Gothic Pedagogies: teaching, learning, and the literatures of terror
14 July 2022
University of Birmingham
It has been a decade and a half since the last period of sustained work exploring the ways in which gothic literature is, and might be, taught in the classroom. This symposium seeks to renew this important critical discussion. It invites contributions that explore the richness, value, and complexities of pedagogy that situates the careful scrutiny of gothic literature at its heart.
Critical interest in the gothic remains high and the critical field is notable for the breadth of its scholarship; moreover, gothic literature courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level are enduringly popular choices for students, whether they are survey and introductory courses or bespoke Masters-level programmes, and the genre is a mainstay on UK secondary education curricula. But how might recent innovations in the critical field inform, and be informed by, innovations in the classroom? In order to explore this question more fully, we are motivated by several central concerns:
- How do we teach gothic literature in the classroom?
- What do gothic texts themselves have to say about learning and pedagogy?
- How do we negotiate a genre that thrives on forms of affect – what Fred Botting calls the genre’s ‘negative aesthetics’ – that are, by and large, difficult to recapture in classroom environments, and difficult to evaluate cogently?
The gothic undoubtedly wants us to experience its thrills and chills. But it insists frequently on its own unspeakability and seems to prioritise individual susceptibility to its terrorising affect in ways that would suggest a shared experience of the gothic is an extremely difficult thing to recover. In what ways can something that wants quite deliberately to bypass rational thought be better understood via supposedly detached or objective small group discussions in secondary and higher education? How do we bring to light that which is secret and hidden, that which thrives only when briefly glimpsed?
Relatedly, there are questions to be asked here about responsible ways of teaching this literature, grappling as it does with subject matter that may be hoping to deliberately discomfort, shock, or offend its readers. We are interested, also, in what happens when the gothic does not succeed, and how far the gothic is in this respect indicative of broader issues when teaching genre literature. The classroom and lecture theatre might readily make space for the pleasures of reading lurid gothic texts. But what if the gothic text does not scare us (anymore)? If the gothic seeks above all to be experiential, hoping to stimulate certain sensations in its readers, in what ways do we make room in the classroom for our failure to experience something, for those moments when we did not “get it”?
We invite proposals for 15–20 minute papers and joint/collaborative presentations, 5 minute lightning talks, poster presentations, or any other relevant format that reflects on the questions above or any other issues pertaining to humanities pedagogy and the various literatures of terror and horror.
Please send an abstract of 200–300 words and a brief biography (100–150 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also send any queries our way: we’d be glad to hear them.
We strongly encourage submissions from a range of teachers and students of the gothic, whether working or studying in secondary, further, higher or any other form of education.