chapter  8
17 Pages

Twentieth-Century Gothic

In the twentieth century Gothic is everywhere and nowhere. Michael Jackson’s video for the song ‘Thriller’ runs the gamut of visual mutations of terror which, though alluding to Gothic metamorphoses, draws widely on the images popularised in cinematic representations of horror. It has been the cinema that has sustained Gothic fiction in the twentieth century by endlessly filming versions of the classic Gothic novels. In this respect, Gothic, always nourished in popular culture, is perfectly at home. Film versions have supplanted the more literary, written, fictions in the popular imagination to the extent that certain actors, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff particularly, virtually usurped the villains they played. Bauhaus, among the post-Punk bands associated with the inception of ‘Goth’ musical and sartorial styles in the late 1970s in Britain, did not celebrate Dracula in their first single, but the actor: ‘Bela Lugosi is Dead’ and, of course, undead as well. In other areas, the dispersion and transformation that occurred throughout the nineteenth century accelerates in the twentieth in a

diffusion and proliferation of genres and media that are related, often only tenuously, to Gothic. Perhaps the strangest use of Gothic in the twentieth century is Isak Dinesen’s very conventional renderings of themes in her short stories. In the continuing popularity of ghost stories, in the development of fantastic, horror and occult fiction, in canonical modernist writing, especially German and American work, Gothic shadows flicker among representations of cultural, familial and individual fragmentation, in uncanny disruptions of the boundaries between inner being, social values and concrete reality and in modern forms of barbarism and monstrosity. Science fiction, connected with the Gothic since Frankenstein, presents new objects of terror and horror in strangely mutated lifeforms and alien invaders from other and future worlds. With science fiction, however, there is significant divergence from Gothic strategies: cultural anxieties in the present are no longer projected on to the past but are relocated in the future. The prevalence of scientific devices and experiments as causes of tales of terror and horror is part of a shift in the objects and effects of awful emotion. Unlike previous Gothic incarnations, scientific themes are not opposed to spiritual or religious modes of understanding or organising the world. Though these discourses pervade humanism, it is ideas of human individuality and community that are sacralised in horrified reactions to science. Located in a thoroughly secular world, science signifies the oppressive domination of technological production, bureaucratic organisation and social regulation. What is lost and recovered in the confrontation with scientifically-inspired machines, mutants and inhuman, automated worlds is a virtually religious sense of human wholeness and agency.