The Geographies of Folk Horror: from the Strange Rural to the Urban Wyrd

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Together with Julian Holloway (Manchester Metropolitan University), I have co-organised a session on The Geographies of Folk Horror for this year’s RGS-IBG Annual Conference, to be held at the Royal Geographical Society, London, 27-30th August 2019.

The session will be held on Thursday 29th August and features the following papers and speakers:

  1. ‘On the Geographies of Folk Horror’, James Thurgill (The University of Tokyo, Japan).
  2. Julian Holloway (Manchester Metropolitan University)
  3. ‘“Wraith-like is this native stone”: folklore, folk horror and archaeological landscapes’, Katy Soar (University of Winchester, UK)
  4. ‘Horror in (English) Folk Music and the Rise of Eco-Horror as a new Theme’,
    Owain Jones (Bath Spa University, UK)

 

Abstracts

1. On the Geographies of Folk Horror, James Thurgill (The University of Tokyo, Japan).

Since the turn of the new millennium, the humanities have undergone a growing engagement with themes of absence, monstrosity, spectrality and, more broadly, the supernatural in its various guises. Human geography too has seen a number of scholars turning to the ghostly, occult and magical in their analyses of  spirituality, place and experience. A more recent development that has emerged from these earlier explorations of the strange and uncanny has been the retrospective coining of ‘Folk Horror’, a strain of horror based largely on (mis)representations of pastoral geographies and the people who inhabit them as menacing, malevolent and anti-modern.

In its numerous associated films and texts, Folk Horror has sought to complicate the relations between people and places, offering a horror almost entirely reliant upon the destabilising of the worlds in which its characters (and audience) dwell, often utilising a sense of dread that emerges from beneath the earth itself. In doing so, the fear and the threat that Folk Horror has traditionally evoked has been one derived from the deliberate manipulation of the boundaries ordinarily thought to exist between nature and culture, people and places. Human, non-human and more-than-human actants come together to alter, disturb and delineate space and time.

While Folk Horror’s texts undoubtedly depict, challenge and problematise all sorts of spaces and environments, including the city via the lens of the Urban Wyrd, geographers have almost entirely neglected the genre and its cinematic, literary and sonic outputs in their analyses of popular representations of geography. This paper offers an overview of the geographies of Folk Horror and considers the genre’s ongoing contribution to the popular geographic imagination.

2. Sounding Folk Horror and the Strange Rural, Julian Holloway (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)

For the most part, the recent interest in all things Folk Horror has been dominated by the visual and the textual. Less documented is the role that folk horror tropes and meanings play in music and sound. This paper seeks to redress this imbalance by thinking through how we might understand folk horror as something sonically articulated and musically constructed. In so doing, exploring the sound of folk horror is often less about representation and more about atmospheres, expressed worlds and certain imaginative geographies. The paper seeks to chart these atmospheres and imagined spaces through examples from a variety of musical and sound artists who variously sonically practice the strange and disturbing rural. These works allow us to consider the role of the landscape itself, affective registers of the eerie, uncertainty and the acousmatic, in the production of folk horror sonics and musical worlds.

3. “Wraith-like is this native stone”: folklore, folk horror and archaeological landscapes, Katy Soar (University of Winchester, UK)

Archaeological monuments and landscapes have long loomed large in the popular imagination, creating as they do impressions of deep temporality, of lingering hint of things broader, deeper, and more ancient than ourselves, which often translates into a sense of unease, or eeriness, if not outright fear. These impressions often manifest through storytelling: traditional folk stories that develop around monuments such as Neolithic stone circles, henges and long barrows talk of petrification, giants and devils. Alternatively, many horror writers of the 19th and early 20th century locate their tales of terrors directly in the archaeological.

