Gothic Technologies: Visuality in the Romantic Era
Introduction: Gothic Romance as Visual Technology
Robert Miles, University of Victoria, BC
Miles argues that the Gothic Romance may be understood as a form of visual technology to be placed alongside the forerunners of modern cinema, such as the phantasmagoria and diorama. He further argues that the affinity lies less in the technological continuity represented by the magic lantern and film projector, and more in the privileging of the reader as a visually-pleasured spectator.This essay appears in _Gothic Technologies_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (http://www.rc.umd.edu/), University of Maryland.
Picture a room, no window
A door that leads outside
A man lying on a carpet on the floor
Picture his three grown boys behind him
Bouncing words off of a screen
Of a television big as all outdoors
—Randy Newman, "My Country", Bad Love (1999)
With his customary economy and wit Randy Newman sketches a familiar anxiety of modern life: that late capitalism has replaced community with isolated clumps of incommunicados, formally known as families, who sit together cemented by nothing more than their addiction to television and an unwillingness to resist entropy. The television is at once an intermediary and a sump for misdirected language (words bounce off it, back to others, or just nowhere). The door of the windowless room is paralleled by the screen as big as all outdoors, in which the door onto the world and the screen double each other, blurring the distinction between the real and the simulated. The tone is only a mood swing away from the familiar territory of suburban Gothic: "Watching other people living/ Seeing other people play/ Having other people's voices fill our minds/ Thank you Jesus." The vicarious principle verges on technological possession (hearing voices) in which entertainment and the divine become schizophrenically mixed. The Gothic's master trope of live burial, or broken communication, is brought into comic view: "Feelings might go unexpressed/ I think that's probably for the best/ Dig too deep who knows what you will find." "Freddie Kruger " seems a likely answer.
I have started with Newman's song because it helps sketch an historic arc that has come to concern Romantic studies (Wood 7). The arc can be traced through a question. Is there any continuity between the overlap of individualism, consumerism, and the beginnings of a technology-driven entertainment industry based on visual pleasure, which marks the Romantic period, and the familiar techno-visual dystopia mordantly anatomised by Newman? If so, what relationship does this arc bear to the literary-cultural formation we call "Romanticism"?
The present volume of Romantic Circles Praxis seeks to contribute to this debate by focussing on Gothic writing and visual technology. There are several intersecting reasons for why such an inquiry should begin with the Gothic. Whether as popular theatre, Minerva romances or supernatural ballads, Gothic was popular—and soon mass—entertainment. Despite differences in genre the Gothic tended to be overtly "visual", whether literally so, in the popular theatre, where dramatists such as Matthew Lewis adapted emerging spectral technologies with electrifying effect, or figuratively, in prose and poetry, through stylistic appeals to the visual imagination. Two of the most famous high-cultural put downs of the rising mass entertainment industry turn exactly on the visual character of the Gothic: Wordsworth's withering comments on the stupefying effects of sickly German tragedies (Gothic theatre), and Coleridge's elaborate metaphor of romance reading as a visual technology (a camera obscura) for implanting one person's reveries into the mind of another.
