Contents Index

A Philosophical View of the Gothic Novel

Marshall Brown

Studies in Romanticism, 26 (Summer 1987), 275-301

       c'est assez
dire: abîme et satire de l'abîme

(Jacques Derrida, La Verité en peinture, 1978)
Philosophers dream as wildly as other persons: and this reminds me of the well-known German philosopher, KANT. He appears to have been troubled with dreams beyond most men's imagination: for Wasianski informs us that they were absolutely appalling; and that single scenes or passages in those dreams were sufficient to compose "the whole course of mighty tragedies." They alarmed him, however, so greatly, sometimes, that his servant often caught him out of his bed, endeavouring to escape to some other part of his house.

(Charles Bucke, On the Beauties, Harmonies and Sublimities of Nature, 1831)


We are inclined to take the artificial hallucinations of the gothic too seriously, or else not seriously enough. They are the mechanical outpourings of second-rate authors, impulsively set in motion one day in1764 by a hung-over dilettante, an enduring fad that was a cliche from its inception.1 Extending into dramatic fable the lives and emotions of their twisted authors, they offer a spontaneous -- and thoughtless -- {276} record of "erotic sensibility."2 Or they transcribe, with little or no mediating reflection, the collective political and social instincts of the multitudes.3 Even recent Lacanian studies where language is the focus still tie the gothic closely to psychological and political realities: the mirror stage or aristocratic tyranny.4 Calling the gothic "halfway toward becoming a language" or imaging it as a crypt, they pique our curiosity as to what kind of threshold the gothic erects or what lies within its blackness.5 But then they return us to the perplexities of our experience, becoming too readily ensnared by the fragile threads that tie the gothic to our lives and not attending sufficiently to the play of the dark powers.

I would like to reverse the priorities of our gothic criticism, treating, for instance, Frankenstein's monster as a thought, not a thing. Paul Sherwin has written of the monster "not only as a signifier in search of its proper signification but as a literal being that means only itself" and as "apparently the thing itself."6 But the thing itself, das Ding an sich, is precisely an eternal signified that is never a signifier; it is not an object of real experience, but a mysterious hypothesis of our reason, the con- {277} jectural substratum perpetually hinted at by the world we know.7 What kind of stone, after all, is free, a Franken-stein? The gothic substance is a thing whose materiality has been sublimated into a freedom from all conditioning factors, making it at once madness, dream, and play. "Critics," writes Charles Nodier about his tale, "Smarra, ou les demons de la nuit," "say that the end leaves only a vague and nearly inextricable idea; that the narrator's spirit, continually distracted by fleeting details, gets lost on any pretext in digressions without object; that the transitions of the tale seem abandoned to the whim of language like a stake in a game of dice. . . . This is the praise I should always have desired. These characteristics are precisely those of a dream."8

The hauntings and torments of the gothic make man a plaything of higher powers. But behind their sadism lies a reduction of the physical. The body is kneaded until it is desiccated and inert, and at that point a mysterious residual freedom of the spirit arises from the petrified corpse. "True happiness lies in being a stone -- Nobody can complain of me -- all day long I do nothing -- am a stone."9 This gothic condition has apparently nothing to do with the world of ordinary experience; its "stony Dread" (Blake, "Earth's Answer") lies beyond any recognizable pity and fear. Yet the gothic lavishes its most colorful eloquence on a region that lies, precisely, at the limits of experience.

I had no thought, no feeling -- none --
Among the stones I stood a stone,
And was, scarce conscious what I wist,
As shrubless crags within the mist;
For all was blank, and bleak, and grey;
It was not night, it was not day;
It was not even the dungeon-night,
So hateful to my heavy sight,
But vacancy absorbing space,
And fixedness without a place;
There were no stars, no earth, no time,
    No check, no change, no good, no crime,
{278} But silence, and a stirless breath
Which neither was of life nor death;
A sea of stagnant idleness,
Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless.

(Byron, "The Prisoner of Chillon" ix)10
Byronic entropy seems like a denial of everything, yet from it emerges an impassioned speaker and a voluble poem. Elsewhere the poet of darkness produces his nightmare of annihilation by troping upon the cadences of Genesis: "The world was void, / The populous and the powerful was a lump, / Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless, / A lump of death -- a chaos of hard clay" ("Darkness" 69-72). Such an apocalypse harbors an energy of creation or regeneration, as becomes explicit in the shattering and scattering at the end of another poem of the same year, "The Siege of Corinth."
That one moment left no trace
More of human form or face
Save a scatter'd scalp or bone:
And down came blazing rafters, strown
Around, and many a falling stone,
Deeply dinted in the clay,
All blacken'd there and reeking lay.
All the living things that heard
The deadly earth-shock disappear'd:
The wild birds flew; the wild dogs fled,
And howling left the unburied dead . . .

Without so much as a full stop in the sentence, the apparently universal destruction becomes a prophetic blast of harmony uttered in passion by the chorus of liberated and increasingly personified animals -- camels, steer, bull-frogs, wolves (1068: "echo rolled in thunder"), jackals (1071: "Like crying babe") -- concluding with the triumphant flight of the eagle. "Thus was Corinth lost and won!" (1078) -- the eagle's terminal motto means, in our context, that the fallen stones will rise again.

In the gothic physical destruction and mental resistance are mutual and inseparable: we can see the principle again in the best known of Nodier's later tales, "Ines de las Sierras." The tale begins when a band of travelers on Christmas Eve take refuge in a decrepit, haunted castle. {279} As so often, the presence of spirits is linked with the decay of masonry -- an edifice returning to its origin as mere stone or mere dust. Precisely at midnight on Christmas Eve the ghostly Ines appears, an extraordinarily beautiful and seductive figure. In her soulless madness she reduces the travelers to stones: "we must have resembled those petrified figures of Oriental tales whom death has seized in the midst of life" (686). Yet gothic petrifaction is inseparable from exaltation. Nodier's ecstasy strikes a different note from Godwin's ataraxia or Byron's passionate nihilism, yet for all three the stone betokens a release. "The two essences of my being separated distinctly in my thought: the one, inert and clumsy, that was held fast by its material weight on one of the chairs of the castle; the other, already transformed, that mounted to the sky with the words of Ines, and that received, at their will, all the impressions of a new life, inexhaustible in delights" (688). The ghost, who later proves to be a famous and mysterious performer known as la Pedrina (the little stone), then begins to dance, and her leaps reveal the freedom ordinarily locked up within the stony materials of the world. "She returned, she turned on herself, like a flower that the wind has detached from its stalk; she leaped from the earth as if it depended only on her to leave it forever; she descended as if it depended only on her not to touch it" (690). Persecuted by malicious relatives and deprived of her patrimony, Ines finds her freedom as a dancing stone. Readers have tended to express dissatisfaction with the conclusion of this story, in which the supernatural is explained away and Ines's madness is cured, enabling her to establish herself in a career. Yet the conclusion can be regarded as a literalization of what the gothic has always implied as it dies into life, namely that the occult forces it portrays are what Hegel calls "das Innere der Dinge," the hidden inside of the world that they constitute and that we experience.

I would agree, then, with Francis Hart's contention that "the demonic is no myth, no superstition, but a reality. . . ." Yet it is not ". . . a reality in human character or relationship.11 Instead, the gothic confronts us with a transcendent reality, the reality of the thing in itself, of the stone in its freedom from empirical limitations. Their very crudeness in imagining what can never be experienced constitutes gothic novels as pure speculative instruments that investigate the origins of experience. From the supernatural of the novelists to the transcendental of the {280} philosophers is thus no greater distance than from a numinous object to a noumenal one: both the self-indulgent frivolity of the gothic and the self-sacrificing seriousness of philosophy were dedicated, at least in part, to imagining the unimaginable powers surrounding and conditioning our everyday world.

