by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
As you might have realised, I fell down a wondrous rabbit hole of gothic and weird scholarship in my last post – and it only scratched the surface. One of the great things about writing that post was being introduced to people who really love this genre/mode. And one of those people is Chris Angelis.
Chris, who holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Tampere, has done a ton of research on gothic literature (which you can find on his site), and it just so happens that he is also a programming wiz. One of his awesome tech creations is the Gothic Meter (which you can learn more about, here).
Basically, as Chris explains, Gothic Meter “is a program that takes a text and not only tells you whether it falls within the wider Gothic sphere (Gothic, horror, dark fantasy, or science fiction), but also how and why.”
Sign me up! (no need! I already did).
A few seconds after uploading a text file of Tasmanian Gothic into the program, it had performed complex analysis on a large number of parameters and linguistic patterns, and spat out a page of results. And – exciting! – Chris has generously given me permission to share those results with you.
CUT TO THE CHASE – HOW GOTHIC IS TASMANIAN GOTHIC?
Pretty gothic, it turns out.
When I first approached Chris about using the program to analyse Tasmanian Gothic, I was a little worried the science fiction bent would skew the results – and it did a little (more on that later), but overwhelmingly the results confirm Tasmanian Gothic can sit easily in the gothic genre.
It received an overall probability rating of 53%, which considering the first ever gothic novel (Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Otranto’) scored 62%, and anything over 60% is strongly considered gothic, it’s fair to say Tasmanian Gothic has solid claims to the genre.
But how did the program reach this rating?
WHAT MAKES A GOTHIC NOVEL, WELL, GOTHIC?
Gothic Meter undertakes analysis of gothic categories – both in distribution and progression throughout a novel – to determine how gothic a novel is. These categories are:
- FEAR: “Elements of Fear are those responsible for offering a Gothic work its affective characteristic.”
- SUBLIME: “[A]spects of the Sublime are those that inspire a sense of awe and dread, a sense of experiencing something immense and beyond proportions.”
- REALITY: “As for Reality, such elements indicate a point in the narrative where the characters (and the reader) face the fact that reality is not as previously thought.”
- TIME: “A special subset of [Reality] is Time, which refers to how the narrative uses temporal aspects to distort the sense of reality.”
- ONTOLOGY: “In terms of supernatural elements, Ontology is the category covering that. The presence (whether actual or suspected) of the supernatural adds such points to a text.”
- SETTING: “Any self-respecting Gothic work displays peculiar, characteristic Settings. Castles, cemeteries, decay, foggy forests and whatnot, all contribute to this category.”
- TOPICAL ELEMENTS: “Finally, the Topical category refers to Gothic themes, such as the occult in general, witchcraft, forbidden knowledge, etc.”
(explanations are direct quotes from the results page)
As you can see from the above analysis, Tasmanian Gothic loses points for its ontology – largely because, as a work of science fiction, it is grounded less in the supernatural (no ghosts or spectres) and more in the weird (mutant insects and people with eyes in their hands). Tasmanian Gothic is also light on time ambiguity, largely because temporal aberrations are not a feature in this dystopian/post-apocalyptic story (that said, the category of time does present some fertile territory for other gothic sci-fi…).
Strangely, Tasmanian Gothic also scores lower than expected in the sublime category – remember from the last post, ‘sublime’ is a term used to conceptualise that interlinking of desire and fear, beauty and terror, love and death. For my mind, Tasmanian Gothic has that in spades – the protagonist herself is both beautiful and terrible (which makes for a great grimdark character), and she is both repulsed by and attracted to the mutants around her. This unsettling pairing of attraction and abjection is a key theme in the story.
When I asked Chris about this, he replied:
“…[T]he program detects literary patterns relevant to the sublime. Words such as “awe”, “massive”, “indescribable”, etc. and the way these are combined trigger responses. From all the categories Gothic Meter scans, the sublime is the most likely to provide inaccurate results, due to the inherent nature of the sublime. I mean, how can you access something that, quite by definition, is inaccessible?”
Fair point! It’s also worthwhile to revisit the caveat Chris included with the meter:
“Gothic Meter is only a tool, attempting to quantify what is an inherently unquantifiable process. In other words, results should only be seen as indicative; descriptive, rather than prescriptive. Although Gothic Meter is a result of familiarity with and academic-level knowledge of the subject, there is inevitable bias introduced in the way the program scans the texts.”
One thing I really like about the Gothic Meter, is that it just doesn’t assess the presence of these categories, it analyses their progression throughout the narrative.
In the case of Tasmanian Gothic, I love how the crescendo of gothic elements also tracks with the rising and falling action of Freytag’s pyramid of dramatic structure. This is more clearly evidenced when you look at how fear and narrative pacing present in this same progression:
As the results page explains, there is no right or wrong way for these two to track: “Some narratives operate by coupling fear to a fast pace, others by slowing down and building suspense”. From the above analysis, it’s clear (and accurately interpreted) that Tasmanian Gothic is not the slow, suspenseful, brooding gothic of traditional gothic novels or, indeed, the Tasmanian Gothic genre that gave rise to its title. Tasmanian Gothic is wild and thunderous and intense – which, happily, confirms the ‘thriller’ tag its been carrying.
Finally, the Gothic Meter analyses a small set of other variables that help to identify a text as gothic:
- PROXIMITY: which “measures how certain words – e.g. “night” and “fear”, or “silence” and “darkness” – are used in close proximity to each other.”
- AMBIGUITY: which “detects the ambiguous use of language – such as “what if” or “could it be” – to promote a feeling of uncertainty.”
- GROTESQUE: which “detects the presence of relevant concepts: monstrosity, disfigurement, the macabre, etc.”
- MEMORY: which “detects instances of flawed recollections, loss of memory, etc., which can also promote ambiguity in the Gothic.”
The graph below shows the percentage each variable has contributed to the overall gothic rating of Tasmanian Gothic.
While ambiguity and memory are story elements in Tasmanian Gothic – related to the past and present traumas suffered by the protagonist (hence their presence in the graph) – Tasmanian Gothic is definitely a story that celebrates the grotesque and macabre, and puts them front and centre.
THAT’S PRETTY AWESOME…
I know, right? If you’ve got a favourite text that you think is an under-appreciated gothic masterpiece, or perhaps are writing your own gothic novel, you can reach out to Chris via his site to request access to the Gothic Meter.
To help introduce you, Chris has also kindly participated in a quick Q&A on all things gothic that you can find here.
A big thank you to him for sharing his app and the depth of his research!
A topic I had never once considered until now!
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Great to see that Gothic Meter was mostly accurate in the case of Tasmanian Gothic! Though I’ve tried the program with plenty of texts, “real-world” examples are always better to try such programs with.
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