2nd Global Conference
The Darkness at the Edges:
Dystopia, Global Horror, Monsters, Fairy Tales & Lovecraft
Saturday 18th March 2023 – Sunday 19th March 2023
Prague, Czech Republic
Key Words & Abstracts
Monstrous Assemblages: Diverging Embodiments of Resistance and Power
Carlos Mario Mejía Suárez and Adriana Gordillo
Gustavus Adolphus College and Minnesota State University, Mankato, USA
In this panel, we propose to approach stories and imagery that put sympathetic and frightening scenarios that intensify fear, disgust, and shock via our creative writing. The stories and visual work in this panel, and in the proposed additional artistic activities, are moved by the contradictory elements that relate to horror and systems of control. We explore how the more we fix our eye on such systems of control, the more we start to find them as a horrific, menacing, and as an unavoidable presence that appears to be the manifestation of the disjunctions prompted by those systems.
Monsters are common tropes in horror stories. As monsters’ etymology indicates, they warn us, but they also “display”, becoming a sign of exhibition. So, what if the act of warning and showing becomes monstrous in itself? What if the exploration of dark emotions and graphic depictions of violence turn out to be part of our normalized social structures?
In this panel we will share our own short stories and works of visual art that elaborate on the clash of perspectives that is entailed in considering the position of the monstrous face to face with the systems that point their finger at them to name as that which should be feared, controlled, and even devoured for being “less than human”. As Mabel Moraña has explored in The Monster as War Machine, this figure is “an assemblage that threatens, as a war machine, the grinds of power, the monster symbolizes the heroic resistance of the Slave and the sinister abuses of the Master. Hence, it is necessary to contextualize even the universality that monsters evoke in each of their appearances and with each of their attributes” (our translation).
In our panel, we will explore precisely those connexions between monstrous figures, horrific scenarios, and the contexts in which they can either embody resistance to power or execute it with perverse intensity. These short stories link processes of symbolization to specific embodiments, that is, rather than attempting to turn resistance and abuse into abstract notions, we will anchor these ideas in the specificity of bodies that challenge controlled definitions of what can be considered as human, and therefore what can instead be violently eliminated or appropriated.
“1482” – Carlos Mario Mejía Suárez
Key Words: Faustian myth, monster, black magic, short story, Colombian literature, heresy, religious persecution, stigmatization, demonization
“1482” tells two stories that don’t seem to be connected by anything other than the fact that their protagonists have similar names. On one hand, the narration follows the story of fifteenth century scholar Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa; particularly, the focus is on the day he receives a letter from his mentor, Johannes Tritthemius. The mentor warns his disciple of the risks he runs if his work De Oculta Philosophia. Fear and prosecution spreads all over the land and he runs the risk of continuing to be marked as a danger, as someone akin to a charlatan who travels from town to town posing as a necromancer: Johannes Faust. On the other hand, the story follows a short woman in a small town in the Santander province of Colombia. She is abandoned by her family when she’s born due to her short proportions, which are viewed by them (and the rest of the small town) as a demonic sign. She’s given to home for orphans and the elderly, which is run by nuns. The woman develops her own strategies to use black magic and prayers to counter the oppression she’s subjected to. Both Agripa and Agripina appear to be monstrous figures who are inhabited by a tender sense of humanity that learns to appreciate the little things that for others appear to be demonic temptations or mere tricks of the devil. He finds this tenderness in his love for animals, and she in a boy she babysits and takes to collect mangoes.
“Indigestion” – Adriana Gordillo
Key Words: Horror, gore, gender violence, feminism, toxic masculinity, oppression, impunity, injustice
“Indigestion” tells the story of a man who ate women using an ice cream scoop and how women reacted to such violence. This is a short story plagued with irony, with funny yet gore moments that shows how cultures naturalize violence against women and how this violence can easily be propagated by women themselves. “Indigestion” also presents a playful yet disgusting discussion of “machismo” and the institutions that reproduce gender violence. It is, in sum, a reflection on the intangible, intertwining of ideas that support and perpetuate toxic masculinity at home, at work, and at every corner of society. In this story, I wanted to make this violence visible in a visceral and brutal way. I wanted to expose this violence for what it is, while setting it in a cultural network that normalizes such violence and rarely questions the aggressions that reproduce it. I wanted to express the pain and the violence that women suffer, while also perpetuating—sometimes unknowingly—the same structures that oppress us. This short story is based on reality and part of the horror of it is that the perpetrator is still living a happy life, like a twisted and horrific fairy tale.
‘From Post-Truth to No Truth: Don’t Look Up and the Perverse Pleasures of Dystopian Apocalyptic Satire’
University of Cyprus, Greece
In this paper, I explore the affective impact of the generic permutations of Netflix hit, Don’t Look Up (2021), and interrogate the potential of Dystopian satire to redress the ‘fallen’ status of truth (in its scientific expression) and truth-telling (parrhesia). I will briefly trace the history of satire as a philosophical genre and consider the rhetorical devices which powered its devastating efficacy in obliterating the adversarius. As a literary-philosophical genre its importance resurges during the eighteenth century, with notable works by Swift and Voltaire, both of which build on the popular narrative genre of travel writing. Dystopian narratives, already steadily gaining popularity since the second half of the 20th century, acquired a new appeal as most relatable to the contemporary reality of millions suffering during the covid-19 pandemic, for whom apocalyptic futures suddenly lost their purely speculative dimension. Films and series are the narratives that wield the greatest influence since Netflix is accessible on every device at any time and place. Taking advantage of the expanded reach of the media platform, dystopian satire can now be said to have maximized its potential in an oxymoronic affective manner. The question is whether satire of our addiction to speculative apocalyptic narrative can break through the pleasure of consumption to make the viewer face extremely uncomfortable, urgent truths, starting with our relation to truth.
