The gothic and the fantastic in the age of digital reproduction.
The act of defining the Gothic seems to function like a critical irritant, and the attendant discursive discomfort may indicate that the very notion of genre belongs to an Aristotelian tradition that has been eroded by poststructuralist tales of textual indeterminacy. Although critics such as Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik do take the Gothic bull by the horns by claiming that "Gothic writing always concerns itself with boundaries and their instabilities" (243), others adopt an oxymoronic discourse that supports the notion that the Gothic is not a stable genre whose recurrent features can nevertheless be enumerated. Thus, Jerrold Hogle begins his introduction to The Cambridge Companion to the Gothic with the following defiant assertion: "Gothic fiction is hardly 'Gothic' at all" (2002, 1), but later proceeds to identify its "general parameters" (2). In his analysis of the Gothic, Botting singles out excess and transgression as recurrent features of a genre he is in other respects reluctant to define. Choosing a term that recurs in other critical analyses to designate the elusive genre of the Gothic, he states: "changing features, emphases and meanings disclose Gothic writing as a mode (my emphasis) that exceeds genre and categories, restricted neither to a literary school nor to a historical period" (1996, 14). Both Hogle and Botting underline the fact that in the Gothic we are dealing with a type of text that undoes neat typologies and literary genealogies. Why persist then in establishing generic boundaries if the very function of the Gothic text is to blur boundaries? It could be counter-argued that there is no necessary contradiction between the fact that narratives are concerned with indeterminacy and the decision to identify the recurrence of this indeterminacy as the index of a genre.
The plot thickens when, despite the futility of the exercise, we succumb to the temptation of comparing definitions of the fantastic and the Gothic. The major problem one faces in this process of comparison is that critics do not draw any clear distinction between the two genres. In fact, the question as to whether the fantastic and the Gothic are two distinct genres is never raised. In The Fantastic (1973), Todorov states:
In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world. The person who experiences the event must opt for one of the two possible solutions: either he is the victim of an illusion of the senses, of a product of the imagination--and laws of the world then remain what they are; or else the event has indeed taken place, it is an integral part of reality--but then this reality is controlled by laws unknown to us. Either the devil is an illusion, an imaginary being; or else he exists, precisely like other living beings--with this reservation, that we encounter him infrequently. The fantastic occupies the duration of this uncertainty. Once we choose one answer or the other, we leave the fantastic for a neighbouring genre, the uncanny or the marvellous. The fantastic is that hesitation experienced by a person who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event. (25)
It is on the basis of this definition that Todorov analyzes the Gothic: "we generally distinguish, within the literary Gothic, two tendencies: that of the supernatural explained (the 'uncanny'), as it appears in the novels of Clara Reeves and Ann Radcliffe; and that of the supernatural accepted (the 'marvellous'), which is characteristic of the works of Horace Walpole, M. G. Lewis, and Maturin" (42). In both tendencies, the fantastic in its pure form does not exist because it is eventually rationalized, or because it remains beyond rationalization. This analysis produces a curious problem. While it clearly indicates that the Gothic is not the fantastic, it also defines the Gothic according to categories that determine the fantastic. In addition, it can be argued that the presence of the supernatural is not a condition of the Gothic text. Although historically Gothic narratives have resorted to devices such as ghosts, apparitions, and hallucinations, the violation of natural laws (physiological, perceptual, and ideological) does not necessarily lead into the supernatural. (1) J. G. Ballard's Gothic Crash (1973) certainly defies what culture might regard as natural laws, but has no truck with the supernatural, let alone the marvellous. Instead, it lands the reader and viewer in the cul-de-sac of alienation and abjection. Conversely, not all fantastic texts are Gothic: fairy tales or the Arabian Nights deal in the supernatural but do not necessarily evince Gothic horror. (2)
In identifying the thematic properties of the fantastic, Todorov singles out two phenomenological features. The fantastic concerns the self in its relation to the world when the deletion of boundaries between subject and object, animate and inanimate occurs: "the transition from mind to matter has become possible" (114). There is little distinction between this defining criterion of the fantastic and the recurrently discussed parameters of Gothic narrative. Consider, for instance, Hogle's statement that "the Gothic is ... continuously about confrontations between the low and the high.... [I]t is about its own blurring of different levels of discourse while it is also concerned with the interpenetration of other opposed conditions--including life/death, natural/supernatural, ancient/modern, realistic/artificial, and unconscious/conscious--along with the abjection of these crossings into haunting and supposedly deviant 'others' that therefore attract and terrify middle-class characters and readers" (9). In both cases, the fantastic and the Gothic are declared to delete boundaries between categories. Todorov also argues that the fantastic concerns the self in its relation to others, more specifically, "the relation of man with his desire--and thereby with his unconscious" (139). Similarly, Botting argues that, in the Gothic, excess and "the fascination with transgression and the anxiety over cultural limits and boundaries, continue to produce ambivalent emotions and meanings in their tales of darkness, desire and power" (1996, 2). As a matter of fact, Todorov goes on to select the transgression of the law as the narrative and social pointer of the fantastic: the irruption of the fantastic sets into motion a narrative that contests the social and political rule of the law (Todorov 159, 166).
One can observe the same generic blurring in Rosemary Jackson's Fantasy (1981). Jackson adds to the generic conundrum by not distinguishing between fantasy and the fantastic, as her use of the two terms is undifferentiated throughout her study. Her contribution to the critical discourse on the fantastic consists of her Bakhtinian interpretation of the genre: "the fantastic is a mode of writing which enters a dialogue with the 'real' and incorporates that dialogue as part of its essential structure. To return to Bakhtin's phrase, fantasy is 'dialogical,' interrogating single or unitary ways of seeing" (36). Jackson's dialogical definition of the fantastic overlaps with Botting's emphasis on the Gothic as an interrogation of the real and cultural monological norms when he states that "Gothic is an inscription neither of darkness nor of light, a delineation neither of reason and morality nor of superstition and corruption, neither good nor evil, but both at the same time. Relations between real and fantastic, sacred and profane, supernatural and natural, past and present, civilized and barbaric, rational and fanciful, remain crucial to the Gothic dynamic of limit and transgression" (1996, 9). In fact, in establishing a contrast between the real and the fantastic, Botting's definition eerily mirrors Jackson's. When listing fantastic motifs, she evokes creatures that are also known to populate Gothic texts:
ghosts, shadows, vampires, werewolves, doubles, partial selves, reflections (mirrors), enclosures, monsters, beasts, cannibals. Transgressive impulses towards incest, necrophilia, androgyny, cannibalism, recidivism, narcissism and abnormal psychological states conventionally categorized as hallucination, dream, insanity, paranoia, derive from ... thematic concerns ... concerned with erasing rigid demarcations of gender and genre. (49)
As in the case of Botting's definition of the Gothic as a site of transgressive practices, Jackson's list of fantastic motifs is organized according to the principles of transgression and the deletion of boundaries.