The links between the Gothic and the rise of visual technology are at once deep and seemingly fortuitous. For example, take the case of Count Cagliostro, enlightened Free Mason, healer, alchemist, master of Egyptian mysteries and friend of mankind, or Sicilian mountebank, pimp, and dangerous adherent of Adam Weishaupt's revolutionary Illuminati, depending on one's point of view. Cagliostro himself liked to put on a good show, with his mediums, crystal balls, and spectral lighting, and as such he formed the model for Schiller's "Sicilian" from the seminal Gothic novel, The Ghost-Seer, whose acts of visual legerdemain are exposed by the even more devious Armenian. Cagliostro was eventually to attract the attention of the Roman Inquisition who were sufficiently startled by the gravity of the Great Cophta's revolutionary threat to arrest him, torture him, and extract his confession, before burying him alive in the turret of a remote mountain fortress, despite his European-wide celebrity. Cagliostro's Gothic sufferings at the hands of the Inquisition prompted two of the genre's most accomplished romances from the late 1790s, Radcliffe's The Italian (Miles, 2000, xvi-xviii) and Godwin's St Leon.1 During the last of his three London visits, Cagliostro was befriended by the Alsatian artist Phillipe Jacques de Loutherbourg, another Freemason and alchemical enthusiast. A trained engineer, Loutherbourg was also a set designer of great brilliance and innovation, specializing in sound, lighting effects, and the use of automata. Iain McCalman describes his influence on yet another influential Gothicist, William Beckford:
Shows using ghostly special effects were, in 1787, to be given the name of "phantasmagoria," but de Loutherbourg actually pioneered the form six years earlier when a rich young aesthete, William Beckford, asked him to pour "the wildness of your fervid imagination" into creating an occult eastern spectacle at his country house. De Loutherbourg's "necromantic" light effects, "preternatural sounds," voluptuous scents, and clockwork machinery had so intoxicated young Beckford that he'd immediately begun writing his famous Oriental romance, Vathek. He didn't know it, but his imagination had been seized by the forerunner of the modern cinema (162).
There are two, linked questions here. To what extent can the magic-lantern and its associated technologies (now generally designated through the short hand, "phantasmagoria") be justly characterised as the forerunner of the modern cinema? And to what extent can the Gothic's numerous filiations with the phantasmagoria be characterised as a deep-structural affinity with the century's emerging visual technologies?
Possible answers to the second question are the concern of the articles collected in this issue. Answers to the first we leave to the media historians qualified to deal with it. Or rather, we leave the vexed matter of technological continuity, of whether there are meaningful affinities between the kinds of projections made possible by eighteenth-century "devices of wonder" (best catalogued and described by Stafford and Terpak) and their modern counterparts. The articles in this issue are concerned with a different sort of question. To what extent are the kinds of anxieties aroused by the spectral technologies of the cinema and the phantasmagoria (irrespective of affinities between them, real or not) themselves the product of something prior to, or at any rate, separable from, the technology? Following Michel Foucault one might describe this "something" as an epistemic shift. Read in this light, filiations between the Gothic and the phantasmagoria no longer seem fortuitous, as both may be said to be grounded in the same "shift."
One might describe this shift as a process of "hollowing-out." Where the divine once was, the secular now is, and the sign of the secular is the commodity fetish. There is now a long line of Gothic criticism working within this tradition, best embodied in Jerrold E. Hogle's "the ghost of the counterfeit," a phrase as slippery as it is rich. Hogle first used the phrase in relation to Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (25). As a "post" text (post-Reformation, post-revolution, post-Enlightenment and thus post-modern), Walpole's supernatural confection was a work of deep imposture. The acts of unquestioned belief depicted as ghosts and supernatural machinery merely call attention to themselves as "counterfeits," rather than as true signs rendered current and legitimate by faith. Alfonso is at once a counterfeit ghost (the product of priestly deceit) and a ghostly reminder that in the modern world all signs circulate with equal freedom and (in)authenticity. In Walpole's "post" world, we are all counterfeits now. Hogle's argument is recalled by Andrea Henderson's thesis connecting the circulation of commercialised Gothic imagery to the shift from use to exchange value, an emptying out identified by Baudrilliard as the "order of simulation," the epistemological condition of the modern world (492). The strange transmutation of the sign of the sacred (the supernatural) from the disciplined preserve of faith to a commodity item and staple of the entertainment industry, was also the substance of E.J. Clery's argument in The Rise of Supernatural Fiction.
