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American Gothic

New Interventions in a National Narrative

Robert K. Martin, Eric Savoy

Publication Year: 1998

Drawing widely on contemporary theory—particularly revisionist views of Freud such as those offered by Lacan and Kristeva—this volume ranges from the well-known Gothic horrors of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne to the popular fantasies of Stephen King and the postmodern visions of Kathy Acker. Special attention is paid to the issues of slavery and race in both black and white texts, including those by Ralph Ellison and William Faulkner. In the view of the editors and contributors, the Gothic is not so much a historical category as a mode of thought haunted by history, a part of suburban life and the lifeblood of films such as The Exorcist and Fatal Attraction.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

If gothic cultural production in the United States has yielded neither a "genre" nor a cohesive "mode" but rather a discursive field in which a metonymic national "self" is undone by the return of its repressed Otherness, then a critical account that attempts to reduce the gothic to an overarching historical consistency- a matter of "essentials" and "accidentals"-will be of limited use. For the gothic coheres, if it can be said to cohere, around poetics (turns and tendencies in the dismantling of the national subject), around narrative structuration, and in its situation of the reader at the border of symbolic dissolution.


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The Face of the Tenant: A Theory of American Gothic

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pp. 3-19

A "theory" of gothic cultural production in the United States is necessarily invested in a poetics of terror-a tropics, a recurring turn of language. If such generally structuring turns are most strikingly conceptualized in particular moments, then this brief excerpt from Capote's work suggests the multiple, inevitable, and even casual ways in which narrative might take a decidedly gothic turn.

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The Nurture of the Gothic, or How Can a Text Be Both Popular and Subversive?

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pp. 20-39

What I want to do in this essay is offer a contribution to one of the longest ongoing enterprises in fiction studies-the attempt to define the nature of the gothic in literature. Nearly two hundred years ago, vexed reviewers struggled to explain the amazing, perverse, inescapable, loathsome, irresistible phenomenon of The Monk by contrasting the narrative practices of Matthew Gregory Lewis and Anne Radcliffe. From the controversy over The Monk came the first tools for defining gothic fiction-the distinction between terror and horror.

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Dr. Frankenstein Meets Dr. Freud

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pp. 40-53

Since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the mad scientist has been one of the most popular of the gothic's bag of tricks, a figure whose descendants include Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Moreau, and now countless horror and science fiction villains (see Svilpis, Goodrich, Baldick). Twentieth-century readings and revisions of Shelley's work often turn the story into a moral cautionary tale that teaches the evil consequences of using technology and science to dominate nature (see Mellor 89-114). More generally, however, the figure seems central to the gothic's critique of the ideology of the Enlightenment (faith in individualism, progress, reason, and its partner, science), which has made the genre of recent critical interest (see Punter 425; Miles 224; Kilgour 5-6, 10-15, 218-223).


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The Gothic Import of Faulkner's

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pp. 57-74

No revisionary thinking about America's national narratives can overlook William Faulkner's version of southern gothic. Light in August (1932) is perhaps exemplary of the traditional gothic tale of mystery, horror, and violence in America that I suggest, in its modernist inflection, might profitably be reread alongside the theorizing of Julia Kristeva and her devotion to the psychodynamics of subjectivity. To move, however, from a classically gothic tale of mystery and horror, on the one hand, to the ultracontemporary post-Freudian ruminations of Kristeva, on the other, as a means of providing one plausible method of illuminating William Faulkner's modernist intervention in the American canon seems almost to invite the construction of an "ontological gothic" in order to account for Faulkner's extraordinary renovation of a genre, if not an entire tradition.

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On Stephen King's Phallus, or The Postmodern Gothic

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pp. 75-96

Horror is epistemological. Ever since the Enlightenment, the definition of horror has been intimately bound up with the representation of the thinking subject. But while nineteenthcentury writers like Matthew Lewis, William Godwin, and Charles Robert Maturin locate the source of repression in the social institutions of church, state, and the family, for Stephen King the repression seems much more inevitably and universally psychological in nature.


