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Description - Nightmare on Main Street by Mark Edmundson

An assessment of American culture on the eve of the millennium. Once terrified by Anne Rice or Stephen King, watching "Halloween" or following the O.J. Simpson trial, we can rely on the comfort of our inner child, an angel, or even a crystal. In this book the author asks why people are determined to be haunted, courting the Gothic at every turn, yet at the same time, committed to escape through any new scheme for ready-made transcendence. The book depicts a culture suffused with the Gothic, not just in novels and films, but even in the nonfictive realms of politics and academic theories, TV news and talk shows, various therapies and discourses on AIDS and the environment. Gothic's first wave, in the 1790s, reflected the terrifying events unfolding in the French Revolution. Here the author asks what does the ascendancy of the Gothic in the 1990s tell us about our own day? The author also explores another, seemingly unrelated trend, the widespread belief that recreating oneself is as easy as making a wish. Looking at the world of Forrest Gump, the author aims to show how this parallel culture actually works reciprocally with the Gothic. Finally, using the work of Nietzsche and Shelley, and the recent creations of Toni Morrison and Tony Kushner, he aims to show how the Gothic and the visionary can come together in persuasive and renovating ways.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780674624634
ISBN-10: 0674624637
Format: Paperback
(210mm x 133mm x 11mm)
Pages: 208
Imprint: Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publish Date: 8-Oct-1999
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions - Nightmare on Main Street by Mark Edmundson

Book Reviews - Nightmare on Main Street by Mark Edmundson

US Kirkus Review » What do Richard Nixon, Freddy Krueger, O.J. Simpson, and Edgar Allan Poe have in common with one another - but not with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Ralph Waldo Emerson? Answer: The former express our nation's cult of gothic guilt and fear; the latter are potential models of redemption. Edmundson (English/Univ. of Virginia) argues that the gothic mindset, exemplified in lurid classics of the late 18th century (e.g., Walpole's The Castle of Otranto and Lewis's The Monk) dominates contemporary American culture. From these works he distills categories that he finds ubiquitous in modern pop culture, including protagonists equally divided between good and wicked selves, scenarios in which dungeons or other underground scenes of sadomasochistic horror figure prominently, the hidden past that refuses to die (in recovered-memory syndrome), and so forth. Racism is, above all else, the part of the American past that refuses to die, haunting us in fiction (Toni Morrison's Beloved), in the news (O.J.), and in cinema. Edmundson has written an entertaining and thoughtful book, but his overly elastic thesis occasionally gets the better of his good judgment. He is prone to write outlandish things, making his book at times a lurid bit of American gothic itself. His arguments often fall into the categories he criticizes: Poe, for example, is Emerson's evil twin in the American tradition (his America seems divided between angels and incubi). Though he justifiably scorns the recent angel craze as an expression of phony transcendence, he also presents Shelley, Emerson, Whitman, and even Nietzsche as angels of a sort (he calls them "visionaries") who might deliver us from our abject need. One might say that this book's thesis belongs in the American tradition of cultural pessimism, the very malady for which it purports to be the cure. Even though Edmundson's main thesis is overdrawn, his book is rewarding. It has many startling insights, shrewd observations, and considerable narrative momentum. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Mark Edmundson

Mark Edmundson is Professor of English at the University of Virginia. His books include Literature against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida; and Wild Orchids and Trotsky.

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