Aesop and Jesus

“The Life of Aesop and the Gospels”
by Mario Andreassi
p. 164, Holy Men and Charlatans in the Ancient Novel

While individually heterogeneous, the analogies so far highlighted show the similarities in narrative structures of the biographies of Aesop and Jesus. However, analogy certainly does not mean textual interdependence, but it does led to the thesis that the authors of the Life of Aesop and the Gospels aimed, where possible, to place the life of the protagonist in a literary and narrative context known to the public and variously attested in the lives of the philosophers and in the Christian aretalogies. Apart from its complex editorial genesis and notwithstanding many severe judgments in the last century, the Aesop Romance belongs within a wider and consciously literary production: it is no paradox to maintain that ‘those who wrote the Gospels were likely influenced by the same literary model that gave rise to the Life of Aesop’.

‘Aesop’, ‘Q’ and ‘Luke’
by Steve Reece

The last chapter of the gospel of Luke includes a story of the risen Christ meeting two of his disciples on their way from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus and chastising them with the poetic expression ὦ ἀνόητοι καὶ βραδεῖς τῇ καρδίᾳ ‘O foolish ones, and slow in heart’ (Luke 24.25). No commentator has ever observed that Jesus’ expression occurs verbatim, in the same iambic trimeter metre, in two poetic versions of animal fables attributed to the famous Greek fabulist Aesop. It is plausible that Luke is here, as at least twice elsewhere in his gospel, tapping into the rich tradition of Aesopic fables and proverbs that were widely known throughout the Mediterranean world in the first century ce.

The Fisherman and his Flute
from Wikipedia

Commentators have seen a likeness to the story, although only in the detail of dancing to the pipe, in Jesus’ parable of the children playing in the market-place who cry to each other, “We piped for you and you would not dance; we wept and wailed and you would not mourn” (Matthew 11.16-17, Luke 7.31-2).[8] There is an echo here too of the criticism of unresponsive behaviour found in Herodotus.

[8] Francisco Rodríguez Adrados, History of the Graeco-latin Fable 3, Brill 2003, p.20 (“The proverb in the Gospels may be compared with the fable in that it uses the same musical metaphor of dancing accompanied by flute-playing.”)

Aesop’s Fables in the Bible
by Kent West

About five-hundred and fifty years before Yeshua was born, Aesop collected and/or created many fables, one of which was “The Fisherman and His Pipe”:

There was once a fisherman who saw some fish in the sea and played on his pipe, expecting them to come out onto the land. When his hopes proved false, he took a net and used it instead, and in this way he was able to haul in a huge catch of fish. As the fish were all leaping about, the fisherman remarked, ‘I say, enough of your dancing, since you refused to dance when I played my pipe for you before!’

[…] Nearly six hundred years later Yeshua makes reference to this same fable, having probably learned it as a child:

To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:
“We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance….”
Luke 7:31-32

Aesop as Context for Matthew 7:15-23
by Brandy Vencel

The passage begins with “beware of false prophets.” We must consider the entire passage in light of this introductory phrase. We are given a metaphor, in order to better understand false prophet: they are wolves which get in amongst the sheep by dressing up in sheep skin. {This is a direct reference to Aesop’s The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, but we will come back to that.} […]

What makes me so sure that this is an entire passage is its perfect parallelism with Aesop. It is said that Aesop lived around 500 years before Christ. His fables were so powerful, they were the first principle of the progymnasmata writing and rhetoric curriculum, which we know was formalized as early as 100 BC. Because Aesop was utilized not only to instruct in wisdom, but to teach writing and storytelling, and because almost every student would have had to retell Aesop’s fables, we can safely assume that this idea of a wolf in sheep’s clothing had slipped into the culture and provided a frame for discourse for at least 150 years, if not half a millenia, before Christ said these words.

Please realize that He was taking a universally known cultural story, and applying it those who would hurt His sheep.

Aesop’s tale of The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing has two parts. In the first part, the wolf has trouble getting any sheep to eat because the shepherds are so good at protecting them. The wolf’s problems are solved when he discovers a discarded sheepskin and puts it on. Almost immediately, he manages to snag a sheep for lunch. This is the fist half.

The second half takes an interesting turn. In this half, one of the shepherds decides that he’s in the mood for mutton broth for dinner, and heads out to the flock. He grabs the first sheep he finds…which just happens to be the wolf. The wolf becomes soup, not unlike the fool of Proverbs, who falls into his own pit.