A complementary line of enquiry was initiated by Terry Castle in her 1987 essay, "The Spectralization of the Other in The Mysteries of Udolpho." Castle begins with Philippe Ariès who argues that death was a commonplace of pre-Enlightenment societies. Ariès does not mean that beginning with the Enlightenment there was, somehow, less death, but that it was treated differently. Whereas in traditional societies the rituals of mourning involved the presence of the dead, in modern ones the dead disappear, absorbed by service industries that invisibly sweep away discomfiting mortal coils. In the former, religion and ritual helped survivors accept death as a vestibule to something else. In modern secular societies the dead disappear, but the fact remains, unaccommodated. The paradoxical upshot is that unaccommodated death leads to spectral materialism. For the late eighteenth-century imagination, materialism is uncanny. Once dead bodies are hollowed out, as mere matter, without a transcendental destiny—signifiers without signifieds—they rise again, as phantasmagoria. Coleridge explains, or rather exemplifies, the phenomenon in Biographical Literaria. Materialism (as evinced in Lockean associationism) "removes all reality and immediateness of perception, and places us in a dream-world of phantoms and spectres, the inexplicable swarm and equivocal generation of motions in our own brain" (BL I: 137). Hence Castle's argument. In the post-Enlightenment world, the dead live again, as a spectral presence, a re-supernaturalisation of everyday life that points, not to a resurgence of religious faith, but to its absence. Without a belief in an afterlife to house the dead, the dead persist, psychologized, as continuously mourned memories that recur with an intensity potent enough to overturn the order of the real. For Castle, Gothic is the genre that comes into being as an expression of modern, spectral materialism. Hence the tendency of novels, such as Radcliffe's, to feature dead who persist in the minds of the protagonists, as spectralized others, as well as the tendency of living others to become spectral.
Even more influential has been Castle's extension of her interest in spectralization to the realm of technology. Beginning with "Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie", Castle produced a series of articles on an overlooked aspect of the rise of visual reproduction, its tendency to relocate the supernatural from the external world of inexplicable phenomena to the inner realm of the mind. Gaspard-Etienne Robertson was the impresario who coined the phrase "fantasmagorie" , having drawn together the technical inventions of others, including de Loutherbourg, into a Radcliffean extravaganza in which the dead would live again, projected mid-air by magic lanterns through a haze of smoke in the tombs of the Capuchin, itself a fit emblem of the commercial hollowing-out of the sacred (1995: 144, 148). But as Castle notes, no sooner was "fantasmagorie" coined as a word for the commercial show than it was adapted to describe the modern condition of mental life bereft of stabilising notions of the real. Without such notions we are placed, says Coleridge, "in a dream-world of phantoms and spectres." Modern life had become phantasmagorical, or, as Castle was later to put it in her collected essays, "uncanny." Spectral technology broke down the barrier between mind and machine. If spectral technology was like the mind, the mind, in turn, was like spectral technology. As Fred Botting explains, the "overlapping of fantasy and reality, the confounding of inner and external worlds, the lack of distinction between mind and materiality, are …the defining features of the uncanny."
In pursuing the "hollowing-out" argument we appear to have arrived at a place antithetical to the one from which we started. I began with Jerrold Hogle's "the ghost of the counterfeit" , a reading of the rise of the Gothic as the product of the modern shift towards the condition of " simulation", which was independent of technology, and have ended up with a process of specularization driven by it. However, as Baudrillard's own work makes clear, this is not so much a contradiction as evidence of a dialectical process in which the severing effects of commodity fetishism are reinforced by the visual technology the capitalist process itself gives rise to. The important point is that for its recent critics—and certainly for the critics represented in the present issue—Gothic is at the centre of this dialectic.
