In the Darkeness, Something will Grow
The Tales of Hoffman, Hein Heckroth, 1950
In my early twenties, I was a Goth. I'd paint my face white with makeup I bought from a theatrical shop and paint around my eyes in black. I wasn't very good with the makeup and so would apply it with abandon and a shovel.
I got the idea from Siouxsie and Banshees. I knew nothing of their music and didn't even listen to it until much later. I just knew I loved the look, especially Siouxsie's makeup—bold, uncompromising and no half measures. I guess it became a way for me to express something which wasn't allowed to be expressed back then—inner unhappiness and rebellion against all that caused it but which I did not understand.
However, the Banshees became about so much more than looks for me. If that's all they were, my interest would not have held. When I got around to listening to their music, I connected with it. There were hidden depths in the lyrics and a kind of Banshee signature in the riffs—all of which I loved.
Before I go any further, perhaps I have been a little remiss in allowing you think that I used to dress like this in my youth and I'm all grown up and completely normal now. So in the interests of full disclosure, when I feel I have had enough of sanity, I occasionally still do dress like this. As a side, it was only a few years ago that I learned that my Victorian-looking grandfather used to engage in similar antics back in the 60s and 70s, and I have to wonder whether I've inherited some weird genetic mutation from his side of the family.
More seriously, however, I feel that subcultures of various forms are an essential part of a healthy society, for they guard against culture becoming too conformist and too stagnant. (Countercultures, on the other hand, I would suggest are different because they ultimately advocate for the destruction of the host culture.) In more recent times I joined up with a friend of mine, Dark Angel (many of us have Gothic names), to produce a series of short subculture films of our own devising. Dark Angel runs a group for Goths in Manchester, but the wider Goth scene seems to be dying. She told me of how she had hoped that groups like hers would spread and I suggested that I had some ideas on the matter. So, together, we dreamt up what we called The Gothic Alliance.
The films were made during lockdown with Dark Angel's narrative (below) recorded over a mobile phone. She is perhaps one of only a few people I have met who can give a lengthy unscripted monologue like this, but I know it to be from the heart and that's important. I'm not exactly sure what these films are, but I suppose they are intended to express the need for something more than that offered by the way we are living now.
Much of what we wrote seems very poignant to me in light of recent events. However, The Gothic Alliance is meant to stand alone and not be connected with current affairs, so I feel it would be inappropriate of me to comment here on matters not related to its formation. I will say that much of it was envisioned toward the end of 2019 and we drew primarily on personal experience rather than current events. I know that Dark Angel would not mind if I were to say that we are both have an outsider's perspective on things. This does not mean that we are disassociated from all things, but neither of us regard ourselves to be "mainstream" —no Goth does.
For myself, I have long had the terrible sense that things which were once of value to human beings have been abandoned and (almost) no one can see it. It amuses to think that this would, perhaps, make the basis of a quintessential Gothic novel—an outsider who sees things others can't and so is imprisoned in an asylum where he realises, to his horror, that he is the only living human being who is actually sane.
Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? —Friedrich Nietzsche, The Parable of the Madman, The Gay Science, 1882
Indeed, we are still living with the consequences of 18th and 19th century science which brought enlightenment to all that which was once mysterious. A revolution it certainly was, for we surpassed the ancients, discovered that the same laws which apply here on Earth apply in the heavens also, and we learned how to automate work and, in recent times, information. Things which once took effort, time and skill have been reduced to a "click" and a "like" and, no doubt, we could automate this as well.
As a child, I recall playing a "ghost themed" board game. It involved the throw of a dice and was based on snakes and ladders. I was just learning to program my 8-bit home computer at the time and enthusiastically took up the idea of implementing it as a computer game which you were to play against the computer. When it was your turn, you were to press a key and computer would throw an electronic dice and move your piece on the screen. Well, that was going to be the idea. However, I quickly realised that the requirement for a "key press" might just as well be skipped and the computer would simply play out the entire game on its own, in just a few seconds, without player involvement.
Ironic, isn't it? For what is a "ghost" if not that which has become disconnected from involvement?
I abandoned the project without quite understanding why it had lost its appeal—I only knew that the idea had begun to seem so utterly pointless.
How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves?
The Universe of Nietzsche's time was believed to be like "clockwork" and in uncovering its workings, as epitomised by Laplace's Demon of 1814, we destroyed mystery. However, despite its universal laws, the Universe is not like clockwork at all. Rather, it has infinite depth and lays down new levels of existence on top of the old once they become staid. It is a "magical" place where entropy can flow in reverse.
