Haunted Representations: Rendering the Uncanny

James Lowder is an assistant professor at The Cooper Union and a visiting lecturer at Cornell in Ithaca and Cornell AAP’s New York City program, teaching theory and visual representation.

For a brief period beginning in the mid-fifties and continuing into the early eighties, there was a revival of the Gothic Romance novel in the form of cheaply made and inexpensive mass-produced paperbacks.1 Intended for fast-and-easy consumption, the reemergence of this nineteenth-century genre was viewed, like most of the pulp fiction paperbacks whose format they shared, as a cheap literary exploit. These tawdry and predictable little novels, with nefarious and sensational titles such as The Diary of Evil, Tapestry of Terror, and The House of Many Shadows, to name but a few, were rarely considered to be anything more than a mere guilty pleasure, a literature of no significant cultural value. As a result, this twentieth-century revival of the Gothic Romance did not receive as much, if any, critical attention in comparison to their nineteenth-century predecessors.2

One major deviation from the original, however, enabled by advances in printing technology and the subsequent cost reductions in the publishing industry, came in the form of provocative cover illustrations. Equally influenced by the graphic techniques cultivated from the culture of salacious cover art from pulp action and the visual imagery from film noir posters and cinema, the evocative and visceral illustrations on the paperback covers of the Gothic Romance novels served as pictorial enticements to lure the would-be reader into the literary space of the book’s interior.

Looking at the cover art of these novels, one quickly sees the emergence and repetition of a powerful pictorial motif: the image of a distressed female figure, usually scantily clad in either elegant evening wear or in a owing and diaphanous nightgown, running in terror from a sinister-looking house.

While there are many variations on this theme, for the most part the elements of the image — the terror-filled female subject, a large and overbearing house with a single illuminated window, dark and sinister atmospheres thick with shadows, smoke, or mist, obscured setting and environments, and the dreamlike landscapes that act as a destabilizing force — remain constant. Much like the literature of the Gothic Romance novel, the pictorial equivalents found in these cover illustrations have the capacity, on closer inspection, to illuminate concepts about architecture and architectural representation as a particular manifestation of Freud’s concept of the uncanny.3

In The Uncanny, the short essay that is Freud’s psychoanalytical foray into the realm of aesthetics, Freud produced a modern theory for the aesthetics of terror in which he describes the overwhelming and dreadful sensation that arises from the engagement with what is ordinarily innocuous―a terror lurking deep from within the familiar that is now unleashed. The uncanny, constructed as a critique of Burke’s then contemporary concept of the sublime, “achieves its strange and disquieting power by confronting us with a part of ourselves which we have denied and disowned, but from which we can never entirely expunge or escape.”4 Thus, the uncanny is the terrifying aesthetic experience produced when what was repressed is released from the depths of the subconscious and pathologically projected on the seemingly stable cultural, temporal, and spatial structures of the world, producing a cognitive dissonance that estranged the subjects from the persons, objects, events, and spaces that surrounded them. The surfacing of these repressed fears and desires that were “ejected from the ego as something alien,”5 are now experienced through the presence of doubles, repetitions of persons, places, and events, and the seeming animation of inanimate objects, producing an environment that evokes the supernatural and the paranormal. Culminating into episodes of ego-shattering hysteria and madness, the power of the uncanny arises from the uncertainty of knowing if the locus of this terror comes from malicious forces external to the subject or from the internal machinations of the subject’s subconscious.

