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Kevin Lucia on The Philosophy of Horror

Westminster Hall, Baltimore

Westminster Hall, Baltimore, Maryland, the burial ground of which is the site of Edgar Allan Poe’s Grave.

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.

 

The Philosophy of Horror

As part of a semester project for my “Film & Philosophy” class, I’m reading The Philosophy of Horror, by film philosopher and critic, Noel Carroll. Not exactly sure what the thrust of my focus is going to be, I just know I’ve decided to focus my semester’s study on the development of the horror movie and horror cinema in general.

I need to write a critical review of a book on film and philosophy, (I’m reviewing Philosophy of Horror for that), give a presentation on one of our assigned texts, and write a final paper. (pretty standard grad school fare) Since I chose to give my presentation on a critical analysis of David Lynch’s Lost Highway (not necessarily horror, but definitely very dark and surreal), it makes sense to focus on the dark and the weird and the supernatural.

So, like my previous review of The Woman In Black, I’m going to thresh out my initial thoughts on The Philosophy of Horror, get my ideas in order, while sharing them with you all here on the blog. Here’s my first bit of reflection.

For much of the first forty pages, Carroll spends most his time articulating WHY attempting to generate a “philosophy of horror” is important, defining what horror is, and considering two important paradoxes when it comes to audiences – and readers – of horror:

1. how can anyone be frightened by what they know doesn’t exist?

2. why would anyone be interested in horror, when being horrified is so unpleasant?

One key factor that Carroll emphasizes early on is his focus: analyzing the emotional effect horror is intended to have on its audience, by analyzing the emotional state and reactions the main characters of horror movies and books and plays display, and how audiences and readers associate and empathize with those reactions. To him, THAT is the key element to consider when developing a philosophy of horror.

He also differentiates between something that is designed to produce sensations of horror and things that are merely horrific. For example, stories of murder and death and mass genocide in the newspapers and on television and documentaries – or, even in things like war movies – are not horror. They are horrific.

Carroll also differentiates between things that “shock” or produce “jump-scares” and horror. The element of “shock” is used across genres, from crime movies to science fiction and fantasy, is a story-telling element, NOT a defining element of horror itself.

Because of the two above examples and for the purpose of this work, Carroll deigns to coin the term “art-horror” for all fictive works designed to produce sensations of horror in audiences and readers. This, in many ways, rules out a lot of things from the very beginning, something I hope he’ll clarify throughout the rest the book.

1. how can anyone be frightened by what they know doesn’t exist?

Carroll spends a lot of time here analyzing the core of the “art-horror” movie, novel and play – the monster. What makes the monster dangerous, threatening, and impure. He focuses especially on that last element, how monsters really need to be considered impure to generate feelings of “art-horror” in the audience: fear, disgust, madness, irrationality, agitation. He then defines this key element of the “monster” – not limited to the supernatural – as being impure, in that they are:

unnatural relative to a culture’s conceptual scheme of nature. They do not fit into the scheme, the violate it.  They are threats to common knowledge. They are formless, and render those who encounter them insane, mad, deranged. They are challenges to the foundations of a culture’s way of thinking” (pg. 34)

native to places outside of and/or unknown to the human world. Or, the creatures come from marginal, hidden, abandoned sites: graveyards, abandoned towers and castles, sewers, or old houses…they belong to environs outside of and unknown to ordinary social intercourse” (pg. 35)

Of course, many of these “monsters” don’t really exist, so Carroll comes back again to the characterization of the movie’s “positive” main characters, and our reaction to their reactions, the strength of our emotional connection to them. He says in this that these monsters present a “cognitive threat” to our perceptions of the way the world should be.

Carroll emphasizes the need for all three elements to wholly create the monster: that it must be dangerous, threatening, and impure. He cites The Fly as an example. Though the positive characters and certainly audience are probably disgusted by the main protagonist’s transformation throughout the movie into an impure abomination, for most the movie, they feel sympathy for this guy turning into a human fly. Even the guy’s girlfriend feels sympathy and tries to deal with the situation. He (the human fly) doesn’t truly become threatening and dangerous until the movie’s very end.

So in this case, Carroll disclassifies The Fly as “art-horror” along these two lines:

a. he’s not dangerous or threatening until the end

b. for most the movie, other “positive” characters feel either sympathy or pity for him, thereby possibly engendering sympathy and pity in the audience, which, according to Carroll’s notion, is not the emotional reaction to the “monster” art-horror films are intending to produce.

2. why would anyone be interested in horror, when being horrified is so unpleasant?