Hence Angela Wright's focus on the Gothic novel as a form repeatedly attacked, and stigmatised, as a "mechanical" art or "technology." For the progressively minded, literature was an "engine" of instruction. In his preface to Political Justice William Godwin declares that "Few engines can be more powerful, and at the same time more salutary in that tendency, than literature" (I, 20). Anna Laetitia Barbauld was equally upbeat: "It was said by Fletcher of Saltoun, "Let me make the ballads of a nation, and I care not who makes the laws." Might it not be said with as much propriety, Let me make the novels of a country, and let who will make the system?" (quoted Grenby, 13). For Godwin and Barbauld, novels possess a mysterious power. For both, novels are a form of cultural technology, instrumental in altering the system, or engineering change. Conservative critics, such as T. J. Mathias, took a similar view: "LITERATURE, well or ill conducted, IS THE GREAT ENGINE by which, I am fully persuaded, ALL CIVILIZED STATES must ultimately be supported or overthrown" (link to Wright). But for Mathias, the novel was, axiomatically, "ill conducted" literature. The complaints lodged against the novel are now well known. Novels were improbable (they left readers with an undisciplined sense of the world as it is) and unrealistic (they encouraged readers to contemplate life above their station, thus breeding incendiary discontent). These familiar complaints obscure an essential point, one teased out by Wright. Critics attacked the novel because they perceived it to be a dangerous technology, a menace especially prominent in the Gothic romance, the dominant shape of the 1790s. Romance bred eidetic reveries in the mind of the reader, as if projected there by a camera obscura, an experience of visual pleasure increasingly proscribed as " mechanical."
In The Monk Matthew Lewis allegorizes the novel's stigma as a dangerous technology and in the process teases out why "reverie-machines" were feared. Matilda has a magic mirror bordered with "strange and unknown characters" (270) and with it she conjures an image of Antonia, bathing, in order to seduce Ambrosio. As Matilda explains, after an incantation "'the Person appears in it, on whom the Observer's thoughts are bent…'" (270). Antonia appears in the mirror, undressing:
Though unconscious of being observed, an in-bred sense of modesty induced her to veil her charms; and She stood hesitating upon the brink, in the attitude of the Venus de Medicis. At this moment a tame Linnet flew towards her, nestled its head between her breasts, and nibbled them in wanton play. The smiling Antonia strove in vain to shake off the Bird, and at length raised her hands to drive it from its delightful harbour. Ambrosio could bear no more: his desires were worked up to a phrenzy (271).
Lewis employs the standard iconography of secretly-observed modesty to represent Antonia as an instinctively coy Venus de Medici. The "Venus" was a notorious image in eighteenth-century aesthetics, one highlighting the problematic boundary between pornography and art. In The Monk Lewis habitually alludes to the Venus when representing how his male characters – and readers – see Antonia (9). As such, one might say that the magic mirror signifies the veil of textuality that mediates Ambrosio's lust (Jones). When Ambrosio thinks of Antonia, she is always already figured as a Venus de Medici, because that is how eighteenth-century culture structures objects of male desire. But if the mirror signifies textuality, it functions as a magic camera obscura. As a technology the camera obscura is a close avatar of television, or film. The camera obscura in Outlook Tower, Edinburgh, provides an example. One stands in a darkened room with a white circular dais in the middle, onto which is projected a full-colour image of the outside world, focused through a series of lenses channelled through a movable periscope. The main difference between cinema and the camera obscura (apart from the technical means) is that the latter provides the viewer with unedited, real time, action. Matilda's magic mirror apparently does the same. Ambrosio observes his naked sister, in real time. However, the image is "edited," or at any rate composed, as a mise en scène. She is not lifted "out of life," but out of, or through, stock imagery. The representation of Antonia's representation—the glass in which she appears—signifies the potency of books to seduce and deprave the unwary "reader," a power figured by Lewis as a form of visual technology. In effect Lewis represents the novel form as if it really were a camera obscura furnished with Coleridge's feared magic power of projecting one man's reveries into the mind of another. The magic mirror may thus be regarded as an allegory of the contemporary critical anxiety directed towards illicit reading, a fear Lewis further satirised through his scandalous suggestion that mothers should stop their daughters conning the Bible and so prevent its lubricious scenes being projected onto the mind's inner tablet, where they might flicker into corrupting life.