The stars that shine and the stars that shrink
In the face of stagnation the water runs
Before your eyes —Dazzle, The Banshees
New mysteries await us.
In the meantime, I long for things to be "real" and to mean something. I yearn for truth, hope and authenticity. By "truth", I do not mean divine absolute truth—human truth will do provided it is honest.
In creating The Gothic Alliance, we eschewed any debate around what constitutes a "real Goth" and, instead, chose simply to define Goth as "the outsider". However, it actually goes much deeper than that.
What gives rise to the outsider in the first place?
Gothic literature invariable centres around a mysterious figure who suffers dark terrors in some remote forbidding location, and no one epitomises Gothic this more so than the venerable Edgar Allan Poe.
In 1827, he penned The Lake:
The apparent contradiction between the "solace" in and the "delight" of that which constitutes poison and terror may, I guess, be open to interpretation. But I would suggest that Poe's sense of abandonment was imprinted in him at an early age, having lost his mother to consumption and discarded by his father while an infant. The spoiling and discipline he received later from his adopted parents were no substitute for love and belonging.
In the final stanza, we see laid bare the suffering of a haunted man who had come to be comforted by that which was, at least, the familiar. It is hard not to have compassion for Edgar. In the latter part of his life his young wife, Virginia, with whom by all accounts he had at last found a loving relationship, died a slow and agonising death having quite literally coughed out her lungs from consumption as his mother had. Edgar suffered bouts of alcoholism throughout his life and, while the true nature of his fate is not certain, one possible theory is that he fell victim to a cooping gang in 1849.[*]
Although Dark Angel and I recognise the macabre roots of Goth, The Gothic Alliance was itself conceived as an alternative to the romantic yet tragic narrative of Poe's poem—for its message is not to lie down and breath in the stagnant waters of The Lake, but to stand up and to stand tall! It is to stare long and hard into the abyss and not to plunge in but to step back! Death and adversity may indeed frame life, but we conceived of The Gothic Alliance as a celebration of life, not death. Our souls may be gnarled and knotted, perhaps, but we are all the more beautiful for it.
I cannot help but come to the conclusion that the choices we make actually matter in a way which is far more profound than we could possibly imagine, even when it appears that nothing matters. If existence lacks meaning, then it is our role to create it. I think that is what we are put here to do.
Andy Thomas is an independent software author and writer with working class roots in the north of England. He is what the liberal elites dislike: working class and largely self-educated. He holds a degree in Physics and Space Physics and began a career in spacecraft engineering but later moved into programming and telecommunications. He was among the first generation of school children who learned to program and was enthralled at the prospect of machine intelligence at a very young age. However, he regards much of what passes for "AI" in modern times as a nihilistic anathema. In more recent years, he has become interested in culture and the world of human affairs having rejected fashionable ideological notions of domestic violence. Instead, he subscribes to the understanding of inter-generational family abuse as offered by the works of Erin Pizzey. The current focus of his work is that of financial algorithmic trading. Despite this, or perhaps in part because of it, he is motivated by the philosophical implications of science, the nature of nature, and the things in life which hold "value" and all that that means.
Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast
John L Jordan
Edgar Allen Poe? Why sure! Here's an obscure item of his that was published posthumously. THE CONVERSATION OF EIROS AND CHARMION by Edgar Allan Poe (1850) I will bring fire to thee. ---Euripides Andiom. EIROS. Why do you call me Eiros? CHARMION. So henceforth will you always be called. You must forget, too, my earthly name, and speak to me as Charmion. EIROS. This is indeed no dream! CHARMION. Dreams are with us no more; but of these mysteries anon. I rejoice to see you looking like-life and rational. The film of the shadow has already passed from off your eyes. Be of heart and fear nothing. Your allotted days of stupor have expired; and, to-morrow, I will myself induct you into the full joys and wonders of your novel existence. EIROS. True, I feel no stupor, none at all. The wild sickness and the terrible darkness have left me, and I hear no longer that mad, rushing, horrible sound, like the "voice of many waters." Yet my senses are bewildered, Charmion, with the keenness of their perception of the new. CHARMION. A few days will remove all this;- but I fully understand you, and feel for you. It is now ten earthly years since I underwent what you undergo, yet the remembrance of it hangs by me still. You have now suffered all of pain, however, which you will suffer in Aidenn. EIROS. In Aidenn? CHARMION. In Aidenn. EIROS. Oh, God!- pity me, Charmion!- I am overburthened with the majesty of all things- of the unknown now known- of the speculative Future merged in the august and certain Present. CHARMION. Grapple not now with such thoughts. Tomorrow we will speak of this. Your mind wavers, and its agitation will find relief in the exercise of simple memories. Look not around, nor forward- but back. I am burning with anxiety to hear the details of that stupendous event which threw you among us. Tell me of it. Let us converse of familiar things, in the old familiar language of the world which has so fearfully perished. EIROS. Most fearfully, fearfully!- this is indeed no dream. CHARMION. Dreams are no more. Was I much mourned, my Eiros? EIROS. Mourned, Charmion?- oh deeply. To that last hour of all, there hung a cloud of intense gloom and devout sorrow over your household. CHARMION. And that last hour- speak of it. Remember that, beyond the naked fact of the catastrophe itself, I know nothing. When, coming out from among mankind, I passed into Night through the Grave- at that period, if I remember aright, the calamity which overwhelmed you was utterly unanticipated. But, indeed, I knew little of the speculative philosophy of the day. EIROS. The individual calamity was, as you say, entirely unanticipated; but analogous misfortunes had been long a subject of discussion with astronomers. I need scarce tell you, my friend, that, even when you left us, men had agreed to understand those passages in the most holy writings which speak of the final destruction of all things by fire, as having reference to the orb of the earth alone. But in regard to the immediate agency of the ruin, speculation had been at fault from that epoch in astronomical knowledge in which the comets were divested of the terrors of flame. The very moderate density of these bodies had been well established. They had been observed to pass among the satellites of Jupiter, without bringing about any sensible alteration either in the masses or in the orbits of these secondary planets. We had long regarded the wanderers as vapory creations of inconceivable tenuity, and as altogether incapable of doing injury to our substantial globe, even in the event of contact. But contact was not in any degree dreaded; for the elements of all the comets were accurately known. That among them we should look for the agency of the threatened fiery destruction had been for many years considered an inadmissible idea. But wonders and wild fancies had been, of late days, strangely rife among mankind; and although it was only with a few of the ignorant that actual apprehension prevailed, upon the announcement by astronomers of a new comet, yet this announcement was generally received with I know not what of agitation and mistrust. The elements of the strange orb were immediately calculated, and it was at once conceded by all observers, that its path, at perihelion, would bring it into very close proximity with the earth. There were two or three astronomers, of secondary note, who resolutely maintained that a contact was inevitable. I cannot very well express to you the effect of this intelligence upon the people. For a few short days they would not believe an assertion which their intellect, so long employed among worldly considerations, could not in any manner grasp. But the truth of a vitally important fact soon makes its way into the understanding of even the most stolid. Finally, all men saw that astronomical knowledge lied not, and they awaited the comet. Its approach was not, at first, seemingly rapid; nor was its appearance of very unusual character. It was of a dull red, and had little perceptible train. For seven or eight days we saw no material increase in its apparent diameter, and but a partial alteration in its color. Meantime the ordinary affairs of men were discarded, and all interests absorbed in a growing discussion, instituted by the philosophic, in respect to the cometary nature. Even the grossly ignorant aroused their sluggish capacities to such considerations. The learned now gave their intellect- their soul- to no such points as the allaying of fear, or to the sustenance of loved theory. They sought- they panted for right views. They groaned for perfected knowledge. Truth arose in the purity of her strength and exceeding majesty, and the wise bowed down and adored. That material injury to our globe or to its inhabitants would result from the apprehended contact, was an opinion which hourly lost ground among the wise; and the wise were now freely permitted to rule the reason and the fancy of the crowd. It was demonstrated, that the