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Contemporary Gothic by Catherine Spooner

Contemporary Gothic, by Catherine Spooner (Reaktion, 2006)

This is a long-awaited (at least by me) and very welcome book. In her previous study, Fashioning Gothic Bodies, Catherine Spooner looked at the transmutations of the Gothic mode through fashion and its representations in art and literature, making a fascinating if rather disjointed collection of essays. This work allows her to range much more freely over the whole field of modern Gothic, producing something accordingly more coherent and more satisfying to read, and better illustrated, too, than the previous more narrowly academic tome.

It's a great pleasure to find an academic analyst not trying to convince us that Gothic is 'about' any one thing in particular, but instead acknowledging its multifarious aspects, its ability to absorb and process conflicting ways of looking at the world, and its sheer perversity - and, in fact, ascribing to that much of its continuing power. The chapters on the wonderfully contradictory presentations of Goth and Gothic in Buffy, and Goths' self-representations through what they consume, are enormous fun. The slipperiness of Gothic makes it a hazardous field to traverse, but I find Spooner's analyses of widely-divergent cultural phenomena are insightful and incisive - the book seems almost completely free of that great academic vice, stating the obvious in impenetrably complicated language.

That's only the first lesson I hope her colleagues of the International Gothic Association will draw from this book. The second is the excitingly interdisciplinary approach Spooner takes to her subject, a subject which clearly demands it if any does. From high literature to trashy films to adverts to fashion to Gunter von Hagens, Contemporary Gothic catches everything relevant in its net and makes something useful of it.

Of course with a cultural phenomenon as expansive as Gothic, any one book can only shine a light into a few darkling corners. I hope that in future Dr Spooner will be given a wider space to luxuriate in her subject and expose more of that distressing landscape; for now, this is a book which nobody lost in the winding corridors and echoing spaces of twenty-first century Gothic should be without.

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