Two Gothic Birth Scenes

In his biography of William Godwin, William St. Clair suggests the following passage from St. Leon is Godwin writing about the birth of Mary Shelley. So much to unpack!

“At length the critical period arrives, when an event so extraordinary occurs, as cannot fail to put the human frame in considerable jeopardy. Never shall I forget the interview between us immediately subsequent to her first parturition, the effusion of soul with which we met each other after all danger seemed to have subsided, the kindness which animated us, increased as it was by ideas of peril and suffering, the sacred sensation with which the mother presented her infant to her husband, or the complacency with which we read in each other’s eyes a common sentiment of melting tenderness and inviolable attachment!

“This, she seemed to say, is the joint result of our common affection. It partakes equally of both, and is the shrine in which our sympathies and our life have been poured together, never to be separated. Let other lovers testify their engagements by presents and tokens; we record and stamp our attachment in this precious creature, a creature of that species which is more admirable than any thing else the world has to boast, a creature susceptible of pleasure and pain, of affection and love, of sentiment and fancy, of wisdom and virtue. This creature will daily stand in need of an aid we shall delight to afford; will require our meditations and exertions to forward its improvement, and confirm its merits and its worth. We shall each blend our exertions, for that purpose, and our union, confirmed by this common object of our labour and affection, will every day become more sacred and indissoluble.—All this the present weakness of my beloved Marguerite would not allow her to say. But all this occurred to my reflections; and, when we had time tranquilly to compare our recollection of the event, it plainly appeared that in all this our hearts and conceptions had most truly sympathised.

“The possessing a third object, a common centre of anxiety to both, is far from weakening the regard of such a couple for each other. It does not separate or divert them; it is a new link of connection. Each is attached to it the more for the sake of either; each regards it as a sort of branch or scion, representing the parent; each rejoices in its health, its good humour, its smiles, its increase in size, in strength, and in faculties, principally from the idea of the gratification they will communicate to the other. Were it not for this idea, were it possible the pleasure should not be mutual, the sentiment would be stripped of its principal elevation and refinement; it would be comparatively cold, selfish, solitary, and inane.

The first paragraph is very sweet. The “melting tenderness” as they gaze upon their first born.

But then, the use of “creature” and “it” to refer to the newly born infant is unsettling to modern ears. Is this a testimony to Godwin’s emotional inhibitions? Or is it simply a different norm, language from a different era and different place?

If this is indeed Godwin reflecting upon Mary Shelley’s birth, and knowing that Mary Wollenstonecraft will be dead within a week (and that this passage truly reflects sincere feelings about the birth of his first child), then the third paragraph takes a dark and haunting turn. The joy of the baby is in the sharing; the sharing of creation, the sharing of responsibility, the sharing of love. Without this shared sentiment then a single parent is confronted with a world that is “cold, selfish, solitary, and inane,” a phrase that seems to aptly capture Godwin’s parenting style.

Mary Shelley writes about the birth of Frankenstein’s creature.

“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

“How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

“The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep.”

“The beauty of the dream vanished.” Echoes of St. Leon. The dream of a child as a source of joy evaporates for both Godwin’s St. Leon and Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankenstein removes himself from his child, instead of feeling connected to the new life, he feels “breathless horror and disgust.”

I haven’t taken a deep dive yet into the critical studies of Frankenstein, so I don’t know what others have written about the creature as an analog for Mary Shelley. My reading, however, suggests that Mary is often writing about herself when she is writing about the creature. Not necessarily autobiographically, but that she uses her experience to inform the experience of the creature. In many ways she is writing about the experience of women when she is writing about the experience of the creature. Perhaps in another world Frankenstein was subtitled: A Vindication of the Rights of Monsters.

The Elegy

I assumed an elegy was a lament for the dead; a sermon or poem to recognize the unique loss and the tragedy of permanent absence. I was wrong! (Well, and also right.) Early definitions of elegy described a certain form. Rhyming couplets in a certain rhythmic pattern. Elegies from the classical era might be about death but could also be erotic or tell a tale of myth.

Only when the English started writing elegiac poetry did it become closely associated with mourning.

In the 17th century some English poets still wrote elegies in the broadest sense. It looks like it was after the English Civil Wars and the Restoration that the English elegy became almost exclusively about commemorating death or tragedy.

Just as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto was a pivotal point in the development of the Gothic, so was Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.

Coincidentally, Gray and Walpole were close friends, touring Europe together for a couple of years. More about their relationship in a future post.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

excerpt from Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray.

Democritus, Jr.

