From Outbreak to The Walking Dead, apocalyptic narratives of infection, contagion and global pandemic are an inescapable part of twenty-first-century popular culture. Yet these fears and fantasies are too virulent to be simply quarantined within fictional texts. The vocabulary and metaphors of outbreak narratives have permeated how news media, policymakers and the general public view the real world and the people within it. In an age where fact and fiction seem increasingly difficult to separate, contagious bodies (and the discourses that contain them) continually blur established boundaries between real and unreal, legitimacy and frivolity, science and the supernatural. Where previous scholarly work has examined the spread of epidemic realities in horror fiction, the essays in this collection also consider how epidemic fantasies and fears influence reality. Initiating dialogue between scholarship from cultural and media studies, and scholarship from the medical humanities and social sciences, this collection gives readers a fuller picture of the viropolitics of contagious bodies in contemporary global culture.
At long last my first book, Gothic Remixed: Monster Mashups and Frankenfictions in 21st-Century Culture, is available in paperback from Bloomsbury!
The bestselling genre of Frankenfiction sees classic literature turned into commercial narratives invaded by zombies, vampires, werewolves, and other fantastical monsters. Too engaged with tradition for some and not traditional enough for others, these ‘monster mashups’ are often criticized as a sign of the artistic and moral degeneration of contemporary culture. These hybrid creations are the ‘monsters’ of our age, lurking at the limits of responsible consumption and acceptable appropriation.
Featuring 23 black-and-white illustrations, this book explores the boundaries and connections between contemporary remix and related modes, including adaptation, parody, the Gothic, Romanticism, and postmodernism. Taking a multimedia approach, case studies range from novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series, to television programmes such as Penny Dreadful, to popular visual artworks like Kevin J. Weir’s Flux Machine GIFs. In Gothic Remixed, I use these monstrous works to show how the thrill of transgression has been contained within safe and familiar formats, resulting in the mashups that dominate Western popular culture.
A few weeks ago I posted about the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies spring 2021 lineup of classes. This week I’m excited to share more information about my own contribution to this series. Join me and Miskatonic London on Zoom, 13 April (7pm UK time, tickets £8) to talk about remix and appropriative horror, from magic lantern to monster mash to meme. At the event we’ll also be celebrating the paperback launch of Gothic Remixed.
Are you a fan of podcasts, or popular fiction? If so, you might enjoy this 30-minute episode of Words to That Effect I contributed to, on ‘Mashups, Remixes, and Frankenfiction’. Come for the opening remix, stay for the zombies—teaser below:
In one sense, all culture is a remix, nothing exists in a vacuum. On the other hand, some people may take a dim view of lifting almost the entire text of Pride & Prejudice and republishing it with additional zombie action. Which is where Seth Grahame-Smith’s best-selling 2009 classic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, comes in.
In this episode I talk to Dr Megen de Bruin-Molé about mashup novels, or what she calls ‘Frankenfiction’: commercial fiction that takes out of copyright texts from the 18th and 19th centuries, and reworks them into something new. We chat about everything from the best (and worst) Frankenfictions, to the history of the mashup, to the power of adaptation and remix to subvert and parody the great works of literature and our own contemporary culture.
I’ve been sitting on this review of Leila Taylor’s Darkly: Black History and America’s Gothic Soul for almost a year. It’s not difficult to summarise my feelings—Darkly is a brilliant book. I’ve mainly been unsure how to do it proper justice. Darkly is everything I love about the Gothic as a mode: it contains multitudes. As Taylor writes, ‘Goth alone is too big, too broad’ (20) to capture, and likewise ‘Black contains multitudes…literally. As a pigment it is all colors at once, but black is also the complete absence of all light. Black is […]everything and nothing at the same time’ (83). There are many ways to be a Goth, and to be a Black Goth.
Back in May I wrote that I was working on the final manuscript for an edited collection called Embodying Contagion, co-edited with Sandra Becker and Sara Polak. Now, I am excited to announce that the collection is available for preorder with University of Wales Press, and will be coming to a bookstore or library near you in April 2021. The book will be released in paperback (retailing at £45), but most importantly it will also be coming out in Open Access, thanks to a generous grant from the Dutch NWO Domain Social Sciences and Humanities.
There is still time to register for the British Association of Contemporary Literary Studies’ first virtual conference, on ‘Crisis in Contemporary Writing’—free access to this event closes on Monday 22nd June.
The conference will open with a roundtable discussion of contemporary crisis. It will then feature live online discussions of pre-circulated papers, readings, and videos (most already available via the BACLS website) on contamination and contagion, economic, cultural, and social crises, as well as relationships to technology and between the human and the non-human. I will be presenting in Panel 2: Human – Non-human, with a discussion of ‘mindful’ consumption and the rehabilitation of the zombie in twenty-first-century popular culture. Using the metaphor of mindfulness and the mindful consumer, I suggest that rather than dehumanising the other outside of the community, in these narratives the horror is directed inward, to the twin monsters of modernity that cannot be escaped, destroyed, or ignored, and must be embraced and ethically managed: capitalism and consumerism. This work is related to what I have been writing for the forthcoming edited collection Embodying Contagion (UWP 2021).
On Tuesday, 16 June 2020 I’ll be talking with British artist David Blandy about his newest work, two specially commissioned videos (How to Fly and How to Live). This online event is hosted by Southampton’s John Hansard Gallery, and I’ll be joined by Jussi Parikka, who is leading and moderating the discussion.
Now that the reviewer reports are back, I am pleased to officially announce the forthcoming publication of Embodying Contagion: The Viropolitics of Horror and Desire in Contemporary Discourse. Bringing scholarship from cultural and media studies into conversation with scholarship from the medical humanities and social sciences, this collection (edited by myself, Sandra Becker, and Sara Polak) aims to give readers a fuller picture of how we make sense of contagion in contemporary global culture.