Losing My Wings

What is the Gothic?

The term "Gothic" is used to describe a number of culturally different but formally related artifacts. We will cover two of these: Gothic art and architecture and Gothic literature.

Firstly, "the Gothic" is considered a period of style in the history of European art.The Gothic period is thought to have existed between the 12th and 16th Century and is characterized by its use in cathedrals. These cathedrals are especially known for the airy and open quality and their vaulted ceilings that appeared to reach into the heavens. These qualities were the product of the combination of architectural elements to create a specific look. These elements include the use of cross-ribbed vaults, the adoption slender piers instead of massive columns, and the use of external flying buttresses that helped to redistribute the weight of the building.These open space could now feature realistic looking statuary, a proliferation of pointed arches, and the inclusion of large stained-glass windows, such as the rose windows of Chartres Cathedral.
Secondly, the "gothic" is considered a genre of fiction, noted for its fascination with horror and its exploration of morbid themes, such as the difference between life and death. In its earliest incarnation it even placed its stories in medieval worlds, much like those that produced Gothic cathedrals. The fiction is especially known for exploring a world of feeling that existed beyond enlightenment principles. The tone was often dark and the events were ordered through supernatural relationships. Some of the most famous Gothic novels would be Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (1818), much of the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson's, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). Gothic fiction also proliferated during the period of pulp publishing and was a featured style in much early and contemporary comics. The illustration on the right is of the frontispiece of and 1831 edition of Frankenstein. Notice the bones and skulls under Dr. Frankenstein's creation and on his bookshelf, the occult symbols on the wall, and the medieval inspired pointed arch window in the background.
The art critic Wilhelm Worringer’s famous 1927 analysis of Gothic art in his book, Form in Gothic, provides a way to think about why the formal qualities of Gothic art and architecture are often linked to the qualities of Gothic literature. The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze famously used Worringer’s analysis to talk about the vitality of the inorganic, in his book on the art of Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation.  Even more recently, the cultural critic, Mark Fisher, in his posthumously published, Flatline Constructs: Gothic Materialism and Cybernetic Theory-Fiction, twists Deleuze’s analysis of the Gothic to explore how electronic literature annuls the distinction between life and death. We will work through some of Worringer’s (and others) ideas on how form and affect link to help us re-think how contemporary biology has its own form of gothic appeal.
First let’s look at Worringer’s analysis in detail to see why a few of his ideas seem to keep coming back to life.

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