Reading Machines

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Gothic Technologies: Visuality in the Romantic Era

Reading Machines

Fred Botting, Lancaster University

Reading Machines examines the metaphor of machinery in the Gothic genre and in criticisms of that genre from Walpole's Otranto to nineteenth-century automata, phantasmagoria and early cinema. It links the machine metaphor to notions of reading and the Freudian uncanny. This essay appears in _Gothic Technologies: Visuality in the Romantic Era_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.

    Gothic Machinery

  1. Gothic fiction begins in an age of mechanism and deploys an array of machines. But rather than simply informing a reaction to increasing mechanisation, the process inaugurates an in-human pattern that underlies and shocks the progress of modernity: machines beget machines.

  2. Horace Walpole makes no secret of the machinery driving the plot of the first Gothic story: terror, he notes in the first preface, is the "principal engine" of the story; the "machinery," he comments later, "is invention" (4-5). The work is operated by devices and techniques designed to arouse emotional reactions rather than rational evaluation. These devices—portraits sighing, gigantic statues crashing to earth—are the motors of a plot that subordinates character to action. The machinery of fiction is tied to invocations of supernatural agency: the sighing of Alphonso's portrait allows Isabella to escape her immediate peril—the rapacious clutches of Manfred; supernatural intervention triggers another Gothic device, flight and pursuit.

  3. Early reviews of The Castle of Otranto note the mechanisms at work: "those who can digest the absurdities of Gothic fiction and bear with the machinery of ghosts and goblins, may hope, at least, for considerable entertainment from the performance before us" (cit. McNutt 163). It is "unnatural Machinery," in the sense of Samuel Richardson's opposition between imported, improbable romances and the realistic virtues of the novel (51-2). Clara Reeve's critical reassessment of Walpole's extravagances leads her to restrict the use of supernatural devices. In this respect she follows Fielding's advice "to introduce supernatural agents as seldom as possible" and then in the only appropriately modern form, as ghosts (Fielding I: 316). But Reeve also deploys a more modern mechanical metaphor in her criticism of Walpole: his fiction causes readers' expectations to be "wound up", like clockwork creations,  "to the highest pitch" (5). Concerns about the effect of fiction on readers were repeatedly voiced by eighteenth-century critics and reviewers (Williams). The application of mechanical terms to account for these effects, however, manifests an enlightenment move from supernatural causes and superstitious credulity to rational and empirical considerations. Supernatural machinery cedes to physical and psychological mechanisms. In the move from a realm beyond nature to a world understood in scientific terms, the resulting human-centredness comes to be defined in relation to machines.

  4. Machines, humming and clanking throughout Gothic fiction, are increasingly bound up in discussions of the genre and its effects. Judith Wilt's examination of the eighteenth-century "machinery" of literary contrivance and convention notes how, from Walpole, it "spreads from its locus in plot to encompass character and even sentiment" to include, in Radcliffe, even setting as a mechanism (123-5). Radcliffe further imbricates the relationship between narrative and reading machineries. Her technique of the explained supernatural, which exhausts superstitious expectations through extended suspense, is seen to play narrative machinery against mental mechanisms. Coleridge, reviewing The Mysteries of Udolpho, argues that suspense is heightened by ever-elusive mysteries to keep a reader's curiosity "upon stretch from page to page":

    this art of escaping the guesses of the reader has been brought to perfection along with the reader's sagacity; just as the various inventions of locks, bolts, and private drawers, in order to secure, fasten, and hide, have always kept pace with the ingenuity of the pickpocket and housebreaker, whose profession it is to unlock, unfasten, and lay open what you have taken so much pains to conceal. (1794, 361)

    The analogy opposing writer-locksmith to reader-thief situates narrative convention and technical invention on the same mechanical plane as readerly expectation and surprise.

