Tag Archives: horror

Dreaming of all the endings

I used to wake up in a blind panic in the middle of the night, nerves alight with the horror not of dying but of watching the rest of the world die, and be swept away by forces too strong and too organic, too natural, to ever withstand.

When I was 13, they showed the movie Slither at the 24 Hour Boston Science Fiction film marathon. I didn’t want to watch it, all too aware of my fragile psycho-emotional capacity, but my friends, being boys of a certain age, knew that watching me scream and flinch would only make the experience that much better for them. I can still remember the way the movie was supposed to be funny, but even now, with the hindsight of a decade and a half of experience and a hard won love of horror movies, those moments are still burned into my brain with revulsion and abject, animal fear.

The next year, I went with friends to see Cloverfield, another film I knew I would regret, but I was unwilling to be left out of the social experience of going to see the big sci-fi flick of the summer, the R-rated horror movie everyone was talking about. The jokes are funnier this time around, but everyone told me that I looked like the friend with the curly hair who exits the narrative by exploding in silhouette behind a tarp in a flurry of screaming and pushy army National guardsmen.

The nightmares woke me up and kept me from sleeping. I would lie, paralyzed in the dark, my heart pounding, sweating, terrified, occasionally creeping across the hall to listen at my parents’ door to their snoring, the reminder that no one had yet died, and that my loneliness was an inevitability from which I was separated by time, the clutch of terror being that of not knowing what time that would be.

This was when I started sleeping with the lights on.

For many years I slept in a tent in my bedroom, futon on the floor, while the floor lamp illuminated the space around it, a desperate attempt to the keep the nightmares and the panic attacks at bay.

My sleep was disordered, from ADHD (undiagnosed and untreated) and depression (untreated) and anxiety (undiagnosed and untreated), but sleeping with the lights off became a priority. It couldn’t be good for my circadian rhythm. Staying up all night on the computer couldn’t be good for my circadian rhythm, no matter how good insomnia and the internet are for keeping the nightmares at bay.

These are the years where I dream of barricading myself on the top floor of our house while the ravenous living dead shuffle and groan their way through my neighborhood. No matter how successful my planning is within these dreams, I know that nothing can save me. Survival is not contingent, because death is (and always has been) inevitable. Once my mother and my father and my friends and neighbors have been overtaken by this calamity, there is nothing left except the breath in my lungs, the blood in my veins, and the brains in my head, and I’m not sure I’ll still want them.

This is when I try to tell myself that bodies which no longer have hearts that beat or neurons that fire will inevitably succumb to rigor Morris, and in time to the natural process of decay. 28 Days Later ruins any hopes we have that this threat comes from the supernatural logics which govern the undead and can safely be overcome by healthy skepticism and adequate information regarding the death and decomposition process.

This is when I tell myself that I am already undead. When I was 4 months old, I went in for open heart surgery to fix my total anomalous pulmonary venus return, a birth defect where the cardiac plumbing is incorrectly hooked up, and so oxygenated blood returns directly to the heart and then to the lungs, without passing to the rest of the body. The defect had gone unnoticed because I had been born with another, fairly common, heart defect, which amounts to a hole between the chambers of the heart. That hole had been allowing blood to get to the rest of my body, but as I grew, the hole started to heal and close (a natural process which would have made the whole thing a non-issue in a properly put together infant). This caused the blood flow to the rest of my body to become interrupted.

To perform this open heart surgery, they had to lower my body temperature into the safe zone where decay and decomposition won’t set in and stop my heart while they made the adjustments which would allow the organ to properly pump blood throughout my body.

My heart had stopped, my body had been rendered “dead” for some in- or significant amount of time. By this logic, in some metaphysical sense, I was not just a living body, but a body rendered living and alive through unnatural means, a zombie, a walking corpse.

To be clear, I didn’t believe myself to be, actually, literally, dead. There were moments where I wished for Cotard’s Syndrome, imagined that delusion would save me from my existential dread. No, I was well aware that I was bargaining with the universe on technicalities, well aware that there was no Devil, no Satan for me to go against wit-for-wit like some kind of sniveling Daniel Webster.

But trying to plug the broken airlock of terror when we look into the abyss with the pathetic tissue paper of logic has never worked well for anyone, and I am no exception.