Typically, critics allude to a distinction between the fantastic and the Gothic when they identify the Gothic as an earlier manifestation of the fantastic. Adopting Todorov's categories of analysis, Jackson suggests that "early Gothic romances, such as those of Clara Reeve, are closer to the marvellous than to pure fantasy.... As Gothic undergoes transformations through the work of Ann Radcliffe, M. G. Lewis, Mary Shelley and Charles Maturin, it develops into a literary form capable of more radical interrogation of social contradictions, no longer simply making up for a society's lacks" (97). The problem such a historical definition creates is that, earlier in her analysis, Jackson initially defined the fantastic as an a historical mode (7) so that it is difficult to think of the transition from the supra-temporal fantastic to the Gothic as a historical "literary form."
Although critical of Jackson's assumption that the fantastic has the capacity to subvert the political status quo, Jose B. Monleon follows in her footsteps by describing the Gothic as a stage in the historical development of the fantastic. Fleshing out the structuralist skeleton, Monleon's argument can be read as a political radicalization of Todorov's analysis via Foucault: the fantastic emerged during the Enlightenment at a time when western culture adopted rationalism as its mainstay in philosophy, economics, urban policies, and political ideals. The predominance of this epistemological discourse made possible the emergence of the fantastic as a counter-discourse of the irrational. Monleon identify Gothic monsters as the political outcasts of a culture that, increasingly governed by rationalist principles of efficiency, ostracized the lower classes, the mad, the useless, and the deviant. The lack of generic distinction between the Gothic and the fantastic in Monleon's analysis is conspicuous in the following statement where the relation between monstrosity, supernaturalism, and the fantastic is taken for granted:
The perception of monstrosity had significant correlations with the way in which dominant culture defined and redefined its political and economic supremacy, and depended upon the concrete forms of class struggle. On the one hand, the fantastic "reflected" very real threats; on the other hand, it created a space in which those threats could be transformed into "supernaturalism" and monstrosity, thus helping to reshape the philosophical premises that sustained the fantastic and effectively reorient the course of social evolution. (139)
Furthermore, Monleon's examples of fantastic literature in the nineteenth century include Maupassant's Horla, Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Stoker's Dracula, all perfect candidates for Gothic fiction.
What perhaps constitutes the Gordian knot of these critical discourses is the extent to which each separate genre is claimed to express indeterminacy. According to Todorov, ambiguity and the moment of doubt that derives from such ambiguity characterizes the pure fantastic. The hesitation which the reader experiences when faced with the fantastic "may also be experienced by a character; thus the reader's role is so to speak entrusted to a character, and at the same time the hesitation is represented, it becomes, one of the themes of the work" (33). (3) Jackson reinforces this definition by adding that "what emerges as the basic trope of fantasy is the oxymoron, a figure of speech which holds together contradictions and sustains them in an impossible unity, without progressing towards synthesis" (21). However, it is this very existential sense of doubt, ambiguity, and disorientation that critics have underlined in their analyses of Gothic narratives. According to David Punter, the Gothic is characterized by the transgression of the law that rests on assertion and boundaries: "the law is the imposition of certainty, the rhetorical summation of the absence, or the the transition from the real to the unreal, that is to say, from normative reality, as defined by norms of cognition and cultural dogmas, to a different realm loss, of doubt; which means in turn that the law is a purified abstract whole, perfected according to the processes of taboo, which can find no purchase on the doubled, creviced, folded world of the real" (2). The Gothic stands in an agonistic relation to the law which it contaminates with narratives of cultural indeterminacy and bodily terrors.
Surrounded by terms reverberating in the critical echo chamber, the critic may consider two solutions to the problem: either the task of formulating generic categories belongs to the well-intentioned but futile enterprise of New Criticism and structuralism; or, the effect of critical blurring may point to the existence of two contiguous genres that are nevertheless different. It is this contiguity and this difference that I propose to elucidate. To do so, let us revert to Todorov's definition of the fantastic and pause on its implications. Although Todorov states that the fantastic deals with the category of the real, a careful reading of his definition indicates that, not surprisingly, it also deals with the category of knowledge. To quote again: "In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world.... The fantastic is that hesitation experienced by a person who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event" (25). This definition of the fantastic is presented in terms of an epistemological and ontological problem: the first sentence clearly presents the problem in terms of the relationship between knowledge and the world, or reality as we know it. (4) The scenario that Todorov develops is also indebted to a long-standing philosophical debate concerning the role of imagination in our knowledge and conception of reality which can be traced back to Plato's discussion of the unreliable and dangerous role of art because of its reliance on icons that feed upon our senses and imagination. (5) Todorov s definition of the fantastic derives from the binary relation he introduces between natural laws and supernatural laws, knowledge and imagination, reality and unreality.
I suggest that the critical discourses on the fantastic and the Gothic are preternaturally similar because common to both genres are the epistemological and ontological implications of representation and symbolization. Horner's and Zlosnik's, Hogle's, Botting's, Todorov's, Jackson's, and Monleon's (para-) definitions all revolve around narratives concerned with that creates doubt about the nature of reality and its epistemological norms. Punter speaks of "Gothic's general opposition to realist aesthetics" (182). This implies that, from a generic standpoint, an analysis of the Gothic and the fantastic as narratives contesting normative definitions of reality remains incomplete without any reference to realism and more generally mimesis.
To various degrees, Jackson, Hume, Messent, and Rabkin all refer to mimesis in their discussions of the fantastic and include realism in their generic analyses. (6) Thus, Christine Brooke-Rose's theoretical point that "all types of fantastic, whether uncanny, pure fantastic or marvellous (or merged), need to be solidly anchored in some kind of fictionally mimed 'reality,' not only to be as plausible as possible within the implausible, but to emphasize the contrast between the natural and the supernatural elements" (234) rings true. Brooke-Rose's approach to genre theory is motivated by the attempt to "mark a distinction, in any one genre, between the 'pure' type and others (on the basis of any stated criteria), the 'pure' type perhaps not existing but representing an abstract model, more or less predominant in the others; in the case of the fantastic, the distinction here would be between a text (existent or not) in which the hesitation is maintained to the end, and the others." (66). Her major concern is to demonstrate that the inheritors of fantastic literature are American postmodernists such as Pynchon and Vonnegut as well as the writers of the French nouveau roman. Her chief criterion is ambiguity which she borrows from Todorov's definition of the fantastic as this evanescent moment of doubt when the reader and the protagonist hesitate between natural and supernatural laws of interpretation. Todorov synthesized his epistemological and ontological definition of the fantastic in the following schema:
uncanny | fantastic-uncanny | fantastic-marvellous | marvellous
As Brooke-Rose reminds us, the central line between the fantastic-uncanny and the fantastic-marvellous constitutes the site of the pure fantastic. However, missing from this schema, is the crucial role that mimesis and realism play. Brooke-Rose transforms Todorov's linear model into a circular model and, on the strength of her detailed, narratological comparison between realistic narratives and science-fiction narratives, she adds the genre of realism to the combination (84). This means that even the most fantastic narratives can be traced back to some referential construct of reality. This addition is crucial because it allows for an analysis of the relation between the fantastic and the cultural, historical, and political origins of a particular narrative. (7)
It follows then that mimesis plays a crucial role in both the Gothic and the fantastic genres because the epistemological and ontological norms from which these genres depart are initially inscribed in a realistic discourse. Brooke-Rose's analysis of mimesis and the fantastic provides the missing piece in this generic puzzle, for by focusing on the relationship between the realistic, fantastic, and Gothic codes of representation, one may identify the basic distinction between the Gothic and the fantastic. It is the subversion of epistemological and ontological norms in the mode of terror which generically encodes the reader of Gothic narratives. While the fantastic establishes a narrative fracture in the symbolic space of realism that may provoke emotions of wonder, shock, or delight, the Gothic establishes a narrative fracture that always coincides with violence and excess and that threatens us "with the dissolution of our normal cultural foundations for identities we claim to possess" (Hogle 16). (8)
This subversion of cognitive and ontological norms in the mode of terror constitutes the chief topic of discussion in "The Uncanny" (1919) in which Freud articulates major relationships between knowledge, reality, affect, and symbolization. For Freud, "an uncanny effect is often and easily produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced, as when something that we have hitherto regarded as imaginary appears before us in reality, or when a symbol takes over the full functions of the thing it symbolizes" (244). The representation of the uncanny concerns both the terrifying occultation of familiar norms of knowledge and reality and the no less dreadful (re-)discovery of what was best left unknown. Freud's uncanny functions in the mode of ambiguity which leaves meaning indeterminate, as it "is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it through the process of repression.... [This allows us] to understand Schelling's definition of the uncanny as something which ought to have remained hidden but has come to light" (241). (9) If, indeed, the uncanny is what distinguishes the fantastic from the Gothic, then we need to revisit Todorov's use of the category in his generic model.
