Machines and spectrality

The gothic potential of technology

in Mid-century gothic
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This chapter presents a new reading of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and unearths its latent gothicism by examining it within the context of the mid-century philosophies of the mind, scientific experiments in neurology, and the technological applications of cathode-ray imaging.

The chapter begins with a discussion of how new types of telepresence began to disrupt spatial and temporal order in the mid-century, producing an uncanny effect that supercharged both material objects and abstract images with gothic possibility. Via an analysis of Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death (1946) as a meditation on the links between radio, spectrality and neurology, the chapter proffers a detailed examination of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four as a mid-century gothic text. It shows how the panoptical medium of the novel’s telescreens challenges the recursive historicism of old objects.

The mind control of the Thought Police is considered in the light of mid-century theories of mind, including the philosopher Gilbert Ryle’s empiricist description of consciousness in The Concept of Mind (1949), and the work by the neurologist William Grey Walter, and the thought experiments of Jacques Lacan, and Alan Turing’s computing breakthroughs.

Finally, the chapter returns to the cathode-ray screen as a domestic object, tracing the way television invaded and disrupted private space, and critiqued its own uncanny technological agency.

Mid-century gothic

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

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