In an earlier post I mentioned the motif of Democritus as the laughing philosopher and Heraclitus as the weeping philosopher. Reading about the melancholy English poetry of the 18th century I was reminded of Robert Burton’s use of Democritus in Anatomy of Melancholy (published in 1621). Burton, a Democritus fan, wrote his work under the pseudonym Democritus, Jr. However, he sees Democritus as melancholic rather than mirthful (though he does note that Democritus “laugh[s] heartily at such variety of ridiculous objects” he sees in town). So, perhaps, melancholy AND mirthful.

Here’s Burton’s description of Democritus, lightly edited for readability.

“Democritus, as he is described by Hippocrates and Laertius, was a little wearish old man, very melancholy by nature, averse from company in his latter days, and much given to solitariness, a famous philosopher in his age, coaevus [contemporary] with Socrates, wholly addicted to his studies at the last, and to a private life: wrote many excellent works, a great divine, according to the divinity of those times, an expert physician, a politician, an excellent mathematician, as Diacosmus and the rest of his works do witness.

“He was much delighted with the studies of husbandry, saith Columella, and often I find him cited by Constantinus and others treating of that subject. He knew the natures, differences of all beasts, plants, fishes, birds; and, as some say, could understand the tunes and voices of them. In a word, he was omnifariam doctus, a general scholar, a great student; and to the intent he might better contemplate, I find it related by some, that he put out his eyes, and was in his old age voluntarily blind, yet saw more than all Greece besides, and writ of every subject, Nihil in toto opificio naturae, de quo non scripsit [Google translate: There is nothing in the whole work of nature of which he has not written].

“A man of an excellent wit, profound conceit; and to attain knowledge the better in his younger years, he travelled to Egypt and Athens, to confer with learned men, “admired of some, despised of others.” After a wandering life, he settled at Abdera, a town in Thrace, and was sent for thither to be their lawmaker, recorder, or town-clerk, as some will; or as others, he was there bred and born. Howsoever it was, there he lived at last in a garden in the suburbs, wholly betaking himself to his studies and a private life, “saving that sometimes he would walk down to the haven,” “and laugh heartily at such variety of ridiculous objects, which there he saw.”

“Such a one was Democritus.”

Reading this reminds me of a genre of poetry I learned about in my recent reading. The “retirement” poem. These are works yearning for a quiet semi-rural life spent contemplating nature, pursuing scholarly interests, mostly in solitude but with a few good friends nearby. There are many variations of this trope, mostly restating something Martial wrote sometime in the first century CE.

The things that make a life of happiness,
most delightful Martial, are these:
property not produced by labour, but bequeathed;
a field that is not unyielding, a perennial fire;
never a lawsuit, a toga rarely worn, a mind at peace;
the strength of a gentleman, a healthy body;
sensible candour, well-matched friends;
easy company, a table without ornament;
a night not drunken, but free from cares;
a bed not sorrowful, but nevertheless chaste;
sleep, so as to make the night short:
wish to be what you are, and prefer nothing;
do not fear the final day, and do not long for it.

Poetry of the Graveyard

Where am I in the Gothic research?

I’m in the midst of a deep dive in English elegiac poetry of the early 18th century. Long before these symbols and allusions were distilled into a Gothic spirit, English poetry was haunted with ruins and graveyards, melancholy and ghosts.

Depending on which history or critic you are reading this kind of poetry is described as melancholy or pensive. It is often elegiac. And, contemporaneously, much of it is grouped under the umbrella of graveyard poetry, or the graveyard school. Some of it may have had direct influence on the Gothic literature but all of it contributed to a tone, or sensibility, that was embraced and heightened by the Gothic authors.

My Fancy palls, and takes Distast[e] at Pleasure;
My Soul grows out of Tune, it loaths the World,
Sickens at all the Noise and Folly of it;
And I could sit me down in some dull Shade,
Where lonely Contemplation keeps her Cave,
And dwells with hoary Hermits; there forget my self,
There fix my stupid Eyes upon the Earth,
And muse a way an Age in deepest Melancholy.

The tragedy of the Lady Jane Gray by Nicholas Rowe
a play in verse
published in 1715

One thing that stands out in this research is how transgressive poetry could be during this era as long as it ended with some sort of exultation of faith. You could write all sorts of horrid scenes as long as you ended with a warning that such moral transgressions would be punished, or that embracing the Christian faith would free one from the horrors described. The Gothic lit of the 1790s (and later) simply did away with the moralizing frame (for the most part) and piled up the frightful imagery. Long before Elmore Leonard the Gothic authors embraced his advice to writers to “leave out the parts that readers skip.”

Here is an an example of early 18th-century melancholy English poetry. Lady Chudleigh describes a melancholy life but reveals in the final sentence that everything will ok because the devout will awaken in heaven after death.