Suppose, then, that we consider romantic gothic novels as thought experiments that test the limits not just of human endurance, but more specifically of human reason. Typically, after all, they devote far more space to the thoughts and feelings of the victim and (often) of the persecuting demon than to the mechanisms of punishment and torment. What would be left of a man, these novels ask, if all human society were stripped away, all customary perception, all the expected regularity of cause and effect? They ask, in other words, what man is in himself, when deprived of all the external supports that channel ordinary experience. What resources, if any, does the mind retain in isolation? What is the nature of pure consciousness?12 And this, in turn, is the fundamental question of Kant's epistemology. The tangled skeins of influence are not the issue here -- though gothic novelists like Hoffmann and Balzac readily absorbed the gothic psychology developed by Kant's disciples -- but rather a common concern with consciousness that pervades post-Enlightenment culture. A spirit of pure speculation was abroad in the romantic period that broke through the barriers of selfhood to further the life of the spirit.13


Numerous temptations to such transcendental speculation are scattered throughout Kant's major writings. To be sure, Kant warns us repeatedly against the lure of personifying the transcendental ideals -- God, freedom, and immortality. It is a "paralogism," a "subreption of hypostasized {281} consciousness" to imagine supernatural beings who actually incarnate the ideals. But clearly, the very act of denial acknowledges the impulse. It is not too much to say that Kant's imagination, like that of a gothic novelist, is haunted at its edges by a mysterious world beyond the limitations of understanding; as has recently been written in the only comprehensive study of Kant from this perspective, "The Kantian construction of the enlightened subject contains an opaque etiology, a history of terror, of anxiety and deprivation."14 This domain is inhabited, for instance, by that shadowy "something=X" repeatedly invoked by the Critique of Pure Reason; this ghost of Kant's system is a presence somewhere in the mind, yet outside the bounds of experience. And in a much less guarded mood, Kant devoted his last influential essay, "On Eternal Peace," to "dreaming that sweet dream" in which this world beyond reason becomes habitable, where the "mad freedom" of savages proves to be rational after all, where "a race of devils . . . must bring about the condition of peace in which laws have force."15 Such language shows us how closely the transcendental imagination can approximate a gothic vision.16

"Did the Sage of Konigsberg Have No Dreams?" asks one of our leading Kant scholars in a thorough essay that endeavors to keep within the limits of Kant's text.17 His answer is, in effect: no, Kant never slept, {282} he only suffered from periods of deficient wakefulness. Yet one of the effects of Kant's writing was unquestionably to stimulate imaginative speculation. For here is how Kant looked in his own day, to a reader of 1788: "I thought of Kant's 'Dreams of a Ghost-Seer' in relation to his present writings. Kant now realizes his fantasies and dreams through serious cold philosophy; which is all the more comprehensible since it was a philosopher who fantasized in that book and philosophers are said frequently to reason better in dreams than awake."18 Kant's thought of the limits is a dream of pure reason, yet also a dream beyond the bounds of ordinary rationality, a realm of spirit inhabited by spirits, a world where mad savages and devils live at eternal peace. Here, outside of any possible limits, the purity of transcendence merges into the demonic violence of the supernatural. "What was God doing with himself before the creation?" asks Beckett's Moran, and the question unwittingly echoes a barb launched against his erstwhile teacher and friend Kant by Johann Gottfried Herder, who speaks in a letter of November 1798, of "the disgusting playing with itself, the onanism of pure-impure reason."19

Michel Foucault has written illuminatingly of what he calls the "preface to transgression" issued in different modes by Kant, the Marquis de Sade, and Ann Radcliffe.20 But he does not cite any texts where Kant invites us to transgress the limits set on rational understanding. Here is one such text, the conclusion to section 33 of the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic. "There is indeed [literally: in the deed] with our {283} pure concepts of the understanding something ensnaring [Verfängliches], with respect to the enticement [Anlockung] to a transcendent use. . . . Therefore concepts of the understanding seem to have far more meaning and content than that the mere use in experience could exhaust their entire determination, and so the understanding builds itself unobserved next to the house of experience a yet far roomier annex [Nebengebaude], which it [literally: he] fills up with mere creatures of thought, without once noting that with its otherwise correct thoughts it has transgressed over the boundaries of its use" (A 105-6, italics added). What deeds does the pimp understanding transact with the bawd reason in its roomy, yet hidden annex, filled with ghosts (creatures of thought)? Rather than pursue the question, Kant draws the line. He begins the next section by saying, "Therefore two important, indeed entirely indispensable, although extremely dry examinations were necessary, which were undertaken Crit. page 137 etc. and page 235 etc." (A 106). Why such a forbidding, curt and cryptic reference here? And why were such dry investigations necessary? Is something dangerous being kept out of sight, something too fruity or juicy for polite mention? The simple, pure consciousness of self is in itself -- in its own house, which is not a genuine house, but an annex -- neither simple nor pure. Its simplicity and purity are the products of a repression at the origin, and the transcendence of the transcendental ego is the sublimation that accompanies that repression. These are the ghosts that haunt the edges of Kant's imagination.21

The medical and psychiatric literature of the quarter century following publication of the Critique of Pure Reason is filled with works that take up Kant's equivocal invitation to explore the erotic or insane realm of pure consciousness. The very titles of these works often tell the story: "Fragments from the Diary of an Observer of Himself," "Outline of the Metaphysics of Inner Nature," "The Dissolution of the Unity of Our Body in Self-consciousness." Not all such essays live up to their titles, but some do, and they circumscribe a Kantian theory of the spirit, of original madness, and -- to cite one more title -- "Of the Brain as Organ of the Soul."22 From this extensive and influential body of writing {284} it is possible to assemble a picture of the gothic personality as both the limit form and also the essential embodiment of human consciousness. One leading concept of the period, for instance, was the life-force, and the best witness to the underlying life-force of the human spirit is the energy welling up in madness when all hope is lost.23


What, then, do the gothic novels look like when viewed as transcendent epistemological fictions? Let us consider, as a first example, Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer.24 The title figure in this spirited and sadistic divertissement has sold his soul to the Devil in return for an extended life, on the understanding that he will be relieved of his punishment if he can find a victim willing to assume his destiny. The novel relates the stories of those whom Melmoth makes the object of his seductions and persecutions during a span of well over a century. As is typical of gothic novels, these stories are interlaced in a pattern that becomes dizzyingly {285} intricate.25 Not only is narrative disbelief suspended, but often narrative comprehensibility as well. As a result, we seem to enter what David Punter has called a world of "self-validating fictions" (64), that is, a disembodied realm of pure story.

However exquisitely gory the mode of attack, Melmoth is typical of gothic villains in that his real target is disembodied. Living an existence in which, as one of his minions says, "emotions are my events" (204), he wants his victims to "writh[e] with all the impotent agony of an incarcerated mind" and to suffer "the agony of consciousness" (56). Physically secluded by imprisonment, the victim is literally chained to a point in space and figuratively chained to the weary succession of hours. But this is only the first step in torment. The greatest intensity of despair comes where the victim is released into a limbo, uprooted and driven out into a world seemingly beyond space and time. "Even in the Inquisition I belonged to somebody, -- I was watched and guarded; -- now I was the outcast of the whole earth, and I wept with equal bitterness and depression at the hopeless vastness of the desert I had to traverse" (151). This spiritual desolation is, of course, not Melmoth's final goal either; he wants to win over his victim's consciousness, not to destroy it. The climactic struggle takes place between two minds, and the victim's salvation depends on finding the right answer to a question that forms the title of one of Kant's most interesting essays, "What Does It Mean: To Orient Oneself in Thought?"

