The Will to Deform: The Promethean Gift of Proletarian Prosthetics

This essay was originally published in Insufficient Armour, a collection of essays published in January 2020 by Nero in collaboration with Giorgio Di Salvo’s streetwear company United Standard.

After seeing that Simon Sellars published his story from the collection last week, I thought I’d do the same. I previously posted a video intro to the essay, made over Christmas 2019 with no equipment. You can now read the full thing below. It’s a fleshed-out vision of what I feel constitutes this blog’s namesake: “the xenogothic.”



01. Ontologies of Body Horror

The Gothic is not an aesthetic genre but a prosthetic sensibility. It is a mode of addition, extension and attachment, and one that has taken on many different forms.

To use the word “prosthetic” in such a general way, and in a sense that seems purely adjective, demands some immediate clarification. It is a word that brings to mind “prostheses”: objects and technologies that allow a body to exceed its own limits, as well as the history of their development, from the most rudimentary “hook hands” to state-of-the-art bionic limbs, from ear trumpets to neural-control interface technologies. To call the Gothic a prosthetic sensibility is not to appropriate this understanding but to emphasise the ways in which the Gothic embodies it most absolutely.

The body has always been and remains the Gothic’s primary terrain of interrogation. From the literary body-horror of Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to the make-up and extravagant fashions of late-twentieth-century Goth, at every turn of our civilisation’s cultural development the Gothic has seized upon the prostheses of any given age, extending their relevance beyond the fields of medical science and standardised aesthetics. It is a cultural sensibility that understands by extending the body we also extend our collective conception of what a body can do. To extend one body is to extend the potential of them all.

The “prosthetic”, then, is not simply a medical adjective but an ontological one. This is a framing that has garnered considerable attention in recent decades, and can be found everywhere from sports science to science fiction. It has also been central to modern philosophy. Gilles Deleuze, for instance, commenting on the writings of Baruch de Spinoza, most famously decried our post-Cartesian fixation on the mind at the expense of the body, writing “we speak of consciousness, mind, soul, of the power of the soul over the body; we chatter away about these things, but do not even know what bodies can do.”[1]

Deleuze’s interest in the body was directly influenced by the medical knowledge of his day and, more specifically, his first-hand experiences of certain medical procedures. Like Spinoza before him, Deleuze suffered greatly from respiratory issues, undergoing a thoracoplasty in 1968, and later taking his own life in 1995 having reached a limit with his continuously diminishing quality of life. However, whilst his poor health may have been physically restrictive, he also found it to be philosophically liberating and was repeatedly drawn to philosophers who suffered like he did. For example, throughout his works, he would echo the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud — thinkers who were also plagued by ill-health throughout their lives, both physically and mentally, but who were nonetheless fascinated by the direct impact of bodily suffering on cognitive potential. It must also be said that, for Deleuze, as with these influences, explorations of the body’s limitations were not in themselves limited to its particular anatomy but also included the limitations put upon the body by the state and by hegemonic understandings of the body more generally.

Nietzsche is perhaps the most famous explorer of such a worldview. He wrote at length on society’s deliberate limiting of human potential and championed those who would “tunnel and mine” their way through the strata of daily life, giving a specifically proletarian and industrial agency to the denizens of Plato’s cave, driven by the belief that, as a result of their toil, they will eventually overcome their circumstances — or, as Nietzsche put it, acquire their “own daybreak.”[2] The innately unreasonable nature — that is to say, the madness — of such a pursuit was also championed by Nietzsche who, foreshadowing the thalassic geopsychology of Sándor Ferenczi, saw insanity as something “in voice and bearing as uncanny and incalculable as the demonic moods of the weather and the sea and therefore worthy of a similar awe and observation.”[3] This is to say that, for Nietzsche, madness was not simply a deviation from an otherwise “natural” reason, but rather a powerful undertow of human cognitive activity. To ignore and suppress it, at a societal level, would be the same as ignoring the grandeur of the climate or the sea and its impact on our own shores.

