- Gothic Romanced: Consumption, Gender, and Technology in Contemporary Fictions
Romancing the Gothic might readily seem a tautological endeavor, for Gothic fiction was defined at its inception in the eighteenth century as a form of romance often disparagingly distinguished from the novel. However, as Fred Botting convincingly argues, the chiastic interlacing of the two genres marks a longstanding revitalizing relationship, which accounts for the adaptability of Gothic as well as Romance conventions during postmodern times. Transformed by romance, the terrifying stock characters of Gothic narratives operate no longer as simple containers of superstition and monstrosity in contradistinction to Enlightenment rationality and bourgeois normality. Instead of evoking anachronistic aspects of a feudal society, they evince new possibilities nowadays, their former atavistic features broaching cutting-edge issues. Botting demonstrates that under postmodern conditions, Gothic figures are evacuated and recycled. As modernity’s structures of symbolic exclusion break down in an age of consumer capitalism and digital virtuality, these figures lose their power to threaten and become harbingers of posthuman transformations. They appear as emblems of a postindustrial society in which the sharp binaries of nature/culture, human/machine, and self/other dissolve and blend. Drawing on postmodern theory, Botting effectively traces multifaceted historical realignments along a broad spectrum of cultural themes and forms. Over the course of six chapters, Gothic Romanced relates issues of embodiment, consumerism, simulation, and identity to investigations of the plasticity of generic traits in Gothic fiction, Romantic poetry, science fiction, and cyberpunk. [End Page 654]
Botting successfully argues that William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), in addition to science-fiction movies such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1981) and James Cameron’s Terminator (1984), is a prime example of the cybergothic. He shows that these representations recast key elements of Romantic idealism in line with contemporary technoscientific developments. The Romantic idea of transcendental disembodiment morphs into the postmodern notion of a posthuman, computer-generated identity. While the former is rooted in the emotional transport induced by sublime visions of ruinous landscapes, the latter emerges from similarly awe-inspiring images of a devastating cyberspatial matrix. To demonstrate how material exteriority cedes to electronic virtuality, Botting ingeniously maps manifestations of the sublime in Romantic poetry, Jean Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality, and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Cybergothic imagines the future as a Gothic romance, both utopian and dystopian, imbued at once with fantasies of scientific power and immortality and glimpses of desolate and inhuman urban settings. Botting’s analysis also addresses Victorian science fiction, which he interprets as a precursor genre of cybergothic: science fiction novels of the fin de siècle supplant Gothic narratives of supernatural mystery with monstrous tales of scientific progress. By doing so, they anticipate the 1980s digital revolution that evacuated the body, recasting human flesh in science fiction movies and novels as a byproduct of artificial intelligence and machinic replication.
The combination of Gothic and Romance components of contemporary science-fiction film series, such as Alien and Star Trek, illustrate for Botting reconfigurations of the limits of the human in light of the postmodern fusion of biology and technology. In both movies, the distinction between human self and inhuman other is superseded by genetic hybrids, precarious species plugged into a virtual matrix that is terrifying and monstrous, yet is also technologically advanced and supremely intelligent. According to Botting, Alien brings together cyborg rationality, corporate violence, and the maternal body, producing posthuman and postfeminist identities. Employing Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s schizoanalysis, Botting outlines changing definitions of femininity along the multiple de- and reterritorializations evidenced in Gothic romance from Ann Radcliffe’s novels to Alien. While subversive lines of flight are ultimately contained by patriarchal frameworks of marriage in the case of eighteenth-century Gothic heroines, they reconfigure the female body as an alien-android-human hybrid in late-twentieth-century science fiction. Similar technoscientific mutations characterize Star Trek, where machine and organism intermix to produce the Borg, a race of cybernetic creatures interconnected through an overpowering [End Page 655] collective mind operating via computer networks in hyperreality. The well-known slogan of the Borg, “resistance...