Reading Asian American literature as gothic: two women's texts and the resignification of an American literary legacy
Ng, Andrew Hock Soon, (2005) Reading Asian American literature as gothic: two women's texts and the resignification of an American literary legacy. SARE (Southeast Asian Review of English) (46 (Special Issue: Asian American Literature)). pp. 42-69. ISSN 0127-046x
Monash University, Malaysia
Two aspects characterise American Gothic literature. Firstly, according to David Punter, American Gothic is "a refraction of English: where English Gothic has a direct past to deal with, American has a level interposed between present and past, the level represented by a vague historical 'Europe', and often mythologised 'Old World'".' That is, American Gothic is characterised by a simultaneous nostalgia for an old world continuity and the repudiation of that self-same heritage. But the word "mythologise" suggests, however, that American Gothic's relationship with the old world is ambivalent—one that is precariously constructed on fantasy. This implies that the "Old World" is a selective assembly of "concepts" that the new world constructs in order to claim a separate subjectivity which is viable within this lately retrieved space. But if this is the case, then the newly-derived American subjectivity is also itself a fantasy. It seems to me that the formation of the American self is predicated on an oedipal struggle against British paternalism. The Old World must be "othered" in order for the New one to gain autonomy, but this ultimately implies both a dependence and an unconscious guilt complex. As Punter deliberates, there seems to be a preoccupation with a "pathology of guilt" in the narratives of early American Gothic practitioners (165). And while Gothicists like Charles Brocken Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne contended with a legacy that continued to emotionally and religiously bind the newly-formed American subjectivity to its past on a more communal level, Edgar Allan Poe internalised this struggle within the dark recesses of consciousness, significantly transforming the trajectory of the Gothic.
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