Introduction

‘The world of things’: an introduction to mid- century gothic

in Mid-century gothic
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The introduction begins with a sketch of the 1951 Festival of Britain exhibition on the South Bank, describing how this politically disputed and semantically overdetermined space was emblematic of the mid-century decade which produced it. A playground of ideas and disruptive potential, it told stories about unruly objects that modelled a kind of categorical recalcitrance by which subjects, too, might reassert their autonomy within the overwhelming discourses of commodification and reification which prevailed in mass culture.

T.S. Eliot’s Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948), is cited as an example of the stagnant schema of cultural hierarchy which mid-century gothic opposed, and which this book will dismantle. A discussion of the dialogical relationship between gothicism and modernity situates the book in relation to Freud’s Unheimlich, Lukács’s concept of reification, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s defense of enchantment in Dialectic of Enlightenment, and Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie. This section lays out the principal qualities of mid-century gothic: the troubling agency, and the uncanny intimacy, of the objects of modernity. These ideas are then put into practice in a radical reading of Marghanita Laski’s sentimental 1949 novel Little Boy Lost.

Finally, the introduction asks: how would the norms of society be redrawn by the upheavals of the post-war moment? Would value and authenticity lose their meaning? Would codes become illegible? Would objects break free of the present and begin to bleed history?

Mid-century gothic

The uncanny objects of modernity in British literature and culture after World War II

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