Cinema as an Instrument of Knowledge in Architecture
Inês Laborinho dos Santos Alves
Faculty of Architecture, University of Lisbon, Portugal
Cinema, Dystopia, Atmospheres, Emotions, Traditional Architecture, Modern Architecture
This paper addresses the relationship between Cinema and Architecture, and the lessons that architects can learn from films regarding the construction and interpretation of architectural atmospheres.
The paper is based on the study carried out in the Master’s thesis at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Lisbon, entitled: “Cinema as an Instrument of Knowledge of Architecture. Considerations on the architectural features present in the scenarios of dystopian films”, where it is intended to verify whether or not there is a common conscience on the part of Man with relation to the architectural spaces that are more welcoming to him versus those that are more adverse to him.
The method consists in the analysis of a set of dystopian films, where it was analysed which architectural traits the filmmakers look for when to frame oppressive/adverse moments versus welcoming and more human moments.
The study concluded that there is a significant tendency among filmmakers to look for traces of Modern Architecture to frame negative events, and traces of Traditional Architecture to frame positive events to Man.
This significant trend among filmmakers demonstrates that there is a common awareness on the part of man with relation to the architectural spaces that are more welcoming to him versus those that are more adverse to him.
In other words, if there is such a strong tendency in the atmospheres of dystopian films to use traces of modern architecture for adverse scenarios/moments, it is because in our daily lives we recognize that modern architecture generates spaces that oppress us and alienate us from our being, while traditional architecture offers welcoming spaces, where we can express ourselves freely and where we feel good.
In this analysis of dystopian films, it is clear how man lives certain atmospheres and how different spaces generate different experiences. Cinema is thus considered a valuable instrument for the knowledge of architecture.
Death Worlds: From the Gothic to the Dystopic in Indigenous Fictions
University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Indigenous Studies, Dystopic Fiction, Settler-Colonial studies
In the novel, Moon Over the Crusted Snow, the character Aileen states, “there is no word like [apocalypse] in Ojibwe” (148). In this novel, Anishinaabe writer Waubgeshig Rice demands we re-evaluate our preconceptions of dystopic fiction. Alicia Elliott (Tuscarora) likewise considers how “many non-Indigenous horror writers depict situations that Indigenous people have already weathered” (para. 5). Indeed, Indigenous apocalyptic fictions do not only reflect on terrifying futures. Instead, many works also draw our attention to existing structural imbalances and alternative worlds. David M. Higgins acknowledges that there is a legacy of using science fiction to help people to deal with colonial traumas, however, this does not explain why, in the last twenty years, there has been a proliferation of dystopic fictions by Indigenous writers. Writers who have, in turn, adopted and reshaped this genre.
I take a cross-disciplinary look at short films including Jeff Barnaby’s (Mi’kmaq) File Under Miscellaneous (2010) and Danis Goulet’s (Danis Goulet’s) Wakening (2013). I will also touch upon Cherie Dimaline’s (Métis) The Marrow Thieves (2017), Louise Erdrich’s (Anishinaabe) Future Home of the Living God (2017) and Waubgeshig Rice’s Moon of the Crusted Snow (2018). I argue that these writers use dystopic narratives to respond to a history of residential schooling in the US and Canada and to explore the repercussions of these policies in the present. The unique conditions created within dystopic fiction, I contend, shed light on existent necropolitical orders—those orders which Achille Membe believes “determine who is disposable and who is not” effectively creating “death-worlds” for certain populations (80-92).
I will show how my chosen works use the dystopia to respond to “real events and encourage accountability” (Dillon, 223). And, at the same time, how the turn from Gothic—a genre whose foremost concern is for the past and charting how this resurfaces to mar the present— to dystopic science fiction, evidences anxieties about the future and the need to respond to institutional inequalities in the present.
Non-humans and the Dystopic Imagination
School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Dystopia, Animals, Non-human, India, Environment, Pollution, Cities, Film, Postcolonial
How does the animal-other figure in dystopic literature, film and art? What can a dystopia imagined with a focus on non-human lives, in turn tell us about a dystopia of humanity? In the fictional city of Khaufpur in Indra Sinha’a dystopic novel Animal’s People (2007), the human protagonist has been rendered into an animal in the aftermath of the lethal gas leak at the “kampani/company” (a thinly veiled reference to the real-life Union Carbide Company that was the site of this environmental disaster). In Philip K Dick’s dystopic science fiction, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), animals are rare or extinct and almost entirely replaced by technological simulations. My presentation looks at an altogether different rendering of dystopia that falls neither under the ambit of sci-fi nor allegory and is focused on the real and entangled life worlds of humans and non-humans in the postcolonial capital city of Delhi. Shaunak Sen’s Sundance and Cannes Award Winner (Best Documentary, 2022) All that Breathes is a “dystopian picture post-card of Delhi” as the director aptly describes the worlds of the film’s urban detritus populated by strays, worms, rodents, and other creaturely life. Sen narrates a tale of three brothers who earn their livelihoods rescuing and tending to injured black kites that typically scavenge mountains of waste piles and corpses rotting in the polluted city. However, even as they ensure the survival of the dwindling species of black kites, their own existence is made precarious by new dystopic citizenship policies introduced by an anti-minoritarian, right-wing government. My paper explores the dystopic dimensions of everyday animal-human entanglements in the feral cities of the postcolonial world through a case study of the film.
When Monsters Migrate: Fairy Tale Motives in German Post-war Literature
Associate Professor of German, University of New Mexico, USA
At the core of the classic fairy tale is a journey – a journey from what is to what could or should be. Driven by the belief and the hope for a better world, abandoned children traverse forests populated by evil figures. Only after having conquered this evil, can they be released into their own power. This choreography, identified by Propp as that of interdiction, task assignment, encounter with a villain, test, and miraculous ending, continues to live on in contemporary literature, albeit as an increasingly deconstructed subtext to a history marked by trauma in a post-Shoa age. I propose to examine how this morphology is used in literary fictions of memory by Gisela Elsner (Air Raid Siren, 1989) and Rachel Seiffert (“Lore”, 2001, adapted for the big screen in 2012) that reckon with the legacy of National Socialism from the perspective of German children facing a reality populated by monsters who are now endowed with the authority of collectively sanctioned untruth.
