Horror – The Unresolution

In response to: http://www.teemingbrain.com/2012/11/12/to-suffer-this-world-or-illuminate-another-on-the-meanings-of-horror/#comment-179778


I agree with most of this article, save for a few points. Firstly, I think that Ligotti’s answer is a cop out, or at least a retreat from the true heart of the question. His answer to “why horror” seems to be “because people want to know that other people feel horror,” yet this doesn’t address the reason that emotion is there to begin with. Secondly, I don’t think the political element to horror can be so summarily discounted.

The suffering of the characters might be necessary to keep the story’s pacing and a sense of jeopardy, but the beating heart of any work of horror is an unresolved (perhaps unresolvable) abstract source of anxiety in the hearts and minds of the consumer. The terrors in works of horror help give us a catharsis against ephemeral fears by making them concrete. The fears we’re fighting are those which we, the consumers, have to push to the backs of our minds in order to function in the world each day.

The “paradoxical relief and dread of seeing our civilization rent to pieces by the bigger world it was designed to displace” is only a paradox if one does not acknowledge that civility is, itself, an illusion, a put-on that we all buy into, implicitly, in order to produce works greater than ourselves. How many of us would willingly go to our daily grind if we we awoke each morning with the terror of knowing that each throb of our hearts might be our last? That our pulse is a ticking second hand on a clock run on cheap batteries? And that’s just the fear of death.

As the author says, a consumer of horror engages with the question, “How will this particular narrative peel back the blemish-less skin of apparent reality?”

Horror is an exercise in giving the conscious mind license to examine the concealed fears of the subconscious, whether they be infantile (object permanence as confounded in ghost stories) or societal (viral media and The Ring). Successful horror has always been an echo chamber for the subconscious (or sub-societal) fears which we suffer in the present. Subsequently, the things which we fear cannot be separated from our ideologies, and therefore it is folly to outright reject any political or ideological underpinnings within a work of horror–global warming, terrorism, pollution, racism, nuclear holocaust–as nothing more than a facade or veneer over the work as a whole.

That this anxiety comes from concrete sources in our shared experience of the world seems to suggest (to me, at least) that our desire for horror isn’t just a product of some base, generalized hunger for the morbid. Rather, morbidity itself is just a reflection of one more unresolved fear which, like all fears, some individuals feel a nagging compulsion to address.

I think that those of particularly anxious temperaments are more interested in (and subject to) horror, because their psyches lack some facility for the exhaustion of interest in danger–they possess an aptitude for hypervigilance. For these individuals, there IS a catharsis there. We seek (perhaps vainly) for an answer in the hero’s success or failure, to finally close the book on the thing we fear and relegate it or reintegrate it into the subconscious once and for all. Yet these fears will never be satisfactorily defeated, and so we horror aficionados come back again and again and again, to our old favorite fears or newer, more exacting ones

Freud believed that by suppressing our inner fears and desires, they boil up and intensify. So too, our symbols of horror must be intensified to match their emboldened counterparts within ourselves. As the blogger concludes, “our anxieties will once again reach the boiling point soon enough, at which time we can reach for the black-bound book or select the apt DVD from our neatly alphabetized library of mayhem.”

©2013 by Blake Vaughn. The text of this story may be redistributed freely in its original form with attribution to the author, Blake Vaughn, and his website, www.blakevaughn.com, as under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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