Æstheticising the Impossible: the Strange Case of the Gothic and Science Fiction

  • Federica Perazzini Sapienza, University of Rome
Keywords: Literature of Fantastic, Enlightenment Culture, Gothic Novel, Science Fiction


In the history of human creativity, the act of imagining the impossible has always been at the core of the physical and metaphysical perception of the unknown. The scholarly debate regarding the nature of the impossible gained particular relevance in the context of British Enlightenment when the expanding sciences, along with literature, attempted to provide empirical validation to inexplicable and supernatural phenomena. In this way, the discrepancies between the overlapping ontologies of the Age of Faith and the Age of Reason became apparent as the ancestral literary practice of the fantastic merged with the rising genre of the novel. The assimilation of the conventional tropes of supernatural literature within the narrative frame of formal realism led to the development of two fortunate sub-genres: the Gothic and Science Fiction. The former evolved around the mutual disruption of the empirically-based conception of reality and the transgression of the moral code implied in the construction of civic order. The latter derived from the relocation of specific gothic features into a larger dimension of social anxiety concerning the abuses of reason concealed as a path towards common good and future progress.

By exploring the evolution of the gothic imagery and its dissolution into the narrative horizon of Science Fiction, this article will trace the early modern roots of the dialogue between science and literature in the human quest for the impossible. The thesis that Gothic and Science Fiction are historically interdependent will be reviewed in light of the common matrix of fear and desire which characterises their ideological function.


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Author Biography

Federica Perazzini, Sapienza, University of Rome
Federica Perazzini is a PhD in English Literature at University of Rome Sapienza where she currently teaches English Literature and Culture. Awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 2011, she was visiting researcher at Stanford University where she joined Franco Moretti’s research group at the Literary Lab. Her main research interests involve the application of computational tools to the study of literary genres and cultural discourse analysis. Her pioneering dissertation, published in two volumes in 2013, is an example of computational criticism applied to the case study of the English gothic novel. Her latest research projects include the computational analysis of the emergence of modern subjectivity in the Long 18th Century (La Cifra del Moderno, 2019 and Figures of canonicity, 2019) and the publication of a study on the intersections between English fashion and literature titled Fashion Keywords (2017).


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How to Cite
Perazzini, F. (2019). Æstheticising the Impossible: the Strange Case of the Gothic and Science Fiction. Between, 9(17). https://doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/3607