Humor

"The Origins of the Modern Gothic Revival: Anthropology, Architecture, Linguistics, Romance Novels, Bad Furniture and Black Fingernail Polish," or "Why is it Called 'Gothic' Anyway?"

By Knightmare

The Goths were a war-like Germanic tribe that probably originated in southern Scandinavia. You know - night falls once and lasts for 6 months, then daybreak comes and lasts another 6 months. Between that and that awful furniture, is it any wonder they were war-like? They did a fair amount of damage to what was later to become the Ukraine and Europe in the 6th century A.D. These proto-Europeans, pissed at the damage and the affront to their dignity, did what Europeans do best; they called them names, to wit "barbarians," meaning basically, "We forget where the word originally started but we're going to apply it to you and make it mean 'uncultured and savage' because you burned our harvests for the third year running. And besides, the term 'English' was already taken." They (the Goths, not the proto-Europeans) were actually rather cultured, absorbing a lot from the Romans. But the territorial expansions of the Huns - those fun-loving party boys from Mongolia - drove them into conflict with the Roman empire. They eventually wound up settling in modern day Italy, a conquered and un-war-like people. Most of their descendants are now believed to be civil servants, art critics, or furniture designers.

Okay, okay, just remember that "Goth" came to mean "barbaric and uncultured."

Now on to the 12th century, where an architectural style based on the old Roman fortresses was in its heydey. ("Heydey" is Italian for "awful furniture.") The style would later become known as Romanesque, meaning "in the Roman style" (remember that for later) and, perhaps ironically, came to be considered the height of culture. It was predominantly plain, massively heavy walls, and round arches. As architectural engineering became more advanced (and candles became more expensive) the search for a lighter form began. The resulting engineering changes allowed more of the load bearing to be taken off the walls, which in turn allowed windows to be much larger, allowing more light into the buildings. The Church (with a capital 'C'), who probably had a finger in the candle concession, promptly started filling the windows with stained glass, although there is evidence that the nuns whose job it was to wash the windows may have had some influence on the decision. This ultimately had the effect of making the new design, originally intended to be lighter and "airier" than the old, darker and more somber than the original. The style was much more delicate and ornate than the older Romanesque architecture and became considered by many (probably out-of-work candle salesmen who became art critics to make ends meet) to be "vulgar" (remember that word, too) and "uncultured" and "lacking in artistic merit" and became, by the time of the Italian Renaissance, labeled "Gothic." Contemptuously regarding it as the work of barbarians. Of course, these are the people that later came up with that outrageously ornate gaudy style known as Baroque. ("Baroque" is Italian for "How are we gonna pay for all this?")

The style went through 3 major periods: 1) High Gothic, a coldly intellectual, grandiose version of the style, so named because it was believed the architects who practiced it were taking hallucinogens, 2) Late Gothic, best known for the tracery of it's 'rose windows' as well as for the fact that its construction was always behind schedule, and 3) Gothic Revival, best known for having come back from the dead in the first place. At the time this was a relatively uncommon phenomena, unlike today when even something as awful as disco music or Scandinavian furniture can make an astonishing comeback.

Dizzy enough yet? Hold on. You haven't had the linguistics lesson yet. I'll be brief. There developed two types of Latin, that spoken by the privileged upper classes, and that spoken by the common folk. Even though most of those common folk could barely read the language, let alone write it, the term Romance (another way of saying Romanesque at the time) came to mean the "vernacular" or "vulgar" language, that spoken by the common people. It became the term applied by the "cultured" people to the Romanesque architectural style, which was thought to be the epitome of culture. Just goes to show you that money doesn't automatically convey common sense. It also goes to show you can't trust art critics, but you should have known that when they revived Scandinavian furniture styles.

Ah! Now we start getting to the origins of the modern "Gothic" lifestyle. ("Ah!" is Italian for "Ah!") In the Middle Ages a romance was a narrative written in the vernacular or vulgar language, instead of Latin. Smooching and fondling wasn't allowed, although they got a little steamy if you read between the lines. "Whoopie" was right out.

By the 18th century, the Romance novel started to indulge in what was by then well-known as the "Gothic" taste. Pages full of Medieval visions of barbarous passions, ruined castles, ancient monasteries (probably with equally ancient nuns who no longer have to wash the windows). Wild landscapes, plenty of suspense, and delicate feminine sensibilities constantly under the assault of the elemental forces of good and evil, sanity and chastity (No relation to Sonny and Chastity, both of whom had the misfortune of spending too much time with Cher. Fodder enough for a good Romance novel on its own!) - where was I? Oh! Sanity and chastity constantly threatened, and over it all looms evil and irrationality's impending destruction of civilization. They were the trashy novels of their time (ours too, for that matter). It inspired the entire Romanticism movement of the 1800's which, while mainly obsessed with art of the past, also produced the first "Free Love" movement ("Whoopie" was "Right on!") On the downside, it also rewrote most of the Celtic history - the tartan kilt is actually a 19th century invention of the Romanticism movement, for example.

At any rate, that first "Free Love" movement had its own revival in the 1960's. (Not long after a thankfully short-lived revival of awful Scandinavian furniture) and re-engendered an interest in the dark, gloomy, doom-ridden Etc., Etc., ("Etc." is Italian for "I forgot what I was gonna say.") that now is the Gothic lifestyle.

All in all it's not a bad movement. A lot of good history to be learned form it, and I like to indulge in my darker side very now and then. At least I don't have to sit in any of that awful furniture.

(Edited by Sven Lumineri, art critic and candle salesman.)