Elsner’s novel, Seiffert’s story, as well Shortland’s feature film rely on the focalization of child protagonists, who traverse distorted landscapes of monstruous lies, propagated and normalized by the adults. While Elsner’s text evokes “The Story of the Youth who went Forth to Learn What Fear was”, Seiffert uses the motif of “Hänsel and Gretel” to represent the uncertainties of May of 1945. Elsner deploys sardonically distorted children who lack human empathy and murder a neighbourhood boy designated to be the Jewish other. Seiffert presents a young girl raised by high-ranking Nazis, who has struggles to come to terms with collectively sanctioned mass-murder, a truth carefully kept from her. In both cases, a central core of the fairy tale, the crossing of the wood as a place of danger and rescue is rewritten to contest any clear-cut understanding of good and evil. As I will argue, in all cases the imaginary of the victim–perpetrator is replaced by the shifting and fluid contours of the implicated subject, a more nuanced and complex understanding of historical subject positions.
Transformational Aspect of Fairy Tales as Observed in a Book Collection
fairy tale; folklore; literary; oral tradition; storytelling; collecting; book collection; rare books; transformation
What is a fairy tale? Ask ten people and you may get ten different answers. Even the term itself is debated amongst scholars of the genre. The tales often come from folklore, but folk tales are not the same as fairy tales. Certainly, fairy tales don’t all feature fairies; some don’t have magical creatures at all. What many folklorists can agree on is that what most people now largely recognize as fairy tales are those stories that have been written down, removed from the oral storytelling tradition in which they constantly shift in the telling. These are more formally known as literary fairy tales.
This is complicated because even once these stories are written down, they continue to change. Though some may assume that these stories become static once they are no longer being shared orally, that has proven to be false. Take Cinderella: there are thousands of versions of the folktale Cinderella that have been written and shared, with the most famous being those by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. These tales, though both classified as ATU 510A, are different from each other in several ways; despite the differences in how they are told, they are clearly related and inspired by other versions, both oral and written, that have come before. They also clearly have inspired other Cinderella tales that have come after, whether it’s Disney’s Cinderella or Sondheim’s Into the Woods.
I am a rare book collector, and I collect fairy tales. My collection spans centuries and continents. My primary focus is collecting different variations of fairy tales, as well as scholarship on the genre. What my collection illustrates is the transformation of fairy tales even once they have been written down. The art of collecting fairy tales mimics the development of fairy tales themselves; by gathering different versions of these tales, it is possible to recapture the folkloric quality of transformation and cultural reflection in the continued telling and retelling of these stories.
My aim with this presentation would be to bring books from my collection as examples and a foundation with which to explore the different ways we can appreciate these stories as cultural representations, given how they change from teller to teller, time to time, place to place. My collection helps preserve these various retellings so we can trace the development of these stories and gain a further appreciation for and knowledge of the culture, time, and place they come from. My talk would use the books as jumping-off-points to explore the transformational quality of these tales, as well as how they continue to represent our common humanity.
Workshop: Using Public APIs to Analyse Horror Movies Globally
Around the World in 80 Playlists
APIs, data science, horror movies, methodology
There are a wide range of datasets available to researchers today, and it can sometimes be overwhelming — particularly for folks that don’t come from a quantitative background — but a lot of these materials are easier to access than one might think!
Over a 30-minute session, I can walk through how you can use python to access horror movie datasets on Wikidata/Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, Twitter, and The Internet Movie Script Database. This gives access to a wide range of media types — from quantitative information like box office earnings or website visits, to long-form text like reviews and dialogue. This data covers various geographies, including overlooked markets, and it can be collected and visualized for simple analysis.
The workshop doesn’t require any software to be installed on computers nor does it require programming experience in python or any other language. I’ll provide a link to the only site participants will need via the web-based tool Colab. Participants will leave the workshop with a sense of what data is available and how to access it and analyse it for future projects.
This workshop is adapted from a similar workshop given at the 2019 Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria, except tailored to focus on horror films in particular.
Hazelnuts, Crossbows and Lost Slippers: Comparative analysis of the Czechoslovakian and Norwegian adaptation of Three Wishes for Cinderella
Palacky University Olomouc, Czech Republic
fantasy, fairy tale film, iconography, adaptation, Cinderella
Fairy tale film is the dominant form of fantasy found in Czech/Czechoslovakian cinema. Fairy tales have built a decades-long tradition in Czechia, and probably not one has made bigger impact on local culture than Three Wishes for Cinderella (1973, dir. Václav Vorlíček). A co-production of Czechoslovakia and Eastern Germany, it included formal and narrative elements that set it apart from its older counterpart (Cinderella, 1969, dir. Vlasta Janečková) and arguably also other Czechoslovakian fairy tale films, while simultaneously contributing to local fairy tale iconography. Its winter landscape, active heroine and elaborate costume design of Theodor Pištěk continue to be a staple of local Christmas programming and has even gained popularity abroad, as is shown by the recent Norwegian adaptation of the story. Three Wishes for Cinderella (Tre nøtter til Askepott, 2021, dir. Cecilie A. Mosli) is being explicitly labelled a remake of the Czechoslovakian-Eastern German classic, which in itself is a rare occurrence (it is not often a Czech/Czechoslovakian film gets a foreign remake).
In this presentation I want to examine the relationship between these two texts and by extension between the Norwegian Three Wishes for Cinderella and the (at least partially) locally specific Czechoslovakian fairy tale iconography. The presentation consists of a brief overview of the Czechoslovakian fairy tale film and the key elements of its iconography, the analysis of both adaptations of Three Wishes for Cinderella and finally their comparison. The aim of this comparative analysis is to reveal, what primarily informs the Norwegian Three Wishes – whether it is the aim to update an old fairy tale, the localized Czechoslovakian iconography, or the non-iconographic formal and narrative choices made in Vorlíček’s film fifty years ago.
Interrogating Sex and Gender in Welty’s “Fairy Tales.”
