Literature and Theatre

London’s alternative “gothic” tradition
David Ashford

The second chapter begins by engaging with some of the most prominent anti-gothic gothic fiction created over the past century: paranoid psycho-geographical fantasy in poems by Iain Sinclair, novels by Peter Ackroyd, essays by Stewart Home and graphic novels by Alan Moore. The potential for such provocative misreadings of the English baroque is shown to have a basis in the architecture itself, and it is suggested that the scope for uncanny sensations opened up by the structures might have much to tell us about the post-modernist baroque revival, the fiction of Sinclair and Moore having as much to do with the Thatcherite renovation of the metropolis as anything in the theory and practice of Nicholas Hawksmoor.

in A book of monsters
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Promethean horror in modern literature and culture
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A book of monsters presents a cultural history of Promethean horror in the modern age. Beginning with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this book explores imaginative literature that exploits popular fears relating not to a “gothic” darkness, but to a scientific Enlightenment. Provoked by the Promethean ambitions of Modernism, the Promethean myth is discovered to have become a pervasive and increasingly oppressive component in our post-Modernist political, economic and cultural reality. Revealing why it is that Modernism (a cultural phenomenon that, in architecture, typically defined itself against neo-gothic irrationality) has in turn become imbued with the uncanny, A book of monsters considers an eclectic range of cultural material including psycho-geographical fiction by Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore, the fantasies of J. R. R. Tolkien, gorilla horror movies, anxieties relating to artificial intelligence in science fiction and philosophy of science, and popular debates surrounding the legacies of post-war Brutalist architecture, in a subgenre of the dystopia that is specifically anti Keynesian. Building on post-humanist philosophy, engaging with recent debates concerning animals and artificial intelligence, A book of monsters attempts to place urgent theoretical controversies in a historical context, making connections with issues in architecture, linguistics, economics and cultural geography. In so doing, the book presents a compelling and comprehensive overview on the West’s collective “dream-work”’ in those decades since the dreams of the nineteenth century were realised in Modernism – tracing the inception, and outlining the consequences, of literary fantasies.

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Sir Philip Sidney

Commentary on the text which builds on the commentary from the 1987 edition, with new entries and additions throughout. The commentary is divided into four sections, The First Book, The Second Book, The Third Book and The Eclogues. 

in Sir Philip Sidney – The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia
Sir Philip Sidney
in Sir Philip Sidney – The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia
Sir Philip Sidney
in Sir Philip Sidney – The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia
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Sir Philip Sidney
in Sir Philip Sidney – The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia
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Sir Philip Sidney

The first book of the New Arcadia  

in Sir Philip Sidney – The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia
Inter-war Modernism as crisis management at London Zoo
David Ashford

The third chapter traces this “architectural uncanny” back to London’s earliest inter-war Modernist architecture, showing that this “functionalist” architectural aesthetic is as ripe for uncanny sensations as the eighteenth-century “rationalist” architecture considered in the previous chapter, and for much the same reason: being committed to an act of dissimulation in order to see off a perceived threat to Enlightenment values posed by the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin and the psychoanalytical theory of Sigmund Freud: the rival tradition of Modernist theory and practice that emerges from what one might call the radical empiricist or Romantic tradition of Western philosophy.

in A book of monsters
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Enduring misapprehensions concerning artificial intelligence
David Ashford

The sixth chapter will trace the persistence of Promethean horror tropes beyond the apparent collapse of the Late Modernist paradigm, into the neoliberal and post-modernist era. Expanding on issues relating to the crisis in Enlightenment humanist thinking raised in preceding chapters, and addressing concerns central to post-humanist theory relating to the consequences that must follow for human identity arising from the development of artificial intelligence, this chapter outlines an entirely new approach: suggesting that the famous Turing Test has been consistently misinterpreted, and that we are now in a position to see that it is designed to gauge an “uncanny” effect – that is, the extent to which a system for modelling social behaviour can outperform an older, tried-and-tested system for producing such models (i.e. human personalities: a social construct that each of us attempts, with varying success, to perform). The consequences of failing to recognise this are that we are likely to remain “taken in” by such models when they are applied to other aspects of our lives, limiting our freedom of action. While systems for predicting political and economic phenomena are widely believed to have fallen out of favour in the final quarter of the twentieth century, this chapter will demonstrate that such systems actually remain integral to our contemporary economic system, in the form of scenario planning and computer modelling, with the failure to recognise this having often devastating effects.

in A book of monsters
A brief introduction to the horror of Enlightenment
David Ashford

The introduction will discuss the significance of the Prometheus myth, beginning with its most familiar manifestation in English literature, Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Having noted that Promethean horror is relatively rare in English-language literature, where the term gothic is near synonymous with horror, the introduction will note the proliferation of Promethean tropes over the course of the twentieth century and suggest that changing perceptions towards Modernism are the primary reason for this shift, outlining some of the approaches developed in the chapters.

in A book of monsters