Our Future is Here — And It’s Gothic

Writer and futurist Madeline Ashby believes that the fears and trepidations we face in the modern world are paving the way for a comeback in Gothic art and literature.

Ashby’s “Our Gothic Future,” a recent blog post on her site, talks about the ways in which the tropes of “the Gothic” (as academics call it) are even more resonant today than they were in their inception, particularly in the realm of secrets. She directs our attention to Gothic art’s preoccupation with the unknown:

Like the twenty-first century surveillance apparatus, the Gothic mode is preoccupied with that which is unseen. Hidden feelings, hidden histories, hidden staircases. Unspoken truths, secret plans, desires which dare not speak their own name. Gothic literature finds evidence of power or emotion sublimated “three hops” from the source. Rochester asks Jane to marry him, and lightning strikes a tree. Jane is sad, and the rain begins. It’s an inventory of emotional meta-data as evidenced by pathetic fallacy, presentiments of doom, inexplicable fevers, and twisted ankles.

Highlighting this trend, Ashby goes on to discuss a story that she wrote for the Institute for the Future’s anthology for the Age of Networked Matter project, and how practically all of the authors for the project had written horror stories–haunted house stories, to be exact–without consulting each other. She believes the reason why is clear: “Because the haunted house is how we will understand our homes, once the Internet takes over all our domestic touchpoints.”

She suggests that there are three key points to this argument that prove that our future is inherently Gothic in nature, rather than simply magical, or fantastic-seeming. They are:

  1. Infrastructure is crumbling — Gothic literature is full of broken down buildings and scary locales. The modern world is full of decaying infrastructure, whether virtual or physical.
  2. The position of women in society is changing — Ashby cites an article by Ellen Ledoux that addresses the resurgence of Gothic tropes in cinema, primarily where female characters are concerned.
  3. That which has been repressed is returning — We are in an era where repressed attitudes are being brought to light after years in the shadows.

As we continue in this digital age, it doesn’t seem at all surprising that a genre so enraptured by the unknown would return to the fore. I’ve begun to wonder if my own fascination with Gothic tales that never quite grabbed me as a younger woman has something to do with this world we’ve entered into; a world where we can never be sure who is on the other end of a screen, or the technology we interact with in practically every moment. Head on over to Ashby’s blog for more thoughts about the Gothic future we have arrived in.


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