mark dery

Mark Dery Guest Lecture

“The Screams We Make In Other People’s Dreams”: Edward Gorey, the Gay Gothic, and the Camp Macabre

November 28th, 2018
Lecture: 7pm
SME 149, Structural & Materials Engineering Bldg., UC San Diego
Free and open to the public

Edward Gorey (1925-2000)—the incomparably eccentric author and illustrator of more than a hundred-odd little picture books with titles like The Loathsome Couple, The Beastly Baby, and Neglected Murderesses—always claimed to be asexual. (“Reasonably undersexed,” is how he put it.) Yet his mauve-ish aesthetic is steeped in the pre-Stonewall gay sensibility of camp, the Aestheticism of 19th-century gay writers such as Oscar Wilde and the Decadent artist Aubrey Beardsley, the nonsense verse of the gay writer of limericks Edward Lear, and the cutting irony of ‘20s queer novelists such as Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett. At the same time, Gorey’s “hand-drawn engravings” and darkly droll writing are indebted to gothic literature, Victorian penny dreadfuls, and true crime—genres whose literary conventions and artistic clichés Gorey uses to hint not only at his buried sexuality but to problematize all notions of identity and normalcy.

In this lecture, cultural critic Mark Dery will draw on queer theory, literary criticism, art history, and cultural studies to explore the Freudian shadows lurking in the corners of Gorey’s whimsically macabre art and writing. As well, he’ll reveal the seminal role played by Gorey in the postwar mainstreaming of the gay aesthetic and, together with children’s authors like Maurice Sendak, the transformation of American visions of childhood and the popularization of the darker, queerer children’s literature familiar from Lemony Snicket’s YA novels, and the twee-goth movies of Tim Burton.

Mark Dery is a cultural critic, essayist, and book author who has taught at NYU and Yale. He coined the term “Afrofuturism,” popularized the concept of “culture jamming,” and has published widely, in the academic as well as the popular press, on American mythologies and pathologies. His books include Flame Wars (1994), a seminal anthology of writings on digital culture; Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century (1996), which has been translated into eight languages; The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink (1999), a study of cultural chaos in millennial America; and the essay collection, I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-by Essays on American Dread, American Dreams (2012). His biography of Edward Gorey, Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, will be published by Little, Brown this November.

Presented with support from the Literature Department, UC San Diego.

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