Column: Dark Matter
Column: Dark Matter
  • Victoria Elliott
  • 승인 2023.01.07 00:01
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Collegiate Lecturer Victoria ElliottDiv. of Humanities and Social Sciences
Collegiate Lecturer
Victoria Elliott
Div. of Humanities and Social Sciences

 Like many of the people who are reading this article, my own academic specialisation is in dark matter.  Yet unlike many of those who are reading this now, my dark matter is conceived in the pages of fictional texts – not in the world of physics.
 Gothic literature is a deeply misunderstood area of literary studies – it is often confused with either horror or science fiction.  There are many areas in which the three overlap.  However modern gothic scholars, such as David Punter and Glennis Byron, prefer to classify gothic literature as a mode rather than a genre.  The main difference here is that the gothic mode exists as a vehicle to articulate information and knowledge, rather than to simply enthral.
 In Korea, there is no substantive history of gothic literature – although gothic tropes and themes have started to filter through in modern works.  If we describe Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019) as belonging to any category, it could certainly be deemed gothic.  The movie highlights the conflict between social classes, depicts the capitalist Voltairean vampire, and shifts its characters in and out of both light and dark, tower and cellar – all typical signposts of gothic fiction.
 Scotland, on the other hand, has a long and rich history of the gothic literary tradition.  Dating back to the late 18th century, early Scottish Gothic texts such as Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) and James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) used dark matter and the paranormal to explore the social, religious, and political upheavals that Scotland had endured during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
 Equally, Scotland can also claim a vast and prolific history in the fields of science and engineering.  The University of Glasgow boasts scientific alumni including Kelvin, Lister, and Black; engineers Watt and Logie Baird, as well as economist Adam Smith.  On the opposite side of the country, in Edinburgh, the city’s largest university produced titans Darwin, Maxwell, and Thomas Young – while a smaller Merchiston college is named after notable Scot and discoverer of logarithms, John Napier.
 It is thus unsurprising to find that, somewhere along the line, these two worlds converged.  Scottish Gothic literature took on an unusual and often underappreciated facet – a fierce camaraderie with the sciences.  Since its conception, this odd hybridization of the supernatural and the empirical has birthed a slew of household names, such as Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde (1886), and Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902).  
 Then how did these two - literature and science - come to converge, in Scottish culture, with such success?  In fact, it can be said that science and literature share a raft of similar features.  First, both construct a narrative.  Secondly, both have their own literary forms; both adapt their own figurative languages.  However, these similarities could be applied to comparisons of science with any genre or type of literature.  In the case of the relationship between Scottish Gothic literature and science, what we must focus on is liminality.
 The concept of liminality was first used in anthropology, by Arnold van Gennep, and consequently Victor Turner, to describe a stage during rites of passage.  Yet the term, nowadays, is often applied to political and cultural transitions.  Liminality can be applied to individuals, groups, or whole civilizations; and in temporal dimensions including moments, periods, and epochs.  Thus, the term can be used to describe personal transitions, such as the movement from marriage to divorce; as well as to chronicle more monumental human episodes such the shift from agrarian society to mass mechanical industrialisation.
 Scottish Gothic’s very inception came at a time when the country was recovering from massive political upheaval, but simultaneously standing centre-stage in the midst of the first major industrial revolution.  As a reaction to social climate and discourse, the mode immediately began to examine the forefront of contemporary academic and philosophical discussion, as well as the public fear attached, converting and camouflaging the Enlightenment period’s most prominent figures into demons and detectives, and their sciences into the supernatural.  
 The literature of Scotland’s Gothic analysed and illustrated science and engineering in ways that were comprehensible to the non-scientific mind - through the extraordinary and the unspeakable.  Most importantly, Scottish Gothic acted as a litmus test for what could communally be absorbed and understood by the public.  While science was the superhero that calculated and measured, literature was the quirky sidekick dealing in communications and spin.
 When we examine movements in Scottish Gothic literature, it is in fact possible to see that the mode’s popularity tracks the rough course of all industrial revolutions - starting from the late 1700s and continuing into the present day, as we look beyond the 4th into the 5th.  Now, in the twenty-first century, writers of Scottish Gothic busy themselves not with monsters and mazes - but with the descent into pharmaceutical addiction, and the escape from covert media.   
 In modern Scotland, there is a well-known expression “We’re all fae somewhere” - a phrase that typifies the country’s long-standing tradition of inclusivity and embracing what is different.  In the case of Scotland, a nation with a population of just 5.4 million yet a total of 16 Nobel laureates, convergent thinking has been key to the country’s remarkable progress.  
 Although it cannot be proven without any doubt, perhaps what Scottish scientists and literati recognised, very early on, is that: living together in the liminality, cohabiting the cusp, is not an option but a requirement.  It thus seems the lesson to be learned from this unique and unparalleled past is that leaning on each other, to find more tenable answers to an increasingly vague future, may be the only viable way in which to guarantee any future at all.