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in the Age of Media, Computers, and Internet


Ognyan Kovachev


This paper observes the play of the Real and the Imaginary, actualized in a parallel dimension of cognitive and aesthetic ruptures. The ruptures are caused by two disparate phenomena: the Gothick Literary Revival (1764-1820) and the World Wide Web culture nowadays. Besides their external dissimilarities the two phenomena have important common places. Both the Gothick and the Web might be described as hosts of fictions haunting multidimensional architectural metaphors: the Gothick edifice and the Web site. My observations aim at naming and visualizing the modifications of such a powerful ghost-fiction as the Sublime. They are based on the back-and-forth oscillation between its (pre)romantic Burkean mode, the Kantian and the Romantic ones, and the (post)modern technological frames.

The rise of the Gothick more than 200 years ago can be defined in terms of Wolfgang Iser's literary anthropology as a new kind of explanatory fiction, which grants primary importance to the instruments of fantasy and imagination. By means of them human beings stage out the strife between Nature and Culture crucial for the late 18th and the early 19th century. The Gothick fiction also acts as an anti-hierarchical and decentring agent disguised in the trappings of a faked or mock medievalism. As a result of the epistemological shift the inability of the Gothick writers/readers "to be present to themselves" is being transformed in a desire to produce uncanny fictions, in which the Imaginary considerably transgresses and even conquers the realms of the Real. This kind of fictionalizing of the unnamable in my essay is referred to as "Gothicizing". Its ultimate borderline is the Sublime.

The new vision of the wide World, which the Web creates, is habitually designated with different names of the Unreal. After the first seven years of its existence the WWW often evokes metaphors such as a disproportionate giant infant, or a monstrously branched out labyrinth of sites, links, extensions, hypertext and hidden texts, and anonymous signatures of the (in)visible. In my genealogical retrospection both the corporeal and the spatial metaphors are re-visions of the flickering but undying out brief candle of the Gothic Imaginary. Another striking analogy provides the fact that the Web has already created a virtual community of fans and users just as the Gothick literature has formed an ideal community of readers. Both communities are heterogeneous in themselves but what they have in common is a characteristically Gothic ambiguity and receptive anxiety, resuscitated by the virtual reality of the Web. This intellectual uncertainty in both cases is a result of the interplay between the Inner mental/electronic world and the Outer supposedly real world.

In the long run from the Gothick to the Web the Sublime has passed through various frames: The Burkean, the Gothick, the Kantian, the Romantic, the Lyotardian and the technological ones, to mention a few of them. Whether in the former more private and transcendental modes, or in the latter predominantly public and existential ones, it haunts the deferral between the expectations and their fulfilments. The Sublime anxiety always remains a sort of negative pleasure, wavering between the terror of the coming privation and, in Lyotardian terms, "the threat of nothing further happening". The Gothicizing of the Web then stages that non-coincidence of Map and Territory which intensifies our experience of the limits of the Virtual; just as literature, in the words of W. Iser, "makes the interminable staging of ourselves appear as the postponement of the end".