In Haunt

Pop culture, gothic and the Weird collide in a number of ways – from mash-up fiction to the ever-changing representations  of witches and monsters we see in films today. Examining these relationships in her research, as well as a number of other fascinating fields, is Manchester Metropolitan University academic Dr Chloé Germaine Buckley.

No stranger to considering the dark and mysterious aspects of popular media and culture, Chloé Germaine Buckley is Senior Lecturer in English and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University. There she teaches on Gothic Cinema, Children's and Young Adult literature and supervises PhD research projects that encounter various aspects of Gothic culture. She is also a member of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies and the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies.

Chloe Germaine Buckley

Chloe’s primary research explores the influence of the Gothic on Young Adult and Children’s culture, something she underlines in her 2017 book Twenty-First-Century Children's Gothic (Edinburgh University Press). She also recently starred in a panel discussion on Folk Horror at the 2nd Manchester Folk Horror Festival (read her HAUNT Manchester overview here), delivered a talk on witchcraft for The British Library Magic and Enchantment Study Day and hosted a gripping Q&A at Waterstones Deansgate with the authors Laura Purcell and Stuart Turton – both writing in the Gothic style. She will also be taking part in a symposium dedicated to the mysterious writer of Weird fiction Thomas Ligotti, titled Detecting Pessimism: Thomas Ligotti and The Weird in an Age of Post-Truth at Manchester Metropolitan University on the 12 June.

Chloé is also an avid analogue gamer, enjoying live-action role-play (LARP) and tabletop gaming events, as well as being a member of the Manchester Game Studies Network. Combining her love of gaming with academic research,  she has spoken on the topic of ‘What we can learn from games’ at the 2018 Tabletop Gaming Convention in London and has organised horror-themed LARP events, one of which took place in All Saints Library (beside the fascinatingly historic All Saints Park, a former burial ground) at the sixth annual Gothic Manchester Festival.

As well as making plans for the next Gothic festival, Chloe has also been busy writing new research and has two chapters in books expected this Autumn. The first is ‘Cthulhu versus Sherlock Holmes: Shadows over Baker Street, epistemology, and the willing surrender of disbelief’ in the book Sideways in Time: Alternative History and Counterfactual Narratives (edited by Chuckie Patel and Glyn Morgan for Liverpool University Press). The second is ‘Encountering Weird Objects: Lovecraft, LARP and Speculative Philosophy' for a collection on the intersection of Horror and Speculative Philosophy, titled Diseases of the Head (edited by Matt Rosen for Punctum Books). 

HAUNT Manchester decided to speak to Chloé to find out more…

Hello Chloé. Can you tell us a little bit more about the two book chapters due in the autumn and how they demonstrate your ongoing research and interests?

“Although my main research interest focuses on the intersection of children’s fiction and the gothic, I also work in game studies and in popular gothic culture more generally. One of the chapters coming out soon speaks to a longstanding interest I have in the Weird and pop culture: it’s all about ‘mash-up’ fiction and how writers (re)appropriate (often quite irreverently) canonical or well-known texts for new uses. The book is called Sideways in Time and explores ‘alternative history’ fiction. It’s edited by the brilliant Chuckie Patel and Glyn Morgan. My chapter looks at ‘mash-ups’ of Lovecraftian and Sherlock Holmes fiction. What I’m really interested in is epistemology and ethics. In the original Sherlock Holmes stories, the master detective is a figure of Enlightenment rationalism and guarantees secure knowledge of the world. In these crazy mashups, where the detective faces horrible mythos monsters, certain and secure knowledge is impossible and the great detective is no longer the master of his universe. This shift speaks to current cultural and global concerns where a bit of human humility is terribly overdue.

“The other chapter I have coming out soon is also about the Weird, but this time I’m interested in live-action roleplaying games (LARPs) and their use of props. Again, the discussion gets quite philosophical and touches on some of the same themes of human insignificance, questioning a human-centred approach to understanding, and arguing for the need to cultivate reverence for other-than-human beings and objects. This chapter will be in a philosophy book called Diseases of the Head, edited by an American scholar, Matt Rosen.”