Bataille, heavily influenced by Nietzsche — and sharing with him a traumatic experience with familial mental illness in childhood — also wrote many philosophical tracts on the human anatomy and its “deviations”, writing that “mankind cannot remain indifferent to its monsters” and exclude human anatomical abnormality from any philosophical ontology due to some prejudiced adherence to “the constitution of the perfect type”.[4] He explored the disgust evoked by even the most fundamental and “normal” of human body parts and appendages, describing the mouth, for instance, as “the orifice of profound physical impulses”.[5] Elsewhere, and more famously, he describes the big toe as “the most human part of the human body” and yet deplores its reputation for “the most nauseating filthiness”, believing that man’s “secret horror of his foot is one of the explanations for the tendency to conceal its length and form as much as possible”, describing women’s high heels as an attempt to “distract from the foot’s low and flat character.”[6] He sees the lowly reputation of the human foot, as well as its sexual fetishisation, as an embarrassing measure of how fundamental bodily restriction is to an apparent human civility.

Antonin Artaud’s plays and writings expressed many similar concerns as the writings of Nietzsche and Bataille and he was a particular influence on Deleuze, providing him with one of his least understood concepts: the “body without organs”. As Joshua Ramey explains, writing on the esotericism of Deleuze’s philosophy, Artaud believed that the “decadence and debilitation of twentieth-century Western culture were … linked directly … to the technoscientific apparatus — military, industrial, nutritional, and hygienic — continuously marshaled in the name of God and order to stultify the human body.”[7]

Artaud’s works — his writings, radio plays, and performances — constituted for him a “theatre of cruelty” that was designed to disturb and terrify his audiences but also the stultified human subject as such: “to shock and shatter its organs, and to force the body to react otherwise than in accordance with the habitual limits of sense and sensibility.”[8] Artaud’s theatre of cruelty was, in this sense, a Gothic assault on the sensibilities of his time. Along with the paintings of Francis Bacon, it was to Deleuze as the Dionysian music of Richard Wagner was (initially) to Nietzsche; as the lingchi photographs were to Bataille. Each describes and brings forth “a subtle body accessible at the extremes of experience — in suffering, delirium, synesthesia, and ecstatic states.”[9]

Here we might proclaim Deleuze, Nietzsche, Bataille and Artaud to be Gothic philosophers par excellence. Each has explored the wonder and horror provoked by the unknown capabilities of our own bodies and, as we have already suggested, this is more than familiar territory for the Gothic in its own right. By deploying the evolving signs and signifiers at the edge of what we know and understand about ourselves and the world around us, the Gothic is a prosthetic mode that has consistently extended its own reach, out beyond the horizon of human knowledge and into the weird, the eerie, the grotesque. Whether extending the limits of a body beyond reason, beyond nature, beyond society’s aesthetic standards or, most fundamentally, beyond life itself, the Gothic provides forms with which our imaginations run amok, and it is this tendency that has allowed the Gothic to proliferate through cultures around the world for almost a millennium.

Now one of the oldest and most persistent artistic movements in human history, in being constituted by a virulent unlife we might assume that the Gothic will never truly died. However, this sensibility within the Gothic that pushes towards its own outside is presently under threat and at the constant mercy of capitalist commodification — a process that has already found some success in rendering the Gothic culturally inert.

The Gothic’s contemporary influence is nonetheless pervasive. Indeed, the Gothic is, in some respects, more popular than ever. However, whilst the emergence of the twenty-first century “mall goth” may signify a new Gothic dominance, for many it sounds the death knell of a movement finally thwarted by capitalism’s apparatuses of capture, making the Gothic into a type that has become synonymous with a largely out-dated and aesthetically conservative subculture.

02. The Xenogothic

For the purposes of this essay, in order to keep the Gothic’s present circumstances firmly in our sights, we shall give its prosthetic sensibility a new name, in order to more clearly focus on a specific process at work within the Gothic itself that remains incompatible with the forces of capitalism that have sought to neutralise it. We shall call it the “xenogothic”.

