The Gothic Scholars, Studies and Subcultures

Sara Martin

Sara Martin

Gothic Studies and the diverse youth subcultures identifying themselves as Gothic are hardly in touch with each other. This is something that should ideally change in the near future, since Gothic Studies and Gothic youth subcultures greatly overlap, at least as regards their common interest in Gothic literature, the iconography and the non-literary texts (films, comics, and so on) derived from it.

The multiplicity of texts generated by Gothic understood here as a narrative mode stretching across two centuries, are both an object of research for Gothic scholars and a source of inspiration for the members of the Gothic youth subcultures.

The Gothic roots of these subcultures are, clearly, most perceptible in the dark sounds and dark lyrics of their musical production, ranging from heavy metal to Goth passing through industrial music. Yet, Gothic as such extends its influence to other aspects of these subcultures.

Their members often link the consumption of certain musical styles to the pursuit of an alternative lifestyle including characteristic fashions, clubs to socialise in, and underground or alternative media to keep the scene alive.

No Gothic scholar has so far explored in depth the links between these diverse youth subcultures (especially heavy metal and Goth) and their Gothic background. Yet, if Gothic youth subcultures can be regarded as the practical result of a particular interpretation of the philosophy of Gothic texts, and Gothic texts are the field of research of Gothic Studies, Gothic youth subcultures — themselves producers of new Gothic texts — could (perhaps should) be also part of Gothic Studies. In this way, this conspicuous gap in the contemporary fund of knowledge about Gothic would be filled.

Despite the desirability of a closer approach, there are, however, many difficulties to integrate the study of booming underground contemporary youth subcultures like these within an academic project which generates mostly official knowledge about the past. It cannot be argued that Gothic Studies frontally opposes the integration of Gothic youth subcultures in its field of research; indeed, this is not an issue.

The issue is, rather, that important research methodological problems are turning Gothic youth subcultures into potent generators of unofficial rather than official knowledge. The most important of these problems is that the methodology of Gothic Studies, based on approaching Gothic from the perspective of applying mostly psychoanalysis and a variety of postmodern critical discourses to Gothic texts, is valid mostly to study literary texts, especially those of the past.

This methodology is much less valid, though, to deal with living youth subcultures whose analysis demands a Cultural Studies methodology.

The study of Gothic subcultures requires inevitably the study of both the lifestyle and the textual production — literary and non-literary — of contemporary underground groups who, to cap these methodological difficulties, often resist being subjected to close scrutiny.

The absence of twentieth-century Gothic youth subcultures as a relevant item within the agenda of Gothic Studies is not, in any case, a bone of contention for either Gothic scholars or the young members of these subcultures.

Gothic Studies can very well survive and progress without ever looking into these subcultures’ view of Gothic; yet, it is only common sense to claim that the field of knowledge studied by Gothic scholars will always benefit from including rather than excluding areas of research that show a manifest contiguity to Gothic literature.

The neglect of the academia is, on the other hand, an anecdote for Gothic youths in comparison to the main threats under which they keep their subcultures alive: first, the neglect of the novelty-seeking musical press and, second, the menace posed by American moral pressure groups bent on censoring and even destroying any Gothic-related cultural manifestation.

Given the lack of scholarly analysis and the media misinformation about Gothic youth subcultures, the latter an especially worrying phenomenon in the United States of America, these groups are beginning now to realise the importance of allowing the rest of the world to get a closer look at them.

The Internet, mainly, is fulfilling the function of dispelling this great amount of misinformation through the spreading of unofficial knowledge about the diverse Gothic subcultures. This is mostly generated by their practitioners or former practitioners, who are often graduate or undergraduate students trying to combine their position as Gothic insiders with their training as budding Cultural Studies or sociology scholars, or, even, as Gothic Studies scholars.

The canon and the university syllabi have no doubt opened up towards Gothic fiction thanks to the work of Gothic scholars in English departments around the world, making popular classics such as ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus’ increasingly present in undergraduate reading lists and in post-graduate research.

Interestingly, the academic legitimisation of Gothic Studies coincides chronologically with the rise of Gothic youth subcultures.

Gothic Studies, or Gothic Criticism, were marginalised until relatively recently within the academic discourse, despite the constant production of quality scholarly work, especially since the late 1970s.

The progress of Gothic Studies into the realm of official knowledge can be chartered through the establishment of the International Gothic Association and the celebration of the first biannual IGA Conference in 1991 and the launching of its journal, Gothic Studies, in 1999.

Although the influence of Gothic on youth music-related subcultures actually “Gothic” only emerged as a music genre-related term in the early 1980s in reference to British post-punk bands such as The Cure or Siouxsie and the Banshees, usually defined as “Goth”.

Goth and metal are different youth subcultures with a common fund of Gothic elements; the awareness of these elements varies from subculture to subculture but was, in general, quite diffuse until about a decade ago.

In the early 1990s, coinciding with the rise of the second generation of Gothic bands — and, incidentally, with the consolidation of Gothic Studies — the label “Gothic” was fully accepted by Goth, heavy metal and other related subcultures, which led to the tentative exploration of their roots.

This exploration was paralleled by Gothic Studies’ extension of its field of research in an important direction: the redefinition of Gothic from a subgenre of the novel in the late eighteenth-century to a potent narrative mode very much alive today in and outside literature.

The seminal Gothic handbook by David Punter, ‘The Literature of Terror’ — published in 1980, practically at the same time the Gothic subcultures were being born — drew the first complete map of the continuities and continuities between the Gothic texts of the past and those of the present.

As far as Gothic Studies are concerned, the latter includes now also the literary and film Gothic texts admired by contemporary youth subcultures but still exclude the texts produced by these subcultures, mainly their music. Possibly, not for long, begins with the rise of the heavy metal subculture in the late 1960s, the label.

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