The gothic offers three answers to the question of orientation. The first answer is madness. In Melmoth, as in most early gothic fiction, madness is neither sin nor punishment. Instead it is, as I have already suggested, the purest state of consciousness, thought without any definable object of thought. The victim can no longer choose and is therefore relieved of the agony of choice. This first answer to the question of orientation is thus a respite or hiatus in temptation; however nightmarish, madness functions in its purity like a sleep followed by awakening. "Perhaps the profound tranquility of my last abode," says one victim, referring to a bout of insanity, "contributed more than anything else to the recovery of my reason" (216). The second response to disorientation would be to follow Melmoth into sin. "'Escape -- escape for your life,' cried the tempter; 'break forth into life, liberty, and sanity'" (58). Life, liberty, and sanity are here euphemisms in perversion of Kant's tran- {287} scendental ideas, the three unfathomable yet inescapable goals of human striving. Life is Kant's immorality in the guise of an eternity of damnation, liberty is freedom and unlimited power in the physical world coupled with spiritual enslavement, while sanity really refers to the ultimate perspicuity of demonic knowledge, substituting for the "intuitive understanding" that Kant attributes to the Deity. Now none of Melmoth's victims succumbs to these ersatz blandishments. Instead, all choose the third answer to the question of orientation, which is the only valid one. That is to regenerate from within, even in the absence of any objects of experience, what Kant calls the pure forms of apperception that make experience possible. Just as for Kant and his followers the beginning of experience is the inner sense, the sense of time, so, too, time is the foundation and the saving limit of the gothic victim's experience when all else is lost. Here the exemplary case is that of the priest Moncada. Moncada reaffirms his being in the dungeons of the Inquisition -- which puts the question of being in this as in so many gothic novels -- by becoming an embodiment of time itself, the fundamental orienting category of pure reason. "So I sat and counted sixty; a doubt always occurring to me, that I was counting them faster than the clock. Then I wished to be the clock, that I might have no feeling, no motive for hurrying on the approach of time. Then I reckoned slower. . . . Thus I oscillated, reckoned, and measured time on my mat" (146-47). Melmoth wins no converts because Maturin's novel is devoted to showing that the disembodied, pure consciousness which the demon unveils is the life-force itself, an obscure yet irrepressible energy.

The longest of the many interlaced stories in Melmoth is that of Immalee, the human child fostered by nature on an isolated island in the Indian Ocean. She is at once Melmoth's polar opposite and yet also his one willing victim. Pure good and pure evil, the ultimate beauty and the ultimate sublimity are alike transcendent.26 Immalee retains only a dreamlike recollection of her true Spanish origin; to her narcissistic consciousness the world has always been just as it is, and her island is the universe. She resembles the demon, then, in knowing no limitations of space and time and in being absolute master of her environment. The story of Immalee puts us in touch with what Kant calls the transcendental esthetic, or the pure, undifferentiated intuition of space and time.27 And it shows us the buried motivation for Kant's choice of so ambiguous a designation for the opening the Critique of Pure Reason: the transcendental esthetic is not only the region of pure, untrammeled and therefore undefined perception (aisthesis), but likewise the home both of the ultimate beauty, Immalee's absolute continuity with herself, and also of the ultimate sublimity, Melmoth's absolute discontinuity from our world.

Such purity is, of course, beyond our grasp, apart from its approximations in the vicarious thrills of the gothic novel. Nor would we want to approach any closer. For the passion and marriage of Melmoth and Immalee expose the scandal of origins, the seductions that ensnare the ghosts inhabiting the annex to the house of experience. Their flame is lodged in their character, and it scorches and destroys first her, then him. The origin is the ground not of similarity, but of ineradicable difference. "To love," says Melmoth to Immalee in a passage that continues for half a page, "is to live in an existence of perpetual contradictions -- to feel that absence is insupportable, and yet be doomed to experience the presence of the object as almost equally so" (363). Purity is in fact a figment of our imagination and inaccessible except through the regressions of esthetic play, for the truth of the origin is that it begets a marriage of utter opposites, space and time, the sublime and the beautiful, the unlimited and the limit.28 The origin, for Kant and for the { 288} gothic, is not a unity that engenders division, as it is for Schelling and Hegel, but a "synthesis in general" which is always already divided within itself and which is the all but unimaginable functioning of the imagination. "The synthesis in general is, as we shall later see, the mere operation of the imagination, a blind, although indispensable function of the soul, without which we should have no knowledge whatsoever anywhere, but of which we seldom are at all conscious" (Critique of Pure Reason A 78, italics added). We are originally blind and thus are driven beyond the "Transcendental Esthetic" to the second stage of the Critique, the "Transcendental Analytic," at which we may learn to see. It is, oddly, the function of the transcendental analytic to legitimate the original synthesis by means of the categories of the understanding. These are "the concepts which give unity to this pure synthesis" (A 78, Kant's emphasis) and beget objective knowledge of the world. At the origin lies a synthesis without unity where the pure forms of apperception operate in unconscious darkness.


Mary Shelley's Frankenstein illustrates how the technical concerns of the transcendental analytic emerge form the gothic quest for pure-impure origins.29 Frankenstein opens with a sea captain's journey to the limits of the world. To Walton's imagination the North Pole is the navel of the world, "Its productions and features may be without example"; it is the source of "the wondrous power which attracts the needle" (269). He spends ten months (from December 11 to September 12) in the Arctic, as he had formerly become "a poet and for one year lived in a Paradise of my own creation" (271). This is for him, unquestionably, the land of Creation, perpetuating the moment when the Lord called for the light {289} (he terms it -- on December 11! -- "a country of eternal light" 269), but before the light has been divided from the darkness, the firmament from the earth, the dry land from the waters, or man from the beasts.

Frankenstein's quest parallels Walton's. Frankenstein too seeks to master the light at the origin of life, beyond the limits of all our experience: "Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world" (314). "From amid this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me" (312), he says of the moment of creation, calling into question whose discovery this is and whose power is revealed. But it is, in any case, a more than physical, a metaphysical quest that engages him, as it engages Walton. "It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn; and whether it was the outward substance of things or the inner spirits of nature and the mysterious soul of man that occupied me, still my enquiries were directed to the metaphysical, or in its highest sense the physical secrets of the world" (296).30

Shelley seems to have avoided reading Kant. Her monster gains his fatally limited conception of humanity from Volney's Les Ruines, a meditation on history presented with gothic trappings as an address to a wanderer by a "phantom," the "Genius of tombs and ruins." Volney is also concerned with origins and with the conditions of experience: "places, witnesses of the life of man in so many different ages, retrace for me the revolutions of this fortune! say, what were their springs and secret causes! say from what sources he derived success and disgrace! unveil to himself the causes of his evils!"31 A Rousseauistic concern for the proper relationship of the individual to his community of fellows is {290} at the heart of Volney's book as it is of Shelley's, and indeed of the second of Kant's three Critiques. Yet Volney refuses to advance from causes to transcendental categories, and he has his phantom condemn man's preoccupation with phantoms: "smitten with an imaginary world, man despised that of nature: for chimerical hopes, he neglected the reality" (51). The temperamental difference is clear when his encounter with Les Ruines prompts Frankenstein's monster to think about issues that Volney himself never raises: the issue of his specific identity ("And what was I? . . . When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me" 386) and that of epistemology ("Of what a strange nature is knowledge!" 386). Such metaphysical yearnings mark her advance over the empiricist sources on which Shelley drew.

The introduction to the revised version of the novel gives the author's version of the gothic quest for the creation and the origin of life, as she compares her "discovery and invention" to "the story of Columbus and his egg" (262). (Columbus' act was to squash one end of the shell to demonstrate how to stand an egg upright, but surely the idea of hatching a new world could not have been far from Shelley's mind.) Creation comes for her, as it does for Frankenstein, "swift as light" (264). Yet she no more reaches the Pole or ultimate origin than does Walton. "Every thing must have a beginning," she writes, "and that beginning must be linked to something that went before" (262). All three metaphysical quests beyond the limits of experience lead not to the unconditioned, but rather, in good Kantian fashion, to the conditions that make experience possible. "Invention," says Shelley (but this might equally be Frankenstein speaking), "does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded: it can give form to dark, shapeless substances, but cannot bring into being the substance itself" (262).32

Now the chaos which is discovered at the ground of all experience is first of all a transcendental esthetic, "the region of beauty and delight," {291} as Walton imagines it (269), a world of pure space and time. As Walton approaches the Pole, time seems reduced to mere duration: "There, Margaret, the sun is for ever visible," he says (269), and later, "How slowly the time passes here" (273). And space seems reduced to mere extension, not empty or unvaried, but undemarcated and unbounded, "stretched out in every direction, vast and irregular plains of ice, which seemed to have no end" (279). Walton's experiences closely parallel those of Moncada and Immalee, even in their verbal expression.

