David Punter, Gothic Pathologies: The Text, the Body and the Law. Houndsmills: Macmillan Press, 1998. ISBN: 0-333-65802-7. Price: £47.50 (US$65).[Record]

  • Steven Bruhm

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  • Steven Bruhm
    Mount St. Vincent University

David Punter's Gothic Pathologies: The Text, the Body and the Law is a rich work of critical bricolage. Part Zizek and psychoanalysis, part neo-Jungian myth-study, and part materialist historicism, the book meditates on a wide range of Gothic texts in an attempt to develop two projects. The first of these projects is a theory not just of the Gothic but of modern textuality: Punter sees the Gothic as the perfect field for considering the relationship between textuality and loss, a "textuality as loss" (p. ix) where "loss" is meant both historically and psychoanalytically. "[I]n the context of the modern," Punter writes, "Gothic is the paradigm of all fiction, all textuality" (p. 1) in that the Gothic foregrounds the loss of history (through its fictional recapturing, which is also a fictional replacement) and the loss of the readerly self, since the same signifying laws that encode/displace history encode/displace the centrality of the reader's being. To this Punter links his second project, a politics of Gothic that would utilize its paradoxes for some sort of social change. He educes from the Gothic "an experience of friction, of homelessness, of disanimation which encourages a notion of animation on a 'different' site . . . which might involve accepting different depths, different sinkages, [and] which would produce in us a sense of a root of soul" (p. 220). This "sense" of root of soul—different from the Christian humanist soul—engages us in a complex, nuanced theory of otherness, one which Gothic Pathologies then links to political—through ontological—change. To show us what is at stake in this complexity, Punter locates the Gothic within a number of intersections. One is the body. In his reading, the body is vulnerable, fragile, and subject to dissolution—as is the body in psychoanalytic fantasy or desire—and at the same time excessive and inchoate, proliferative, with too many significations. It is the always already traumatized Oedipal body whose unspeakable threat of loss paradoxically produces overdeterminations, significations we read as desire. This overdetermined body is part of another intersection, another signification: the body in the Gothic is also ubiquitous and inescapable; it is always there for the law to work on, yet it is also always there before the law, prior to it. The body is that upon which the law must work but also from which the law, as a regulatory machine, takes its mandates (the body, in other words, tells the law what it must arraign). But given this dense, complex set of meanings attached to the body, the law which acts upon it is no simple agent either. It is equally intersected. On the one hand, the law is an ungrounded tautology—"the law is the law; and it is so because that is the law" (p. 43)—an agency requiring no external authorization, no founding body, but rather works by citing its own authority; the law has no "natural" power (thus Judith Butler's discussion of the law's "citationality" in Bodies that Matter). On the other hand, power in Punter's definition has "real" effects in that it "will contain the world of order and consign the rest of experience to the dark places and the wilderness" (p. 44). The law stabilizes chaos, and can do so only if it stabilizes bodies—that is, if it imagines bodies in abstraction, permitting no differences between them, differences for which it would have to adjust itself and thus fracture its power as law. In order to work on the body, then, the law must disavow it, reduce and deny its complexities of signification. But by a psychoanalytic and deconstructive logic (the primary methodology of …