What binds these stories together – those of folklore and those of folk horror – is an understanding of the past not as a static entity but as something real, lurking below the surface and waiting to be unleashed. Archaeological monuments act as survivals, physical manifestations of a remote, otherworldly past that is still connected with the present. This paper will consider these narratives of fear which surround archaeological sites by examining both traditional folkloric motifs and the folk horror elements of writers such as M.R. James, Arthur Machen and Sarban. These ‘native stones’, it will be argued, appear ‘wraith like’ because of their ability to destabilise the boundaries of present and past. However, this also allows us to consider how these narratives reflect contemporary understandings of antiquarianism and archaeology as well as contemporary anxieties regarding our place in the world.

4. Horror in (English) Folk Music and the Rise of Eco-Horror as a new Theme, Owain Jones (Bath Spa University, UK) 

If Folk Horror has grown in recent decades – it should be remembered that (rural) horror, of one type or another, has long been a staple narrative of folk music. Ghost stories abound in folk song, and weave themes of murder, adultery, betrayals, lost loves, rejected loves, bitter disputes over race, money and property, poverty, into supernatural yarns of the returning dead, of haunted places and landscapes, of fear, longing and suffering. These were songs of, and from, the conditions of the common people rendered supernatural. Some of these narratives, many of them residing in the great song collections such as Cecil Sharp, will have sustained in form for many centuries. They are predominantly rural in setting as they were born of an overwhelmingly agrarian society. They are now being reinterpreted by a new generation of folk artists such as Jim Moray and the Unthanks, often urban located artists, and consumed in urban settings. This longevity is testament to the enduring power of such tales and the melodies they are told through. Citing a number of specific songs, such as the terrifying “Long Lankin”, this paper looks back at this tradition of (rural) folk horror and then explores how new conditions of the common people, such as the horrors of climate change, pollution, and species extinction, are entering the folk music cannon, and speculates on whether they can have similar force as the older enduring narratives of human life, suffering and death, and their shifting rural/urban provenance.

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Folk Horror in the 21st Century

I’m pleased to announce that I will be delivering a paper at Folk Horror in the 21st Century, a two-day international conference to be held at University of Falmouth, UK, 5-6th September 2019. The conference has been organised by Ruth Heholt (Falmouth University, UK), Dawn Keetley (Lehigh University, USA), Joanne Parsons (Bath Spa University, UK), and David Devanny (Falmouth University).

I’ll be discussing the nature of geography in Folk Horror,  placing a particular emphasis  on the spatial nature of the eerie.

The abstract for my paper can be found below:

Locating the Eerie: Towards a Geography of Folk Horror

In recent years, “the eerie” has gained traction among scholars attempting to describe the strange ambiguity that pervades representations of landscape in Folk Horror. However, the specifics of the eerie have been left largely undefined, particularly with regard to the spatial conditions from which the production of the eerie emerges. While Mark Fisher’s (2016) treatment of the eerie provides a useful foundation for working with the term, positioning the failure of presence and absence as a basis on which the eerie might come into being, the work fails to consider the spatial underpinnings of the concept or its impact on the geographic imagination.

The eerie offers a language through which we might locate and deconstruct those geographies outside the realms of quotidian experience and which are central to Folk Horror – edgelands, margins, borders, abandoned buildings, coastlines, ruins, woodland – and speaks to a wider discourse on affectual encounters with place.The uneasiness that Folk Horror affords its audience is bound up with the representation and reproduction of spaces perceived to be eerie, frequently depicting the strangeness of geographies of a predominantly rural character: spaces that are often simultaneously distant and familiar in the minds of the audience.

This paper sets out to examine the spatial foundations of the eerie in the production of Folk Horror, considering the function and co-dependency of presence and absence in the destabilising of the folk-horrific landscape and the strange affectual qualities of its contingent geographies. Taking Fisher’s application of the eerie to M.R. James’ writings in The Weird and The Eerie (2016) as a prompt for an enquiry into the spatial uncanny, this paper aims to foster a dialogue between geography and Folk Horror, considering how the spaces of the latter might be conceptualised and mapped out in geographic terms.

