Thus I must understand the nature of the beast.
Terror has been central to Gothic literature since it first emerged in the 18th century. Although the goal of Gothic remains unchanged – to give voice to societal fears and desires – the goal posts have shifted.
Instead of fearing loss of meaning as did our forefathers, post-moderns fear loss of connection with self and reality. Makes perfect sense in today’s world where entertainment, information, and communication technologies provide experiences more intense – and gratifying – than RL.
In the old days, terror was generated through encounters with various aspects of the supernatural with emphasis on the duality between good and evil. This was achieved through elements of the ‘sublime’ – that quality in nature which inspires awe, reverence, and other high emotion (OED, noun. 1. b). Hence the emphasis on turbulent landscapes, sinister forests and darkening skies.
Postmodern gothic also centres on the sublime – but no longer is the emphasis on the representable characteristics of nature such as landscapes, forests and skies, but on that which we can conceive- but cannot represent.
Strange enough, herein lies the connection between the 18th century preoccupation with meaninglessness and the 21st century preoccupation with loss of connection with self and reality; regardless whether represented or not, the sublime bridges the boundaries between the visible and invisible.
We establish boundaries through cosmologies or systems of thought through which to order our world. The sublime requires a certain type of cosmology – a psychologically spatial orientation of that which is ‘me’ and that which is ‘other than me’. It is through the shift between the microcosm and macrocosm and back again that we enlarge our perspective and transcend the boundaries of our cosmology.
The unthinkable happens.
Thought is paralysed.
Through circumscribing the Idea by image, the Idea is negated.
We comprehend that which lies beyond the borders of our cosmology as ineffable – or perhaps even as God?
In The Idea of the Holy, Rudolph Otto reminds us that fear, shock, and panic are all reactions attributed to experiencing traditional gods like that worshipped in Christianity – attributes like ‘goodness’ and ‘benevolence’ being idealist after-the-fact add-ons.
But according the psychologist James Hillman (An Essay on Pan), more primitive gods – like the great god Pan – seize us not in words but in immediate psychic shock. According to Hillman, in order to grasp Pan as nature we must first be grasped by nature.
So where does this leave us with the postmodern Gothic?
Full circle to 18th century concepts of Gothic and the sublime as an aspect of nature – but – according to my new heroine, Harriet, this time around the stakes are much higher.
- Concepts of Gothic Literature in Our Readings (yanez113scary.wordpress.com)
- Udolpho and the Sublime (somanybooksblog.com)
- Gothic Literature Vocabulary – Group 1 (gransescary113.wordpress.com)
- A lecture of the origins of Gothic fiction with Dr. Joe Crawford, University of Cambridge (23/08/12) (eloisemillard.com)