These themes and concepts were investigated through a variety of art forms, but found its most substantial exploration in literature, and in particular the burgeoning Gothic genre, as evidenced by Freud’s dedicating a large portion of The Uncanny to a psychoanalytical analysis of ETA Hoffmann’s short story titled “The Sandman.” Hoffmann, along with the other leading Gothic Romance novelists such as Walpole, Radcliffe, and Stevens, produced in their novels and short stories disconcerting and unnerving narratives that cultivated sensations of terror and haunted presences by infusing its characters, objects, events, and spaces with seemingly malevolent energies and sinister qualities. Known for their engrossing and affective prose, rich with vivid details, settings, and imagery, the literature of the Gothic Romance novel has been frequently acknowledged for its proto-cinematic qualities: the literary projection of a visceral space into the mind of the reader. It is no small coincidence that if one looks at the characteristics of the uncanny delineated in Freud’s essay, it becomes clear that the psychological effects and aesthetic conditions are first and foremost a function of how space and its construction operates within these narratives. Frequently told from the distorted point of view of the distraught protagonist, the projection of the malicious and fantastic onto the familiar spaces and objects of domesticity affected not only their description to the reader, but also began to estrange the space and structure of the literature itself, resulting in the disruption of normative literary conventions and erosion of familiar narrative structures.6

The paperback cover of the contemporary Gothic Romance novel, then, is a pictorial device that aims to condense and repeat these literary concepts into a single yet equally affective illustration. Much can be gleaned from the literary narratives by looking at these cover illustrations, since they depict the space of the uncanny through pictorial means as opposed to literary description. Additionally, it is also clear that independent of media, whether it be visual or literary, it is the architecture of the house that is essential to the structuring of the uncanny within the narrative. The omnipresent figure of the house — the psychological and spatial setting for the struggle between the female protagonist and the male antagonist — is an essential character in the Gothic Romance novel,7 as domestic space was quickly recognized by the Gothic authors as the primary mechanism used for the inscription and reinforcement of cultural identities, the establishing of familial hierarchies through spatial relations, and the management the sexual dynamics between in the home. The house is the fundamental mechanism for the critical construction and projection of the self: as Walter Benjamin has observed, “The private individual needs the domestic interior to sustain him in his illusions ... ,” as “the true resident of the interior ... delights in evoking a world that is not just distant and long gone but also better.”8 Thus, domestic space took on new meaning and cultural significance with the birth of the psychological concept of the unconscious, and the house was now understood as the space for the construction and substantiation of private fantasies and personal desires. This aspect of the house, as the physical and architectural mechanism where the commingling of physical and psychic space occurs, is fundamental to the cultivation and expression of the uncanny in the Gothic Romance.

Architectural Character and the Uncanny

In almost all of the architectural examples delineated on the cover illustrations, the domestic architectures portrayed are heavily invested in capturing the atmospheric attributes and sublimated physiological qualities produced by character. Character — the effects and traits that are produced from an architectural order based on picturesque composition techniques that celebrate the idiosyncratic, the exotic, the specific, and the individual over reflecting the universal, mathematical, and transcendental of the classical ideal — has long been a fundamental aspect of architecture to question the sober forms of rationality and to celebrate the seemingly subjective psychological effects of composition.9 Architectures that are out of time, such as Victorian mansions, medieval castles, dilapidated farmhouses, and antebellum plantation homes, in the production of an obsolete aesthetic sensibility through their character, are now, due to their social and cultural incongruency, perceived as something alien and enigmatic.10

As a result, character now operates as the signifier of the mysterious, producing moods and atmospheres that haunt and challenge contemporary modes of domesticity, a space where behaviors, attitudes, and sensibilities of a bygone era persist and are repeated. Character, therefore, is fundamental in cultivating that aspect of the uncanny that is found in “the transformation of what would otherwise seem quite harmless,” and, thus, “... we are forced to entertain the idea of the fateful and the inescapable, when we should normally speak of ‘chance’ ... anyone not steeled against the lure of superstition will be inclined to afford secret significance to this persistent reoccurrence....”11 Architecture, rather than following the modernist dictum of being the “masterful, correct and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light,”12 is now the erroneous, askew, and malevolent play of volumes obscured by shadows; the house revealed as an object that possesses a sinister agency, activated by the machinations of a malicious masculinity.