On the Vanities of this Life: A Pindarick Ode
by Lady Mary Chudleigh
published 1703


What makes fond Man the trifle Life desire,
And with such Ardor court his Pain?
‘Tis Madness, worse than Madness, to admire
What brings Ten thousand Miseries in its Train:
To each soft moment, Hours of Care succeed,
And for the Pleasures of a Day,
With Years of Grief we pay;
So much our lasting Sorrows, our fleeting Joys exceed.
In vain, in vain, we Happiness pursue,
That mighty Blessing is not here;
That, like the false misguiding Fire,
Is farthest off, when we believe it near:
Yet still we follow till we tire,
And in the fatal Chase Expire:
Each gaudy nothing which we view,
We fancy is the wish’d for Prize,
Its painted Glories captivate our Eyes;
Blinded by Pride, we hug our own Mistake,
And foolishly adore that Idol which we make.


Some hope to find it on the Coasts of Fame,
And hazard all to gain a glorious Name;
Proud of Deformity and Scars,
They seek for Honour in the bloodiest Wars;
On Dangers, unconcern’d, they run,
And Death it self disdain to shun:
This, the Rich with Wonder see,
And fancy they are happier far
Than those deluded Heroes are:
But this, alas! is their Mistake;
They only dream that they are blest,
For when they from their pleasing Slumbers wake,
They’ll find their Minds with Swarms of Cares opprest,
So crouded, that no part is free
To entertain Felicity:
The Pain to get, and Fear to lose,
Like Harpies, all their Joys devour:
Who such a wretched Life wou’d chuse?
Or think those happy who must Fortune trust?
That fickle Goddess is but seldom just.
Exterior things can ne’er be truly good,
Because within her Pow’r;
This the wise Ancients understood,
And only wish’d for what wou’d Life sustain;
Esteeming all beyond superfluous and vain.


Some think the Great are only blest,
Those God-like Men who shine above the rest:
In whom united Glories meet,
And all the lower World pay Homage at their Feet:
On their exalted Heights they sit in State,
And their Commands bind like the Laws of Fate:
Their Regal Scepters, and their glitt’ring Crowns,
Imprint an awful Fear in ev’ry Breast:
Death shoots his killing Arrows thro’ their Frowns;
Their Smiles are welcom, as the Beams of Light
Were to the infant World, when first it rose from Night.
Thus, in the Firmament of Pow’r above,
Each in his radiant Sphere does move,
Remote from common View;
Th’ admiring Croud with Wonder gaze,
The distant Glories their weak Eyes amaze:
But cou’d they search into the Truth of Things,
Cou’d they but look into the Thoughts of Kings;
If all their hidden Cares they knew,
Their Jealousies, their Fears, their Pain,
And all the Troubles of their Reign,
They then wou’d pity those they now admire;
And with their humble State content, wou’d nothing more desire.


If any thing like Happiness is here,
If any thing deserves our Care,
‘Tis only by the Good possest;
By those who Virtue’s Laws obey,
And cheerfully proceed in her unerring Way;
Whose Souls are cleans’d from all the Dregs of Sin,
From all the base Alloys of their inferior Part,
And fit to harbour that Celestial Guest,
Who ne’r will be confin’d
But to a holy Breast.
The pure and spotless Mind,
Has all within
That the most boundless Wish can crave;
The most aspiring Temper hope to have:
Nor needs the Helps of Art,
Nor vain Supplies of Sense,
Assur’d of all in only Innocence.


Malice and Envy, Discontent, and Pride,
Those fatal Inmates of the Vicious Mind,
Which into dang’rous Paths th’ unthinking Guide,
Ne’er to the pious Breast admittance find.
As th’ upper Region is Serene and clear,
No Winds, no Clouds are there,
So with perpetual Calms the virtuous Soul is blest,
Those Antepasts of everlasting Rest:
Like some firm Rock amidst the raging Waves
She stands, and their united Force outbraves;
Contends, till from her Earthly Shackles free,
She takes her flight
Into immense Eternity,
And in those Realms of unexhausted Light,
Forgets the Pressures of her former State.
O’er-joy’d to find her self beyond the reach of Fate.


O happy Place! where ev’ry thing will please,
Where neither Sickness, Fear, nor Strife,
Nor any of the painful Cares of Life,
Will interrupt her Ease:
Where ev’ry Object charms the Sight,
And yields fresh Wonder and Delight,
Where nothing’s heard but Songs of Joy,
Full of Extasie Divine,
Seraphick Hymns! which Love inspire,
And fill the Breast with sacred Fire:
Love refin’d from drossy Heat,
Rais’d to a Flame sublime and great,
In ev’ry Heav’nly Face do’s shine,
And each Celestial Tongue employ:
What e’er we can of Friendship know,
What e’er we Passion call below,
Does but a weak Resemblance bear,
To that blest Union which is ever there,
Where Love, like Life, do’s animate the whole,
As if it were but one blest individual Soul.