  5. The implications of the pattern suggested by the analogy of locksmith and thief are drawn out elsewhere in reviews of Radcliffe's fiction: formulas work by mechanical repetition and yet, through new contrivances, like the explained supernatural, can introduce excitement. As these techniques become familiar and conventional in their turn, devices must be altered or enhanced to remain effective. The mechanical repetition of formulaic devices seems doomed to wear out through excessive use, like the springs and levers of any clockwork toy. Readers become tired of predictable contrivances. Such, one reviewer hopes, will be the fate of the genre: its repetitive patterns will eventually divest it of interest (Anon). The model, Coleridge suggests, also applies to Radcliffe's fiction: in heightening curiosity and desire to a point at which a reader can only be disappointed by rational explanation, it seems to play narrative mechanism against habituated expectation, bursting superstitious credulity in the process: "the passion of terror," itself "excited by trick," "would degenerate into repetition, and would disappoint curiosity" (1798, 166).

  6. Tied to the mechanisms of narrative—in terror, excitement, curiosity and undiscriminating passion—the reader, too, was seen in mechanical terms. Coleridge's attack on the "beggarly daydreaming" of romance reading noted that "the whole material and imagery of the doze is supplied ab extra by a sort of mental camera obscura manufactured at the printing office, which pro tempore fixes, reflects and transmits the moving fantasms of one man's delirium, so as to people the barrenness of an hundred other brains afflicted with the same trance or suspension of all common sense and all definite purpose" (1975, 28). No cultivated discrimination, no synthetic imagination and no natural feeling are in evidence. The empty heads of readers are the passive sites of magic lantern projections: artificial and phantasmatic images flit across a barely conscious mental screen, mind reduced to a vessel of delusion or delirium. Fictional machinery, equated with the magic lantern or phantasmagoria so popular in public shows of the late eighteenth century, transmits its "moving fantasms" from barren brain to barren brain, a mechanical process of stimulation that turns readers into mechanical effects or machines themselves. The passivity of romance readers—wound up, excited, disappointed, only ever reacting to narrative effects—makes them little more than mechanical puppets jerked by the strings of fiction's repetitive and formulaic apparatus, subjected to terrors, shocks and thrills: automated stimulation evacuates  rather than assures rational subjectivity.

  7. The circulations and deployments of mechanical metaphors in and in relation to Gothic fictions are signs of its subjection to enlightenment imperatives. If the genre seems to foster superstitious credulity, it does so only mechanically and in the interests of a process of rationalisation. Walter Scott's retrospective assessments of romance compare Radcliffe's narrative techniques to springs whose workings are worn out by repeated pressure: the reading public, sated with horrors, becomes "indifferent to the strongest stimuli." "Supernatural machinery," appropriate to superstitious, unenlightened ages, finds itself unsuited to a rational period of "universal incredulity": "belief in prodigies and supernatural events has gradually declined in proportion to the advancement of human knowledge" (1881, 272). Supernaturalism is replaced by rational understanding and any persistence of spectral or demonic figures is seen to be an effect of mental disorder, a "strange and temporary delusion" signalling the breakdown of normal mental functioning. Mechanical explanations, in the service of reason, debunk supernatural and superstitious beliefs, delusion now being caused by technical illusions.

  8. In the process, concerns about supernatural occurrences are superseded by anxieties about human "machinations," that is, the power of writers to seduce, corrupt and delude. Scott notes how "delusions" were practiced by "Secret Tribunals" like the Rosicrucians and the Illuminati, their "machinations" providing inspiration for Schiller's romances (1824, 569). The immediate context for these anxieties, exacerbated by the popularity of Gothic fictions, then at their height, was the French Revolution, especially when it was understood, by Burke among others, as a "monstrous fiction" conjured up by radicals and revolutionaries viciously conspiring in secret societies (124). For T. J. Matthias, explicitly connecting the horrors of fiction and the terrors of revolution, literature was a "great engine" furnished with the ambivalent capacity of supporting or subverting good government (162). Conspiratorial anxieties form the basis of Horrid Mysteries: the translator's preface warns against the "machinations" of secret societies like the Illuminati while the plot of the novel, trying to demystify superstitious credulity and disclose devious scheming, turns on the terrifying and comic possibilities of  theatrical effects, "natural magic" (the technical equivalent of natural history, perhaps) and electrical machines (xvii). While apparently magical effects can be generated and explained by reason, a terror remains in the spectre of conspiracy and persecution and, of course, the curious readerly pleasures of being deluded by sensational spectacle.