Reichman University, Herzilya, Israe
Eudora Welty and fairy tales, transgender images, narrative collages, doubling in fairy tales
Fairy tales have often formed the basis of Eudora Welty stories. She wrote that “Trouble, the backbone of literature, was still to me the original property of the fairy tale…,” which indicates a continuing influence of fairy tales in her literary life (The Eye of the Story 279). Her essay on “Place in Fiction” refers to fairy tales when Welty writes, “of course we shall have some sort of fairy tale with us always – just now it is the historical novel” (The Eye of the Story 117). This paper will focus on how Welty utilizes fairy tale tropes in “Old Mr. Marblehall,” “A Visit of Charity,” “The Key,” and “Why I live at the P.O.” to interrogate the reader’s perception of sex and gender. The talk will be illustrated by a collection of paintings/collages which expand and develop the ideas presented in the lecture.
Three Unnatural Women: A Creative Exploration of the Female Man-Made Monster
Lucy Elizabeth Allan
University of Glasgow, Scotland
Frankenstein, Creative-Nonfiction, Gender, Embodiment, Sexuality, Autonomy
In her celebrated creative essay ‘My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix,’ Susan Stryker introduced the idea of a radical understanding between herself as a transgender woman and the embodied otherness of Frankenstein’s monster. While this essay draws a line of empathy between the lived experience of marginalised womanhood and a male monster, it leaves unexplored the gendered embodiment of female monsters – particularly those artificially created in the same way as the creature in Frankenstein – whose monstrosity and womanhood overlap and intertwine.
In this paper – which will be a creative-nonfiction piece of writing, supported by artworks – I intend to explore female-presented organic artificial beings, and their uniquely gendered embodiment, particularly in the context of sexuality and bodily agency. I will draw parallels between the marginalised female experience and three man-made female monsters; Bella from Poor Things by Alasdair Gray and Xanthippe from The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick, as well as the non-character of the ‘Bride’ in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This piece will examine the extent to which the female creatures’ womanhood is inherent to their monstrosity, and explore the often ambiguous and boundary-testing ways in which their monstrous gender is presented. The piece will consider the bodily autonomy of these creatures, looking at the ‘aborted’ female monster in Frankenstein who is allowed no agency within the text, and expanding outward to assess the bodily agency possessed by the creature-women in Poor Things and The Puttermesser Papers, considering their sexualities and sexual agency, and imagining how these factors compound their monstrosity.
Monstrification: Celebrity Self-Othering as Alternative Narratives of Empowerment
University of Texas at Austin
Monstrification; Monster rhetoric; Celebrity; Glamour; Parody; Star image; Media narrative; Collective mental archive; Lady Gaga; Taylor Swift
Sometimes, a celebrity appropriates monster rhetoric to other herself for political reasons with the intention of changing certain narratives. This study examines how two female celebrities use monstrosity to rhetorically manage their otherness within their media narratives. This study asks how and under what conditions a celebrity self-others using monster rhetoric and aims to determine what additional rhetorics celebrities use to support their monster rhetoric and self-othering narratives.
My research is concerned with understanding the ways a celebrity maintains or regains control of an othering narrative, as well as the rhetorical strategies she uses to legitimize her preferred narrative. I combine theories of monstrosity with the star image, glamour, and parody in order to more clearly delineate the celebrity practice of self-othering using monster rhetoric. I call this phenomenon monstrification. I argue that monstrification works by exposing the conventions, clichés, and structures that power traditional monster rhetorics, and redirects that power toward the rhetor’s alternative narrative of empowered otherness. I use an historical and narrative understanding of monster rhetoric to contextualize how two celebrities, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, opt to depict themselves in two of their music videos. Through rhetorical analysis, I show how they are able to monstrify themselves to create monster rhetoric that builds narratives of empowered otherness.
Based on the analysis of both case studies, I theorize monstrification as a collection of rhetorical strategies for combatting traditional otherness and legitimizing the celebrities’ alternative cultural narratives. This project argues that thinking about monstrification is a useful tool for analysing the ways celebrities choose to other themselves using monster rhetoric. This project suggests additional productive ways of thinking about pop culture narratives as purposeful sites for change.
WORKSHOP: European Enchantment Collective Workshop: Hiding in Animal Skin
Katharine Fry, Elizabeth Dearnley, Georgia Panteli
Central Saint Martins, University of London, UK; University of London, UK; and University of Vienna, Austria
Keywords: skin, possession, moving image, Pinocchio, metamorphosis, Red Riding Hood, werewolves, immersive theatre, Kitsune, full moon
Founded by Drs Fry and Dearnley in 2020, the European Enchantment Collective is a reading group of artist-researchers from comparative literature, folklore, visual art, filmmaking, psychotherapy and dance, living across the UK, France and Austria. We connect fairy tale source texts to their iterations, variations and reworkings across context, time and media. We examine the potential of enchantment and the transformation of misogynist patriarchal structures through feminist and queer readings and retellings.
Our workshop will focus on the skin as a surface of encounter and a site of transformation between the human and animal worlds as we discuss wearing or shedding skins, animal avatars and animalistic impulses, puppets and the uncanny. We begin our session with linked presentations by EEC members introducing their research under the theme ‘Hiding in Animal Skin’. Katharine Fry will discuss her 2017 video work Creepers, which draws on Grimms’ Town Musicians of Bremen, to examine the psychosocial formation of a female subject through her skin as the boundary where self and other meet, a skin that is both a rigid containing armour and a performative surface onto which normative expectations of gender identity are projected. Elizabeth Dearnley will explore girl-wolf transformations in Red Riding Hood narratives, alongside a discussion of her immersive theatre retelling Big Teeth. Georgia Panteli will focus on a less discussed aspect of Pinocchio, which is his adventures as an animal. She will discuss how his experience as a watchdog and then his transformation into a donkey played a vital role in his journey from puppet to human boy. Samantha Sweeting will perform a text, detailing a full moon encounter with a fox.
