Panel 2: Bodies, Boundaries, and the Gothic

When the Fox Hears the Rabbit Scream: How Zoomorphism contributes to Gothic Excess in Hannibal
Kirsty Worrow (Shrewsbury Colleges Group)

In Hannibal (NBC, 2013-2015), Dr. Lecter often evaluates the actions of others in zoologic metaphor with a tacit understanding that humans part of the natural taxonomy. It isn’t just Hannibal who invites these associations, as bestial references are often found within the mise-en-scene and elsewhere in the dialogue. In my presentation, I would explore how zoomorphic devices and Darwinian ideas are employed to frame characters as part of a natural predation hierarchy. Hannibal’s notions of natural monsters are located within Western, White, often classical aesthetics, narratives and semiotics. The discourses of the text cash-in associations an assumed similar audience will have with Western art and myth. Through textual analysis and with reference to relevant authors, my presentation would highlight some illuminating instances to explore how this discourse evolves over the course of Hannibal’s three seasons. In the first season, the totems are established for Will and Hannibal which engender audience understanding of themselves and their developing and complex dynamic. In season two, metamorphosis is a theme exemplified through the imagined transformation of Will into a human/stag hybrid. This hybridity is reinforced elsewhere in the season with characters who are more overtly in touch with the natural world. Finally, the discourse becomes more mythic and religious in season three with the abject rebirth of the Ravenstag, the Red Dragon and Biblical allusions; this escalation is in keeping with the increased Gothic excesses of the climax of the series, leading to a highly animalistic final confrontation. Viewing Hannibal through such a lens arguably frames the horror as more acceptable as the viewer is positioned to understand that, like Lecter, predation and consumption to be “naturally just.” The anchoring of his actions within a cathartic code predicated on escapist moral re-evaluation has resulted in a perverse allegiance with and often romantic fascination for the cannibal, as evidenced by ‘fannibal’ transformative fan works shard to online platforms such as Tumblr.

 

Seeing the Abject: Visual Metaphor Evidence from Batman (Detective Comics)v Superman (Action Comics)
Igor Juricevic (Indiana University South Bend)

The abject refers to entities that are degraded, despicable, and required to be excluded. Our reactions to the abject come from a threat to meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between self and other (Kristeva, 1982). Even though the abject is a threat to our existence and demands to be cast out and excluded (Creed, 1993), it also holds an inescapable fascination. When we confront the abject, we both fear and identify it, we are both curious and repulsed. What characteristics of images can be used to communicate this duality of the abject? In previous research (Juricevic, 2017), I identified the visual metaphor of Close-Up Eye Asymmetry (CUE-A). CUE-A conveys that an entity is abject by using a combination of the pictorial devices of close-up (the entity is depicted as being physically close to the observer) and eye-asymmetry (asymmetrical features in the eye region). In visual grammar, “close-up” communicates that an entity is similar to the observer, while asymmetry communicates the opposite, that the entity is unlike the observer. Taken together, the combination creates the visual metaphor of CUE-A, communicating the “loss of distinction between self and other”. Here I provide evidence that CUE-A is used in comics to communicate the abject. I compared the use of CUE-A on the covers of Action Comics (chronicling the adventure of Superman, a hero with few Gothic characteristics) to Detective Comics (featuring Batman, a hero with many Gothic characteristics) from 1960 and 1999. Each cover was analyzed for the use of CUE-A in depicting Superman or Batman. A chi-square analysis found that CUE-A was used more often when depicting Batman than Superman, χ² (1, N = 46) = 3.13, p = .04. This provides evidence that CUE-A communicates the threat to meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between self and other, that is, the abject. Implications for the use of CUE-A to communicate the abject across visual media will also be discussed.

 

Caregiving, Subversion, and the Female Disabled Body in Mary Wilkins Freeman’s Luella Miller
Farah Rose Smith (CUNY Hunter College)

The disabled body has been othered since pre-Medieval times, serving in literature as a representation of moral repugnance and a harbinger of death. Anxieties surrounding disparate bodies are amplified when examining disabled women, who embody an intersectional otherness that illustrates disease and woman as a fragmentation of the male, a perspective that has been long held by philosophers dating as far back as Aristotle and as recently as Lacan. In Mary Wilkins Freeman’s short story Luella Miller, the titular character is a frail, willowy woman who embodies a physical powerlessness that results in her complete reliance on those around her for survival. The people who help her, including her beloved husband, die while doing so from exhaustion, and possibly more. When no one agrees to help her anymore, she passes away herself. In multiple passages the tale is indicative of vampiric lore, though it is never specifically stated that Miller is a vampire. The more compelling observation than that of vampirism is the parallels that can be drawn between Luella Miller and her caretakers, and those who care for disabled loved ones in real life. Luella Miller may be a tale of hidden eugenics, portraying the profound burden of taking care of a sickly individual, and the danger of proximity to one who is sick. Miller is depicted as a needy and remorseless invalid, conveying the moral repugnance most often associated with the disabled in Gothic literature. This speaks to the idea in society that the disabled are lazy, particularly in Freeman’s characterization of Miller as one who quits her job as a school teacher to be cared for. Through use of contemporary discourses on disability futurity and analysis of monstrosity, disability, and the abject in Gothic fiction scholarship, I will demonstrate that Freeman’s Luella Miller is a cautionary tale against the passion for and caring of sick and disabled women, which is just as important, if not more, than its characterization as a tale of hidden vampirism or Marxism.

 

Loving and Hating the Chokecherry Tree: The Grotesque and Its Duality in Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Paula Granda (independent scholar)

Toni Morrison referred to her work Beloved as a “ghost story,” an accurate, if synthetic, description of her masterpiece novel. Beloved is also generally agreed to show prominent features of Southern Gothic fiction, one of them being the grotesque. The grotesque not only appears in the novel in the shape of events and situations, but also in physical terms defining the appearance of the bodies that feature in its pages. Much like the uncanny, the grotesque shocks and destabilizes the established and hegemonic order through its duality or “contradiction.” Whereas the former is the familiar turned unfamiliar, the latter could be said to be a deformed familiar, an exaggerated—and shockingly so—familiar. In Beloved we find physical manifestations of the grotesque in the shape of body scars, limps and amputations. Added to that, there are also grotesque events and violations to/of? both the characters’ bodies and souls: a dehumanizing and degrading treatment that “dirties” them. In Sethe’s words, “anybody white could take your whole self for anything that came to mind. Not just work, kill, or maim you, but dirty you. Dirty you so bad you couldn’t like yourself anymore. Dirty you so bad you forgot who you were and couldn’t think it up” (295). In this talk I will explore the aforementioned manifestations of the grotesque in its many forms basing on theories that range from Bakhtin’s early comments on this concept, to postmodern views about body violence, including readings of the novel from gothic and southern gothic perspectives. With this, I aim to elucidate the duality and the contradiction in the grotesque: it both attracts and repels. The scarred bodies and psyches serve to both reveal the horrors of the trauma and to allow them to heal. Scars both disgust and soften Paul D. Beloved both precipitates the healing process of “rememory” in Sethe and threatens her life. I will expound on this duality, this apparent contradiction—or inevitable complementary nature of the grotesque—so as to defend the pertinence of an analysis of this work and its grotesque features from a gothic perspective, the gothic being a suitable vehicle to show that which cannot be shown, to express, as Beloved tells readers, “unspeakable thoughts unspoken” (235).