Last week, I was lucky enough to attend and present at the second biennial conference of the Gothic Association of New Zealand and Australia, themed 'Gothic Spaces: Boundaries, Mergence, Liminalities', held from 21st-22nd of January at the Novotel Darling Harbour, Sydney.
GANZA President Dr Lorna Piatti-Farnell opened the conference by posing an intriguing question: "Where is the Gothic hiding?" Over the next two days, a huge variety of wonderful papers were presented that each mounted their own unique scholarly expeditions to seek out the shadows in which the Gothic could be found lurking... But it turns out the Gothic is everywhere! It's on your TV and your movie screens. It's sitting on your bookshelf and hanging in your closet. It's in the walls of your house and the dark recesses of your mind, and, of course, it's the monster under your bed. This is exactly what a GANZA conference is all about; a bunch of researchers from different fields and at varying stages of their careers coming together to share their genuine love for all things spooky.
Following the opening address, Professor John Stephens from Macquarie University delivered the first plenary session of the conference. Professor Stephens presented a fascinating paper on the concept of cognitive mapping in the gothic topographies of children's literature and film, particularly in the iconic works of Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton. Day two also brought us another excellent plenary session, this time by Professor Paul Giles from the University of Sydney, who spoke on the idea of temporal prolepsis in various forms of Antipodean Gothic art and literature.
There were so many fascinating papers scheduled on both days it was certainly a challenge to choose which parallel sessions to attend, with many engaging in some sneaky panel-hopping to try to get a glimpse of all the researchers in action. Dr Lorna Piatti-Farnell delivered one of my personal favourites, a wonderfully animated paper drawn from her chapter in The Gothic and the Everyday: Living Gothic, which she edited in conjunction with Dr Maria Beville, on the spectral faces of Hallowe'en pumpkins. She made us all reconsider the humble ''jack-o-lantern'' and its peculiar origins in (terrifying) carved turnips. I can honestly say I will never look at a turnip in quite the same way again.
Now to digress from all the academic talk, I just have to mention the fabulous food the Association provided for us throughout the conference. Endless lunch buffets, delicious sweet treats, and a steady stream of hot coffee ensured our brains stayed switched on for every panel. The conference dinner at Adria Restaurant in Darling Harbour was a great way to end the first day with even more food and a few drinks (we were all very well behaved). Once the conference was brought to an official close, it was off to Sydney's oldest pub, the Hero of Waterloo, for one more night of Gothic themed frivolity with our newfound friends. The Association put on a hilarious Gothic pub quiz that ended with a tour of the pub's reportedly haunted cellars. Unfortunately there were no ghost sightings, but not for lack of trying because I'm fairly sure I heard a few muttered incantations from the crowd... Take a bunch of Gothic scholars to a haunted cellar in the dead of night after a few drinks and what else do you expect to happen!
On behalf of all the delegates, I would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the conference's tireless organisers, our gratitude to the Association's fearless leader Lorna who made each of us feel so welcome, and to everyone near and far who attended and made it such an inspiring and memorable experience. I hope I speak for many of my fellow attendees when I say I can't wait to do it all over again in Wellington, in 2017!
Last week saw the first Gothic stream at the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand (PopCAANZ) annual conference and what a beginning it was! It was also my first PopCAANZ and, as an aside, please permit me to say that it was such good fun! It's also a really supportive environment to present in and I only heard constructive comments and interesting questions during panels.
So there were a mammoth four Gothic panels and our fabulous GANZA President and PopCAANZ area chair, Dr. Lorna Piatti-Farnell, kicked us off with a riotous welcome and a great paper entitled Uncanny looks and monstrous narratives: Approaching the vampire genre in contemporary popular literature. Here we got a bit of a preview of Lorna's forthcoming book (The Vampire in Contemporary Popular Literature – coming out in October, watch this space!) and were introduced to some of the tropes used in the contemporary literary vampire story – hunks, heroes and the rotting, stinking undead were presented to us. Despite these variations, when it comes to intimacy, the literary vampire was shown to be strictly heteronormative.
Next up, Michael Sean Bolton, who gave a paper on Blade Runner entitled Deckard is a replicant: The shift to posthumanity in the Director's Cut of 'Blade Runner'. Sean gave us a detailed and thoughtful reading of the Director's Cut and the status of Deckard as a replicant – a posthuman. This was contrasted nicely with the original 'voice over version'...though I must admit I am still not sure if Deckard is or is not a replicant. If only I could see what Deckard has seen with my eyes...
