Gothic Visuality in the Nineteenth Century

Authored by: Elizabeth McCarthy

The Gothic World

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415637442
eBook ISBN: 9780203490013
Adobe ISBN: 9781135053062

10.4324/9780203490013.ch29

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Abstract

When aesthetic theory makes the eye the pre-eminent organ of truth where can the unbelievable and impossibly monstrous spectacle stand? As John Ruskin wrote, “To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion — all in one” (Ruskin 1987: 40). But what if our clear vision falls upon sights so inconceivably hideous that our rational mind revolts at the profanity of the poetry, prophecy and religion offered? And why would we consciously seek out such intellectually and emotionally disturbing sights? The latent paradox of a vision that is attracted to what is unbelievably repulsive is an issue returned to time and again by critics of the Gothic horror genre, most particularly by those critics whose focus is the horror film. However, the issue of the visuality in Gothic horror is as old as the genre itself. By placing this visuality in a socio-historical, as well as a theoretical, context, the visual attraction of the horrifically repulsive can be understood not as an anomaly but as a part of a natural progression which the genre itself invites. While such an exploration will not answer the question of why we look, it will make the apparent straightforwardness of such questions seem far more problematic.

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