Maybe this was when I dreamed the dream where rather than fighting to live as I once had, I dreamt myself given over to the mercy of un-death, a new phantasmagoria where the parents of my childhood friends became herders of elephantine domesticated human livestock. This dream, when I described it to a friend of mine, made him agree that perhaps I should stay away from psychedelic or other psychoactive substances. By this time I had learned that the beauty of nightmares is that we wake up from them.

Ecological cataclysm and the crushing weight of capitalism have both driven me to the edge (and then, ultimately, over) of nervous breakdown. There were weeks in my freshman year of college where I couldn’t stand to participate in conversations about the weather because heart pounding, sweaty panic that would descend over my consciousness when I thought about our sudden and overwhelming snowfall or unseasonably balmy afternoons.

Chicken wings and, later, classes on the industry of meat production and the eco hazard of corn and soy monocultures and the yoking of farmers to poverty through genetic intellectual property made it impossible for me to eat first meat, and then anything at all without the sick feeling of guilt taking us residence inside me with each bite.

I used to worry about the end of the world.

And then it happened.

I tell the story with a laugh, but inside me something has yet to fully unclench from its position braced for impact.

“I used to have nightmares and lose sleep to panic attacks at the thought of a global pandemic,” I told my therapist and later my friends. “And now it’s happening. It’s so much more boring than I thought it would be.”

I always imagined the apocalypse would be a cataclysm. Too many years of atomic age science fiction, where the world ends in an instant.

I used to be afraid of the speed at which the world might change.

This year, I went from never having seen a corpse to having seen two. A mercy would be for Death to come unexpectedly, from behind. Not like the way night falls, slowly, by increments, an inevitability we must anticipate for hours or days, waiting for the moment when we can finally say, “That was the last bit of light,” as the darkness presses in from all sides.

Rationality and Superstition, some thoughts on reckoning in Weird Fiction

One of the things I find most fascinating in Lovecraft’s writing is the way in which the structure of his fiction actively undermines the very things he claims and seems to hold dear.

I’m currently reading Jason Colavito’s The Cult of Alien Gods, (more on his most recent book: The Mound Builder Myth some time soon). In one of the first chapters––I’m sorry, I’m reading it on the Kindle and it’s an impressively badly structured file, none of the footnote links work, etc. Which is frustrating given that I bought the damn thing OFF AMAZON, but I digress––… In one of the first chapters he outlines the trajectory of the Gothic romance into horror and detective fiction and ultimately into the Weird tale to bring us through the evolution of the literary form which culminated in Lovecraft’s work.

“Thus for Lovecraft, the stories of the age taught him that oblivion was the end result of the unwholesome pursuit of knowledge, a theme he would employ again and again.” (Loc 513)

This quote reminded me of something I often find myself discussing with people who come into my place of employment: while Lovecraft tells us explicitly in his language, via description and story structure, that the rational middle-to-upper class white men who make up his protagonists are of superior breeding, intelligence, and composure than any of the religious, superstitious, and non-white individuals they encounter… Protestant scientific rationalism never saves any of his protagonists from ignominious ends.

This tends to feed into my personal belief that one reason that Lovecraft endures as a writer despite his obvious failings as a human being, and especially despite the way those failings contaminate his fiction, is because this, like other parts of his œuvre, demonstrate that he was a better artist than he intended. His fiction is packed with epistemological ambiguities, the form and the fiction at odds with one another (and especially at odds with contemporary characterizations of both the fiction and the man… Perhaps something to follow up on at a later date). He tells us that the only way to achieve true knowledge and understanding is by following the path of rational scientific inquiry and to cast aside all superstition, but at the same time, he shows us that pursuing rational inquiry into these realms of the vast unknown can only result in madness and death.

I always return to The Dreams in the Witch House, the story which first arrested me with this realization. Because my biggest take away from the story was that the story’s protagonist, Walter Gilman, was an idiot. Throughout the entire story, Gilman is warned by “a superstitious loomfixer named Joe Mazurewicz” that he should abandon his somnambulant inquiries into the mysteries of the witch Keziah and his apartment on the top floor where the witch once lived, lest something terrible happen to him.

