Remembering Justin Edwards (1970-2023)

This is the post I never thought or wished I could write.

In January 2023 the IGA lost one of the most influential and prolific scholars in Gothic Studies: Professor Justin Edwards. Justin was a respected colleague, an insightful researcher, and a loyal friend to many around the world. Always an involved member of the IGA, Justin single-handedly organised the 2013 IGA Conference at the University of Surrey and served as co-president alongside Jason Haslam and Karen MacFarlane (2017-2022). From his early days at the Université de Montréal, where Justin completed his graduate studies, his academic career blossomed in Europe, at the University of Copenhagen, before he moved to the UK, to work at Bangor University, University of Surrey and, latterly, the University of Stirling.

Justin leaves a rich legacy of trail-blazing scholarly work.  At the start of his career, Justin was already at the forefront of what continues to be one of the most politically relevant fields of Gothic investigation. Questions of race, colonialism and national identity underpinned Gothic Passages: Racial Ambiguity and the American Gothic (2003) and Gothic Canada: Reading the Spectre of a National Literature (2005), where his way of conceptualising the Gothic allowed him to think of nation not merely as an ‘imagined community’, but as a ‘ghost story’.

His continued interest in the Gothic’s ties to colonialism moved to the investigation of one of Gothic’s neglected spaces in Tropical Gothic in Literature and Culture: The Americas (2016, co-edited with Sandra G. T. Vasconcelos), a collection that pushed the cultural boundaries of ‘American’ Gothic forcedly open. ‘Tropical Gothic’, Justin cogently argued, ‘leads us away from problematic notions about “purity” or “authenticity” and toward the recognition that Gothic travels and then becomes cannibalized within specific locations’.

Justin’s work also paved the way for multiple interdisciplinary strands through Gothic in Contemporary Literature and Popular Culture: Pop Goth (2012, co-edited with Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet) and Technologies of the Gothic in Literature and Culture: Technogothics (2015). Wide-ranging as they were, these publications remained also cohesively connected together by the tissue of Justin’s unique sensitivity and his preoccupation with social justice and politics: ‘When techno-science threatens to cheat death’, he astutely noted in his introduction to the latter, ‘Gothic discourses are invoked by politicians, writers and critics who mourn the loss of ‘humanity’ and express nostalgia for a problematic paradigm of a universal humanism.’

Most recently, Justin’s work turned to the environmental preoccupations of Gothic, with a shift from the postcolonial to the global and the planetary in Dark Scenes from Damaged Earth: The Gothic Anthropocene (2022), his latest publication, co-edited with Rune Graulund and Johan Höglund. Sensitive, as always, to the ethical implications of Gothic, Justin’s focus on animals and veganism in his contribution to the collection, an ethical choice he had pursued for several years, sought to draw attention to, and simultaneously subvert, the anthropocentrism of both individual practices and global politics:

‘We have the power to trigger a mass extinction event and the agency to prolong “tipping points” through planetary management and geoengineering’, he poignantly warned us. ‘We are both the problem and the solution: a way of thinking that falls back on the self-referentiality of the human, its human-centeredness.’

Perhaps no other community is more intensely aware of the shifty boundaries between the darkest depths of life and the loftiest flights of the afterlife than the IGA; rather than viewing death as final, goths are invested in the endless embodiments of the undead. There is no doubt in my mind that the spectral traces of Justin’s intellectual spirit will continue to ‘haunt’ our own thoughts and projects forever.

Justin’s original thinking and deep engagement with the most pressing ethical questions of our times were equally matched by his unfailing support of colleagues and collaborators, as well as his mentorship of early-career researchers and students. To many of us, Justin was not only an endless source of intellectual inspiration, but especially a generous friend who placed immense value on all human relationships. After a glorious sunny afternoon spent playing frisbee on Brighton Beach, Justin’s words perfectly captured who he was, and how he viewed life:

‘Frisbee is amazing. We accept something from another person, bring it into ourselves & then release it & let it go. A perfect symbol of good mental health, love & sharing.’

As well as working hard, Justin knew how to play hard, bootlegging beer to a dry campus, on the dance floor of many a Gothic disco, and, on one memorable occasion, at a karaoke rendition of ‘Tainted Love’ in a Vancouver hotel bar.

To commemorate and celebrate his life, I have created a virtual memory board here. I invite you all to fill it with messages, photographs and videos to immortalise your personal memories of Justin.

Here’s to your life, Justin, to the never-ending fullness and intensity of it all.