Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, March 16, 2012

(Re)Turning Centuries

Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine: the birthplace of American Literature; American Literary Geography (1933). Image Source: Brain Pickings.

Decades come back into fashion cyclically. Parts of the 1890s, as well as the late 1920s-to-early-1930s, have dominated the period from 2007 to 2012. For the past five years, we got a real life revisiting of the Great Depression, with a Lovecraftian flavour.

Cthulhu on the unemployment line! Cthulhu job-hunting tips are a sub-basement Internet micro-meme. Across the Web, Lovecraft's watery Great Old One has been with us through the Great Recession every tentacle of the way. He helps prepare résumés; offers style tips; helps design skills infographics; and guides nervous candidates prior to interviews - he advises following Arkham's Razor - the simplest explanation is always the best one.

Image Source: College Humor via Michael Williams.

Cthulhu's popularity is one part of the general revival of cultural themes from the Great Depression period. 2002 to 2012 saw the return of black and white silent films or films which strongly referenced the Great Depression in style or theme; this Millennial retro approach is sometimes called Nostalgia Style, a variant of cinéma fantastique, or what the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society calls 'Mythoscope.' The surreal, dreamlike parts of the style were pioneered in part by Canadian director Guy Maddin: Dracula, Pages from a Virgin's Diary (2002); The Saddest Music in the World (2003); The Call of Cthulhu (2005); Brand Upon the Brain! (2006); My Winnipeg (2007); The Whisperer in Darkness (2011); The Artist (2011). Film reviewers who had not been following this cultural trend were puzzled by the big-budget Artist. To them, this first mainstream offering in the '20s-'30s nostalgic genre looked like a gimmick that came out of nowhere.

There is a larger picture. Smaller decade revamps involve broader, hazy recollections of blocks of time, especially turns-of-centuries. The turn of the 19th-20th centuries was really quite long, because of the disruption of World War I. Thus, the whole period from roughly 1890 to 1930 was one, painfully drawn-out, turn-of-the-century, a not-so Belle Époque. 1920s' styles strove to recapture the technical advancements of 1890 or the blisses of 1900-1910, but twisted them with horrific, post-war undertones.

Sailor Twain (15 January 2010) © Mark Siegel.

Horror from the long turn of the 19th-20th centuries also recalls Gothic Romantic influences from the turn of the 18th-19th centuries, starting with The Castle of Otranto (1764: read it here), but really finding force with authors such as Mary Shelley (1797-1851) and Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). Cycles upon cycles: the turn of the 18th-19th centuries was recalled at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, and both are recalled at the turn of the 20th-21st centuries. That is why we are now seeing Gothic Romantic Horror (1780-1840), mashed with neo-Victorian Steampunk (1880-1910), mashed with 1920s' silent films (1920-1930). It is a way of remembering and understanding the past, by making it current and real.

At present, cultural memory is simultaneously poised at about 1830, 1895 and 1932. This means that in the next five years or so, we will conceivably revisit cultural themes from the mid-1930s and late 1930s. A literal revival of Goebbels's legacy is not entirely a welcome prospect. Expect neo-Stalinist and Stalinist-derived neo-Maoist Agitprop styles in near-future advertising. To recall the mood of those times, which may soon be upon us again, you can read Orwell's essay, "Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War" here and Homage to Catalonia - here.

In the meantime, 'Penny Dreadful'-type serials have never been more popular. The Internet is a hotbed for Millennial digital versions of these fin-de-siècle reimaginings. Turn-of-the-century recycled themes appear in the Web comic, Sailor Twain, Or, The Mermaid in the Hudson. The comic starts in New York in 1887. Another example is Lovecraft is Missing, which opens in Boston in 1926 (reviewed here). 

For my other posts on Web Comics, go here, here and here.

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