*Fisher, M. (2016) The Weird and The Eerie. London: Repeater Books.

Un/Mapping Sacrality in Kamakura: Towards a (Meaningful) Spiritual Cartography

I have a (short) paper on walking, un/mapping and sacrality in Livingmaps Review’s ‘Lines of Desire’ section. All content is open access and can be found here.

Un/Mapping Sacrality in Kamakura: Towards a (Meaningful) Spiritual Cartography

Abstract: This short auto-ethnographic paper seeks to examine the tension between meaning and encounter in the spiritual experience. Taking Japan’s historic coastal capital of Kamakura as a site for analysis, I problematise the practice of mapping sacred sites for economic gain and argue for the importance of counter methods in seeking out individual attachments to place. Whilst mapping and walking play a significant role in the touristic experience of Kamakura, with both actively promoted by the local government, the scale of visitation at the city’s sites of spiritual interest further complicates the potential to have meaningful encounters with place. This article works to demonstrate a process of un/mapping, whereby the identification and navigation of cartographic absences can lead to a more enriched experience of place and a redefining of its spiritual attributes.

Manchester Folk Horror Festival II

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I’m very grateful to Dr. Julian Holloway (Manchester Metropolitan University) for inviting me to join a panel he’s organised for the second Manchester Folk Horror Festival next month.

“The Manchester Folk Horror Festival returns, this year taking in a host of new and interesting participants. There’s a slightly more hauntological bent to the music, some real surprises and a host of independent films.

The festival will take place on 2 February 2019 at Northern Quarter venues The Peer Hat and Aatma, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester. Live performances will start at 3pm and film screenings will start at 6:30pm. Tickets are £10 plus booking fee (unless purchased on the door) and limited to 222.

The current folk horror revival in British cinema, reflects a wider trend of re-discovery and re-enchantment. The Peer Hat will be looking to reflect this phenomenon, with not just a programme of music and film, but also activities and workshops.” (Taken from the MMU webpage – see below for link).

Speakers/Artists confirmed so far:

*** Panel ***

Andrew Michael Hurley (novelist and author)

Chloé Germaine Buckley (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Darren Charles (Folk Horror Revival)

James Thurgill (The University of Tokyo)

Julian Holloway (Manchester Metropolitan University) (*Chair)

Lonelady (artist)

Morag Rose (Loiterer’s Resistance Movement and University of Liverpool)

*** Performances ***

HEARTWOOD INSTITUTE

HAWTHONN

ALULA DOWN

BELL LUNGS

TOM HOLLINGWORTH / CHELSEA HARE

JAYNE DENT

KEPIER WIDOW

The festival will also feature strange life drawing, films and a ritual.

Full details of the event schedule and location, as well as ticketing information, can be found on the Manchester Folk Horror Festival and Manchester Metropolitan University websites

Call for Papers: The Geographies of Folk Horror: from the Strange Rural to the Urban Wyrd

Call for Papers: RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2019, 28th August – 30th August 2019, London 

The Geographies of Folk Horror: from the Strange Rural to the Urban Wyrd

Session organised by Julian Holloway (Manchester Metropolitan University) and James Thurgill (The University of Tokyo)

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Over approximately the last decade, Folk Horror has seen increasing popularity in films, blogs, books and on internet fan pages. Folk Horror concerns itself with marginal and liminal landscapes that in various ways are active in the production of the horrific. Folk Horror’s landscapes are predominantly rural, coding the countryside as oppositional to modernity and capable of hosting ancient secrets ready to be revived or unearthed to the terror of the outsider. Folk Horror’s texts and practices revel in the idea that underneath the superficial solitude of the pastoral, malevolent forces work to promote acts of unspeakable violence. Beyond the landscape itself, the ‘folk’ of Folk Horror also deliver a sense of disquiet: its communities, with their forgotten or erased practices and rituals are central to the horrific, often committing atrocities themselves in order to satisfy the lore that protects the land.