  9. Gothic machinery, in rationalising and mechanising supernatural occurrences and readerly superstition, establishes a cycle of repetition, boredom, stimulation and disappointment that threatens enlightenment ideals of the rational and discriminating individual: its mechanisms evacuate morality, judgement, and even sense, by stimulating a seemingly insatiable appetite for excitement and sensation. Worn out, repeatedly over-stimulated and exhausted, new tricks and devices have to be invented to keep the reader wound up. The pattern that emerges sets the mechanism of popular culture in motion. In opposition, furnished with an organic and spiritual vocabulary, a distinctly modern aesthetic emerges to define itself against, in Wordsworth's terms, "frantic novels" threatening enduring appreciation of the literary greats (936). High cultural aesthetic judgement is reiterated in Coleridge's attack on romances, in Scott's criticism and in Macauley's denigration of the "absurdity" of Walpole's "machinery" (117).

  10. The machine of popular culture kept ticking over, even if the first wave of formulaic and mechanical Gothic production had burnt itself and its readership out by the second decade of the nineteenth century. Frankenstein, notably, discards almost every eighteenth-century Gothic motif and device, to the point that it is debatable whether the novel can be called Gothic at all. Readings of revolutionary anxieties, secret societies and Romanticism combine with discussions of alchemical and electrical experiments to give its monstrous creation extensive modern resonances: the creature is made and remade by reading, to be monstered further in the mirror of others' reactions. A creation on the borders of fantasy and reality, it gives imaginative form to a variety of familial and social anxieties, a figure of mobs, political, scientific and industrial transformation (O'Flinn, Baldick). Against the "stupendous mechanism" of the Creator of world, the machinations of a would-be creator provide a captivating screen of monstrous metaphor (Shelley 9).

  11. Even before Shelley hinted at any religious allegory, the theme of presumption had been set in motion on stage. As a formless and formable figure, the monster metaphor spreads across genres and media to leave a multitude of meanings in its wake. Popular dramatic success, in the many burlesques and melodramas playing on London and Parisian stages in the period, tied monstrosity to sensational spectacle, striking costume and theatrical effects: never before had one playgoer witnessed so complicated or extraordinary machinery (Forry 11). Monsters and machines, shadowing the haunts of Romantic humanism and naturalism, are not so strange bedfellows. In cartoons, like "The Political Frankenstein" of 1832, the creator animates a paper monster (the Reform Bill) with the help of chemical apparatuses (Forry 45). From print to stage to screen, the monster circulates in depictions of fearsome machinery and in new apparatuses of cultural production. Railway engines and systems, in cartoons and serialised fiction, become monstrous symbols of supernaturalised social transformation, a "fiery devil" relentlessly consuming everything in their path (Dickens, 354). In 1910, the Edison Kinetogram released a single reel film. Before that, Edison's toy company had manufactured automata that caused commentators to register not only a sense of the uncanny but also the name of Frankenstein (Wood 117, 124, 128). Photography in the nineteenth century, preserving life on dead surfaces, is seen as "a way of possessing material objects in a strangely decorporealised yet supernaturally vivid form" (Castle, 137). Vampires, like monsters and doubles, are also surrounded by technical devices: Dracula abounds with new instruments and scientific techniques (Wicke, Kittler 1997). Even economic practices, alienating humans in factories and systems of exchange, evince vampiric characteristics (Marx, 1973; 1976). Later, in German Expressionist cinema and in Hollywood, Gothic figures become staples in the shadowplay of the screen.

