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Gothic novels are obsessed with borders. Mexican Gothic takes full advantage.

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Mexican Gothic wears its genre on its cover. The title isn’t telling you a lie: This book, with its decaying English manor, its psychosexual secrets, its lavish aesthetic and its sense of deep emotional constraint, is a gothic novel. And it is specifically a gothic novel set in an English manor in Mexico, which means that it is a gothic novel about colonialism.

That makes sense for the genre, because the gothic novel has been interested in thinking through questions of colonialism and empire for a long, long time.

One of the standard gothic plots goes like this: There is a country house, a manor. It’s full of the evidence of old money, but that money is gone now, and the house is crumbling. It is isolated, far away from everyone and everything, a world of its own. It is hiding something.

And as the novel begins, an intruder is walking into the house. She is a threat to its isolation, its purity, and its unknowable and dreadful secrets.

That standard gothic story plot is about borders and border crossing, about the terrors of the other, about wealth and exploitation and plunder and shifting power dynamics. It lends itself naturally to metaphors about colonialism and empire. So since the 18th century, that’s one of the things gothic novelists have used the genre for.

Jane Eyre’s gothic madwoman in the attic is a madwoman from the colonies

In The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert argues that a slew of 18th- and 19th-century gothic novels can be read as responding to England’s increasingly polarized debate about slavery and the colonial practices that came with it. Making colonialism gothic, as the critic Andrew Lachlan McCann put it, reveals “the ‘repressed’ of colonization: collective guilt, the memory of violence and dispossession, and the struggle for mastery in which the insecurity of the settler-colony is revealed.”

Let’s use a familiar example here. Have you read Jane Eyre? Even if you haven’t (you should!), you probably already know that in Jane Eyre, the mystery that the gothic manor is hiding is Mr. Rochester’s mad first wife, Bertha. Bertha is the obstacle keeping Jane Eyre from marrying Rochester, and she is the madwoman in the attic whom the trope is named after.

Relevant backstory: Rochester met Bertha in Jamaica, where he traveled because that’s where his family money comes from. That’s because Rochester is a colonizer, making money from stolen resources. And Bertha is Creole, which means her family is of European descent but she was born in Jamaica.

Bertha is freighted with symbolic weight. The standard feminist reading of Bertha is that she is Jane’s shadow self, making her a metaphor for the violence and unruliness that Jane suppresses out of her life. But there’s also a postcolonial reading of Bertha, where Bertha stands in for the consequences of empire. She is a walking metaphor for what Paravisini-Gebert describes as “the colonial space,” which is “a bifurcated, ambivalent space, where the familiar and unfamiliar mingle in an uneasy truce.”

Jane Eyre’s Bertha is European, but there’s a possibility of racial ambiguity lingering around her. She is English, but not quite; she is Other, but not quite. She is confusing and frightening and probably violent, and the only thing we can do with her is violently repress her, shove her into the attic and hope she doesn’t cause too much trouble. But of course she gets out anyway, and of course all sorts of trouble ensues.

The colonial gothic is all about these fears and anxieties: We have committed violence, and now we fear violence in return; groups are mingling, and that is threatening, but isolation will lead only to decay; what can we do, how can we maintain control?

But going into the 20th and 21st centuries, we started to see new gothic novels that were written from the point of view not of the colonizer, but of the colonized: the postcolonial gothic. Wide Sargasso Sea responding to Jane Eyre.

That’s the tradition that Mexican Gothic is working with. And it’s doing incredibly interesting stuff with it.

In Mexican Gothic, Howard is the imperial past and Noémi is the triumphant cosmopolitan future

The postcolonial gothic allows us to treat the British empire as something uncanny. In these novels, empire is Other and monstrous and deserves to be treated as such.

And god, how creepy is Mexican Gothic’s Howard Doyle, the patriarch of High Place, with his body covered in sores and his leering personal questions; his obsession with the idea of genetics, of when to purify and when to strengthen the line. (Howard’s interest in eugenics is characteristic of the gothic, which is terrified of corruption through outside blood but moreover terrified of the corruption of insularity and incest.) The character is a classically terrifying gothic villain, and he stands for empire and its violence.

