American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative
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In America as in Britain, the rise of the Gothic represented the other—the fearful shadows cast upon Enlightenment philosophies of common sense, democratic positivism, and optimistic futurity. Many critics have recognized the centrality of these shadows to American culture and self-identification. American Gothic, however, remaps the field by offering a series of revisionist essays associated with a common theme: the range and variety of Gothic manifestations in high and popular art from the roots of American culture to the present.
The thirteen essayists approach the persistence of the Gothic in American culture by providing a composite of interventions that focus on specific issues—the histories of gender and race, the cultures of cities and scandals and sensations—in order to advance distinct theoretical paradigms. Each essay sustains a connection between a particular theoretical field and a central problem in the Gothic tradition.
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.
. . Montresor. InPoe’s story, denial proceedsfrom the narrator, not from the author. Poe’s text allows us to see through what Acton’stext wantsto restrictus to. In effect, Poe’s text thematizes nineteenth-century discursive procedures, even as it offers analternative to them. In addition to language play and unreliablenarrators, gothic fiction fosters its pleasure through itshandling of denouements in ways particularly important to the engagement of readerly desire. I believe (it can be
invokesa desire for the phallus even (or especially) among subjects who have a phallus, then the demands of gay men since Stonewallthrow intohigh relief what may be worrying Stephen King’s authors. To speak to other men is necessary to constitute the American socialorder, but it may also demand an exchange of the phallus whose significance-since Lacan, since Stonewall-cannot be divested of the image of the penis. And the implications of this homoerotic demand are alarming: ‘?be buggered if he
example ofthe “RevolutionaryTheatre,” a theater, like Artaud’s “theatre of cruelty,” that “should force change; it should be change” (Baraka, Home 210).~Baraka continues: The RevolutionaryTheatre must EXPOSE! Show up theinsides of these humans, lookinto black skulls.White men will cower before this theatre because it hates them. Because they themselves have been trained to hate. The Revolutionary Theatre LOOKING INTO BLACK SKULLS ’45 must hate them for hating. For presuming with their
technology to deny the supremacy ofthe Spirit. They will alldie beH m e 2 10-2 I I) cause of this. (Baraka, Baraka’s strong words point emphatically towardthe end of this theater: a revolutionary change in social structures beginning with an examination of the black psyche. This will allow the ghosts of the past, the “white terror,” to emerge from black skulls and eventually be dispelled. The idea that theatrical performance should attempt to force social change was initially articulated by
“lascivious career of anolder man is halted when he to be hiscast off seduces a poor young womanwhoproves daughter’’ (Dalke 189), or they gesture toward this taboo without being able to represent it openly. For example, Bill Christophersen reads Brockden Brown’s Orrncn7d (1799) as a veiled I I N C E S T I N ALCOTT’S &A MARBLE WOMAN” ’85 “fable of incest” (57), and in slave narratives, a form influenced by the gothic, the most common abuse recounted is women’s rape by their mastedfathers.