    Uncanny machines

  12. In magic lantern shows of the 1790s, the uncanny is realised: "dark rooms, where spectres from the dead they rise" (Castle 141). Phantasmagoric shows participated in a process which saw the internalisation of supernaturalism. Ghosts moved from being effects of mere optical trickery and illusion to being things of the mind: a "spectralisation" occurred, marking the "absorption of ghosts into the world of thought" (Castle 142). Through technical intervention ghosts could be explained as effects of internal processes. While ingenious deployments of new visual technologies seemed to offer rational explanations and models of mental activity to transform the understanding of the mind, a residue of supernaturalism and ghostliness haunted the technical devices themselves: able to present apparitions to disbelieving eyes, the wondrous but disconcerting, pleasurable and threatening effects of phantasmagoria testified to the technical capacity of altering one's sense of reality, contravening the maxim that seeing was believing.

  13. Early cinema had its conjurors: George Meliès was described as "king of fantasmagoria" and "magician of the screen" (Wood 178). Cinema also became a medium where psychoanalysis converged with contemporary cultural production. Otto Rank notes how film manifests unconscious process (7); Hugo Munsterberg describes how "uncanny ghosts appear from nothing and into nothing" (15). Friedrich Kittler argues that cinema renders the unconscious visible and then supplants it: doubles become technical, rather than human phenomena (1997, 45). Terry Castle, in her discussion of phantasmagoria, accounts for the enduring strangeness of machines in terms of modernity's "spectralizing habit": "our compulsive need, since the mid-nineteenth century, to invent machines that mimic and reinforce the image-producing powers of consciousness" (137). The habit finds repeated "technological embodiment" in magic lanterns, photography, cinema, television. Castle's case is almost circular in its return upon the curious technical self-evidence of the uncanny: the mechanism invoked in the phrase "compulsive need," a mechanism of unconscious or even genetic origin, is that of the compulsion to repeat. The notion, tied to the death drive, was proposed by Sigmund Freud in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, written at same the time as, and alluded to in, his essay on the uncanny. The precedence of consciousness—mimicked by machines—is also assumed by Castle. However, the imbrication of supernature, consciousness, technology and the uncanny in Castle's own argument suggests other directions of influence and makes causality difficult to locate. Perhaps new apparatuses do more than mimic consciousness: they engage in "retraining the human sensorium," as Walter Benjamin suggests in his discussion of cinematic shocks (1973, 117).

  14. Banished from an increasingly empirical and rational world, supernatural figures like ghosts occupy the mind. Castle's contention has several effects: mind, understood in mechanical terms as a magic lantern, can be subjected to the imperatives, models and techniques of rational enquiry. Delusion and delirium, signs of temporary, technical disorder, explain away the existence of supernatural beings. Though rendered hallucinatory effects, ghosts, in their unreality as "internal mental processes," come to appear "more real than ever before—in that they now occupied (even preoccupied) the intimate space of the mind itself" (Castle 165). Haunted, "phantasmagorical," "supernaturalized" (123), mind does not remain a straightforwardly rational site. Moreover, the rational mind fails to contain irrationalities, which spill out, shape perceptual experience and colour phenomenal reality: "in the moment of romantic self-absorption, the other was indeed reduced to a phantom—a purely mental effect, or image, as it were, on the screen of consciousness itself" (Castle 125). Other humans become ghostly in a distinctly Gothic process that amounts to a "supernaturalization of everyday life" (Castle 123). The overlapping of fantasy and reality, the confounding of inner and external worlds, the lack of distinction between mind and materiality, are (im)precisely the defining features of the uncanny. The role of mechanisms in the production of uncanny disturbances, integral and yet ultimately subordinated to consciousness in Castle's account, have, it seems, both causal and supplementary effects. Even Freud discounts mechanisms, other than psychological ones of course, in his discussion of the uncanny. But the prominence given to phantasmagoria by Castle and to cinema by early psychoanalysts suggests a more entangled relationship.

