The Arm Chair Sublime: Escaping the Incubus from Fuseli to DVD

January 25, 2010


A mechanical reproduction of the Gothic painting by Henry Fuseli entitled “The Nightmare” became a a major inspiration to the brooding, brilliant, brittle and oddly vulnerable DCI Tanner in the episode entitled Parasomnia (1999) in the BBC/PBS series Second Sight.

The Gothic genre has thrived as a transgressive art form in various styles and forms, in high culture and pop culture, since its origins in the late eighteenth century through the postmodern and into the 21st century. Consumers of the gothic genre enter willingly into the nightmare narratives experienced by those who inhabit the shadow lands of modernity: that spectral cast of incubus, ghosts, monsters and vampires who reveal to us the threat of dystopia that looms on the edge of our planned utopias, the dark side of human nature that we narrowly avoid due to the superhuman efforts of the fictional hero and heroine. The consumer of the gothic narrative escapes with a cathartic pseudo-Burkean-sublime-feeling, the Malarme or Beaudelaire’s ‘frisson’ experienced in the art gallery, winged arm chair or theater, of having survived the terrible through human reason and virtue. See also Botting (1995).

Nietzsche: “Who ever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn himself into a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Gothic instantiations and influences to be included:

Fuseli’ Nightmare (Tate), Fuseli’s Nightmare NGC

Angela Carter,

David Lynch.

Parasomnia Second Sight DVD

Neitzsche’s rautzche?? sp

Foucault on terror

Concepts

Climatic descriptions

Timeline

1667 John Milton’s Paradise Lost was published but it did not take its preeminent place in English literature until his work became a major influence on Mary Shelley and other Romantic-Gothic artists.

c. 1735-40 William Hogarth’s “Satan, Sin and Death.” (A Scene from Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’). oil on canvas. London, UK. Tate Gallery.

1741 David Garrick was ‘arguably the most versatile actor of the eighteenth century, responsible for a radical change in the style of acting and particularly noted for his performances in the tragedies and histories of Shakespeare (Lloyd 1994:21).’ His greatest performance was perhaps as the King in Richard III, first given in 1741, which Edmund Burke claimed ‘raised the character of his profession to the rank of a liberal art (Lloyd 1994:21).’

1741 William Hogarth attempted to portray the sublime in response to Edmund Burke’s 1756 publication. Hogarth’s large 1741 portrait of Garrick as Richard III — now in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool — has been described as a sublime history portrait. (Lloyd 1994):21)

1757 William Hogarth’s “Satan, Sin and Death.”

1757 Edmund Burke and the sublime (1729 – 1797): “Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the Sublime; that is, it is capable of producing the strongest emotions which the mind is capable of feeling. – Edmund Burke” Political philosopher Edmund Burke’s theories of the sublime and the beautiful (1756) influenced the Romantic movement.

1759 Adam Smith suggested that conscious reasoning, analysis and imagination contributed were mechanisms of the phenomenon of emotional contagion. “Though our brother is on the rack . . . by the imagination we place ourselves in his situation, we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of the sensations, and even feel something which, through weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them (Smith 1759:9 cited in Decety and Ickes).” Smith also described motor mimicry, “When we see a stroke aimed, and just ready to fall upon the leg or arm of another person, we naturally shrink and draw back on our leg or our arm (Smith 1759:4 cited in Decety and Ickes).

1759 The Lady’s last Stake, another, homelier genre scene, William Hogarth’s last “comic history”, painted at the request of Lord Charlemont; also Sigismunda, at the request of Sir Richard Grosvenor who had asked for a similar genre scene, leaving the subject to Hogarth, and who had to pay for this austere painting in which William Hogarth had undertaken to outdo the Italian painters of the seicento, who had recently reached absurdly high prices at a sensational auction. Also Satan, Sin and Death, William Hogarth’s last attempt at sublimity, a Miltonian scene inspired by Edmund Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful (1757); left unfinished, but engraved in 1767, it probably inspired Fuseli and Blake and the vogue of “sublime” romantic painting. http://hogarth.chez.tiscali.fr/biography/biography.htm

1764 Horace Walpole (1717-1797), son of the first prime minister Sir Robert Walpole, published the first Gothic novel entitled The Castle of Otranto. Horace and his friend Thomas Brand took the Grand Tour around Italy and France c. 1740-42.