The xenogothic is a term we might use to define a future Gothic form always already contained within the Gothic itself. It is a name not for a Gothic telos but for a “witch’s flight”. It is a term for the Gothic’s escape from itself and the limits placed upon it from outside. It is a form of movement, according to Gilles Deleuze, “that never ceases to change direction, that is broken, split, diverted, turned in on itself, coiled up, or even extended beyond its natural limits.”[10]

Despite the presently conservative nature of a popular Gothic aesthetic, there are still pockets of xenogothic innovation to be found throughout our contemporary subcultures. As has been the case for much of the late-twentieth-century’s dance music and rave scenes, capitalism has repeatedly failed to wholly remove their fugitive power — a power fundamentally incompatible with the structures that close in around it. This Gothic fugitivity has been maligned for some time, and at least since the final decades of the twentieth century when, extending a post-punk commitment to always “rip it up and start again”, the Gothic found itself falling from favour.

“Rip it up and start again” is a phrase borrowed from Simon Reynolds, and the title of his 2005 survey of the post-punk landscape between the years 1978 and 1984. It is a title that, for him, encapsulates the attitude of a smorgasbord of bands “who dedicated themselves to fulfilling punk’s uncompleted musical revolution”[11] by smashing “the boundaries that keep [art] sealed off from everyday life”, adhering to a militant “ethos of perpetual change”. [12]

Writing on Goth specifically, Reynolds highlights the subgenre’s initial inversion of the Gothic forms of yesteryear. He explains:

The original Gothic movement in literature had been anti-modernist. It represented the return of the repressed: all the medieval superstitions and primordial longings allegedly banished by the Industrial Revolution, all those shadowy regions of the soul supposedly illuminated by the Enlightenment. It was only when the dark, satanic mills appeared that ruined abbeys came to be considered picturesque and alluring. Goth was based on the idea that the most profound emotions you’ll ever feel are the same ones felt by people thousands of years ago: the fundamental, eternal experiences of love, death, despair, awe and dread.[13]

This Gothic continuum, despite its penchant for Romantic decadence, began to resonate with the politics of class struggle that were explored far more explicitly by the punks who proceeded them. Reynolds continues: “Goths enjoyed the energy of Oi! and anarcho-punk gigs, but ultimately didn’t really care for either option: lumpen Oi! wallowed in its own oppression, they felt, whilst anarcho-punk seemed dourly didactic and sexless.”[14] Reynolds goes on to explain that Goth’s post-punk credentials were instead found in its desire to redefine punk as an “inversion of values and deviance from norms”, with the movement proposing “a flight from the crushing ordinariness of everyday English life, into a common wildness of ritual and ceremony, magic and mystery.”[15]

Here Goth foreshadowed the return of a Bakhtinian carnivalesque that would explode back into the public imagination with the dawn of rave culture. And yet, once rave reigned supreme, Goth itself seemed to relax into an uncharacteristic complacency. The initial working class despair, and the sonic embodiment of social decay, epitomised (at first) by the likes of Joy Division, The Fall, Throbbing Gristle, and Bauhaus, gradually lost their edge, arguably reflecting the rise of neoliberalism across Western society in post-punk’s aftermath. Class struggle was replaced by a soft existentialism, reduced it to a type that is now marketable across commodity forms. Here the Gothic becomes a darkened prosthesis for capitalism itself — a control value for the release of a tension that capitalism itself creates; of disenfranchisement, depression and hopelessness.

However, all is not lost. Even from the depths of capitalist co-option, there are Goths who continue to glide along the edge of a shifting human frontier, quietly exploring our ontological and aesthetic limits. We might consider the recent work of Gazelle Twin, for instance, the current queen of British Goth, who, on her 2014 song ‘Belly of the Beast’, sings menacingly: “I’ll beat them all at their at own game / Bite the hands and the fingers that feed.”[16] She snarls these words over the infernal bleep-bleeping of supermarket self-service checkouts, bringing a violently Gothic sensibility to the banality of contemporary capitalist consumerism. It is a revolutionary anthem for the unassuming “mall goth” of the twenty-first century and epitomises a xenogothic tendency that may be far less visible today but which has still never truly died.