The reach of Folk Horror arguably extends beyond the rural through the Urban Wyrd, wherein the cracks in the sheen of the cosmopolitan urban let forth the ghosts of occluded pasts and disturbing practices. This session therefore seeks to bring together those interested in Folk Horror, the Strange Rural, the Gothic countryside or the Urban Wyrd.

Papers are invited on the following non-exhaustive list of topics:

  • Defining and characterising Folk Horror geographies.
  • Representing the rural in Folk Horror.
  • The cultural politics of Folk Horror and its geographies.
  • The folk of Folk Horror.
  • The horror of Folk Horror, its affects and atmospheres.
  • Survivals, remnants and the place of time in Folk Horror.
  • The ‘revival’ in interest in Folk Horror, its significance and implications.
  • Living with and in the ‘Strange Rural’.
  • Geographies of Folk Horror beyond the rural – the Urban Wyrd.
  • Hauntology and Folk Horror.
  • Psychogeography and Folk Horror.
  • Folk Horror and Nationhood.
  • Soundscaping Folk Horror and Wyrd Folk music.
  • Geographic readings of contemporary Folk Horror films, fiction, art and craft practices.

Please send abstracts of c.300 words to both session organisers Julian Holloway (j.j.holloway@mmu.ac.uk) and James Thurgill (jthurgill@g.ecc.u-tokyo.ac.jp) by Thursday 31st January 2019.

Extra-Textual Encounters

I’m very happy to announce that my article on M.R. James, place and the ‘text-as-event’ will be out in the next issue of Literary GeographiesIt is already available for download as a pre-print from the journal’s website and is open-access. Please head on over to the Literary Geographies page and take a look.

Extra-Textual Encounters: Locating Place in the Text-as-Event: An Experiential Reading of M.R. James’ ‘A Warning to the Curious’

Abstract

Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) was a British historian, archaeologist and writer. He is widely known for his short tales of the supernatural, many of which are set in the actual-world landscape of Suffolk, England, where James spent much of his early childhood. James’ writings offer the reader an interesting, albeit disturbing, glimpse into the horrors afforded by the East Anglian landscape, weaving together ghostly narratives of the imagined with regional folklore, local history and topographical description. The use of semi-fictionalised versions of actual-world locations makes it possible to locate and explore Jamesian hauntings in their extra-textual settings. The potential to experience these spectral environments both on and off the page further strengthens the role of place in the unfolding of James’ narratives, and particularly so for those readers who share the author’s intimate knowledge of the Suffolk landscape.

This paper sets out to examine the performativity of place under such conditions, aiming to articulate a specific text-as-spatial-event (Hones 2008, 2014) through an extra-textual engagement with James’ short ghost story, ‘A Warning to the Curious’ (1925). The paper explores the particular affective qualities that are afforded by a narrative set within a landscape that is known to both author and reader, and where a performance of place can be seen to underpin the nature of the extra-textual encounter. Focusing on the sensory engagements with spectrality articulated both within and exterior to the landscape of the text itself, the work presented here also demonstrates how place can function in the co-production of specific extra-literary hauntings.

Spaces of Spirituality

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It’s been an age since I last updated this page, partly due to a job change last semester (which led to any ‘spare’ time being invested in the creation of five new classes) and also because of various other projects that I’ve been working on, including some exciting work on the literary geography of M.R. James’ ghost stories.  Anyway, I’m very happy to announce the publication of Spaces of Spirituality, edited by Nadia Bartolini, Sara MacKian and Steve Pile, to which I contributed a chapter: ‘Where should we commence to dig?’: spectral narratives and the biography of place in F. B. Bond’s psychic archaeology of Glastonbury Abbey. The essay develops the concept of site-based biography that I’ve been working on over the last few years, and examines the roles of historical, spectral and spiritual narratives in the (co-)production and memory of place.