  15. Not only do projective apparatuses allow rationality to locate ghosts in the mind, mechanical models of mental operations make mind visible in a certain way, thereby enabling interiority to be externalised and, even, supplanted by mechanism. As supernaturalism is absorbed, to seep out again, mechanism, projected internally, draws out a different image of consciousness. And mechanisms become haunted, garnished with ghostliness. In the form of phantasmagorical, theatrical and cinematic tricks, and, ironically, to demonstrate rational realities, mechanical apparatuses conjure up, simulate, supernatural phenomena: "there is no difference between occult and technological media" (Kittler 1990, 229). Strangeness extends, by way of uncanny mechanisms, beyond individual minds: in Coleridge's metaphor of the camera obscura the "moving phantasms" of a single person's delirium spread in mechanical transmission to others. Machines, it seems, do more than mimic mind: their "mediation" of consciousness, phenomenal experience and reality generates new images and sensations, new models of mental process. These, in turn, affect experience, self-consciousness and the relation to the world, engendering a disturbance that is psychological and collective, individual and social, an uncanny crossing and confounding of distinctions that, in the upheavals of the late eighteenth century, became difficult to contain.

  16. Uncanniness circulates with the onset of modernity: its disturbance, at the level of experience and self-definition, serves as a social and psychological register of political and economic transformations. Self, always a political and social entity, is redefined, along with the natural world, by enlightenment systems of knowledge: rational, individual, moral, this modern being was remade in accordance with the freedoms of bourgeois and industrial modes of production (free to sell his or her labour and free to buy this or that commodity), the freedoms of democratic representation (opinion, association, election) and the freedoms of aesthetic creation and consumption. In this context, the significance of the double and its incarnation in literary and material form (in the shape of clockwork automata) is telling. Mechanical imitations of natural and human forms and functions did not always excite terror and horror. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Mladen Dolar notes, mechanical dolls and automata were displayed for the entertainment of kings and courts, mere toys and puppets of a craftsman's ingenuity designed for idle amusement. The shift from monarchical authority to enlightened human knowledge changed the way automata were perceived: mechanism embodies (in the manner if La Mettrie's Man-machine) a systematic understanding of human workings, a subjection to the inviolable principles of rational knowledge. Bodies, divested of spirit, are now able to be utilized economically in the industrial revolution: a technological reduction is put into effect, and with it arise fears of a de-spiritualisation of humanity.

  17. Manifesting the doubleness that threatens individual uniqueness, automata mimic and supplement human functions and appearance, disturbingly disclosing a "mechanical side" to men and women (Dolar 46-7). At the same time, humans glimpse themselves in the machine, the same and yet different, duplicatable and dispensable, replicatable and replaceable. Dividing appearance from inner reality and function from value, machines begin to erase the very differences held up as definitively human:  "machines and automata have no secrets, their springs and levers are accessible to all" (Dolar 53). The horror that attended encounters with ghostly or artificial doubles is linked by Slavoj Zizek to the emergence of Kantian or modern subjectivity: "encountering one"s double or being followed and persecuted by him is the ultimate experience of terror, something which shatters the very core of the subject's identity" (315). Automata, like doubles, hollow out the subject, make its workings visible and its inner, private secrets subject to knowledge, power and manipulation. The move from mere entertainment to threat is explicit in Jacques de Vaucanson's work: the inventor of the clockwork duck that simulated excretion responded to the hostility of the silk workers whose livelihood was threatened by his construction of an automatic loom by making another machine, this time operated by a donkey. The contrast between amusing duck and hateful donkey is striking: "the first was designed for man's entertainment; the second was meant to show man that he was dispensable" (Wood 38). The uncanny registers a displacement of human capacities, marking a shift into a new system in which previous notions no longer cohere with the rational imperatives reorganising reality. The fantasy that articulates an individual sense of self with a corresponding humanised reality breaks apart. Ideological and economic frames fail to hold.