Depending on your version of Aesop, you will have different morals attached {the morals were added much later}. One is: Appearances are deceptive. The other is: The evildoer often comes to harm through his own deceit. {There may be others, of which I am unaware.}

Jesus recasts the wolves as false prophets, and instructs His followers in how to pull the sheepskin off {look at the fruit}.

In the first half, Jesus covers deceptive appearances, and in the second half he covers the harm that comes to the evildoer in the end, as a result of his own choices and actions.

Just like Aesop.

Humor in the Gospels
by Terri Bednarz
pp. 208-209

Whitney Shiner (1998) gives interesting insights on humor when he compares The Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark. Both of these works, the argues, were built by editing together various independent narrative episodes. These episodic narratives share common features: 1) their writing style lacks sophistication, 2) they were concise and short, and 3) their main characters persistently outwit antagonists. The main characters tended to be populist tricksters who succeed in unmasking the foibles of the elites, thus making them appear ridiculous. The tricksters target their antagonists with satirical barbs.

Shiner writes that The Life of Aesop advances its plot much more simply than the Gospel of Mark. Aesop merely outwits his antagonists in episode after episode. In hearing the stories of Aesop, one would more likely say, “Not again!” The Gospel of Mark has a more complex plot in which Jesus must repeatedly perform miracles, relate wise dicta, and outwit opponents in order to convince the audience of his ability to get the better of his antagonists. With the Markan Jesus, the hearer would more likely say, “Prove it!” Both the Markan Jesus and Aesop succeed in making their antagonists look foolish.

Shiner details other similarities in the Aesopic and Markan plots. Aesop’s rank and success increase in accord with the mounting hubris that leads to his eventual death at Delphi (Herodotus 2.136). The Markan Jesus also increases in stature, entering Jerusalem as a king (Mark 11:19-11), which also comes at great cost. Like Aesop, Jesus will meet a political death. Shiner notes another similarity: the use of divine causation. For Aesop, there is divine intervention in disputes, in posing and solving riddles, and even in his death. For the Markan Jesus, there is a divine plan that keeps unfolding until it culminates with Jesus’ death.

Shiner examines the ancient practice of intercalation, where an episode is woven into the middle of another episode. He argues that intercalation increases tension in the audience. This technique is found in both the Aesopic and Markan narratives. He gives an example from the Gospel of Mark where Peter stands in the shadows as Jesus is led into council. The audience is led to suspect that Peter follows Jesus in order to watch for an opportunity to express his bravery (Mark 14:53-54). Then Mark inserts the intercalation (14:55-65), which recounts Jesus’ courageous testimony, but then Mark jerks back to Peter where the audience hears Peter’s own bravery melt into a dramatic account of cowardliness (Mark 14:66-72). Shiner then presents an example of Aesopic intercalation. As Aesop cooks his lentil, there is an interruption in which Aesop and Xanthus engage each other in agonistic rhetoric, after which the scene of the cooking of the lentil resumes (Aesop 39, 41).

Shiner stresses that the episodic narratives and the intercalations are designed to keep the audience engaged, but not in the modern sense. Modern audiences anticipate that characters will break from their characterizations, and evolve into more complex figures. Shiner argues that this is not the case with ancient audiences, which expect characters to be static and predictable. For example, Xanthus will always be the butt of Aesop’s witty barbs. For ancient audiences, the episodic narratives do not produce tension by introducing the unexpected but by fulfilling what they anticipate will happen. In other words, the tension builds because the moment of comic recognition is delayed. Aesopic and Markan episodes and their intercalations simply postpone what the ancient audience expects will happen. They know that the antagonists will always receive Jesus’ witty or barbed riposte, or that Peter will stumble yet again, or that Aesop will once more outwit Xanthus.

Whitney Shiner, “Creating Plot in Episodic Narratives: The Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark”
by Matthew W. Ferguson

Shiner (pg. 155) begins her analysis by noting that there are “two distinct ways” that the Gospels have been read. One approach, following the from critics, is to view the Gospels as a conglomeration of self-contained episodes that have been stitched together from oral tradition. The other approach is to view the Gospels as a continuous narrative. Shiner argues, however, that these approaches can be harmonized through an “extended episodic narrative.” As Shiner (pp. 155-156) explains:

“In reading the Gospels as episodic narrative, one must see the narrative as simultaneously episodes and as extended narrative. The extended narrative is built from more or less self-contained blocks. Continuity in the extended narrative is found not so much in the continuity of detail in action and characterization between episodes as in continuity in the overall impact of the episodes. To take an analogy from art, extended episodic narrative is like a mosaic.”