 

| Asia-Pacific War Studies Project Summer Workshop 2017: Discovering “Dai-Nippon”: memory, place and the politics of identity |

This two-day workshop will examine the complex—often controversial—issue of public memory in post-war Japan. Day 1 explores the roles of haunting and narrative in the production of sites of memory and includes visits to Aoyama Cemetery and Yasukuni Shrine. Day 2 focuses on wartime visual and material culture, including the screening of wartime films and an interactive lecture. These tours and screening will be followed by critical reflections, facilitated by cultural geographers, film studies specialists and historians. You will find yourselves at the point of conflict between sentiment and justice, and between traditional Japan and post-war “pacifist” Japan. The workshop will be conducted entirely in English. This is “doing history” in action and you will meet people with similar interests from a range of backgrounds and countries.

Thematics:

Modern Asian History, Japanese History/Studies, Politics of Memory, Cultures of Remembrance, Cultural Geography, Film Studies, Popular and Material Culture, Japan’s International Relations

Dates:

July 31 (Monday), 10:00-18:00

August 1 (Tuesday), 10:15-17:30

Venue: University of Tokyo, Komaba Campus 1, Meguro-ku, Tokyo (and tours to Aoyama Cemetery and Yasukuni Shrine)

– No tuition fee required

– This event is a registration-only summer workshop project without any formal relations to Hitotsubashi University (HU) or University of Tokyo (UTokyo).

For details, please visit:

https://apwarproject.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/events/239821616507011/

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For Reservation:

Please send an email to apwarworkshop2017@gmail.com with your name and affiliation by 5 pm, Friday, July 28, 2017.

// Harmonica Yokocho, Kichijoji //

Harmonica Yokocho in Kichijōji, located in the west of Tokyo, is a warren of narrow, roof- covered alleyways, hosting a melange of compact shops, bars and restaurants. The Yokocho gives the impression of being halfway between a bazaar and the remnants of an historic ‘Oriental’ arcade. For those travelling from the West and who are in search of that coveted experience of the Japan recorded in the ethnocentric writings of nineteenth century exoticism, this is the sort of place where you might find a version of that. The tapering side streets are densely packed with fortune tellers, bars, restaurants, boutiques, zakka stores, a florist and a fishmongers, though this list is nowhere near exhaustive. The Harmonica Yokocho (or side streets) are so-called due to their arrangement resembling the comb of a mouth organ. Originally built as flea market, legend has it that the alleyways were home to a series of black-market vendors during the early days of the post-war period. Walking the dimly lit streets today, it is easy to see how such a rumour came to be spoken, and there is likely some truth in the tales of clandestine transactions having taken place amongst the shadows here.

There are, of course,  a number of obvious entry points available to those wanting to describe Harmonica Yokocho: the proximity of the old, slightly ‘shabby’ looking area appears in contrast to the sleek, ultra modern construction of Kichijōji Station and its attached shopping mall, positioned directly opposite the alley entrances; the idea that this is a genuine taste of ‘old Japan’ or ‘real Japan’, whereby one both becomes and observes ‘the other’; the myth of the black-market providing traces of a less ordered past, complicating the Western view that modern Japan is a tidy, systematic and well-ordered space; and so on and so forth. Such analyses are trite and riddled with the typical prejudices that are set up in all too many explorative writings of Japan. This is not to say that such critiques have no value, rather that as a white, male, westerner, it is difficult to get beyond representations of such encounters with the Japanese, and in many ways it is what has come to be expected: representations of the strange, the exotic, the ‘other’. And whilst there have been significant attempts to reconcile descriptions of the foreign with a sense of the familiar and recognisable quotidian in writings on other parts of the world, it remains that Japan still engenders a state of confusion amongst visitors, one whereby we might point and stare: “How strange they are!”

It is troubling.