As Peter Schwenger (17) and Nicholas Royle (18) point out, Todorov's use of the term "uncanny" to refer to a narrative which provides a rational explanation of the supernatural is problematic. In fact, Todorov uses the term so loosely that, as in the following passage, the uncanny seems to stand for the supernatural: "the fantastic implies ... the existence of an uncanny event, which provokes a hesitation in the reader and the hero" (32). Here the uncanny is associated with the fantastic when, at other stages of the argument, it is supposed to cancel the effect of the fantastic. Perhaps Jackson puts it most accurately when she remarks that, in contrast to the other categories, the uncanny is not a literary category (32). Furthermore, a glance at the critical history of the term indicates that, in accordance with Freud's approach, critics have used the uncanny as a state of epistemological and ontological indeterminacy. Thus, Botting associates the uncanny with "an effect of uncertainty, of the irruption of fantasies, suppressed wishes and emotional and sexual conflicts.... [T]he uncanny renders all boundaries uncertain and, in nineteenth-century Gothic writing, often leaves readers unsure whether narratives describe psychological disturbance or wider upheavals within formations of reality and normality" (11). Royle bluntly states: "the uncanny is essentially to do with hesitation and uncertainty" (19). (10) If the uncanny concerns this sense of hesitation and uncertainty, then it seems to be an uncanny double of Todorov's pure fantastic; or, we can try to tease out the difference between the uncanny and the pure fantastic as a moment of hesitation. (11)
Unlike the hesitation of Todorov's description, the uncanny is not concerned with a purely intellectual or cognitive moment of hesitation. The representation of the uncanny is a mise en scene of the subject's ontological panic when caught between the states of knowing and unknowing, blindness and revelation. This mise en scene may include supernatural paraphernalia, but the latter stands as a mere legacy or fakery of better times when the metaphysical debacle of western culture had not yet occurred. (12) In literature, the uncanny results from the narrative device of ambiguity that evinces terror, horror, dread, or Angst in either the protagonist or the reader who become estranged from familiar epistemological norms and are left suspended between a world they know and a world that is refractory to cultural dogmas yet fascinatingly close to home. (13) A commonplace of Gothic criticism, the uncanny signals the presence of the Gothic genre. Thus the category that allows us to distinguish between the fantastic and the Gothic belongs to the domain of affect. (14)
We can now revert to Todorov's generic model as revised by Brooke-Rose and see what, as in Poe's "The Purloined Letter," has always been there. Commenting on Todorov's use of the uncanny, Brooke-Rose makes a useful distinction: "In the 'pure' uncanny there is little or no supernatural, but only the bizarre or horrific, and this opens out onto all narratives with strange and unusual events, and ultimately onto all realistic fiction" (310). If my hypothesis is correct, we can modify the Todorov/Brooke-Rose model by renaming the area of the uncanny as that of the Gothic which straddles the area of realism and the area of the fantastic:
In this revised diagram, representations of the grotesque, the abject and other aberrancies that prompt terror and flout normative reality characterize the pure Gothic. Terrifying ghosts, ghouls, vampires, and the occult constitute a supernatural option which establishes a bridge with the supernatural fantastic. (15) For consistency's sake, we need to identify the dividing line between the Gothic-fantastic and the fantastic-marvellous as the pure fantastic, or site of indeterminacy and hesitation devoid of terror. However, the spectrum from the Gothic to the marvellous concerns different modes of ontological and epistemological indeterminacy in relation to the sphere of realism. At the opposite end of the Gothic, the marvellous unambiguously engages the reader to discard norms and to derive unadulterated pleasure from this narrative contract. Finally, this diagram does not prevent the combination of the different categories in one and the same work.
I propose to test the validity of my theoretical distinction between the Gothic and the fantastic by interpreting a sample of H. R. Giger's visual art which, in Monleon's spirit, could be considered an expression of unreason at a time when mass production, economic globalization, and consumerism resulted from a highly systematic and technological rationalization of western culture. However, this hyper-rationalization also produced Goya-like visions such as a napalmed child on the cover of the Times magazine and nuclear mushrooms on the TV screen. The 1960s and 1970s spawned monstrosities such as air toxins, food contaminants, and Thalidomide-related birth defects, and it is a truism that in reaction to this apocalyptic script, a counter-culture promoting free love, psychedelic dreams, popular music, ecological awareness, and different forms of spirituality developed. Giger's art fully participated in this counter-culture.
Giger is perhaps best known as the designer of the fantastic setting of the science-fiction movie Alien (1979). Fans can visit his museum in Switzerland where he exhibits his works, including sculpture and design objects such as chairs and tables that have no role to play in a middle-class living room, as they hail from the same fantastic imagination that created the cyborgs featured in Alien. Giger's pictures belong to the type of visual art that magazines like Omni popularized in the 1970s, and anticipate what Csaba Toth dubs postmodern, postindustrial Gothic art. Toth discusses video production by artists such as NIN, Psychic TV, and Test Department who "remark on the postindustrial disappearance of the laboring body against the backdrop of vacant factory yards, deserted farms, bleak downtowns, a polluted environment, and ever-present television screens" (89). Arguably, Giger is located somewhere between what Toth refers to as a first wave of performers who resorted to the abjection of the body to inscribe their rejection of dominant culture and a second wave of performers who used media and cybernetics as means of political contestation.
