Reviews

Victor Sage and Allan Lloyd Smith, Eds., Modern Gothic: A Reader. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1996. ISBN: 0-7190-4208-9 (paperback). Price: £12.99.[Notice]

  • Rebecca E. Martin

…plus d’informations

  • Rebecca E. Martin
    Pace University

This new collection of essays, Modern Gothic, edited by Victor Sage and Allan Lloyd Smith, sets itself a truly Gothic task in tracing the survival of the Gothic in post-war culture, specifically in fiction and film. For the most part, the essays succeed, with the best opening up the Gothic mode to significant scrutiny far beyond the author or work under discussion. The best also explicitly retain their grounding in the earlier manifestations of the mode, resisting the current tendency to see the Gothic in every shadow, which renders the term meaningless. The collection opens with one of the best definitions of Gothic recently offered, first nodding to the venerable practice of offering a laundry list of conventions as a substitute for definition: Though the essays move readily between literature and film, the focus is on the language of allusion, a rich language that confers the "paradoxical ability to flaunt and camouflage itself" (2), through which the Gothic survives. Lloyd Smith's opening essay provides a controlling force for the collection as a whole and subtly thematizes readers' responses to the essays that follow. Nothing argued in the other twelve essays contradicts his imaginative analysis of the connections between Gothic and Postmodernism based on the following categories: indeterminacy, epistemology/ontology, surfaces/affectivity, nostalgia/archaism/history, pastiche/reflexivity, criminality/the unspeakable/excess, science/technology/paranoia. Of course, not all of the authors discussed are legitimately Postmodern; if any author is a touchstone for the collection as a whole, it is Isak Dinesen. Dinesen figures centrally or obliquely in three essays, one of them—that by Ros Ballaster on Dinesen's "The Monkey"—particularly notable for its well-argued rejection of the "hysteric" as a figure of female resistance; the body, Ballaster insists, does not exhibit displaced sexual desire, but conceals through hysteria the "relations of power and property by displacement into internalised struggle over the repression of sexual desire" (68). Aficionados of Seven Gothic Tales will be interested in this collection, which also includes an essay by Helen Stoddart on story-telling and gravity in Dinesen and an essay by Judie Newman that invokes Dinesen as the starting point for a fruitful consideration of postcolonial Gothic, but the group for whom the work will be truly worth having is those interested in the Gothic and film. The essays on film are the most provocative offerings in the collection. Laura Mulvey uses "The Gothicism of Blue Velvet" to discuss the film in Oedipal terms and in the process illuminates the film, the myth and the Gothic genre. Saying that Freud "transforms Oedipus from a figuration of human reason into a figuration of the human subordination to unreason" (49) she traces the film's weaving of the instinctual and the rational in the eventual triumph of the film's young Oedipus over the "monstrous paternal" (45); but in a move that conjures up many melancholy Gothic endings, the young man will now live in a "new darkness" (46) and the dark, uncanny world that he has experienced will never be far away from consciousness, from "erupting into . . . symptomatic behavior" (46). Blue Velvet, in this estimate, was itself an eruption "restor[ing] the uncanny to American culture" of the 1980s. David Seed's essay on the "body snatcher" plot in literature and films is a definitive account of that plot's movement from specificity toward, currently, a sense of threat "that is dispersed across the whole natural environment" (168), and is required reading for those familiar with either Jack Finney's 1955 novel or its various cinematic incarnations, but it would have been much richer for a closer connection to the Gothic. The survival of the Gothic in modern …