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Postmodern American Gothic: The politics of fear in the works of Thomas Pynchon, David Lynch, and Steve Erickson

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Brett Paice
Abstract:
Whereas the Gothic traditionally relied upon supernatural figures of evil (vampires, ghosts, monsters) to produce the sensation of fear or terror, contemporary manifestations of the Gothic repudiate such abstracted constructions, favoring, instead, metonymical and everyday representations of terror. In this project, I argue that the works of artists Thomas Pynchon, David Lynch, and Steve Erickson signify, what I term, the postmodern American Gothic, through their production of a symbolic economy of fear, paranoia, and dread. I contend that these artists' works represent narrative critiques of the United States' culture of consumption and history of imperialism dating back to the myth of Manifest Destiny. Moreover, these artists' historiographic narratives rigorously complicate traditional conceptions of gender, sexuality, race, nationhood, and colonialism as aspects of American history. Deconstructing the tropic elements of the gothic genre distinguishes these artists' creation of a gothic aesthetic that privileges the lived horrors of historical record (slavery, the Holocaust, imperial modernity, oppression engendered through male-centered master narratives) over the metaphorical monsters of the traditional Gothic narrative that represent actual cultural anxieties over lived social conditions. In its contemporary form, the Gothic challenges the very real institutions and social practices that systematize oppression, enable cultural alienation, and deny individual subjectivities. By revisiting actual horrifying events and their impact on human life, Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson establish the irreducibility of social and historical trauma. In this examination, I comprehensively track Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson's respective deployments of Gothic themes and tropes, illustrating the political significance of their creations. Moreover, my project broadens the understanding of these artists' works, as well as those artists whose works employ similar techniques. The scholarly attention paid to manifestations of postmodern paranoia elicits a powerful connection to the horror invoked in the Gothic texts. Considering the profound urgency that differing conceptions of "terror" represent in a post-9/11 world, I believe that understanding representations of terror in contemporary artistic practice is vital to reassessing the Gothic genre, from its origins in the 18 th century to the present, as defined by its politics of transgression.

CONTENTS Acknowledgments...............................................................................................................................iv Introduction..........................................................................................................................................1 Chapter 1: Witnessing the Kingdom of Death: Visions of Horror in the Works of Thomas Pynchon..................................................................................................................20 1.1. Adventurers and Scientists: Historical Hauntings in Mason & Dixon and Against the Day........................................................................................................26 1.2. V. and Gravity’s Rainbow............................................................................................52 1.3. The Crying of Lot 49 and Vineland............................................................................74 Chapter 2: ‘Now It’s Dark’: Staging Terror in the Films of David Lynch.................................86 2.1. History............................................................................................................................91 2.2. Eraserhead and The Elephant Man: Marginal(ized) Monsters...............................94 2.3. Blue Velvet: Now It’s Dark......................................................................................104 2.4. Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me: Corrupting the Local............................................................................................................................110 2.5. Wild At Heart: And Weird On Top........................................................................135 2.6. Lost Highway (1996): Dick Laurent is Dead..........................................................142 2.7. Mulholland Drive (2001): Silencio...........................................................................150 2.8. “It’s Like the Babies Were Hiding”: INLAND EMPIRE (2006).......................156 2.9. Conclusions.................................................................................................................172 Chapter 3: Prophecies of the Apocalypse: Steve Erickson’s Nocturnal America.................176 3.1. Erickson’s Los Angeles.............................................................................................180 3.2. Days Between Stations..............................................................................................184 3.3. Rubicon Beach............................................................................................................193 3.4. Tours of the Black Clock (1989)..............................................................................200 3.5. Arc D’X (1993)...........................................................................................................208 3.6. The Sea Came In At Midnight (2000) and Our Ecstatic Days (2005).........................226 Bibliography.....................................................................................................................................239

iv

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS By creating this document, I set out to establish a foothold in the academic research community. My lofty goals were to enrich the existing scholarship in the Gothic, the postmodern, and the artists whose work I would be examining. I hope, now that the work is complete (or relatively so), that I have accomplished these initial objectives. More importantly, however, this document has come to signify more than just an accumulation of my critical findings – it represents a process by which I have learned to depend upon others for their support, vision, criticism, kindness, and love. No project is ever undertaken entirely alone, and I owe much of this work’s completion to those who consistently offered me advice, praise, and, when necessary, distraction. Among those I feel compelled to list by way of acknowledgment, are the following: My director, Jim Collins, whose practiced, revising eye allowed me to find my voice; my committee for their friendly support of my endeavors; my family, whose love has directed me in all things; my own family, Veronica and Frank, whose daily gifts of love and companionship maintain me; my oldest friend, Travis Kostell, who shared and continues to share his diligent study and passion for David Lynch’s cinema and B-horror flicks; and (because I can), David Bowie, whose music was the constant soundtrack during the creation of this project.