With his predilection for erotic themes and popular media, Giger could be easily dismissed as a commercial artist driven by profit and status. However, there is another possible interpretation of his position. In his study of modern jazz, Paul Lopes questions Bourdieu's categorization of popular art "within the sub-field of industrial art: [Bourdieu] fails to recognize the tensions between modern culture industries and popular artists and other independent producers outside these industries" (167). Lopes demonstrates the way in which jazz musicians struggled to establish their autonomy in the field of popular culture. Similarly, it can be argued that Giger strives to maintain his autonomy in the field of popular design. His artistic practices create a liminal space between popular art and avant-gardism. Cooperating with science fiction film-makers and the world of pop music as well as developing pop art websites, (16) Giger also developed as an artist by taking part in the avant-gardist culture of Zurich in the sixties. His earlier production can be traced back to Surrealism and possibly to the absurdism and experimentalism of the Swiss and German Dadaist movement. By straddling the two worlds of popular art and experimental art, Giger's practices defy the binary opposition between commercial art and "culture."
Both his construct of the artist in his catalogues and his design techniques unsettle the humanist conception of the artist. Part of his self-construct consists in representing the artist as a magus and magician: staring sombrely at the camera, surrounded by the most absurd of his cyborg sculptures and exoskeleton-armchairs, Giger looms through some kind of mist or opens the doors of some forbidden space. In other words, the artist is a conjuror and master of illusio. Although he does use the word "artist," Giger insists on referring to himself as a designer. (17) His use of the airbrush technique, associated with an inferior type of technique which youths used to adorn their vans and motorcycles, should be considered a subversive disruption of the laws of traditional painting. In his catalogues, the juxtaposition of photographs of Giger shooting a gun in a quarry and of Giger spraying his sheets of paper with ink is no coincidence: Giger holds the airbrush like a pistol which effects the transformation of the artist into a de-creator or, perhaps more flatteringly or provocatively, a sharpshooter.
Throughout his career, Giger has invariably struck a paradoxical alliance between the representation of the organic and the use of various mechanical and digital media. Earlier in his career, he used India ink, oil, acrylic, photogravure, prints of different kinds, and the airbrush. In his later pictures, he combines the airbrush with stencils so as to decrease the effect of spray painting. His works include curtains and doilies patterns as well as computer-generated stencils, some of which resulted in urban representations like Rote Mechanische Stadt (1981-83), which is reproduced in colour on the back cover of this issue. Mechanical reproduction and organicity do not cancel each other in Giger's designs. The suffusing in organic red of the reiterative design of the spectral and necrotic city produces a most haunting and attractive picture.
With its hieratic figures, its eerie spaces that are neither here nor there, Giger's iconography allures. Invariably taking centre stage in the different pictures, lascivious female bodies assert their sexual power and hold in their Bearsdley-like elongated hands the bulbous tips of erect penises. The illusion that these pictures create lies in a hyperbolic representation of desire which is, literally speaking, larger than life and part of a spectacle drawing on the iconography of the occult and wicked paganism. However, as in Passage Temple (Life) 1974-75 (page 16), the viewer of Giger's pictures gets more than was bargained for: the erotics of his meticulous pictures are represented as necrophiliac performances. This death-in-life erotics derives from a redesign of anatomy based on the externalization of the internal components of the body. His creatures--parading their exoskeletons, carapaces, skulls, and organic innards--exude desire yet provoke revulsion in the viewer. The encounter with Giger's fantastic pictures amounts to something like a double-take: erotic seduction is checkmated by the necrotic display that identifies the viewer as a posthumous witness. The very act of viewing corresponds to a double act of transgression and alienation.
The complexity of Giger's art derives from a fundamental tension between the fantastic and the Gothic which his various pictures enact. On the one hand, his pictures estrange the viewer from the realistic norms of knowledge and reality by burgling into a space of the most fantastic type. On the other hand, the transgression of the cognitive norms of reality is represented in the mode of horror and abjection so that typically reactions to Giger's pictures range from wryness and tickling fascination through disbelief to downright rejection--depending on the cultural background of the viewer. In other words, the implied viewer of Giger's pictures is in the same position as that of the implied reader of fantastic and Gothic narratives. Gazing at the representations from a standpoint determined by cultural norms of knowledge and ideological constructs, the viewer responds to a visual object that obstructs the visual flow of referential information.
However, the major difference between the narrative fantastic and the visual fantastic stems from the temporal form and the spatial form of the respective media. This distinction needs modulation, as it is well known that pictures can adopt a narrative form and also rely on the kinesis of the eye for their meaning to emerge, while texts can adopt a spatial form as in the poems of George Herbert and the visual constructs of concrete poetry. Having said that, it is undeniable that the visual fantastic and the textual fantastic operate differently in their production of the moment of hesitation which Todorov associates with the pure fantastic. While the writer has to invent means of maintaining the sense of hesitation through narrative duration, the visual designer has an undeniable asset in the static character of spatial art which can stabilize the moment of hesitation on canvas, paper, screen, or whatever support. Time has not been evicted from the production of the visual fantastic; it has merely been displaced to the viewer, as the moment of fascination lasts as long as the time of viewing, or is renewed with each and every instance of viewing.
Giger's fantastic is manifest in works such as the 1966-68 Shaft series (page 18), which creates a non-space consisting of vertiginous vertical walls flanked with occasional diagonal stairs; like a minimalist version of Piranesi's 1743 Carceri d'Invenzione, or an illustration of Beckett's The Lost Ones, this negative space is fantastic to the extent that no rational explanation can dispel the sense of indeterminacy that these pictures create. The viewer recognizes the familiar construct of stairs leading up and down the walls, but the walls are not part of a larger spatial context that would help the viewer find bearings in this visual space; nor are the stairs represented according to the norms of physical laws, as they do not connect anything with anything. In other words, Giger's representation provides the basic units of a mimetic grammar of representation--walls and stairs--but the combination of these units leaves the viewer disoriented and hesitant. (18)
The same visual puzzle characterizes Hommage to Beckett II (page 20) (page 20) which Giger produced in 1968. The eye pauses on a non-descript figure who, reclining in a seat and thrusting its head backward, is reflected in a mirror-like rectangle displaying an amorphous thing in which the distinction between the animate and the inanimate, subject and object, mind and matter has been deleted. The viewer is trapped in that fantastic moment of hesitation, the eye oscillating between the recognizable though distorted human shape and what looks like a fleshy, God-forsaken thing as its reflection. Although the means of representation are mimetic, the framed misshapen reflection undermines the principle of mimetic reproduction. (19) The grotesque appearance of the reflected thing and the Munch-like cry which the seated figure lets out indicate that the wrenching from mimetic reality is effected in the mode of the Gothic uncanny by stirring disturbing emotions in the viewer.