1767 William Hogarth’s unfinished painting Satan, Sin and Death is a Miltonian scene that was engraved in 1767. Hogarth’s Satan, Sin and Death possibly fuelled the vogue of the sublime in romantic painting and may have inspired Fuseli and Blake.

William Blake Satan, Sin, and Death Pen and watercolor, 19-1/2 x 15-13/16 inches

1776 Henry Fuseli’s Pen and sepia with brown and grey wash 26.2 x 37.7″ “Satan and Death Separated by Sin.” at the Visitors of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. ‘All that was to change by the end of the eighteenth century, when for complex and even contradictory reasons, ranging from the recovery of Renaissance culture to sudden pressures for political reform, Paradise Lost claimed an unquestionable prominence, even preeminence, among the treasures of English literary art and began to exert a broad influence on the emerging literature of Romanticism. Although the impact can be felt on every one of the major Romantic poets, as well as on dozens of minor ones as well, it is a curious and even wonderful truth that nowhere in this rich literature does Milton’s epic resonate as richly and subtly as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. That has been attributed by some critics to the orchestration of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was a devoted follower of “the sacred Milton,” as he referred to him in the Preface to Prometheus Unbound, and continually allowed his own work to resonate with deliberate allusions to Paradise Lost. Undoubtedly, he helped Mary with the polishing of her Miltonic textures, providing the epigraph, for example (X.743-45). But with a writing partnership that up to this point in England had only the short-lived relationship of Wollstonecraft and Godwin as a model, there is no reason to attribute the origin of any particular idea or theme to Percy Bysshe Shelley simply because he was older or male. And, indeed, it is possible to read his later comments on Paradise Lost in the Preface to Prometheus Unbound (1820) or in “A Defence of Poetry” (1821) as revealing how powerful an influence Mary’s novel shed on his own conceptions of the work. On whomever the decision to foreground Milton’s poem rests, Mary Shelley did write the novel and therefore is responsible for the complex patterns of allusion that amplify and contextualize her modernization of Western creation myths. (Lynch)’

1794 Ann Ward Radcliffe (1764-1823) published the Gothic novel entitled The Mysteries of Udolpho. Radcliffe socially acceptable stories surrounding a virtuous heroine, implied a supernatural intrusion but always could be traced to a logical natural cause. Key words: Orphans, Fiction, Horror tales, Inheritance and succession, Young women, Gothic fiction, Guardian and ward, Castles, Italy, climatic scene setting.

The virtuous heroine, Emily  . . . “returned over the cliffs towards the chateau, meditating upon what she had just heard, till, at length she forced her mind upon less interesting subjects. The wind was high, and as she drew near the chateau, she often paused to listen to its awful sound, as it swept over the billows, that beat below, or groaned along the surrounding woods; and, while she rested on a cliff at a short distance from the chateau, and looked upon the wide waters, seen dimly beneath the last shade of twilight, she thought of the following address:  To the Winds: Viewless, through heaven’s vast vault your course ye steer, Unknown from whence ye come, or whither go! Mysterious pow’rs! I hear ye murmur low, Till swells your loud gust on my startled ear, And, awful! seems to say–some God is near! I love to list your midnight voices float In the dread storm, that o’er the ocean rolls, And, while their charm the angry wave controuls, Mix with its sullen roar, and sink remote.”