Shiner goes on to note that the Life of Aesop, much like the Gospels, is built around narrative episodes that are largely independent. These independent episodes, however, are organized to advance the plot of the macronarrative. As Shiner (pg. 156) explains:

“This is especially true of the most extensive section of the Life, in which Aesop repeatedly outwits his master, the philosopher Xanthus. Much of the macronarrative structure of Aesop, such as Aesop’s sale to the philosopher, his manumission, and his entering into service to Lycurgus, serve to move the narrative from one type of episode, appropriate to Aesop’s earlier situation, to a different style of episode, appropriate to the new plot situation.”

Shiner (pp. 169-174) identifies eight different narrative strategies shared between the Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark that are used to weave episodes into a continuous plot:

  1. Similar episodes are repeated to develop a point […]
  2. Within the plot as a whole discrete sections are created that are, in terms of size and content, amenable to episodic development […]
  3. The discrete sections are ordered to suggest a coherent plot development from one to the other […]
  4. Sustained conflicts between the hero and another person or group are established and episodes are used to illustrate conflict […]
  5. Episodes of various lengths are presented to create variety […]
  6. Narrative within episodes is elaborated to enhance the narrative quality of the whole […]
  7. Discrete episodes are interwoven to extend narrative tension or to provide keys for interpretation […]
  8. Similar episode plots are presented at different places in the narrative to recall earlier episodes and to suggest an underlying unity of theme or plot […]

Through these narrative strategies, therefore, Shiner argues that the episodic structure of the Life of Aesop and the Gospel of Mark does not conflict with a continuous narrative. Instead, these strategies are employed to weave continuity within the narrative and a continuous plot.

Lawrence Wills: “The Life of Aesop and the Hero Cult Paradigm in the Gospel Tradition”
by Matthew W. Ferguson

After identifying novelistic biography as the best analogical model for the Gospels, Wills goes on to argue that the anonymous Life of Aesop makes for the best comparison. Wills (pg. 23) explains:

“The tradition of Aesop as a teller of barbed fables … is found as early as the fifth century B.C.E., and the account of his life, which circulated in multiple versions, may derive from narrative traditions that are as old. The extant versions, however, are dated to about the turn of the era, that is, roughly contemporary with the gospels…”

The process of composition described above is very similar to The Certamen of Homer and Hesiod, where an anonymous editor compiles multiple earlier accounts into a single episodic narrative (which then circulates with multiple textual variations). As I explain in my essay “Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels,” the NT Gospels are also better described as edited volumes, rather than the unique work of a single author, based on how they borrow and redact earlier materials (often verbatim), with the editor of the text remaining anonymous.

Beyond these structural observations, however, Wills also notes a number of thematic similarities between the Gospels and the Life of Aesop. As Wills (pg. 23) explains about the subject of the biography:

“Aesop is introduced in the Life as an ugly and misshapen slave who is in the beginning unable to speak. He is devoted to Isis, however, and after he shows kindness to one of the priestesses, falls into a sleep and is granted by the goddess the power of speech. This gift he uses to the utmost–he never stops talking, but with an acid wit skewers the pretensions of his new owner, a philosopher, and also the owner’s wife and fellow philosophers.”

Aesop is prominent for teaching in fables, a form of fiction quite similar to the parables used by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. On this point, it is also worth noting John Dominic Crossan’s recent book on the subject, The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus. For his teachings, Aesop, like Jesus, runs into problems with the authorities and is executed. As Wills (pp. 23-24) explains:

“Through his cleverness he manages to help both his master and the citizens of Samos, and ultimately attains his freedom. Once free, however, he soon runs foul of the citizens of Delphi, and rebukes them with his sharp-pointed fables. They condemn him to death on a trumped-up charge, and he is executed. When a plague strikes the city, they consult an oracle of Zeus and learn that they must expiate their sin through sacrifice.”

Here, Wills draws a major parallel with the life of Jesus, namely the wrongful execution of the subject, followed by divine vindication. As Wills (pg. 28) argues:

“The relationship of blame, violent reaction, impurity, expiation, and immortality of the hero are drawn close together. Similarities to the expiatory death of Jesus can be seen here, especially if we begin to consider the latter in terms of ambivalent worship with his people, that is, to Jews, Israel, or Jerusalem.”