I discuss Frankenstein, however, not just to illustrate anew the gothic genesis of the pure forms of sensible intuition but also to move ahead to the second part of the Kantian system, the "Transcendental Logic." Here some exposition will be necessary. Reduced to schematic terms, Kant's argument proceeds as follows. Our conscious perceptions are not raw sense data, which are random and formless, but instead they spring from some organized synthesis of our sense data. Now a synthesis is a putting together or, in logical terms, a judgment. But, according to Kant, all logical, judgments necessarily abide by the forms specified by logicians in the table of judgments.

Quantity of Judgments

And likewise, our perceptions, if they are to be recognized by us as a meaningful world of objects and not a mere blur, abide by the derived table of "categories" or, as they might also be called, perceptual judg- {292} ments. Just as words must stand in some determinate relation to one another if understanding and communication are to be possible, so sense data must stand in some determinate relation to one another if conscious, sane perception is to be possible, and according to Kant the table of the categories specifies all the basic determinants of these relations.

Of Quantity
Of Quality
Of Inherence and Subsistence
(substantia et accidens)
Of Causality and Dependence
(cause and effect)
Of Community
(reciprocity between action
and passivity)
Of Modality
Possibility -- Impossibility
Being -- Nonbeing
Necessity -- Contingency

(A 80)

Now a great many fictions explore and discriminate these categories: any concern with character and behavior has a bearing on the category of substance and accidence, any action raises questions of cause and effect, and so forth. Gothic fictions differ in that their explorations are abstract and speculative, rather than concrete and nuanced; they deal with the categories in themselves rather than with the complexities of the categories as they are actually experienced.33 Thus the common {293} Doppelgänger figures provoke reflection on the question of identity and of the first three categories of quantity: is the gothic individuality single, multiple, or total? Similarly, the three categories of quality -- reality, negation, and that partial reality termed limitation -- are probed by means of supernatural beings, the degree or quality of whose existence is constantly questioned. (Remember that the category of limitation corresponds to the infinite judgment, for which Kant's example is "nonmortal.")

But it is the latter six, the "dynamic" as opposed to the "mathematical" categories, to which Kant devotes the most attention -- and with which Frankenstein is particularly concerned. Both the creation of the book and that of the monster involve questions of substance and accidence, and the issue of the subsistence or conservation of matter is also addressed by the dangerous cycle of melting and freezing that Walton experiences in the Arctic. Creation is not ex nihilo, but consists, for the author, in "moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to [her]" (262) and, for Frankenstein, in collecting and combining parts to make a man. The question arises here of what are the inherent or substantive properties of materials and of what potential they have for adaptation to accidental circumstances. Can a rational being be created out of "bones from charnel houses" and animals "tortured . . . to animate the lifeless clay" (315)? Frankenstein can tailor the gross features of the monster's anatomy at will, but the finer, apparently more accidental characteristics prove rooted in the nature of the materials, and the nuances of coloration and complexion remain intractable. Frankenstein concludes, "The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature" (318), and if this means that human nature cannot be adapted to admire the grisly materials, it also means that the materials cannot be infinitely adapted to the fickle demands of human nature. Frankenstein thus gives us an object lesson in what Kant calls the first analogy of experience: "In all change of appearances the substance persists" (A 182).

The second dynamic category is that of causality and dependence. Frankenstein's labor of creation is self-evidently an obsessive exploration of this category. "I paused," he says, "examining and analysing all the minutiae of causation as exemplified in the change from life to death, and death to life, until from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me" (312). And the labor of autobiographical narration {294} is equally an obsession with causation, as Frankenstein struggles to determine the psychological origins of his pursuits. The monster's education schools him too in the workings of causation, first in person (sticking his hand in a fire, he admires "that the same cause should produce such opposite effects" 369), and later vicariously when he speculates about and then observes "the causes of uneasiness" of De Lacey's family (376). Indeed, the very first page of Frankenstein's narrative demonstrates the second analogy of experience, the famous thesis, by which Kant attempted to refute Hume's skepticism, that causality governs all our experience. For here Frankenstein relates how his father urged his older friend Beaufort to surmount financial difficulties and "to begin the world again through his credit and assistance" (289); but not even this attenuated rebirth proves feasible, and Beaufort's destiny asserts itself as he dies "in the tenth month" (290), a child in the arms of his orphaned daughter. There is no escape from the chain of events.34

The third category in this group is community or reciprocity. The image of the chain linking victim to demon in mutual dependence runs throughout the gothic tradition. Still, Frankenstein is special in its emphasis on this category. Along with Caleb Williams it tests in particular the limits of community. The monster appears demonic not because he exercises supernatural powers free from the constraints of causality, but because he is excluded from community. His exclusion is chiefly felt, of course, as a social or biological curse: "I had never yet seen a being resembling me or who claimed any intercourse with me. What was I?" (387). Yet in the gothic novel community proves to be a metaphysical or categorical issue at bottom, for the monster's exclusion from society denies him access to experience in general. "My vices are the children of a forced solitude that I abhor, and my virtues will necessarily arise when I live in communion with an equal. I shall feel the affections of a sensitive being and become linked to the chain of existence and events from which I am now excluded" (415). A particularly Kantian facet of this theme concerns the monster's temporality: he sleeps during the day and wakes at night, as if he lacked all simultaneity with those to whose community he wishes to belong.

Yet Shelley's experiment with the categories proves at last that reciprocity and community are ineluctable even where society is denied. The reciprocal recriminations of Frankenstein and his creature witness {295} their mutuality as each accuses the other of being the cause of his own evil: "Oh, earth! How often did I imprecate curses on the cause of my being!" (407); "As the memory of past misfortunes pressed upon me, I began to reflect on their cause -- the monster whom I had created" (470). The creator becomes dependent on his creature, the master a slave of his servant in a whole series of exchanges and reversals that lead, for instance, to Frankenstein's adoption of the monster's habits: "When it became noon, and the sun rose higher, I lay down on the grass and was overpowered by a deep sleep. I had been awake the whole of the preceding night" (439). We exist, the novel shows, in a universal or categorical "reciprocity between activity and passivity," extending over vast regions of space, from Switzerland west to the British Isles and north to the polar regions. And if this affirmation has destructive consequences for Frankenstein and his family, it must be conceded to have a positive result in the frame narration, where the explorer Walton is led to forsake his megalomania, to accede to the unanimous wishes of his sailors, and to return to society.35 Frankenstein never became the liberating fantasy for Mary Shelley that it was to be for so many subsequent artists. But the purgation or sublimation of Frankenstein and his monster opens prospects that the book's apocalyptic author refused to recognize. Despite the entangled presentation, an essentially complete story is told, filtered through a hierarchy of coherent narrative perspectives. However startling the context it provides, the novel thus reaffirms not only community, but the principles of sequence, evidence, and material determination by which the ordinary experience of human communities is governed.36 The novel first stretches to the limit {296} and then, at the limit, confirms another Kantian law, the third analogy of experience, "All substances, in so far as they are contemporaneous, stand in complete community (i.e., reciprocity among one another)" (A 210).

It seems superfluous to demonstrate that gothic novels in general and Frankenstein in particular also explore the categories of modality, namely possibility (and impossibility), existence (and non-existence), necessity (and chance). But it is at least worth mentioning these for the sake of the antithetical form in which all six dynamic categories appear in the Critique of Pure Reason. This form is not intrinsic to the transcendental analytic, for in the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysic Kant designates the categories simply by the first term in the pair. Rather, the antithetical form of these categories is the first manifest sign of a threat that is latent all along in Kant's imagery and in his lawless and terrifying prose style. The antithetical categories pave the way toward the famous antinomies of pure reason in the later section called the "Transcendental Dialectic" -- four pairs of theorems, all demonstrably true and all reciprocally contradictory. At the heart of the Critique of Pure Reason we find a philosophical madness and delirium more cold-blooded than Hume's; the parallel page-formats of the contrasting pairs make even a normal reading sequence impossible. Kant's proofs in the antinomies are not all equally strong, and his system subsequently domesticates the contradictions without apparent difficulty (one antinomy of each pair relates to experience and understanding, the other to an ideal of reason). It is not evident, therefore, why his text should slide into such turbulence, unless we learn to recognize how the gothic life-force of divided creation has been at work from the beginning.

