Bombs, prosthetics and madness

The painful nearness of things

in Mid-century gothic
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The final chapter demonstrates how atomic technology resonated with anxieties about objects and intimacy, and follows this motif through various narratives about prosthetics and explosives. This completes a thematic cycle which began in the first chapter of the book, where we saw how bombs created new ecosystems of undead animation, and left behind object-witnesses and rubble that told human stories; this final chapter shows how old bomb-narratives were overturned by the spectre of nuclear war. In films including Powell and Pressburger’s The Small Back Room (1949), the Boulting brothers’ Seven Days To Noon (1950), and Michael Anderson’s The Dam Busters (1955); as well as C.P. Snow’s novel The New Men (1954) and Marghanita Laski’s play The Offshore Island (1954), bombs leave no ruins behind them; their ambiguous materiality is entirely eerie.

The Small Back Room exemplifies the parallels that can be drawn between the bomb-object and the prosthetic, and traces how, in the atomic age, the spectrality of the dematerialized body succumbs to the penetrative incursions of radiation. The chapter examines how blankness, absence and obliteration characterized atomic culture, replacing the silent and non-reproductive human with an uncanny technological entity.

The chapter ends by looking forward to the afterlife of the atomic uncanny, in both Ian Fleming’s Moonraker (1955) and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove (1964).

Mid-century gothic

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

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