Gothic-Postmodernism: Voicing the Terrors of Postmodernity

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Gothic-postmodernism: Voicing the Terrors of Postmodernity by Maria Beville (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2009), 220pp, euro44 pb; ISBN 978-9042026643

The overlap that exists between Gothic and postmodern and/or contemporary culture have been the subject of interdisciplinary debates across a range of discourses pertinent to the literary and aesthetic production of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Significant contributions to such debates have emerged in Catherine Spooner's Contemporary Gothic (Reaktion, 2006), Fred Botting's Gothic Romanced (Routledge, 2008), beside other shorter studies, not to mention the special issue of Gothic Studies (4/2.: 2002) dedicated to Gothic Cults and Gothic Cultures and launched by John Whatley's introduction on Modern and Postmodern Gothic. The general theoretical field has not failed to engage with the Gothic qualities of postmodernity: Jacques Derrida's hauntology, Jean Francois Lyotard's theorisation of the sublime and Jean Baudrillard's simulacra, in this respect, have been useful concepts to studies of Gothic postmodernism.

Beville's engagement with such critical readings of Gothic postmodernity is insightful, though she makes it clear that her reading of Gothic postmodernism does not take into account a notion of revival, but draws instead on Gothic's stubborn ability to 'survive' as it renews itself to reflect the cultural anxieties of a specific historical period. In doing so, Beville suggests that 'Victorian Gothic' and 'Romantic Gothic', for instance, constitute different genres in their own rights, and proposes a new generic definition to qualify the object of her investigation; her hyphenated Gothic-postmodernism stands for 'a hybrid mode that emerges from the dialogic interaction of Gothic and postmodernist characteristics ' (8-9). What perhaps remains slightly unclear is the emphatic shift from the use of Gothic as a noun in the previous accounts and the preference for the adjectival use with references to Modernism and Postmodernism, though, to be fair, Beville attempts to explain the rationale of her approach, when she explains that Gothic-postmodernism is not the same, although it is related to classifications such as postmodern Gothic or Contemporary Gothic. Decisively, Gothic is used here as the adjective of the term denoting that what is under investigation is the postmodern text that is characteristically Gothic (11).

Whatever the reader may feel about the order in which Gothic and postmodern go in the proposed system, Part I of the study offers strong arguments to support a joint approach. Drawing on David Punter's seminal work The Literature of Terror, Beville is able to establish solid foundations for a study of postmodernity around the notion of terror, which, as Baudrillard argues, endemically haunts the culture of postmodernity. The postmodern 'craving' for terror is significantly linked to the 'self-realising properties' (25) attributed to another important category of Gothic discourse: the sublime; the works of Lyotard and Levinas lead Beville to unveil the focus of both Gothic and postmodern discourses: self. Both modes are self-centred and self-reflexive, drawing attention to 'self', whilst simultaneously deconstructing the very notion of coherence.

Beville's emphasis on 'authentic' terror does not accept that texts such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code or TV series such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer may be included in a critical discussion of Gothic-postmodernism; not engaging with serious questions of terror, they represent what Beville dismisses, using Botting's term, candygothic, 'whereby terror is obviously a novelty and created by special effects and stereotypical Gothic tropes' (38). One could perhaps read these as different products of the same economy of terror-consumption and cultural anxieties that have generated, in other areas, the literary works of Amis and Vonnegut, which Beville refers to in Part II of her study. …