Monday, 23 April 2018 06:00


Before the Neogothic turned into a subculture or better into a paraculture, a further interpretation of Gothic culture was developed in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. This can be seen as a fourth original idea of Neogothic, which is different from the first three (the institutional, the alternative and the commercial). The fourth interpretation, which I would define with the term inorganic, seems the most appropriate one in order to see New York as a Goth city. The author is the German art historian Wilhelm Worringer and the cultural environment where German Expressionism was born. The work I refer to is Formprobleme der Gotik (1911).
According to Worringer, Gothic is a step forward in the inorganic experience, because it does not stop to give a static, geometric representation of form; Gothic is full of a mysterious pathos, which confers dynamism to the inorganic, producing a type of artificial ”life”, a ”living” mechanics provided with much more intensity than natural life. With Gothic, abstraction celebrates its own triumph, because it gets hold also of its opposite, the empathic dimension. However this kind of appropriation does not mean a harmonic synthesis at all. On the contrary, it is rather a troubling mixture of materiality and sensitivity, which looks like an ”excess of dissoluteness” to an organically moderated vital feeling. The perversion of Gothic consists in breaking the boundaries of organic mobility: in fact as soon as the energy flows into the dead lines of the stone, it gains such a force that it overcomes any obstacle. Thus Gothic leads us into an experience of form which dissolves the very notion of form seen as a determined shape provided with a specific identity. One may wonder what type of ”form” still exists in such an experience: I believe it is important to underline not only the feature of transcendence which all the founding fathers of the aesthetics of form have in common, from Wöfflin and Riegl to Worringer, but most importantly the aspect of exteriorisation, which is opposed to any type of organic-vitalistic subjectivity. The energy that Gothic buildings seem to have is totally autonomous and independent of us, moreover it chall11es us. The excitement it gives us has nothing to do with pleasure or play. Indeed it is something we would willingly do without, if only we could! Therefore the will of art (kunstwollen) does not belong to the subject, to the artist, but it is imposed on him as something alien and despotic. The feeling that goes beyond the senses of the Gothic experience must not be seen as a yearning for a dematerialized spirituality, but as something strange, the enigma of a vibrating stone. Once again the aesthetic experience is different from the religious experience, because it is indissolubly linked to the res, the thing, the mass. Gothic art is asymmetric and without a centre: whereas classical art tends towards symmetry and the determination of a centre, Gothic art throws itself on the endless repetition of one motif, on a restless str11thening. It suffers from a sort of ”sublime hysteria”, that allows it to find a convulsive and unnatural satisfaction only by being stunned and inebriated.
The result of the inorganic aesthetic experience described by Worringer is a different perception of the body, that loses its dimension of a living autonomous organism so exalted in the classical Greek nudes. In Gothic art clothing counts more than the body; the former gains an existence and an importance which is independent of what it covers. The victory of the inorganic over the natural reaches its climax in dealing with drapes, when these gain a movement that has nothing to do with life. Once again it is the combination of the abstract and the material that causes the emotion to be stronger and troubling.
Moreover the connections between Gothic and inorganic have been underlined by others even from a strictly building point of view. The Gothic church seems to be an organic building only at first sight. For instance it has been observed that the Gothic building system has always been pure plastic and that the ribs and the flying buttresses do not ”carry” or support the structure. What Gothic buildings would have in common with the baroque ones is a meticulously realistic ornamentation, thus explaining a possible and logical connection between the two styles such as in the case of the Cathedral of Toledo in Spain.
In Worringer`s text we can find clearly outlined the main ideas of that type of experience which I have described in my book The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic (1994), where the most realistic sexual experience is removed from vitalism and held in abeyance in an intermediate and abstract space, similar on the one side to philosophical abstraction and, on the other, to those typical states caused by drug addiction.
Therefore we have a fourth type of Neogothic which is neither institutional nor alternative nor commercial, even though it does share something with all three of them; it has something in common with religion (particularly Catholicism being the most institutional), with transgressions (above all sexual perversions); it uses the same devices as advertising and media (with which it has the same attitude of distance towards whatever is absolutely pure and originary). However it cannot be identified with any doctrine or ideology; it is different from the perversions studied by psychoanalysis; it is against the show business and the methods employed by the cultural industry, when they make everything alike and merely quantitative. In fact - and this is the main feature - it is a culture and not a subculture (or a paraculture), namely the effect of a creative activity that expects to be considered and recognized as such, while the subcultures (or paracultures) are parasitic and second-hand.
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