1 INTRODUCTION Terror operates at the most primal level of consciousness. Julia Kristeva describes the disruptive capacity of fear where she writes: “phobia bears the marks of the frailty of the subject’s signifying system”(Powers of Horror 35). The Gothic, as an aesthetic and creative mode, has historically utilized terror as a method of expression, capitalizing on the visceral urgency of fear to communicate the breakdown of meaning, the limits of signification. Critics Judith Halberstam, Valdine Clemens, and Fred Botting hold that the Gothic, as a genre or historically specific literary culture, is defined as a narrative form designed to produce fear. I concur with their assessment, but interpret the Gothic as constituting a more specific political function. I base my reading on an observation made by Eve Sedgwick in her description of the Gothic. Sedgwick interprets the Gothic itself as a return of repressed cultural material, using the trope of live burial to establish the Gothic’s ideological subtext, “a carceral sublime of representation, of the body, and potentially of politics and history as well”(Coherence vi). I take Sedgwick’s suggestion of the Gothic’s potentially sublimated representation of political and historical material as my dissertation’s launching point. Gothic, within my analysis, therefore may be defined as the rhetorical mode and narrative strategies created to produce fear derived from existing culturally-motivated anxieties. The Gothic feeds upon its audience’s ready reserve of dread and desire, compelling them to acknowledge that which has been forcibly cast out of consciousness. This drive to terrify, more than simply acting as an end, in and of itself, also engenders political discourse on race,

2 gender, sexual desire, and nation, transforming the tension attending these categories into fictional monsters and ghosts, distinguishing cultural aberrance, alienation, and perversity through a symbolic economy of fear. While I do not interpret the Gothic as fixed within a particular historical period, I do argue that the generation of terror in Gothic works is historically and geographically contingent, rather than relying on universal narrative strategies and tropes. The central project of this dissertation will be to articulate how the Gothic operates within postmodern American works, specifically, as a mode of cultural critique. I will show how these three terms – postmodern, American, and Gothic – work in conjunction to form a distinct aesthetic. By channeling the overwhelming power of the monstrous, or rather the power to construct monstrosity, the artists examined here – novelists Thomas Pynchon and Steve Erickson and filmmaker David Lynch – employ the abject and the excessive to figuratively transmute their own political oppositions into dramatic forms of imagined horror. In this dissertation, I will show how these American artists’ works stand at the intersection of the postmodern and the Gothic – two separate, but not mutually exclusive theoretical paradigms. Specifically, I argue that the Gothic affords postmodern works another strategy for representing Otherness, a chief concern of postmodern art’s representation of marginalized and liminal voices. In turn, I will demonstrate how the Gothic, as it has been historically construed, changes through its representation in postmodern works, by showing how postmodern works interrogate the very process by which monstrosity is constructed within the works just as they question the process by which narrative is made possible. For Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson, the real world terrors of war, slavery, colonialism, corporate corruption, the Hollywood industry, and sexual violence ground the horror of their narratives. These artists employ Gothic themes and narrative strategies deliberately to

3 transform their political outrage into fictionalized terror, giving voice to passionate social criticism by representing imagined worlds and lives plunged into depravity, perversion, and violence. Allan Lloyd-Smith argues that the postmodern shares several crucial concerns with the Gothic where he cites the postmodern’s “populist tendency, its lurid, low-rent sensationalism and exploitation of affect, its opening up of tabooed realms [. . .] its embrace of the fragmentary” and its “use of paranoia”(“Postmodernism/Gothicism” 15). Smith identifies several key shared narrative elements that this examination will explore within these artists’ works, such as the use of degraded cultural forms and aesthetics, from pornography to comic books, the fragmentation of language and narrative, and the production of paranoia, dread, and horror. Glennis Byron and David Punter also note the territories shared by the Gothic and postmodern: What we find in the numerous conjunctions of Gothic and postmodern is a certain sliding of location, a series of transfers and translocations from one place to another, so that our sense of the stability of the map is – as indeed it has been since the first fantasy of a Gothic castle (q.v.) – forever under siege, guaranteed to us only by manuscripts whose own provenance and completeness are deeply uncertain.(The Gothic 51) Byron and Punter identify the preoccupations with textuality and fraught notions of authority and authenticity that persist within both the Gothic and postmodern. My analysis will expand those categories introduced by Lloyd-Smith, Byron, and Punter, identifying more points of critical intersection between the postmodern and the Gothic to examine their shared reliance on narrative abstraction and the limits of signification, their repudiation of Enlightenment rationalism and grand ideological narratives, and their privileging of subaltern counternarratives.