If architecture can exist at once as a mental projection of the individual, as Benjamin argues, as well as the embodiment of social and cultural aspirations, perhaps architecture also has the capacity to conjure and project the cultural identity it constructs on its inhabitants. One could conclude that the “haunted” nature of these houses is in part nothing more than the surfacing of the repressed cultural memories of an irrelevant cultural subjectivity that is now incongruent with the contemporary notions of domesticity. Acting as a trigger for the release of paranoid fantasies, the obsolete subjectivity produced by the house is now harnessed and instrumentalized by the masculine antagonist in efforts to force the inscription and repetition of a noncontemporaneous subject on the heroine. This is a common motif in the genre that gives rise to uncanny situations; as architecture forces the confrontation of cultures past, the feminine protagonist begins to question her own identity―she, as Freud states, “becomes co-owner of the other’s knowledge, emotions and experience ... a person may identify herself with another and so become unsure of her true self; or may substitute the other’s self for her own. The self (is) duplicated, divided, and interchanged.”13 Thus, the uncanny effects of suspense and terror are the synthesis of the dialectic between the internal and external forces, combining the effects of the mind that makes the ambiguous, the atmospheric, and the nonnormative with that which is potentially sinister and nefarious; architectural character acts as the catalyst to animate the uncanny literary character. The houses from the various cover images, all possess, beyond their architectural language and syntax, an overtly anthropomorphic physiognomy. In an overwhelming number of cases, the lit window operates as the metaphoric eye searching for the escaped heroine while simultaneously signifying that the light in the (what is to be assumed) bedroom has been turned on and the absence of the feminine protagonist noticed, and the door becomes a mouth that desires to consume and return her to the terrors of interior.

Moving Houses: Architecture and Animation

Since the uncanny can be understood as the conflict of the primitive mind (that harks back to a time before the differentiation of subject and object is fully understood and articulated) and the rational mind (which categorizes and organizes the world according to reason and order), these houses actively access the former through their various attempts to animate the architecture of the house beyond the cultivation of architectural character to produce uncanny results.

Despite their stylistic variety, these houses all reject classical organizations in lieu of more painterly and idiosyncratic arrangements: they privilege asymmetry, exaggerated articulations, cavernous recesses to activate shadow and shade, and favor fragmentation over a uni ed whole. In creating these more picturesque compositions, the houses now resist a static frontal position in exchange for a kinesthetic oblique orientation, creating an architectural figure that, due to its irregular arrangement, possesses a constantly changing profile, as the fragments of its architecture seem to advance and recede without a clear logic. Dramatic shifts in the architectural figure occur as the building begins to produce the irrational sensation of movement and with it the agony of indeterminacy, as the silhouette of the architecture begins to reveal Eisenstein’s concept of “formal ecstasy,” a “plasmaticness of existence, from which everything can arise ... being of definitive form, a being (the house) has attained a de nite appearance, and which behaves like the primal protoplasm, not yet possessing a ‘stable’ form, is capable of assuming any form and attaching itself to all forms.”1 Tapping into the primordial and prerational mind, the architecture of the house is often depicted in the cover illustrations, despite their stillness and silence, (as a kinetic body: strategies of apparent movement) — the manipulation of their axial relationships and spatial position in reference to the female figure, the advancing and emergence of the house from the edge of the frame, and their frequently obscured foundations — are all compositional techniques used by the illustration artists to weaken the perception of the house as a stable figure. Appearing to give chase to the fleeing female subject, the houses frequently appear as figures that can come over hills, perch behind ledges, and circumnavigate trees in an attempt to devour the heroine, returning her into a dreaded interior space that is synonymous with madness and terror.