The secret in the house of High Place isn’t just Howard’s mushrooms, which grant him immortality and omniscience within High Place: It’s that Howard’s power comes at the expense of the people he claims to serve. High Place claims that it provides El Triunfo with jobs and enriches the economy, but that’s just a pretty lie. Like Jane Eyre’s Rochester, Howard built his wealth and power through the theft of Indigenous resources. And as he builds his mushroom cult of immortality, he is continuing to profit through corrupting Mayan resources — the mushrooms, remember, were pure before he got his hands on them — and exploiting the Mexican mine workers he refers to as “mulch.”

Almost as creepy is Howard’s son, Virgil. Virgil stands for empire, too, but he’s also an interesting riff on a classic gothic trope, which is for there to be a sexual attraction tinged with violence between heroine and antihero. That trope starts to play out in Mexican Gothic when our protagonist Noémi comes to High Place to save her cousin Catalina from her marriage to Virgil, only to find herself plagued by erotic nightmares about him — but here, the structure is different. Noémi takes a creeping, insidious pleasure in the waking dreams she experiences with Virgil, but she’s also disgusted by him, and the ambivalence of her reaction becomes a metaphor for the corrupting pleasure that colonialism dangles before those it exploits. It allows Noémi to acknowledge the reality of her enjoyment while still rejecting it on no uncertain terms.

But Noémi is perhaps the most subversive character in this postcolonial novel. Next to her, the English Doyles are parochial and sorely ignorant, while Mexico City Noémi is widely read, intelligent, and well-traveled. Noémi is the avatar of cosmopolitan modernity, of liberalism and education — and she’s not a hyper-rational white man. She’s not a chaste and virginal white woman, either. Noémi is a brown woman who has had sex, and she stands for the future.

So when Noémi triumphs in the end, we’re witnessing the vindication of the colonized over the colonizer. The subaltern speaks at last.

Discussion questions

  1. What are your favorite gothic novels? What do you think is the appeal of the genre?
  2. We didn’t even get into the “Yellow Wallpaper” stuff! Remember how the mold on Noémi’s wall is yellow and moves? How did that allusion work for you?
  3. Between the mushrooms in Mexican Gothic, the mushroom omelet in the 2017 movie Phantom Thread, and that mushroom episode of Hannibal, mushrooms are shaping up to be a signifier of the modern gothic. (They were not, as far as I know, much of a thing in the 18th- and 19th-century gothic.) How do you feel about them? What do you think makes them work? I keep thinking about the idea of mushrooms as a symbol for fecundity and rot and poison, so sex and death, and also the idea of mushrooms as a nervous system, which means you can play with intimacy and the crossing of boundaries. There’s probably more I’m not thinking of, though!
  4. Speaking of the mushrooms: I’ve talked to a few people who found them a letdown after all the buildup, because they seemed kind of silly as a force for evil. Did they work for you?
  5. How are we all feeling about haunted houses after staying in our houses for seven months? Good, I bet!
  6. What was the creepiest moment of Mexican Gothic for you? I am haunted by that poor lady at the very end. You know the one.
  7. The book’s ending suggests the possibility of a hopeful future for Francis and Noémi. Do you think they’ll make it work?

You can sound off on these questions in the comments below, or in your own communities. Or feel free to post your own questions!

Also, be sure to RSVP now for this month’s live event with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, on Thursday, October 29, at 5 pm Eastern. In the meantime, sign up for our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything.

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Democrats are cheering a Supreme Court ruling on mail-in ballots. Here’s why it’s worse than it looks.

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The Supreme Court handed down a brief, unsigned order on Monday, which effectively rejected radical arguments by the Republican Party of Pennsylvania that sought to make it harder to vote in that state. This order, in other words, is a victory for voting rights — but that victory may only last a matter of days.

Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar involves a state Supreme Court order holding that many ballots received up to three days after Election Day must be counted. Monday’s order means that this state Supreme Court decision will stand, for now.

The Court’s decision not to grant relief to the GOP in Republican Party is not especially surprising. What is surprising is the vote breakdown in this case. The Court voted 4-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts crossing over to vote with the three liberal justices.

So in the almost certain event that Trump Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed to join the Supreme Court, there could be five votes on the Supreme Court who support the GOP’s effort to toss out many ballots in the state of Pennsylvania. Indeed, it is possible that Republicans will attempt to raise the same issue before the justices after Barrett is confirmed.

The dissenting justices did not explain why they dissented

The Supreme Court’s order in Republican Party is only two sentences long. The first sentence states that the GOP’s request to stay the state Supreme Court decision is denied. The second merely states that “Justice Thomas, Justice Alito, Justice Gorsuch, and Justice Kavanaugh would grant the application.” None of the four justices in dissent explained why they dissented.

