If you observe American pop culture, you'll recognize the questions Mark Edmundson raises in Nightmare on Main Street
: Why are the 1990s seeing a resurgence of the gothic? Why do tabloid stories about people such as O. J. Simpson and Lorena Bobbitt captivate the public imagination? Why are "goth" fashions and music in vogue? Why is sadomasochistic sexuality on the rise? And what about the craze for what Edmundson calls "pop transcendence," the phony innocence exemplified by Forrest Gump, angels, and the inner child? Nightmare on Main Street
is well written and accessible, and will be of interest to anyone appreciative of (or concerned about) horror books and movies. As Richard Rorty
writes, "[This] book argues that America now has a bloated Id, a lascivious and cruel Superego, and almost no Ego at all: almost no moral resolution or political will." Edmundson's proposed solution is kind of vague, but he acknowledges the positive, creative role of horror: he proposes that we "take Gothic pessimism as a starting point and come up with visions that, while affirmative, never forget the authentic darkness that Gothic art discloses."
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[A] compelling explanation of our ever more ghoulish obsessions. -- Jeffrey Toobin The New Yorker One cannot but admire the forward pressure of the argument, the breadth of reference, the passion with which it is conducted, and, at times, the passages of analysis. -- Francis Devlin-Glass Canadian Review of Literature In his provocative book about the Gothic, Mr. Edmundson notes that the genre flourished in the years after the French Revolution. Those drafty castles with their dark secrets, the vampirish counts and the leering clergymen were all embodiments of the ancient regime, the old feudal order haunting the unsteady world of the new. Modern innocents are lured into that realm and nearly overwhelmed by it, until they exorcise its demonic control. The past is finally passed. The disgusting is contained, controlled, overcome. But today, Mr. Edmundson argues there is no clear resolution to our Gothic tales. Their haunting addictions and demonic figures keep reappearing in rock videos, computer games, television talk shows and horror films. But the villainy is ambiguous...No sooner do we start to hate the wife abuser on a talk show than we learn that he too is a haunted victim of abuse or a recovering addict. We are all villains and all victims. -- Edward Rothstein New York Times Absorbing...The Gothic thrives, Edmundson argues, in a world in which 'those in authority--the supposed exemplars of the good--are under suspicion,' a world in which cynicism ('the conviction that the worst truth that you can come up with about any person or event is the most consequential truth') is a given...Drawing upon his considerable knowledge of American and European literature, Edmundson does a nimble job of situating the current Gothic craze in context with philosophical developments, while at the same time assessing its social consequences...Nightmare on Main Street is a provocative and often illuminating book. -- Michiko Kakutani New York Times Edmundson's book has a simple yet visionary thesis. America--the patient--is infected with a psychological virus that fosters a death-worshipping attitude toward existence...Edmundson's clarity of vision, airtight logic, and captivating prose...succeed in convincing the reader of his thesis...[He] is strongly conversant with classic Anglo-American literature, movies and television. Part of this book's intellectual charm is that he draws on such a heterogeneous range of supporting examples, from Oprah to Hitchcock, from Wordsworth to Robert Bly, from Wes Craven to Keats. -- Paul Di Fillippo Washington Post Book World I never would have thought that Forrest Gump, Sigmund Freud and O.J. Simpson had anything to do with one another. But Mark Edmundson turns them into one big, dysfunctional family in his provocative new book about contemporary American culture...The strength of Edmundson's analysis is his ability to use the concept of the gothic sensibility to tie together seemingly disparate strands of contemporary culture and show how our view of reality is shaped by them...I suggest Nightmare on Main Street to readers who want to understand the stories America tells itself. -- Greg Beatty News & Observer
An assessment of American culture on the eve of the millennium. Once terrified by Anne Rice or Stephen King, watching "Halloween" or following the O.J. Simpson trial, we can rely on the comfort of our inner child, an angel, or even a crystal. In this book the author asks why people are determined to be haunted, courting the Gothic at every turn, yet at the same time, committed to escape through any new scheme for ready-made transcendence. The book depicts a culture suffused with the Gothic, not just in novels and films, but even in the nonfictive realms of politics and academic theories, TV news and talk shows, various therapies and discourses on AIDS and the environment. Gothic's first wave, in the 1790s, reflected the terrifying events unfolding in the French Revolution. Here the author asks what does the ascendancy of the Gothic in the 1990s tell us about our own day? The author also explores another, seemingly unrelated trend, the widespread belief that recreating oneself is as easy as making a wish. Looking at the world of Forrest Gump, the author aims to show how this parallel culture actually works reciprocally with the Gothic.
Finally, using the work of Nietzsche and Shelley, and the recent creations of Toni Morrison and Tony Kushner, he aims to show how the Gothic and the visionary can come together in persuasive and renovating ways.
Über den Autor
Mark Edmundson is Professor of English at the University of Virginia. His books include Literature against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida; and Wild Orchids and Trotsky.