With the foregoing in mind we can recast the familiar criticism of the novel in the following way. The Gothic romance was the occasion of moral panic because it was widely regarded as an engine (a "magic mirror") for the production of visual reverie. For ambitious writers, such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, it became imperative that they distance themselves from Gothic romance, "German" drama, or "gaudy and inane" verse, with their mechanical, eye-driven, arts. As Dale Townshend demonstrates, a turning away from the "despotism of the eye" becomes a major focus of Wordsworth's poetics, where such despotism was closely linked, in Wordsworth's mind, to the mad assortment of visual technologies thronging the London market, such as panoramas, dioramas, raree shows and phantasmagorias.
Coleridge provides another illustration of this anti-technological animus:
In the days of Chaucer and Gower our language might…be compared to a wilderness of vocal reeds, from which the favorites only of Pan or Apollo could construct even the rude Syrinx; and from this the constructors alone could elicit strains of music. But now, partly by the labours of successive poets, and in part by the more artificial state of society and social intercourse, language, mechanized as it were into a barrel-organ, supplies at once both instrument and tune. Thus even the deaf may play, so as to delight the many…Hence of all trades, literature at present demands the least talent or information; and, of all modes of literature, the manufacturing of poems. The difference indeed between these and the works of genius, is not less than between an egg and an egg-shell; yet at a distance they both look alike (BL, I: 38-39).
Poems have been hollowed out by the ease of modern, mechanical reproduction, are nowadays mere shells. As Coleridge says elsewhere, such poems are "counterfeits" (I: 42). They may look the same as true poems, but they lack substance. The eye fails to serve as a means of distinguishing the real from the forged, the shell from the true egg, the carapace from the substance. As Coleridge's metaphor implies, authenticity is a matter of intangible virtues. Without authenticity, we are back in a world of phantasmagoric materialism.
Wordsworth's and Coleridge's assessment of the radical difference between works of true genius and those of the mechanic arts, between poems of transcendental greatness, on one side, and a host of overtly commercial "products," on the other, from dioramas to Gothic romances, has been reproduced by critics of Romanticism virtually ever since. But matters look very different if we view them through Jonathan Crary's Techniques of the Observer. Crary argues that during the long eighteenth century, "[p]roblems of vision then, as now, were fundamentally questions about the body and the operation of social power" (3). He examines "how, beginning early in the nineteenth century, a new set of relations between the body on one hand and forms of institutional and discursive power on the other redefined the status of an observing subject" (3). The Romantic era witnesses a shift that "was inseparable from a massive reorganisation of knowledge and social practices that modified in myriad ways of productive, cognitive, and desiring capacities of the human subject" (3). Crary's Foucauldian reading focuses on the epistemic shift that occurred as paradigms of knowledge and perception were re-organised, from a model based on the camera obscura, to one situated in the physiology of the eye. In the camera obscura paradigm of the Enlightenment, the observer's "sensory and physiological apparatus" does not modify perception. Experimenters discovered that it made no difference whether one inserted an anatomised eye-ball into the camera obscura, or a mechanical lens, from which it followed that physiology did not impact on how humans see. If the eye-ball did not impact on sight, the seeing had to be done elsewhere. Richard Rorty makes the point: "It is as if the tabula rasa were perpetually under the gaze of the unblinking Eye of the Mind...it becomes obvious that the imprinting is of less interest than the observation of the imprint—all the knowing gets done, so to speak, by the Eye which observes the imprinted tablet, rather than by the tablet itself" (55). Crary comments that although "the dominance of the camera obscura paradigm does in fact imply a privilege given to vision, it is a vision that is a priori in the service of a nonsensory faculty of understanding that alone gives a true conception of the world" (57).