The animation of the inanimate is a crucial aspect of the uncanny, as Freud recounts a number of personal anecdotes of the everyday that are predicated on the psychological disquiet and discomfort experienced from this transformation. The house is now seemingly activated by some foreign agency, as the sudden incertitude of its status as an inanimate object is the harbinger of the uncanny sensation. Terrors that arise from such an irrational behavior of objects and space have long been cultivated as a technique to induce madness. Gaslighting, a term derived from the Gothic noir lm Gaslight, is the psychological terrorizing of person by presenting false information and actively instilling perceptual doubt in order to make them distrust their own faculties, eventually driving them toward madness and hysteria.15 Not so coincidentally, this was a popular technique perfected by the Stasi, the East German secret police. Rather than arresting and interrogating citizens that were considered to be problematic individuals, the Stasi would engage in a form of psychological harassment referred to as Zersetzung (or decomposition), often taking place in the homes of their targets, and included tactics such as moving furniture, changing the time on clocks, changing food labels, sending illicit material through the post, and so on, so that their domestic space would become a space of instability, where objects seemed to move according to their own agency.16 While it is undoubtedly a terrifying thought to imagine the inanimate objects of the world to be suddenly possessed and acting in accordance with an irrational and primal otherness, a more terrifying prospect would be if the familiar temporal and structural aspects of space itself were to suddenly be put into question. This notion of an indeterminate yet sinister space is one that is pervasive in almost all of the genre cover illustrations, one that haunts the stability of the visual eld through a variety of techniques.

Perspectives, Phantasmagorias, and the Projection of the Other

The cover of Janet Louise Roberts’s Ravenswood, for example, uses what is perhaps the most ideologically stable spatial structure in one-point perspective.

A precise mathematical system that approximates the visual experience of psychophysiological space, linear perspective structured the world into a rational spatial continuum predicated on a three-axial coordinate system, producing a space that is homogenous and in nite. This pictorial system is constructed by stable compositional and rigorous geometrical logics such as the horizontal grid that establishes the dominance of the ground (historically expressed by the tiled surface), the horizon line―which divides heaven and earth―and the vanishing point, from which all things spring forth and are correlated. The underlying structure of perspective thus operates as what Panofsky refers to as a symbolic form, “a mechanism of recasting the world in accordance with a metaphysical ideals of “Christian Neoplatonism.”17 On the cover of Ravenswood, perspective still operates as a symbolic form, but rather than the vanishing point being the locus of the divine from which everything emanates, it now operates as an attractor point of undeniable terror from which nothing can escape. This is accomplished by a few, but key, manipulations of the perspectival structure itself. The horizon line is essentially negated as an organizing element, as the opacity of the two large hedge walls that are perpendicular to the picture plane and the façade of the house erase the any traces of the line in the pictorial space. Additionally, the hedge walls by extending the full length from the façade of the house to the picture plane, compress and reduce the horizontal expanse of the ground into a mere linear strip of landscape, limiting lateral movement and eroding the stability of the ground. Similar techniques of eradicating the ground are deployed through the use of linear elements such as a bridge in Edward Munch’s The Scream, for instance or a dock as in the cover of The Sinister House of Secret Love.

With the degradation of the horizon line and the ground, the vanishing point is elevated to being the most important organizing element of the image, the central point located on the door of the house. With such manipulations, notions of convergence and recession are transformed, and the structural elements of perspective begin to take on a new meaning. The central axis of the house, one of the few houses that is seen frontally, converges with the vanishing point, and is collinear with both the perspectival vector that emanates towards the female subject and central axis of the female figure as well. Additionally, as the architecture is not just an object in space, but also a subject in its own right, the vanishing point also operates as the point of view, or ‘stationary point’, of the house. Thus the projectors converging at the vanishing point also double as the rays of vision emanating from the house, locking the female figure in its gaze as the perspectival projectors producing a terrifying spatial structure reminiscent of a spider’s web. The picture plane is transformed into a mirror, with the female subject caught in the interlocking gazes of both the patriarchal house and the spectator of the cover illustration — for if the “eye” of the house is the vanishing point for the image, then our eye, the eye of the would-be reader, is the vanishing point from the house’s perspective.

As the transformation of perspective as seen in Ravenswood into a mechanism of spatial anxiety is a rather particular example, the cover of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Breaking Point perhaps points toward another one.