Such as a lasting Happiness would have,
Must seek it in the peaceful Grave,
Where free from Wrongs the Dead remain.
Life is a long continu’d Pain,
A lingring slow Disease.
Which Remedies a while may ease,
But cannot work a perfect Cure:
Musick with its inchanting Lays,
May for a while our Spirits raise,
Honour and Wealth may charm the Sense,
And by their pow’rful Influence
May gently lull our Cares asleep;
But when we think our selves secure,
And fondly hope we shall no future Ills endure,
Our Griefs awake again,
And with redoubl’d Rage augment our Pain:
In vain we stand on our Defence,
In vain a constant Watch we keep,
In vain each Path we guard;
Unseen into our Souls they creep,
And when they once are there, ’tis very hard
With all our Strength to force them thence;
Like bold Intruders on the whole they seize,
A Part will not th’ insatiate Victors please.


In vain, alas! in vain,
We Reason’s Aid implore,
That will but add a quicker Sense of Pain,
But not our former Joys restore:
Those few who by strict Rules their Lives have led,
Who Reason’s Laws attentively have read;
Who to its Dictates glad Submission pay,
And by their Passions never led astray,
Go resolutely on in its severest Way,
Could never solid Satisfaction find:
The most that Reason can, is to persuade the Mind,
Its Troubles decently to bear,
And not permit a Murmur, or a Tear,
To tell th’ inquiring World that any such are there:
But while we strive our Suff’rings to disown,
And blush to have our Frailties known;
While from the publick View our Griefs we hide,
And keep them Pris’ners in our Breast,
We seem to be, but are not truly blest;
What like Contentment looks, is but th’ Effect of Pride:
From it we no advantage win,
But are the same we were before,
The smarting Pains corrode us still within;
Confinement do’s but make them rage the more:
Upon the vital Stock they prey,
And by insensible degrees they wast our Life away.


In vain from Books we hope to gain Relief,
Knowledge does but increase our Grief:
The more we read, the more we find
Of th’ unexhausted Store still left behind:
To dig the wealthy Mine we try,
No Pain, no Labour spare;
But the lov’d Treasure too profound does lie,
And mocks our utmost Industry:
Like some inchanted Isle it does appear;
The pleas’d Spectator thinks it near;
But when with wide spread Sails he makes to shore,
His Hopes are lost, the Phantom’s seen no more:
Asham’d, and tir’d, we of Success despair,
Our fruitless Studies we repent,
And blush to see, that after all our Care,
After whole Years on tedious Volumes spent,
We only darkly understand
That which we thought we fully knew;
Thro’ Labyrinths we go without a Clue,
Till in the dang’rous Maze our selves we lose,
And neither know which Path t’avoid, or which to chuse.
From Thought to Thought, our restless Minds are tost,
Like Ship-wreck’d Mariners we seek the Land,
And in a Sea of Doubts are almost lost.
The Phœnix Truth wrapt up in Mists does lie,
Not to be clearly seen before we die;
Not till our Souls free from confining Clay,
Open their Eyes in everlasting Day.

My Gothic Body: Stone, part 4.1 – Work Life, Bag Life

Part 1part 2part 3.1, Part 3.2

TW: Living with a nephrostomy bag, almost certainly TMI

Sunday, after I got home from the emergency department, I had a couple of packages from Amazon. One contained Amazon Essentials sweat pants, and the other a netted bag, attached to a belt, I could use to hold the nephrostomy bag under the baggy sweats. I was ready to return to work on Monday.

If I was a normal, well-adjusted person I’d probably coordinate with my doctor and my HR people to figure out a reasonable amount of time to be out, perhaps come back working part days, figure out how to use an oddball bank of benefit hours that got grandfathered in when they changed benefit policy a few years ago, etc. But, as many people have have told me plainly over the years – I am not normal, and as a lifetime of insight has demonstrated to my satisfaction, I am not well-adjusted.

I’m afraid of my HR department. They fired one of my colleagues for having cancer. OK. That’s a pretty simplified version but I think that’s a fair summation. (If you want to know what happened I’m appending the story at the bottom of this post.) It is sufficient to say my fear is real.