Paradoxically, the camera-obscura model of vision was wedded to the principle of tangibility. We verify what we see by cross-referencing visual data against the other senses. According to Crary's argument, in the nineteenth century the older Enlightenment ideas of observation verified by touch were unable to deal with a new order of "mobile signs and commodities whose identity" was "exclusively optical" (62). Crary sees the rage for dioramas and stereoscopes as symptoms of the new, nineteenth-century model of vision: "The loss of touch as a conceptual component of vision meant the unloosening of the eye from the network of referentiality incarnated in tactility and its subjective relation to perceived space" (19). For Crary, the new model, in which perception was located squarely in the physiological characteristics of the eye, was a stage towards our modern culture of spectatorship and consumption (a condition we might gloss through Coleridge's description, quoted earlier, of materialism as a phantasmagoria or "dream-world of phantoms and spectres, the inexplicable swarm and equivocal generation of motions in our own brain" (BL I: 137). According to Crary's argument, Wordsworth's anti-visual, anti-commercial animus had a self-defeating consequence, for by stressing the importance of the individual to revolve back within himself, in order to glimpse presence, he was helping to disseminate the discursive construction of the isolated observer (an isolated eye, detached from touch) that was to become the model of the modern consumer of "spectacle". Crary points to a twofold movement that constitutes his paradigmatic shift, which he locates around the 1820s and 30s. On the one hand, the linking between internal/external, subject/object, breaks down. On the other, it is discursively reconstituted through the body, to a new science of the physiology of looking.
Wordsworth was unintentionally complicit with this process. By stressing inner vision he helps break the link between internal/external (the camera obscura's paradigm of vision mediated by a neutral lens), but by so doing he creates the ground for phantasmagorical modernity. For modernization a "more adaptable, autonomous, and productive observer was needed in both discourse and practice…" (149). For many during this period, modernity, meaning the promiscuous circulation of signs (commodity culture, panoramas, billboards, illustrated newspapers) was itself a "phantasmagoria", where the world itself appeared the product of disoriented imagination (Castle 1995: 154-59). At this stage Castle's and Crary's argument begin to dovetail. Crary's modern observer—subjective and productive—fits nicely with Castle's thesis that the common meaning of phantasmagoria was quickly transformed from a word for a kind of "high-tech" light show to the imagination itself. Imagining visualization was no longer a matter of modelling the mind as a camera obscura, but representing it, rather, as it a productive source. Wordsworth outwardly opposed the manifestations of this shift. But through his inward turn he discursively reproduced the very disconnection on which the phantasmagoria was predicated. If Wordsworth's imagination is a projective lamp, it is discursively homologous with the one lighting up modernity's magic lantern.
According to Crary, then, if Gothic romance is a visual technology, it is, at the time of its apogee—around 1800—already in the process of becoming obsolete, because founded on Enlightenment models of "observation". Moreover, his analysis presents us with the following counter-intuitive position. The commercial romance, with its illustrations, scenic descriptions, and hair-raising tableaux—Matilda with a poniard to her exposed breast, glinting in the moonlight; Schedoni hanging poised over his sleeping "daughter", his dagger at the ready; the monster stretched on the table, blinking his yellow eye—is to be understood as less involved in the discursive construction of the modern subject, as a sovereign consumer of spectacle, than Wordsworth's poetics. The Gothic romance is attached to the older, "camera obscura paradigm" of passive consumption (much as Coleridge depicts it), whereas Wordsworth helps disseminate the prestige of the inwardly revolved subject who is the self-generating source of what he, or she, perceives, where presence is "presence" precisely because it cannot be verified by touch.
The position is both counter-intuitive and—I think—incorrect. To understand how the Gothic romance is a cultural form of visual technology we must first acknowledge the degree to which it is founded on Lord Kames's ideal presence, the dominant model of eighteenth-century aesthetic response (see Miles, 1999: 19-20). Kames imagines a perceptual axis, with real presence at one end, and reflection at the other. Real presence is perception itself, the act of seeing. Reflection is when we introspect about the process of perception. Ideal presence occurs somewhere in between these two poles. An act of memory, when we are lost in a reverie of the past, and seem to relive old events with an eidetic vividness, would be an example of ideal presence, as would the inward turn taken when viewing a painting, where we find ourselves mentally living in the imaginative world it depicts. Ideal presence is also operative in the appreciation of novels and poems. Indeed, it is ideal presence that accounts for the "reading trance", in which the world depicted through the word appears to unfold before our eyes. To lose oneself in a book is to find oneself in ideal presence. When we introspect about our memories, or focus on the words on the page, or otherwise interrupt our willing suspension of disbelief, the spell breaks, and real presence once more intrudes.