    Metaphor Machines

  18. The uncanny manifests a movement, a displacement or relocation which foregrounds indistinction and disjunction, a destabilisation of boundaries within and between psychic and material realities. The strangeness evoked by highly visible mechanisms, like automata or phantasmagoria, or by a shift in larger systems of economic and social organisation, often occludes the less evident operations of another popular machine: writing. The first Gothic story, with its blend of ancient and modern romance, is designed precisely as a movement between two worlds: where romance leaves "the powers of fancy at liberty to expatiate through boundless realms of invention, and thence creating more interesting situations," modern novels conduct "the mortal agents in his drama according to the rules of probability." The aim, Walpole asserts in his second preface to Otranto, is "to make them think, speak and act, as it might be supposed mere men and women would do in extraordinary positions." Where "the actions, sentiments, conversations of the heroes and heroines of ancient days were as unnatural as the machines employed to put them in motion," the blend of the two forms of romance constructs a new machine which allows probability and invention (7-8). Walpole's fiction is designed to transport its protagonists from a recognisable and familiar environment to an extraordinary place while character remains the same. Yet the very different situations in which protagonists are placed will require responses that, though remaining in character, as it were, are also very different. Walpole assumes a consistency, privileging character over context, when he goes on to claim that even in encounters with miracles or "the most stupendous phenomena" people "never lose sight of their human character" (8). Humanity, Walpole assumes, is located very much within, independent of setting or situation. The mechanisms of his fiction, however, tend in the opposite direction. Eighteenth-century critics complained that fiction "transported" readers out of real life and "human paths" (Williams 151).

  19. Walpole's characters, for all their supposed realness and humanness, are transformed in the move from one realm to another: emptied of content and substance, they are subject only to the mechanisms of plot and form.  Charged with an impossible task of remaining realistic in unreal settings, character is split, its integrity opened to the vacillations of external context. Furthermore, character, in Walpole's plan, becomes a cipher for another figure taking shape in the eighteenth century: the reader. What he expects his characters to do—remain the same while undergoing improbable experiences—mirrors the split engendered by the reading process itself, a split hinging on identification: from one situation, seated with book in hand, the reader is moved to another more fantastic setting, transported metaphorically in recognising or identifying with hero or heroine and feeling accordingly. To be the same and be different simultaneously, to experience oneself as someone else or someone else as oneself, form aspects of readerly pleasure. Identification demands a peculiar doubleness; it has something of the uncanny about it:

    This relation is accentuated by mental processes leaping from one of the characters to another—by what we could call telepathy—, so that the one possesses knowledge, feelings and experience in common with the other. Or it is marked by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. In other words there is a doubling, dividing and interchanging of the self. (Freud 234)

    All fiction, to judge from Freud's argument, is underpinned by some degree of strangeness: for fiction to work it demands movement from one figure to another, a  crossing from self to other in which both are doubled and divided. Identification, of course, discovers identity in places and figures other to the self. Transport and identification, moreover, are effects of metaphor. Metaphor, as the paternal signifier, inaugurally splits the human subject between undifferentiated biological being and self-identification in language, furnishing identity at the expense of the real. "What we usually call it," comments Lacan on metaphor "is identification": it works topologically so that the subject is "sustained by its positional articulation" (218; 226). In the uncanny, what comes to the fore is both a circulation of disturbing displacements, identifications and mechanical metaphors and the curious mechanisms of metaphor itself.

  20. Freud's efforts to exclude automata notwithstanding, the uncanny remains entwined with machines and presentational apparatuses. E. T. A. Hoffman's "The Sandman," on which Freud's essay focuses, indicates the prominence of literature as well as automatic enamoration and delirium. Freud is too hasty, as Hélène Cixous suggests from a feminist position, to dismiss Ernst Jentsch's understanding of the uncanny in terms of "intellectual uncertainty," and, along with it, diminish the disturbances posed by the lifelike female automaton, Olympia. The psychoanalyst, moreover, finds it hard to exclude literary examples of the uncanny and repeatedly returns to signification, meaning and metaphor. In reading, the past returns in the present, the dead come alive, cold letters animated by vital imagining. It is a two-way process. The reverse is also the case: the reader can be animated or activated into imaginative life by inanimate words and fictional mechanisms to respond automatically to the touch of the text.