These will be followed by a shared reading and discussion with delegates, talking through symbolism, personal and social resonances, other iterations and adaptations of Grimms’ Thousandfurs and Bearskin.
Cursed Poetry: An Exploration of Ekphrastic Poetry Inspired by Cursed Art.
Jennie E. Owen
Open University, United Kingdom
Ekphrasis, creative writing, poetry, horror, cursed objects, art history
This presentation will explore the history of several infamous haunted or cursed pieces of art. This may be art that is itself rumoured to be cursed, art where the subject matter is cursed, or art which relates to dark history. An example of the types of pieces that will be considered is The Crying Boy by Giovanni Bragolin. Prints of this popular painting were displayed in many homes in the UK until it was rumoured that they were responsible for house fires and other unfortunate incidents. This led to wide-spread panic amongst those who owned the painting. The tabloid paper The Sun, then organised a burning of over 2500 prints in 1985. A more contemporary example might be the disturbing sculpture by Japanese artist Keisuke Aiso, which launched the Momo cursed social media challenge in 2019.
Jennie Owen will discuss her own creative process using art as a means of inspiration for poetry, sharing pieces from her own work and others. As the Poetry Foundation describes it: “An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.”
She will share how this approach has had an impact on form and content of her writing. She will also discuss how the writing of these pieces both celebrates and challenges the concept of cursed art.
Red or Blue? Haunted Toilets in Japanese Folklore and Contemporary Urban Legend.
Birkbeck University of London, United Kingdom
Japanese folklore, Japanese horror, urban legends, haunted infrastructure, oral tradition
The peculiar motif of the haunted toilet persists across classical Japanese folklore and into post-war urban legend, permeating contemporary Japanese horror narratives such as the Silent Hill videogames, and popular anime series Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun. Manifesting typically in public bathrooms, these toilet ghosts occupy a space which are, as folklorist Michael Dylan Foster describes, paradoxically both public and private, a shared space in which one is at their most vulnerable.
Toire no Hanako-san (“Hanako of the toilet”), to give a particularly famous example, is a post-war urban legend specifically tied to school bathrooms. Hanako seems to have entered into modern folklore sometime in the immediate post-war era – Foster notes one particular version of her tale from Iwate prefecture circa 1948 – but gained popularity around the 1980s. Zack Davisson notes that classical kaidan (spooky stories, usually conveyed via oral tradition) were typically presented as true stories; “merely recording some strange occurrence that the author had seen or heard of.” Hanako’s story originally operated in this same word-of-mouth fashion.
Like kaidan before them, these urban legends shapeshift over time, drawn into a “feedback loop” in which the original oral narrative, spun into the fabric of popular culture and expanded into film, manga or videogame lore, comes to incorporate those elements in subsequent retellings. In my proposed paper, I will discuss how the toilet-bound ghosts and monsters spanning Japanese folklore and urban legend share common traits informed by a genealogy of place-bound ghosts stretching back to the Heian period; how these ghosts (or yūrei) were – and indeed still are – inextricably linked to spiritual and cultural beliefs which persist even in modern-day Japan; and the ways in which they are central to the modern phenomenon of toshi densetsu – urban legends, which I will argue are a contemporary form of kaidan.
Real-life Events as Sources of Cosmic Terror in the Literature of H. P. Lovecraft
Nathalia Sorgon Scotuzzi
H. P. Lovecraft; Cosmic Terror; Pluto; Effect of reality; Fantastic.
The work of the American writer H. P. Lovecraft has as one of its most important features the production of the effect of cosmic terror in its reader. One of the main characteristics of this emotion is the idea that humankind is not supreme as it imagines; even worse, the characters in these stories always find out that this supremacy can easily be shattered. It could happen, for instance, by random actions of an alien creature that could immediately eliminate human life from Earth or simply overrule our domain. One narrative strategy used as a means to produce the effect is the insertion of real-life events in the stories to help portray a world that is very similar to the reader’s real world. The reader must have a sense that the reality inside the text is familiar to him/her, once it is through a breakdown in this notion of reality that the effect will emerge. The events chosen by Lovecraft stop being simple occurrences and start being manifestations of a new reality, a monstrous one. As an example, in the short story “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1931), Lovecraft introduces the discovery of Pluto in the plot as a yet-to-be-discovered planet — it is called Yuggoth by the creatures that inhabit it. The real-life event, in this case, is used as a means to cause terror in the reader, who will recognize this event and question him/herself if it could not also be home for pernicious creatures in real life. This technique is used in other moments in this and many other stories of Lovecraft. My goal is to present some of these texts and how real-life events can be used in fiction to cause terror.
The Incest Taboo and Sexual Trauma in Contemporary South Korean Cinema: Disentangling Shock and Meaning
Wake Forest University, USA
In November 2015, Prize-winning South Korean film director Kim Ki-Duk said he had cut scenes from his incest-themed movie Moebius after domestic censors effectively banned it. The threat of a censorship ban is more terrifying to film directors than the horror stories they tell; the damage to film investment returns can effectively end careers.
Kim’s film is not the first to feature incest in South Korean cinema. Many other movies feature incest prominently, whether implicitly or explicitly. Some hide the incest as a hidden feature of the story, to reveal it in the climax as the twist that you didn’t see coming (who would ever let their mind go to the darkness that is incest).
During the making of Oldboy, the filmmakers were so worried about the plot’s content that they required non-disclosure agreements. “The script of Oldboy was about incest, and everyone involved in the project was prohibited to leak the story – in fact, incest was an extremely controversial subject at that time in South Korea,” according to Jo Sang-gyeong, who plays Dae-su’s wife.
Sandra Kim at CSU-LA says, “The incest taboo is a particularly intriguing angle from which to examine the theme of biologism and identity, as it involves a preoccupation not only with biological kinship but also with the function of prohibitions in creating social norms.” But the storytelling device is not just in one film, specifically permeating neo-noir and horror genres. Kim continues by noting the prevalent theme, “The entanglement of identity with biological kinship becomes even more complicated when the incest taboo manifests as a recurring cultural trope within the context of a specific ethnonational history.”
