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The Gothic: Diana Mafe

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The Gothic: Diana Mafe

Mar 24, 2021

The Gothic’s third event of the 2020-2021 academic term took place on January 27, 2021 via Zoom. The gathering featured a lecture by Professor Diana Mafe (Denison University).

In the first part of the session, Prof. Mafe delivered the talk “From Elmina Castle to Eldritch Suburbia: The Haunted House in African and African American Imaginaries.” In her presentation, the speaker addressed how portrayals of the eerie, the uncanny, entrapment, and terror—which have long been used by African and African American writers to critique histories of slavery and colonialism—intersect with and adapt the eighteenth-century Gothic tradition, giving rise to subgenres such as the Postcolonial Gothic, the Afro-Gothic and, most recently, what Sheri-Marie Harrison calls the New Black Gothic.

The talk began with the image of the slave castle, particularly Ghana’s Elmina Castle (built by the Portuguese in 1482), as emblematic of horror in the black diaspora. Unlike English writer Horace Walpole’s fictional Castle of Otranto from his pioneering 1764 novel, slave castles such as Elmina speak to real terror experienced by millions of black people over centuries. As Mafe explained in her presentation, the manifestation of gothic tropes, especially the haunted house or castle, carries a different symbolic weight in black diasporic imaginaries. After introducing this context, the speaker touched on a few of these examples in African and African American fiction and concluded with a discussion of Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out, which transposes the theme of black entrapment from the precolonial West African coast to twenty-first-century American suburbia.

The second part of the gathering consisted of a Q&A section and an open discussion about Prof. Mafe’s talk. Questions addressed social, political, ethical, and theoretical issues, including: Olaudah Equiano and Frederick Douglass’s familiarity with and use of Gothic tropes; the potentialities and downfalls of watching New Black Gothic films without being deeply familiar with the genre; the peculiarities of neogothic pieces that are no longer situated outside but within (supposedly) normalized spaces of ordinary life; and the relationship between the Gothic and the Uncanny.

A video of the talk is available here.

The Gothic Reseach Group seeks to conduct research on the genre from a transnational, cross-cultural, and interdisciplinary perspective. We see the genre as comprising multifold traditions whose contributions to LGBTQIA+ studies, cultural theory, political economy, bioethics, and techno-science, remain underexplored. By looking at the world from the peripheralized standpoints of the “monstrous,” the abject, the uncanny, and the tumultuous, the Gothic offers unique though often overlooked critical insights into modern societies.

Session formats alternate to include discussions of readings moderated by faculty and graduate students, presentations of works-in-progress, and talks by guest speakers. All readings will be pre-distributed by email.

For more information, please contact Romina Wainberg (rwain@stanford.edu), Cynthia Vialle-Giancotti (cynthia.vialle-giancotti@stanford.edu), and Cristian Soler (crfsoler@stanford.edu). If you would like to be added to our mailing list (thegothic@stanford.edu), please contact Cynthia Vialle-Giancotti.