Spoiler alert:

Obviously, he doesn’t abandon his exploration of the spooky mathematics he’s involved in, and obviously he does not come to a good end, or he wouldn’t be appearing in this essay. It is important to note that, in defence of Lovecraft’s materialist worldview, neither does Mr. Mazurewicz. It would be blatant falsehood to state that religious or superstitious thinking provides any measure of true safety in the Lovecraft Mythos. But the kind of superstitious thinking which makes one wary of those places where the veil between the worlds is thinnest (if you will) is certainly worth heeding, even in a world populated with Old Ones and non-Euclidean geometries.

Side note: While I don’t think anyone is going to show up to start arguing with me, though I welcome people’s input, I am compelled to mention that I believe that in Dreams in the Witch House Gilman is to a certain degree bewitched (hah) and enthralled and therefore his decision to remain in Keziah’s apartment despite the presence of Brown Jenkins (truly the story’s most terrifying element) is not entirely his own. But that really only brings us to the edge of considering the quest for knowledge as a compulsion/enchantment in its own right.

But Lovecraft often seems to walk on the knife’s edge separating an annihilating Truth (accessible through rational scientific inquiry) and the safety of a recognizable supernatural reality (manageable through superstition and mystical belief). Being able to access a more accurate vision of reality does nothing to improve one’s ability to describe or comprehend it. His rational protagonists might have a “better idea” of what the Old Ones “really are” or better understand themselves or any number of things, but, as evidenced by their gibbering madness, are not at all better equipped to engage with that reality. Indeed, it often seems that the best way to “deal” with a Lovecraftian universe is to approach it with the armature of superstitious belief and a quasi-religious reverence. After all, several thousand years of religious worship clearly demonstrates that the human mind is equipped to handle belief in creatures with powers beyond anything they can imagine.

But Lovecraft often seems to walk on the knife’s edge separating an annihilating Truth (accessible through rational scientific inquiry) and the safety of a recognizable supernatural reality (manageable through superstition and mystical belief).

This approach to the supernatural, and the distance between rationality and superstition reminds me of the work of Lovecraft protégé and weird fiction writer Frank Belknap Long (now there was a man whose racism felt “of the time” by being just a light, temporal seasoning in the fiction, rather than a deeply rooted epistemological function of the fiction itself). I didn’t, on the whole, love Long’s fiction. As with many others, my primary motivation for reading his stuff were the two Lovecraftian stories, “The Hounds of Tindalos” and “The Space Eaters”. “Hounds” was frustrating because it felt like a brilliant premise executed to only a fraction of its full potential.

“The Space Eaters” by contrast is almost singularly brilliant… Up until the very end, where it lost me completely. I will actually refrain from speaking too much about the story itself, because it would be a genuine tragedy to ruin the experience for anyone who finds themself reading the story for the first time. I wish to discuss one element of the story which does not figure into the plot, but I noticed was characteristic of Long’s work, and I will, for better or worse, be discussing the mechanics of the end of the story which were such a disappointment to me.

One thing that struck me about Long’s work, over all, was that in contrast to Lovecraft’s characters who find themselves compelled to gaze into the abyss, Long’s protagonists compulsively look away. Where Lovecraft gives us a horror made of up of disjointed, impossible descriptions made all the more horrible by their almost coherence and comprehensibility, Long operates with a nearly cinematic “cut away” format for horrific reveals. In Long’s stories, we remain with the protagonist as he hears things, perhaps smells things, but he never ever looks, and, in “The Space Eaters”, one of our only hints as to the horrors that he is facing is given through the description of the face of someone who DID look while the protagonist looked away. It’s a fascinating structure, especially when compared to Lovecraft, because it proves to a certain degree how much the joke about Lovecraft’s hysteric “It’s was indescribable!” is in fact a gross mischaracterization of his descriptions. (Though he does overuse the word “cyclopean” it’s true.)

But in “The Space Eaters” Long’s protagonist eventually defeats the invaders by making the sign of the cross. It’s probably not the worst twist a story has ever had, but given the presence of a Lovecraft stand-in and the debates Long and Lovecraft had with one another about the merits of religion in general and Catholicism in particular, it does feel somewhat pointed. It also allows the protagonists to make it out alive in a way that few Lovecraftian heroes ever have. Indeed, Long’s fiction seems often to function specifically to shore up the argument that a healthy dose of superstitious thinking does a body good in a vast and largely unexplored reality. His protagonists tangle with the terrifyingly bizarre and incomprehensible, but then manage to move along consigning such things to the realms of fable and fiction, or secure in the knowledge that humanity’s spiritual and religious beliefs have developed alongside these intrusions into conventional reality for the specific purpose of managing and containing the experience of them.