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Slavery and the Gothic Horror of Poe's

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pp. 99-128

As Leslie Fiedler put it more than thirty years ago, "the proper.. subject" of the "American gothic" is "slavery" (378). In this essay I shall argue that behind the gothic machinery of Poe's "The Black Cat"-with its graphic and "damnable atrocities," its "PERVERSENESS," its murdered corpse, "clotted with gore"-are resounding echoes of antebellum slavery discourses, allusions which allow the story to be read not only as an examination of the narrator's purported "peculiarity of character" but also as an investigation into the peculiar psychopolitics of the master/slave relationship, a bond whose sentimentalized image was at the heart of the South's proslavery rhetoric.1

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Haunted by Jim Crow: Gothic Fictions by Hawthorne and Faulkner

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pp. 129-142

In his now somewhat outdated but still influential formulation, Harold Bloom argues for an agonistic relationship between the "strong poet" and his predecessors. The task for the belated writer is simultaneously to express admiration and filiation and to mark off difference. The model does not allow for collaboration and simple indebtedness, presumably the characteristic only of weak poets.

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Looking into Black Skulls: American Gothic, the Revolutionary Theatre, and Arniri Baraka's Dutchman

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pp. 143-160

Amiri Baraka's one-act play Dutchman (1964) utilizes gothic conventions-the macabre setting of a haunted subway car "[i]n the flying underbelly" of Manhattan (Baraka, Dutchman 3); a quasi-supernatural seductress who is closely related to the mythical Adam's malign, vampiric first wife, Lilith (Sollors 137); and discourses that thematize the "unspeakable" sins of incest and parricide.1 It has, however, not been read as exemplary of the American gothic tradition.


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An Ecstasy of Apprehension: The Gothic Pleasures of Sentimental Fiction

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pp. 163-182

A core of perverse, gothic pleasures lies at the heart of nineteenth-century sentimental fiction. Sentimentality asks its readers to extend themselves generously to another, rewarding them with a sense of their own altruism, with a "thrilling" experience of feeling the other's pain, and with a comforting recognition of their own relatively good fortune. However, because these multiple pleasures derive from the suffering ofanother, the ideal of selfless devotion to moral solidarity is suspect.1

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The Masochistic Pleasures of the Gothic: Paternal Incest in Alcott's

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pp. 183-201

Locating the emergence of the gothic in the period of the American and French Revolutions, many scholars have remarked on the ways in which the gothic asserts equality in the face of domination, most noticeably in its attention to marginalized or dominated groups such as women, colonials, and homosexuals.1 Gothic fiction has been described as "fundamental[ly] subversiv[ e]," as "a movement toward freedom and away from the control of discipline," as "a liberated and liberating alternative to the conventional novel," and as a mode that allows the "shattering of sexual [and] social roles."2

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If a Building Is a Sentence, So Is a Body: Kathy Acker and the Postcolonial Gothic

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pp. 202-214

Gothic narratives have long been theorized according to familiar topoi: dungeons, trapdoors, passages, cellars, convents, decaying houses, and crypts, all of these inhabited by monks, nuns, aristocrats, banditti, and vulnerable heroines. These topoi function within traditional gothicism as coded spaces which, according to Foucault, articulated the fear that haunted the latter half of the eighteenth century in both France and England, namely, the Enlightenment's overdetermined refusal to tolerate "areas of darkness" in a political and moral order founded upon notions of transparency and the "full visibility of things, men and truths" (Foucault 153-154).


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Making Monsters, or Serializing Killers

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pp. 217-236

For all that it had the veneer of currency, with its special effects and dalliance with the quasi-scientific "paranormal" and "parapsychological," Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist seemed, in 1982, to be merely a residual demon-possession film, a latecomer to the already rather shopworn seventies occult movie.

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Some Stations of Suburban Gothic

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pp. 237-257

I. Whatever else, gothic is a mode of fantasy that facilitates the molding of anxiety. It is cognate, then, with desire as a mode of fantasy facilitating libido. 2. As desire is a symptomatic manner of binding the free play of the drive, hence of defending the human subject against the consequences ofsuch free play, gothic is symptomatic binding of free anxiety, hence a defense against the consequences of focusless, drifting dread.

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 259-262


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pp. 263-265

E-ISBN-13: 9781587293023
E-ISBN-10: 1587293021
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877456223
Print-ISBN-10: 1587293498

Page Count: 278
Publication Year: 1998

Edition: 1st Edition