The ambivalence of memory
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The ambivalence of memory book
In talking of first Machen, and now Lovecraft, we have begun to raise questions about the fate of the Gothic in the twentieth century. By doing so, we have bypassed one of the most important of all the works influenced by the Gothic tradition, Henry James's The Turn of the Screw (1898). The reason for this is that James's novella represents a decisive moment in the history of the Gothic, and of the ghost story, in terms of which Machen and Lovecraft seem, archaic; I want now to turn back to it, and in doing so to place James in rather odd company, that of the mystical poet and story-writer Walter de la Mare. 1
The central point I want to bring out can be put in a number of ways. It might be seen as a question of materialism. The dark forces of the mind which Machen and Lovecraft describe are attached to an objective correlative: a past history which is delivered as real, typically the prior existence of races of non-human beings which persist in secret. For both of them human fears are justifiable, insofar as they approximate to perceptions of a genuine threat; the heroes of their stories are romantic heroes, in that they are granted a power of imagination which breaks through everyday surfaces to a more 'real' account of the bases of life. Although there are books of Machen's - The Hill of Dreams, The Three Impostors - which move beyond this simple form, his main corpus, represented by The Great God Pan and The Terror (1917) among others, is a set of demonstrations of duality of perception, and a continuing vindication of that imaginative perception which seeks the real behind the surface; Lovecraft moves in the same direction, and the Cthulhu mythos
The of serves as a connecting web which is supposed to provide additional evidence of the coherence of the imaginative vision. This question of the relation between surface and hinterland is precisely what is at stake in The Turn of the Screw, and it is also at stake in the best of de la Mare's short stories. The mode of existence which dark forces have in these works is, in one sense, clearly Freudian in structure: that is, it raises the paradox of the unconscious to our attention. That we cannot, by definition, know the 'unconscious' is a point of which Freud was perfectly well aware; his claim was that we can know that things 'rise to consciousness', and that it is therefore reasonable to hypothesise a hinterland whence these things emerge, even though its detailed topography may be a matter of great difficulty. The Turn of the Screw and de la Mare's stories assume this curious mode of existence for the unconscious; they also assume that, since the mode of transition from unconscious to conscious is, in some sense, selective, we cannot rely upon immediate perception to grant truth.