It is hardly necessary to do more than quote the antithetical principles in order to suggest how uncompromisingly the gothic explores them; they are gothic propositions as much as they are Kantian ones.37 From {297} here we can proceed to what seems to me the paradoxical heart of the gothic enterprise.

* * * * *

I.1. "The world has a beginning in time, and is also enclosed in boundaries with respect to space" (A 426). Think of the traumatic and claustrophobic nature of gothic experience. Yet

I.2. "The world has no beginning, and no boundaries in space, but is both in consideration of time, as of space, endless" (A 427). "It is with considerable difficulty that I remember the original era of my being; all the events of that period appear confused and indistinct," says the monster (367). With respect to time, Frankenstein dates the monster's existence to a dark moment of creation "in a dreary night of November" (318), but we can antedate the wellsprings of creation almost without limit, to a sudden moment of revelation, to a long period of preparation, to a disposition of character, perhaps even to a melancholia inherited from Frankenstein's maternal grandfather, the ill-fated Beaufort. With respect to space, the victim's imprisonment, in all gothic novels, stands in a rigorously antinomic symmetry with the demon's freedom to range across the earth.

II.1. "Every composite substance in the world consists of simple parts, and nothing exists anywhere but simples or that which is compounded from them" (A 434).

II.2. "No composite thing in the world consists of simple parts, and nothing simple exists anywhere in the same" (A 435). The creation of the monster demonstrates both propositions. He is made up of elemental parts, and the parts have complex properties.38

III.1. "Causality according to the laws of nature is not the sole element out of which manifestations of the world overall can be derived. It is also necessary to assume a causality via freedom to explain them" (A 444).

III.2. "There is no freedom, but rather everything in the world happens solely according to natural causes" (A 445). How indeed, are we to explain Frankenstein? As we have already seen, Introduction, frame, Frankenstein's narrative, and monster's narrative all circle around this, the greatest of the antinomies. Is it "an accident," "some fatality," or {298} "one of those caprices of the mind" (299-300) that leads Frankenstein on the path of destruction?39 How can we fathom the workings of the spirit in a book where all these explanations jostle one another within the space of a single page? "I was so guided by a silken cord that all seemed but one train of enjoyment to me," says Frankenstein in the very first chapter (292), using an image that makes both sides of the antinomy, determinism and freedom, again rigorously symmetrical.

IV.1. "To the world belongs something which, either as a part of it, or its cause, is a simply necessary being" (A 452).

IV.2. "No simply necessary being exists anywhere, either in the world, or outside the world, as its cause" (A 453). What, we always feel compelled to ask, is the morality of the gothic? Can religious protestations be taken seriously where the demonic forces seem so contrived? Can protestations of atheism be taken seriously where mysterious forces rule the world? As early as the novels of Richardson talk of angels and devils seems inevitably to render insoluble all questions concerning the grounds of experience and of morality, and gothic fiction becomes obsessively dualistic or irresponsible -- in its approach to transcendental concerns.40

From the antinomies the Critique of Pure Reason moves on to its last great section, "The Ideal of Pure Reason," where Kant discusses the three so-called regulative ideals or necessary, unprovable beliefs -- God, freedom, and immortality. I have already illustrated, using Melmoth, how the gothic novel tests the limits of these ideals by means of their perversion. It likewise tests the central concept of the Critique of Practical Judgment, the so-called categorical imperative, which Kant interprets as a golden rule commanding virtuous action that resists all temptation or inclination. From the "Critique of Esthetic Judgment" it tests the relationships between the sublime and the beautiful and between the mathematical and the dynamic sublime (i.e., between size and power, as in the case of Frankenstein's monster), and eventually (notably in Balzac) it also tests the relationship that had earlier been taken for granted {299} between beauty and virtue. Lastly, the pathetic fallacy that is ubiquitous in Ann Radcliffe tests the limits of teleology and determinism, the central topics of the "Critique of Teleological Judgment." It would be interesting to pursue these various tests or thought experiments in the different forms they take in the gothic tradition, now as obsessions, now as provocations or limit cases, now as perversions or parodies. I do not propose to do so here because it seems to me that with the antinomies we have reached the center of Kant's thought.41 All that follows develops antithetical structures, such as are illustrated in my summary of leading themes in the later critiques. And in retrospect all that precedes also appears antithetical, once the gothic viewpoint has exposed the Kantian scandal of origins.

In conclusion, then, I would like to suggest that the essence of the gothic lies in its play with unreconciled antinomies. It is not the final triumph of good or evil, explanation or irrationality, free will or fate that makes a gothic atmosphere, but the lingering uncertainties along the way.42 To be sure, terror is a characteristic component of the gothic, but it is far more the terrors of suspense of some mystery held in reserve -- than the full power of terror in action. The gothic does not break butterflies upon a wheel, but dangles them on a string, toys with them, plays at the exercise of power.43

{300} Astonishment, suspense, uncertainty, ambivalence, play -- such is the axis along which the gothic moves. What we can never know for sure is what stimulates our imaginations. Darkness begets striving: this is the literary discovery that makes the gothic mode into the bridge between the wasteland of graveyard literature and the exaltation of the great romantic novels, the philosophic discovery that leads Kant from the wilderness of the antinomies to the sublime ideas of pure reason. In the middle lie Tantalus and Job, the most cosmic of jokes. From the time of Walpole on, the gothic novel and the gothic novelist rarely seem to take themselves seriously. "I shall not be supposed as according the remotest degree of serious faith to such an imagination," we read in the 1818 Preface that Mary Shelley's husband wrote for her (267); "Swift as light and as cheering was the idea that broke in upon me," she remembers the horrific moment of inspiration in her 1831 Introduction (264). The greatness of the gothic -- inseparable from the seeming frivolity of all its greatest exemplars -- is not that it plays with terror and insanity, but rather that it plays with these things, that is, that it imagines them.44


Throughout this confrontation of Kantian and gothic psychology we have seen how the authors and texts remain in touch with an imaginative vision that nevertheless remains larger than any one of them comprehends. At stake is nothing less than a difficult, even dangerous rethinking of the relation of man to his world; if the novels often seem to have some of the fleshless, abstract quality that we attribute to allegory, that is because the underlying issues are cosmic ones, larger than the characters. From the philosopher we may learn the issues and the terms for analysis that let us see the vital statements implicit within the novels; from the novelists we may perceive the energy that brings the philosopher's rigors to life. It would be tempting to say that novelists open questions and philosophers close them, but more than just chronology {301} prohibits painting this simplified picture: the philosopher's answers often prove to be gestures of defense against his own psychological intuition, the novelists' explorations just as often are promulgated in the service of all-too-decisive moral conclusions. Nothing, indeed, allows us to draw too sharp a distinction between philosophers and novelists: philosophers (even Kant) also tell stories, novelists (even gothic novelists) also reason about higher issues. If anything, it is the philosopher who is really the greater fabulist, driving his premise to the nearest, most organic denouement; if anything, it is the novelists who are the greater dialecticians, imaging the dynamism of their premises in the free play of factors and forces acting on their characters. These distinctions are, of course, in no sense absolute. Both the insights of philosophers and the intuitions of novelists -- is the difference between "philosophy" and "literature" no greater after all than the distance between a Germanic word and its nearest Romance counterpart? -- come trailing an aura that envelops and illuminates them. The metaphor favored by Michel Serres seems apposite here: major texts are but nodal points, eddies in the turbulent flow of human consciousness, juxtaposing points of condensation with expanses of sublimation. While the proportions may differ, we ought to see in any major text a conjuncture of binding with loosing, terminating with initiating, limitation with transgression, looking backward with looking ahead. If the gothic novels, in their exuberance, stress play over determination, this means that we more readily read them looking ahead than looking back. Nevertheless, as the present essay tries to show, the significant novels must also assert their place in the stream by points of definition -- a distinctive intellectual profile -- lest they sink in the current as irretrievably as, say, Southey's Thalaba. Thought and invention are always complementary and never antithetical; a literature can no more exist without ideas than can a philosophy without expression.45


1. The best study of the time-worn topoi of terror remains Marianne Thalmann's Der Trivialroman des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts: Ein Beitrag zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Geheimbundmystik (Berlin, 1921).

