Kevin Lucia: Final Reflections on “The Philosophy of Horror”, Part Three: Attraction to Monstrous Power & Psychoanalysis
Earlier in the year, a fantastic horror writer named Kevin Lucia was finishing grad school and, on his blog, presented a fascinating 9-part series on the nature of horror. I fell in love with this series, and Kevin has very graciously allowed me to reprint it here so others can enjoy it, too. Visit me every Thursday through October 18 for the next installment, and on October 25, some of his fiction—free—as a Halloween treat!
Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine, and a blogger for The Midnight Diner. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he’s currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at www.kevinlucia.com.
Final Reflections on “The Philosophy of Horror”, Part Three: Attraction to Monstrous Power & Psychoanalysis
I was thinking this would be my final post on this subject, but seeing as how Carroll ends his work The Philosophy of Horror with a section sub-titled “Horror Today” that mixes in some discussion of post-modernism, I may have to save that for a separate, fourth and fifth post, because its implications intrigue me, and may or may not hold the center-pinning for my paper this semester.
So in review, Carroll critiques three solutions that are often offered as to the paradox of why people enjoy horror. The first solution he critiques is Lovecraft’s treatise on cosmic fear, which he essentially rebuffs because while acknowledging that it certainly holds works of horror to a very high standard, it cannot be used as a summation of ALL that is horror. Then, he examines Rudolf Otto’s ideas of religious awe, disbelieving this explanation as misapplied, because very rarely does this monstrous thing that stupefies us, holds in trembling awe ALSO become a thing we feel the need to pay homage to, show devotion.
The third solution he critiques is the following, one he says may often be connected with the solution of religious awe: is that horrific beings attract viewers because of their power.
Carroll clarifies things like this; these monstrous beings – like in religious awe – induce awe, and we identify with monsters because they’re powerful, maybe even making monsters wish-fulfillment figures. And in some cases, Carroll feels this explanation serves nicely. He cites Melmoth the Wanderer, Dracula, and Lord Ruthven as monsters whose powers are very seductive – both in nature, and the lure of being as powerful as they.
Again, however, Carroll cites that this explanation is simply not broad enough to fit the whole genre. What about rotting, muttering, cannibalistic and brainless zombies? Slime monsters? Mutated insects? Carroll goes so far as to assume that these and many other horror tropes are not exactly wish-fulfillment figures.
Carroll also address the method of applying psychoanalysis to horror films, but I’m going to only briefly mention that here, simply because – like the other solutions he critiques – psychoanalysis, with its heavy reliance on unconscious sexual urges or unconscious wish fulfillment, simply doesn’t apply to horror in general, or very well at all.
Essentially, Carroll asserts the same thing about psychos analysis in relation to horror as he’s said concerning these other solutions – it applies well to certain movies and books and certainly may give greater insight into those particular work and sub-genres, but it’s too much a stretch to attach repressed sexual desires and repressed fantasies and wish-fulfillment scenarios to horror cinema in general.
Carroll cites this problem in particular with a psychoanalytic look at horror: that very often, these repressed urges must be understood to be in some way sexual, and it’s very hard to apply that to every movie monster ever to grace the screen, because for a “hardline Freudian” (his terms) everything must come back to a sexual act, which is simply too hard to apply to all horror movies.
Carroll does offer some wiggle-room for things like repressed anger or anxiety or fears, suggesting that if this theory wasn’t bound by its insistence on sexual meanings, the scope widens a little bit. He asserts that movies like The Excorcist, Carrie, The Fury and Patrick – all movies that feature telekinetic powers activated by emotions and stress or anger or possession – could gratify a repressed, infantile rage.
But, Carroll ultimately comes to the conclusion that sometimes in horror cinema and fiction, monsters are just monsters, and that’s all.
Next, I’ll post Carroll’s own solution to this paradox, something he calls The General and the Universal Theories of Horrific Appeal.