This is something he hasn’t delved into yet, spending most his time so far defining the term “art-horror” and what exactly monsters are, and why we find them threatening. At the end of the introduction, he states that this is his goal: to thresh out this paradox of audiences and readers seeking out “art-horror”, as he hopes to try and articulate – even if only for himself – why the horror genre is so compelling.

One last bit that was especially thought provoking for ME as a reader and especially a writer is where he differentiates between art-horror and what he calls “tales of dread”, or works of the “fantastic”, such as the Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, etc. They are peripheral to the horror genre, but in Carroll’s estimation….

nevertheless, I do think that there is an important difference between this type of story – which I want to call tales of dread – and horror stories. Specifically, the emotional response they elicit seems to be quite different than that engendered by art-horror. The uncanny event which tops off such stories cause a sense of unease and awe, perhaps of momentary anxiety and foreboding. These events are constructed to move the audience rhetorically to the point that one entertains the idea that unavowed, unknown, perhaps concealed and inexplicable forces rule the universe. Where art-horror involves disgust as a central figure, what might be called art-dread does not” (pg. 42)

Now, genre definitions are hazy and fluid at best, which Carroll openly admits throughout the work, and goes on to state that because both “art-horror” and “art-dread” deal with supernatural or preternatural events, they are intimately related, just that he wanted to illustrate that both factions are discernible.  This little bit right here, though, provided ME with much food for thought as a writer and creator, about what types of emotions I want to inspire in readers:

These events are constructed to move the audience rhetorically to the point that one entertains the idea that unavowed, unknown, perhaps concealed and inexplicable forces rule the universe.

This is the realm many of my stories return to, it’s the framework from which I form all my story ideas, even (or especially) my Hiram Grange title. So does this mean I don’t write horror?

Hmm. Who knows? And maybe the point’s moot, splitting hairs. BUT, I sometimes think – maybe arrogantly – that a lot of the bad fiction written across ALL genres today has been produced without really thinking very deeply about where the ideas have come from, why they’ve been generated, and what we want to inspire in our readers. At the very best, I’m driving myself deeper into thinking what it is I want to write and why.

Stay tuned…

WRITER? WHAT YOU COULD LEARN FROM NEW ENGLAND HORROR WRITERS’ EXPERIENCES AT THE HEBRON HARVEST FAIR

The banner and back wall. This event served as our new banner’s christening!

In the middle of September I had the privilege of working the New England Horror Writers booth with several other writers at the Hebron Harvest Fair in Hebron, Connecticut—and it’s safe to say that along with our foot-long hot dogs, fried dough and discovery that we all have memories of Charlotte’s Web in common, we picked up something else: a few epiphanies about all the other things we do as writers besides write.

DanKeohane’s novels Margaret’s Ark and Solomon’s Grave on the table. Also: Nathan Wrann’s vampire extravaganza Dark Matter Heart and Jennifer Yarter-Polmatier’s novels, including The Coven. Further down on the table, books featuring the shorts of Stacey Longo and Kurt Newton.

Dan Keohane (Solomon’s Grave, Margaret’s Ark) talks about the value and thrill of a burgeoning concept—writers banding together—here: http://nehwnews.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/author-dan-keohanes-experience-at-the-hebron-harvest-fair/

At left, Breaking Eggs, Dark Demons and Scary Holiday Tales, all featuring the work of Kurt Newton; Dark Things IV, From Shadows & Nightmares, and Hell Hath No Fury, featuring the work of Stacy Longo; and Granny Snatching by Ron Winter.

Kurt Newton (Black Butterflies, Dark Demons) became more aware of the importance of observation; he talks about that in his article “My Encounters with the Blurry People” here: http://nehwnews.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/kurt-newtons-encounters-with-the-blurry-people-at-the-hebron-harvest-fair/

A far shot of the left table. The etchings in the rack were done by Danny Evarts. The raffle ticket jar is to the left; in front of that are the short stories and fliers we shared with passers-by. Skeletons in the Swimmin' Hole is at the front corner of the table.

I, of course, learned something too: about how important it is to get out of that box we write in and spend time with readers. I’d forgotten how much fun that was, and I’m guessing many of us, who spend hours and hours holed up working, have as well. You can read my piece on this, “Hot Times at the Hebron Fair: The Thrill of Discovery” over at the New England Horror Writers Association’s blog at http://nehwnews.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/author-kristi-petersen-schoonovers-write-up-and-pictures-from-the-hebron-harvest-fair/

For more information about the New England Horror Writers Association, visit here: www.newenglandhorror.org.

