Thomas Leonard Shaw is a queer, liminal poet-theorist and a faculty member at the Department of English and Comparative Literature, UP Diliman. His latest publication is an essay on the representation of Siargao and islandic space in several chosen films, published in Environment, Media, and Popular Culture in Southeast Asia (Springer). He has several upcoming publications on Philippine gothic literature and Philippine horror cinema. His research interests include gothic and horror studies, memory studies, and Philippine literature in English.


Bloody Branches and Crimson Petals: Examining Floral Discourse in Maria Elena Paulma’s “The Bougainvillea”

Abstract: Jemma Stewart, on her reading of the garlic flower in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, recognizes that the language of flowers offers “a lens through which to investigate imagery and meaning, as well as cultural and synesthetic evocation in literature” (2018, 326). To a degree, scholarship on images of the flower abound in Gothic criticism and their symbolizing of a variety of concerns – death, tragedy, and poor health to name a few. This paper, while informed by this critical tradition, moves away from reading flowers as simply symbolic of such concerns towards a more discursively complex conception of flowers. In particular, it seeks to examine Maria Elena Paulma’s “The Bougainvillea” through an elucidation of the bougainvillea – both plant and stem – as the central source of unease and anxiety within the narrative. The paper aims to illustrate how the bougainvillea plays a role in framing a discussion of institutional, religious ideas and the tensions they engender with regards to space, indigenous beliefs of spirituality and the “monstrous,” while revealing the syncretic form that underpins a discourse of the floral. I argue that this articulates uniquely Philippine historical contestations. Ultimately, this paper will be informed by the insights enabled by a coupling of both postcolonial Gothicism, Ecogothic approaches to literature, complicated by the cultural specificities of a Philippine worldview.
Keywords: floral discourse, ecogothic, postcolonial gothic, Philippine literature in English, fiction