4 My interpretation of the postmodern American Gothic relies upon the Gothic’s history as a genre reliant upon the creative expression of dissidence. Since its origins in the eighteenth century, the Gothic’s representations of abject violence and corruption have signified political assaults on dominant ideological narratives, as during its challenge to Augustanism, a conservative set of principles that prevailed during the eighteenth century, which according to David Punter, coupled a reliance on absolute rationality and “a small cultural elite holding on to power and status” through their determination of that which was socially proper and culturally significant (28). The Gothic’s vilification of the nobility and the clergy, as in such classic Gothic works as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, signaled a rejection of order and hierarchical power systems, always privileging themes of sexual violence, abjection, and excess. Gothic fiction of the eighteenth and nineteenth century directly linked the monster – Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, Mr. Hyde – to cultural anxieties about race, class, gender, and sexuality. The monsters of Gothic fiction are unnatural constructions of otherness that expose the monstrosity of cultural power systems designed to oppress, exclude, and marginalize. With the postmodern Gothic, the terms of horror are flattened essentially, or made less fantastic as “normal monstrosities” supplant “monstrous monstrosities” (Derrida, Points, 380). In this dissertation, I will show how the horrors of the everyday are made monstrous in the works of Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson and, rather than simply transforming populist fears into supernatural monsters like those of classic Gothic fiction, these artists initiate far more quotidian forms of monstrosity that self-reflexively reveal the dark side of American identity. In Against the Day, Pynchon allegorizes the 9/11 attacks by creating a monster that decimates the New York skyline, but like terrorism itself, Pynchon’s monster is faceless and disembodied, evacuated of the dramatic visual qualities that define similar horrible creatures

5 like King Kong or Godzilla. For Lynch, the corporate businessmen that ruthlessly dictate the terms of Hollywood film production become the sinister and demonic forces that stalk his imagined worlds, exploiting women in a fashion reminiscent of common prostitution. Erickson transforms the menace of National Socialism into the conglomerate power systems that govern American commerce. In each case, these artists fashion their monsters from the ready-at-hand or the immediate rather than enacting an elaborate or supernatural transmigration. Defining the postmodern has long been the subject of much scholarly debate. Paul Maltby describes the terms of the debate concisely, stating that the postmodern can signify “a mutation in artistic practice, an epistemic shift in western thought, and an epochal transition to a new cultural order. It is an enormously pretentious concept, and yet its very pretensions provoke thoughts about cultural change. [. . .] proving to be ideal ground for a multidisciplinary approach to cultural studies”(3). Maltby articulates the postmodern’s contested character, but identifies how this resistance to definition translates to the production of critical discourse on cultural phenomena. For the purposes of this dissertation, I assert the progressive potential inherent to postmodernism and rely most heavily upon Linda Hutcheon’s theorization of the postmodern. Hutcheon asserts: “Postmodernism teaches that all cultural practices have an ideological subtext which determines the conditions of the very possibility of their production of meaning”(Poetics xii, xiii). For Hutcheon, postmodern culture, for all its inherent contradictions, signifies a questioning from within, constantly holding up to the light all of those notions that were once thought to be “natural” or “unproblematically common-sensical” like History, individual and communal identity, and the relation of language to its referents or texts to other texts (ibid). The postmodern artists examined here utilize Gothic themes and imagery,

