Gothic fictions have, from their beginning, been fabrications. Shaped by their time, Anne Rice‘s vampire novels – Interview With The Vampire and The Vampire Lestat – participate in a logic of simulation: the former offers a nostalgic pastiche of Romantic and Baudelairean modernity; the latter an overblown reanimation of pagan and ancient mythologies. For all their nostalgia and recyclings, these postmodern romances remain tied to contemporary ahistorical and reversible axes of consumption and exhaustion, fatally in-human desiring and technological novelties, flaccid fantasies and tired trangressions.
Horror is not what it used to be. Nor are its Gothic avatars. The meaning of monsters, vampires and ghosts has changed significantly over the last 200 years, as have the mechanisms (from fiction to fantasmagoria, film and video games) through which they are produced and consumed. This book, moving from gothic to cybergothic, through technological modernity and across a range of literary, cinematic and popular cultural texts, critically examines these changes and the questions they pose for understanding contemporary culture and subjectivity. Re-examining key concepts such as the uncanny, the sublime, terror, shock and abjection in terms of their bodily and technological implications, it advances current critical and theoretical debates on Gothic horror to propose a new theory of cultural production based on an extensive discussion of Sigmund Freud's idea of the death drive.
In American films of the 1930s and 1940s, King of the Zombies, and I Walked with a Zombie, gothic themes are played out in a racialised context. Here, a displaced South, the Caribbean, provides the setting for a sexualised encounter with an otherness exuding colonial anxieties and demanding to be suppressed. On the surface White Zombie presents a tale of amorous delusion and possession equating race and sexuality as forms of otherness to be mastered through diabolical possession or be reclaimed by love, rationality or religion. In White Zombie primitivism and superstition are set against civilisation and reason. Max Brooks's World War Z was written as supplement to a UN report documenting human testimonies on the suffering, devastation and rebuilding of the zombie war. It charts the emergence and overcoming of global swarms of living dead.
Gothic preserves the illusion of darkness death, and sexuality in a world given over to the omnipresence of virtual light and life on screens. Where do simulations begin or end? Does horror or abjection counter their thrust or feed the cool machine with a fleeting bite? Ascriptions of ‘Gothic horror’ attempt to register repulsion at the enormity and excess of their act: its horror lies beyond reality or hyperreality even as it is rendered almost palatable in fictional and generic terms. To simulate vampirism is undertaken with the aim of breaking through sanitised screens of hyperreality, of finding something real in blood and horror. Violence, horror and abjection, in being rendered figures of excess, are opposed to or cast out of hyperreality only to the extent that their excision gives simulations some bite. Ghosts and spectres kept on returning in Gothic romances, popular dramas and spectacular entertainments. In his account of the discursive formation of modernity, Michel Foucault comments upon the function of monsters in processes of biological classification.
Gothic fiction is bound up with the function of the paternal figure, an effect of and an engagement with a crisis in its legitimacy and authority, with tremors in its orchestration of symbolic boundaries and distinctions, with disruptions to its heterogeneous maintenance of cultural values and mores, with challenges to the way it presides unseen over the structured circulation of social exchanges and meanings. More precisely, it can be defined as a transgression of the paternal metaphor. The return to simple domesticity, recommended in the Gothic romance since Ann Radcliffe, seems to banish the spectres of romantic fancy. With the exposure and expulsion of those fictional spectres comes a more sustained interrogation of the assumptions and illusions supporting familial and social relations. Sigmund Freud's account of the father does not end with his murder. The psychological and cultural consequences of the act are extensive.
Doom was the most advanced three-dimensional computer game in the world when it was released in 1993. The opening sequence of the violent virtual adventure playground leaves no doubt as to its aim or content. The rules of the game are kill or be killed until there are no more monsters left and the hostile military-industrial-research complex can be escaped. Mainly zones of terror, horror and violent sensation, bewildering labyrinths stalked by homicidal mutants, the various stages of the game also conceal secrets. The development of computer games owes debts to horror cinema and incorporates some of its features and, even, some images, in game design. The settings, shocks, monsters and graphic violence of games provide grounds for condemnation. Phantasmagoria did simply present terrifying images and evoke shocking effects with greater immediacy than Gothic fiction in a spectacular technical improvement on written communication. Though particular formulas fade, the association between Gothic fictions and technical innovations has persisted for more than 200 years.
Horror arises when boundaries are crossed and the secure relation of inside and outside is disturbed: ‘there is suddenly, no inside and no outside. There is an emptying out of the object. It is the moment, a horrifying moment of the birth of a new space which ruins habitual space’. Rather than filling the new space with recognisable aesthetic images, the gaping hole comes shockingly to the fore: ‘an unfillable gap opens at the moment that the face is lifted’. Against the aestheticisation of horror and abjection stand more pervasive and persistent horrors of social, political and economic existence. Unbearable horror finds an object that turns it into terror. As Gothic images pervade a contemporary culture composed of rapidly oscillating and disturbing flows of anxious expenditures, a culture in which they are as much the norm as images of sex and violence, they manifest the generalisation of horror accompanying the vast economic and technological expansion into – and, phantasmatically, beyond – the black hole of post-modernity.
All of Gothic fiction turns upon a simple oscillation, on a singular differentiation, a child's game: ‘fort!’ ‘Da!’ A game of loss and recovery, with the former rather than latter in the driving seat, its simplicity belies an extensive recalcitrance, its repetitions occluding some kind of excess to efforts of representation and theorisation. Repetition defies neat models of life and self; it disrupts ordered and balanced circulations of pleasure, desire or identity; it introduces something alien into normal functions and expectations, something that, though inassimilable to sense, remains at the heart of subjectivity and culture. The death drive introduces heterogeneity, difference and something daemonic into everyday exchange. It is Sigmund Freud, of course, who speculates on the significance of the child's game. The game played by his grandson intrudes on the grandfather's hesitant, repetitive and circuitous pursuit of the hypothesis of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Loss and recovery, repetition and the shock of overwhelming stimulation underlie the attempt to identify what lurks ‘beyond the pleasure principle’.
Monstrous Media/Spectral Subjects explores Gothic, monstrosity, spectrality and media forms and technologies (music, fiction's engagements with photography/ cinema, film, magic practice and new media) from the later nineteenth century to the present day. Placing Gothic forms and productions in an explicitly interdisciplinary context, it investigates how the engagement with technologies drives the dissemination of Gothic across diverse media through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, while conjuring all kinds of haunting and spectral presences that trouble cultural narratives of progress and technological advancement.