Introduction: Deus ex Gothica

In this volume of the American Eldritch journal, Deus Ex Gothica, I, Aladdin Collar, your humble editor, hope to draw the essential properties of Gothic literature[1] from the veins of its body at large, that I might alchemically wed its post-Renaissance ideals with mine own millennial lack thereof. From whence do we come, and where are we going? And what awaits our arrival at the next threshold of futurity?

Given the pre-apocalyptic conditions endured by the American public over the course of 2016, it seems evident that we, dear readers, have passed through the early stages of an impending imperial collapse. Will another Dark Age engulf Western civilization, as followed the fall of Rome? Can the tenets of Humanism survive a world in which ragged tribes of survivors compete for scant resources in a nightmarish hellscape of anarchy? Will our descendants contemplate the aesthetic value of sublimity over beauty as they scavenge for scraps of fabric with which to warm themselves in whatever nuclear winter engulfs the world to come?

Culture will surely be among the first aspects of civilization in ruin come hunger times. Celebrate its comforts while you can, and consider stocking your bunker with copies of the various books we offer at the American Eldritch Press (for a full catalogue, see 197). In conjunction with the other realms of literary pursuits, a nuanced appreciation of the Gothic aesthetic will help to quell the recursive cycle of ignorance that would advance our meger’s species’ inveitable decline.

While our guide to the genre, HP Lovecraft, maintains a bleak perspective on the human condition, the authors he invokes offer an array of diverse, complex philosophies[2]. Ann Radcliffe used horror and suspense as tools to elevate her readers to new heights of experience; Matthew Gregory Lewis used abject terror to express his pessimistic spiritual sensibilities. The inventor of the genre, Horace Walpole, was a statesmen, who feared social revolution, perhaps, above all; his contemporary, William Blake, was a printer and a visonary, enthusiastically self-publishing illuminated prophecies of new Gods, urging on the spirit of political and religious dissent.

The not-dead-yet contributors to this issue offer works that stretch the Gothic fabric over new & familiar narrative geometries; across frontiers of time and space, elements of echoing chambers, restless spirits, the decline of aristocracy, the ancient and the modern. My own principal contribution, “Diverse Harmonies,” explores a mysterious ruin in New England, and an unlikely theory of its erection. In Jordan Scholfield’s “Warm,” the crew of a interplanetary vessel find greater horrors within their own ship, and within themselves, than in all of the infinite gulfs of space beyond. “The Clearing Beyond the Corn,” by Derek Dixon, takes a more domestic approach to abominability, following a young boy’s maladjustment to a new life on a rural farm. “The Roosevelt National Labyrinth,” by Uel Aramchak, offers just a glimpse at a monumental American dreamscape, and the great beast at its center. Paul Collar’s “The Ride” cruises alongisde a taxi cab in the rainy streets of Costa Rica’s capital city of San Jose, detouring through rural lives and early graves. We close with comics; “Sunset Over Mons Veneris,” by Lea Roth and Sebastian Gneiting, is presented here in its first English translation, and offers a vision of post-modern symbolic thought, astrological persuation, and the generative powers of Weird sex.

Please enjoy, and take care in the troubled hells that await you.

– Aladdin Collar, December 4th, 2016 Ӕ

[1]           The very first Gothic novel was first published with a hoax introduction, entwining meta-fictional elements with supernatural Romanticism; Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, 1764, purported to have been an Italian text found in the library of an “ancient Catholic family,” and its author, setting, and exact time period were decidedly unknown (although the dates of the Crusades are given as possible time periods in which it was written). The introduction goes one step further in its deceit by insisting that the ghostly tale, built of unknown components, surely must have been written by someone who lived the events in question. “Though the machinery is invention, and the names of the actors imaginary, I cannot but believe that the groundwork of the story is founded on truth.”

Following its popularity, Walpole confessed to his role as the novel’s author, and in his introduction to the second printing, he elaborates on the meta, and what he was trying to achieve by writing supernatural literature.

“It was an attempt to blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern,” he notes. “In the former, all was imagination and improbability: in the latter, nature is always intended to be, and sometimes has been, copied with success.” Of his principal inspiration, there could be no doubt: “the great master of nature, SHAKESPEARE, was the model I copied.”

The model was sound, and authors and readers alike flocked to its successors. Two hundred and fifty years later, the lineage persists in strange permutations of popular culture, and in various fear-based narrative experiences; film, print, & new media alike.

In his seminal essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature, HP Lovecraft elaborates on the influence of Otranto, and devotes three chapters of the work to the Early Gothic Novel, the Apex of Gothic Literature, and the Aftermath of Gothic Literature (each reprinted in this issue in full)). It was this surge of supernaturally-inclined literature from which his beloved Pulps emerged, the cheaply-printed genre rags in which Lovecraft’s major works were unleashed upon the world.

[2]                       To the Gothic tradition, Weird fiction is perpetually indebted. Despite a departure from visual aesthetic of castles and monasteries, a philosophical legacy persists in our preference of sublimity over beauty, as distinguished by Edmunde Burke in his 1757 treatise, “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.”

Although sublimity is historically defined in a strictly Christian context, the concept speaks to a broader sense of spirituality; to a sense of greatness, a power beyond comprehension that produces, according to Burke, a “delightful horror, which is the most genuine effect and truest test of the sublime.”

If the application of Burke’s aesthetic to Gothic literature was not immediately apparent to the literate masses, the critic Anna Barbauld offered the connection with her short essay, “On the Pleasure Derived from Objects of Terror” (1773), which she published with an accompanying fragment, “Sir Bertrand,” in order to demonstrate the effects described.

Ann Radcliffe further elaborated upon Gothic sublimity in a fragment of an unfinished novel, which was published posthumously under the title “On the Supernatural in Poetry.” Radcliff therein draws a line in the sand between horror literature, that which inspires fear of the unknown (spirits, the stars), and terror literature, in which fear is induced by explicit events (torture, murder) depicted in the story. Radcliff condemns the latter.

It was Gregory Lewis’ The Monk (1796) that inspired Radcliff to present her dichotomy of fear; she wanted to distance herself from that which she percieved to be a vulgar bastardization of a genre whose popular eminence she helped establish.

Nonetheless, Lewis’ Monk certainly has its virtues; while Radcliffe’s supernatural elements always turned out to be rooted in rational explanations (boring), Lewis’ demons are presented as explicitly real, and when a Satanic force rears its head, it hides behind no veil (radical). The novel is morally gray and violent, reflecting an analogous brutality of Gothic religious belief.

Most Gothic fiction finds itself situated somewhere inside of the Radcliffe-Lewis polarity; the supernatural looms, obscured, an inexplicable force in an otherwise natural world. Such is the case in Sir Walter Scott’s “Tapestried Chamber,” in which an evening in a Gothic mansion causes a veteran soldier greater anguish than he had ever experienced in war. Lord Byron’s “Fragment of a Novel” (1819) alludes to Greco-Roman mythology in a tale set just before the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence, and is the first text to introduce the vampire into the canon of Gothic horror monstrosities. H.G. Wells’ “Avu Observatory” offers a devil from a fictional Southeast Asian folklore tradition, building upon previously established Gothic elements in steady progression towards Wells’ preferred mode of strict Science Fiction. Rounding out the classic fiction offerings of this volume, William Blake’s The Song of Los (1795), a chaotic vision that cannot be strictly categorized as Gothic, nor, for that matter, as any specific mode or genre.