Of course, modern fiction writers (at least, many of my favorites) like to explore the step beyond both Lovecraft and Long. They recognize the value of each viewpoint: that rational scientific inquiry, based in evidence, can yield a better understanding of reality; superstitious, or religious thinking has held a privileged place in human history and experience as a direct result of its capacity to explain the otherwise inexplicable and advise accordingly. But they don’t stop there. Most importantly, they recognize that life continues after these interruptions in conventional reality; it is often not a question of possibility, but of necessity to acquiesce to the new reality paradigm and continue living. It is possible to chart a path between Lovecraft’s Victorian “madness in the face of the irreconcilable” and Long’s “delivering unto the Outside what belongs to it”. We can and do reshape our realities and our understanding of the realities of others to interface with what was previously outside our direct comprehension.

Madness is a luxury not everyone can afford.

Yes, you have to use the same rules for everyone (Monsters vs Modernism)

Seriously, I’m both saddened and genuinely perturbed by people who feel capable and justified in casting out monsters, most especially Adam AKA Frankenstein’s Creature. While the Creature’s actions may be contemptible, his plea to be recognized as worthy of human compassion is so convincingly stated.

We must register, here, the contradiction at the heart of all debate on this issue: if we believe literature to be meaningful, we must recognize the power of language and both emotive and rational argumentation. Simultaneously, there are those who would deny the right of any intelligent entity to justify its own existence or advocate for its recognition as human. After all, it could all be a ploy. Each person must decide which of the two arguments they believe and then, one hopes, follow that logic through to its conclusion. Either words are powerful vectors of meaning and can convey an otherwise imperceptible truth regarding the inner qualities of a given entity’s experience of itself, OR any thing which advocates for itself must be treated with suspicion as a result of the possibility that it could be lying (people included).

I can tell you which option I prefer, but ultimately, nothing I say is likely to convince you, so I’ll leave it at that.

In the case of Adam, I am inclined to point to his reprehensible behavior as evidence of his humanity. He ultimately chooses to express himself in the manner with which he has been made most familiar by those around him; a destructive rage which seeks to balance the scales of justice which he sees as having been so cruelly stacked against him.

This particular rhetorical turn leads us to another point of insoluble contention.

Those who register a fundamental difference between Victor and his Creature are prone to the following logical proofs[1]:

Victor = Man
Man ≠ God
∴ Victor ≠ God

Creature = Unnatural
Unnatural = Monstrous
∴ Creature = Monstrous

Simultaneously, they believe that these are static, immutable categories. Victor is not God, so he cannot create life absent of the usual process of human conception and gestation. The fact that he brought the Creature to life (loosely speaking) does not transform him into a god. Ergo, regardless of any action he takes, he remains a man.

Meanwhile, the Creature is burdened with its own immutable, non-human nature. There is nothing the Creature can do or say to alter its status as “monstrous”.

Given my personal thesis of the Creature’s fundamental right to compassion, I can choose to approach these arguments in a few different ways. First of all, this presupposes two very important ideas. It assumes that “Human” and “Monstrous” are mutually exclusive categories, yet it fails to follow one potential outcome of that very supposition. Namely:

Victor = Man
Man ≠ God
∴ Victor ≠ God

BUT if God is the only self-contained creative force, AND Victor created life w/o help, THEN – perhaps –
Victor ≠ Natural
Natural is oppositional to Unnatural
∴ Victor = Monstrous

Creature = Unnatural
Unnatural = Monstrous
∴ Creature = Monstrous

This particular line of reasoning can result in the possibility of being both Monstrous and Man without requiring that the terms being interchangeable.

We hit the end of the road when we realize that the question has become ‘What is the definition of “Man”?’

As we can see, it also requires us to deny the possibility that action has any transformative or generative capacity. By relying on the assumption that Victor is a priori excluded from the creation of life without a partner, then anything Victor creates which walks and talks and may show all the usual symptoms of “life” must not actually be alive. Hence the Adam’s designation as “unnatural” and his classification as “monstrous”.

The possible counter-arguments bifurcate once more.

