Petra Eckhard: The Goth/am Chronotopes

The postmodern work of art fosters an uncanny state of mind. It establishes “the return of the repressed” (Freud) or “intellectual uncertainty” (Jentsch) in that it estranges the reader or beholder by deliberately subverting stable boundaries between reality and fiction or the past and the present. Although in the 1990s the uncanny experienced a remystification and reappropriation in literary and cultural discourses, postmodern urban novels were still largely read along the lines of poststructuralism. Yet, these fictions raise many interesting questions when viewed through the lens of the uncanny: What does the contemporary rhetoric of the urban uncanny reveal about national trauma and collective memory? Or: Why are stylistic devices of the uncanny so appropriate for articulating postmodern fears?

The postmodern affinity with space, signaled by the topographical turn in the humanities, has also tremendously affected the way in which writers conceive of and articulate the uncanny. More specifically, this study seeks to put forward a definition of the uncanny along the lines of the Bakhtinian notion of the chronotopos.

Setting out from these theoretical reflections, this study offers readings of two pertinent novels written at the end of the 20th century – Paul Auster’s City of Glass (1985) and Toni Morrison’s Jazz (1992). In particular, the analyses focus on the story- as well as discourse-oriented narratological patterns and investigate how and why these works exhibit traces of the uncanny. Mostly, the literary analyses are structured along chronotopic motives that explicitly reveal the uncanny to the implied reader. These motives are relevant for two reasons: First, they establish a direct link between subjectively constituted spatial practices and the uncanny. Second, they point to postmodern fears and phenomena that are built around a chronotope that allows the haunting presence of history or a subject’s positioning in simulated or illusionary lifeworlds.

(University of Graz)