Russ Castronovo’s “The ‘Black Arts’ of Citizenship” and Posthuman Gothic

This is the time of the semester where I suddenly want to combine texts I’ve read for my different classes into a single project. The reading this week for my American Gothic independent study centered around Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and the chapter titled “The ‘Black Arts’ of Citizenship” from Russ Castronovo’s Necro Citizenship. While reading through both, particularly Castronovo’s text, I was struck by how similar his argument was to Katherine Hayles’s How We Became Posthuman, despite the fact that Castronovo discusses spiritualism and slave narratives in 19th century America and Hayles covers contemporary popular culture and science.

I’m writing this blog post in hopes that it will help me to trace through some of the connections between these three texts and to explain why these moments of contact are important.

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Viral Nostalgia in Levan Gabriadze’s Unfriended (2014)

One of the readings for my Digital Rhetorics class this week, William C. Kurlinkus’s “Memorial Interactivity: Scaffolding User Experiences,” deals partly with the concept of viral nostalgia. After some deliberation, I decided that my blog post would connect Kurlinkus’s viral nostalgia with the 2014 horror film Unfriended. While I initially considered connecting this week’s reading to early reaction videos, I found this topic a bit more fruitful for me (I’m currently putting together a conference paper on Unfriended and the digital ghost story for the first Supernatural Studies Association Conference on March 23rd!). While I’m not pulling something directly from the Internet, I am examining a representation of social media participation. Additionally, Kurlinkus discusses the importance of “surprises” in creating digital nostalgia in user experiences, something which is very important to the horror genre. I quickly found myself eager to discuss the focus on surprise in horror and Unfriended, as well as how this can support Kurlinkus’s point.

The trailer above should give you a good feeling for what the movie is about. It’s most groundbreaking feature is the fact that the entire film takes place on the lead character, Blaire Lily’s desktop screen. The digital ghost, Laura Barns, seeks revenge on her supposed ‘friends’ by infiltrating their social media accounts, desktop folders, and email. That’s all you really need to know.

*Trigger warning: This post discusses suicide.*

Beware: spoilers lurk below…

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ABC’s The Bachelor as Female Gothic

It’s late into the night. A full moon casts its shadow over the voluminous mansion, glittering spectrally upon the wet pavement leading to the home’s towering front door. Two masculine figures stand expectantly in the driveway, their eyes focused on the single road leading to the isolated home. Black limousines slowly glide towards the two figures. One by one, young unmarried women pour out of the vehicles. “I’m so nervous,” one confesses. “I can’t stop shaking,” whispers another. These women are welcomed into the home by the two men. The younger man is introduced as the “bachelor” of the home. He is eager to meet the women so that they may become his lovers before he singles out one as his wife. As the weeks progress, the women reside within the looming mansion together. Sometimes, the bachelor will reward one or a few of them by taking them on excursions beyond the house’s gates.  As these women are not allowed any contact with the outside world, these outings are greatly desired. Without the distraction of friends, family, and work, the women find that their minds focus solely on the bachelor- what is he thinking? How does he feel about me? Will I be the chosen wife? Soon, something dreadful is discovered. Each week, a few of the women disappear. Not only are they no longer physically present in any of the mansion’s many chambers, but ominous figures dressed entirely in black have removed all traces of the disappeared women’s existence. The women remaining have little choice but to continue working towards their potential married future while avoiding the sinister fate to which so many before them have succumbed.

Although the above passage may sound like I’m describing the plot of a gothic romance, I’m actually summarizing the basic plot of ABC’s reality show staple, The Bachelor. I admit that I’m describing The Bachelor with a ton of gothic style, however, as this blog post will hopefully demonstrate, the connections between The Bachelor and the female gothic mode are numerous.

The focus for my American Gothic class this week is the female gothic. While reading some articles on this sub-genre, as well as “The Whisper in the Dark” by Louisa May Alcott, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “What a Thought” by Shirley Jackson, and selected poems by Emily Dickinson, my mind kept going to The Bachelor. Perhaps this was because of the “most dramatic finale ever” which viewers were graced with last night, but after some thought, I think it was because The Bachelor definitely borrows from this gothic mode.