6 implicating an ideological subtext founded upon cultural fears that disrupt the process of meaning-making within their narratives. A crucial aspect of the postmodern that provides a salient link to the Gothic is its privileging of subaltern, disenfranchised, and marginalized voices, rather than reproducing or echoing the dominant ideology. Similarly, the Gothic derives many of its themes and narrative strategies from representations of the culturally abject or unassimilable. David Punter describes the contemporary Gothic in terms that apply to Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson: “the ghost is already in the machine, there would be no machine without a ghost, and the question of quite whose powers – or perhaps one should say powers of what – technology is extending remains central to our imaginings and our fears”(Spectral Readings 3). Within postmodern Gothic texts, the subaltern voices are similarly privileged, but the dominant ideology is made monstrous, reversing the terms of the abject by attacking the process of alienation and disenfranchisement that subtends the ascendancy of a dominant group and their supporting ideology. Just as Matthew Lewis’ Monk, a representative of the dominant religious power structure of the day, represents the basest, criminal behavior, so do we see the origins of American democracy upended in Steve Erickson’s rendering of Thomas Jefferson as a sadistic rapist. Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson initiate fictional worlds dominated by a continual staging of transgression and disruption of ontological boundaries. For each of these artists, narrative space represents a distinctly conceptual medium of representation, a staging ground where postmodern uncertainty and fragmentation are made abhorrent and terrifying. Moreover, Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson continually depict narratives journeys – spatially, psychically, and temporally – privileging the transitory and liminal over the static or defined. Steve Erickson’s nonfiction work, American Nomad, captures in its title the spirit of all three

7 of these artists’ works, as they continually traverse America – as a national space and concept – as a part of their project, always denaturalizing and distorting the image of America as a means for exposing its inherent paradoxes and contradictions. Their strategies of antirealism often generate an uncanny effect, announcing worlds whose initial appearance approach our own, but whose radical divergence destabilize the social and ideological moorings that structure everyday reality. Lee Spinks describes the theoretical reasoning behind Erickson’s notion of the “American Nomad,” a concept whose critical distancing via subaltern counternarratives of nation and history aligns it heavily with the postmodern: “Meanwhile the paradoxical structure of American identity is implicit in the title “American Nomad,” itself, which comes to suggest that to be an American nomad and stand outside the body politic is, in the age of mass disaffection with the political process, what it means to be American for the vast majority of Erickson’s compatriots”(223). Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson are American Nomads, critiquing the American nation by invoking its ghosts and monsters, occasionally, making America itself the monster. When David Lynch takes the tragedy of a small town American girl’s murder and refracts this narrative through the banal modes of the television melodrama and detective shows, he inserts a phantasmagoric space, the Black Lodge, where a dream-logic governs all action and libidinal energies dictate the rules of social interaction. Thomas Pynchon attacks American imperialism by way of an allegorical narrative of colonialism in Africa, initiating a temporal non-space like that of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”, a besieged estate, where orgiastic murders and abject displays of torture supplant common human interactions. Steve Erickson transmutes the urban sprawl of Los Angeles into an American limbo of the west, where the nightmares of history prevail. In each case, no reality is without its infernal doppelganger, like a postcard in negative.

8 The uncanny is a key concept that grounds an understanding of Gothic fiction. The uncanny moment in Gothic literature has historically relied upon a return of repressed material. This repression manifests itself within the world of the text in various ways. Valdine Clemens describes the uncanny succinctly in her The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from The Castle of Otranto to Alien, including a distinction between Freud’s conception of the unheimlich and Jung’s notion of repression: This “return of the repressed,” or emergence of whatever has been previously rejected by consciousness, is a fundamental dynamism of Gothic narratives. Something – some entity, knowledge, emotion, or feeling – which has been submerged or held at bay because it threatens the established order of things, develops a cumulative energy that demands its release and forces it to the real of visibility where it must be acknowledged. This approach and the appearance of the repressed create an aura of menace and “uncanniness,” both in Freud’s sense of the “unheimlich” – something that becomes apparent although one feels it “ought” to remain hidden (17: 224, 241) – and in the Jungian sense of something possessing an awesome or transpersonal, numinous quality.(3-4) The uncanny relies upon this overwhelming sense that something terrible has been released from its confines, like some monstrous and irruptive birth, leaving the narrative ineluctably altered. Often, the uncanny accompanies the presence of a doppelganger because the doubling signals differences that illustrate hidden qualities of the original. Homi Bhabha establishes a link between Freud’s original notion of the unheimlich (which Bhabha translates as “unhomely” rather than “uncanny”) and political critique: If, for Freud, the unheimlich is ‘the name for everything that ought to have remained . . . secret and hidden but has come to light,’ then Hannah Arendt’s description of the public and private realms is a profoundly unhomely one: ‘it is the distinction between things that should be hidden and things that should be shown,’ she writes, which through their inversion in the modern age ‘discovers how rich and manifold the hidden can be under conditions of intimacy.’(Location of Culture 10) Bhabha’s articulation of this connection between the Freud’s uncanny and Arendt’s public/private distinction illustrates how the Gothic’s iteration of the uncanny as a narrative