Wills (pg. 29) also notes that the length of the Life of Aesop is a bit longer than Mark and John, and and about the same length as Matthew and Luke. Wills points out, however, that in terms of structure the Life is more similar to Mark in John, particularly in how the text does not begin with a narrative of the subject’s birth (though Aesop is briefly said to have been born a slave in Amorium of Phrygia, without discussion of the circumstances), or his early growth and development, but is instead focused on his adult life.

 

“The Aesop Tradition”
by Lawrence M. Wills
pp. 223-224, The Historical Jesus in Context

The Aesop tradition is important for the study of the Gospels for two reasons. First, Aesop’s fables can be formally compared to Jesus’ parables. Readers will recognize in some of the fables below individual motifs that re also found in the Gospel parables, as well as the use of ideal scenes that provoke reflection, even if the point to be taken from them is quite different. Second, the Life of Aesop is roughly contemporary with the Gospels and bears some remarkable similarities. These similarities may derive from the fact that the Life and the Gospels both dramatize the life and death of the ostracized hero, told in an age of prose novels and novelistic histories. (Later Christian tradition [Acts of Peter 24; Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 3.1] even adds that Jesus was ugly, based on a reading of Isaiah 53:2.) The Life is about the same length as the Gospels, written in a relatively low style. Like the Gospels, it gives the sense of being a longer text composed of many originally independent episodes. If Jesus in the Gospels is more prophet than sage, and Aesop is more sage than prophet, the difference is minor compared with the overall similarity in structure:

  1. The protagonist has lowly beginnings but experiences a deity’s favor.
  2. The protagonist has a period of ministry with a salvific message.
  3. The protagonist is despised as a result of the message.
  4. Trumped-up charges involving blasphemy of the deity are brought forward.
  5. The protagonist is executed as a result.
  6. A cult of the protagonist is instituted.

Within some of the general similarities, we can perceive even closer parallels in the details. The Life of Aesop begins with a visitation by the goddess Isis and the bestowal of powers on Aesop, not unlike the scene of Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of the Gospels with the voice from heaven. At the end of the Life there is a geographic shift from Samos to Delphi, that is, from the periphery to the center of the worship of Apollo, just as there is a shift in the Gospels from the periphery of Galilee to the center at Jerusalem. Finally, at the transition at the end of these texts from ministry to a trial and passion, the process by which this shift occurs is also similar. In both groups of texts, conflicts that are punctuated by the use of a special kind of discourse arise. and this leads directly to the trial and execution of the protagonist […]

In addition, in all three texts the charge of “blasphemy” figures heavily in the conspiracy to execute the protagonist (Life of Aesop 132; Mark 14:64; John 10:33). This is true even though the charges of blasphemy n the three cases are not clearly stated and may be quite different. In Aesop, the protagonist is accused of being a temple robber; in Mark, blasphemy is often discussed by scholars in terms of Jewish law on this subject (Leviticus 24:16), but the charge seems to focus instead on Jesus’ implication that he himself is the coming Son of Man; in John the Jewish authorities tell Jesus that the charge of blasphemy arises because “you are making yourself God.” Blasphemy should thus be seen in its literary context as the “standard” false charge that separates the wise hero from his people. It is also roughly equivalent to the false charge of impiety leveled against Socrates. In Socrates’ case the charges were corrupting the young, neglecting the gods, and introducing new ideas (Plato, Apology).

The difference in tone between the Gospels and the Life of Aesop — urgent and demanding in the case of the Gospels, broadly satirical in the case of the Life of Aesop — can be attributed to the difference in the protagonists’ message. Jesus brings the good news of God’s plan of salvation at the end time, while Aesop the Cynic sage preaches a gospel of liberation from human convention and complacency and an awareness of the true nature of things. (Some scholars would argue that this places the Life of Aesop closer in religious outlook to the sayings source Q or the Gospel of Thomas. If that is the case, then the Life of Aesop is structurally closer to one part of the Gospel tradition, and thematically closer to another.) This overall literary similarity between the Life of Aesop and the Gospels indicates that the genre “gospel’ was not as unique as some have thought, and the particular motifs of the Gospels may owe more to the general background of reverence for philosophers than has been previously acknowledged.