Research questions: What original potential for meaning does the trope have for audiences on the Korean peninsula? Since many of these movies (Old Boy, The Wailing) have had a tremendous global engagement, what new meanings does the trope potentially generate? How does local psychology become an international horror?
Representing Communal Consciousness: Fairy tales and Myth as Political Commentary in Mythopoesis Practices
Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Where do stories come from? According to Dr Sara Graça Da Silva, the origin of folktales is one of the “biggest mysteries” in folk tale studies. I know they used to come to me in the dead of night when, as the eldest among my siblings and cousins, I would conjure tales that would soothe them into sleep; it cannot be denied that the fascination they have exercised over my imagination has fuelled my career as an author and academic.
When I theorised a narrative universe for all my works of fiction to inhabit, I realised the importance of a body of myths and lore as a “symbolic Esperanto” (Warner, 2018) to bind the different stories and characters together. They work as a reference system that all my creations share to engage in conversations that trespass the borders of their own story. The lore’s primary role is to offer political commentary across the works of fiction and, within my graphic novel Storms (subject of my PhD), the tales narrate not only the origin of the secondary world but also its shift from utopia to dystopia.
In this presentation, I aim to analyse the fairy tales I created for Storms and their origins, as they are a nexus of lore (fairy tales, spells, and rhymes), myth, and shared experience. I will take into consideration classic and modern graphic renditions of fairy tales (from the Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales, to Carroll’s Through the Woods, to Stevenson’s Nimona) to investigate the imagery borrowed from classic fairy tales besides those specifically created for the comic, their subversion and role in the narrative, and the graphic solutions to represent them in the graphic novel.
A “masculine” Retelling of Fairy Tales: The Case of Andrzej Sapkowski
Sapienza University of Rome, Italy
Retellings of classic fairy tales in a postmodern key, so fashionable in Western countries in Europe, have never been popular in Poland. Most importantly, although translated into Polish, Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber has not aroused any interest nor stimulated literary emulations and the reinterpretation of classical fairy tales in a feminist key. Only now is the trend slowly changing, but these types of retellings reach Polish readers primarily as translations.
In this context, the case of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels and how they use the fairy-tale heritage, shaping it according to the needs of the fantasy genre, is particularly exciting. In his first short stories about The Witcher, the writer had drawn in an abundance of inspiration from the most famous fairy tales, such as Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid or The Snow Queen. Interestingly, the dialogue with the fairy-tale motifs is often not direct but takes place through the filter of their local “national”, pseudofolcloric versions. Moreover, the Polish writer is not in the least interested in the issues of gender or agency at the centre of so many Western rewritings. He is opting instead for a particular process of rationalizing original magical elements of fairy tales, transformed into a kind of pseudo-realistic tales that then, however, are placed in the context of a fantastic reality that introduces magical features where in the original versions, they did not exist.
Finally, the narrative remains steadily focused on the point of view of the male protagonist. Sapkowski’s great success both in Poland and abroad suggests that his reinvention of the fairy tale proved particularly effective in the fantasy genre. However, it is also interesting to see how his take on fairy tales has been further transformed in the Netflix TV series, created in a different cultural context. In my presentation, I would like to examine the double shift in fairy tale retellings, firstly in Sapkowski’s short stories and then in their Americanized medial adaptation.
Revolutionary Love in Classic Dystopian Fiction
University of the Peloponnese, Greece
Dystopia, Love, Totalitarian, The Handmaid’s Tale, Nineteen Eighty-Four, We
In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the female protagonist, Offred, points out to her Commander that what their society is lacking, despite its control over all aspects of social/political life, is love. Contrary to conventional liberal expectations that her comment should involve the concept of ‘choice’, Atwood’s narrative foregrounds the little explored theme of personal relationships in dystopias. Like other classic dystopian fiction, her novel is characterized by a totalitarian regime which attempts to suppress freedom in its every private and public manifestation. As a result, its central protagonist engages in a struggle to resist, challenge or rebel against the denial of desire and the right to free action, expressed by the formation of affective relationships. An essential part of this struggle is expressed through their attachment or relationship to another victim of oppression who aids them in their common quest. In particular, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Zamyatin’s We employ the romantic love motif to further plot development and create reader identification in rejecting state control of affective relationships as potentially dangerous to the political status quo. As a result, the pairing of love and freedom constitutes more than a plot device or distraction from the main narrative, on the contrary, it is central to the novels’ themes and messages in so far as the protagonists’ desire to experience love freely fuels their struggle to escape their society’s borders or subvert its power structures. This essay will focus on affective relationships in classic dystopian novels in order to illuminate the significance of love in fuelling the narrative beyond a complacent escape into domesticity and demonstrate the potentially revolutionary aspect of love in authoritarian socio-political systems.
Dystopias in Popular Culture as Legal and Political Heuristic Devices
University of Liège, Belgium
Politico-legal dystopias – thought experiments – heuristic devices – normative archetypes – eco-dystopias – post-apocalyptic horror – extreme legal cases.
It is an understatement to say that dystopias are now one of the most popular genres in mainstream culture. These artefacts are both a product of the 20th century, coming back to the post-WW2 disillusions about humanity and society, and of the 21st, feeding on the fears of economic regression and apocalyptic future in the aftermath of the 2001 and 2008 crisis (K.R. Phillips, 2021). Dystopia is inseparable from a political critique of the world we live in, but also encompasses a legal critique. Indeed, from the key foundational works of Huxley and Orwell up to TV series such as Black Mirror, dystopian worlds almost always presuppose the law, and even an omnipresence of the law. They often refer to totalitarian political regimes, regulating every corner of the lives of individuals, sometimes to the point of making them forget that they are being ruled at all. For the scholar in political science or law, and for society in general, this genre is important as it allows change, or prevent it. It can first serve as a rhetoric device, in the form of an “argument ad dystopia” (Q. Pironnet, 2016). Great novels like 1984 have entered our collective consciousness and the representations they form are constantly wielded by legislators, judges and journalists as warnings or calls to action. This type of argument gained power in our legal society marked by an “enlightened catastrophism” (J.-P. Dupuy, 2004), and pressed by Hans Jonas’ imperative of responsibility (H. Jonas, 1979).