You’ve also been recently published in an RPG book. Can you tell us more about this, and could you give some more examples of contemporary games which link to alternative fiction?

Mothers Love“This is a non-academic publication, though it absolutely overlaps with my interest in the Weird and Game Studies. The book is called Mother’s Love and it contains my first official RPG (roleplaying game) scenario! I wrote the scenario with Jonathan Buckley for a game system called Cthulhu Hack, which is the invention of a Manchester-based game designer. The system is a lot of fun and allows you to design really simple table-top roleplaying games without a lot of faff or complicated rules. Our investigation is called ‘Deep Roots’ and takes place in 1950s Canada. It’s a creepy story about missing children, a dilapidated orphanage and a terrifying trek through the back-woods of Ontario. Jon and I have written a lot of RPG scenarios before, but these have existed only as one-off LARP games. It’s really nice to have something like this published in print!

“I absolutely love the crossover between the Weird and analogue games, a subsection of gaming culture that has really exploded in the past ten years. You can dabble in fairly simple card games like Lovecraft Letter or delve into something a bit more time-consuming like the fiendish Mansions of Madness.”

Your journal article ‘A tale of two women: the female grotesque in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, Feminist Media Studies (2019)’ was recently published. Why did you choose to focus on this show in particular and why is the study of the female grotesque in popular culture so important do you think?

“This is another interest of mine: gothic and feminism. There’s an ongoing and some-might-say insoluble tension that the popular TV show Penny Dreadful really encapsulates: does the gothic help advance feminist ideas or does it contribute to objectification and misogyny? The article examines the gothic representation of two female characters in the series, both marked as ‘female grotesque’, and thinks about the intersection of race, class and gender. Ultimately, I’m quite sceptical about the radical feminist potential of this kind of postfeminist gothic media.”

‘Witches, ‘bitches’ or feminist trailblazers? The Witch in Folk Horror Cinema, Revenant Issue 4 (2019)’ is another recent article. Why is the status of witches in folk horror cinema so debatable, and how has that debate shifted over time?

“So, this is actually a related piece of research to what we were talking about before. As feminist ideals gain traction, they meet resistance in the form of representational systems that continue to be mired in misogyny. Nowhere is this more clear than in the deeply ambiguous figure of the witch, a peripheral but nonetheless constant figure in horror film over the past century. For me, folk horror, which is a subgenre that highlights the political tensions of horror in really interesting ways, is absolutely central to these debates. In the cult films of the 60s and 70s (like Blood on Satan’s Claw [1971] and The Wicker Man [1973]) the witch is both a signifier of the dissolute degeneracy of the counterculture and a potential feminist icon. This kind of ambiguity is central to the current folk horror revival, and I take a critical look at the 2016 movie, The VVitch (dir. Robert Eggers), to explore a debate that shows no sign of going anywhere.”

Are there any upcoming events you are part of and how can people find out more about your research?

“I’m showcasing some of my academic research on Weird and LARP at a Manchester Game Studies Network event on May 15th, called Games and Philosophy. It’s free and open to the public. I’m going to be workshopping the potential of play to disrupt our common-sense perceptions of the world. You can find details here.

“And because we’ve not talked at all about my main research on children’s gothic, I feel like I should also advertise a session I’m running very soon on children’s literature for RAH! and the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies. The session is tailored to teachers and librarians, but anyone can come along. We’re going to be tackling the issue of decolonising children’s literature and I’m going to be championing the Gothic as one mode that really challenges dominant histories and stereotypes. You can find more about the research here, and tickets [free] are available through Eventbrite.

“In the longer term, I’m putting together a few events for the 2019 Gothic Manchester Festival. These include a Gothic Young Adult creative workshop with the wonderful writers Catherine Johnson and Chris Priestley as well as a zombie-inspired science activity where kids can learn about contagion and infection. Some of my students, Charlotte Gislam and Jon Garrad, are also putting together a ‘gothic games jam’ that lets participants get involved in designing their own gothic games. Watch this space!”

You can also find out more about Chloé and her work, on her website.

By Emily Oldfield




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