Justin D Edwards (ed.), Technologies of the Gothic in Literature and Culture: Technogothics (London: Routledge 2015) 198 pp. Hb £90. ISBN: 978-1-138-79719-2
Technologies of the Gothic in Literature and Culture is a bold new attempt to answer questions of how the Gothic has evolved to manifest itself within multiple technologies and various media. In its own words, the text sets out to ‘explore how Gothic technologies textualise identities and construct communities’ (16) through collection of thirteen essays covering a wide spectrum of gothic technologies from the uncanny nature of modern animation to PopCap’s wildly successful game Plants vs. Zombies.
Justin D. Edwards begins his introduction with an in depth description of the 1954 monster movie Godzilla and its embodiment of ‘the 1950s public outrage against nuclear technology’ (1). Edwards’ expertise on the Gothic obviously extends beyond literature to include film and contemporary culture, an interdisciplinary emphasis continued in the rest of the collection, and one which makes Technologies of the Gothic a compelling contribution to the field. Edwards’ introduction examines nineteenth-century Gothic texts that critique technology, such as Shelley’s Frankenstein and Hawthorne’s 'The Birthmark', before moving onto a critique of modern technology as potentially responsible ifor ‘the loss of the human’ (6). It is a discussion that will resonate with the modern reader, and paves the way for subsequent chapters.
The first essay, Fred Botting’s 'Technospectrality: Essay on Uncannimedia', is among the more complex in its attempt to discuss the relationship between technology and the uncanny. Technospectrality is a term used by Botting to illustrate how technology paradoxically exacerbates the uncanny and spectrality. According to the principles of technospectrality, mankind is ‘looking backwards and hurrying forwards’ (18). We view photographs, videogames and film as something uncanny because they unconsciously remind us of our own mortality. Botting cites the uncanny as ‘a modern invention’, claiming that videogames and CG animation ‘[render] identity no more than phantasmatic electronic flickering’ (18). The argument of Botting’s challenging contribution occupies a higher level of abstraction than many of the other chapters.
Among the highlights of Technologies of the Gothic is Joseph Crawford’s 'Gothic Fiction and the Evolution of Media Technology'. This chapter outlines parallels between the perceived corrupting influence of Gothic fiction in previous centuries, and mass media in this century, particularly on the young. In addition, it emphasizes the power of mass culture to propagate new Gothic figures such as the Slender Man; a fictional paranormal figure born from an online photo editing competition that has since spawned a cult fanbase, as well as films and video games. Crawford’s absorbing discussion of the Slender Man phenomenon will no doubt strike a chord with readers who are already familiar with the Internet’s efficacy at spawning the memes of a new mythology. Crawford adroitly leads the reader through an account of the Slender Man’s origin to a discussion of how the ‘faceless figure in black’ (43) is at the forefront of a form of modern Gothic fiction that keeps proliferating by fluidly moving from one medium to another. In this way, technology has been responsible for a new efflorescence of Gothic that captivates the current generation in the same way Gothic fiction captivated previous generations one or two centuries ago; a phenomenon that Crawford’s contribution illustrates extremely well.
Another notable chapter, contributed by Kelly Gardner, is 'Braaiinnsss!: Zombie Technology, Play and Sound'. Gardner sets out to explore ‘the role of sound and its effects on immersion and engagement’ (71) in the survival horror video game; particularly zombie themed games. In particular, Gardner is interested in how the figure of the zombie ‘above all Gothic monsters, is capable of instilling fear in the player with just a single sound’ (71). Gardner’s discussion of four zombie-themed video games – Plants vs Zombies, The Walking Dead: Assault, The Walking Dead, and Zombies, Run! – provides a comprehensive overview of the mechanics involved in each game and how each uses music and sound, or alternatively a lack of music and plenty of sound, to immerse the player further into the narrative world of the game whilst enhancing the feelings of dread and terror they may experience. Gardner effectively argues that sound design, particularly in video games, is more important and more impactful than visuals because a ‘wall of sound’ (75) is created fully to disengage the player from external stimuli. 'Zombie Technology, Play and Sound' is intriguing because it manages to point out what should be obvious to any video gamer, but does so in a way that makes the subject matter seem revelatory. It takes a relatively simple concept – video game sound design – and examines it through an academic lens. The result of this is an intelligently argued piece that pays homage to a highly popular contemporary genre without patronising those who are already familiar with the zombie video game. Gardner’s essay is not the only one in the book to address the zombie genre. Roger Luckhurst, in 'Biomedical Horror: The New Death and the New Undead', discusses how the modern Gothic – including films such as Resident Evil and Night of the Living Dead – has blurred the scientific boundaries between life and death.