Kames did not invent ideal presence so much as codify a set of associative assumptions, deeply embedded in Enlightenment thinking, which derived ultimately from the works of John Locke. Locke characterised the brain, the camera in which sensations are apprised, "as the mind's presence room" (Crary, 42). The act of reviewing those sensations—as a relived "playback"—produced "ideal presence." But there is a signal difference between the state of affairs described by Rorty, whereby the "unblinking eye of the mind" reviews the goings-on of the camera, or presence room, and the aesthetic response posited by Kames. Rorty describes Locke's philosophical imagining of mind, of how knowing gets done, whereas Kames depicts the mental processes underpinning reading pleasure. In the Lockean model, the "mind's eye" may be compared to the individual in the camera obscura observing projections flickering across the screen or tabula rasa. In Kames's model, one is, so to speak, the screen itself, onto which a world is projected. If one were to translate the difference into Freudian terms, one would say that Rorty's "mind's eye" was much the same as the detached ego, whereas Kames is largely thinking of the visualising capacity of the "tabula rasa," which he images, as being less like a passive screen, and more like the plastic powers of the primary processes, characterized by Freud as pre-verbal, eidetic, hallucinatory, overdetermined, and pleasurable. This was precisely the objection Coleridge lodged against the Gothic romance—that someone else's reveries were being implanted in one's passive mind, finding swarming purchase. As we earlier saw, Coleridge complained that the Lockean system of replayed associations turned the world into a phantasmagoria, in which sense data floated free from objects, and images from substance; a streamy associative flow of pleasurable images, as Coleridge elsewhere puts it (1957: 1770). Reading a novel was not a detached matter of standing aloof within a "camera" of perception—"the mind's presence room"—taking stock of the process. It was an inward revolution towards dream, unconsciousness and pleasure, in which images flickered across one's tabula rasa, at once the product of someone else's imagination, and yet self-generated.
Gothic romances were, one might say, ideal-presence machines. As such they participated in the "sovereignty of the eye" that Crary cites as the distinguishing characteristic of modern spectatorship. The act of reading romances did not duplicate the neutral role of seeing predicated by the pre-Modern paradigm (whether through the human cornea or bevelled glass); nor does the mind's inner eye stand impassively aloof observing the mind's presence room in the act of re-perception, as if in a private camera obscura, or cinema. Rather the eye inflects the tabula rasa (the inner screen of ideal presence), and vice versa. For Wordsworth the eye is "despotic" because it links outer form to inner desire, a chain only inner vision can break, the "eye" that is not an eye. As such Wordsworth sought to introduce a decisive cleavage between advanced poetics and the popular consumption of modern, visual technology, between inner vision, in touch with incorporeal presence, and an emptied-out phantasmagoria. Crary's Foucauldian approach effaces this difference by drawing links between two epistemically-related versions of self-generated vision. Wordsworth's inner vision and the inner vision of Romance's reading trance both turn on the self-generative eye. According to this view, Gothic romance does not anticipate cinema because of an alleged mimicry of the magic lantern in the means by which it projects its fantasies. Gothic romance anticipates cinema, rather, by enthroning the reverie-making capacity of the mind's eye as the dominant determinant in aesthetic consumption, a discursive act replicated by Wordsworth's elevation of disembodied vision.
