Gothic – part 1

The familiar contemporary gothic trope of haunted castles on stormy nights, vampires, and werewolves seems to have no connection to the Germanic people who, it is thought, migrated from Scandinavia to the lower Vistula (Poland) in the early Christian era. From here the Goths split into groups and in the period onwards, raided the Roman Empire and warred with the Greeks, who were at that time under Roman control. I refer the reader to the above link for a detailed outline of the history of Gothic migration including the appraisal of textual sources versus archeological evidence. A condensed summary can be found here. The point is that the Goths moved throughout Europe as colonisers. And as colonisers, they would have been brutal, no matter how adept they were at preserving a falling (Roman) culture, as some of these sources contend.

Twelfth to sixteenth century architecture displays Gothic aesthetics and these were a testament to new building methods that were siphoned into the church. One of the first examples was the abbey of Saint-Denis, Paris.

‘When … the loveliness of the many-coloured gems has called me away from external cares … then it seems to me that I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of the earth nor entirely in the purity of Heaven.’
Abbot Suger, De Administratione (translated by Erwin Panofsky, 1946)

The people of the time would not have referred to architecture as Gothic — it was ‘modern’ and seen as new, light, and airy as a result of innovations like the flying buttress that enabled church spires to reach higher than ever before.

I visit the gothic trope and the Gothic people for the following reason. I was listening to a podcast whose soundtrack and sound design reminded me of the aesthetics of my own music, in an indirect fashion. According to etymologists, the word “goth” comes from a Proto-Germanic word, geutan, meaning ‘to pour’ or ‘to flow’ (Roberts 2016). The Goths fought and pillaged or ‘poured’ their way around and through Europe. I now switch from the historic context back to aesthetics and the later gothic tropes the emerged with the eighteenth and nineteenth century novel. I won’t discuss the category of the emergence of the gothic as a discourse, nor as a literature in dialogue with history. I will explore contemporary gothic aesthetics (including American and Australian gothic) in Part 2. For now, I’ll say that many characteristics of the gothic novel have been described. But it is more likely that the novels vary amongst themselves — and it is an uncanny or unsettling dynamic or quality within a novel itself, rather than universal elements that unite the entire genre (Roberts 2016).

These tracks of mine contain percussive and puncturing elements, but perhaps ‘pour’ and ‘flow’ could be loosely applied. The music doesn’t sit in a song structure or fall into traditional classical music forms; it moves in a quicksilver way, albeit a slow one. Unsettled cycles reflect synthetic breathing (Elysian air); there is discontinuity, alternating with the uninterrupted and a surge to become something or become other. Lagging, dragging in the shadows (Bird and Dolphin), a sense of white noise overwhelms (Elysian), like a sublime techno wave. The echo (Bird) is perhaps a response to impermanence, to real and imagined body terror; to dreamstates and feelings.

Gothic continues to pour mercilessly into visual, literary and fashion cultures. As I mentioned the podcast earlier, I’ll say that popular podcasts show that the gothic flows into audio drama and aural aesthetics. From the ambiguous, unknowable, and subtly frightening, to the unexplained and paranormal; to mythical melodrama presented as mysterious documentary to the horrific presented as the ‘fact behind legend’ — aural gothic seems very much alive.

Threadbare: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s family drama

“Russia is a land of women Homers,” Petrushevskaya has said, and it is this informal narrative tradition of ordinary Russian women which gives shape to this novel.

Such women as the protagonist, Anna, who move us throughout day and night, through the piecemeal actions that patch her story, herself and her family, and who pull us into a bleak drama of family tensions that are quite often comedic. Anna is a struggling poet whose adult children continue to depend on her and use her. And it is through this window that Petrushevskaya’s language shows the striations and micropolitics of the Russian state.

Petrushevskaya’s novella has elements of purposeful realism brought into the domestic sphere. There are many details of Russian poverty, and yet there are glimpses of a life lived, Anna’s engagement with language, for example; her performance at readings. “The time: Night” is repeated throughout the novella and becomes like a rhythmic refrain, in which Anna unspools her thoughts about her family members, a different register each time. Aesthetically, it becomes linked with indoors, the place where she can write.”The time: Night”: and now a further narrative progresses that is not exactly linear.

Even though Anna’s voice is forthright, I think Petrushevskaya’s work has postmodern tendencies in that Anna does not present as a traditional subject. From the beginning it is clear that she is writing to her family from beyond the grave, and is a decentred/deconstructed construct. The conceit here is that her poems and narratives are on scraps of paper and telegrams. Character development is also disruptive in temporal peaks and troughs, and the novella tends to blur the line between tragedy and comedy. However, the force of affect is apparent in Anna’s desire to both connect and sever relations with her family members, and this is perhaps a sign that the gendered subject is in motion in a new way. This is most exemplified by Anna’s harsh questioning and refusal of the ‘mother’ role and, in turn, by her melodramatic swooning over her grandchild, Tima.