And, I’m afraid of my doctor. That is, I’m afraid of annoying him to the point he does something mean to me. So I didn’t want to bother him with too many paperwork questions. (I did, though, ask plenty of questions about the procedure, possible alternatives, what to expect, ways to reduce the likelihood of it happening again, etc. I didn’t then want to start asking him to fill out paperwork for my HR department.) Did I mention that I’m not well-adjusted?

It is a novel experience to stand in front of a classroom knowing urine is pouring out of my body into a bag hanging next to my thigh. Knowing that when I’m done I’ll have to empty it because it’s getting pretty full. Wondering if they can see the outline of the bag as I move around the lectern. Maybe they didn’t see it at first but as it swells with urine they notice it! Did I ever think of that? Yes!

My mindset and energy in those early days was good. I could tolerate five weeks of this.

What happened though, is that it was hard to sleep. If this was a permanent condition, or if I were living with it more long-term, I would have purchased a “night bag.” A larger bag to use at night so I didn’t have to get up as often to empty it. I probably should have bought one even though it was only five weeks. I could have used that sleep. OR, I could have adopted this strategy much earlier than I did – remove the bag and cap the tube and don’t worry about emptying the bag. My bladder and kidney were working fine. The bag was there as a measure of precaution.

I chose to sleep kind of sitting up with my bag resting on a low bedside table. It had to be below my kidney and I got kind of squicked out sometimes when I imagined it above my kidney and urine flowing back into my body. Fortunately, I don’t think that ever happened.

Between the awkward position and getting up 3 times a night to empty the bag I quickly started missing sleep time. Sweet, sweet sleep time.

Then there was the nearly persistent discomfort of getting poked by the stent. Sometimes I’d find a satisfactory position but it never lasted long enough. Eventually I’d have to move and there’d be more discomfort.

There was also an ongoing worry about the tube connecting my body to my bag getting caught on something in the bathroom, so I moved (usually) very mindfully and cautiously if the bag and tube were ever exposed.*

to be continued…

*Eventually (perhaps in the next post) I’ll include the heart-dropping moment when I nearly pulled the tube from my back. That was a real eye-opening moment.

I’ll append the story of my colleague’s employment termination at the end of part 4.

Gap in the Literature – Economic Precarity and the Gothic Novel part 1: Walpole

It’s possible this scholarship is out there and I just haven’t found it. But I don’t see a lot about economic precarity and the Gothic novel.

Let me start with Walpole.

While Walpole lived a life of privilege and doesn’t seem to have faced any real financial crisis in his life, he lived in a world of economic precarity. He had acquaintances who went to debtor’s prison. He was often mocked for using cheap materials to fulfill his vision of Strawberry Hill House (some elements were constructed with papiermâché, or illusions were added with trompe-l’œil methods). His aspirations were bigger than his budget. So, while economic hardship never seriously disrupted his life, he was surrounded by it.

Perhaps it’s this environment that led him to be fascinated by old castles and the ghosts that haunt them.

Walpole’s dream of a romantic past is saturated with wealth. It takes a lot of money and human resources to build and maintain a castle. One (or many) must be able to marshal daily meals for the work force and for the working animals. You have to pay the crafts people. You have to be able to protect everyone and everything. Walpole’s Castle of Otranto contains a yearning for power, and the wealth that allows one to achieve that power.

This yearning for wealth and power became one of the principle tropes of the Gothic novel. Perhaps the most significant trope. We see it thread its way through almost every Gothic work and adapted by romance works targeted to female audiences.

Some women facing personal economic precarity were able to find success through writing gothic. And other women, also confronted with economic precarity, turned to the fantasies of glorious wealth to escape the reality of their own financial limits.

There’s a lot to unpack here. I’m going to turn to the following in the next few posts.

Next: Women consume a lot of works addressing economic precarity and fantasies of escaping into economic security.

Next: Ann Radcliffe Makes Bank

Next: Banditti Are Everywhere

Next: Gothic Writers Doing It For The Money

Next: Mid-20th Century Gothic Obsession with Stuff and Things Rich People Have

A Brief Aside: My Tumblr Fandom

After I dropped all my social media one of the things I missed was my Instagram page. It was filled with images of art and photography. One of the internet pacifications I still enjoy is scrolling through long lists of images. So, I dialled up my moribund Tumblr account and filled it with lots of cartoons, cartoonists, art and artists, photographers and photographic images. So many pretty pictures!

I eventually expanded a little into SFF fandom. I’ve always been intrigued by fandom but never really been very good at it (which probably deserves a longer post to unpack). Over the months I noticed lots and lots of references to a wide variety of fandoms. Where’s MY fandom I cried, I whined, I pouted. Everybody else gets to have a fandom. Why can’t I be a fan, I lamented.

