Science and Destabilization in the Modern American Gothic: Lovecraft, Matheson, and King

Science and Destabilization in the Modern American Gothic: Lovecraft, Matheson, and King

Science and Destabilization in the Modern American Gothic: Lovecraft, Matheson, and King

Science and Destabilization in the Modern American Gothic: Lovecraft, Matheson, and King

Synopsis

The writers of Gothic literature reflect in their works the concerns and fears of the times in which they were created, not only making these tales cultural artifacts of a previous time, but also showing how some sources of dread remain constant over the passage of centuries. This book examines how H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, and Stephen King have used science and technology in their modern Gothic works to destabilize the reader; that is, to create the sense of fear and dread at the heart of the Gothic genre. In doing so, these works force readers to ask disturbing questions about the society around them and to challenge long accepted notions and belief systems.

Excerpt

In his 1921 story "The Outsider," H. P. Lovecraft describes a profoundly disturbing vision:

As I approached the arch I began to perceive the presence more clearly; and then, with the first and last sound I ever uttered--a ghastly ululation that revolted me almost as poignantly as its noxious cause--I beheld in full, frightful vividness the inconceivable, indescribable, and unmentionable monstrosity. . . . God knows it was not of this world--or no longer of this world--yet to my horror I saw in its eaten-away and bone-revealing outlines a leering, abhorrent travesty on the human shape. . . . My fingers touched the rotting outstretched paw of the monster . . . I know always that I am an outsider. . . . This I have known ever since I stretched out my fingers to the abomination within that great gilded frame; stretched out my fingers and touched a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass. (51-52)

The narrator of "The Outsider" sees an image that represents all he believes to be horrifying and monstrous in the world. When he reaches out to touch this being, he discovers the entity he so loathes and fears is himself. The conclusion of the tale provides an appropriate metaphor for the challenge laid before readers by Gothic literature. Gothic fiction is a literature of destabilization in that it inspires its readers to ask questions about themselves, their society, and the cosmos surrounding them. It serves as a cultural artifact, reflecting the concerns and fears not only of the time in which it is written but also of the time in which it is read. Over the course of more than two centuries, the stories and novels of American Gothic literature have held up a mirror that captured the dark side of a society and country founded, in part, on a bedrock of optimism and progress. Many of the dark aspects of society reflected by American Gothic fiction in the twentieth century stem from science and technology. The works of three selected writers--H. P. Lovecraft . . .

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