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Pedagogy 7.3 (2007) 401-425

Crossing Liminal Spaces:
Teaching the Postcolonial Gothic
Gina Wisker

We could not find ourselves in literature and we were living amongst people who still had those myths and ancestral histories, we could not see them in literatures so we had to write it ourselves. . . . we all feel we have inherited stories from the ancestors—the ancestors that can fly! . . . those things are actually out there in the real universe and the mythic universe. Those ways and images are out there and we are able to see them.

—Maxine Hong Kingston

Chinese American writer Maxine Hong Kingston (2001: 52) suggests here some of her reasons for writing versions of what could be termed postcolonial Gothic. She indicates the need to explore, reimagine, and record in literature the magical, the historical, and the still contemporary, everyday mythical that is frequently overlooked, denied, and invisible in culturally dominant forms of literary expression. These are also reasons for reading and teaching the broad spectrum of writings that can be identified as postcolonial Gothic. Reading and studying brings to life and light new and different versions, visions, spaces, and places, offering readers and students the chance to see parallel and hidden, often subtly or hugely different worlds and worldviews in often subtly or hugely different forms of expression. The postcolonial Gothic reinhabits and reconfigures, it reinstates and newly imagines ways of being, seeing, and expressing from the points of view of and using some of [End Page 401] the forms of people whose experiences and expressions have, as Toni Morrison puts it, largely been unheard of and even discredited. Indeed, as David Punter reveals for us with his highly significant work on postcolonial Gothic, Postcolonial Imaginings: Fictions of a New World Order (2000), postcolonial spaces, worldviews, writers, writings and reading are inevitably Gothic, since they, like the geographies of place and of history, are haunted by the ghosts of those who were hidden and silenced in the colonial and imperial past, and those who now still might occupy a parallel universe, unheard, unspoken, unwritten, were it not, perhaps, for the emergence of the postcolonial Gothic, among other events and changes.

* * *

The peculiar condition of the literary will always be to effect a link between the actuality, the presence of such conditions, however powerful & terrifying, & the imaginary, universality . . . in its proper position, in absence.

(Punter 2000: 189)

The process of mutual postcolonial abjection is, I suppose, one that confronts us everyday in the ambiguous form of a series of uncanny returns.

(Punter 2000: vi)

Uncovering alternative worldviews and exploring their expression would be enough of a reason for us as staff and students to focus on postcolonial Gothic writings, just because, like all good literature, they offer new ways of seeing, and often in new forms. Additionally, marvelously (literally), they are both ideologically and imaginatively charged. With one stroke, we can become enthralled by and engaged with at least two of the threshold concepts of literature, its influence by, emergence from, and engagement with culture, context, values, and different worldviews, and its qualities of representation.

While much postcolonial writing could content itself with mimesis, exposing histories and experiences using realism, the Gothic in postcolonial Gothic enriches the landscape of place, mind, and expression further by bodying forth the imaginary, the spiritual, imaginative, sensed, and felt, the internal landscapes of the mind, showing these as real, as the more frequently recorded historical, and richer because layered with meaning, demanding interpretation and engagement from readers.

The postcolonial Gothic offers rich opportunities for students to engage with some of the key concepts and issues in our study of literature. Problematizing comfortable, given readings of the world, the Gothic foregrounds issues and practices of representation and signification, dealing as it does, frequently, in the imaginary, in fantasy and horror. Both the Gothic and [End Page 402] the postcolonial focus readers and writers on issues of ideological influences through the text and highlight cultural and other difference as inflected in discourse, image, narrative structure, characterization, and event.

Ambiguity, paradox, and the crossing of...


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