Wednesday, 03 July 2013 21:09

Gothic love-in at PopCAANZ, Sofitel Brisbane, 24th – 26th June 2013

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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!

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