WARNING: There may be some spoilers from various seasons of The Bachelor. I’ll try to keep it minimal.

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The Avatar Nightmare: Body Horror and Digital Identity

Jeff Goldblum in David Cronenberg’s THE FLY (1986), a classic of the body horror sub-genre.

Knowing that this week was centered on avatar and gaming literacies, I had assumed that I would focus my blog post on some of my favorite horror video games. However, while I was attending the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference (housed within the Stoker Con, a convention for horror writers), a paper was presented which focused on body horror. I was reminded of our previous discussion of mutation when we read Hayles’s chapter on posthumanism. I was further encouraged by many connections I was able to make between body horror and D. Fox Harrell and Chong-U Lim’s article, “Reimagining the Avatar Dream: Modeling Social Identity in Digital Media.” Considering this article through the lens of body horror affords me with a darker view of avatar literacy which Harrell and Lim probably didn’t have in mind while writing their article. This more gothic view can be helpful as scholars continue to consider users’ experiences with digital identity.

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Heels, Faces, and Cyborgs: Cyberfeminism and the WWE

Female and POC wrestling fans often find themselves in the bizarre (yet common to many fandoms) position of simultaneously being both outsiders and insiders of the community. We learn the lingo, the characters, and the history, yet we are often policed by (white) male fans and disappointed by misogynistic storylines (an example), racist storylines, and the McMahon family’s connection to Donald Trump.  For better or worse, most of these issues are becoming less overt due partly to the brand’s move to ‘PG’ programming. We are currently witnessing what has been titled the “Woman’s Revolution” of pro-wrestling, ushered in by the “Four Horsewomen” (from left to right in the image below) Becky Lynch, Bayley, Charlotte Flair, and Sasha Banks (however, I’d argue that the origins of the Women’s Wrestling Revolution can be traced earlier to wrestlers like Chyna, Lita, and others and I’m sure the Four Horsewomen would agree).

With the “Women’s Revolution,” wrestling fans have been treated to women’s matches lasting more than five minutes (gasp!), fully fleshed out female characters who are not always connected to male counterparts, and a number of firsts, including the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match (largely a disappointment) last year and the first Women’s Royal Rumble Match last month (not a disappointment at all). The women’s wrestling division has moved away from the “Bra and Panty” matches into new territory, where the focus is more on the women’s athletic skill and character archs.

For this week’s blog post, I’d like to examine the role that the Internet has played in the development of the WWE Women’s Revolution. I will first explore WWE’s digital actions before diving into the unofficial moves enacted by fans and the female wrestlers online. I will keep in mind Jessie Daniels’s important point that companies have often “co-opted the rhetoric of feminism for profit.” 1 Unfortunately, the WWE is extremely guilty of this, however, as I have discovered through crafting this blog post and via my own involvement, the female fandom and wrestlers seem to genuinely enact methods of cyberfeminism(s) through their interactions online.

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  1. Jessie Daniels, “Rethinking Cyberfeminism(s): Race, Gender, and Embodiment,” WSQ, 37.1&2, pg. 103.
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Rules and Narrative

In his article “Narration, Intrigue, and Reader Positioning in Electronic Narratives,” Daniel Punday introduces readers to Espen J. Aarseth’s definition of “intrigue”: “a sequence of oscillating activities effectuated (but not controlled) by the user” (25-26). Although these are actions taken by the reader “to move the game forward,” successful digital text (including video games) designs ensure that these moves are controlled by the text’s creator/author. To this, Punday adds that “all forms of textuality that require the user to act” depend upon the player’s ability to intuit both the values of the fictional world as well as the rules of the text (29, emphasis in original). While the designer of the video game or digital text chooses a “domain or fictional setting” first, then creates rules which fit the genre or theme (Ibid.). Punday notes that, for the reader or player, this process is inverted: users learn the rules through assumptions they can make based on the text’s narrative world (Ibid.). For this blog post, I will follow Punday’s example and examine both a digital text and a video game in order to determine the interactions present between the rules and the narrative. My selection of digital text, Welcome to Pine Point (2011), allows me to analyze the outcome of a digital narrative experience in which the reader must obey the rules, while my selection of video game, Friday the 13th: The Game (2017), will allow for the exploration of what happens when users don’t necessarily have to learn or play by the rules.