Our second panel had two papers about the Twilight saga. Samuel Finnegan's All you have to do is turn your back on nature: valorising posthuman desire in Stephanie Meyer's 'Twilight' saga was first up, and Samuel offered a fascinating reading of Bella as posthuman feminist and presented the Twilight saga as a tale of becoming, finding strength and the power of femininity. It made this Buffy purist think again about dismissing Twilight...almost. Next came Naomi von Senf who managed to squeeze in over 200 years of Vampiric history into her paper, entitled The North and South divide in contemporary American vampire fiction. Naomi offered us a comparison of Bella in the Twilight saga and Sookie Stackhouse in the Southern Vampire Mysteries and its TV adaptation, True Blood. Last but by no means least in the second Gothic panel was Elizabeth Kinder who talked about her current PhD thesis and gave a paper on Harry Potter and the specular self. The paper offered a fascinating reading of the 'horcrux' in the Harry Potter series and of the moral implications resulting from such a copy of self.
The third panel started with your faithful secretary...me. And so I talked about In/between places: Connection and isolation in 'The Bridge'. The Bridge is a Swedish/Danish TV series that fits into the Nordic noir genre. I compared Nordic noir to its cousin film noir and also gave a reading of literal and allegorical bridges that are deployed in the series. Next came two very well researched literary papers. Anita Harris Satkunananthan's Thresholds and transgressions in Helen Oyeyemi's 'The Opposite House' and 'White is for Witching'. Here, we were expertly shown how Oyeyemi blends the gothic with the folk tales of Nigeria and the resulting spooky narrative that underpins her work. The final panellist was Ashleigh Pyke who spoke on The popular press and its impact on the production of popular gothic fiction. Ashleigh had done a fascinating study of 18th Century gothic writers and their connections to one another and showed us how the solitary gothic writer was actually very well networked!
Our fourth and final Gothic panel closed the conference with the style that we Gothic-types are accustomed to and we saw Sarah Baker present on Action heroes and gothic sensibilities: an examination of the feminine in Aliens and Prometheus. This paper talked about the dying of the feminist light in the Alien saga with the death of Ripley and the rise of Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus. Gone are androgyny, genuine power and surrogacy; in are femininity, powerlessness and infertility. And also gone is Sarah's hope for a new teaching tool. Our final paper saw Janeen Merani McNamara present on Game of Thrones: Transcending the wall. Janeen likened Jon Snow to a Byronic hero and also talked us through some of the gothic imagery, the grotesque and the sublime, that permeates the show.
So a glorious gothic time was had by all. Huge thanks again to Lorna who brought us all together and tirelessly chaired all four gothic panels. Let's make the gothic stream at PopCAANZ in Hobart 2014 even bigger and brighter and gear up for GANZA Sydney 2015!
It’s been a week since the first GANZA conference in Auckland and I’m still reeling with ideas and booklists, not to mention Gothic food recipes! The conference got the research of the Gothic Association of New Zealand and Australia off to a great start with a fantastic selection of presentations that looked at where the Gothic is headed these days in relation to contemporary global culture and also in the regional context of Australasia.
Ken Gelder’s lecture ‘Endangered species in some Asia-Pacific rim vampire films’ was one of the main highlights of the two days of talks, considering the transcultural modulation of the vampire in the context of contemporary economic and ecological concerns. Reading films including Thirst, Daybreakers and Perfect Creature, Ken offered insights on the derivative and repetitive nature of the vampire as a definitively modern creature, perfectly suited to critiques of consumer capitalism. Of the panels that followed on the first day ‘Gothic Food’ emerged as one of the most memorable experiences of the conference, with talks from Donna Lee Brien on funeral feasts and Carmel Cedro on Gothic cakes. Toni Risson also had everyone in good form with her samplings of, not ‘candygothic’, but Gothic candy. The audience had the chance to taste aniseed jellybeans and black sherbert, washed down with a pallet cleanser of tongue curdling sweet n’sour spray (Yum!)
