Friday, 2 September 2011

On Gothic

I wrote the following (very) short piece some while ago for writer Theodora Goss, who asked her blog readers to define "gothic" for her. Gothic fiction has always been my bag, so to speak, and when I remembered that I'd scribbled this, I thought I'd share it so you would see that I sometimes think about things other than the size of my arse or my neuroses.

For me, 'gothic' is that which makes us feel unsettled or uncertain, that seems to take pleasure in wrong footing us or makes us itch to look back over our shoulder so we are sure it's not gaining on us.  It’s an artistic representation, in whatever form, of the oppressive shadow of the unknown, or even the unknowable, that dogs the human race.  It tantalizes us with its familiarity, making us certain that we are within reach of rational explanations concerning the mysteries it claims, while reminding us that we are woefully ignorant about both the world we exist in and the psychology of our own species.  It is a precursor and a cousin to the Romantic idea of the sublime; that indefinable quality which while it beguiles us can also, somehow, threaten us.  It makes our heart beat a little faster and although we know we shouldn't lift the curtain or take the candle to explore the dark recesses beyond, we simply cannot help ourselves; it is the war between our rational and instinctive selves.  It's the promise or threat of that which is just beyond human reach, the "what if". 

I was trying to think of or find something that for me defines the Gothic.  I was wracking my brain until I watched a programme on the BBC this evening - someone was on a quest to witness the Aurora Borealis.  It occurred to me that the Aurora are something really quite gothic in that they have an entirely rational, scientific explanation and yet they are sublimely "other" and supernatural to us mere mortals.   Could a gothic heroine be more trapped in a dark and musty castle than we are on a tiny planet in a forgotten corner of the universe?