The Gothic

The Gothic July 16, 2005

Mark Edmundson examines the pervasive influence of Gothic themes not only in popular entertainments (horror movies, computer games, etc) but also in contemporary real-life life. He suggests that the evening news presents a Gothicized world, a world of unknowable threats and horrors that we cannot escape. Writing in the late 1990s, he is struck by the doubly Gothic structure imposed on the OJ Simpson story – whites telling a story of a man who was safely white in public but dangerously black in his double life, and blacks telling a Gothic story of racist cops attempting a high-tech lynching of an uppity black man. Interestingly, Edmundson suggests that Freud is in continuity with the Gothic literature of the Victorian era, relocating the predatory hero-villain into the individual psyche – each of us in haunted/possessed by an “It” (id), and each of us is the site of a sadomasochistic struggle between the superego and the ego. Most offensively, Freud discerned the Gothic hero/villain within the prime Victorian symbol of innocence, the child. He discerns similar Gothic themes in “theory,” particularly in Foucault and in others who have been deeply influenced by Freud. Poe, Edmunson suggests, is the lord of the contemporary imagination.

At the same time, there are trends in the opposite direction, a trend toward “facile transcendence” that ignores the Gothic in favor of myths of innocence, what Edmundson calls the world according to Forrest Gump. Contemporary culture is thus dialectical, shifting between the threats of the Gothic and vain hopes for the easy triumph of innocence.

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