Again, though this time due to an extreme topographical condition, the common structural devices of perspectival projection in the horizon line and the horizontal extension of the ground are nullified. Additionally, due to the unruly landscape (as opposed to the geometric landscape deployed on the cover of Ravenswood) and the low and oblique position of the house, the vanishing points are equally obscured, positioned well off the edges of the paperback cover. Thus, rather than privileging convergence and recession of space in relation to the horizon line, the pictorial structure is estranged by the introduction of another organizing vector of space.

By placing the building well below the horizon line, the vertical axis of the architectural space (plunging downward from eye level) challenges the already weakly constructed rational space of perspective, producing a structure of space in conflict with its context. Compressed between the picture plane and the edge of a rocky precipice, the distressed heroine finds herself trapped, confronting the parallel terrors of the vertiginous space of the house and the deadly forces of gravity.

Other compelling examples of a vertiginous space, however, can be found in a few key moments from the history of architectural representation, aberrations where perspective is manipulated in order to produce jarring spatial configurations. For example, Hans Vredeman de Vries, in his 1604 publication of perspectival compositions titled Perspective, produced two books containing 73 engravings that exhibiting a wide range of spatial dynamics, perspectives based on various formal arrangements and from an array of vantage points and bodily orientations.18 Not uncommonly, de Vries produced a number of one-point perspectives that were looking up or down, where the z-axis is in convergence rather than the much more standard convergence of the × or y-axis, drawings that, due to their orientation, eliminated the ground from the pictorial structure.

Toward the end of his second book, however, de Vries produces a novel two-point perspective from a similar but significantly different vantage point: rather than lines in the z-dimension remaining parallel and projectors in the × and y-dimension diminishing at their respective vanishing points along the horizon line, de Vries’s perspective is delineated where the lines along the y-dimension remain parallel and the projectors in the × and z-dimensions are found diminishing toward vanishing points located along a newly constructed vertical vector, as opposed to a horizon line. This seemingly simple adjustment, the exchange of one converging dimension for another, nonetheless produces a radically divergent pictorial space, transforming the fundamental ideological structure of perspective. This new vertical “horizon line,” rotated 90 degrees and in a perpendicular orientation compared its normative horizontal position, is no longer dividing sky from ground but now pierces both, revealing a radical and dynamic organizing spatial element.

No longer interested in promoting stability, the new structural element of the vertical “horizon line” is further activated by its new engagement with the vectors of gravity, as the two vanishing points are also given a new significance―with one operating as the zenith, located above in the sky, and the other the nadir, located deep within the interior and intensified by its relationship to gravitational forces. The established point-of-view is in a precarious position, with the viewing subject having few stable elements to get their bearings, producing a vertiginous space that one is fearful of always being in danger of falling into. Thus, the perspective spatializes a fundamental aspect of the uncanny — “In exploring the entanglements of love and terror, the Gothic novel pursues a version of the sublime utterly without transcendence. It is a vertiginous and plunging―not soaring―sublime, which takes us deep within rather far beyond the human sphere.”19

Drowning in Space: Aqueous Atmospheres

Most commonly, however, the cover illustrations produce their uncanny effects not by undermining the implicit symbolic function of familiar representational systems, but rather by creating ethereal and dreamlike contexts for their pictorial narratives.

The idea of an irrational and animistic space that has the ability to be warped and relocate the objects that are in its eld is the definition of a terrifying, if not maddening, situation. Freud recounts a personal anecdote in The Uncanny:

Strolling one hot summer afternoon through the empty and to me unfamiliar streets of a small Italian town, I found myself in a district above whose character I could not long remain in doubt. Only heavily made-up women were to be seen at the windows of the little houses, and I hastily left the narrow street at the next turning. However, after wandering about for some time without asking the way, I suddenly found myself back in the same street, where my presence began to attract attention. Once more I hurried away, only to return there again by a different route. I was now seized by a feeling that I can only describe as uncanny, and I was glad to nd my way back to the piazza that I had recently left and refrain from any further voyages of discovery.20

This concept is later expanded to include similar experiences of spatial indeterminacy:

“One may, for instance, have lost one’s way in the woods, perhaps after being overtaken by fog, and, despite all one’s efforts to find a marked or familiar path, one comes back again and again to the same spot, which one recognizes by a particular physical feature....Or one may be groping around in the dark in an unfamiliar room, searching for the door or the light-switch and repeatedly colliding with the same piece of furniture...”21

A rational and universal spatial structure, like perspective, is replaced by ethereal and dreamlike contexts of a more fluid construction; the events portrayed on the book covers are clearly are no longer operating on terra firma, but rather in the space of the other. Like in a dream, metrics fail, space is no longer orientable, and spatial coordinates begin to become interchangeable. Being in such a space would undoubtedly “produce the feeling of helplessness, the same sense of the uncanny,”22 as if trapped in the bewildering state in-between being awake and asleep. This space is constructed pictorially through a heavy reliance on rendering techniques such as shade and shadow (though the shadows here are freed from rules of projection, behaving more like an oozing liquid), as well as the development of thick atmospheres such as smoke, fog, and clouds, immaterial and atmospheric fields that, through their lack of contour, resist figuration and delineation.

It is this atmospheric ephemera, as Evgeniĭ Georgievich Kagarov states in his essay titled “The Typical Development of Religions-Mythological Works,” that are “... among the most common conceptions of the external appearance and form of the soul.”23 Thus, the malevolent spirit of the architectural interior appears to be billowing out from the house and substantiated externally through unnaturally dense atmospheric effects, expanding and thickening around the architecture as if to malign and curse the surrounding space and natural environment, render space opaque and the objects it contains unknowable. In graphic terms, this effect is illustrated in the dialectic between the gradient and the line: geometry, the disciplining mechanism for organizing matter in architecture and architectural representation, operates as the index of logic, while the gradient is used as an agent of frustration, eroding the clear delineation of objects and bodies in space, their boundaries and positions freed from the metrics of Cartesian space and the laws of gravity. Thus, geometry as the signifier of knowledge is undermined, allowing for superstition and primal naïveté to replace rationality and soundness of mind.

This obscuring of objects and space occurs not only by the atmospheric thickening and coagulation of something as immaterial as air, but also by the treatment of the ground as a type of atmospheric eld as well. The ground is no longer the horizontal datum on which the objects in space are organized, but rather behaves as an unpredictable and aqueous mass that tilts, swells, crests, and withdraws. Dense fields of long grass and wildflowers, that approximate hatching patterns, swirl and sway under the force of turbulent winds while simultaneously rising and falling in relation to the undulations and eruptions of the ground.

Rendered as something thick but permeable, these atmospheric grounds hide the means by which both the human figures and objects are anchored to the ground, creating buoyant bodies that allow for the house to suddenly be positioned in a menacing and dominant relation to the feminine protagonist. What remains, in making both air and earth into something more fluid, is a viscous and aqueous space, a dreamlike space that “suggests an equilibrium” between fear and desire, “but one that oscillates and vibrates ... rejoicing in its own chimerical existence, it encompasses the ebb and ow of form and meaning, the grafting of illusion and allusion.”24

Consequences of the Uncanny for Architectural Representation: From Pulp Fiction to Digital Renderings

The covers from the Gothic Romance novels surprisingly share a great a deal of territory with contemporary architectural visualization and digital rendering. Computer-generated images and renderings, despite having become arguably the dominant form of architectural representation, are as indebted to the disciplinary conventions and techniques of graphic illustration and photography as they are to architectural drawing and representation. Once almost the exclusive domain of illustration artists that were frequently employed by architectural rms, large-scale renderings were expertly produced by professional perspectivists, embellishing their drawings with washes and watercolors to produce fair and sunny weather conditions and enlivening the images by populating them with a range of active and engaged scale figures. Rather than evoking peril and anxiety, these projective images and illustrations were invariably used to convince clients, investors, and design review boards that architecture could serve as an agreeable backdrop and a docile yet performative catalyst for social and economic activity. Current trends in digital rendering and visualization, however, in their increasing sophistication and expression, are producing fantastic and visionary photorealistic images with exponentially greater ease. In privileging the gradient over geometric construction, or rather the pixel over the line and vector, current digital visualization techniques have opened new avenues for aesthetic exploration and expression, as images are now beginning be to produced that are thick with mood and atmosphere, replacing generic scale figures and people textures with familiar yet distanced cultural subjects in order to activate the image in a completely different manner than their predecessors.

