King of the Zombies

Slavery and the Gothic 


As I discussed in my presentation, there are many different connections to be made between the Gothic and slavery.  I wanted to be able to represent them through my cultural artifact; however, I ran into this problem.  I would either find something from Africa that could be related to "the gothic" through hardcore hermeneutical interpretation, or I found something stereotypically gothic that could only be linked to Africa in the most cursory ways.  So I decided to show how, over the years, the "cultural artifacts" produced in Africa, in the Atlantic, in Britain, and finally in America, can be linked to one another.



This is a mask from the Palmer Museum of Art, worn by a tribal chief negotiating affairs with outside tribes.  It is meant to intimidate, to frighten, to compel or convince others. Edmund Burke explained in his "A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful" that while the beautiful is indeed beautiful, the sublime--the horrifying, grotesque, asymmetrical--can change us, move us forward or destroy us.  Sublime images may include the terrifying, such as the above mask, placed into a European context.


While many cite Walpole's The Castle of Otranto as the first gothic novel (in fact, some critics cite it as the first true novel of all time), Monk Lewis' The Castle Spectre was one of the earliest works to marry "the gothic" with shades of slavery.    The important relationship between the cultural artifacts of Africa and the genre of the gothic would only become more apparent over the years. n “The Gothic Other” by Ruth Anolik and Doug Howard, it is argued that the dark mysteriousness encountered in Gothic literature is really a romance with the other—escaping from it, embracing it, etc.


The idea of "the other" as something frightening, misunderstood, similar to humans but not-quite-human, has been pervasive since the Romantic period, when many of the great pieces of gothic ifction were written.  Among the best of these, Shelley's Frankenstein, was one of the first gothic horror novels to be put into film--Edison Films' 1910 Frankenstein was the first major adaptation, although Karloff's 1931 version has been the most popular.  The adaptation of Frankenstein to film brings up many of the questions raised about the relationship of "the other" to western culture.  Notice how similar our cultural perspective of Frankenstein aligns with a stereotpyical view of the African male: the heavy brow, colored skin, tall and clumsy but inhumanly strong monster that we associate with the literature... in fact, notice the similarities between his face and the face of the above mask:




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(This artifact observation is not yet completed...)