9 strategy generates the potential for political critique. By bringing to light that which has been purposely hidden, suppressed, marginalized, or silenced, the uncanny promises to reveal the secreted histories and lost memories that subtend systems of power, cultural and national. Critics consistently describe postmodern art as characterized by a radical superficiality, rather than the Modernist psychic depth (e.g. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway or James Joyce’s Ulysses). Explaining Thomas Pynchon’s postmodern artifice in Postmodern Sublime: Technology and American Writing from Mailer to Cyberpunk, Joseph Tabbi describes the fictional spaces of postmodernity: “they turn out to be mere surface projections from the mind’s arbitrary center which the paranoid would mistake for reality”(77). Tabbi identifies two critical elements of postmodern narrative that demonstrate a crucial link to the Gothic: an aesthetic preoccupation with surfaces and a prevalence of works concerned with the paranoid or deranged mind. Edgar Allan Poe’s House of Usher represents, in its actual façade, Roderick Usher’s psychic turmoil, just as Pynchon’s Zone of Gravity’s Rainbow expresses the global uncertainty posed by the chaos unleashed in World War II as well as the social implosion initiated by the War, leaving only a non-space of displaced desire and criminality. In both cases, the surfaces of these fictional spaces suggest sensual experience and primal impulses, while maintaining a level of psychic unknowability that instigates a tenor of menace or doom. Lynch’s creation of paranoia via the use of technological invasion in Lost Highway as the main character is clandestinely filmed in his own home approaches the terrifying paranoia depicted in Jonathan Harker’s journals as he increasingly senses his impending demise at the hands of Dracula and his brides. In each instance, the use of representational technology – for Lynch a video camera, for Stoker Harker’s journal – lend greater authority and intimacy to the paranoia, effectively translating the characters’ paranoia into the reader’s/viewer’s experience of narrative suspense.

10 One of the distinguishing features of the postmodern is a certain degree of self- reflexivity. Linda Hutcheon describes the effect of this self-reflexivity: “[. . .] the formal and thematic contradictions of postmodern art and theory [. . .] call attention to both what is being contested and what is being offered as a critical response to that, and to do so in a self- aware way that admits its own provisionality. In Barthesian terms [. . .], it is criticism which would include in its own discourse an implicit (or explicit) reflection upon itself”(Poetics of Postmodernism 13). David Lynch’s works demonstrate elements of the self-awareness that Hutcheon notes, and he often uses moments of artistic self-reflection to create a peculiar sensation of surreality. For example, Mr Roque, the powerful and nefarious Hollywood mogul from Mulholland Drive whom we only see in his lowly-lit, sparsely-furnished and cavernous office, is played by Michael J. Anderson, the actor who played the infamous Little Man from Another Place in the Black Lodge sequences of Lynch’s series Twin Peaks. Anderson’s very appearance distinctly directs the knowledgeable Lynch viewer’s attention back to his iconic role and the strange dreamworld of the Black Lodge where he danced and spoke in an eerie backwards pattern. What makes Anderson’s reappearance so self-reflexive and alienating is Lynch’s decision to add prosthetic limbs to Anderson’s body, simulating the illusion that Anderson, a little person in actuality and in Twin Peaks, is a fully-grown man in a wheelchair. This inexplicable but noticeable strategy creates a sense of the artificiality and constructedness of Mr. Roque, very literally a man pieced together, a cinematic construction. Ultimately, this self-reflexive gesture proves unsettling, as his threatening and unexplained pronouncements within the film mirror his corporeal ambiguities. In The Location of Culture, Homi Bhabha acknowledges the postmodern tendency towards hybridity, rather than favoring any notion of purity or absolute authority, as a source of critical legitimacy. Considering the ways in which postmodernism blends instances of