My Flesh Is Meat Indeed
by Meredith J. C. Warren
pp. 54-55

In addition, Berenson Maclean points out the generic compatibility found by other scholars such s Lawrence Wills between the biography of the poet-hero and the Gospel of John in particular. Wills’ study argues that the novelistic pattern of the poet-hero’s life and death, including the poet’s antagonistic relationship with both the city and a deity, makes it appropriate for comparison with John’s structure. Specifically, Wills suggests that The Life of Aesop fits the same pattern as Mark and John; for instance, all three begin at the adulthood of the main character rather than with his birth and all three involve, close to the outset, an experience from heaven. Jesus’ ambivalent relationship with the Temple and oi ioudaioi also make John’s comparison to Life of Aesop appropriate.

Nagy’s work on the hero now becomes very relevant to the discussion: “by losing his identification with a person or group and by identifying himself with a god who takes his life in the process, the hero effects a purification by transferring impurity.” The expiatory understanding of Jesus’ death is apparent in early Christian works such s 1 Corinthians 15:3, Romans 3:25, 1 Corinthians 5:7, and Mark 10:45. For Wills, this further locates the early Christian understanding of Jesus in the context of the Greco-Roman hero, though he cautions that the paradigm of the hero is more variable than a single genre could contain. Gunnel Ekroth concurs with this point, saying, “a characteristic of heroes and hero cults is their heterogeneity.” Rather, for all three of the texts Wills examines, the paradigm of the hero is narrated in a way that establishes the cult even if not all the elements are present in any given text and with the reservation that there is no single paradigm that encompasses all of early Christianity’s understanding of Jesus’ life and death.

pp. 209-212

Nagy’s treatment of the Aesop tradition is significant for this study of John because in it, Nagy is careful to pint out the feedback loop present in the myth and ritual: Aesop’s death is the cause of the ritual institution he critiques while at the same time, his death in the narrative is caused by his critique. That is, everything is occurring at the level of narrative. It is this relationship that establishes the association of Aesop with Apollo. Thus Life of Aesop, too, reflects the understanding of the relationship between chosen human and god that is recorded in literature from the time of the epics to the turn of the millennium and after. In particular, the complicated cause-and-effect relationship between the antagonism, the ritual, and the divine identification found in Aesop as observed by Wills and Nagy is also found in the Greek romances. As I have illustrated above, this feedback loop of antagonism — sacrifice/cannibalism — divinity is a key manifestation of the type of relationship Nagy finds between heroes and gods in Homer’s epics. Likewise, I argue that this “antagonism in myth, symbiosis in cult” is also found in John.

Further, Wills notices similarities with the ways in which Jesus and Aesop die. In Life of Aesop, the Delphians put him to death in a way that makes him a pharmakos, a scapegoat. The act of putting a person to death is polluting, and the only way for this act to be purified is with the establishment of the hero’s cult. Wills’s outline of Jesus’ death shows the parallels between his sacrifice and the trope of heroic death in the Greco-Roman world. He points out that (likely pre-Pauline) formulas speak of Jesus or Christ as one who has died for the sins of others — in other words, as an expiation. In particular, Wills observes that the oracle uttered unwittingly by Caiaphas in John 11:50 makes a significant point of contact with the heroic death narratives, where frequently the “sacrifice of the hero is demanded or predicted by an oracle.” Caiaphas’s words, “It is expedient that one man should die for the people, so that the whole nation not perish,” make it clear to the readers (though ironically not to Caiaphas himself) that Jesus’ death is on behalf of the nation and can therefore be seen as expiatory. Jesus’ death at the request of certain factions of oi ioudaioi results in his worship by certain other factions of that same community.

Wills also observes that Jesus’ death in John occurs at the same time as sacrifice of the Passover lambs in the Jerusalem temple. As I have observed earlier, John’s Gospel avoids discussion of the expected Christian rituals of baptism and Eucharist and yet maintains a concern for the practice of ritual; Nagy, too, notices this feature in the heroic epics that are the focus of his work, the Odyssey and the Iliad. The fact that John shares his concern for right ritual practice with Homer suggests that the leap from literary death to cultic concern is indigenous. Likewise, John’s location of Jesus’ death at the time of that other, ordinary expiatory sacrifice further establishes Jesus’ death in a sacrificial, and therefore heroic, context. In other words, John’s concern with right ritual practice combined with the manner and timing of Jesus’ expiatory death, as prophesied by Caiaphas, creates an image of Jesus that shares significant points with the hero of the epic and with Aesop. Jesus’ and Aesop’s manners of death are therefore comparable; in this way, Jesus can also be viewed as heroic pharmakos.