A recent article on the website Architizer titled “The 7 Most Popular Architectural Visualization Styles,”25 attests to this current trend. With styles called “Paranormal Activity” and “The Whodunnit,” photo-realistic renderings and digital manipulation softwares (such as PhotoShop) are used to create images that “sport a menacing atmosphere,” as “Stormy skies, shadowy figures, and strong contrasts create tension that transfers spaces into potential lm noir crime scenes.”26

Many of the graphic techniques that were common on the cover illustrations are beginning to reappear in a range of rendering styles, albeit with a subtle yet profound difference. Images are cropped and composed in order to frame the buildings in such manner that they seem to be placed in extreme and active landscapes, in direct conflict with and overwhelming to the space of the architecture. In these instances, however, there seems to be a disconnect between the rendering techniques and the architecture itself: despite tapping into aspects of what could be considered the sublime, the current digital rendering lacks the active narrative content and cultivation of the uncanny that the covers possess.

The pictorial space of the image is no longer haunted by the subjective pathologies projected onto and emanating from a domestic space, since the malevolent and ephemeral forces no longer ooze out from the architectural figure, as its ability to manipulate and malign the surrounding context and terrify feminine subjects is now rendered impotent. This is due in part to the fact that while questions of atmosphere, character, and animate form have persisted in architectural discourse and representation, they have been internalized and transformed by the discipline and are no longer explored in relation to the uncanny and the aesthetics of terror. However, there are other forces afoot in these images — while the qualities and effects produced by the architectural object remain hidden and singular, the qualities of the surroundings are amplified. Landscape features, weather conditions, and environmental context are all seen as aspects of a restless nature, a nature rendered potentially menacing and volatile, that marginalize the personal concerns of the human in order to emphasize a larger environmental anxiety and discontent.

Architecture, the embodiment of human intellect, creativity, and labor, as the need for humanity to produce a world of its own making, is no longer central. On the one hand, the constructed atmosphere can be seen as a deliberate distraction, a visual spectacle that takes the place of architectural content, and while this succeeds in producing an engrossing and seductive image, it works less so in reality: one might make the analogy of a stunning cover on a bad novel. On the other hand, these new renderings could be seen as the result of a critical engagement of a new form of representation and virtuality, an aestheticizing of an interface where all previous forms of delineation and description, and therefore knowledge, are translated and homogenized into fields of equally malleable pixels in a new era of digital-image making and manipulation. There is yet another possible reading, that these images of architectures situated in beautiful and haunting contexts are in fact the surfacing of a repressed disciplinary anxiety hidden deep within their virtuosity. Perhaps recognizing the shortcomings of sustainability and environmental design in architectural discourse and practice, these images evoke the environmental and atmospheric specter that is haunting architecture and civilization as we know it, and are the latent expression of the sense of impending doom of an inevitable environmental disaster and ecological collapse, hinting at a new space of unhomeliness and psychic state of the discipline that can no longer be repressed.

Thanks to the following publishers: Ace Books, Avon Books, Bantam Books, Berkley Publishing, DC Comics, Dell Books, Fawcett Books, Lancer Books, Magnum Gothic, Manor Books, Monarch, Novel, Paperback Library, Penguin/Random House, Popular Books, Pyramid Gothic, Signet and Warner Books.


1 Also referred to as pulp Gothic, female Gothic, Noir romance, dark romance, and “bodice-rippers,” this modern incarnation first appeared as short stories in Weird Tales before properly proliferating as paperback novels. Even though they were part of this new canon of publishing/media, the stories didn’t stray from the precepts of the genre established by Walpole, Radcliffe Richardson, or Poe, as they t in well with other escapist fiction genres, which were mostly comprised of detective crime novels, murder mysteries, spy thrillers, science fiction, and other tales from the forbidden fringes of society that focused on themes of overt sexuality, drug use, and violence.