In its brief asking the Supreme Court to block the state court’s decision, however, the GOP advanced two legally dubious theories.

The first is that a federal law providing that the election shall take place “on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November.” Republicans argue that federal law requires “the 2020 general election to be consummated on Election Day (November 3, 2020).” So any ballots that may have been mailed after this date must be tossed.

One serious problem with this argument, however, is that the provisions of federal law setting an election date should not be enforceable in federal court. As I’ve previously explained, private parties are only allowed to bring a lawsuit seeking to enforce a federal statute if that statute contains particular language. And the federal law setting the date of the election does not contain such language.

The GOP’s other argument is potentially breathtaking in its implications. The Constitution provides that “each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct,” members of the Electoral College. In their brief, the GOP hones in on the word “Legislature,” arguing that only the Pennsylvania state legislature may set the state’s rules for choosing presidential electors — not the state Supreme Court.

But there’s a glaring problem with this argument. As the Supreme Court held in Marbury v. Madison (1803), “it is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is.” In Republican Party, two parties had a disagreement about what Pennsylvania law says about how ballots should be counted. Ultimately, the state supreme court resolved that disagreement in a manner that the GOP disagrees with.

The GOP argues in its brief that the state Supreme Court’s decision relied on reasoning that is “tortured at best.” But so what? There was a disagreement between two parties. Someone had to resolve that dispute. And, in questions of state law, the state Supreme Court is supposed to be the final word on such disputes.

One of the most basic principles of American law is that the Supreme Court of the United States has the final word on questions of federal law, but state supreme courts have the final word on how to interpret the law of their own state.

Indeed, if state supreme courts cannot interpret their state’s own election law, it’s unclear how that law is supposed to function. There will inevitably be legal disagreements between candidates, parties, and election officials during an election. Perhaps the Democratic Party believes that a particular ballot should be counted, and the Republican Party disagrees.

But someone has to have the power to resolve such disagreements, and, in this country, disputes about the proper meaning of an existing law are resolved by the judiciary. If the judiciary cannot perform this function, we have no way of knowing what the law is — and we may have no way of knowing who won a disputed election.

In any event, because the four dissenting justices did not explain their reasoning, we do not know whether they voted with the GOP because they were moved by one or both of the GOP’s arguments — or maybe because they came up with their own reason to back their own political party in this case.

What we do know is that four plus one equals five. Thus, in the likely event that Judge Barrett becomes Justice Barrett, there will probably be a majority on the Supreme Court to hand a victory to the GOP in cases like this one.

Indeed, the GOP may be able to raise this issue again after Barrett is confirmed, potentially securing a Court order requiring states like Pennsylvania to toss out an unknown number of ballots that arrive after Election Day. If the election is close, that could be enough to change the result.


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Sudan sees economic hope as Trump signals terror list removal

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Khartoum, Sudan – After months of negotiations between the transitional Sudanese government and the US administration about a deal to remove Sudan from Washington’s list of state-sponsors of terrorism (SST), the disclosure of an imminent breakthrough was made, unsurprisingly, in the form of a tweet.

“GREAT news!” US President Donald Trump declared on Twitter on Monday. “New government of Sudan, which is making great progress, agreed to pay $335 MILLION to U.S. terror victims and families. Once deposited, I will lift Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. At long last, JUSTICE for the American people and BIG step for Sudan!”

The announcement was swiftly welcomed by Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, whose government has been pushing for the delisting to help it revive Sudan’s struggling economy ever since taking office last year following the military overthrow of longtime President Omar al-Bashir in the face of months-long protests.

“We very much look forward to your official notification to Congress rescinding the designation of Sudan as a state-sponsor of terrorism, which has cost Sudan too much,” Hamdok wrote, also on Twitter.

The US Congress would need to approve the removal after being formally notified by the president.

Economic lifeline

The US placed Sudan on the list in 1993, four years after al-Bashir seized power, accusing his government of supporting “terrorism” by sheltering al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Washington further accused Khartoum of providing logistical and financial support to al-Qaeda and of helping it bomb the US embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya in 1998 and to attack the USS Cole off the port of Aden in 2000. It also placed comprehensive economic and trade sanctions on Sudan which were only eased by former US President Barack Obama during his final weeks in office in 2017.

