Cover: Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of Gothic, from Harvard University PressCover: Nightmare on Main Street in PAPERBACK

Nightmare on Main Street

Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of Gothic

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$30.50 • £24.95 • €27.50

ISBN 9780674624634

Publication Date: 11/01/1999


208 pages


Absorbing… The Gothic thrives, Edmundson argues, in a world in which ‘those in authority—the supposed exemplars of the good—are under suspicion,’ a world in which cynicism (‘the conviction that the worst truth that you can come up with about any person or event is the most consequential truth’) is a given… Drawing upon his considerable knowledge of American and European literature, Edmundson does a nimble job of situating the current Gothic craze in context with philosophical developments, while at the same time assessing its social consequences… Nightmare on Main Street is a provocative and often illuminating book.—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Edmundson’s book has a simple yet visionary thesis. America—the patient—is infected with a psychological virus that fosters a death-worshipping attitude toward existence… Edmundson’s clarity of vision, airtight logic, and captivating prose…succeed in convincing the reader of his thesis… [He] is strongly conversant with classic Anglo-American literature, movies and television. Part of this book’s intellectual charm is that he draws on such a heterogeneous range of supporting examples, from Oprah to Hitchcock, from Wordsworth to Robert Bly, from Wes Craven to Keats.—Paul Di Fillippo, The Washington Post Book World

[A] compelling explanation of our ever more ghoulish obsessions.—Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker

One cannot but admire the forward pressure of the argument, the breadth of reference, the passion with which it is conducted, and, at times, the passages of analysis.—Francis Devlin-Glass, Canadian Review of Literature

In his provocative book about the Gothic, Mr. Edmundson notes that the genre flourished in the years after the French Revolution. Those drafty castles with their dark secrets, the vampirish counts and the leering clergymen were all embodiments of the ancient regime, the old feudal order haunting the unsteady world of the new. Modern innocents are lured into that realm and nearly overwhelmed by it, until they exorcise its demonic control. The past is finally passed. The disgusting is contained, controlled, overcome. But today, Mr. Edmundson argues there is no clear resolution to our Gothic tales. Their haunting addictions and demonic figures keep reappearing in rock videos, computer games, television talk shows and horror films. But the villainy is ambiguous… No sooner do we start to hate the wife abuser on a talk show than we learn that he too is a haunted victim of abuse or a recovering addict. We are all villains and all victims.—Edward Rothstein, The New York Times

I never would have thought that Forrest Gump, Sigmund Freud and O.J. Simpson had anything to do with one another. But Mark Edmundson turns them into one big, dysfunctional family in his provocative new book about contemporary American culture… The strength of Edmundson’s analysis is his ability to use the concept of the gothic sensibility to tie together seemingly disparate strands of contemporary culture and show how our view of reality is shaped by them… I suggest Nightmare on Main Street to readers who want to understand the stories America tells itself.—Greg Beatty, The News & Observer

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