Suffice is to say, my approach to the alleyways is, then, something I’m more comfortable with. I walk through Harmonica Yokocho every day, not some days, not the odd day, but every single day. I’ve done this since I arrived in Kichijōji last March. “Why?” you might ask, because it feels like home. Not in the way that I’m reminded of the years l lived in London – these streets do not resemble those around Covent Garden, Spitalifields or Greenwich Market – nor are the alleys reminiscent of those found in Guildford, Northampton or Norwich, of which I became well acquainted in my teens and early twenties. Rather, the feeling I get from negotiating this linear circuit of lanes is one of simultaneous belonging and distance, such that I might be able to just be in this place, becoming lost in the oscillation between familiarity and reservation.

The cries of the elderly fishmongers, a cacophony of crashing pots and hissing pans, call outs from bars, tobacco smoke, the heavy scent of baking bread, neon glare, a warm glow of faux-candlelight emitted from paper lanterns, stale liquor, disinfectant, floral perfume, creeping shadows: each instils a further sense of belonging, one that I can only assume emanates from the sensory multiplicity that is spatial awareness. memory + experience = place. It feels like the alleyways carry with them tiny pieces of all those former sites and situations I’ve once thought of as homely, familiar. The Yokocho are enchanted. Here memories of previous sounds, sights and smells forgo cognitive distillation and work to inflect my present encounter. The shimmering corpses of recently expired fish lay stretched over their ice-filled, polystyrene caskets in a a scene both grotesque and uniquely exciting to observe. The lifeless sea creatures providing a tableau of existence beneath the waves, a static glimpse into their otherwise inaccessible kingdom.

My favourite days as a child started with my mother walking me down to our town’s Friday market. She would pick me up and show me the morning’s ‘catch’, displayed on a narrow slope of ice in the open hatch of the fishmonger’s trailer. I was fascinated by the chart of fish found in British waters (including sharks) that was pinned to the back wall of the mobile store, directly behind the fishmonger – a large, beaming woman with a thick Norfolk accent. If I was especially lucky my mother would buy me a tail of smoked haddock. The substantial woman in white behind the counter patiently waited for me to select my choice of luminous, ocre stained fish. The haddock would be held before me whilst the vendor keenly awaited confirmation. Once I’d given the all clear, the fish would be wrapped in paper and handed over to me in a plastic bag, whereupon I would waste no time at all in removing the paper package and sniffing its contents.

The alley streets are dark, not gloomy but neither are they particularly inviting. They speak to me of ghosts, of those things which manifest (as real or imagined) and that work to manipulate our perception – fleeting moments of familiarity, acquaintance, confusion, disturbance. As a sort of liminal zone on the threshold of present, historic and imagined Tōkyō, the streets could be stripped right from the pages of a novel. They are at once alive and dead, seemingly frenetic, yet turn a corner and you’re all alone. There is a strange air of perseverance here- a feeling that the space and its inhabitants strive to retain and preserve a part of the local community that has existed for generations – like that presented by Natsuhiko Kyogoku in his haunting description of 1950’s Itabashi. Unlike the majority of the city, this unassuming area of Kichijōji has remained untouched by developers since the war, though many of the bars and shops are relatively new arrivals to the market. Wider, more accessible streets demarcate the alley purlieus, giving way to upmarket  department stores and illuminated walkways. In this sense, then, we might consider Harmonica Yokocho to be an in-between space, annexed by the less enchanting,  envelopment of gentrification that consumes much of Kichijōji and the wider Tōkyō area.

I pass through Harmonica Yokocho not because I want to but rather because I need to. The necessity is not one of material need (although I must confess the bakery is rather good), I can walk around the alleys which would perhaps be less time consuming on many occasions. The need is far more spiritual. I gain a certain satisfaction from moving in and between the alleys, finding new routes in and out of the covered streets, bowing to those shopkeepers familiar with my daily visitation to the market. Moreover, I have an opportunity to submit to nostalgia, to reminisce of a home that is, in reality, a million miles away but one I can feel seeping through these dark narrow streets without any desire to understand why. Home is in these shadows, amongst the ghosts, the shopkeepers and the fortune tellers.