Below, photos from the entire weekend…including pics and video of the animals. Nathan grew up on a farm, so there was no chance we’d miss that—because sometimes what you learn while you’re doing an event isn’t just about writing, it’s about life, too.

A far shot of the left table. The etchings in the rack were done by Danny Evarts. The raffle ticket jar is to the left; in front of that are the short stories and fliers we shared with passers-by. Skeletons in the Swimmin' Hole is at the front corner of the table.

A far shot of the left table. The etchings in the rack were done by Danny Evarts. The raffle ticket jar is to the left; in front of that are the short stories and fliers we shared with passers-by. Skeletons in the Swimmin' Hole is at the front corner of the table. To the right are postcards for AnthoCon, an exciting brand new conference making its debut in November in Portsmouth, NH. Yes, I'll be there!

Graphic novels by NEHW member Nathan Wrann, Granny Snatching by NEHW member Ron Winter, and The Man of Mystery Hill by NEHW member Tracy Carbone. To the right, Shadows Over New England, by member Scott Goudsward, and behind that, the anthology How the West Was Wicked, which features one of Scott's stories.

The Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole promotional postcards among other members’ books.

Danny Evarts, of Shroud Magazine and illustrator of the children's book It's Okay to Be a Zombie, poses with his stand.

Left to right, me and Stacey. That's my new Nightmare Before Christmas t-shirt I bought at the Disney Store when I met Stacey and Jason earlier in the week at the WestFarms Mall to deliver books.

Skeletons in the Swimmin' Hole T-shirts and totes. The book is a collection of ghost stories set in Disney Parks (and I wrote it, so I feel weird saying by NEHW member Kristi Petersen Schoonover, but there you have it).

The NEHW T-shirts. We sold a few of these!

Nathan, of course, was there. He had a reel of Extreme Paranormal, Paranormal Challenge, FearNet, and some other film projects running at night.

The Friday Night crew! Left to right, Stacey, Jason Harris, who does the publicity for NEHW; NEHW member Kurt Newton, Danny, and me. Kurt had several of his books available. If you look closely at the table it has been rearranged again so we could accommodate his books.

This is the piece of wood that went through my foot (if you read Kurt Newton’s column, in true horror writer fashion he tells the whole story complete with grisly details).

My foot after the “accident.” Yes, that’s a Garfield band-aid. That was all they had.

Nathan and Jason stopped chatting for a minute so I could get their photo.

Late night Friday: Nathan works on stapling more short stories to hand out. Writer/publisher of Shroud Danny Evarts on his Ipad.

Hebron sunrise. Saturday was beautiful.

My coffee (and God I needed it) on Saturday morning. I took the picture because the steam (which you can see in the pic) was rising in a very interesting way and catching the sun from the kitchen window.

The breakfast of champions!

Stacey split the board. Many fans visited with Nathan -- it was cool.

We were raffling off a case full of books, many signed and some limited. The winner also got the book case we used for display. The raffle went over very well. Our winner was Alec Wallman of Marlborough, CT. The books were donated by several generous publishers and writers: AIO Publishing (www.aiopublishing.com), Borderland Press (www.borderlandspress.com), Tracy Carbone, Creative Guy Publishing (www.creativeguypublishing.com), Delirium Books (www.deliriumbooks.com), Earthling Publishing (www.earthlingpub.com), Scott Goudsward, Knopf Publishing (knopfdoubleday.com), Nightshade Books (www.nightshadebooks.com) and Prime Books (www.prime-books.com)

Scott Goudsward (Shadows Over New England) and Greg X. Graves do a little Hamlet!

Stacey Longo and a cow.

Me, a chicken, and a cow.

Left, Scott Goudsward, me, center, Greg X. Graves, right. We were clowning around—I’m the celebrity and they’re my body guards. I don’t even know how or why we thought of doing this. It might have been my Jackie O-esque sunglasses.

Del’s Lemonade is a classic Rhode Island thing. I couldn’t believe I found them in Connecticut. I rushed to the booth and asked, “what are you doing here?” and one of the staff members looked at me and answered, “uh…selling lemonade?”

Greg X. Graves, left, and his girlfriend live in Rhode Island. It was their first time having a Del’s. I just love this picture!

I had been hoping they’d have fried dough with tomato sauce—I look forward to getting it every summer, and this year I hadn’t gone to many fairs so I missed out. Boy was I glad to see Doughboy!

The Doughboy menu. Doughboy has won best food awards the past three years at the Hebron Harvest Fair.

SATURDAY LUNCH!

Writer Dan Foley got deep into the horror atmosphere by getting his face painted.