The role of the Gothic in Giger's pictures is to pervert the sense of consensus reality concerning the representation of the body, desire and sexual reproduction. Etymologically, the word "pervert" means "to turn round or about," and this is what has happened to his pictorial bodies: the body has been twisted so that the inside is on the outside, and viscera and tissues are spreading over skulls and foreheads; the bone structure has been relocated on the outside so that most of his creatures have exoskeletons. Giger in particular, and the Gothic in general, belong to the twentieth-century trend of anti-humanist representation of identity. This iconoclastic project has its roots in early European avant-gardism so that Epstein's Rock-Drill, de Chirico's surrealist silhouettes, and Giger's biomechanoids are part of the same genealogy.
The generic tension between the fantastic and the Gothic can also be seen at work in Passage Temple "Life" (1974; page 16). The realist code of the picture derives from a mimetic representation of sexual genitalia with which the viewer is familiar. The erect penis is located in the usual central position, and organizes the rest of the picture symmetrically. The conventional belt of the trousers has been converted into a rim breached in the middle to let the erect penis appear. However, the architectural appearance of the belt and the visual magnifying effect transport the viewer to a fantastic heterotopia. (20) It is in this fantastic setting that Giger's picture bifurcates, as it depicts a Gothic sexuality of an aberrant type whereby Eros and Thanatos are locked in the most uncanny embrace. On each side of the rim sits a pair of figures: on the right-hand side, the pair consists of a female figure displaying a fleshed body and of a truncated male figure; on the left-hand side, the pair consists of another female figure and of a skeletal cyborg of some sort. The picture is based on the double iconography of desire and abjection. If the right-hand side Nosferatu leers at the lascivious female body sitting next to him, the eroticism of his desire is also short-circuited by the fact that he is reduced to a castrated trunk. The left-hand pair is based on the same tension whereby the eroticism of the female body clashes with the murderous intent of the obscene male reduced to a tongue-protruding head. The skeletal cyborg sitting by the woman also reiterates the death principle associated with the castrated Nosferatu on the opposite side.
The piece de resistance is the penis itself whose internal structure presents itself like two vertical rows of four heads. These two rows read like a phylogenetic progression from foetus to skull, that is to say, from birth to death. In other words, the phallus is bearer of death and hence is in a state of decomposition. The paradox that the internal structure of the penis creates is reiterated in the paradox between the central erection and the castrated grotesques located on each side of the picture. Trumping up both the mimetic and fantastic codes, the Gothic stereotypes are successful in creating the sense of the uncanny, representing the unrepresentable and inducing a sense of dread and abjection. The recurrence of the Gothic corpse in Giger's pictures can be analyzed in Julia Kristeva's terms: "if dung signifies the other side of the border, the place where I am not and which permits me to be, the corpse, the most sickening of wastes, is a border that has encroached upon everything.... The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life. Abject" (3, 4). If mimetic representation is to nurture a sense of re-cognition and familiarity--which amounts to the sense of the heimlich--then Giger's cross between mimesis, the fantastic and the Gothic positively creates the ambiguous sense of the Freudian unheimlich.
We can then establish a bridge between Freud's uncanny and Kristeva's reflection on abjection as each begets a conception of spectral identity, since in its relation to the object the self remains paradoxically cut off from an object of identification which fascinates and annihilates altogether. The hypothetical viewer of Giger's fantastic grotesques is placed in a position best described by Kristeva: "A massive and sudden emergence of uncanniness, which, familiar as it might have been in an opaque and forgotten life, now harries me radically as separate, loathsome. Not me. Not that. But not nothing, either.... [O]n the edge of non-existence and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me" (2). (21) This psychological experience has aesthetic implications which can be presented in terms of a fundamental paradox affecting Giger's pictures in particular, and the Gothic uncanny in general: while the traditional role of symbolization is to entrench a cognitive distance between subject and object, the Gothic demonizes the process of symbolization which, far from keeping the body at bay, contaminates the viewer with images of abjection that cancel distance and sabotage the contemplative act. (22)
The gender discourse of Giger's pictures concerns not only the relation between the two sexes, but also the relation between woman as mother and man as child. Giger's visual output participates in the counter-culture that dismantled the western traditional discourse of sexual reproduction and which Donna Haraway has described in the following terms: "Ideologies of sexual reproduction can no longer reasonably call on notions of sex and sex role as organic aspects in natural objects like organisms and families. Such reasoning will be unmasked as irrational, and ironically corporate executives reading Playboy and anti-porn radical feminists will make strange bedfellows in jointly unmasking the irrationalism" (162). This historical discourse is adumbrated in the catalogues that Giger has published over the last thirty years, in which he describes a German-speaking Switzerland as an intensely conservative culture of patriarchal militarism and family values. These two socio-cultural paradigms are at the heart of Giger's pictorial space whose function is to pervert the laws of the cultural matrix from which it stems.
Giger's resistance to the institution and discourse of sexual reproduction is responsible for his abjection of the birth process which can be analyzed over a period of twelve years. Whether we are dealing with the early Birth Machine (1967; page 24), or with the later series of Stillbirth I (1976; page 34) in which a woman is incarcerated in a Kafka-like metallic structure and gives birth to an infant who is thrown into the world a la Heidegger, we are always confronted with the representation of reproductive life as death. Because of its mechanization, the maternal body becomes a cyborg whose off spring is an always-and-already dead infant. In Birth Machine, the womb is designed as a metaphorical gun chamber mimetically reproduced and containing infants holding a gun to their left eye. The picture is based on the device of the mise en abyme whereby the infant's weapon is the mere repetition of the larger gun from which it is ejected. The effect of the uncanny derives from the oxymoronic association of sexual reproduction with murder. This kind of visual representation rests on the device of estrangement or alienation, whose origin can be traced back to the Russian formalists and Brecht, and which Brooke-Rose has associated with the genre of the fantastic (19). In the Gothic, the object of this type of visual estrangement is to turn the real and the natural--that is to say, the ideological--into the uncanny and the unnatural.
Giger's foetuses also hail from a technological culture which emerged in the early sixties and which has become part of an obstetrical routine: the ultrasound, producer of foetal constructs. This medical culture of visual reproduction and the postmodernist critique of the aura of origins coincide in the 1973 Landschaft (page 26) where, in a screeching parody of Andy Warhol's 1962 famous reiterative portrait Marilyn Monroe, rows of foetuses are daubed in Gothic hues. (23) The abjection of the baby pictures lies in the combination of the uncannily absent womb with the mechanical reproduction of the foetuses which deprives the womb of its aura.
To locate the specific socio-historical origin of these representations, one has to go to Noracyclin (1965; this page), in which Giger's desecrating representation of sexual reproduction unambiguously refers to a Swiss-made contraceptive pill available to women in the early seventies. (24) As documented by Lara V. Marks in Sexual Chemistry,
the discourse of reproduction before and after the advent of the pill had always been shrouded in terms of social control. For instance, before the pill became available, countries such as Sweden and the United States used their power to apply policies of sterilization to members of the population deemed unfit for reproduction. Until the cultural revolution of the sixties, sexual reproduction within the nuclear family had been firmly established as the social norm, and those who did not conform with these cultural expectations were held under suspicion.
