Kelly Hurley, The Gothic Body: Sexuality, materialism, and degeneration at the fin de siècle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN:0-521-55259-1 (hardback). Price: £30.00 (US$49.95).Cannon Schmitt, Alien Nation: Nineteenth-century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. ISBN: 3351-4 (hardback). Price: US$34.50.[Notice]

  • Fred Botting

…plus d’informations

  • Fred Botting
    Lancaster University

Take: some texts, any texts, with a hint of darkness and gloom, with mouldering, dank buildings and ill-lit aspects, with some portentous mystery (preferably supernatural), with a glowering villain (possibly diabolical, certainly crazy) and a curious heroine (preferably virginal), with the faintest suspicion of ghostly machinations and sexual transgressions, with a glimpse of something unnatural and disturbing to induce the odd shudder and convulsive twinge. Or, take some texts in which strange forms, hybrid, anamorphotic creatures or exotic figures of regressive criminal intent, lurk in the shadows of virtuous worlds (preferably bourgeois) and threaten dangerous incursions from unknown or eastern empires. These, of course, are but the ingredients gathered at will from the literature of modernity. Having been gathered, glistering with arcane possibility, they form the basis of the black artistry performed by those cultural alchemists of Western academies. Here, with the simple utterance of the magic word, all texts are tainted and decomposed to the extent that, almost universally, lurking beneath is discovered a darkness of sexual intensity, gender disturbance, racial violence, a powerful and shapeless force of transvaluation that leaves no one and no thing safe from an awful dissolution of boundaries, meanings and identities. Such is the force loosed by terrorist critical writing and the incantation of the charm, 'Gothic'. Once uttered, texts assume the shifting, veiled and amorphous shape prescribed by this most mystical and elusive of signifiers: 'Gothic' creeps upon, and consumes, any text so that sexuality, otherness, power, bodies, genders, passions, aesthetics, history, culture and the unconscious are all well and truly gothicked. At the end of a millenium, modernity, too, finds itself gothicised to a remarkable degree and at a remarkable rate. With the deft flick of a critical wrist, the thread of two centuries' humanist self-narration unravels in diverse entanglements to allow a long look at the monstrosity of the past and the new monstrous forms beckoning from a posthuman future. With a moebial twist, all that has gone evaporates and the solidity of illuminated modernity melts into a malodorous wind of impending terror and curious excitement. The current end of millenium and the two previous fins de siècle have, it seems, much in common. Contemporary commentators celebrate or decry the end of grand narratives, the sublime irruption of something unpresentable in modernity and the revolutionary shocks of technological advancement heralding an in- or post-human machine age. In a similarly sublime manner previous critics saw dark torrents of passion, sensation and desire unraveling the virtuous, rational and moral fabric of proper bourgeois familial and social bonds. These threats were given Gothic form, turned into mob-monsters, depraved villains, malevolent doubles, figures of an inhumanity tracing a pervasive in-humanity. Indeed, if there is any consistency to be identified within so shifting and hybrid a genre as the Gothic, it is the capacity to adapt formally and thematically to the specific and changing requirements of modern fantasy: providing objects of fear and anxiety, Gothic fiction gives shape and outlet to different instances of a generalised sense of anxiety; through narrative patterns of appropriation and expulsion, Gothic figures provide historically and culturally determined social fantasies of the other with some stability, thereby constituting as much as dissolving the boundaries of system and identity. The other (and the Other), of course, remains no more solid or stable than the self, but the phantasmatic identification of otherness, nevertheless, establishes a powerful sense of consistency. Hence the importance of repetition (and repetition-with-a-difference) in Gothic writing; hence, too, the ambivalence at the core of Gothic representations. And, moreover, it is at such obscure points of horror and desire, limit and …