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One of the common features of Gothic texts is an overabundance of meanings. When I was teaching Wuthering Heights, I tried to explain to my students how this can be exhilarating or it can be terrifying. It can point the way to infinite abundance, or the void.

Most of the time, I am excited about teaching. I have always been a relentless reader, and I feel lucky to be able to share my experience with students. Most of the time, I find research thrilling—that's really not too strong a word for it. I am, more often than not, struggling to decide what to leave out, rather than hunting down materials to fill up my lesson plans. Sometimes, though, my enthusiasm turns into doubt and despair. If a text is about demon lovers and the disappearance of God and the industrial revolution and the rise of the proletariat and a corrective to Paradise Lost, is it really about anything? Or is it just fodder for graduate students who need an original dissertation topic? I find myself wondering why I care.

I would like to say that I have an answer for that question, that I have a incontrovertible response that never falls to restore my faith in books and the teaching of them, but I don't. I could say that this existential crisis is just one manifestation of my general melancholia, and not a problem with books themselves, but that doesn't solve the problem. Rather, it opens it up. It's true: My problem isn't with books; it's with meaning and the absence of meaning, and here, perhaps, we discover why I teach the books I teach in the first place.

I don't believe in books with answers. I believe that these answers are—necessarily, inherently—lies. I believe that they are the product of limited imagination or cynicism, possibly both. I am skeptical of solace. Gothic stories don't offer the ease of solutions. They offer endings, but these endings are seldom consoling and often raise more questions than they answer. There's no comfort in this, but the constant terror and elusive joy of giving shape to nothingness.

December 9, 2003 | Permalink