2. The well-known phrase comes from Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, tr. Angus Davidson (London, New York: Oxford UP, 1970) xv. It is unnecessary to enumerate psychological studies of the gothic here, but note a good recent study of Walpole, Beckford, and Lewis that is liable to be overlooked: Giovanna Franci, La Messa in scena del terrore (Ravenna: Longo, 1982).

3. Cf., for instance, Ronald Paulson, "Gothic Fiction and the French Revolution," ELH 48 (1981): 532-54, and David Punter, The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day (London and New York: Longman, 1980). In "Mary Shelley's Monster: Politics and Psyche in Frankenstein," Lee Sterrenburg demonstrates a conscious political allegory in the novel. See The Endurance of "Frankenstein," ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: U of California P, 1979) 143-71.

4. Paradigmatic is the essay by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "The Character in the Veil: Imagery of the Surface in the Gothic Novel," PMLA 96 (1981): 255-70.

5. The quoted phrase comes from Sedgwick 263. On the crypt see Jerrold E. Hogle, "The Restless Labyrinth: Cryptonomy in the Gothic Novel," Arizona Quarterly 36 (1980): 330-58.

6. Paul Sherwin, "Frankenstein: Creation as Catastrophe," PMLA 96 (1981): 891, 886. Hogle likewise uses the telltale phrase, with greater precision: "The 'thing itself' never emerges, even when its ghost appears complete" (338). See also Joyce Carol Oates, "Frankenstein's Fallen Angel," Critical Inquiry 10 (1984): 543-54, which calls the monster "(sub)-human consciousness-in-the-making" (546); the conclusion of Northrop Frye's "Yorick: The Romantic Macabre," in A Study of English Romanticism (New York: Random House, 1968) 51-85, which usefully, if too generally, relates gothic sleep and death to Kant's noumenon; and Michel Serres' account of a gothic painting in "Turner Translates Carnot," Hermes, ed. Josué Harari and David F. Bell (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1982) 60: "Man has constructed a thing-nature. The painter makes one see the entrails of this thing: stochastic bundles, dualism of sources, winking fires, its material entrails, which are the very womb of the world."

7. This is the substance, though not the imagery, of Hegel's critique of Kant's Ding an sich: "To the object an unknown thingness-in-itself behind knowledge is ascribed, which thus -- and truth along with it -- is considered an absolute beyond for knowledge." Wissenschaft der Logik, in Werke, ed. Eva Moldenhauer and Karl Markus Michel (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1969) vi: 500 (Part II sect. 3, ch. 2, A).

8. Charles Nodier, Contes, ed. Pierre-Georges Castex (Paris: Garnier, 1961) 43.

9. William Godwin, Caleb Williams, ed. David McCracken (London: Oxford UP, 1970) 334.

10. Poetical Works, ed. Frederick Page (London, Oxford, New York: Oxford UP, 1970). Subsequent quotations to Byron's works are cited parenthetically in the text.

11. Francis Russell Hart, "The Experience of Character in the Gothic Novel," Experience in the Novel, ed. Roy Harvey Pearce (New York and London: Columbia UP, 1968) 83-108. Hart's valuable essay borrows the term "demonic" from Goethe; it goes wrong by failing to recognize the transcendental resonance in Goethe's usage.

12. Writing of dreams, Nodier is as explicit on this motivation of the gothic as any author I have seen. "It seems that the spirit, obscured by shadows from eternal life, never frees itself with more facility than under the sweet empire of this intermittent death, where it is permitted to rest in its proper essence, sheltered from all the influences of the conventional personality that society has made." "De quelques phenomenes du sommeil," Oeuvres (Geneva: Slatkine Reprints, 1968) v: 161. I hope to demonstrate more fully in a book in progress how the gothic first probed this unsocialized "proper essence" of the soul, whereas earlier, as Stephen Greenblatt has written in Renaissance Self-Fashioning (Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1980) 256, "there were, so far as I could tell, no moments of pure, unfettered subjectivity; indeed, the human subject itself began to seem remarkably unfree, the ideological product of the relations of power in a particular society."

13. Cf. Jerome Christensen, "Byron's Career: The Speculative Stage," ELH 52 (1985): 59-84.

14. Hartmut and Gernot Böhme, Das Andere der Vernunft: Zur Entwicklung von Rationalitätsstrukturen am Beispiel Kants (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1983) 15. Of particular relevance are the discussions of dreams and of hypochondria, 232-72 and 387-423 respectively. This fine book emphasizes the costs of Kant's rationalism and undervalues the ways that Kant's repressions helped to define and eventually to chart the unconscious. There are many tantalizing suggestions toward a reconstruction of the "Kantian unconscious" in the writings about him by Jacques Derrida and by Jean-Luc Nancy.

15. I cite Kant from Werke, ed. Wilhelm Weischedel, 6 vols. (Frankfurt: Insel, 1956-64). Page references are given in standard form to the first (A) edition of each work, in this case, A 3, 32, 60.

16. Martin Heidegger's Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik (1929; 4th ed., Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1973) remains the classic account of the imaginative mystery of origins in Kant. Heidegger's focus on the motif of the pure as elaborated in the central arguments of the Critique of Pure Reason deflects him from the question of why the "abyss" of "the transcendental imagination frightened" Kant (162). The answer, I argue, can be inferred from peripheral essays, incidental metaphors and contemporary writings to which Kant responds. Heidegger's later essay, "Kants These über das Sein," Wegmarken (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1967) 273-307, opens up the ambivalence of thought (305-6) through a focus on the "mere" (bloß) rather than the pure, and with the -- surely not fortuitous -- example of being, "this stone is" (283).

17. Lewis White Beck, "Did the Sage of Königsberg Have No Dreams?" Essays on Kant and Hume (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1978) 38-60. David Simpson phrases the accepted wisdom in this way: "Kant ignored the evidence of such states as dreaming and madness as simply not appropriate to the account of transcendental psychology," The Politics of American English, 1776-1850 (New York, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986) 233.

18. Karl Philipp Moritz, "Fragmente aus dem Tagebuche eines Beobachters Seinselbst," Gnôthi seauton, oder, Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde VI.2 (1788): 55-61. This journal rounded by Moritz (a novelist and esthetician who was a close friend of Goethe's) was, I believe, the first periodical devoted primarily to experimental psychology. It combines abstract, philosophical articles with reports of empirical observations of abnormal states. After Moritz died, it was edited by Salomon Maimon, a philosopher who tried to combine elements of Kantian idealism with the affective philosophy of Jacobi.

19. Samuel Beckett, Three Novels (New York: Grove, 1965) 167. Herders Briefe, ed. Wilhelm Dobbek (Weimar: Volksverlag Weimar, 1959) 388. Beckett's original French is more graphic: "Que foutait Dieu avant la création?" Molloy (Paris: Union générale d'éditions, 1959) 222. The context is a very gothic list of "theological" questions.

20. Michel Foucault, "Preface to Transgression," and "Language to Infinity," in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, tr. Donald F. Bouthard (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1977) 29-52 and 53-65. I think, however, that Foucault is wrong at one point in suggesting that Kant foreclosed metaphysical speculation (38). See further two seminal essays by Ernst Bloch, to which my title pays homage, "Philosophische Ansicht des Detektivromans" and "Philosophische Ansicht des Kunstlerromans," Verfremdungen I (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1962) 37-63 and 64-80.