03. What was the Gothic?

In order to better account for the xenogothic as it exists today, it may help us to ascertain what the Gothic was, prior to its capture by authoritative and, more specifically, market forces. It is only from here that we might better account for the potentials of its prosthetic sensibility in the present. However, such an exercise comes with its own challenges, and these challenges are by no means new.

Beginning his 1911 study of form in Gothic art and architecture, Wilhelm Worringer writes that the “earnest endeavour of the historian to reconstruct the spirit of the past from the materials at his disposal [in the present] is at best an experiment, conducted with unsuitable means.”[17] This is no less true today, over a century later.

Worringer may have been speaking generally of the historian’s eternal dilemma — navigating the impact on one’s own work of an innate contemporary bias — but the Gothic, in particular, with its architectural beginnings, its literary peak, and its sonic finale, presents the cultural historian today with a shape-shifting, disconnected and amorphous “movement” that may be easy to recognise but is, in fact, harder than ever to define.

As a collection of disparate movements and mediums, brought together restlessly under a single banner, this problem at the heart of the Gothic today may seem like an exemplary postmodern affliction in which genre is dissolved within itself, but such an experience has been central to the Gothic since it first emerged as a popular mode of architectural expression in twelfth-century France. This is because the problematic that the Gothic first attempts to contend with is, fundamentally, a problem of time. It is an expression and affirmation of our own fallibility as the inevitably blinkered subjects of a given moment — be that the Age of Enlightenment or capitalist modernity. Indeed, as far as Worringer is concerned, it seems that historiography itself is the ultimate Gothic pastime. After all, the Gothic as a cultural movement, in all of its forms, has always been a creative exploration of the past’s influence on the future from the knowingly flawed perspective of the present.

Describing this same essence more recently in his 2014 book on the genre’s literary and visual aesthetics, Fred Botting writes that the Gothic — contrary to Reynolds’ description of Goth, we might note — is “more than a flight from nostalgic retrospection or an escape from the dullness of a present without chivalry, magic or adventure.”[18] Instead, it is a movement that “remains sensitive to other times and places and thus retains traces of instability where further disorientations, ambivalence and dislocations can arise.”[19] It is from this same position that Worringer begins his seemingly paradoxical evaluation of an historical Gothic.

The solution to this, for him, is to note how the “true” essence of the Gothic is its “will to form”[20] — that is, a will to speculatively give form to the presently formless. For instance, we may note, as Worringer does, that the Gothic’s initial instantiation as an architectural form was an attempt to grapple with the so-called Dark Ages, during which time the style came to dominate the façades of churches in medieval France before spreading throughout the rest of the European continent. For many, this style may have accurately given form to the beliefs of the time, representing another unseen world where dark forces fought for dominance over civilisation’s God-fearing congregations, kept at bay by imagined gargoyles and a community’s liturgical faith. However, as the style was transformed into a popular collection of motifs, the Gothic was later widely dismissed by many for its cheap horror and reactionary affection for darker times. The French playwright and poet Molière, for instance, famously derided France’s “besotted taste of Gothic monuments” in his 1669 poem ‘La Gloire du Val-de-Grâce’, echoing the fashionable opinions of his time, claiming these Gothic façades depicted little more than “odious monsters of ignorant centuries” from which “the torrents of barbarity spewed forth.”[21]

With its initial popularity waning over the centuries following its initial explosion across Europe, many nonetheless continued to find Gothic architecture and, later, Gothic art to be illustrative of a new darkness found at the limits of an emerging Age of Enlightenment; the Age of Reason. Indeed, a recognition of the power of this unknowable darkness is closely tied to one of the founding principles of Enlightenment thought, as found in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, for whom humanity is forever trapped by its own experience; by its own contemporaneity. As Worringer writes of his own historiographic task, echoing Kant, “the exponent of historical knowledge remains our own Ego with its temporal limitations and restrictions.”[22] This is to say that the persistent darkness of the Dark Ages was not assuaged by a new institutionalised reason, nor has it been assuaged today by the domination of capitalism. Gothic darkness remains an important symbolic void, constituting knowledge’s own event-horizon.