1818 Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley (1797-1851) published the Gothic novel entitled Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus in which her main character, the scientist Victor Frankenstein, infused life into a monstrous creature whom he then rejected. The creature tortured by loneliness and rejection murdered everyone that Dr. Frankenstein loved and finally ended his own life in the Far North. Key words: Science fiction, Horror tales, Scientists, Monsters, golum, electricity, galvanism, climatic scene setting,

“When I was about fifteen years old we had retired to our house near Belrive, when we witnessed a most violent and terrible thunderstorm. It advanced from behind the mountains of Jura, and the thunder burst at once with frightful loudness from various quarters of the heavens. I remained, while the storm lasted, watching its progress with curiosity and delight. As I stood at the door, on a sudden I beheld a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak which stood about twenty yards from our house; and so soon as the dazzling light vanished, the oak had disappeared, and nothing remained but a blasted stump. When we visited it the next morning, we found the tree shattered in a singular manner. It was not splintered by the shock, but entirely reduced to thin ribbons of wood. I never beheld anything so utterly destroyed. Before this I was not unacquainted with the more obvious laws of electricity. On this occasion a man of great research in natural philosophy was with us, and excited by this catastrophe, he entered on the explanation of a theory which he had formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism, which was at once new and astonishing to me. All that he said threw greatly into the shade Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and Paracelsus, the lords of my imagination; but by some fatality the overthrow of these men disinclined me to pursue my accustomed studies. It seemed to me as if nothing would or could ever be known. All that had so long engaged my attention suddenly grew despicable. By one of those caprices of the mind which we are perhaps most subject to in early youth, I at once gave up my former occupations, set down natural history and all its progeny as a deformed and abortive creation, and entertained the greatest disdain for a would-be science which could never even step within the threshold of real knowledge. In this mood of mind I betook myself to the mathematics and the branches of study appertaining to that science as being built upon secure foundations, and so worthy of my consideration.”

1897 Irish novelist Abraham “Bram” Stoker (1847 –  1912) published his Gothic novel entitled Dracula.

1890s Nietsche “Who ever battles with monsters had better see that it does not turn himself into a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

1950 Powell, Nicolas. 1950. “Fuseli: catalogue of an exhibition of paintings and drawings.” Introduction by Ganz, Paul. (1872-1954). Arts Council of Great Britain. London.

1956. Antal, Frederick (1887-1954). 1956. “Fuseli studies.” London, Routledge.

1973 Powell, Nicolas, 1920- Fuseli : The Nightmare. London : Penguin, 1973

1979 Pressly, Nancy L. 1979. “The Fuseli circle in Rome : early romantic art of the 1770s.” New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, c1979. “This catalogue was published on the occasion of an exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, from September 12 through November 11, 1979.”

1985. Gizzi, Corrado. 1985. Fussli e Dante Palazzo di Brera. Milano. Mazzotta. Catalog of an exhibition held at the Palazzo di Brera, Milan, Nov. 20, 1985-Jan. 19, 1986.

1983 Henry Fuseli : 12 November – 18 December 1983 : The National Museum of Western Art,Tokyo

1990 Nationalmuseum (Sweden). 1990. Füssli.” Stockholm: Sweden. “Part of a double exhibition: Sergel-Füssli held Nov. 4, 1990 – Jan. 6, 1991. Swedish text with English summary.