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Lovecraftian Ecophobia

This week, for my American Gothic independent study, I’m focusing on the ecogothic (I admit, I also focused quite a bit on it last week too, but I can’t help it… it’s way too interesting!). The fiction I examined alongside various academic texts included works by Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ambrose Bierce, and H. P. Lovecraft.  While I’ve long been interested in his work, I’ve yet to ever write about Lovecraft. Given the preponderous amount of scholarship and the cult-like following surrounding Lovecraft, I’ve honestly always been a bit nervous to discuss his work. Today, I conquer this fear by briefly discussing “The Call of Cthulhu” alongside Simon C. Estok’s concept of ecophobia. 

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‘Feed me a stray cat’: Meme Magic and Worshipping Donald Trump

When this semester began, I noticed (with great delight) an article about “meme magic” listed on my Digital Rhetoric course’s syllabus. Since last Spring, Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 novel American Psycho (and, to a slightly lesser extent, the film of the same name) has repeatedly found its way into my research. My latest American Psycho project includes a presentation I’m working on to share at the upcoming NeMLA Conference as part of the “Trump Fiction” panel. I plan to argue that reexamining American Psycho is essential to understanding Trump’s fatherly appeal to two generations of worshippers and its consequences.  Just as the yuppies of 1980’s New York City admired Trump as the paternal ideal 1, trolling white-nationalists like Milo Yiannopoulos continue to view Trump as “daddy.” After reading through this week’s articles, I’ve found that meme magic, as well as the culture surrounding participatory sites (especially 4chan), may be necessary additions to my conference paper. I’m happy to be able to work out some of the connections I’ve found and the concepts I’m toying with here before adding them to my larger work.

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  1. In American Psycho, Bateman is constantly searching for Trump, reading about Trump, mimicking Trump, and daydreaming about Trump. Ellis researched for the novel partly by spending time with NYC-based yuppies, many of whom supposedly obsessively admired Donald Trump. Recently, Ellis stated that that Patrick Bateman would view the Donald Trump of today as both a “kindred spirit” and a father figure.
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Young Goodman Brown: Failed Eco-Detective

I recently read Sara L. Crosby’s article, “Beyond Ecophilia: Edgar Allan Poe and the American Tradition of Ecohorror” and immediately wanted to try to apply Poe’s “third model” for human interaction with the environment to another text. 1 This week, in my “American Gothic” independent study, I’m reading a number of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories alongside a number of Poe’s. As it prominently features a terrifying walk through the American wilderness, I thought it might be interesting to apply Crosby’s ideas to Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.” 2

Spoiler alert: Goodman Brown is an awful eco-detective.

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  1. Crosby, Sara L. “Beyond Ecophilia: Edgar Allan Poe and the American Tradition of Ecohorror.” ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, vol. 21, no. 1, 2014, pp. 513-525.
  2. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings, edited by Leland S. Person, Norton Critical Edition, 2017, pp. 169-178.
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Katherine N. Hayles’s Virtual Bodies and Black Mirror’s “USS Callister”

In an effort to physicalize Katherine N. Hayles’s abstracted theories regarding the posthuman and virtuality, I’d like to closely examine one of the episodes from the most recent season of Black Mirror, “U.S.S. Callister” against Hayles’s How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Infomatics. Before reading any further, please be aware that there will be spoilers! If you haven’t yet watched this episode, please do yourself a favor, load up Netflix and enjoy this dark send-up of toxic nerd culture. Once you’re done, please come back here. 



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