But last night I realized I DO have a fandom. I’m a fan of scholarship. My whole adult life I’ve loved to read scholarship.

FLASHBACK: My friend JT told me once that (unbeknownst to me) I influenced his decision to go to grad school. I was just some yahoo working in a sandwich shop but I was telling him about the Foucault book I was reading (this was back in the early 1990s). He thought (he later told me) huh, perhaps academia isn’t completely isolated from the rest of the world. Perhaps I can be an academic and still reach a popular audience. /FLASHBACK

So, if you visit the blog page you’ll now see a Tumblr feed for my Tumblr blog (a blog of scholarly fandom!). Or, you can find the page here – or (or, if you’re into RSS –

I expect it to mostly be cool articles I find as I skim through Google Scholar (my preferred way to kill time on the internet).

One of the things that appealed to me about studying history, and later librarianship, is that both lend themselves to being a generalist. You can study the history of anything, and librarians try to organize the knowledge of everything. I’m very much a person of broad interests, not deep.

At Tumblr I describe my fandom this way –

My Tumblr Fandom

I think I finally figured out my Tumblr fandom! I really love scholars and scholarship and spend a lot of time browsing Google Scholar. I especially love historians of all stripes and critical theorists. Also some superstars like Rachel Armstrong, Rosi Braidotti, and Tim Ingold. I’m not a scholar but read a lot of scholarship. So, when I find some scholarship that catches my eye I’ll post it here. I’ll try to tilt toward open source but I’m sure some restricted access works will make their way into the mix.


I’ll let Tim Ingold conclude for me.

“Personally, I don’t much like the notion of interdisciplinarity. It tends to reproduce the colonial idea of the discipline as a bounded terrain of knowledge with an exclusive claim to represent a particular segment of the world. In just the same way, the international order reproduces the idea of the sovereignty of the nation state over its territory. As the world is carved up geopolitically between nations, so it is divided intellectually between disciplines. Dealing with other disciplines calls then for treaty negotiations, as in interdisciplinary conferences. But real disciplines are not like that. They are more like conversations. Each conversation is composed of multiple lines which, while converging in some regards, diverge in others. In practice these bundles of lines have no boundaries, nor do they lay claim to territories. Each line is rather looking for a way through. There is nothing to stop anyone from departing from one conversation in order to join another. One has to cross no boundaries in order to do so.

“So we don’t really need interdisciplinarity. That only creates boundaries where none were there before. What we need is accessibility, responsible scholarship, and conversation.”

Here’s to accessibility, responsible scholarship, and conversation!

My Gothic Body: Stone, part 3 – Bag Life 2: Emergency

Part 1, part 2, part 3.1

TW: life with nephrostomy tube and bag; emergency room visit

I stayed in the hospital the night of February 7 to be monitored. Mostly, I think, to make sure the internal bleeding was under control before being allowed to leave. (The surgeon nicked my ureter during the procedure, which prompted him to halt the operation. He rescheduled a second attempt for after my ureter healed.)

The first night home, Thursday, February 8, I felt a little disembodied. Presumably due to the anesthesia and the shock of the unexpected new life thrust upon me. That night was the only night I took any of my prescribed narcotics. It wasn’t that I was in pain exactly, it was more that I felt entirely discombobulated and didn’t know how to categorize all the new sensations my body was experiencing.

Alvin the dog was not happy with my arrival. I smelled weird, I moved weird, and I was carrying a white bag, which, presumably, smelled of urine because it was filled with urine. He was uncomfortably interested in my nephrostomy bag and so I started carrying that bag in a cheap cloth grocery bag, later replaced with a purse-like bag with a shoulder strap meant to be used for carrying dog-related stuff when out walking the dog.

Due to anesthesia and then oxycodone my bowels weren’t moving as they should and by Friday the constipation was increasingly uncomfortable. I first tried to rectify this with the stool softeners prescribed by the doctor. When that didn’t work I asked J to run out and get me an over-the-counter laxative from CVS. It was a pretty crummy day overall, discomfort from constipation, discomfort from the surgical wound in my back, and discomfort from trying to find positions in which I could sit without pressing on the nephrostomy tube worming its way from my back, and anxiety about going through all of this and still going to work on Monday.

Fortunately, the laxatives had their desired effect around 10pm and I imagined I would be able to get some rest.

At 4am Saturday morning I found myself wide awake and experiencing a calm lucidity. I went online and ordered new sweatpants and a special bag with a belt for carrying the nephrostomy bag. I had to be back at work on Monday and needed to figure out how to live life with this unexpected development.

Confident I had everything sorted out I did almost nothing on Saturday except rest.


