Hannah Arendt notes in The Origin of Totalitarianism that the disasters of the twentieth century had proved that a globalized order might “produce barbarians from its own midst by forcing millions of people into conditions which, despite all appearances, are the conditions of savages” (quoted in New York Review of Books June 2013, p. 6).
The artist’s task is to find the right language and images to address the breaking of this world—in particular, to reintroduce the literal into the figurative, the raw material behind the symbolic gloss. French philosopher Jean Pierre Dupuy, for example, has argued that the financial world is a way to contain (contenir) the violence of competition, placing it into acceptable (symbolic) forms away from primal—and primary— physical competition.
Cormac McCarthy’s Gothic novel The Road reintroduces the literal dimension of violence beyond what some have called the “choreographed violence” and the “symphony of diplomacy”, the theatrical deployment of power in state summits and the deployment of military might on the field through high tech weapons such as the drones (the latest avatar of the “surgical” philosophy of warmongering). His graphic use of Gothic tropes—including cannibalism, the wild forest, the haunted house, the chase, the conflict between light and darkness, the blurring of boundaries between different categories—creates a shock; in the words of Southern writer Flannery O’Connor: “To the hard of hearing you must shout, to the nearly blind you must draw startling figures”. The gothic horror has to be re-encoded and re-enacted in literal objects and elements to expose how meaning has been eliminated from our contemporary consciousness.
The Road is thus not a post apocalyptic novel but a novel anchored in our reality. It deals with the way our globalized order—which involves reintroducing slavery through human trafficking and exploitation, labor capitalism, implementing surveillance and personal data gathering, and promoting greed and labor capitalism—has turned human beings into consuming or consumed entities.
The larger question that can be addressed when thinking about The Road is the larger impact of globalization on gothic literature, and the impact of gothic literature on real-world matters as it contributes to and reflects upon and challenges global regimes of economic, social and economic power.
In other words, what is the cultural work that the Gothic does in the present?