11 high and low culture, art and commercialism, and various media, Bhabha’s claim lends greater political import to the aesthetic by esteeming hybridity as a social model, suggesting the cultural hybridity needed for launching a historical counternarrative. Just as Bhabha asserts postmodernism’s hybridity as a mode of political expression, so does the current analysis posit the postmodern Gothic’s equivalent use of a hybrid aesthetic in its creation of horror. Bhabha argues that postmodern hybridity signifies a generative and positive concept through its proliferation of liminal identities. In Gothic Pathologies, David Punter makes similar claims for the Gothic: Gothic is, on the whole, proliferative, it is not intrigued by the minimal: in its trajectory away from right reason and from the rule of law it does not choose to purify itself but rather to express itself with maximum – perhaps magnum – force, even if on many occasions this also involves considerable ineptitude. It tells stories, it tells stories within stories, it repeats itself, it forgets where it left off, it goes on and on; it ‘loses the place.’(9) Punter’s articulation of the Gothic’s privileging of the hybrid, fractal, and illegimate over the promise of continuity and purity displays a theoretical similarity to Bhabha’s claims about the postmodern as a critical form that attempts “to fully realize, and take responsibility for, the unspoken, unrepresented pasts that haunt the historical present”(12). Both Punter and Bhabha use similar language to describe their respective theoretical subjects, eliciting the imbricated nature of the postmodern and Gothic in their mutual critical projects. I interpret the hybridity that Bhabha locates within postmodern works and the postmodern’s inclusion of both high and low forms of art as features that shape the postmodern Gothic.

Blending Traditions Postmodern art implies a flattening of cultural hierarchies by deliberately combining a range of aesthetic modes, from high art to low-brow culture. In this dissertation, I will

12 show how the postmodern Gothic synthesizes disparate aesthetics, from the high art categories of Expressionism and Surrealism for their manipulation of reality, to more popular modes such as horror cinema, science fiction, and television melodrama for their narrative emplotments of fear, paranoia, and anxiety. Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson merge these various aesthetic modes, effectively rejecting the cultural barriers that separate high art from low and the social divide that ostensibly separates the erudite intellectual from the mass public. In Expressionism, Shulamith Behr chronicles the history and reception of Expressionist art from its origins, noting it “connotations of the anti-intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual [. . .]”(8). It is precisely these characteristics of Expressionism that elicit a strong connection to the Gothic. Kasimir Edschmid argues that Expressionist writers seek not to “make a photograph,” but rather to posit “a vision” of the world that departs from the conventions of realism (Scheunemann 140). Certainly, the worlds imagined by Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson possess just such “a vision” whose relation to reality is deliberately problematized. The Gothic and Expressionism share thematic material, and the postmodern Gothic demonstrates how their mutual privileging of the mood-driven and emotional over the cognitive and intellectual can be utilized in the production of fear. Beyond simply the visual arts, the cinema played a prominent role in articulating the link between the Gothic and Expressionism. David Punter, in description of the Gothic’s relationship to film, indicates that there is “a kind of melodramatic expressionism of style that is unmistakably Gothic in its cultural and structural force” (The Gothic, 65). In discussion of Robert Weine’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Dietrich Scheunemann describes the effect of the German expressionist film’s visual singularity: The means by which it introduced a heightened perception of reality and a truthful projection of the uncanny nature of characters and events is the expressionist design of the film. [. . .] It is through the curved walls, oblique windows, slanting doors and

13 strange radial patterns on the floor that the film establishes its nightmarish atmosphere. [. . .] Different from straight lines and gentle gradients they create “states of anxiety and terror,” thus preparing the spectator for the perception of corresponding displacements and distortions in the main characters and events of the film.(Expressionist Film 136) Scheunemann’s description succinctly describes the means by which expressionist techniques can be employed to produce terror. All aspects of the mise-en-scene contribute to the foreboding tenor of the film: set design, costuming, blocking and actors’ bizarre gestures, facial gesticulations, lighting. All of these elements produce a world where darkness dominates and the bizarre supplants the everyday. Just such a world materializes in the films of David Lynch. As a painter and visual artist, trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, David Lynch has occasionally alluded to the expressionism of the 1920’s German cinema in his works, as depicted in the sharp wavy lines that adorn the floor of his infamous Black Lodge. Beyond these direct allusions, Lynch creates filmic worlds whose foreboding is translated equally through the mise-en-scene and his notable use of sound. Lynch suffuses his work with vague but palpable moods of evil, inertia, dreaminess, and hopefulness. David Foster Wallace explicitly situates Lynch’s films within the Expressionist tradition: “What [Lynch] is is a weird hybrid blend of classical Expressionist and contemporary postmodernist, an artist whose own ‘internal impressions and moods’ are (like ours) an olla podrida of neurogenic predisposition and phylogenic myth and psychoanalytic schema and pop-cultural iconography [. . .]”(199). Foster Wallace identifies two significant points: 1) Lynch’s expressionistic style signifies an extension of the director himself, and 2) Lynch’s expressionism engages socio-psychological cues, further engaging his audience at an intimate level. While Foster Wallace suggests a mutual exclusivity between the