But dystopias are much more than simple tools for debate, they also serve as heuristic devices, in the sense that they unveil some unthinkable or hidden concepts. Thus, nightmarish worlds can focus on practical legal issues. For instance, Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report has bluntly forced jurists to reconsider their theories of criminal law. The novel was so powerful that it influenced a judgement of the French Council of State in 2014. In short, dystopias can be considered as legal thought experiments (Q. Pironnet, 2022, in press), creating normative archetypes (H. Bredekamp & E. Clegg, 2017) in response to extreme hypothetical legal-political situations. Cinematic dystopias are even more efficient, given the persuasive capacity of the medium (G. Deleuze, 1989). For this conference, I propose to further analyse the power of these narratives and their prototypical effectivity. I will focus on recent eco-dystopias (R. Hughes & P. Wheeler, 2013) and cinematic post-apocalyptic horror to look for what they can reveal of our conceptions of the law being fundamentally anthropo-centric and towards which direction we could use this popular culture to transform legal theory.
Cape as Red as Blood, Slipper as Pure as Gold: The Symbiotic Relationship Between Fairy Tales and Clothes
fairy tales; clothing; women; women’s work; textiles; fashion; weaving; spinning; storytelling; symbiosis
Clothes are central to so many fairy tales – the titular red cape in Little Red Riding Hood, the shoes of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, the magic shirts of The Six Swans. But perhaps no fictional item of clothing is more famous than the slippers in Cinderella, be they silver, gold, or glass. Clothing is crucial in so many fairy tales because many tales started off as women’s stories, folklore told by and for women. For most of history, work with textiles and dress was not just one of the few occupations women were allowed to have, but also the primary way women had to express themselves, maybe even escape their circumstances. Cinderella never asks for a prince – she either asks for, or makes herself, a beautiful dress and shoes. These items of clothing are her way out of the home where she suffers abuse, neglect, and humiliation, because they lead her to an advantageous marriage, which for centuries was nearly the only legitimate form of success available to a woman.
I am a collector of fairy tales; primarily I collect rare books, but I also collect what I like to call “fairy tale clothing” – clothes inspired by fairy tales, and clothes that seek to bring fairy tales to life. The relationship between fairy tales and clothing is inextricable. In her book The Heroine with 1001 Faces, Maria Tatar wrote: “Women’s work – spinning, weaving, and fabricating – is connected with storytelling, as a form of resistance and revelation, an effort to lift the silence… Tapestries, textiles, and embroidery: all can tell stories” (pgs. 49-50, 63). While women were often silenced in public forums, they found their voices in the stories they told amongst themselves and the work they did in the home. These traditions of weaving clothing and spinning stories are symbiotic, one inspiring the other over time. The connection between clothing and fairy tales remained even when men published the stories and received credit for them (such as the Brothers Grimm being credited for tales that were largely told to them by women, or Andrew Lang being the only credited writer when his wife and dozens of other women participated in collecting and translating stories for the Colored Fairy Books). In a paper I would explore the continued significance of the connection between clothing and fairy tales, and how that connection continues to influence fashion and traditional ideas of femininity and fantasy today.
P. Lovecraft’s Fragments of the Whole
Jan Evangelista Purkyně University, Czech Republic
In the beginning of Lovecraft’s famous tale “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928), the narrator Francis Wayland Thurston celebrates “the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents” and professes fearing the day when “the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up […] terrifying vistas of reality.” This problem of correlation or of reconstruction of dissociated knowledge further gains increasing import as the narrator warns against even the “accidental piecing together of separated things” out of which the cosmic horror of Lovecraft’s tale rises both for the narrator as well as the reader, engaged in the nested processes of (re)composition of the fragmented gateway which allows cosmic horror to enter their reality. And what of Randolph Carter, who, in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” explores existence as not only fragmented but, rather, as fractal?
The principle behind this activity consists of (re)assembling or (re)constructing doorways or gateways through which the terrible awareness of cosmic vastness enters the minds of Lovecraft’s protagonists and his readers alike. Even at arguably stylistically or compositionally questionable moments, H.P. Lovecraft’s act of writing of the existential nightmares into his oeuvre establishes grounds for moments of resonance and of perfect alignment of the stars beyond which cosmic horror lies. These strewn about fragments form the magical dimension of Lovecraft’s oeuvre, the metatextual Necronomicon of his lifework – this ever-fascinating invitation to peek into his nightmares and marvel at the dread of the insignificance or smallness of the Human in the inhuman Cosmos.
“These are the Silt Verses”: Reimagining a Queer Cosmic Horror
Universität Leipzig, Germany
Lovecraftian horror is a much beloved subgenre of horror that experiences a cosmic dread, fear of the incomprehensible, unknown, or something non-human that is on a larger and more horrific scale than humanity. In this presentation, I want to highlight the schism between Lovecraftian and cosmic horror to look at how new iterations have branched far beyond the source material to adapt for a more inclusive modern time with a queer resistance to capitalist exploitation.
To do this, I will look closely at The Silt Verses, a podcast written by Jon Ware and produced by Muna Hussen. From corporate manufactured gods to rural faiths, this podcast covers the acts of worship in a fictional country completely at the whims of its horrific and incomprehensible gods. These gods must be fed through human sacrifices which has become accepted, normalized, and encouraged for the continued functioning of this society. The Silt Verses turns Lovecraftian horror on its head to interrogate themes of both queerness and anti-capitalism under the veil of cosmic horror. Its horror is informed by the modern fears of living under an all-powerful state that accepts the loss of life if it generates profit, and how a failure in conforming to that state results in ostracization and prosecution. The narrative follows a host of queer protagonists, each of whom stand against the normative machine in their own way, both in identity and their actions. This paper will examine how their queer lives become a site of resistance and liberation against those cosmic horrors both in the realization of their own selves and in the creation of a better world.