  21. Bound up with language and mechanisms (machines and mental processes), the uncanny is, in many ways, a technological phenomenon whose effects are accentuated by the shifts and disturbances of technical innovation. Its domain extends beyond the return of infantile beliefs alone: it circulates in the telling of stories, the reading of books, and the seeing of images. Gothic fictions cannot be simply put down as merely mechanistic, formulaic and low cultural aberrations, despite the critical reiteration of mechanical metaphors to describe the effects of romances on undiscriminating readers whose minds work mechanically. The burgeoning of metaphors that entangle minds, machines and mysteries fails to be held in check by the variety of media which generate uncanny effects. Everyday life is "supernaturalized" at the same time the supernatural is internalised (Castle 123). Gaby Wood, discussing the imbrication of automated production, clockwork dolls, visual apparatuses and Gothic figures in the nineteenth century, notes how the uncanny "left its physical, concrete self behind" to "become generalized, diffused throughout a new world of spectacle and magic" (160). Through fictional and media techniques, the uncanny spreads, located among collective and cultural spaces rather than individual interiors. Attracting associations with or projections of supernatural and uncanny phenomena, machines themselves assume the power to generate Gothic effects, spreading a sense of uncanniness still further afield.

  22. As modernity finds itself increasingly dominated by various media, it, too, becomes suffused with an uncanny and phantasmagorical aura. Walter Benjamin, whose analysis of cinema links the medium firmly to the repetitive and mechanical  rhythms and shocks of factory labour, regularly employs the term "phantasmagoria" in his discussions of modernity:

    Our investigation proposes to show how, as a consequence of this reifying representation of civilization, the new forms of behaviour and the new economically and technologically based creations that we owe to the nineteenth century enter the universe of a phantasmagoria. These creations undergo this "illumination" not only in a theoretical manner; by an ideological transposition, but also in the immediacy of their perceptible presence. They are manifest as phantasmagorias. Thus appear the arcades--first entry in the field of iron construction; thus appear the world exhibitions, whose link to the entertainment industry is significant. Also included in this order of phenomena is the experience of the flâneur, who abandons himself to the phantasmagorias of the marketplace. Corresponding to these phantasmagorias of the market, where people only appear as types, are the phantasmagorias of the interior; which are constituted by man's imperious need to leave the imprint of his private individual existence on the rooms he inhabits. (1999, 14)

    In the World Exhibition of 1867 "the phantasmagoria of capitalist culture attains its most radiant unfolding," glorifying "the exchange value of the commodity" (1999, 8). Consumed by "phantasmagoria," distracted, entertained, spectators enjoy their alienation from others and themselves and sink into the mass "in an attitude that is pure reaction." The same occurs in relation to the glitter of the commodity or the intoxicating flows of the urban mass: "the crowd is the veil through which the familiar city beckons to the flâneur as phantasmagoria—now a landscape, now a room. Both become elements of the department store, which makes use of flânerie itself to sell its goods." The commodities that shine from the windows of the arcades and stores are also part of the phantasmagoria and the means whereby the private, domestic realm is permeated: in a world divided between work and leisure, where reality is dominated by the office, modernity's worker "needs the domestic interior to sustain him in his illusions" (1999, 8). "In the interior," Benjamin continues, "he brings together the far away and the long ago. His living room is a box in the theater of the world" (1999, 9). The illusions that mask economic realities with distractions, the theatre, the glitter of commodities, also suggest that this "phantasmagoria of the interior" relates to the inner world of the subject him or herself. Phantasmagoria are associated with the false consciousness underpinning bourgeois existence (1999, 11).

