Æstheticising the Impossible: the Strange Case of the Gothic and 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.
E Aldiss, Brian, Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction, New York, Doubleday, 1973.
Baldick, Chris, In Frankenstein Shadow: Myth, Monstruosity and Nienteenth Century Writing, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1987.
Botting, Fred, Making Monstrous: Frankenstein, Criticism, Theory, Manchester UP, 1991.
Brantlinger Patrick, “The Gothic Origins of Science Fiction”, in Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 14, No. 1, Duke University Press, 1980.
Capoferro, Riccardo, Empirical Wonder: Historicizing the Fantastic, 1660–1760, Bern, Peter Lang, 2010.
Fisch, A., Anne K. Mellor and Esther H. Schor (ed.), The Other Mary Shelley, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Foucault, Michel, Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974-1975, trans. Graham Burchell, New York: Picador, 2003.
Fludernik, Monica, Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology, London and New York, Routledge, 1996.
Gatti, Hillary, The Renaissance Drama of Knowledge. Giordano Bruno in England, London and New York, Routledge, 1989.
Geary, Robert F., The Supernatural in Gothic Fiction. Horror, Belief, and Literary Change, Lewiston (New York), Edwin Mellen Press, 1992.
Godwin, William, St.Leon, A Story of the Sixteenth Century (1799), Peterborough (Ont.), Broadview Press 2006.
Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. by L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford), Clarendon Press, 1888.
James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (1902), London and New York, Routledge, 2002.
Jan van Leeuwen, Evert, Romantic Alchemists: dissident androgyny in Anglo-American gothic fiction from Godwin to Melville. Lewiston (New York), Edwin Mellen Press, 2011.
MacArthur, Sian, Gothic Science Fiction, London, Palgrave MacMillan, 2015.
Markman, Ellis, “Fictions of science in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein”, in Sydney Studies in English, Vol. 25, 1999: 27–46.
McKeon, Michael, The Origins of The English Novel, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins, 1987.
Orlando, Francesco, “Forms of the Supernatural in Narrative” in Franco Moretti (ed.), The Novel, Princeton University Press, 2007.
Ortega y Gasset, José, Meditations on Quixote (1914), New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1965.
Pavel, Thomas, Fictional Worlds, Harvard University Press, 1986.
Perazzini, Federica, Il Gotico @ Distanza, Nuove prospettive per lo studio dei generi letterari, Roma, Nuova Cultura, 2013.
Philmus, Robert, Into the Unknown: the evolution of Science Fiction From Francis Godwin to H.G. Wells, Berkley: University of California Press, 1970.
Punter, David, The Literature of Terror. Volume 1: The Gothic Tradition, London and New York, Routledge, 1980.
Scholes, Robert, Structural Fabulation: An Essay on Fiction of the Future, University of Notre Dame, 1975.
Schummer, Joachim, “Historical Roots of the Mad Scientist: Chemists in Nineteenth-century Literature” in Ambix, 53.2, 2006: 99–127.
Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus (1818), London, Penguin Classics,1992.
Shelley, Mary, The Last Man (1826), Peterborough (Ont.), Broadview Press, 1996.
Suvin, Darko, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre, Yale University Press, 1977.
Sweene, Michelle, Magic in Medieval Romance from Chrétien de Troyes to Geoffrey Chaucer, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2000.
Thomas, Keith, Religion and the Decline of Magic, Trowbridge and London, Redwood Press, 1971.
Todorov, Tzvetan, The Fantastic, A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, Cornell University Press, 1975.
You are free to copy, distribute and transmit the work, and to adapt the work. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).