Notes towards a post-viral gothic

So I watched this contrapoints video the other week on Opulence. Section 7, on ruin, details instances of decayed opulence becoming gothic; 19th Century Vampiricism, the American gothic of decayed victorian mansions, and the notion of a “dead mall” – but what is it about the decaying parts of consumerist capitalism that inspires such gothic romanticism?

If, as Angela Carter states in her text “Note on the Gothic Mode’, “all excess tends toward abstraction”, then “the Gothic mode tends to make abstractions from romanticism.’ It takes the parts of romanticism, such as a belief that imagination triumphs over reason, a preoccupation with the inner world, rather than connection to the world at large, and a love or worship of the “natural world” and turns it on its head. Granted, you’ve probably all read and consumed a lot on the Gothic, there’s not much I can tell you that’s you don’t know already.

Even down to things like decrying the notion of ‘Ruin-porn’ (that is to say, pictures of ruined streets in Detroit, or empty malls) as a mode of expression that divorces decay from its political roots. In that both Detroit and the mall have been vanquished, not by the people as a means of taking back the means of production, but by a higher form of capitalism that has deemed both the mall, and the industrial city, as unnecessary to the cause. You know this already.

In that contrapoints video I linked you to above, she says the decayed opulence of the “carcass of 20th century opportunity” is the new gothic aesthetic, and whilst I think that’s true – I just wonder if there’s more to be said about a post-corona aesthetic. A new viral gothic, perhaps.

I’ve been (as u KNOW) confined in Paris for the duration of the pandemic, and there was truly something about ‘Paris Deserted’ that instilled a kind of gothic awe in me. Parisian architecture, by nature, seems to evoke a kind of faded glamour in and of itself. There’s a uniformity to its central districts that, despite the fact that Paris is a modern city which is home to many beautiful pieces of contemporary architecture, seems stuck in a tourist’s wet dream of what Paris actually is and with its crumbling aesthetic it’s seems as though the whole thing is about to take a gothic slide into the Seine. Obviously, the prime examples of Parisian architecture are its monumental buildings (the Eiffel Tower, the Sacré Coeur, etc. etc.) and most of these (excepting the Notre Dame) are notably not gothic. But there IS something gothic about Paris’ abandonment during lock down.

The neon of the cinema turned off, the Champs Elysées empty, the Seine still.

What is it about desertion that makes us think: Gothic? Perhaps because desertion is linked to decay. Empty houses rot, empty malls fall down, where there is nothing something else can seep in. This idea is in itself can be found in Mark Fisher’s The Weird and the Eerie, in which the eerie occurs when ‘there is something present where there should be nothing, or is there is nothing present when there should be something’. On every street in every city hit by the pandemic, I imagine this feeling:

Something where there should be nothing.  Nothing where there should be something.

But this isn’t all the post-viral gothic conjures, and it’s not the crux of the point I’m trying to make. I’m getting off topic as usual. So – back to business.

Now, I love Eurovision. I think it’s an immensely emotive thing, that brings loads of countries together, that celebrates music, and is generally a night of all round fun. I think I’ve watched Eurovision every year since the first one I can remember in 1996 (it was Gina G in that Paco Rabanne dress. It was everything.) But watching the “Eurovision Shine a Light” programme last night was really something. Whilst I got emosh (as per) at the unity I saw there, I was struck by something new entirely.

I’m obsessed with Italy’s entry for Eurovision this year, ‘Fai Rumore’ by Diadato. It means “make noise”, and the chorus is kind of heart breaking, and true to form, I read grief in its words:

Che fai rumore qui

E non lo so se mi fa bene

Se il tuo rumore mi conviene    

Ma fai rumore, sì               

Ché non lo posso sopportare     

Questo silenzio innaturale      

Tra te e me


Make some noise here

I don't know if it's good for me

If your noise suits me

Make some noise, yes 

I can't stand it

This unnatural silence

Between you and me

Doesn’t this sound to you like the last person alive, just asking for one person to say something? It reminds me of that bit in I am Legend when Will Smith asks one of the mannequins he’s made into an imaginary friend to speak, to just say something.

I’ve a question about that first line, too, because Google translates it as “what are you doing here?” Which ads a kind of Orphic/mythic element; as though someone has appeared as a phantom or shade of themselves, and can’t speak to him. So there’s a kind of ghostliness added to it in any case: a here but not here element. Something where there should be nothing.  Nothing where there should be s o m e t h i n g.

The reason I bring this song up, though, isn’t really because of the song itself, even if it does feel something like a shout into the void, or calling out for someone lost.

It’s because of two videos I saw about it. One: Everyone sequestered in their apartments, unable to come out, and singing out of their windows in some Italian town “CHE FAIR RUMORE, QUI!” Like, “is there anyone alive out there” – this in itself isn’t gothic. Although, I guess, if you were to posit that all the voices you’re hearing are ghostly in that they’re coming to you from an unseen source – but that’s perhaps too much of a leap.

Anyway – the true post-viral gothic is this:

The sight of him singing this song to an empty arena, like he’s the last man alive – that’s gothic. The eerie silence, the lack of applause, of shouts, of people singing along. Nothing, just a man in what looks like some kind of funeral dress, standing isolated and alone within a huge stadium. The old gothic of crumbling cathedrals, in which the hint to a faded spiritual significance is palpable, is found here again. The 21st century stadium: a cathedral to celebrity. The spiritual significance of a stadium, I guess, is the reverence of music as a new kind of religion.

I wonder, too, if there’s something in the fact that he’s singing this plaintive cry for connection in a stadium in which there used to be gladiator fights, circuses. Like, here’s a centre for spectacle, and human interaction, and the heat and gore of the fight, and the magic of a circus – reduced to one man, and the ghost of his spectators. They even write fai rumore on the seats. So detatched. So horribly lonely.

What does it mean to see it empty? For the artist to finish their piece, not to rapturous applause, but to the final notes dying away, bouncing back to you from the empty seats. Even the opening of the video, Diadato walking up to the mic in silence. The sound of his footsteps hauntingly alone. Even the huge delay of his voice coming back to him “Fai rumore” but he’s the only one making sound.

To return to Angela Carter, that ‘all excess leads to abstraction’, then the only way to abstract the excess exhibited in these huge stadiums is to render them empty. Yet its romanticism is in its isolation, too. The individual is the only thing left. 

The post-viral gothic is the empty stadium, is the artist singing alone, is haunted, and mournful. There’s no sex in the post-viral gothic, in the same way that there is in the 19th Century vampire, or in the decayed victorian mansion of the american gothic, in which women are conquered and offered up to whatever beast resides within. No. The post-viral gothic is clinical, separate, desolate and alone. I guess we’ve seen these tropes pre-virus, but they’re almost always exhibited in a post-viral context. The zombie apocalypse, for example. The virus is the new nuclear bomb, so the ravaged cityscapes of the post viral aren’t ravaged by war, or by the blast. The cityscapes of the post-viral gothic are just empty. Everyone gone in the night, and dawn breaking silent and still.

Che fai rumore, si
Ché non lo posso sopportare
Questo silenzio innaturale
Tra me, e te




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