Para 2: But if William Deresiewicz’s withering and dyspeptic description of the education provided by elite American universities applied to Oxford, these teenage “winners” should be pitied, not congratulated. He paints a Gothic picture of Harvard, Yale, the rest of the Ivy league, and many other reputable colleges in the US, where horrible academic neglect, rampant materialism and insufferable smugness combine to leave their students in an educational and moral wasteland. Deresiewicz would have us believe that these world-famous universities churn out spiritually impoverished automatons whose principal task is to proceed to remunerative careers that will in turn secure future donations to perpetuate the institutions they have only just about survived.

I tried Wikipedia's page on Gothic fiction, because the aforesaid work isn't fiction so this doesn't apply?

ODO's Definition 3 = (also pseudo-archaic Gothick) Belonging to or redolent of the Dark Ages; portentously gloomy or horrifying:

Is this the right meaning? The 'horrifying' definition coheres with the quoted context, but a reference fromt the Dark Ages seems far outdated?

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    "He paints a Gothic picture" = He tells a (figurative) "horror-story". The definition alludes to aspects of the literary genre. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 10 '14 at 14:45
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    Read the context. It's quite clear from the author's mention of "horrible academic neglect, rampant mateiralism and insufferable smugness" that the definition you cited is appropriate. – Crazy Eyes Oct 10 '14 at 21:32

Gothic is one of those words that can mean different things in different contexts.

I think that there are three options here:

  1. Pertaining to Gothic fiction, suggesting that the institutions being mentioned share the same characteristics of romanticism and horror.
  2. Of a darker past - the OED entry says "Belonging to, or characteristic of, the Middle Ages; mediæval, ‘romantic’, as opposed to classical. In early use chiefly with reprobation: Belonging to the ‘dark ages’ "
  3. Another possibility, more obscure and, again from the OED "Barbarous, rude, uncouth, unpolished, in bad taste. Of temper: Savage."

Alternatively, it could just be a lazy usage, the fact that it's in an article doesn't automatically make it right...

  • In this context, I hear Gothic as a vague combination of all three senses that you listed, plus one more: the gothic architecture of medieval universities. The word choice in the article is either sloppy and unclear, or brilliant and poetic because it calls upon all these allusions and connotations at once. – Ben Kovitz Dec 8 '14 at 17:59

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