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Scandalous Genres and Monstrous Race(s): Black Writing, the Gothic, and the Question of Whiteness

Thursday Lecture Series, Supernatural

dateMarch 8, 2018 timeThursday, 12:15pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Arden Hegele
  • Audience open exclusively to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests
  • All others interested in attending, please email SOF/Heyman at [email protected].
B&W photo of ghostly looking woman in white dress in darkness

By now critics have clearly recognized the ways in which foundational Gothic texts such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula¸ and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter among numerous others are rife with discourses and debates on racial otherness. Critical studies such as H.L. Malchow’s Gothic Images of Race in the Nineteenth Century and Teresa Goddu’s Gothic America have done much to explore the appearance and conjunction of racial otherness and monstrosity in British and American Gothic Literature.

However, as Toni Morrison explains in her seminal collection of essays Playing in the Dark, the appearance of such monstrous racial others in literary texts is rarely about the actuality of the racial minority but rather about white anxiety and self-construction. This talk will specifically examine how Black Gothic writers have understood and critiqued Gothic theorizations of race as participant in larger mephistophelian discourses which produce an uncanny whiteness. Black Gothic writers such as Richard Wright, Edgar Mittelholzer, and Helen Oyeyemi clarify how traditional Gothic tropings of race extend beyond the literary text to very real socio-political discourses with very significant consequences. Further, these writers suggest how such grotesque productions are not only in the service of whiteness but, more importantly, in the service of the production of nation and citizenship.