Continuing his description of the effects of the Gothic as an art-historical genre on the temporal subject, Botting writes: “In seeing one time and its values cross into another, both periods are disturbed.”[23] The human subject and its ego remain caught in a chaotic middle. However, for the last two decades, much has been written on our present era’s “stuckness” — the hauntological affects of late capitalist ontology. It is a truly postmodern affliction otherwise epitomised by Francis Fukuyama’s declaration that we have reached the “end of history”, a time during which the “future is always experienced as a haunting: as a virtuality that already impinges on the present, conditioning expectations and motivating cultural production.”[24] This is to say that the start of the twenty-first century has been defined by the failure of our own speculative imaginations; our once wildly psychedelic tendency to construct new futures for ourselves. The implications of this situation for the Gothic are particularly unusual. It suggests an abject normalisation of the Gothic mode, used to structure human existence rather than propel it forwards into the unknown. As a result, we might ask ourselves today: Does the Gothic still disturb us as it once did? Has the Gothic not become a victim of its own “will to form”, losing its transgressive essence as it is historicised and consolidated into a recognisable aesthetic mode?

It is here that the Gothic has once again — albeit subtly — shifted its focus. Whereas Gothic expressions of a fear of a post-human subject were once a reaction against rampant technological progress, the speed of which seemed to outpace the intellectual development of post-Enlightenment reason — as dramatized, for instance, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein — today, rather than a fear of what we might soon become, it is a fear of our own ontological capture that seems to terrorise the modern Gothic subject. It is our limitations, our susceptibility to control, our prejudices, our addictions and a blind reason that stalks the Gothic subject. Barbarity does not emerge from a deep past but from right here, from the persistent system of capitalism itself. As such, we find that the rapid consolidation of the present into a seemingly final human form has turned the Gothic on its head.

For the contemporary capitalist subject, according to the hauntologists of the early twenty-first century, there is no moving forward. We are passed our best, and if capitalism can achieve anything in the present it is a return to an immediate past, a time of mythical decadence. This hauntological thinking has, thankfully, undone itself, begging the return of a Gothic questioning and a probing of the gulf between the capitalist “truth” of market stability — be that of market economics, market democracy or any other subsection of a neoliberal system that seeks to maintain its own status quo — and the actuality of capitalism’s perpetual unrest.

Today, in response to this, it seems that a new Gothic is emerging once again. Beyond its eventual European capture, occultural movements around the world now ask themselves: Is this all that we are? Is this really the moment we should choose to arrest ourselves, in our self-destructive mediocrity? The current prevalence of the questioning of our own standing is a symptom of both a dormant Gothicism and a maligned progressivism. It is the perpetual simmering of the xenogothic and it is precisely our infinite questioning that pushes us forwards. But forwards into what?

04. Promethean Prosthetics

To recognise the necessity of our own questioning is to recognise our innate will to form, but a will to form must be infinite in its potential adaptations. It is not a will to be formed but an unending process of creation and becoming. Perhaps this is why, as Leila Taylor writes, “fashion plays such a vital role” in the Gothic — “Victorian goths have their mourning drag, the Vampire goths their custom fangs, Rock-a-Billy goths their Bettie Page bangs”.[25] The rapidity of fashion, with its decadent associations and short shelf life, makes it fertile ground for cultural innovation. However, as Taylor warns, this makes it all too “easy to dismiss goth purely as style or an affectation.”[26] Whilst this may appear to be true at a glance, the importance of fashion to Goth instead expresses something entirely to the contrary.

Goth fashion places the body itself as the most potent terrain onto which the Gothic can extend itself. From the classic anachronism of Victorian mourning attire to Instagram’s recent obsession with “health goth” sportswear, fashion is the vector through which the Gothic must continue its own experimental formulation, appreciating but always exceeding its prior developments that, when taken together, present us with an art-historical cyclonopedia of tropes and motifs that all tumble towards the voided mass of the Gothic’s centre of gravity: the ruination of the contemporary subject itself.

