Foundations

(These are some preliminary notes that I used to have at my old course site. You should find this useful, especially at the start of our class, as an indication of what some people have said about horror. Whether you agree with these ideas or not is a question we can and should discuss in class.)


HOW IS A GENRE DEFINED?

Even if it’s a discussion of science fiction, rather than horror, Graham Sleight’s “Storying Genres” offers six common ways of defining a genre, depending on what basis one is using to establish a perspective and definition of what a genre is:

  1. Trope-based
  2. Effect-based
  3. Architecture-based
  4. Move-based *
  5. Market-based
  6. Tradition-based

WHAT ARE THE TROPES OF HORROR?

Graham Sleight mentions John Clute when he talks of moves. The reference is to the latter’s book, The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror, excerpts of which may be found here (read from the bottom up).

Clute positions his tropes or moves in a four-part structure for horror narratives that I find rather provocative:

  1. sighting
  2. thickening
  3. revel
  4. aftermath

Clute, by the way, likes to use the term “strange stories” to highlight that the horror he’s interested in are “tales of estrangement,” rather than say the non-fantastic examples that he considers more suited to “Affect Horror.”


CATEGORIES OF HORROR

A very simple presentation on David G. Hartwell’s discussion of the “three streams of horror”:

  1. moral allegory
  2. psychological metaphor
  3. the fantastic (or nature-of-reality horror)

Some useful notes to Sigmund Freud’s essay “The Uncanny” (HTMLor PDF), which is the common English translation of what Freud calls the unheimlich.

Some useful notes summarizing Tzvetan Todorov’s discussion of the fantastic vis-a-vis the marvelous and the uncanny.

(NOTE: Todorov’s uncanny is not necessarily the same as Freud’s, and Hartwell’s fantastic is not necessarily the same as Todorov’s.)


HORROR AND EMOTION: DEBATES

Here is Douglas E. Winter’s “The Pathos of Genre” (one of several essays where he asserts that “horror is an emotion, not a genre”) and Adam Golaski’s response (where, among other points, he says that horror can be both an emotion and a genre).

Noel Carroll, who we will be taking up, has a more scholarly approach to “the structure of the emotions” in his book The Philosophy of Horror: Paradoxes of the Heart.

From this preliminary inventory of examples, it is possible to derive a theory of the nature of the emotion of art-horror. But before setting out that theory in detail, some comments need to be made about the structure of emotions. I am presupposing that art-horror is an emotion. It is the emotion that horror narratives and images are designed to elicit from audiences. That is, “art-horror” names the emotion that the creators of the genre have perennially sought to instill in their audiences, though they, undoubtedly would be more disposed to call this emotion “horror” rather than “art-horror.”

Furthermore, it is an emotion whose contours are reflected in the emotional responses of the positive human characters to the monsters in works of horror. I am also presuming that art-horror is an occurrent emotional state, like a flash of anger, rather than a dispositional emotional state, such as undying envy.


HORROR AS PRIMAL

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

(the opening sentence of HP Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature”)

For more on the archaic spirit of horror:

At this point it should be recalled that there is an old identity between the words “weird” and “fate” (of which one notable modern instance is Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan,” the fate of the title character being one that is prophesied by a beggar and consummated by a famished monstrosity). And this old pair of synonyms insists on the resurrection of an old philosophy, even the oldest–that of fatalism.

To perceive, even if mistakenly, that all one’s steps have been heading toward a prearranged appointment, to realize one has come face to face with what seems to have been waiting all along–this is the necessary framework, the supporting skeleton of the weird. Of course, fatalism, as a philosophical slant on human existence, has long since been out of fashion, eclipsed by a taste for indeterminacy and a mock-up of an “open-ended” universe. It nevertheless happens that certain ordeals in the lives of actual people may reinstate an ancient, irrational view of things. Such ordeals always strike one with their strangeness, their digression from the normal flow of events, and often provoke a universal protest: “Why me?” Be sure that this is not a question but an outcry. The person who screams it has been instilled with an astonishing suspicion that he, in fact, has been the perfect subject for a very specific “weird,” a tailor-made fate, and that a prior engagement, in all its weirdness, was fulfilled at the appointed time and place.

(“In the Night, In the Dark: A Note on the Appreciation of Weird Fiction” by Thomas Ligotti, preface to his 1994 collection Noctuary)

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