  23. Modernity's other subject, intoxicated, commodified, repeatedly shocked, alienated, and living a thoroughly phantasmagorical existence, seems to be cut from a curiously Gothic cloth: s/he is not distinguished as a particularly rational and moral being, furnished with fibre and substance, but, like a heroine, somewhat superficial, hollow, and tingling with affect. Politically, ideologically, socially and economically, modern subjectivity takes shape in the course of the eighteenth century: the civic and humanist being promoted by enlightenment discourse—rational, virtuous, productive and responsible—emerges alongside a counterpart whose qualities, or lack of them, are delineated in popular fictions and constructions of the readers who consume them. Critical concerns about the dangerous effects of romances emphasise passion, appetite, indulgence, licentiousness and vice. Reason and morality seem on the point of being eclipsed by a ravenous mob of readers, the new species of fiction spawning a new species of reader captivated by sensation, luxury, romance and adventure rather than instruction and aesthetic or intellectual elevation. Such a reader, like the characters of Gothic fiction, corresponds to economic shifts. Andrea Henderson argues that the move from use value to exchange value can be seen in the bifurcations of Gothic character: what was internal and private in respect of the coherence and merit of individual personality finds itself measured on an external scale, inner states and qualities being defined through interrelationships and formal comparisons. Identity becomes, in Humean terms, "an aggregate of characteristics, each of which was understood in commodity terms" (Henderson 227). Mackenzie's Man of Feeling makes explicit the implications: honour loses out to its more formal and insubstantial "shadow," virtue, and social customs like politeness sound "more ridiculous to the ear than the voice of a puppet": "the world of the man of feeling of the 1770s is a world of  'shadowy' forms emptied of content; of hollow, powerless people who have, in essence, sacrificed their souls; a world of coins—the prototype of the gothic world" (Henderson 229-30). Social and economic forms—empty, shadowy, hollow—are mirrored by the vacuous characters and formulas of Gothic fiction, all puppets, automata, soulless mechanisms.

  24. The evocation of feelings beyond rational and conscious control (making the hairs stand on the back of the neck; freezing or curdling the blood), constitutes a principal aim of Gothic fiction: such emotional expenditure is undertaken without higher aspirations. If the locks and springs of techniques of terror, formulaic and repetitive as they are, remain, as Scott and others emphasise, in danger of wearing out, so, too, does the reader's capacity for intense emotional reactions. Repetition leads to habituation and boredom; stimulation needs to be increased to engender any affect. While new media, machines, spectacles and sensations are generated, each process reinforces the automatism of emotional production and expenditure. The facility with which Gothic fiction and figures are adapted to various media, gothicising them along the way, is only part of the story. While Gothic images, themes and plots provide ready-made sensational resources highly suited to melodramatic media and the shadowplay of early film, the genre offers more than exciting subject matter: Gothic associations provide a means of reflecting on the technical and subjective effects of new media, its spectres, monsters, and undead providing figures for the processes and effects of presentational apparatuses, encoding emotional responses to the arrival of new technologies.

  25. Printing presses create a monstrous reading public; ghosts attach themselves to phantasmagorical, photographic or cinematic projections. The uncanny wanders spectrally between readers, viewers, pages and screens, and the mechanisms of projection and the ghosts they engender occupy disturbed mental spaces as explanations of phenomena become hallucinatory and psychopathological. Moved inwards, ghosts disappear from the world, and mind find itself haunted; moved outwards, the haunting spreads disturbingly across external, real spaces. Motion and emotion (and next, e-motion?): feeling is stimulated and expended, an operation in which external mechanisms and internal processes combine. Interiority is drawn out, ex-pressed, squeezed from subjectivity by the shocks and surprises of narrative and cinematic mechanism: the reader or viewer is hollowed, evacuated of content and substance, exhausted of affect, emotional expenditure leaving only a puppet, automaton, doll. Emptied out, the space of subjectivity is ready to be filled anew.

 

Works Cited

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the AHRB for supporting this research.

Anon. (1797) "Terrorist Novel Writing" (1797), Spirit of the Public Journals 1: 227-9.

Baldick, Chris. In Frankenstein's Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity and Nineteenth-century Writing, Oxford: Clarendon, 1987.

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Published @ RC

December 2005