'Eerie Technologies and Gothic Acoustemology', written by the book’s editor Justin D. Edwards, explores ‘how auditory perceptions open up the possibilities of other knowledges’ (48) using a discussion of Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet and Roald Dahl’s ‘The Sound Machine’. The auditory Gothic is also the subject of Charlie Blake and Isabella Van Elferen’s collaboration 'Sonic Media and Spectral Loops', an exploration of the spectral nature of technologically based music such as the output of Kraftwerk and the dubstep genre, examining how recorded music effectively ‘haunts’ the listener.
Sara Wasson’s contribution, 'Recalcitrant Tissue: Cadaveric Organ Transplant and the Struggle for Narrative Control', argues that contemporary Gothic narratives ‘dwell on the strangeness of the [organ] transfer process and ultimately show tissue recipients suffering narrative crisis’ (99). Tapping a similar vein, 'George Best’s Dead Livers: Transplanting the Gothic into Biotechnology and Medicine' by Barry Murnane cites George Best as ‘an example of how modern medicine can blur the border between life and death’ (113), and examines how the Gothic has effectively become ‘a standard component of modern medicine’ (113). Rune Grauland’s 'Nanodead: The Technologies of Death in Ian McDonald’s Necroville' analyses the use of nanotechnology in McDonald’s Gothic sci-fi novel and argues that – due to its application as an enhancer of the human body – ‘nanotechnology will change our lives because it will change life itself’ (127).
The representation of physical monstrosity in the Gothic genre is examined by Alan Gregory in 'Staging the Extraordinary Body: Masquerading Disability in Patrick McGrath’s Martha Peake'. Gregory explores McGrath’s work as upholding the Gothic tradition of ‘psychological and physical difference as a source of horror’ (140). Staying with the theme of the macabre within the Gothic, 'Text as Gothic Murder Machine: The Cannibalism of Sawney Bean and Sweeney Todd' by Maisha Wester attempts to answer the question of why disturbing tales such as that of Sweeney Todd ‘continue to haunt British and American culture well beyond the periods of their first appearance’ (154). Maisha proposes that such Gothic tales are ‘machines’ that perpetually reincarnate themselves through various adaptations such as film and theatre thanks to their morbid appeal in contemporary culture.
Addressing the modern Gothic phenomenon of steampunk, Linnie Blake’s 'Neoliberal Adventures in Neo-Victorian Politics: Mark Hodder’s Burton and Swinburne Novels' examines three novels in this genre (Mark Hodder’s The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, and Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon) and discusses their representation of neoliberalism and Victorian style values as mankind's future. The final essay of the book, 'Language Will Eat Your Brain' by Peter Schwenger discusses the notion of ‘language as a parasite’ (179) rather than an intellectual benefit with an examination of the 2008 film Pontypool, wherein a language plague transforms a small Canadian town into ‘zombie-like mobs’ (181).
Overall, Technologies of the Gothic is successful in what it sets out to do; to examine how the Gothic has not only managed to survive but has flourished in today’s technology-driven world and how new forms of the Gothic continue the tradition of the genre in an innovative and contemporary setting. The connecting argument that links these essays into a cohesive whole seems to be that the Gothic in a technological age is shaping new cultures, manifesting itself in a variety of media outside literature (including social media and medicine), with the result that study of the Gothic has evolved from the exploration of the archaic to analysis of the futuristic. Each contribution brings somethings fresh to the discussion and – although not every chapter is an easy read – the astute combination of contemporary genres and academic analyses will attract a wide range of readers.
Caroline King, University of Hertfordshire