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Goth: Undead Subculture by Goodlad & BibbyGoth: Undead Subculture, edited by Lauren Goodlad & Michael Bibby (Duke U.P., 2007)

The best way of tackling a subject that sprawls across disparate academic disciplines is to engage the services of a collection of experts in the fields involved. Previous studies of Gothic have been either scattergun takes on the whole genre by generalists, or focused investigations of this or that topic, usually literature. Goth: Undead Subculture is the first to break the trend and, even more admirably, actually tries to do so from the viewpoint of the Goth-on-the-dancefloor.

Of course, what you end up with is academics - mostly, there is the occasional exception - discussing their favoured topics, but a good few of them could be characterised, as Trevor Holmes so wonderfully puts it, as 'a goth-identified subject [with] an interest in things horrific and gloomy, in a postromantic decadent aesthetic overdetermined by punk, in embodiment through gender transitivity'. There's a certain amount of that breathy Stateside academic-speak, but in actual fact most of the essays in this collection sparkle a good deal. In fact, Trevor Holmes's is a good instance of the collision between the personal and the subcultural with his account of life as, er, a professional dancer cavorting gothically in an LA gay club, morphing into a debate on the slipperiness of gothic gender generally. Kristen Shilt writes a lovely account of the Austin Faerielanders in their 'liminal enclave', and Rebecca Schraffenberger owns up to her own Goth development.

Throughout the book there seem to be two twin and allied efforts which set it apart from anything attempted before. Firstly, there's a serious intention to think, and discover where possible, exactly how 'gothic' cultural products function in the Goth community, how they are used and processed in sifting and developing a sense of identity. Secondly, there's an openness to considering in that task all sorts of cultural products. We expect such interdisciplinary boldness of Catherine Spooner, also represented in the book (albeit by an old essay), but everyone has a go. Michael Bibby, for example, is a professor of English, but has a stab at analysing the role of the post-punk band Joy Division in formulating early Goth, looking at their work (lyrics, production, music), stage performances, and visual image promoted through album artwork. This is more than he has any right to know about.

This is marvellous, if you can do the work of ploughing through the four hundred intimidating pages. There is nothing that can really do justice to the fissiparous and contradictory beauty of modern Goth, but this book does better than anything to date. My only wonder is whether Goths themselves will welcome such microscopic analysis; at least it comes not-entirely from the outside.

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