Nathan, left, and Zombee Bob. Don’t know who Zombee Bob is? Check him out at http://www.zombeebob.com. If you’re a zombie freak (or worried about the apocalypse), then he needs to be on your radar: he’s got great art, T-shirts, and more!

Nathan chats with a fan after she’s just had her photo taken with him.

Nathan chats with the video club of the Regional Andover Hebron Marlborough--RHAM--high school about what it’s like to work in television.

You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy: yes, there were signs everywhere advising against petting the goats (for obvious reasons, they are animals and unpredictable, after all), but Nathan, who grew up on a farm and raised goats, just wasn’t going to heed that. Here he is petting a little Saanen. When he was a child, he had a Saanen named Ghost.

I swear: Nathan is the Goat Whisperer.

In this video, Nathan tells me about the remaining piece of horn in this Saanen’s head and what they will do to remove it.

Here he is petting a Nubian.

This one is a Toggenburg.

I have never seen a fatter bunny in my life. I felt bad for him, all pressed up against the wires like that. Do you think he was comfortable? He doesn’t look it.

I took a picture of this bunny because he reminded me of my black cat Poe.

We were joking around calling this one “The Watership Down Bunny.”

This is the information on the cute little dwarf bunny you’re going to see in the next picture.

The dwarf bunny! I want one! Nathan said no.

When Nathan was growing up on the farm he had a rooster just like this one. Its name was Kilcaise.

Nathan clowning around.

The Saturday afternoon crew: Greg X. Graves, Scott Goudsward, Danny Evarts, and Kevin Wood (Shock Totem).

Me, left, posing with Scott Goudsward, author of Shadows Over New England.

Nathan, left, and Danny discuss the coming Zombie apocalypse.

Danny and Stacey react to the giant snake that was over near the Hebron Harvest Fair’s midway. I have to admit, it was the largest snake I’ve ever seen!

Saturday night chill-out: yeah, who can resist that good old greasy Bloomin’ Onion? Left to right, Nathan, Danny Evarts, Jason, and Stacey.

Sunday morning Nathan: I’m so jealous of that staff T-shirt he’s got from the Annabel Lee tavern in Baltimore, MD.

Writer and NEHW Nathan Wrann has these cards available for promoting his books at events—it’s a great idea, and for you writers out there, it can be done through http://www.bit.ly.

Sunday lunch: foot-long hot dogs. Delicious!

Nathan poses with a Civil War Re-enactor; there was an entire camp set up at the fairgrounds.

This is called the “Oh my God it’s so late and we have all this packing up to do” survival kit.

Ahhh, Connecticut farm towns, where there’s always somebody that has to mud bog. And no, it wasn’t me.

Another shot of the mud. We didn’t realize it had covered the headlight until the next day, and so we were laughing about the fact that on the drive home the previous evening we had been talking about how we both noticed my lights were a little dim.

KICK OFF SEPTEMBER WITH A SCARE! I’LL BE AT THE HEBRON HARVEST FAIR WITH THE NEHW SEPT. 8-11

Put a scare in your September—stop by the New England Horror Writers’ booth at the Hebron Harvest Fair Thursday, September 8-Sunday, September 11.

I’ll be there with horror writers including Danny Evarts, Dan Foley, Scott Goudsward (Shadows Over New England), Dan Keohane (Solomon’s Grave), Stacey Longo, TJ May (Ill Conceived), Kurt Newton (Black Butterflies), and Jennifer Yarter-Polmatier (The Coven: The Tale of the Vampire Nigel)—at last count; I’m sure there will be more.

We’ll be selling books, T-shirts, and more at the table, and there will also be a special raffle featuring signed books by authors like Stephen King, so don’t miss it!

The fair’s hours are:

Thursday, September 8: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Friday, September 9: Noon to 11 p.m.

Saturday, September 10: 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Sunday, September 11: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

I’ll be there at various times beginning 9 p.m. on Friday through 11 a.m. or so on Sunday, so if you’re up that way, come see me!

The Hebron Harvest Fair will be held at the Hebron Lions Fairgrounds, Route 85, 347 Gilead Street, Hebron, Connecticut. For more information, directions, admission prices and much, much more, visit their official website: http://www.hebronharvestfair.org.

Me in the New England Horror Writers’ new T-shirts. I’m not sure if they’ll be sold at Hebron, but they will definitely be available at Rock & Shock in October and AnthoCon in November.

Me with the New England Horror Writers’ new Booth Banner for events. It was designed by Danny Evarts; I just handled ordering it. Its arrival was totally exciting!

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