In Haunt

By Rebecca Wynne-Walsh

The 2019 iteration of the Gothic Manchester Festival’s academic conference was entitled ‘Gothic Times’, in reference to author Angela Carter and her now famous 1974 assertion that “we live in Gothic times”. This was also the theme of the wider Festival it was part of, spanning a whole month for 2019, and organised by the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies. The daylong 'Gothic Times' conference - taking place on Saturday 26 October at Manchester Metropolitan University, organised by Dr Linnie Blake - hinged on this statement exploring the relevance and the applicability of the Gothic to the times we live in today.

Gothic Manchester

 Though the description of the conference highlights the trying political epoch we live in, with Trump in the White House and Brexit looming on the European horizon, the talks themselves were as wide-ranging as they were fascinating, with each presenter offering a new approach to the place of the Gothic in our contemporary personal, social, cultural and political landscapes. Indeed, one of this conference’s greatest strengths mirrors that of the most of exciting Gothic studies in publication, the decidedly transnational and interdisciplinary nature of the content at hand as well as those presenting. Those presenting, as well as attendees, travelled from a range of locations, to be part of this unique event.

The day began appropriately with discussions of Gothic literature as Bill Hughes discussed the Holly Black dystopian vampire novel The Coldest Girl in Coldtown in a presentation that encompassed hybrid genres, changes in YA fiction and the ever-developing figure of the vampire in contemporary Gothic fiction in an era that glamorises transgression and commodifies sex, death and even the human subject itself.

Bill Hughes

Vampires were returned to later in the afternoon as the ubiquitous poster-figure of the Gothic was explored in relation to social class and national identity, or lack thereof, in the What We Do in the Shadows television series in a paper presented by Ceri Higgins.

Other talks strayed from this more perhaps “traditional arena” of Gothic studies as James McCrea, a PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University, delved into the fascinating realm of skeletal semiotics, detailing the divergent manners in which the symbol of the skull or the skeleton has been historically employed by right and left wing political groups. McCrea discussed the prominence of Totenkopf skull imagery in the far-right from the days of Prussian nationalism up to white-supremacist movements in the twenty-first century.

Gothic Times

Bruno Curko then discussed the folkloric legacy and national identity politics apparent in the Gothicised zoological imagery in the music of Portuguese metal-band Moonspell, referencing everything from predatory wolves to satanic goats. As ever with conferences such as these, it is often the topics an attendee may know the least about that may well prove to be the most engaging and enlightening of the day.

Other highlights included a sociological survey investigation into contemporary LGBTQI/LGBTQ+ identification and representation in global gothic cinema presented by Heather O. Petrocelli, as well as Jennifer Richards' critical overview of American fashion designer Rick Owens, the “Dark Lord” of fashion and his latest collection Babel as a Gothic statement of the socio-political turmoil that characterises Trump’s America.

Representatives from the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, RAH! - Research in Arts in Humanities at Manchester Met and Haunt Manchester were on-hand for the day offering information on the talks as well as a selection of complimentary goodies from tote bags to chocolates to suitably spooky notepads. The latter featured cover artwork from Jessye Persse one of the many artists associated with the festival - with Michelle Shore and Jane Samuels present during the day.

Gothic Times

A number of artists, authors and academic publishers displayed their wares to eager customers during the conference and few attendees left without a book or original print in hand - thus continuing the supportive community spirit witnessed the weekend before at the Haunt Networking event and fair at The Peer Hat (also part of the Gothic Manchester Festival 2019).

A selection of drinks and chatter brought the day to a close in a social reception which served to dispel any fears of the dreaded notion of “networking” at academic conferences. Despite the dark and melancholic subject matter of most Gothic studies, most Gothicists remain altogether warm and welcoming. The overarching theme of the occassion was easily the abundant admiration and support within the Gothic academic cohort.

Gothic Times

In conclusion, while we do indeed appear to be living in “Gothic times”, for those Goths amongst, within and/or haunting all of us, these are also exciting times. If anything is to be taken from this conference it is that during a tumultuous and ever-challenging political era, some of the most creatively and intellectually engaging work in Gothic Studies is currently underway. The day, as with the festival as a whole, ended on a high note suggesting that we stand merely at the tip of the Gothic iceberg with many more studies to continue the expansion of this terrifically terrifying academic canon.

Find out more about the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies online.

Photography

With thanks to Alannis Barnes and Elaina Daley

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