In a 1961 interview with the journalist Studs Terkel, James Baldwin offered a riveting assessment of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues.” “It’s a fantastic kind of understatement,” Baldwin tells Terkel. “It’s the way I want to write.” Baldwin hears something in Bessie, a sonic and discursive quality he aspires to and identifies as “fantastic.” This essay considers the speculative undertones of Bessie’s blues and Baldwin’s literary realism. I argue that Bessie’s doubled vocalization in “Backwater Blues” lyrically declares her immobility and circumscription, while tonally staging freedom and boundlessness. Baldwin is drawn to this dual orientation and enunciation, a vocalization that in its iteration of the real transcends the social, spatial, and imaginative limitations of that order. If we read “Sonny’s Blues” the way Baldwin hears Bessie, as a fantastic kind of understatement, we discern subtle sonic and spatial iterations of the irreal. Attending to microtonal sounds in “Sonny’s Blues”—screams, whistling, jukeboxes—I show that the speculative emerges in Baldwin’s story when the sonic overrides the racialized inscription of space.
This essay examines the influence of Sir Walter Scott‘s historical romances on the artists of the Hudson River School of American landscape painting. Scotts writings inspired paintings of medieval castles, fictional and actual, as well as scenery related to Scott‘s life and literary works. Many American artists visited these sites first-hand and painted or sketched them, providing a visual record of the tourist experience of Great Britain.That so many American artists engaged in painting castles suggests the paradoxical nature of American culture in the nineteenth century, when commentators clamored for a uniquely American culture, even while American authors and artists copied or borrowed from European culture. Castles function as perhaps the ultimate European signifier in otherwise generalized landscapes. This essay argues that those American artists who included castles in the landscape gave American culture a modicum of legitimacy in an era of rising American nationalism.
This paper examines Gothic traditions across the survival horror videogame series Silent Hill. Considering Gothic dimensions of the videogame medium, then Gothic themes in survival horror videogames, the paper proceeds to explore Silent Hills narrative aesthetics and gameplay in relation to the Gothic. Considerations include: the intrusion of sinister alternative worlds, fragmented narrative forms, a sense of the past impinging upon the present, and the psychoanalytic dimensions of the series. Throughout this paper attention will be paid to ways in which Gothic themes resonate with or are transformed according to the dictates of the videogame medium.
Through the prisms of psychoanalysis and narrative theory the article addresses the concepts of temporality and transgenerational phantom in Elizabeth Gaskells Gothic piece ‘The Poor Clare’ (1856). Gaskells text, which revolves around an ancestral curse, is but a loose repetitious narrative characterized by the circularity of its structure and tone – its end casting one back into its middle – with its narrator narrating the past locked into the present, which is completely determined by the future, by the curse to be fulfilled. Narration becomes unsettling and obsessional, revealing the texts shared phantoms/foreign bodies as these implicate the characters and the narrating persona in a complex web of unconscious identifications and psychic splits, eventually coming to congeal around the biblical prophecy: ‘the sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children’. In being reiterated throughout, the cryptic and (encrypted) words reaffirm both the efficacy of the curse –which always already doubles back on the one that has hurled it – and the texts playing out of desire and trauma, thus rendering the celebrated subject of the Enlightment both an ailing subject and an alien to itself.