Haunted spaces: chronological illusion, From Hell and the gothic graphic novel

Authors: Round, J.

Conference: Comic-Con International: Comic Arts Conference

Dates: 22-25 July 2010


This paper takes as its thesis writer Alan Moore’s statement:

When books are closed, they represent a model of post-Stephen Hawking spacetime, the events within the book depicting past, present and future all contained within a simultaneous whole. When books are opened, two modes of time come into play; time as it seems to pass for the characters and within the book and time as it appears to pass inside the reader’s mind. (1994: 13)

It interrogates this statement using narratological and gothic theory. It firstly demonstrates the ‘two modes of time’ noted by Moore, with brief reference to the literary theories of Gerard Genette (1980: 95). Using examples taken from From Hell it identifies ellipsis/summary (where narrative time is less than story time), scene (where narrative time is equal to story time) and pause (where narrative time is greater than story time). It then returns to the above statement and considers the entirety of From Hell as ‘a model of post-Stephen Hawking spacetime’, arguing that the book relies on a notion of time as co-present and non-linear. Events are multiplied and revisted without recourse to a single, linear chronology. It analyses sequences (murder of Marie Kelly, William Gull’s flight of fancy) to reveal their use of flashbacks/flashforwards and deconstructs narrative sequences that convey this vision of time in terms of both history (the ‘invisible curve’ of murder) and literature (as the inspiration for other classic gothic texts).

It proceeds to draw links between gothic theory and Moore’s use of multiple and co-present time, with particular reference to the question of veracity. It further explores this structure using Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok’s notion of the crypt and Jodey Castricano’s model of cryptomimesis. It concludes by reflecting on the ways in which the comics medium informs this depiction. It proposes that From Hell’s depiction of co-present time relies on a comic aesthetic, where all moments (panels) are co-present in the page’s spatial layout. The involvement required of the reader (as both interpreter and contributor author) reinforces the notion that ‘time is a human illusion’ and is essential to the slowing down of narrative time. Finally, the creation and sustenance of the hyperreal is essential in validating hallucination alongside ‘reality’.


Source: Manual

Preferred by: Julia Round