Over the course of Saturday I experienced some problems with the bag. At least, what I perceived as problems. Until Saturday the bag collected urine consistently. Starting Saturday there would be stretches of time when nothing went into the bag.

I had been told by the nurse to expect this and presumed it was time to clean the tube with a special syringe apparatus they gave me just for this purpose.

Here’s the process —

  • turn the stopcock to off to stop fluid from flowing into the bag,
  • detach the bag,
  • attach the special syringe full of sterilized water,
  • turn the stopcock back to allow the syringe water to flow into the tube,
  • squeeze the water, slowly but deliberately, into the tube,
  • turn the stopcock to off,
  • remove the empty syringe,
  • reattach the bag,
  • turn the stopcock again to allow urine to flow from my kidney into the bag.

I spent a lot of time online trying to find reliable information about the whole nephrostomy bag process, but didn’t have a lot of luck.

The drainage continued to be erratic over the course of the day. By bedtime I’d flushed the tube multiple times and thought everything was working as it should. I awoke in the middle of the night with nothing in my bag. By dawn the bag was still empty and it looked like it was time to visit the emergency room. (An NHS site said that if nothing flowed into the bag for 10-12 hours I probably needed professional help.) If this had been a weekday instead of a weekend I could have gone to the doctor’s office, but, because Sunday morning, I had to visit the emergency room (which my local hospital calls an emergency department). When J woke up I explained the situation. There was no rush but I needed someone to help me understand why urine had stopped moving from my kidney to my bag.

We arrived at the hospital emergency department around 9am on Sunday morning. If nothing else, that seemed like it would probably be a time when not many people would be there. And, there weren’t. Still, there was a wait and the nervousness of not knowing what the end result might be. My hope was that I’d only need to swap out my current bag for a new one. But who knew?

We were eventually moved into a small examination room where we waited some more. Just before being moved to the room I’d peed in the bathroom and so there was nothing available when the nurse asked for a urine sample. I started diligently drinking from my water bottle to generate a sample while we waited to see a doctor. There was a door leading to a hallway used by staff and it was open. Several nurses worked at computer stations in the hallway and we passed the time listening to them gossip. They had a lot to complain about.

Eventually one nurse (wearing a paramedic t-shirt, so maybe a paramedic?) came in and listened to my tale and said I probably needed to have my tube replaced. I didn’t really appreciate what that might entail but it sounded reasonable. She left and we never saw her again.

Not long after she left two doctors came in. One I recognized from the morning after the operation. He’d come by to check on my progress and he’s the one that told me officially that the procedure had been shut down. He was part of the urology team, a resident I believe. His associate was an impossibly young-looking woman, very out-going and positive, and she did all the talking. I learned later (though she didn’t mention it at the time) that she had also been part of the team that did my operation.

“We finished our surgeries and rounds for the morning and saw that you’d been admitted to the emergency department and thought we’d swing by and see what was happening.”

I explained how the bag wasn’t collecting anything despite multiple cleanings.

She detached the bag (without turning the stopcock) and using a syringe withdrew urine directly from my kidney (there’s the sample!). Weird sensation. She also cleaned the tube. In retrospect, I think whatever she did ended up fixing the problem. The tube was blocked somehow? Regardless, it worked after she was done.

I mentioned that she didn’t turn the stopcock and she explained that the stopcock wasn’t for stopping the urine flow. Instead, it was meant to hold the stent in place. Every time I’d turned the stopcock I’d loosened the wire holding the stent in place. I think that ended up dislodging my stent ever-so-slightly leading to increased discomfort as time passed. I’d seen the wire retreating into the tube more and more every time I tried to flush the tube but didn’t realize its purpose was to hold the stent into place. I didn’t really understand what purpose it served.

She didn’t mention it during the visit but shortly afterwards I got notice from the doctor that I needed to come into the office to have the 3-way stopcock attached.


Remember this conversation from my night in the hospital?

“What’s this?” Nurse Mary asked Nurse Cindy. They were looking at my back and I couldn’t tell what they were talking about. I was still wrapping my head around what it would mean to live with a bag attached to my body.

“I don’t know.”

“Did you put it on?”

“No. It was like that.”

“Well, take it off. It’s redundant. We don’t need it. See (and she fiddles with something I can’t see) you can just twist this instead.”

“OK.” Nurse Cindy leaves the room to retrieve all the bandages and stuff Nurse Mary directed her to collect for me to take home.

In retrospect it seems clear that Nurse Mary removed the 3-way stopcock and incorrectly identified the stent lock as the flow control element. Possibly the stent would have been uncomfortable regardless, but I kind of think constantly loosening the stent lock led to increased discomfort.

