Technology Goes Dark: Postmodern Gothic Modes in The Silence
Laura Álvarez Trigo (Instituto Franklin-UAH)
Cyber terror is concerned with incarnations of the monster in the technological and the digital. Traditional narratives dealing with the horrors of automata and technology tend to portray machines rebelling against their creator-oppressor (humanity). Moving away from those fictions, many contemporary narratives within the genre offer a more direct and conspicuous exploration of our own consciousness through the fears caused by our extreme dependency on technology. Sometimes, this is done by locating the fear in how much we have given up in order to benefit from technology (in terms of both control and privacy, and the resulting vulnerability to cyber attacks); and, other times, the horror emerges from the fear of losing technology. The latter is exemplified in Don DeLillo’s latest novel, The Silence (2020). Don DeLillo is an established American postmodern author with a literary career now spanning five decades. The Silence was published during pandemic times and publicized as having been completed right before the coronavirus outbreak. However, as many have pointed out, clear parallels can be drawn between the fears that DeLillo’s short novel presents and the experience of the 2020 lockdowns. Primarily, due to its treatment of space, as well as the sense of disorientation and stasis that characters experience when facing the disaster. The novel, like previous works dealing with the disappearance of technology such as E.M. Foster’s The Machine Stops, portrays such loss as entering a liminal space where we are disoriented and scared of the future. Moreover, following DeLillo’s ubiquitous concerns regarding American society’s dependency on mass media, this novel explores the lack of will and decision-making capacity in characters who have learnt to live and relate to each other only through the mediation of technology—from television to phone screens. My aim in this talk is to explore how in The Silence the anxieties caused by the possibility of losing technology can be seen as a form of postmodern gothic, embodied in a technocratic reality, through the author’s representation of liminal spaces, the passage of time, and a postmodern quality that does not allow for any fruitful self-exploration to develop.
Cursed Tech as a Monstrous Mask: Cyber-Gothic, Creepypasta, and the Threats of Technology
Anni Perheentupa (University of California, Riverside)
Among the many strange things one can find on the internet, there are stories and conversations that almost seem supernatural in nature. A cursed image drives people to suicide. A game cartridge appears to be haunted by a dead child. Old WWII-era document about human experimentation surfaces on an obscure forum. These stories show up with no verifiable source, and yet there are pictures, time stamps, even videos, details almost too specific to be made up. This intersection of horror, internet culture, and uncanny plausibility is where creepypasta, a modern form of horror folklore, lives. However, when examined through a cyber-Gothic lens, it quickly becomes apparent that creepypasta is not simply a way to retell traditional urban legends, but rather reveals itself as a vocalization of deeper anxieties concerning the possibilities and potentialities of modern technology. I argue that the popular themes and transmedia storytelling methods of creepypasta reveal that our anxieties about technology are not so much about losing control of it as they are about realizing that it never was under our control in the first place. Furthermore, I suggest that the true horror of monstrous technology is not in its rebellion over the human agent, but in its ability to work as a technologically enabled conduit capable of multiplying and/or spreading the human agent’s own monstrosity. In order to illustrate my argument, I will be discussing two popular creepypasta that have proven their cultural staying power on the internet: “BEN Drowned” (2010), documenting the experience of a college student who finds a haunted copy of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask at a garage sale, and “The Russian Sleep Experiment” (2009), a virally copypasted ‘found document’ tale of a 1940’s human experiment about sleep deprivation. Through these two now-legendary creepypasta, I will show how technological anxieties become an increasingly all-consuming threat in this type of folk internet horror and how these stories articulate another technologically enabled fear: that of looking into the face of the machine-monster and seeing not the monstrous Other, but ourselves.