In return for being delisted, Sudan’s transitional government has agreed to pay $335m to victims of the attacks on the embassies and the US destroyer.

The SST removal would pave the way for Sudan to be relieved of its debts under the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, as well as to attract much-needed investment.

Being on the list has kept foreign investors away from Sudan, depriving it of much needed hard currency to sustain an economy that was dealt a heavy blow when South Sudan became independent in 2011, taking with it three-quarters of Sudan’s oil output.

With no foreign trade and starved of hard currency, authorities have long struggled to contain the country’s spiralling inflation. Last month, annual inflation rose to 212.29 percent from 166.83 percent in August, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese pound has lost more than 50 percent of its value against the US dollar in the past two months, and the cash-strapped government is struggling to pay for the supplies of items it subsidises such as wheat, fuel and medicines.

The impact of the lack of hard currency can be seen daily in the long queues for bread and fuel filling the sidewalks of Khartoum.

“I’ve been standing in line for fuel for more than five hours now and this is something I go through every four days because I’m a taxi driver,” said Abdel-malik Mamoun, a resident of the capital.

“After every four days, I spend a whole day waiting for fuel. The situation is going from bad to worse, like a downward spiral and we don’t know where the end is.”

In recent weeks, the talks between the Sudanese and US officials sides appeared deadlocked after reports emerged that the US had tried to link the delisting with Sudan establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, following similar US-brokered deals in August by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

During a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Khartoum in late August, Hamdok told Washington’s top diplomat that his transitional administration, which is meant to lead the country to polls in 2022, was not mandated to make such a move because it was not an elected government.

While Trump’s tweet made no mention of the US attempts to get Sudan to establish relations with Israel in exchange for expediting the delisting process, senior Sudanese officials speaking to Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity said the issue was not off the table and that there are still efforts under way to make Sudan join the list of countries officially recognising Israel.

In September, talks between the two sides in the UAE failed to produce a deal, with reports suggesting that Sudan had asked for oil and wheat shipments, as well as billions of dollars to aid its deteriorating economy in return for such a move.

US congressional aides who spoke to Al Jazeera said Sudan could still get the aid and support from the US even if it does not recognise Israel because Washington wants to see the transitional government successfully lead the country to democracy.

“This Tweet,” Hamdok said in a later Twitter post, “and that notification [to Congress] are the strongest support to Sudan’s transition to democracy and to the Sudanese people”.

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Ghislaine Maxwell loses bid to keep her Epstein testimony secret

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Judge ruled there was a public interest to see Maxwell’s deposition on relationship with paedophile Epstein.

A US appeals court on Monday dealt Ghislaine Maxwell a blow by refusing to block the release of a deposition she gave concerning her relationship with the late financier and registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said there was a presumption the public had a right to see the April 2016 deposition, which was taken in a now-settled civil defamation lawsuit by Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers.

In its unsigned order, the appeals court also said US District Judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan did not abuse her discretion in rejecting Maxwell’s “meritless arguments” that her interests superseded that presumption.

Lawyers for Maxwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment, including whether they plan a further appeal.

The British socialite had argued that she thought the 418-page deposition was confidential, and that releasing it could undermine her ability to defend against criminal charges that she enabled Epstein’s sexual abuses.

A protester holds up a sign of Jeffrey Epstein in front of the federal courthouse in New York in 2019 [Stephanie Keith/Getty Images]

Her lawyers have said bad publicity from disclosing “intimate, sensitive, and personal” details from the deposition would violate Maxwell’s right against self-incrimination, and imperil a fair trial because jurors might hold it against her.

The appeals court separately rejected Maxwell’s request to modify a protective order in her criminal case, and let her use confidential materials produced by the government to try to persuade Preska not to unseal the deposition.

Maxwell, 58, has pleaded not guilty to helping Epstein recruit and groom underage girls as young as 14 to engage in illegal sexual acts in the mid-1990s, and not guilty to perjury for having denied involvement in the deposition.

Giuffre said she was a teenager when Maxwell pulled her into Epstein’s circle, where she was groomed and trafficked for sex with Epstein and other wealthy, powerful men.

The push to have the deposition unsealed came from Giuffre and the Miami Herald newspaper, which had done investigative work about Epstein’s conduct, his accusers and his efforts in 2007 to avoid federal sex trafficking charges.

Lawyers for Giuffre and the newspaper were not immediately available for comment.

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