1995 (Botting 1995) “

1998 FUSELI TO MENZEL: DRAWINGS AND WATERCOLORS FROM THE AGE OF GOETHE June 23 through September 6, 1998 “For the first time, New York audiences will view a selection of major works from one of the most important private collections of German drawings and watercolors of the period c. 1750 through 1850. Known as the Age of Goethe, this era is considered to be one of the greatest in German draftsmanship. Nonetheless, such works on paper are exceedingly rare in both public and private collections in the United States, making this traveling exhibition a particularly rich and unusual opportunity. On view thissummer at The Frick Collection, this presentation of eighty works by forty-nine artists is drawn from thecelebrated holdings of Munich attorney Alfred Winterstein (1895-1976). The exhibition explores the range and significance of German draftsmanship from the Enlightenment, Romantic, and Realist periods,and includes landscapes and nature studies by Caspar David Friedrich and preeminent writer and artist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, architectural studies by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and Friedrich Gilly, and portraits by Joseph Karl Stieler and Ludwig Emil Grimm. Among the other notable artists featured are Henry Fuseli, Carl Philipp Fohr, Philipp Otto Runge, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Moritz von Schwind, Johann Georg von Dillis, and Adolph Menzel. Never before have so many works from the Winterstein collection been on view outside of Germany, where it made its last major tour four decadesago, in 1958. Fuseli to Menzel: Drawings and Watercolors from the Age of Goethe is curated by Hinrich Sieveking, curator of the Winterstein Collection. Presentation of Fuseli to Menzel at The Frick Collection has been coordinated by Associate Curator Susan Grace Galassi. The exhibition was initiated and organized by the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums,Cambridge, MA, and has been made possible by the generous support of Merck, Finck & Co., Privatbankiers, a member of the Barclays Group, with additional support from the Friends of the Busch-Reisinger Museum and theFellows of The Frick Collection

2005 National Gallery of Canada, and Douglas E. Schoenherr. 2005. Henry Fuseli. ISBN 0888848021.

Who’s Who?

Fuseli, Henry (1741-1825);

Dante Alighieri, (1265-1321).

Key concepts

Primitive emotional contagion is of critical importance in understanding human cognition, emotion and behaviour. It is a basic building block of human interaction, assisting in “mind reading” and allowing people to understand and to share the feelings of others.” The Emotional Contagion scale was designed to assess people’s susceptibility to “catching” joy, happiness, love, fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, depression, as well as emotions in general. True empathy requires three skills: 1: the ability to share the other person’s feelings; the cognitive ability to intuit what the other person is feeling; and a socially beneficial intention to respond compassionately to that person’s distress. Emotional contagion is the “tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of the other person and consequently, to converge emotionally (Hatfield, Cacloppo, Rapson 1994:5 in Decety and Ickes).

Categories

Art:Neoclassicism, Italy:Art, Art:Romanantic,

Webliography and Bibliography

Botting, Fred. 1995 Gothic. Series: The New Critical Idiom. Routledge.

Decety, Jean. Ickes, William. The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. MIT Press.

Schoenherr, Douglas E. 2005. Henry Fuseli. National Gallery of Canada. Ottawa, ON.

Decety, Jean. Ickes, William. The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. MIT Press.

Keywords

Lucifer,
God’s creation,
Great Chain of Being,
Charles II,
restoration,
Puritans,
Bloodless Revolution,
Pope,
Renaissance,
romanticism,
Byron,
Mary Shelley,
Frankenstein,
Far North,
Arctic,
Prometheus Unbound,
Pandemonium,
the Palace of Satan,

common terms:

“adventures aesthetic alienation ambivalence anxiety aristocratic associated barbaric boundaries Burke’s Caleb Carmilla Castle of Otranto century conventional corruption criminal critical cultural dark death diabolical distinctions disturbing domestic double Dracula effects eighteenth eighteenth-century emotions enlightened evil evoked excess external externalisation extravagant fantasy fears female feudal figures film Frankenstein genre ghost story ghostly gloomy Gothic architecture Gothic fiction Gothic forms Gothic novels Gothic romance Gothic texts Gothic writing haunted Helsing hero heroines human Hyde identity images imagination individual internalisation Jekyll labyrinth linked literary literature medieval mirror Monk monster moral Mysteries of Udolpho mysterious nature neoclassical objects Old English Baron passions past persecution political popular present produced propriety Radcliffe’s rational readers reality religious representation Romanticism ruins scientific secret sense sexual significant social society spectral strange sublime supernatural superstition terror and horror Terrorist Novel threat threatening tradition transgression uncanny values vampire Vathek villain violence virtue Walpole wild” By Fred Botting

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