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Complicit bodies: Excessive sensibilities and haunted space

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Studies like Alan Holgate’s Aesthetics of Built Form (1992) and Juhani Pallasma’s The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses (2005) indicate the extent to which the role of the senses has recently caught the attention of architectural critics. Likewise, Gothic studies have always acknowledged the central role of senses and sensations in literature and other mediums; from the study of the eighteenth-century concern with the Sublime, to interest in the techniques of fear in cinema, scholars have consistently addressed the significance of senses, sensations and the body in Gothic works. This article suggests that a Victorian aesthetic concept – Einf├╝hlung or empathy – can be employed as a philosophical and aesthetic notion in order to understand haunted space and its effects in nineteenth-century Gothic fiction. Originating in the German aesthetic tradition, this nineteenth-century concept was enthusiastically adopted by British aesthetes, most notably Vernon Lee. Empathy may be defined as the identification of a person with an external object by reacting intellectually and physically to it and ascribing to this object feelings or attitudes present in oneself. This article insists that this phenomenon sheds light on the intimate relationship that is established between characters in Gothic fiction and the haunted space that they traverse. The discussion pursues two main objectives: first, to outline the main premises of the notion present in aesthetic treatises of the time (focusing on the nineteenth-century German tradition); and second, to illustrate the presence and significance of this notion in Gothic fiction, specifically in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1839) and Algernon Blackwood’s ‘The Empty House’ (1906). Gothic studies have often focused on concepts or philosophical techniques such as terror or horror, in order to understand how fear is both generated and experienced in Gothic works. This article suggests that the aesthetic notion of Einf├╝hlung might also be used as an interpretive technique in order to understand the sensations experimented by characters (and ultimately readers) that encounter and intimately experience haunted space.
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Keywords: Algernon Blackwood; Edgar Allan Poe; Gothic; architecture; body; haunted space; sensations

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Costa Rica

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • Horror Studies intends to serve the international academic community in the humanities and specifically those scholars interested in horror. Exclusively examining horror, this journal will provide interested professionals with an opportunity to read outstanding scholarship from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including work conceived as interdisciplinary. By expanding the conversation to include specialists concerned with diverse historical periods, varied geography, and a wide variety of expressive media, this journal will inform and stimulate anyone interested in a wider and deeper understanding of horror
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