2 To be fair, however, the nineteenth-century Gothic Romance novel was also decried as frivolous, vulgar, and second rate in comparison to the more conventional literary genres in its time as well. With a few notable exceptions, it wasn’t until the twentieth century that the literary genre was critical reconsidered and reevaluated.

3 This essay is indebted to numerous arguments and observations made by Anthony Vidler in his collection of essays The Architectural Uncanny. See Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).

4 David Morris, “Gothic Sublimity,” New Literary History 16, no. 2, The Sublime and the Beautiful: Reconsiderations (Winter 1985).

5 Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, trans. David McLintock (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 143.

6 A more detailed analysis can be found in Morris’s essay, which delineates the differences between the Romantic Sublime and the Gothic Sublime. David Morris. “Gothic Sublimity,” New Literary History 16, no. 2, The Sublime and the Beautiful: Reconsiderations (Winter 1985), 302–303.

7 Though it is not the primary focus of this paper, much has been written about the Gothic Romance genre from a critical feminist and gender studies point of view. See Diane Waldman, “‘At Last I Can Tell It to Someone!’: Feminine Point of View and Subjectivity in the Gothic Romance Film of 1940s,” Cinema Journal 23, no. 2 (Winter 1983), 29–40; Rebecca Martin, ‘I Should Like to Spend My Whole Life in Reading It’: Repetition and the Pleasure of the Gothic,” The Journal of Narrative Technique 28, no.1 (Winter 1998), 75–90; and Michelle Masse, “Gothic Repetition: Husbands, Horrors, and Things That Go Bump in the Night,” Signs 15, no. 4 (Summer 1990), 679–709.

8 Walter Benjamin. The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002), 19.

9 See Colin Rowe, “Character and Composition,” in Mathematics of the Ideal Villa and Other Essays. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987), 59–88.

10 See Sarah Burns, “‘Better for Haunts’: Victorian House and the Modern Imagination,” American Art 26, no. 3 (Fall 2012), 3–25.

11 Freud, Uncanny, 144–145.

12 Le Corbusier, Towards an Architecture, trans. Jean-Louis Cohen (Los Angeles: Getty Research
Institute, 2007),

13 Freud, Uncanny, 142.

14 Serge Eisenstein. Eisenstein on Disney, trans. Jay Leyda (New York: Seagull Books, 1986).

15 In the lm, shortly after marriage, the husband begins to search in the attic for hidden family jewels of a recently deceased aunt, and in his searching would turn on the gaslight in the attic, causing the gaslight in the bedroom to become dimmer. Whenever confronted, the husband would not only deny that anyone was in the attic, but deny the occurrence of the event she observed. See the lm Gaslight, directed by George Cukor, 1944.

16 See Andreas Glaeser, Political Epistemics: The Secret Police, the Opposition, and the End of the East German Socialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 494–517.

17 Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, trans. Christopher Wood (New York: Zone Books, 1996).

18 Hans Vredeman de Vries, Perspective (New York: Dover Publications), 1968.

19 David, Morris, “Gothic Sublimity,” New Literary History 16,n No. 2, The Sublime and the Beautiful: Reconsiderations (Winter 1985).

20 Freud, Uncanny, 144.

21 Freud, Uncanny, 144. (author’s emphasis)

22 Freud, Uncanny, 145.

23 Eisenstein, Disney, 42.

24 Robert Slutzky describes a similar condition in his surrealist reading of cubist painting and the architecture of Le Corbusier. See Robert Slutzky, “Aqueous Humor,” in Oppositions 19/20 (1980), 30.

25 “The 7 Most Popular Architectural Visualization Styles,” last modi ed September 29, 2014, http:// visualization-styles/.

26 “The 7 Most Popular Architectural Visualization Styles,” last modi ed Sept 29, 2014, http:// visualization-styles/.

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