density of the comet's nucleus was far less than that of our rarest gas; and the harmless passage of a similar visitor among the satellites of Jupiter was a point strongly insisted upon, and which served greatly to allay terror. Theologists, with an earnestness fear-enkindled, dwelt upon the biblical prophecies, and expounded them to the people with a directness and simplicity of which no previous instance had been known. That the final destruction of the earth must be brought about by the agency of fire, was urged with a spirit that enforced everywhere conviction; and that the comets were of no fiery nature (as all men now knew) was a truth which relieved all, in a great measure, from the apprehension of the great calamity foretold. It is noticeable that the popular prejudices and vulgar errors in regard to pestilences and wars- errors which were wont to prevail upon every appearance of a comet- were now altogether unknown. As if by some sudden convulsive exertion, reason had at once hurled superstition from her throne. The feeblest intellect had derived vigor from excessive interest. What minor evils might arise from the contact were points of elaborate question. The learned spoke of slight geological disturbances, of probable alterations in climate, and consequently in vegetation; of possible magnetic and electric influences. Many held that no visible or perceptible effect would in any manner be produced. While such discussions were going on, their subject gradually approached, growing larger in apparent diameter, and of a more brilliant lustre. Mankind grew paler as it came. All human operations were suspended. There was an epoch in the course of the general sentiment when the comet had attained, at length, a size surpassing that of any previously recorded visitation. The people now, dismissing any lingering hope that the astronomers were wrong, experienced all the certainty of evil. The chimerical aspect of their terror was gone. The hearts of the stoutest of our race beat violently within their bosoms. A very few days sufficed, however, to merge even such feelings in sentiments more unendurable. We could no longer apply to the strange orb any accustomed thoughts. Its historical attributes had disappeared. It oppressed us with a hideous novelty of emotion. We saw it not as an astronomical phenomenon in the heavens, but as an incubus upon our hearts, and a shadow upon our brains. It had taken, with inconceivable rapidity, the character of a gigantic mantle of rare flame, extending from horizon to horizon. Yet a day, and men breathed with greater freedom. It was clear that we were already within the influence of the comet; yet we lived. We even felt an unusual elasticity of frame and vivacity of mind. The exceeding tenuity of the object of our dread was apparent; for all heavenly objects were plainly visible through it. Meantime, our vegetation had perceptibly altered; and we gained faith, from this predicted circumstance, in the foresight of the wise. A wild luxuriance of foliage, utterly unknown before, burst out upon every vegetable thing. Yet another day- and the evil was not altogether upon us. It was now evident that its nucleus would first reach us. A wild change had come over all men; and the first sense of pain was the wild signal for general lamentation and horror. This first sense of pain lay in a rigorous constriction of the breast and lungs, and an insufferable dryness of the skin. It could not be denied that our atmosphere was radically affected; the conformation of this atmosphere and the possible modifications to which it might be subjected, were now the topics of discussion. The result of investigation sent an electric thrill of the intensest terror through the universal heart of man. It had been long known that the air which encircled us was a compound of oxygen and nitrogen gases, in the proportion of twenty-one measures of oxygen, and seventy-nine of nitrogen, in every one hundred of the atmosphere. Oxygen, which was the principle of combustion, and the vehicle of heat, was absolutely necessary to the support of animal life, and was the most powerful and energetic agent in nature. Nitrogen, on the contrary, was incapable of supporting either animal life or flame. An unnatural excess of oxygen would result, it had been ascertained, in just such an elevation of the animal spirits as we had latterly experienced. It was the pursuit, the extension of the idea, which had engendered awe. What would be the result of a total extraction of the nitrogen? A combustion irresistible, all-devouring, omni-prevalent, immediate; the entire fulfillment, in all their minute and terrible details, of the fiery and horror-inspiring denunciations of the prophecies of the Holy Book. Why need I paint, Charmion, the now disenchained frenzy of mankind? That tenuity in the comet which had previously inspired us with hope, was now the source of the bitterness of despair. In its impalpable gaseous character we clearly perceived the consummation of Fate. Meantime a day again passed, bearing away with it the last shadow of Hope. We gasped in the rapid modification of the air. The red blood bounded tumultuously through its strict channels. A furious delirium possessed all men; and, with arms rigidly outstretched toward the threatening heavens, they trembled and shrieked aloud. But the nucleus of the destroyer was now upon us; even here in Aidenn, I shudder while I speak. Let me be brief- brief as the ruin that overwhelmed. For a moment there was a wild lurid light alone, visiting and penetrating all things. Then- let us bow down, Charmion, before the excessive majesty of the great God!- then, there came a shouting and pervading sound, as if from the mouth itself of HIM; while the whole incumbent mass of ether in which we existed, burst at once into a species of intense flame, for whose surpassing brilliancy and all-fervid heat even the angels in the high Heaven of pure knowledge have no name. Thus ended all.
Thanks John. I wasn't aware of that work but enjoyed reading it.