21. In La Maison de Kant: Conte moral (Paris: Payot, 1984), Bernard Edelman has derived from Kant's pragmatic essays and lectures an eloquent, even sensational view, in the spirit of Artaud, of Kant's world as bifurcated between inside and outside, rigid domesticity and chaotic violence. Since he ignores the crucial threshold, or transcendental, dimension, his view of Kant's house is not fundamentally an advance over that of the anonymous rationalist who writes in the Berlinische Monatsschrift, 6 (Nov. 1785) 432: "All marvelous things will sooner succeed in Lavater's house than in Kant's or in that of another coldblooded philosopher." De Quincey and Charles Bucke knew better.

22. The first of these essays is cited in note 18. The others are Carl Christian Schmid, "Abriß der Metaphysik der innern Natur," Psychologisches Magazin 3 (1798): 294-353; Johann Christian Reil, "Das Zerfallen der Einheit unsers Korpers im Selbstbewusstseyn," Beyträge zur Beförderung einer Kurmethode auf psychischem Wege I (1808): 550-85; Carl Christian Schmid, "Über das Gehirn als Seelenorgan," Psychologisches Magazin 3 (1798): 102-11. Schmid was one of Kant's closest disciples and the author, among many other works, of an early lexicon to Kant's writings, Wörterbuch zum leichteren Gebrauch der Kantischen Schriften (Jena: Croker, 1788). His Psychologisches Magazin was founded as a successor to Moritz' Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde. The soul organ (e.g., Descartes' pineal gland) -- the soul as "thing" -- was the topic of S. Th. Sommerring's Über das Organ der Seele (Königsberg: Nicolovius, 1796), for which Kant wrote an equivocal introduction.

23. See C. W. Hufeland, "Mein Begriff von der Lebenskraft," Journal der practischen Heilkunde 6 (1798): 785-96, also in Hufeland's Kleine Medizinische Schriften, 2 vols. (Berlin: Reirner, 1822-23) 11: 344-54. See further Reil's early critique of Hufeland, "Von der Lebenskraft," in Reil's Gesammelte physiologische Schriften I (Vienna, 1811): 3-133, together with numerous essays on the topic in Reil's periodical, Archiv fur die Physiologie, 10 vols. (1795-1810). Hufeland, a practitioner rather than a metaphysician, was court physician in Weimar and for many years editor of the Journal der practischen Heilkunde. He was also friends with Kant, who reviewed a political essay by Hufeland and who analyzed some of Hufeland's writings in detail in the medical section of "The Quarrel of the Faculties." Another of Hufeland's preoccupations moves us even closer to the gothic milieu: see his mortuarial essay of 1792 against the premature burial of the dead, "Über die Ungewißheit des Todes und das einzige untrugliche Mittel sich von seiner Unmöglichkeit zu überzeugen und das Lebendigbegraben unmöglich zu machen," in Kleine Medizinische Schriften I: 272-324. As Robert Kiely has written, "Frankenstein digging about in graveyards and charnel houses, matching eyeballs and saving bones, is not an inspiring sight" (The Romantic Novel in England [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1972] 162); it was, however, not altogether unlike the professional researches into the life-force of the soul that were inspired by Kant.

24. Cited from Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer, ed. Douglas Grant (London: Oxford UP, 1972).

25. There is a good description of structural intricacies in Melmoth, with rather limited interpretation, in Linda Bayer-Berenbaum, The Gothic Imagination (Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1982) 75-106.

26. See Robert Kiely's excellent discussion of the ambiguous nature of purity in Maturin in The Romantic Novel in England 206-7.

27. Here, in a like vein, is what Balzac (a great admirer of Melmoth) writes in an open letter to Nodier: "Now, my dear Nodier, neither space nor time exists, outside of man at least; Fichte and many great geniuses have derived them abstractly, philosophically. Time and space are, in the sense which you give to these words, one and the same thing, which is, with respect to us, a product of movement, and movement is, like space, an abyss as profound as the idea of God, where our reason grows enfeebled when we wish to penetrate it. Sleep, another gulf into which we can plunge . . . often shows, to a man of good faith, space completely annihilated, in its double form of time and space properly so called. . . . Smarra, your magic Smarra, seems to me the poetic episode from a great work on sleep, an episode where, with marvelous talent, you have drawn forth beyond the walls of the brain, the most intangible features of our internal power." Honore de Balzac, "Lettre à Charles Nodier," Oeuvres diverses, ed. Marcel Bouteton and Henri Lorgnon (Paris: Conard, 1938) II: 563-64. And later, when the gothic becomes the province of the foolish and the superstitious -- like Tatyana in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (v: xi-xii) or Affery in Dickens's Little Dorrit -- a neglected child, Luis Cadalso in Benito Perez Galdos's Miau, can experience the same fundamental intuitions: "It was the same thing to sit [sentarse] on the cold stone and to feel himself [sentirse] assaulted by a profound dream"; "the first thing the lad saw in his snooze was a vacant expanse, an undetermined space whose horizon blended into the sky, with no features whatever, almost without bounds, since all was equal, the near and the far." Miau. Marianela (Mexico: Porrua, 1973), ch. 3: 9; ch. 40: 138.

28. For the fusion of limit and limitlessness see Kant's discussion, late in the Critique of Pure Reason, of the correlation between infinite judgments and the category of limitation, for which his example -- not coincidentally for the present discussion -- is the predicate "nichtsterblich" (nonmortal): "All true negations are thus none other than limits or barriers [Schranken], which they could not be named, if they were not grounded in the unlimited (the all)" (A 576). Tilottama Rajan understates the radicalism of the romantic critique of origins when she writes, "To dream of a pure consciousness without the difficulties of existence, or of a world of things without the complications of consciousness, is to ignore . . . the ambiguous mediation that must always take place between the two" (Dark Interpreter: The Discourse of Romanticism [Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1980] 252-53). The fundamental ambiguity, to borrow the terms of Barbara Johnson's The Critical Difference (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980), is not located between consciousness and existence, but within the auto-affections of "pure" consciousness itself. When Coleridge begins the remarkable "Effusion at Evening, Written in August, 1792," with the lines, "Imagination, Mistress of my Love! / Where shall mine Eye thy elfin haunt explore?" he illustrates the origin of romantic consciousness in a troubled narcissistic or incestuous self-probing.

29. Cited from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. In Three Gothic Novels, ed. Peter Fairclough (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968).

30. Harold Bloom's essay, "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus," in The Ringers the Tower (Chicago and London: Chicago UP, 1971) 119-29, should long since have laid to rest the notion that a novel concerned with the highest kind of physical secrets, namely metaphysical ones, could be reducible to a tract against scientific materialism. The old canard is still abroad, however, in Jargert Klein's essay, "Das Problem der Wissenschaft in Mary Shelleys 'Frankenstein; Or the Modern Prometheus,'" England zwischen Aufklärung und Romantik (Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 1983) 151-72. George Levine places the issues more accurately in "The Ambiguous Heritage of Frankenstein," in The Endurance of 'Frankenstein' 29: "The true monstrousness is not, then, the raging id . . . but the attempt of consciousness to impose itself on the world, either in the form of reality or science" (revised in Levine's The Realist Imagination [Chicago and London: Chicago UP, 1981] 323). Also good on the problem of mind in the novel is L. J. Swingle, "Frankenstein's Monster and Its Romantic Relatives: Problems of Knowledge in English Romanticism," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 15 (1973): 52-65. Victorian gothic is, of course, more concretely scientific; see, for instance, Ed Block, Jr., "James Sully, Evolutionist Psychology and Late Victorian Gothic Fiction," Victorian Studies 25 (1982): 443-67.

31. Volney's Ruins; or, Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires (Boston: 1832) 30, 34.

32. The best of many discussions of parallels among the novel's three narrators are those of John R. Reed, "Will and Fate in Frankenstein," Bulletin of Research in the Humanities 83 (1980): 319-38, and David Ketterer, Frankenstein's Creation: The Book, the Monster, and Human Reality (Victoria, B.C.: U of Victoria, 1979) 9-16. Ketterer, whose monograph contains much excellent material on Shelley's sources, wrongly contends, however, that her notion of invention is "taken probably from either Locke or Hume" (17); the phrase, "dark, shapeless substances," which he omits in quoting the passage given in my text, reflects a post-Enlightenment view of the nature of matter. At the same time, Shelley's empiricist roots make Frankenstein more suitable than other gothic novels for detailed comparison with the "Transcendental Analytic," which is Kant's own grounding of empiricism.