“Fluid Memories of Horror: The Influence of Lovecraft’s Nautical Horror on Alan Parker’s film Angel Heart (1987) ”
Antonio Alcala Gonzalez
Instituto Tecnologico de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Mexico
In Alan Parker’s film Angel Heart (1987) the protagonist, Harry Angel is a private investigator who assembles pieces of information that reveal unbearable secrets of horror about the crucial influence of evil rituals in his blurred past. As he gets closer to the final revelation of his uncanny memories, the rain and presence of water drastically increase around the spaces where he moves. This connection between water and the evocation of dark knowledge is also present in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928). The protagonist, Francis Wayland Thurston, collects chunks of separate narratives that confirm the existence of unbearable secrets of cosmic proportions that threaten the wellbeing of humanity and are guarded by secret cults performing abominable rituals. As Thurston advances in his connecting the different sources of information, the presence of water increases as the hideous final revelation approaches. The records he scrutinizes start with the presence of uncanny dreams and connect with watery locations that move from a dark swamp in Louisiana to an unchartered island on the Pacific that sinks never to be found again.
The intention of this presentation is first to consider Bachelard’s proposal on the relationship between dreams and water to explore the double role of water in both narratives; the presence of rain and watery scenarios is not only a catalyser of the final discoveries made by both protagonists but it also bears connection with the blurred flux of hidden memories that trigger the curiosity leading them towards said findings. After that, the analysis will aim at establishing Parker’s film as an adaptation of Lovecraft’s literary text in the context of postmodern anxieties of uncertainty around the present and future of humanity at the end of the twentieth century.
Beyond Fairy Tales: Reimagining Witches’ Origin Stories
Lancaster University, United Kingdom
When we think of witches, popular imagination supplies depictions coming from male-authored popular fairy tales and almost a century of Disney propaganda. But crucial texts have shown how a “witch” is much more a patriarchal social construct designed to disempower disenfranchised women. The aim of this workshop is for authors and illustrators to come together and reimagine a witch’s origin story, one that does not cast them as villains or a danger to society.
Through the session, the participants will be asked to create – by themselves, in pairs or in a team – an illustrated piece (in the shape of an illustration, comic strip, or comic page). They will be briefly introduced to different creative and critical texts (mentioned below) that engage with the archetype of the witch in new, radical, and expansive ways. At the end of the activity, the participants will post online – on an Instagram profile created specifically for the event – where they will check and comment on everyone else’s work to engage in the wider debate that happened within the workshop and the different creative teams.
To better engage with the discourse, we recommend attendees to read the following critical and creative works:
- Nimona, Noelle Stevenson
- Pretty Deadly, Emma Ríos and Kelly Sue DeConnick
- The Daughters of Ys, T. Anderson and Jo Rioux
- Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles, Taisia Kitaiskaia
- Black Magick, Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott
- Through the Woods, Emily Carroll
- Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Silvia Federici
- Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power, Pam Grossman
- Missing Witches, Risa Dickens and Amy Torok
- Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
- If Women Rose Rooted, Sharon Blackie
- Women Who Run with The Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Before the workshop
Attendees will sign up beforehand specifying whether they are taking part as writers, or illustrators. Participants are invited to bring their own creative material (digital or analogue) but I believe it may be beneficial to provide some material in case of emergency.
Materials needed for the workshop
The material needed for this workshop is made up by:
- A3 /A4 pads (sheets need to be thick and easily removable from the pad)
- Pens (black BIC)
- Colour pencils
During the workshop (estimated time 120’ with a 10’ break included)
|Icebreaker||Each member of the group will quickly introduce themselves||10’|
|Discussion||The group will be introduced to a brief timeline of the concept of the ‘witch’ followed by extracts from different creative and critical texts that are currently expanding the meaning of this word. Participants will be encouraged to engage with the texts and offer their insights about them to the group.||20’|
|Preparation||Each couple works on a simple concept. It could be an original one or it could be the transposition of a work of flash fiction (it would need to be provided by one of the members of the team). As they will have been notified to come prepared with a concept so that the brainstorming phase won’t take too long.
The couples will execute their concept. Their instructions will be to come up with a few panels which could take the form of a comic strip or a short story (between 3 and 10 panels all together).
In the final phase of the workshop, the creative teams will be asked to upload their panels on the dedicated Instagram page
|End||The group will draw the conclusions by assessing what new perspective the collaboration has opened for them||10’|
Writing Monstrosity: Creative Workshop for Students of the Monstrous
Lucy Elizabeth Allan
University of Glasgow, Scotland
Workshop, Creative Writing
I am currently in my final year as a Creative Writing DFA student at the University of Glasgow. Last year, as part of my doctorate, I had the opportunity to design a creative writing course from scratch, and teach this class to a number of first-time writers. The course that I created was entitled ‘Patron Saints of Otherness: Writing Monstrosity for the Modern World,’ and was designed to educate students on the ways in which images of monstrosity have been historically shaped my societal prejudices and fear of the ‘other’, with an aim to inspiring their own monstrous writing.
In light of this, I would also like to propose a Writing Monstrosity workshop to take place at the conference led by myself, and informed by the course that I created and led at the University of Glasgow. This would be a one-off workshop for a class of around fifteen, lasting around two hours. It would consist of an ice-breaker writing exercise, a close look at some diverse examples of depictions of monstrosity in media, followed by a class discussion around the texts we’ve viewed and the ways in which they could inspire our own writing. The class would then culminate in a longer writing exercise and an opportunity to share what we’ve written with the class.
This workshop would be geared specifically to those who have little to no creative writing experience, and would be designed with the assumption that attendees would be knowledgeable in the study of monsters and monstrosity. I am an experience teacher, having led not only my monstrosity class, but also undergraduate English Literature classes, and would be delighted to have the opportunity to lead a workshop at the third Monsters and the Monstrous Conference.