Diversity in Unity
In the post What Is Horror? #1, propositions were made in favour of Horror as subversive, as anarchic – as a celebration of the perverse and the sordid enterprises of the human imagination as worthwhile causes. But, as opinions, as impressions, they cannot be applied universally or administered uniformly across the board.
To apply such conditions as compulsory definitions would be limiting to the point that it would strangle the genre and condemn its perspectives to repeated themes whose purposes would wilt in terms of critical value, becoming a sort of literary tokenism, rather than a living, breathing organic body of transformative works.
Horror is much more than token gestures, which leads me to asserting something that perhaps cannot be disputed so easily – that the greatest strength of Horror, barring its endurance over time, is its diversity; which is to say that its diversity is a consequence of its endurance over centuries of evolution and revolution combined.
In the spirit of contradiction, then, it has to be asked:
What Else Is Horror?
What Is Horror? #1 deliberately overlooks a key element of Horror which many of us would describe as its foremost attribute – the fear factor. In that post, Horror isn’t described as being particularly horrifying. It is attractive, rather than repulsive, and seductive rather than terror-inspiring.
Clearly, Horror fiction has a purpose of giving credibility to the nightmare, of exhibiting deranged possibilities from which nothing of positive value can be gained. Such Horror aims at applying hypothetical scenarios to imagined worlds where – in consideration of the unthinkable – fear, terror and hopelessness are the only logical outcomes.
Similarly, What Is Horror? #1 sees Horror as a means of exercising the perversions of the species without considering the alternatives: what happens when those perversions are clinically staunched, unsatisfied, repressed, or tortuously prohibited and denied altogether?
What happens if the refreshing zeal of anarchic stimulations is displaced by abhorrent conditions of mental stupor we cannot, through any measure of existential forbearance, accept as palatable within our regimes of thought? Especially so if they’re applied, as they often are, under the most fraught conditions of persecution or duress imaginable.
Along these lines, and in response to What is Horror #1, a fellow Horror enthusiast writes:
“Horror as imperfection/anarchy completely ignores the horror of perfection and a completely ordered state of existence, something I would argue as being worse as it is a horror of permanence. Chaos always allows change and, to a degree, hope whereas an enforced perfection is the dead end of stasis” – Dan Pietersen (Thinking Horror facebook page): See more from Dan at Research Archives of the Constant University.
It is a point well made. The horror of perfection, of permanence, of a completely ordered state of existence, implies a range of perfectly unsettling Horror scenarios – perhaps most especially in relation to the imposition of a totalitarian order over the vicissitudes of free will – the assimilation of the human individual within forced constraints, where individuality is wholly vanquished – or in situations where the suppression of anything distinctly human is all-encompassing.
The stimulus of terror may be there – an excitement generated – but it is more in contemplation of the imposition of a stifling uniformity against the free, spontaneous, disordered tendencies of the human spirit. It is the exact opposite of the Horror of emotional indulgences. It is the Horror of prevention and the suffocation of desire – of dehumanisation and the removal of selfhood from the sovereignty of human agency.
This is where Horror often finds common ground with Science Fiction – in the dismal utopias of The Time Machine, The Stepford Wives or Topeka in Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog.
Horror, however, takes this further.
The eradication of agency and its reduction to a shared instinctive automaton of controlled, non-consensual behaviour is a characteristic of the zombie apocalypse, where the emotional conditions of our existence, and the desires that underlie them, are obliterated and replaced by a zero instinct, whereby desire is satisfied without the accompaniment of its conscious gratification.
The same is true of possessions or descents into madness, or of Cronenbergian body invasions or the alien infiltrations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien or Who Goes There?/The Thing.
The effect, in such cases, is not the stimulation of emotions, but their arrival at an impasse of nihilistic seizure, where terror is invoked through a loss of self-control that, ultimately, leads to a loss of self.
The anarchic stimulations of subversive Horror cannot work without a conscious appraisal of their emotional consequences. The annihilation of agency presents a condition of horror where desires are unregistered and, from a human point of view, utterly pointless.
Pointlessness (and the absence of purpose and meaning that comes with it) represents an existential causatum that is unthinkable to humans. It is not a basis for stimulation but a denial of it, whereby the horror of permanence presents a model of oblivion that is uniquely terrifying, grimly inescapable and emphatically dire.
“Perfect organisms consume without giving” – old proverb