How Dutt and Shelley Taught Me Rebellion


Edited By: Lasya Adhiraj  


Gothic as a subculture emerged in the Eighties in the UK as an alternative style of music and fashion. However it finds its roots in the alchemy of romantic and dark elements of gothic literature in the 18th and 19th century. Characterised by the eerie sensibilities and the production of horror, terror, suspense and mystery that invoke the supernatural. Demons, vampires, ghosts and monsters are influential characters in works of art, literature and music that subscribe to gothicism. There lies an inherent perversion in the devils and ghouls of this aesthetic - a corruption of purity and innocence. This untethers the goth aesthetic from notions of femininity and womanhood. Present here is the rebellion. The dark eyeliner, the loose clothing and shaggy hairstyles are all expressions of a darkness that remains societally chained away from women. The harshness of the elements involved in building the goth aesthetic starkly contrast the timidity associated with the woman and the public. That is what the gothic instructs, that expression cannot be subjugated to the private for the comfort of some while also detaching feminine from woman - one does not have to be the other. 


The otherworldly, or better yet, obscenely paranormal elements that goth culture allows go beyond avante garde costumes and into majestic realms of expression. These departures from realism, with accoutrements that are black in colour and striking in their visual imagery diverges from traditionally accepted attire. At its core, the goth aesthetic finds freedom and rebellion. The eyeliner and chained baggy trousers go beyond a rejection of the normative or the traditional. It transgresses. Invading conventions with a confidence that causes ruptures in our traditional understandings of beauty, especially in its intersections with expressions of gender and sexuality. The eroticism of its inspirations in 19th century art and texts like Paradise Lost, which re-narrates canonical stories from alternate perspectives, also speaks to the departure of a socially acceptable sexuality. What is normal when normal is not enough? 


Goths are rebels, their adoption of the alt aesthetic has manifested as statements of dismissal of the traditionally feminine - not because that is inferior, it is not- but because it is not definitive of womanhood. The gothic acknowledges its ghastly quality, going beyond and embracing the grotesque as a tenet of its expression. It steeps in the cognisance of what is horrible, questioning why the discrimination of aesthetic hierarchies exist. Liberation in the gothic thrives with this aspirational ugliness and in abandoning the myths of standardized appearances. So being ‘deathly pale’ pays an homage to the necrophilia that tantalises the aesthetic and being horrific is an ode to Frankenstein’s monster or Hoffman’s Sandman. The capes may appear to be restructured mosquito netting but its surrealism is the result of aura that is always intriguing. 


Fictional characters of a gothic passion, like Dracula or Dorian Grey, are devastatingly horrible influences. From being a blood-lusting vampire desiring for ultimate power to an ethereally handsome young man whose hubris corrupts his soul and consumes another’s life; the corruption of good is evident. But allowing for the generalisation of this vice in the aesthetic leads to the erasure of its fundamental pillar - freedom of expression in the alternate. That desire that is at the heart of all the works inspiring the music or the fashion of the goth aesthetic is freedom. The influences of the seminal works of writers like Mary Shelley and John Milton are visible in the development of this aesthetic’s sartorial implementations. However, Toru Dutt’s poetry and Satyajit Ray’s stories like ‘Fritz’ have played more influential roles in my understanding of gothicism - its escapism, the horror and the supernatural. More so, in how I see the gothic as a way to cause disruption, to dismantle and to rebel.