In the sixties, pharmaceutical companies manufacturing contraceptive pills based their rhetoric on the topos of freedom. Particularly striking is the type of metaphor that drug companies used to win women over to their medical cause. Marks quotes from an advertisement to promote the Enovid pill:
"Unfettered: From the beginning woman has been a vassal to the temporal demands--and frequently the aberrations--of the cyclic mechanism of her reproductive system. Now to a degree heretofore unknown, she is permitted normalization, enhancement or suspension of cyclic function and procreative potential." This new method [of] control is symbolized in an illustration borrowed from ancient Greek mythology--Andromeda freed from her chains. (132)
Although couched in terms of control and normalization, the ad also gestures toward the promise of freedom. The reference to Greek mythology is particularly relevant to the counter-discourse Giger developed in his Stillbirth series during the seventies where women are invariably held in bondage by metallic trappings of all kinds, undergoing the process of birth. Unlike the Greek myth where Andromeda is set free by Perseus, the women of the Stillbirth series remain bound to a coercive process and discourse of reproduction which the pictures, in their Gothic excess, over-dramatize. Giger's Gothic representation of reproduction is contraceptive, that is to say, it constitutes an anti-life discourse of abjection that strikes right at the cultural sense of the sacredness of life and procreation. His anti-reproductive discourse is also the subject of the Spell series, produced between 1973 and 1977. Out of the series, I will focus on Spell IV, produced in 1977, and which in Necronomicon constitutes a large picture with a flap folding over the left page.
The fantastic dimension of Spell IV derives from its reference to the occult with which Giger is familiar. His chief picture of reference is Baphomet represented in the nineteenth century by the occult figure of Eliphas Levi, alias Alphonse Louis Constant. Levi's own representation of Baphomet consists of a ram-like figure combining the features of a bull, dog and donkey. The ram figure wears black wings, and its head is surmounted with a pair of horns and a torch. On its forehead rests a pentagram, and from its lap rises Hermes' phallic rod with its intertwining serpents. The lap is covered with a cloth masking the sexual nature of the creature which, however, displays two generous maternal breasts. The composition of the picture is symmetrical with the right arm upward and the left downward. In addition, the right-hand corner of the picture displays a black moon crescent, while the upper-left corner displays a white moon crescent. The picture reads like the perversion of icons representing Christ the Pantocrator. Giger's Spell IV, a double parody of Christ the Pantocrator and of Levi's Baphomet, presents the usual ambiguous visual rhetoric which seduces the viewer into an erotic viewing while delivering a blistering representation of sexual reproduction. At the centre of the picture sits Baphomet in basically the same pose as that in Levi's picture, and exhibiting the same hybrid identity. However, elements have been altered and the figure now sits against a complex background, as Giger submits the quoted visual elements to a procession of perversion or "turning."
To begin with, the composition of Spell IV is governed by a principle of symmetry that creates an ominous sense of immutability. It is through the perversion of this graphic law of symmetry that the Gothic space of abjection emerges and confronts the viewer. Thus the Hermes rod has been perverted into a metallic gun enclosed by two diabolic snakes; the occult symbolism of the arms' position is perverted by the planting of a drug syringe into Baphomet's left arm. The occult torch of Levi's original design gives way to a phallic rod ramming through the vagina of a pearl-white female figure. She is standing on top of Baphomet's head, poised in a spread-eagle stance with her hands holding long knives. The pentagram of Levi's Baphomet is no longer confined to its forehead, as it is reiterated three times in the picture: the spread-eagled female figure is pinned against a pentagram, a geometric figure which reappears symmetrically on each side of the picture, parodying the contrast between the black and the white moon crescents in Levi's Baphomet. Giger's Baphomet is seated on the metallic beam, a recurrent visual motif in his designs. At each end of the beam, a reclining female figure, one white, one black, is inseminated by snake-like pistons. The masculine principle is not signified by the representation of a male body; instead, it is signified by means of either metonymy or synecdoche. (25) It is the erect penis rising from the skulls on which Baphomet sits; it is also the obscene inseminating pistons mentioned above; and it is the metallic gun rising from the necrotic phallus, morphing into the rod supporting the spread-eagle female and providing the vertical counterpart to the horizontal metallic beam. The very verticality of the triumphant erection is thus co-opted in the lines of coercion which the horizontal beam initiates.
What is being abjected is once again sexuality as a social discourse of reproduction. Let's go back to the central figure of this picture. Like the original figure of Levi's picture, Baphomet exhibits her maternal breasts, but at them hang two grotesque infants with sarcastic grins and grenades held close to their breasts. Baphomet becomes the diabolic mother or matrix inseminated by the erect penis metonymically connected to the metallic gun, bearer of death and annihilation. This delirious representation points to the phallus as inseminator hailing from Thanatos and to the maternal body as matrix of destruction. Stemming from the inseminated female bodies are diabolical snakes swishing and snapping their tails and slithering through the pentagrams in the upper left and right corners of the picture. The serpents' heads expel abject and grotesque foetuses, neither beast nor human. At the edge of the right-hand pentagram sits a crouching figure characterized by yet another form of duality: half-Punch, half-cadaver, the figure is a typical death-in-life Gothic trope gnawing at the discourse of reproduction as social sinew and social practice.
However, the subversive character of Giger's art becomes more problematic as one shifts to representations such as the Passagen series which effects the transition from mimetic reality to the fantastic by transforming the photograph of a garbage truck with a slit at the back into a vagina (page 33). This series includes at least thirty-nine pictures of the same motif with colour variations, alternating between figurative and abstract designs. At what point does Giger's critique of the discourse of sexual reproduction turn into a voyeuristic and sensationalist fascination for perverse relationships of domination between genders? In his (pseudo?) autobiographical commentary, Giger states: "I was so fascinated by the erotic overtones of this mechanical process, which reached its climax in the emptying of the overflowing dustbin, that I quickly took a couple of photographs" (HR Giger's Necronomicon 16). The text is constructed in such a way as to seduce the viewer into an erotic approach to the picture. Yet the picture tells a story of defilement and abjection. The text says: "look how erotic the garbage collection is." The picture says: "look how abject woman's opening is." The combination of both discourses creates ambiguity of the least fantastic type. The temptation is strong to throw the book into the garbage bin to join a collection of statements including Marinetti's manifesto statement on the erotics of war: "See the furious coitus of war, gigantic vulva stirred by the friction of courage, shapeless vulva that spreads to offer itself to the terrific spasm of final victory" (53-54).
The notion that the Gothic genre may not have the proper political credentials has haunted critics. In his now classical Literature of Terror, Punter summed up the debate by declaring that "Gothic fiction demonstrates the potential of revolution by daring to speak the socially unspeakable; but the very act of speaking it is an ambiguous gesture" (1978, 197). Monleon regards earlier Gothic novels as fundamentally conservative texts, establishing an "archeology of fear, a sadistic ... unearthing and reconstruction of unreasonable forms" (48). (26) However, if the Gothic is concerned with some sort of death wish--as Patrick McGrath states (27)--expecting such a genre to transform society may be missing the point. As Giger's pictures show, the Gothic has the ability to instigate a destabilization of a violent type: this is its power but also its limitation. In her analysis of the abject, Kristeva argues that the "perverse interspace of abjection" rests on an "unshakeable adherence" (16) to law and prohibition. The abject "neither gives up nor assumes a prohibition, a rule, or a law; but turns them aside, misleads, corrupts; uses them, takes advantage of them, the better to deny them" (15). Gothic representations of abjection do not cancel out ideological dogmas, but by estranging the subject from dominant discourses and by violating ideological norms of reality and knowledge, they lay bare the coercive aspects of social and cultural laws.