On the one hand, I could produce historical evidence which shows that, prior to the Renaissance/Enlightenment and the development of modern human anatomy, the monstrous was inherently both natural and human. Forces beyond the traditional scope of man were clearly involved, resulting in “monstrous” births being viewed as auguries, portending good or ill. Nevertheless, they were born of human mothers, were seen as relating to human affairs and therefore their position as part of the human world is undeniable.

But an argument from authority, relying on history, is nevertheless an attempt to revise the fundamental assumptions of this argument, in a somewhat underhanded manner.

The other line of argument cuts right to the chase:

By this logic, our behavior is a direct result of our fundamental nature. Because our natures cannot change, our actions are confined to the limits of what our nature allows. If this is the case, then our nature and therefore our actions are the result of having been born one way or another, as this or as that.

If so, Adam is blameless in his monstrosity. His position outside humanity is beyond his control; yet he is supposed to submit to violence and denigration for an accident of birth.

We return to the question of original sin, innate evil, inherent and intrinsic qualities. This is the question which haunts moral philosophy, psychology, religion, and the judicial process:

Are we responsible for our own actions?
How must we live pursuant to or in the absence of that answer?


[1] Who wants to yell at me for using symbology cribbed from the two things I remember from high school freshman geometry? This is the rhetorical equivalent of an economist inserting a so-called “illustrative” graph which merely visually represents their argument without any meaningful relationship to actual observed phenomena. DON’T LET PEOPLE LIE TO YOU. (Especially not me.)

Monstrous Empathy (To Not Getting Burnt)

It has become increasingly apparent to me – or rather, I have been repeatedly and rigorously reminded, recently – that there are many people out there who never recognize themselves in the monsters which abound in our literature. They do not ache with the helpless, anchor-less rage of stepping into a world with no place for you. They cannot see that the monsters have been struggling, terribly, to find voices with which to speak and yet can find no words but those which bleed and terrify as they are screamed into the night.

These people believe that the monsters do not merely hide in shadow, but are made of the formless dark. They do not recognize that it is the light which creates the shadow, and that what is wrapped in darkness was there long before the match was struck. These men (for so have they all been) are well-intentioned, sometimes pious, and completely bereft of the compassion the monster has so long sought.

Most alarming, perhaps, is their willingness to lay blame and simultaneously deny compassion. I find them most often discussing Victor Frankenstein and his Creature. They condemn the doctor for his crimes against nature, and then his creation for the temerity of his anguish in the face of an unbearable accident of birth. There is no space for grief at being utterly alone in one’s existence. The desolation of seeing one’s self reflected only in the mirror is utterly foreign to them.

This clear relegation of the “monstrous” or “unnatural” to an indisputable Other – an uncompromising distinction between “human” and “not” – is a repetition of the greatest sin of Enlightenment. This error has wrought unutterable destruction on a vast proportion of humankind.

Those who have been categorized outside the bounds of humanity are innumerable. They are of every race, gender, form, social position, and intellect. They have been exhibited, enslaved, tortured, executed, lynched, murdered, incarcerated, institutionalized, abandoned, aborted, and cast out.

Worse still are those who think that the monsters were defeated, only now to return. In their ignorant terror, they delude themselves, repeating the myth that the horrors we are bearing witness to are of monstrous origin. But these horrors are born of those long used to holding the light which casts the shadows.

It is only now that we are seeing the monsters on their own terms, carefully exercising voices unused declaration, leaving behind the territory of howling to speak for themselves. The person who declares the monster categorically inhuman is waving a torch into the dark, hoping to burn something he has never truly seen.

Most importantly, monsters do not ask for the condescension of high-minded morality; they do not seek the shriveled empathy grown in the moral philosopher’s over-weeded garden. Monsters ask to be met in the space where we are most human: where we hope against hope to be loved despite the exquisite agony of existence. This is the empathy said to be felt by mothers for their children, and between those comrades, compatriots, and brothers who have loved such as to know their lives are meaningless without the bonds which hold them together.

Unlike men, monsters have known the cold of going without the assurances that such love is possible. They have stood perfectly still in the darkness and known what it is to feel truly, utterly alone.

When a flame belonging to another is held to our face, we are rendered unrecognizable even to ourselves.