Prosthetics are most generally understood as addendums to this damaged subject, a body incomplete. To wear a prosthetic limb is to wear an object that returns functionality to a lost or damaged corporeality — but what of a corporeality-to-come? Prosthetics may also be extensions of an otherwise intact body (potentially challenging Bataille’s appraisal of heels). The cybergothic is heavily associated with this sort of extension — an extension that augments a body woefully insufficient before an ever-expanding social reality, whether capitalist or otherwise, and often involves the installation of digital and cybernetic augmentations, which is to say new connections. In this sense, we might view the stultified body of late capitalism to be breaking boundaries in multiple senses. Not only does it extend the capabilities of the individual subject but also extends that subject itself into a newly collective formulation.

Here the Gothic includes an innately Marxist undercurrent, haunted by the spectre of communism or, we might say, a collective subject beyond the limits of that presently imaginable to the individualised capitalist subject. This is a Gothic worldview arguably introduced by Karl Marx himself, who writes repeatedly of spectres and vampires in his seminal critique of political economy. We may even wonder if the collective subject called for in The Communist Manifesto is not a positive view of the terror that populated the Gothic fictions of Marx’s era. Whereas the bourgeois writers of the day feared the disenfranchised masses and the unreason of the peasantry, Marx sought to cultivate a new proletarian solidarity that might truly frighten the ruling classes. Here the Gothic represents the Promethean gift of proletarian prosthetics.

This kind of unruly and amorphous subjectivity was central to Gothic literature at that time, as Kelly Hurley explains, describing the importance of the body to Gothic literature of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries:

In place of a human body stable and integral (at least, liable to no worse than the ravages of time and disease), the fin-de-siècle Gothic offers the spectacle of a body metamorphic and undifferentiated; in place of the possibility of human transcendence, the prospect of an existence circumscribed within the realities of gross corporeality; in place of a unitary and securely bounded human subjectivity, one that is both fragmented and permeable.[27]

The emphasis placed upon this permeable subject has changed repeatedly over the decades. Today, it is more likely to refer to the ruptured homogeneity of capitalist individualism. We are all individuals. In similar terms, discussing the state of the Gothic a century later, the cult writer Mark Fisher noted how this subjective shift was epitomised by Siouxsie Sioux and her band, the Banshees — a central influence on the tribalism of Goth makeup and dress. In particular, he writes about the Banshees’ track “Painted Bird” from their 1982 album A Kiss in the Dreamhouse — a song based on Jerzy Kosiński’s 1965 novel of the same name — noting how, contrary to the individualist existentialism of a twentieth-century Gothic, it is a song “about the triumph of collective joy over persecuted, isolated, individuated subjectivity”.

Fisher explains how the song takes its name from an encounter the book’s unnamed young protagonist has with a bird-catcher whilst wandering through war-torn villages and towns during the Second World War. Painting the bird with vibrant colours, he throws it back to join its flock. However, no longer recognising the bird as one of their own, the birds attack and kill it. Fisher notes how, unlike the bird — symbolic of Jewish persecution by the Nazis — “Siouxsie’s Goths are not painted by another’s hand; they are ‘painted birds by their own design’.”[28]

For Siouxsie Sioux, as well as Mark Fisher, this apparent paradox of Goth belonging — a hypocritical collective that goes against a herd mentality whilst all looking the same — is still a shot fired across the bow of neoliberalism’s mandatory individualism. Other forms of collectivity are possible! The point is not to be wholly individualist but simply different from a prescribed type. The violence that Goths often wreak upon their bodies is exemplary of this. Fisher writes: “Goth is in many ways an attempt to make good this symbolic deficit in postmodern culture: dressing up as re-ritualization, a recovery of the surface of the body as the site for scarification and decoration (which is to say, a rejection of the idea that the body is merely the container or envelope for interiority).”[29] If body modification is a step too far, the extreme fashion of the Gothic is an ample alternative. “Clothing recovers its cybernetic and symbolic role as a hyperbolic supplement to the body, as what which destroys the illusion of organic unity and proportion.”[30] Here we find Worringer’s Gothic line inverted. The twenty-first century Gothic is not only a will to form but also a will to deform.