At this stage of the argument, Crary's hypothesis is still to be fully tested. One can say, already, that it makes better sense of the rivalry between Romance and Romanticism, prose fiction and poetry, than that provided by the story pressed by Wordsworth and Coleridge, and many others ever since. Gothic romance, it used to be said, was aesthetically retrograde, because it appealed to an eighteenth-century model of consumption (the passivity inherent in Kames' "ideal presence," with the tabula rasa as mirror), one left behind by the dynamic lamp of transcendental sight. Drawing on Crary, we can now say that the Romance struggled to maintain its prestige, not because of its archaic quality, but because of its modernity, its enthronement of the self-generating eye, which drew the fire of reactionary—or, at any rate, alarmed—forces. As a result, the Romance found it easier to press ahead as the probable novel, which promised to discipline, and regulate, fantasy (and thus the phantasmagorical).
At the start of my introduction I said the papers in this issue of Praxis addressed the following question: to what extent can the Gothic's numerous filiations with the phantasmagoria be characterised as a deep-structural affinity with emerging visual technologies? As I earlier explain, "phantasmagoria" has come to take on a specialised meaning, post Castle. Castle herself argues that the phantasmagoria should have become a kind of master trope in nineteenth-century romantic writing [cited by Hoeveler]. If it did not fulfil itself in Romantic writing, it certainly has in Gothic criticism, where it has become a master trope for discussing the uncanny doublings of the material and the human, where each takes on the unsettling characteristic of the other, when least it should. The first essay in the volume, Fred Botting's "Reading Machines", explores the unsettling history of the interchange between the mechanical and the human in Gothic writing. For Botting, the uncanny locus of this interchange is technology. The word's Greek root takes us back to the human scale, to "art", even as its modern sense involves the dizzying prestidigations of mechanical reproduction. The modern uncanny, that is to say, the Gothic, turns on the perception of the human in the mechanical, and the mechanical in the human. Sophie Thomas's "Making Visible: The Diorama, the Double, and the (Gothic) Subject" extends Botting's focus into the realm of Romantic-era visual technology. The Diorama succeeded the Phantasmagoria and Panorama as the period's most popular, "high-tech" spectacle. As Thomas shows, the Gothic endured as a subject-matter, albeit refocused from Radcliffe's terrors to the architectural or natural sublime. But like Botting Thomas argues that the Diorama's real power to disturb derives, not from the terrors depicted, but from its uncanny technology: "Perhaps in this the Diorama doesn't simply respond to, or capitalize on, the popularity of Gothic forms, but creates a space with a view (so to speak) to mastering or capturing the abject remainders of the counterfeit's ghostly productions" [link to Thomas]. In "Smoke and Mirrors: Internalizing The Magic Lantern Show in Villette," Diane Hoeveler examines yet another shunt in the constant interchange between visual technologies and the novel during the period. Radcliffe inspires the subject-matter of Robertson's "fantasmagorie", which is, in its turn, internalized in Charlotte Brontë's Vilette. As already mentioned, in "Haunted Br itain in the 1790s," Angela Wright probes the special animus critics invested in the term "mechanical", with regards to the Gothic (even as they themselves reproduced the Gothic's mechanical formulas) while Dale Townshend concludes the volume, in "Gothic Visions, Romantic Acoustics," by teasing out aspects of Wordsworth's development of an auditory aesthetic, as a means of overcoming the despotism of the eye.
The essays that follow are in reverse chronological order. We begin with Botting, whose approach looks to the present, and work back through the early Victorian period, via the essays of Thomas and Hoeveler, to the Romantic investigations of Wright and Townshend. The first three contributions cross-refer to the concerns triangulated by the work of Hogle, Castle and Crary, and as such help frame the last two. The organising premise of this field is that the rise of visual technology during the Romantic era impacted on modern subjectivity in ways that are still very much with us. Randy Newman's comic dystopia of a nation of stupefied television addicts certainly has direct connections with the fears expressed by Wordsworth and Coleridge. One could say that such fears are the least of it. The papers in this volume set out to articulate what something more might mean as registered in the troubled relationship between Romantic Gothicism and technology.
1 St. Leon's story roughly maps onto the Cagliostro myth: a wandering immortal forced to move on by the suspicions created by the philanthropic exercise of his arcane arts until arrested by the Inquisition.