Giger's reiterated strategies of perversion and abjection indicate that the iconography I have analyzed remains under the thumb of cultural laws to the extent that it obsessively exhibits the necessity to contravene the discourse of sexuality and reproduction. In her well-known essay "Writing and the Law," Cixous analyzes the type of writing which remains enthralled to ideological laws even in cases such as Kafka's and Blanchot's where such laws are stated in order to be contravened. She establishes a contrast between this type of writing and the kind of writing by Claire Lispector in which "there are no laws other than those imposed on us by institutions, religion, morals" (24). For Cixous, the contrast is not only one of genre but also of gender: the law is always "andromorphic.... If the law tricks us, it is because we internalize its interdiction" (190). The internalization of the patriarchal law underlies the Passagen series which acts out repeated gestures of defiance and provocation at the expense of the female viewer.
While the abjection of Passage XXVII (1973) raises the spectre of phallocentrism, Biomechanoid (1976; page 35) functions like an interesting ideological trompe-l'oeil, enticing the viewer to get distracted by phantasms of potency, yet undercutting the cultural script of the phallic law. At first sight, the picture appears to entertain the sado-masochistic phantasm of oral sex and female bondage. The fascinating aspect of the picture derives from its mimetic representation of the white female body which, in the tradition of Raoul Hausmann's Dadaist experimental images such as Tatlin at Home (1920), is collaged with a sexual cyborg. However, there is something suspicious concerning this fantastic representation of what we could call the principle of sexual penetration and insemination. Far from calling for a glorification of masculine potency, the uncanny register of the picture compels the viewer to see-saw between the erotic seduction of the representation and the abjecting realization that this tale of phantasmal potency has for chief protagonist a crippled and mechanized cyborg. Uncannily defiant of sexual taboos yet ensnared in their monstrous logic of reproduction, Giger's art freezes gender roles in fantastic spaces haunted by a phallocentric law, and releases the barely repressed collective unconscious on the surface of elegant catalogues and glossy posters.
Thanks to James Cowan at Morpheus Press for permission to reproduce the H. R. Giger work reproduced here. The Giger gallery can be seen at http://www.giger.com.
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(1) Aguirre makes a similar point when he proposes to distinguish between the numinous and the supernatural: "The Gothic novel is not primarily about supernatural but about numinous events. If by 'numinous' is understood the quality of that which transcends--and opposes--the rational, it is immaterial whether these events arise from outside sources, from nature or from the human mind" (111). Aguirre uses the word numinous "to signify not the merely supernatural but that which the world of horror fiction systematically defines as non-human, as alien, as Other: that which we are not" (3).
(2) However, Lucie Armitt argues that with their ogres and child-devouring witches, fairy tales share with the Gothic confrontations with the uncanny (46).
(3) At the opposite end of Todorov's argument is Irwin's definition of fantasy as a contract between the text and the reader based on the following rhetorical terms: "Whatever the material, extravagant or seemingly commonplace, a narrative is a fantasy if it presents the persuasive establishment and development of an impossibility, an arbitrary construct of the mind with all under the control of logic and rhetoric" (9). In contra-distinction from Todorov, he adds: "In successful fantasy all is clarity and certainty, as far as presentation goes" (55). Theoretically, Irwin's fantasy seems to correspond to Todorov's marvellous.
(4) Monleon comments that the "fantastic is, at heart, an epistemological question, not an ethical one, although it does have profound philosophical and political consequences" (9).
(5) The Republic, trans. Paul Shorey (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935) 423-33.
(6) Jackson argues that fantasy "re-combines and inverts the real, but it does not escape it: it exists in a parasitical or symbiotic relation to the real" (20). For Hume, fantasy merely constitutes "any departure from consensus reality" (21). Messent argues that the literature of the fantastic, which he dubs the literature of the occult, "operates in that area where these two worlds clash head on--that sense of radical disjunction, that thrill, the sensation of numbing dislocation which arises at that point of intersection between two separate worlds, the material and the supernatural. It is this sense of fracture which provides the real power of this type of literature" (2). Emphasizing this sense of fracture, and identifying surprise, shock, delight, and fear as typical of the fantastic, Rabkin is of the opinion that the "truly fantastic occurs when the ground rules of a narrative are forced to make a 180[degrees] reversal, when prevailing perspectives are directly contradicted" (12).
(7) In his analysis of illustrations of the Arabian Nights produced in England between 1865 and 1915, Terry Hackford confirms Brooke-Rose's theoretical model when he states: "the persuasive fantasy image--be it the cave of the forty thieves, a roc in flight, or the stone king of the Ebony Isles--depends in a complex manner upon the artistic conventions and semiotic codes associated with realism. The fantasy illustrator takes the pictorial conventions of realistic portrayal and then manipulates or inverts them to create marvellous worlds for which there can be no earthly analogy" (144). Hackford concentrates on the following illustrators: Arthur B. Houghton, John D. Batten, Henry J. Ford, and Edmund Dulac.
(8) Roger C. Schlobin reports on a conversation with David Ketterer: "Fantasy presents a challenging unknown that can nevertheless be known through intuitive, magical, and personal forces. Horror's unknown, on the other hand, promises fear and destruction, not fulfilment; and often its advent is chilling and fear-evoking rather than challenging" (2261). Armitt describes fantasy as a genre characterized by textual and reassuring closure that forecloses any lasting sense of destabilization and threat (32).
(9) Elizabeth Bronfen identifies the role of indeterminacy in "The Uncanny" when she remarks that because "the word unheimlich refers both to the familiar and agreeable and to something concealed, kept out of sight, it comes to signify any moment where meaning develops in the direction of ambivalence until it coincides with its opposite. Semantic oppositions collapse and a moment of ambivalence emerges that induces intellectual hesitation (Unsicherheit)" (113). Patrick McGrath's definition of the Gothic is inflected by Freud's analysis of the uncanny: "The Gothic tends always to assume this posture in relation to the dominant values of a culture. It negates. It denies. It buries in shadow that which had been brightly lit, and brings into the light that which had been repressed" (156). In "Psychoanalysis and the Gothic," Michelle Masse presents the main lines of a psychoanalytical interpretation of the genre of the Gothic. If space permitted, I would demonstrate that paranoia, barbarism and taboo--which Punter selects as recurrent features of the Gothic (1996, 183-84)--all operate in the mode of ambiguity.