14 Expressionism of Lynch’s craft and its postmodern character, I would assert that Lynch’s postmodern art invokes and incorporates the Expressionist tradition of painting and cinema towards the production of what I have termed, the Postmodern Gothic. Whether presenting a horrific visual image or suffusing a scene with a droning, extra-diegetic noise, David Lynch constructs an imagined space that radically challenges America’s ideological conventions and social morays. In addition to its incorporation of Expressionism, the Postmodern Gothic also integrates aspects of Surrealism in its creation of unsettling narrative realities. For the purposes of this examination, I will adopt the succinct definition of the surrealist aesthetic provided by David Bate in his article, “The Space of the Other”: “Surrealist practice is the production of representations that encodes a breach of normal ‘external’ realism with the inclusion of an ‘internal’ mental reality”(Lang, 186). Surrealism possesses profound connections to both Postmodern artistic practices and the Gothic, for its expression of divergence from reality, its disordering of both temporal and spatial coherence, and its historical privileging of popular art forms. Fredric Jameson describes the postmodern aesthetic and its attempt to render history politically disfigured: “the making up of unreal history [as] a substitute for the making of the real kind. It mimetically expresses the attempt to recover that power and praxis by the way of the past [. . .] .”(369). Jameson demonstrates the artistic disintegration of realism within postmodern art, eliciting a similar approach to reality as that expressed by Bate in his description of Surrealism. Beyond its similarities with postmodernist works, Surrealism shares common creative ground with the Gothic. Dawn Ades and Matthew Gale directly address Surrealism’s historical debt to literatures of transgression, such as the works of French decadents and the Gothic: “Significantly, the definition [of Surrealism from Breton] in the manifesto occurred within an alternative literary

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Abstract: Whereas the Gothic traditionally relied upon supernatural figures of evil (vampires, ghosts, monsters) to produce the sensation of fear or terror, contemporary manifestations of the Gothic repudiate such abstracted constructions, favoring, instead, metonymical and everyday representations of terror. In this project, I argue that the works of artists Thomas Pynchon, David Lynch, and Steve Erickson signify, what I term, the postmodern American Gothic, through their production of a symbolic economy of fear, paranoia, and dread. I contend that these artists' works represent narrative critiques of the United States' culture of consumption and history of imperialism dating back to the myth of Manifest Destiny. Moreover, these artists' historiographic narratives rigorously complicate traditional conceptions of gender, sexuality, race, nationhood, and colonialism as aspects of American history. Deconstructing the tropic elements of the gothic genre distinguishes these artists' creation of a gothic aesthetic that privileges the lived horrors of historical record (slavery, the Holocaust, imperial modernity, oppression engendered through male-centered master narratives) over the metaphorical monsters of the traditional Gothic narrative that represent actual cultural anxieties over lived social conditions. In its contemporary form, the Gothic challenges the very real institutions and social practices that systematize oppression, enable cultural alienation, and deny individual subjectivities. By revisiting actual horrifying events and their impact on human life, Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson establish the irreducibility of social and historical trauma. In this examination, I comprehensively track Pynchon, Lynch, and Erickson's respective deployments of Gothic themes and tropes, illustrating the political significance of their creations. Moreover, my project broadens the understanding of these artists' works, as well as those artists whose works employ similar techniques. The scholarly attention paid to manifestations of postmodern paranoia elicits a powerful connection to the horror invoked in the Gothic texts. Considering the profound urgency that differing conceptions of "terror" represent in a post-9/11 world, I believe that understanding representations of terror in contemporary artistic practice is vital to reassessing the Gothic genre, from its origins in the 18 th century to the present, as defined by its politics of transgression.