Uncanny affects : professionalism and the gothic sensibility
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"Uncanny Affects" argues, broadly, that the gothic novel of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries models a critical ethics of reading. By examining recurrent scenes of reading and interpretation in key gothic novels such as Ann Radcliffe's The Italian (1797), Walter Scott's The Antiquary (1816), and Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone (1868), I surmise that this critical ethics posits affect, or the experience of generalized emotion, as central to the act of interpretation. I contend that this gothic critical ethics influences the concurrent development of the discipline of literary criticism. By reading these key gothic novels and then tracking their broader influence on Victorian critics such as John Ruskin and Oscar Wilde, I make a case for the significance of a gothic epistemology to the development of literary criticism in British and American universities from the nineteenth century onward. A focus on the gothic novel's critically inclined characters, including antiquarians and detectives, enables me to read gothic novels and other gothically-inflected writing for what they can tell us about the practice of interpretation, particularly as that practice becomes institutionalized and professionalized. Thus I track the gothic mode's tendency toward affective reading in relation to ideas of professionalization, which values critical detachment or disinterestedness in interpretation. As a result, interpretation in the gothic mode can seem too emotional or "creative" for a typically professional practice. Reading the gothic as such links it to modern discussions about interpretive practices such as close reading, paranoid and reparative reading, and surface reading. Perhaps more importantly, reading the gothic alongside these new discussions on critical ethics allows us to think through the place of affect and pleasure in an ethical critical practice. Ultimately, examining how gothic texts formulate a gothic mode or philosophy of reading demonstrates the real ubiquity this mode has achieved in the critical setting, a ubiquity that continues to shape and influence our conceptions of scholarly and critical reading even today.