33. The "realist" emphasis on nuance, in contrast to the "gothic" emphasis on category, may be illustrated by the following, late in ch. 15 of Walter Scott's novel, The Black Dwarf. "That the imagination of this gentleman is disordered, I will not pretend to dispute; I have already told you that it has sometimes broken out into paroxysms approaching to real mental alienation. But it is of his common state of mind that I speak; it is irregular, but not deranged; the shades are as gradual as those that divide the light of noonday from midnight." Needless to say, no sharp line divides gothic from realist modes; still, as George Levine writes, "Such ambivalence is almost always disguised in realistic fiction . . . in gothic fiction the energies to be suppressed by the realist ideal . . . are released" (The Realistic Imagination 27).

34. The category of causality has, of course, a psychoanalytic dimension, richly explored by William Veeder in "The Negative Oedipus: Father, Frankenstein, and the Shelleys," Critical Inquiry 12 (1986): 365-90.

35. The best study of the role of society in Frankenstein is Frances Ferguson's paper "The Gothic Sublime," read at the 1981 Modern Language Association Annual Meeting and part of a book in progress on the sublime, which argues forcefully that community is a destructive binding in the novel. In my view, however, the category of community is so pervasive that it transcends social determinations and the attendant negative valorization. Richard J. Dunn, "Narrative Distance in Frankenstein," Studies in the Novel 6 (1974): 408-17, is another good discussion of community in the social, but not in the transcendental sense.

36. I take issue here with Beth Newman, "Narrations of Seduction and the Seductions of Narrative: The Frame Structure of Frankenstein," ELH 53 (1986): 141-64, a subtle account of seductions and broken promises which, however, occults the promise kept at the end of the novel (mentioned only in passing on 154). My conclusions are, instead, in the line of Lowry Nelson, Jr's. contention that the gothic is fundamentally about the normal, "a fictional discovery of the true depths of human nature": "Night Thoughts on the Gothic Novel," Yale Review 52 (1962): 238. Shelley's subsequent novel, The Last Man, with its genuinely incoherent narrative perspective, is the exception that proves the rule by its lack of direct successors; see Barbara Johnson, "Le Dernier Homme," in Les Fins de l'homme, ed. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy (Paris: Galilee, 1981) 75-86.

37. In The Mutiny Within (New York: George Brazillet, 1967), directly following a good account of the empirical antinomy of fire and ice in Frankenstein (81-89), James Rieger writes as follows: "Because it is after all a poem and not an ontological discourse, 'Mont Blanc' remains in the realms of eikasia, not epistetne. The dialectic it develops is one of tropes, not categories" (90). These are false antitheses -- and indeed Rieger's Gnostic reading of Percy Shelley remains transcendental in Kant's sense -- for on the way to the antinomies Kant tropes his categories, generating out of their ontological structure the eikasia that he calls the "schematism of the pure concepts of the understanding." He defines the schema as "the general procedure of the imagination in providing a concept with its image" (A 140). It is precisely the burden of my essay that (Kantian) ways of knowing (ontology, episteme, categories) cannot be disentangled from (gothic) ways of seeing (poetry, eikasia, tropes). Two other good discussions of antithetical patterning in Frankenstein are Andrew Griffin, "Fire and Ice in Frankenstein," The Endurance of 'Frankenstein' 49-73, and Sylvia Bowerbank, "The Social Order vs. the Wretch: Mary Shelley's Contradictory Mindedness in Frankenstein," ELH 36 (1979): 418-31.

38. See further Sherwin's excellent account of the antinomies of creation in "Frankenstein: Creation as Catastrophe" 894-98.

39. See further Reed, "Will and Fate in Frankenstein," and David Seed, "Frankenstein -- Parable or Spectacle," Criticism 24 (1982): 327-40.

40. The gothic representation of the fourth antinomy is the subject of Judith Wilt's "Frankenstein as Mystery Play," The Endurance of 'Frankenstein' 31-48. "The bi-structured world," says Wilt, "is radically unstable, it seeks collapse into oneness, or else seeks to generate a third term to marshal itself into unity, not oneness. . . . The Gothic describes the failure of its significant people to generate that triangulation point, listen to the Holy Ghost" (47). The whole argument is acutely presented, but I am not sure that romantic gothic novels seriously seek to go beyond antithetical play.

41. The antinomies are found in Part 2, section 2, book 2, chapter 2, paragraph 2, of the Critique. Kant's outline is generally tripartite, though not rigorously so, and the location of this section can hardly be coincidental. While page counting has only a limited validity in locating the center of a writer's thought, I also note that in the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason the antinomies begin on pages 428 and 429 out of 856 pages in the main text.

42. Given the bulk of most of the novels and the brevity of the typical blow-out, the older view (represented by Eino Railo, The Haunted Castle [London: George Routledge & Sons, 1927] 319-27) that gothic suspense is subordinated to the terror of the climax seems implausible.

43. By the play of imagination in the gothic I mean a transcendental impulse, not the surface linkage of the sublime and the ridiculous discussed in Paul Lewis, "Mysterious Laughter: Humor and Fear in Gothic Fiction," Genre 14 (1981): 309-27, and Philip Stevick, "Frankenstein and Comedy," The Endurance of 'Frankenstein' 221-39. Robert D. Hume's well-known distinction between the terrors of uncertainty in early gothic and the horrors of prosecution beginning with The Monk seems to me a matter of the mechanism used to create a suspense that is equally characteristic of both modes: see 284-85 in his essay, "Gothic versus Romantic: A Revaluation of the Gothic Novel," PMLA 84 (1969): 282-90, and also Robert M. Platzner's effective critique of this point in PMLA 84 (1971): 270-71. Nor can I agree with the judgment of W. R. Irwin, in The Game of the Impossible: A Rhetoric of Fantasy, (Urbana, Chicago, London: U of Illinois P, 1976) 96: "In gothic romance the irrational remains unmodified and intrinsically thrilling; it gives nothing of the intellectual game and speculative participation that are central in fantasy." As Ernst Bloch reminds us, the gothic is both fascinating and fun, and potentially a consolation in the face of more material threats to our comfort; see Das Prinzip Hoffnung (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1959) 453-56.

44. For a contrasting view see Jerrold E. Hogle's fine essay, "Otherness in Frankenstein: The Confinement/Autonomy of Fabrication," Structuralist Review 2 (1980): 20-48. In the light of history I regard it as a blessing, not a curse, that Shelley's novel, as Hogle says, "offer[s] a world of mere signs displacing other signs and calling for a rhetorical communion, all of which looks out for a lost origin without any attempt to recover it" (44-45). I have discussed gothic play at greater length, with particular reference to Nodier's "Smarra" and Pushkin's "Queen of Spades," in "Kant e i demoni della notte," tr. Daniela Carpi, Studi di estetica NS 12 (1984): 155-65.

45. I should have cited one previous essay that relates Frankenstein to the Critique of Pure Reason: Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Three Women's Texts and a Critique of Imperialism," Critical Inquiry 12 (1985): 254-59. The newest comparison of the novel with Kantian esthetics, Barbara Freeman, "Frankenstein" with Kant: A Theory of Monstrosity, or the Monstrosity of Theory," SubStance 16 (1987): 21-31, despite good comparisons and reflections, overlooks the way that the "theoretical terrorism" of the sublime pervades the entire grandiose architecture of the Critiques. Finally, my closing exhortation should not be mistaken for a passing mode or an exotic imposition; it echoes the end of R. G. Collingwood, The Principles of Art (Oxford: Clarendon, 1938) 298, 299: "There can be no such thing as artistic writing; there is only writing." "Subject without style is barbarism; style without subject is dilettantism."