The second day for me reached a highpoint with a panel that I chaired on ‘Perception, Paranoia, and the Postmodern’. Dennis Yeo gave a fascinating presentation on David Fincher’s Se7en and Fight Club, which started interesting conversations on the postmodern Gothic and the popularity of Gothic film at the recent fin de siècle. In this panel, Ashleigh Prosser also picked up postmodern themes and anxieties in relation to Peter Ackroyd’s representation of the Gothic nature of London. Discussing the city’s spectral consciousness and its visceral body, and the importance of the concept of the ‘spirit’ of place, Ashleigh inspired questions on the ghostly nature of the city’s history and historiography.
Aside from excellent presentations and stimulating discussions, the conference food and entertainment was of a high standard. The Stamford Plaza kept us well fed on all kinds of ‘Gothic goodies’ and on the second day delegates were treated to a teppanyaki lunch at restaurant Kabuki. While the hotel does deserve some credit for this, really, the food and hosting was a testament to the conference organiser’s background, not just in the Gothic, but also in food culture. Lorna was an amazing host for the entire conference. She welcomed everybody with such warmth and energy and set a comfortable and engaging atmosphere from the beginning. Throughout, she ensured that we all had ample time for discussion and networking and even after the conference ended, she followed up with a celebration of what was a great event down at the waterfront in Auckland, where the cocktails flowed, and the fun continued.
Thanks Lorna for all your hard work in making this a great conference! And thanks to the conference delegates too. I’ll look forward to seeing you soon at another Gothic event, if not – surely – at the next GANZA conference in Australia.
The annual PopCAANZ Conference in Melbourne was definitely one of June’s highlights. It was hosted at the spectacular Langham Hotel and, as always, it did not disappoint. The quality of the papers was exceptional and the atmosphere so friendly, that creative/critical juices could only flow.
But something was a little bit different about the conference this year…it had a distinct Gothic flair. Vampires, ghouls, werewolves and other spooky creatures were everywhere, claiming their rightful spot in popular culture scholarship. An extraordinary trip to the Victoria State Library ‒ to see the original death mask of infamous outlaw Ned Kelly ‒ cemented all out Gothic thoughts together. The support for GANZA was wide-spread and a lot of the delegates were very keen to be involved with our Association. Indeed, the Gothic influence was so strong , PopCAANZ President Vicki Karaminas announced that the Pop Culture Association will now have its own ‘Gothic Area’, dedicated to research and academic exchanges in our most beloved field. The chair for this area ‒in charge of circulating news, CFP and maintaining links with Gothic Associations around the world…especially a certain one! ‒ is yours truly, who is very excited about the whole thing. So watch this space and don’t forget the annual PopCAANZ conference to be held in Brisbane in 2013…look for us in the Gothic crypt!
When Gothic researchers get together for an event, you can be sure of a few things: great talks, friendly atmosphere, and enticing scholarship. The Studies in Gothic Fiction Conference delivered just that. San Diego proved a beautiful and exciting backdrop for the conference, as did the actual venue, the DoubleTree Hotel. The conference programme promised a thrilling collection of papers and a chance to discuss all things Gothic, and in that it certainly didn’t disappoint.
The conference was opened by a keynote address by Dr Katherine D. Harris (San Jose State University), who gave a talk on British Literary Annuals. The presentation was interesting and touched on several elements of Gothic scholarship within the digital humanities which I’m sure a lot of us were completely unaware of, but which totally captivated the audience’s attention. The keynote address definitely set the tone for the whole event, opening the way to the panels in the spirit of constructive discussion.
One of the best things about the conference was its eclectic mixture of participants, from research students and Gothic enthusiasts, to tenured professors and published authors. The mix proved incredibly productive in that it generated lots of dynamic conversations, bringing together a number of perspectives. The papers presented also mirrored the mixture of interests among the participants; the research varied from a focus on mid-Eighteenth century literature– with The Monk as a recurring presence – to work on contemporary horror cinema and Gothic art festivals. Vampires also made a few appearances here and there, which definitely made some of us very happy.
The conference was organised by Dr Colin Marlaire and Dr Franz Potter at National University (San Diego), to whom we all owe our gratitude for putting together such a successful event. It was a great advert for the way in which Gothic scholarship in the US is developing and moving forward. There was a suggestion to make the Studies in Gothic Fiction conference a biennial event, which was met with extreme approval and support by all the participants. There was also a final promise for a vampire-themed conference to be held in Lafayette, Louisiana, courtesy of Dr Potter. We can all only hope that comes true.