Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-zlj4b Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-24T13:02:36.381Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

9 - The Gothic Sensorium: Affect in Jan Švankmajer’s Poe Films

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2020

Richard J. Hand
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
McRoy Jay
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Get access

Summary

Jan Švankmajer's The Fall of the House of Usher (1980) and The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope (1983) encapsulate Gothic affect. They do this sensationally via images of terror and horror based on touch. Drawing on experiments with Tactilism (touch-based art) in sculpture and animation, these dissident films, made by Czech Surrealists under a repressive, Soviet-led regime, express what Gilles Deleuze calls ‘a touching specific to the gaze’ and present basic tropes of Gothic cinema in small form (1986: 12). Švankmajer's films adapt Edgar Allan Poe's tales for their uncanny mise-en-scène. The Pendulum evokes the tactile terrors of the Spanish Inquisition and Usher shifts sentience to the ‘thing-world’ as the animated Gothic House comes to life.

Švankmajer's adaptations use intensive compression of time and space analogous to Poe's prose poetry. The tales’ perversely erotic plots and dream-like narratives understandably invite psychosexual reading. By linking Poe with Surrealism, Švankmajer's films might appear to be ‘about’ psychoanalysis. Yet, Gilles Deleuze's ideas about what a film does as an experiential event rather than what it means can open up a different kind of Gothic. He consistently refutes the symbolic ‘archaeology’ of psychoanalysis that digs out repressed familial desire. Art is, rather, the language of sensation, ‘composed of percepts, affects, and blocs of sensation’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994: 176). A schizoanalytic Deleuzian approach to horror film, viewing brain and viscera as a continuum, looks elsewhere than plot and theme. Its focus is the affective images of fear and terror as they impact upon screen/viewer. The Gothic cinema of sensation works via intense affects and shocks that break habitual response and re-imagine the generic formulae they revisit. As well as Deleuze's cinematic insights, I consider theoretical reflections on touch by Švankmajer and artist Eva Švankmajerova and contextualise them via broader studies of corporeal affect.

Švankmajer's films mix genres and stylistic techniques, including live-action footage, puppets, object animations and claymation. Much of his oeuvre has a Gothic inflection, seen most overtly in his literary adaptations, including the playful homage to Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto (1979). Švankmajer's Gothic-flavoured films include 1968's The Flat (entrapment and claustrophobia), 1970's The Ossuary (morbid religiosity), 1983's Down to the Cellar and 1988's Alice (the vulnerable child in a threatening environment), 1994's Faust (magic and the occult), 2000's Little Otik (the uncanny thing-world) and 2005's Lunacy (de Sade, madness, cruelty).

Type
Chapter
Information
Gothic Film
An Edinburgh Companion
, pp. 123 - 135
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×