It should not need to be said: it is time for man to step into the shadow and hold tight to the fear which blooms when we feel ourselves dissolve into that darkness, to recall the way it feels to be alone, and to remember the relief in finding a hand to hold onto in the dark.


This is all prose for the sake of poetry. I don’t usually let myself run free, all extended metaphors and florid prose, due to an undoubtedly misplaced dedication to the minutiae of rational argumentation. (For rational argumentation please see the following post.)

Future Imaginary and the role of Horror

After reading Capitalist Realism, with its focus on what I have decided to term a “failure of the imagination” – not in the sense that we, the collective political and human consciousness, are exhibiting a personal failing – produced by the peremptory enclosure of possibility inherent in capitalist realism, I have re-committed myself to questions about the Future.

I have a terrible tendency to submit to the logic of “realpolitik” (in itself a form of capitalist realism) when evaluating the possibilities for creating better systems and better outcomes. While I believe it is partially the result of the natural contrarian in me responding to the more daring potentialities imagined by the people whom I choose as friends and compatriots, it nevertheless perpetuates a limited and limiting view of what could be.

On the Always Already Podcast, at the end of December 2018, the hosts contended with Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy. Without having read it, my understanding of it is of an imaginary book. This book is co-written by the description of the other book’s contents as provided by the crew at Always Already and by my own already-developing thoughts on the role of horror (both genre and emotion) and fear (both affect and effect) in philosophy – but philosophy writ large: any mode and means of asking questions.

Horror, according to Thomas Ligotti, is something which exists independent of the human mind. In “Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror” he says:

“[O]ne thing we know is real: horror. It is so real, in fact, that we cannot be sure it could not exist without us. Yes, it needs our imaginations and our consciousness, but it does not ask or require our consent to use them.” (187)

Horror is something with which we must contend, not because it offers us anything in particular, but because it is unavoidable. Horror, whose handmaidens are Pain, Death, and Uncertainty, is, in point of fact, the soil in which the tree of philosophy has taken root.

Listening to Always Already, Thacker seems to be asking that we prepare ourselves to contend with something that cannot ever be perceived, a something which…

“…is that which paradoxically reveals the hiddenness of the world in itself. […] [You] reveal something which is a paradoxical re-hiding of it at the same time…”

One of the big debates around Lovecraft – the conundrum of his rich, descriptive prose and the his narrators’ perpetual encounters with the “indescribable,” – was put to rest (in my mind) by Mark Fisher, who was building on an analysis by China Mieville, in his essay “The Out of Place and the Out of Time: Lovecraft and the Weird” (collected in The Weird and the Eerie):

“After (1) the declaration of indescribability, and (2) the description, comes (3) the unvisualisable. For all their detail, or perhaps because of it, Lovecraft’s descriptions do not allow the reader to synthesize the logorrheic schizophony of adjectives into a mental image…” (23)

In other words, Lovecraft creates a cognitive rupture by providing enough (or so much) information so that a solution – a coherent image, in this case – ought to be possible, while simultaneously frustrating any attempt to generate that solution. This question of a something or somewhere which is perceptible as a logical and/or affective possibility but which, at the same time, cannot be constructed or imagined as a coherent whole is a powerful philosophical tool.

When considering the “failure of the imagination” which traps people within capitalist realism, the potential in invoking an incoherent – though not necessarily unreal – alternative mode of thought or existence is crucial to breaking out of the bind of capitalist realism. Being able to posit an incoherent alterity is the first step towards being able to move towards a coherent alternate reality.

But trying to pull away from the familiar and towards a new paradigm inevitably produces an encounter with Horror. Following from Ligotti’s assertion that Horror exists independent of the human, then perhaps it can be said that, in the way that venomous creatures are able to prolong their existence by disrupting the biological systems of their predators, Horror serves a similar function in the preservation and perpetuation of particular realities; Horror is a defensive tactic of collective existence which disrupts the cognitive systems of those seeking to change it.

Here it is important to distinguish between Horror, horror-as-genre, and horror.

Little-h “horror” is that which can be described as a feeling or emotion. It refers to a strong negative reaction, often literally embodied, which combines characteristics of disgust, pity, revulsion, and an instantaneous rejection which can be a precursor to fear.

