their influence on the Western Gothic tradition.

On Thursday 20th July, the final keynote was given by Aurora Piñeiro, Associate Professor in the English Literature Department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Her paper was entitled “A Trail of Bread Crumbs to Follow: Gothic Rewritings of ‘Hansel and Gretel’, from Angela Carter to Mariana Enríquez.” The paper discussed the postmodern Gothic tendency to rewrite the Hansel and Gretel narrative – an unsettling Brothers Grimm story of cruelty, deceit, and violence. Piñeiro observed that there is no master text for fairy tales; the nature of these narratives is to invite reinterpretation and rewriting. Beginning by focusing on key fairy tales by Angela Carter, the paper explored several contemporary rewrites by a diverse range of authors from various nationalities, emphasising the enduring appeal of the Hansel and Gretel narrative in contemporary culture. Piñeiro argued that rewritings of Hansel and Gretel are prevalent in relation to historical events and have become ideal for denouncing political and religious oppression. For example, Louise Murphy’s The True Story of Hansel and Gretel (2003) and Jorge Volpi’s Oscuro Bosque Oscuro (2009) place the Hansel and Gretel narrative within the context of Jewish oppression during the Second World War. The Gothic aspects of the Grimm story also make it suitable for contemporary horror. Piñeiro demonstrated this through her discussion of Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015), a film that draws on the Hansel and Gretel narrative through the portrayal of a banished puritanical family who fall victim to supernatural forces and become seduced by many evils lurking in the depths of the New England forest.

 

Panel Review

On the third day of the conference, we decided to attend the Clinical Gothic panel which focused on bodies and madness. This was a very cohesive panel with each of the papers presenting original research on the medical Gothic. As such, the panel managed to run seamlessly across various time periods and sub-genres connected by the overarching theme of exploitation and exhibition within medical Gothic.

The first paper was given by Dr Sara Wasson from Lancaster University who appeared spectrally, virtually delivering her paper via Skype from Lancaster. Wasson’s paper, entitled “Vulnerable Bodies: Literary Fantasies of Organ Procurement and Economic Precarity” discussed the relationship between tissue transfer, race, and predation. Tracing the origin of these narratives, Wasson discussed earlier work such as W. Alexander, “New Stomachs for Old” (1927) and Charles Gardner Bowers, “The Black Hand” before delving into more contemporary texts. The twentieth century texts such as Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring (1998) and the work of Dennis Etchison were discussed by Wasson in order to demonstrate the corporatisation of the biomedical field and the potential for exploiting vulnerable individuals.

The second panellist was Lauren Kremmel from Lehigh University who presented her paper “Gothic Exhibition: Anatomy’s Literary Crossover”. Kremmel’s paper discussed the anatomical collection of John Hunter in the latter half of the eighteenth century and how it carried a dual purpose: to display the dead and dissect the dead. Drawing upon the works of Matthew Lewis, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Shelley, Kremmel discussed how the Gothic tradition reflects medical culture through the paradoxical concealing and exposing of the dead.

Benjamin Noad from Stirling University delivered a talk on the reciprocal relationship between asylum reform and medical economies in Gothic literature, entitled “Reconciling Gothic and the Madhouse.” This paper discussed Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria, Or the Wrongs of Woman (1796) in relation to readings of actual asylum case files. Noad suggested that the performances featured in “Bedlam Ballads” were accurate portrayals of lived experience of ‘madness’. This is essential to Gothic as a form which, as Noad argued, is resistant to acts of historical repression.

 

Gothic Film Screening

As day two of IGA Mexico 2017 drew to a close, we were treated to a screening of the short film “Primer misterio: Las monjas vampiras contra el hijo de Benito Juárez”, or “First mystery: The vampire nuns against the son of Benito Juárez”. Directed by Antonio Álvarez Morán, the film forms part of an exciting new project known as Los misterios de las monjas vampiras, “The mysteries of the vampire nuns”. The film was certainly a hit with an audience of Gothicists, offering a plethora of weird and wonderful delights including vampire nuns, Mexican wresting, and Aztec sacrifice. The screening was followed by an insightful Q & A session with the director and lead actress from the film, chaired by Enrique Ajuria Ibarra. In keeping with the theme, Morán had fittingly donned a vampire cape and the actress was dressed as her vampire nun character. These much-appreciated Gothic touches added to the rich spectatorial experience of the evening and we very much look forward to future instalments of Los misterios de las monjas vampiras.

 

Open-Air Exhibition

On Wednesday afternoon, we were invited to the inauguration of the Espejo Nómada open-air art exhibition. The exhibition was created by design students from the Universidad de las Américas Puebla and consisted of a collection of Gothic murals. The pieces displayed some beautifully detailed Gothic imagery accompanied by quotations from key critics in the field of Gothic studies. The striking pieces conjured familiar images from the Gothic tradition while maintained a characteristic sense of uncanniness. Notable works included a bare neck with vampire bites, a bloody hand, and a fairy tale inspired human-stag hybrid creature. One mural was inscribed with a quotation from former IGA co-president Catherine Spooner: “Gothic is relentlessly adaptive and will continue to find new outlets and hybrid forms”. This line from Post-Millennial Gothic (2017) in particular encapsulates the Espejo Nómada creators’ expertise in communicating the multifaceted nature of the Gothic through the medium of visual art.

 

Banquet Dinner and Gothic Disco

The gala dinner was held on the Thursday evening at the 16th century hacienda, Las Bodegas del Molino. Prior to the meal, we were given a tour of this stunning building by several entertaining performers who discussed the Gothic history of the site. The Gothic disco most certainly did not disappoint with an eclectic range of music to suit every taste!

 

AGM 2017

Some very exciting updates were announced at this year’s IGA Annual General Meeting. Firstly, the new co-presidents Justin Edwards (University of Stirling) and Jason Haslam (Dalhousie University) were elected. Plans for future IGA conferences were also discussed. The IGA’s 14th conference Gothic Hybridities: Interdisciplinary, Multimodal and Transhistorical Approaches will be held on 31st July to 3rd August 2018 and hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University. Following this, IGA 2019 will be hosted by Lewis University, Illinois. Bids for IGA 2021 were also invited.

 

Closing Remarks and Breaking of Piñatas

Following the closing remarks – which included a special thanks to Enrique Ajuria Ibarra and the UDLAP team for organising a thoroughly successful IGA Mexico – we took to the university grounds for the much-anticipated breaking of piñatas that had been on display throughout the conference. In typically Gothic style, the piñatas took the forms of a witch, a spider, two skeletons, and a goat known as Black Phillip from the horror film The Witch. Black Philip in particular attracted a lot of attention, featured in many a selfie, and became the unofficial mascot of IGA Mexico. The breaking of the piñatas was the perfect way to end what had been a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable IGA conference.

 

From a postgraduate perspective, IGA Mexico was everything we could have hoped for. From start to finish, IGA Mexico provided a diverse and fascinating range of panels, inspiring speakers, and a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere for all, which is surely a reflection of the Gothic studies community that the IGA has brought together. We certainly can’t wait IGA 2018!

 

 

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