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Perverted by language : weird fiction and the semiotic anomalies of a genre

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Sheedy, A 2017 , 'Perverted by language : weird fiction and the semiotic anomalies of a genre', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

Perverted by Language is a genre study of weird fiction, from the golden age of the High Weird to the New Weird of today. The study specifically addresses the often-overlooked tendency of weird fiction narratives to adopt a self-theorising approach to language, text, and discourse. While speculative fiction criticism has typically focussed on the teratology of the weird––the formless, yet over-formed monstrosities described by writer China Miéville as the prototypical “eldritch, oozing, tentacled thing”––my thesis argues that weird fiction’s monsters are as much semiotic as they are morphological. The horror of weird fiction, and its representations of monstrosity, frequently takes the form of utterance, spoken question and written confession.
Perverted by Language focuses exclusively on the weird’s most privileged form, the short story, analysing the work of writers including Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Michael Cisco, and Caitlin R. Kiernan. My thesis also examines stories by postmodern writers of the fantastic, such as Jorge Luis Borges, whose writings occasionally explore weird semiotic territory. The project draws on the work of theorists who, like the fiction writers listed above, en-weird language and the world of its usage. A key objective of the study is therefore to read with the grain of the weird rather than against it. Major influences include the spectral idioms of Jacques Derrida’s hauntology, the speech acts and performatives of J. L. Austin, and the non-linear, menacingly circling dialects associated with Brian Massumi’s concept of threat affect.
Chapter One assesses the attitudes and worldview of the weird as both a genre and a mode of writing, defining the field via an evaluation of differing critical approaches. Chapter Two examines the prototypical speech act in weird fiction, what I have termed “naming the unnameable.” Surveying stories that deploy this mode of negative performativity in various ways, the chapter elucidates a weird grammar of nameless things and thingless names. Chapters Three and Four form a two-chapter arc on the subject of the library, as both site and discourse, in weird fiction. Chapter Three looks at the library according to Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of the literary chronotope, arguing that weird fiction’s library is its most characteristic narrative time-space. Chapter Four examines the library’s function in the weird according to Michel Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia, as a space whose normative discourses are monstrously undermined by the texts on its shelves. Chapters Five and Six discuss weird affect and grammars of affect. Chapter Five deals with the affinity between weird fiction’s brand of affect and hauntology, arguing that both rely on the spectralising of language to be adequately conveyed. Finally, Chapter Six analyses a specific kind of affective process in the weird: namely, threat, and the manner in which threat is performed in language. The chapter contends that threat affect in the weird shares a homologous relationship with the speech act of the promise, deferring itself threateningly in language without revealing its true form.
Throughout, my overarching argument is that weird fiction fixates on the lacunae of language in order to elucidate a crisis of representation afflicting the extra-diegetic world. The weird’s narratology of horror is informed by language’s failure to adequately support human narratives of world and reality. However, the weird dramatises linguistic failure and negative representation to construct its own counter-narratives. Its stories depict humans as victims of language’s unfathomable spirals, and a world forever on the brink of an apocalypse of signification.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Sheedy, A
Keywords: weird fiction, horror, Lovecraft, semiotics, text, performativity
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Copyright 2016 the author

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