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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.2 (2003) 400-401
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Jodey Castricano. Cryptomimesis: The Gothic and Jacques Derrida's Ghost Writing. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 2001. x + 165 pp.
Castricano's study seeks to cast Derrida's work in a Gothic light and to elaborate a new kind of discourse to which she gives the name "cryptomimesis." She formulates her starting point as follows: "It is curious that in the last thirty years the living-dead, the revenant, the phantom, and the crypt—along with their effects of haunting and mourning—have been appearing with increasing frequency in the writings of Jacques Derrida; it is even more curious that this inclination has, for the most part, gone unaddressed." In a footnote she specifies: "It is important to mention that Derrida's Gothic inclinations have not been totally ignored although where the Gothic is mentioned, its name is used in the pejorative." She then refers to a single example, Geoffrey Hartman's 1981 book, Saving the Text, which proposes that Derrida turns psychoanalysis into "a modern Gothic affair." Hartman, we are told, "draws back from further development of this thought" since he wishes, as he himself puts it, "to avoid the charge of mystification." Castricano's footnote brings to mind Hélène Cixous's great essay "Fiction and Its Phantoms" (published in New Literary History in 1976) in which footnotes are described as metaphors of repression.
Castricano's attempt to argue for links between Derrida's work and the Gothic is in many respects compelling. Other recent publications, such as Ruth Parkin-Gounelas's Literature and Psychoanalysis: Intertextual Readings (2001) andJulian Wolfreys's Victorian Hauntings: Spectrality, Gothic, the Uncanny and Literature (2002), would corroborate her point. The footnoted "mention" of the single example of Hartman, however, is itself curious: Castricano understates the extent to which critics have indeed addressed Derrida's concerns with notions of the living-dead, the revenant, the phantom, the crypt, haunting, mourning, and so on. There is a substantial body of critical work published in these areas, by writers including Cixous, Peggy Kamuf, Sarah Kofman, David Krell, Ned Lukacher, [End Page 400] Stephen Melville, Jean-Michel Rabaté, Herman Rapaport, and Avital Ronell. A certain history is thus apparently repressed, even (one might say) buried alive.
The force of Castricano's argument turns on the specificity of the term "Gothic" but discussion of this term's history and meaning is mostly confined, again, to footnotes, and is rather reliant on a single study, Anne Williams's Art of Darkness: A Poetics of the Gothic (1995). In his Introduction to A Companion to the Gothic (2000), David Punter notes, apropos of Derrida's Specters of Marx: "Gothic has to do with the uncanny: the uncanny has come now to form one of the major sites on which the reinvestigation of Freud and the institution of psychoanalysis can take place." In fact, Castricano refers more frequently to the uncanny and uncanniness than to "the Gothic." On one occasion she indeed identifies cryptomimetic writing with "what can best be called the correspondence of the uncanny." One is left wondering what exactly is achieved by the commitment to "the Gothic" and whether, in the context of a characterization of Derrida's work, it does not too easily lead to precisely the sorts of problems and misconstruals (aestheticization, mysticism, and so on) ironically at issue in the Hartman footnote.
Castricano's notion of cryptomimesis is nevertheless appealing in various ways. Her readings of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" and Stephen King's Pet Sematary in terms ofquestions of spectrality and mourning are intricate and thought-provoking. Here, as elsewhere, she evokes a strong sense of the significance of the figure of live burial for the concerns of psychoanalysis, deconstruction, and the Gothic. As a descriptive term, cryptomimesis works especially well for thinking about such Derrida texts as "Envois," "Fors," and Glas, but decidedly less well for others: Specters of Marx, for example, cannot really be squeezed into the same coffin.
The Derrida that emerges from Castricano...