Capital-H “Horror” by contrast is that philosophical/affective entity which Ligotti described as existing independently from the human consciousness. “Horror” is part of the collective consciousness, it is a fundamental part of both generating and processing reality itself.[1] Here, Horror refers to an affective quality which can be perceived even when it is not accompanied by horror. While some philosophical projects (as well as scientific, religious, and narrative) projects inspire horror in those who encounter them, all philosophical projects and re-imaginings of reality will produce Horror.

(While this is exceptionally true of efforts taking place in the tradition emergent from the Enlightenment and ultimately the Modernist philosophical projects, there is reason to believe that even in non-Western Rationalist reality paradigms Horror is emergent all the same. Regardless of what their precepts may be, collective reality rejects its own re-interpretation.)

This means that “horror-as-genre,” as a collective, wide-ranging aesthetic project dedicated to exploring the production of both horror and Horror, is kin to the philosophical and scientific projects which seek to push the boundaries of what is admissible in reality. But horror-as-genre can be deployed in the service of two outcomes: the first is the exploratory, imaginative function of positing the “outside” of reality, and the second is as an inoculation. Exposure to horror and Horror (especially in the places where they intersect and intensify each other) encourages familiarity with them, and that familiarity introduces the possibility of separating horror and Horror, making it possible to engage with each quality separately.

An inclusive survey of horror-as-genre quickly reveals the variety of emotional impulses present in a seemingly inclusive category. (This is partially a result of the diversity of any given audience. However, it is also because horror-as-genre traffics readily and effortlessly in pity and grief from tragedy,  and a variety of pleasurable sentiments.) So the evocation of mere horror is insufficient as a metric by which to recognize the shared quality which unifies horror-as-genre. What brings the disparate elements of horror-as-genre (a quality which enables a recognition unimpeded by the sometimes confounding confluence between genres) is the evocation of Horror – the affective, philosophical conundrum of the supposedly “unimaginable.”

By transforming the now-cliched Nietzsche quote into its raison d’être, horror-as-genre prepares us for life on the precipice. On one side, the worn-out, inhospitable, hazy terrain of the past, on the other, the abyss of the future, and between the two, the narrow ledge of the present. Capital-H Horror is the cognitive vertigo which comes with a prolonged gazing into the uncertainties of what is not-yet-known and what has not-yet-happened. It is the result of rejecting the materiality of the present and the collectively imagined real in favor of supposing that the void may not be empty after all.

Postmodernism created a Horror in modernism with its fundamental re-imagining of reality as inherently self-contradictory. The capacity of subjects and objects to contain themselves and their opposites generates unmitigated chaos in a modernist reality. The narrative complexity of postmodernism, the constant reproduction through speech and act, can make it impossible for a model of collective imagination which is still bound by the systems of modernism to adapt and respond. Meanwhile, the parts of reality which have embraced and adapted to the postmodernist model are already distant enough from large parts of the collective imagination to be perceived as an already reimagined “future.”

This implicit (though inaccurate) distancing is the result of both an evocation if Horror and the fundamental assumptions of modernism. As a post-Enlightenment ideology, modernism sees all change as progress, any modification, addition, or change constitutes a progressive evolution. This progressive assumption means that postmodernism is – by virtue of being “new” – both more recent and more forward thinking. But it is also disruptive, and that disruption, with its demand of a new paradigm, produces Horror in those attempting to engage it. The alterity of postmodernism to modernism renders it unreadable, especially at the beginning, or, in other words, “indescribable.”

The clash between perceived temporalities or other paradigmatic structures is a perpetual source of Horror. Horror which is very effective at disrupting the processes of the collective imagination. Developing a recognition of the role of Horror in demarcating reality modes and, more importantly, becoming comfortable with Horror as part of the imaginative process is a necessary component of liberating ourselves from the reality systems which have begun to negatively impact the collective imagination.

[1] Always Already discusses the intellectual crutch of the phrase “something itself” in the Thacker episode, which brings up a lot of very interesting questions. Nevertheless, at this time, the phrase will have to stand.

Bibliography

Aultman, B, et al. “Ep. 60 – Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy.” Always Already Podcast, 27 Dec. 2018, alwaysalreadypodcast.wordpress.com/2018/12/27/thacker/.

Fisher, Mark. The Weird and the Eerie. Repeater Books, 2016.

Ligotti, Thomas. Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. Penguin Books, 2015.