Neoliberal Gothic is an edited collection of essays that explore and seek to define the neoliberal gothic mode. The introduction is written by Linnie Blake and Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet, both of whom also edited the volume.
Summary & Notes
The chapter opens with the claim that the rise of gothic texts in popular culture (alongside neoliberalism’s rise) over the last thirty years is not surprising, given the fact that the gothic has a particular “ability to give voice to the occluded truths of our age” (1). In fact, they note, the popularity of the gothic in the 18th and 19th centuries in England and America similarly dealt with major societal, political, and economic anxieties of their contemporary world (2-3).1 They recognize that the gothic is not inherently radical, in fact gothic texts can often be incredibly conservative (just ask Stephen King), but, for this particular volume, they wanted to explore examples of contemporary gothic fiction that were purposefully political and promise that all of the essays in the volume are “unified by a will to interrogate the ways in which neoliberal economics has impacted the modern world, has pervaded our very consciousness and, in so doing, has refashioned the very subjectivities we inhabit” (3).
By the end of the chapter, they note that global gothic texts of the neoliberal era can
“provide an effective and affective means for viewers and readers to explore the often unspoken nature of their economic condition. Ultimately, what emerges most forcible from the collection (of essays) is a sense of economic, existential and humanitarian crisis…Alongside this is an awareness that the gothic is ideally positioned, as a mode, to evoke and interrogate such turmoil, focusing as it does on the monstrous, the liminal and the domestic in ways that undermine dominant ideologies, question old truths and envision different ways of being. It is entirely appropriate, we contend, that ours is a culture inhabited by monsters. For thirty years of neoliberal experiment have done extraordinary violence to our societies and ourselves, leaving us unable, it seems, to find a way out of the darkness. (14)
They next provide a comprehensive (almost 3 pages long) definition/history of neoliberalism. Here are some of the highlights:
…the 1980’s neoliberalism pioneered by Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s and Margaret Thatcher in the UK rested on a radical individualism that eschewed those principles of state welfare, social progress, and equality of opportunity on which the postwar consensus in the UK and the Great Society in the US had rested. Economic planning was decried in favor of an ostensible deregulation of the markets, whilst cuts to public spending, the suppression of trade unions, lower taxes and a transfer of public servants to the private sector were enacted wholesale… The neoliberal subject was recast as agent of his or her individual destiny, repeatedly refashioning him or herself in whatever image the market demanded whilst being held fully responsible for any failure to prosper…Far from being the most democratic model of economic organization, as was claimed in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, neoliberalism’s hostility to collectivism has strongly militated against participatory democracy, depriving the working class of any say in government, curtailing union power and placing the business of politics in the hands of outsourced organizations such as think tanks and non-governmental organizations…As David Harvey has argued, the neoliberal agenda is markedly imperialistic… (4-5)
They also list a number of themes common to the neoliberal gothic mode:
…the disempowerment of the public sector; the social consequences of underinvestment in health, education and welfare; the imperative to economic growth and capital accumulation; the economic might of the corporation and the economic precarity of its workers; the rise of militarism; the denigration of rights discourses; and the emergence of neoliberal subject as mutable avatar of capital flow. (6)
They divide their volume into four sections of the neoliberal gothic: (1) Neoliberal gothic monsters; (2) Biotechnologies, neoliberalism and the gothic; (3) The gothic home and neoliberalism; and, (4) Crossing Borders:
(1) Neoliberal gothic monsters
They note that the neoliberal gothic monster “has come to embody contemporary subjectivity formations and economic relations in a culture driven by a Social Darwinist Zeitgeist in which only the fittest survive and the victims are held responsible for their ‘failure’ to compete” (6). This fits so well with the survival game horror film (although there is never really a monster in these films, unless we count serial killers? Are creators of survival games serial killers?)!
They cover the neoliberal vampire, who can represent the selfish consumer (both the consuming neoliberal subject and the consuming neoliberalism) or can embody neoliberal contradictions (7).
They also mention an essay in the volume that covers ghosts and state capitalism, illustrating “how the figure of the ghost both critiques the spectralising tendencies of contemporary global capital and yet remains subject to reappropriation by it” (8).
(2) Biotechnologies, neoliberalism, and the gothic
“In a world in which each of us is repeatedly interpolated by neoliberal capitalism and penetrated by the drugs and medical procedures it sells, each of these studies (the essays in this section) points to the ways in which gothic texts may reaffirm our common humanity, expose often hidden economic relations and explore ways of being that challenge the neoliberal consensus” (9). These chapters include one on Southeast and East Asian organ trafficking in horror films, “zombie pharmacology,” and affect and ethics.
(3) The gothic home and neoliberalism
These two chapters explore how the family home in contemporary horror fiction can address “everyday life under neoliberalism,” the “ramifications of the economic crash of 2008,” and “the ways in which neoliberal capitalism has penetrated our most private spaces, refashioning us and the ways we live accordingly” (11). The first chapter looks at the characters in the first season of American Horror Story comes “to embody the crisis in models of national identity engendered by global capital flow in general and by the economic collapse of 2008 in particular” as they become tied to their homes like ghosts (ibid.) The second chapter explores the 2008 crash as it influenced the Irish domestic space (12).
(4) Crossing borders
They first note that the gothic has long been associated with issues of borders and liminality. Neoliberal gothic explores liminality in a specific manner: “here the borders of the nation state become a permeable membrane through which the toxic waste of first world technology seeps out alongside the murderous economic imperatives of the neoliberal agenda” (ibid). These chapters focus on German nuclear incidents and the Mexican-American border as gothic sites (12-13).
- Most interestingly for me, they highlight early American gothic’s connection to economic instability. ↩