Academic journal article CineAction

In Dreams and the Gothic: The Moment of Collapse

Academic journal article CineAction

In Dreams and the Gothic: The Moment of Collapse

Article excerpt

"In [Irish] gothic realism ..., a familiar narrative pattern is
redeployed as in Melmoth the Wanderer, Carmilla, and Dracula, the
isolated individual who traffics with extra communal forces is destined
to be consumed by them."
--M.G. Backus

"Ireland is the only country on earth, where, from the strange existing
opposition of religion, politics and manners, the extremes of refinement
and barbarism are united, and the most wild and incredible situations
of romantic story are hourly passing before modern eyes."
--Charles Maturin

Neil Jordan is a director whose films, even when not dealing in an overt way with Gothic themes, characters or setting are marked by a Gothic spirit that is fraught with darkness and anxiety, tension and fear, all of which in the world of the Gothic become pleasure. The Gothic provides a counter-narrative to modernity, humanism and the enlightenment. As William Patrick Day writes: 'Gothic is a fable of identity fragmented and destroyed beyond repair." (1)

There is a transformation from Romanticism as the disturbance moves inside, and starts to question identity, individuality, conventions of society. "Gothic fiction can be said to blur rather than distinguish the boundaries that regulate social life, and interrogate rather than restore any imagined continuity between past and present, nature and culture, reason and passion, individuality and family and society." (2) In contradistinction to Romanticism, there is no sense of possible redemption, and the imagination is granted no power over events. The Romantics were very concerned with origins and identity, whereas the Gothic breaks down identity. The world is seen as a place of fragmentation and chaos, disorder and defenceless-ness, especially for women.

The Gothic is a menace to the human soul through an overabundance of imagination, transgressive behaviours, and the lurking power of evil and spiritual corruption that undermine the moral authority of the individual. This may occur either through supernatural or natural forces. The mind itself may be denied wholeness or the ability to communicate pain to others. Corruption, irrationality and wickedness dominate the Gothic imagination.

The Gothic is more hidden, and less exteriorised than the Romantic. Terror for the Romantics came from without, but in the Gothic the destructive affect comes from within and is called horror. While the Romantics laboured to correct social inequities and pietistic thinking, in the Gothic, one can not even be certain about what is real or imaginary. The uncanny decomposes all boundaries and defines predominant social and moral laws. The Gothic subject is disconnected from his/her self as well as from society that surrounds them. Limits and control are unknown to the Gothic subject, or are placed in great doubt. In speaking of the Irish Gothic, the idea of the disconnect between self and society undergoes an interesting turn.

David Punter writes about two of the principle figurations in Gothic literature, the monument and the ruin as emblems of the uncanny. However, he claims that in the Irish (and Scottish) Gothic, upon closer inspection, the monument "... reveals itself as a ruin, as a thing of shreds and patches, as a location where, even if coherence can be felt, it will always be on the other side of a great divide, never immediately available to a life lived in the present." (3) As in many post-colonial narratives, memory and a sense of a coherent history are under the risk of elimination. In Irish and Scottish Gothic "specific modes of ghostly persistence ... may occur when ... national aspirations are thwarted by conquest or by settlement, as they have been so often. I want to show how the Gothic is especially powerful in rendering the complex hauntings in such confined histories." (4) Imagination and emotion are both disturbingly excessive and destructive, whereas for the Romantics they were a necessary stimulus to the act of creation. …

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