(10) This definition results from Royle's deconstructive examination of the historical and cultural context in which philosophical certitudes have been eroded by existential nihilism, psychological multiplicity, and the hermeneutics of suspicion questioning the self-evidence of language.
(11) Armitt argues that "it is the gothic, of all fantasy modes, that forms the closest parallel with Todorovian readings of the fantastic. Structured around the discourse of the uncanny, unlike the defamiliarizations of science fiction this world has invaded our own space to fracture and disrupt the reassuring presence of inner worlds" (7). However, in establishing this parallel and in analyzing the role of the uncanny in the Gothic, Armitt does not revaluate Todorov's problematic definition of the uncanny.
(12) In "The Gothic Ghost of the Counterfeit and the Progress of Abjection," Hogle argues that, from the start, the Gothic has been grounded in fakery. He uses Baudrillard's concept of simulacrum to support his claim.
(13) Royle defines "the uncanny [as] a crisis of the proper: it entails a critical disturbance of what is proper (from the Latin proprius, 'own'), a disturbance of the very idea of personal or private property including the properness of proper names, one's so-called 'own' name, but also the proper names of others, of places, institutions and events. It is a crisis of the natural, touching upon everything that one might have thought was 'part of nature': one's own nature, human nature, the nature of reality and the world" (1).
(14) While analyzing the tradition of horror movies, Rosenheim reminds us that the "root of horror is a Latin word that means 'to bristle,' or 'to shiver.' Like thrillers, action films, and pornography, the horror film works to affirm our corporeal being by making the body respond symptomatically to what it sees" (54). In "Genres for the Prosecution," Michael Gamer presents an archeology of the Gothic as a genre dogged by the law which threatened to prosecute M. G. Lewis's The Monk (1796) and other titles for obscenity.
(15) This area of the diagram corresponds to Clive Bloom's definition of the horror tale in which there is "always the presence of the supernatural, demonic, violent and unpredictable, usually present without explanation or logic" (165). For Bloom, the Gothic tale always offers such a rational explanation. However, Bloom's use of the uncanny and abjection to define the horror tale indicates that his proposed distinction between the horror tale and the Gothic tale is not clear. Endorsing Todorov's categories of analysis, Neil Cornwell briefly refers to the fantastic Gothic as based on an "emphasis on hesitation over the supernatural" (7).
(16) Among other things, Giger produced LP cover designs for pop groups such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, contributed to music videos with Debbie Harry (lead singer of Blondie), and designed a stage sculpture for the Mylene Farmer concert in 1999.
(17) In his autobiographies, Giger indicates that he took a programme in Interior and Industrial Design at the School of Arts and Crafts in Zurich from 1962 to 1966 (HR Giger's 1964-1984 Retrospective), pp. 10 and 112.
(18) My analysis of the relationship between mimesis and the fantastic in visual art diverges from that of George P. Landow who states: "Whereas the artist working with visual fantasy usually must place us immediately inside a fantastic kingdom, the creator of literary fantasy, who works with a narrative, sequential mode, has two choices. Like the artist he can open his work by immediately immersing us in his new world.... [T]he far more usual strategy is for the writer to employ some narrative device which displaces us from our everyday world into his created one" (125).
(19) Interrogating consensus reality, Passage Temple represents only one strategy in Giger's visual art. It is interesting to see that some of his catalogues chronicle the transition from mimesis to fantastic and Gothic heterotopias. For instance, in Necronomicon, Giger juxtaposes a photograph of his friend and visual artist Friedrich Kuhn sitting on a derelict sofa with a representation of the same figure in a fantastic setting entitled Friedrich Kuhn II (1973). In Giger's picture, mimetic space and biographical self are transported to a world of polymorphous forms, ghouls, spectral monsters, and necrotic infants.
(20) I borrow the term from Botting who borrowed it from Foucault to describe the type of space that Gothic fiction generates. Foucault refers to heterotopias as counter-sites of deviation where dominant values are both reflected and contested. For Botting, the "main features of Gothic fiction, in neoclassical terms, are heterotopias: the wild landscapes, the ruined castles and abbeys, the dark, dank labyrinths ... are not only excluded from the Augustan social world but introduce the passions, desires and excitements it suppressed" (2000, 9). Foucault's text, written in 1967, was published in 1984 as "Des espaces autres" (2001).
(21) Kristeva's is a theory of the spectral self which offers a means of establishing a conceptual homology with the type of critical discourse proposed by Terry Castle who, in The Female Thermometer, associates the historical emergence of the Gothic with the Romantic spectralization of the other. In his introduction to the Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction and in "The Gothic Ghost of the Counterfeit and the Progress of Abjection," Hogle also draws upon Kristeva's concept of abjection to interpret the Gothic.
(22) Thus McGrath states: "The Gothic consistently attempts to speak about the unspeakable--that is, death--through a frenzied elaboration of all that it can seize upon that points toward death, that suggests, signifies, or symbolizes death. There is, then, a sort of death wish implicit in the Gothic" (154). In his exploration of the uncanny in poetry, Punter reflects that the "'Ancient Mariner' enacts the notion of the word as corpse; ... it effects a redoubling of animism, an incarnation of a type of 'life-in-death,' which ... demonstrates ... for us that there is indeed a sense in which every text might duly be perceived as uncanny" (2000, 196).
(23) For an analysis of the culture underlying the use of ultrasound technology in obstetric practices, see Rosalind Pollack Petchesky's "Foetal Images: The Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction."
(24) For an early analysis of Noracyclin and other contraceptive pills, see Somnath Roy, "Control of Fertility by Steroidal Contraceptives." See also Lara V. Marks on the manufacture of Noracyclin in 1973 by Ciba-Geigi, in Switzerland (80).
(25) Jackson argues that "the movement of fantastic narrative is one of metonymical rather than of metaphorical process: one object does not stand for another, but literally becomes that other, slides into it, metamorphosing from one shape to another in a permanent flux and instability" (42).
(26) Hogle points out that the Gothic does not resolve the tension between conservative and progressive ideologies: "No other form of writing or theatre is as insistent as Gothic on juxtaposing potential revolution and possible reaction ... and leaving both extremes sharply before us and far less resolved than the conventional endings in most of these works claim them to be" (2002, 13). Botting states: "While Gothic fictions are presented as shamelessly indulging illicit desires and excessive passions, they simultaneously serve the interests of a system of power, reinvigorating its surveillance, bolstering its discipline, reinforcing its vigilant attentions to limits" (1999, 27). William Veeder thinks otherwise: "Gothic's nature is the psycho-social function of nurture; its project is to heal and transform" (55).
(27) See note 19.
ANNE QUEMA teaches at Acadia University. A specialist in theory and twentieth-century British literature, she has published The Agon of Modernism: Wyndham Lewis's Allegories, Aesthetics, and Politics (Bucknell University Press, 1999) as well as articles in The Canadian Modernists Meet, Studies in Canadian Literature, Philosophy and Literature, West Coast Line, and Gothic Studies. The recipient of a SSHRC research grant, she is currently working on a project on contemporary Gothic fiction and English family law.
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|Publication:||English Studies in Canada|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2004|
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