Once the impossibly young doctor finished flushing the tube and taking a urine sample the bag started working as it should. She mentioned that if she were the lead urologist she would have capped the tube and not made me wear a bag. She offered to phone my urologist to see if he was willing to do the same. She stepped out of the room to make the call and returned a few minutes later saying my urologist wanted me to wear a bag.

She sent me to get an x-ray to make sure the stent wasn’t wildly out of place and then I was sent to the waiting room until she could review the x-rays. About 30 minutes later I was discharged, bag once again collecting urine from my kidney.

Wow! Such a long entry. Still to come — working and living with a bag, bacterial infection, and farewell to sleep. Oh! And ultimately, it all works out and my health is returned.

The Burkean Sublime

I think of sublime as something that invokes a sense of awe.

In the 18th century Edmund Burke wrote about the philosophy about taste and gave sublimity a unique spin that became quite popular with writers of Gothic and Romantic literature.

The sublime, for Burke, was inextricably interwoven with fear.

“Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.”

So, the sublime is the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling, and what sparks that emotion is anything that:

  • excites ideas of pain,
  • excites ideas of danger,
  • is in any way terrible,
  • is conversant with terrible subjects,
  • operates in a manner analagous to terror.

For Burke the sublime equals pain, danger, and terror, and these feelings are the strongest human emotions. The emotion of pain is stronger than the emotion of pleasure.

Burke also argues that once one gains some distance from terror there is an ineluctable delight to be had.

“When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are delighful, as we every day experience.”

And this is the seed of Gothic/Horror/Terror fiction according to Burke. As long as we can have some distance from the experience, pain, danger, fear, and terror can be delightful. And the success of these types of stories is rooted in their ability to engage the most deeply felt human emotions.

Burke, for those unfamiliar with the name, has long stood as one of the intellectual founders of modern conversative political theory. You may remember from some US history class that Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, defending the French Revolution, was written as a response to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, condemning the revolution.

Originally, this post contained a long meditation about the connection between conservative political ideology and horror. It quickly became unwieldy and riddled with qualifiers and confusion. I decided I needed more background info before I could write cogently about the connection between horror and conservativism.

To that end I’m starting with The Philosophy of Horror or Paradoxes of the Heart by Noel Carroll (review). Carroll addresses this concept specifically. More later!

The Themes, Gothic and Otherwise

This post is to help me organize some of the broad themes percolating around my Gothic project.

One of the early sparks was reading Gail Carriger’s Heroine’s Journey. I realized I’d never really read many books/stories, or watched many movies/shows that were marketed for women. Despite my white, male, cishet, middle-class liberal proclamations about how I’m interested in all things human, and the human experience, I seemed to have meticulously avoided much that wasn’t directly marketed to white, cishet, male, middle-class me. heh. *embarrassed blush*

It turns out my claim to Terence’s motto — “I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me” — is, despite my naive good intentions, a load of horseshit. Most of human experience is alien to me, and often because of specific choices I have made, intentionally or not.

So, rolling around in the back of my brain was this idea that I wanted to find an entry into reading romance. Easy enough to do in practice but I wanted some kind of framework so that maybe I could write about it.

So, one theme is reading/watching works created for a female audience.

One example of this are movies of the 1940s. While men in Britain and the US were displaced because of the war, movie studios made some movies targeted to women. The Wikipedia entry for Woman’s Films discusses this.

“The woman’s film genre was particularly popular in 1930s and 1940s, reaching its zenith during World War II. The film industry of that time had an economic interest in producing such films as women were believed to comprise a majority of movie-goers. In line with this perception, many woman’s films were prestigious productions which attracted some of the best stars and directors.”

The second theme I expect to write about/mull over, is my body as an object. I clearly objectify my own body in ways I barely recognize and I’m sure in ways I don’t recognize at all. I also live in a world and in a time where the human body is often considered a collection of objects. My recent experience living with an external bladder attached to my internal kidney highlighted this. (I was a wetware cyborg!)

The third is to think more about the tropes surrounding Gothic literature: hauntings, the supernatural, ruins, etc. And to learn more about the cultural trappings surrounding peaks of Gothic production.

So the three threads I want to braid together in this project are:

  • reading works created for women and to-this-point ignored by me;
  • meditating and writing about my conceptions of my body and bodies in general;
  • the tropes of Gothic literature and cinema, a set of lenses I can use to study whatever I’m thinking of at the moment.

Initially this all added up to exploring Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, especially the creature and its manifestations since its inception. But as the project ferments I see I’ll want to broaden it somewhat. Shelley’s work will still play an important role but perhaps not quite so central as I once thought.