To return to the prosthetic ontologies with which we started, it is in this way that the Gothic is the true drive behind Deleuze and Artaud’s call for a “body without organs”. Though it is a phrase that may conjure up images of evisceration, it is also a demand for a body beyond organisation; a body which is defined by the sensation of its own experience and is therefore able to define itself through the intensity of its being rather than through an essentialist adherence to an anatomical type.

For Deleuze, it was the twentieth century expressionist painter Francis Bacon who depicted this body without organs most viscerally. For Bacon, the human form was often rendered as amorphous liquid meat — a horrifying image, perhaps, but a phrase that connects the reality of the human body to its anatomical objectivity. Bacon captures externally the experience of becoming-body and it is this that Deleuze defines as the essence of a Gothic art which “dismantles organic representation” by adhering instead to “a realism of deformation, as opposed to the idealism of transformation.” [31] It is “the manner in which the body exceeds the organism or makes it fall apart.”[32]

This is how the Gothic pulls our contemporary understanding of the aesthetic — which, according to Terry Eagleton, was “born as a discourse of the body”[33] — into new arenas: by generating its own prostheses. The Gothic, then, is always one step ahead, even of itself. Whereas many artistic movements and fashions have come and gone over the last thousand years, now contained within historical periods or momentary aesthetic trends by historians and critics alike, the Gothic has instead undergone nine centuries of extension and reinvention, always mutating the last form to define it in the popular imagination.

There is still a Promethean fire that burns within the Gothic to this day: an outsideness that eschews a commodification by capitalist forces and continues to speak to a prosthetic sensibility that considers capitalism’s ruination of the modern subject and finds ways out of it from within. We must embrace anew this ruination of the modern subject and its insufficient armour against a capitalistic idealism of social transformation. To find ways out is always to let the outside in. Only then will we be in a position to discover what our bodies can really do.



[1] Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin. New York: Zone Books, 1992, 255.

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, eds. Maudemarie Clark and Brian Leiter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, 1.

[3] Ibid., 14.

[4] Georges Bataille, “The Deviations of Nature” in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, trans. ed. Allan Stoekl. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1985, 55.

[5] Bataille, “Mouth” in ibid., 59.

[6] Bataille, “The Big Toe” in ibid., 20-21.

[7] Joshua Ramey, The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012, 1.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 2.

[10] Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. Daniel W. Smith. New York and London: Continuum Books, 2003, 33. Deleuze’s description here of a “Gothic line” — a term borrowed from Wilhelm Worringer who we will turn to shortly — foreshadows the famous instance in his collaborative work with Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, where they write that “to think is always to follow the witch’s flight.” See: Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. New York and Chichester: Columbia University Press, 1994, 41.

[11] Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again: Post-Punk 1978—1984. London: Faber & Faber, 2019, xvii.

[12] Ibid., xviii-xxi.

[13] Ibid., 423-424.

[14] Ibid., 424.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Gazelle Twin, “Belly of the Beast”, UNFLESH. Brighton: Anti-Ghost Moon Ray, 2014, track 9.

[17] Wilhelm Worringer, Form in Gothic, trans. Herbert Read. New York: Stocken Books, 1972, 1.

[18] Fred Botting, Gothic. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2014, 3.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Worringer, Form in Gothic, 7. Here, “will” is invoked in a Nietzschean sense and contrasted explicitly with “ability.”

[21] Molière, “La Gloire du Val-de-Grâce”, Tout Molière: <http://www.toutmoliere.net/acte-1,405502.html&gt;

[22] Botting, Gothic, 3.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Mark Fisher, “What Is Hauntology?”, Film Quarterly, Vol. 66, No. 1. Oakland: University of California Press, 2012, 16.

[25] Leila Taylor, Darkly: Black History and America’s Gothic Soul. London: Repeater Books, 2019, 20.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Kelly Hurley, The Gothic Body: Sexuality, Materialism and Degeneration at the Fin de Siècle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 3.

[28] Mark Fisher, “For Your Unpleasure: The Haute-Couture of Goth”, k-punk, 1 June 2005: <http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/005622.html&gt;

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Deleuze, Francis Bacon, 90.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1990, 13.

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