Review of International Studies

The Gothic scene of international relations: ghosts, monsters, terror and the sublime after September 11


Article author query
devetak r   [Google Scholar

Accepting Furet’s claim that events acquire meaning and significance only in the context of narratives, this article argues that a particular type of international relations narrative has emerged with greater distinction after the traumatic experience of September 11: the gothic narrative. In a sense the political rhetoric of President Bush marks the latest example of America’s fine tradition in the gothic genre that began with Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne and extends through Henry James to Stephen King. His discourse of national security, it will be shown, assumes many of the predicates of gothic narratives. The gothic scenes evoked by Bush as much as Poe involve monsters and ghosts in tenebrous atmospheres that generate fear and anxiety, where terror is a pervasive tormentor of the senses. Poe’s narratives, for example, turn on encounters with dark, perverse, seemingly indomitable, forces often entombed in haunted houses. Similarly, Bush’s post-September 11 narratives play upon fears of terrorists and rogue states who are equally dark, perverse and indomitable forces. In both cases, ineffable and potently violent and cruel forces haunt and terrorise the civilised, human world.


1 I would like to thank the Monash University Arts Faculty for its generous support of my study leave and the Department of International Politics at University of Wales, Aberystwyth, for its hospitality when I first began work on this project in March 2003. In particular, conversations with and feedback from Ian Clark, Tim Dunne, Patrick Finney, Jonathan Joseph, Andrew Linklater, Colin Wight and Michael Williams proved enormously helpful. I would also like to acknowledge the positive and very helpful feedback I received from Alex Bellamy, Denise Cuthbert, Nina Philadelphoff-Puren, Alison Ross, and two referees, one anonymous and the other, Michael J. Shapiro. Any errors remain mine.