Wills also points out that there seems to be striking similarities between Aesop’s characterization and Jesus’: the travelling distributor of pithy wisdom is persecuted and eventually executed as a kin of scapegoat/pharmakos. Clearly much of Jesus’ narrative follows a very similar pattern, especially, Wills observes, if we consider Jesus’ relationship to his own community, oi ioudaioi. It is especially appropriate for the current study that Wills there quotes Nagy:

By losing his identification with a person or group and identifying himself with a god who takes his life in the process, the hero effects a purification by transferring impurity. . . . In such a hero cult, god and hero are to be institutionalized as the respectively dominant and recessive members of an internal relationship.

This method of establishing such an eternal relationship can also be observed in the romance novels we have been discussing so far. In each case, the protagonists have experienced alienation from their communities. There are some differences worth articulating: whereas in the novels, the great beauty of the heroines gave them away as divine creatures, Aesop’s disfiguring ugliness is remarkable. John Winkler calls this satirical characterization of the main character the trope of the Grotesque Outsiders, one who is more capable of penetrating humanity’s veneer because of his or her marginal status. As such, this characterization marks the novel as satirical, but this, Wills is quick to point out, in no way effaces its usefulness in examining the finer points of the genre as a whole, especially since Leucippeand Cltophon might well fall into the satirical camp itself. The overarching theme of alienation and execution in both Aesop and John also plays out in the romances; Aesop’s satirical ugliness functions has a reversal of the goddesses’ beauty, but further, the trope of the outsider is clearly visible in all the examples. In short, while Wills compares just Aesop and John for his comparison, for the purposes of this project, where consumption is also a factor, it is significant that the romances also follow this narrative pattern in which the protagonists experience exile.

Paul and the Rise of the Slave
by K. Edwin Bryant
pp. 57-58

I also employ The Life of Aesop as a resource for conceptualizing how Paul’s construction of messianic life reclaimed slaves from the deadening violence imposed on conquered peoples. This investigation makes full use of Aesop as a hero who, in grotesque disguise, utters critical truths and contests the legal and political definitions imposed on slaves. Aesop is a common man’s Socrates who “cloaked his wisdom in foolishness.” We suggest that Rom 6:12-23 demonstrates how slaves of Messiah Jesus re reclaimed from the sinful domination of Empire, and subsequently illustrates how Paul’s polemical construction of messianic life provides eschatological comfort to the “vanquished.” Paul’s language in Rom 6:12-23 has more in common with the theatrical representations of slavery in the mine, than with the elite philosophical discourses of wisdom. Locating Paul’s description of himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus in the language of comedy, jest, and the mime maybe controversial. Nevertheless, it seems clear that Paul’s description of himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus was formulated from a grotesque perspective, in response to violence, and to facilitate an upsurge of the human spirit that challenged slaves to rise above the profane and juridical conditions imposed upon them. […]

The life of Aesop provides suggestive parallels between Aesop’s fables and Paul’s characterization of his calling as that of a slave, particularly in the ways that both resisted and contested power relationships. That Aesop is presented as a hero who is ugly, deformed, and disabled contests the Hellenic picture of wisdom and intellect. The Life of Aesop frequently portrays Aesop’s wisdom as disconcerting elite persons and challenging them as subjects. Yet, at times, Aesop is unable to transcend his grotesque appearance. On other occasions, Aesop consciously employs his wit and ingenuity to create anxiety in members of his master’s social class. The Life of Aesop is polemical in that Aesop ruptures the legal and social definitions of the slave as a subject, and annuls the impact of the power imposed upon him. Xanthus’ students marvel as to how Aesop’s intellect is greater than their professor’s. That Aesop constantly brought about a reversal of expectations indicates that the problems associated with his grotesque appearance were intermittent. Nevertheless, it would have been difficult for most slaves to subvert the continuum of power without the help of a construct like Paul’s ethic of messianic life. […]

pp. 65-66

It may be that the grotesqueness of The Life of Aesop, and the positive valuation of the slave as a subject, will infuriate the “modern bourgeois readers.” Such a reading will undoubtedly elicit scandalous remarks and reactions. In contrast to the bourgeois reactions, the staging of Aesop’s many reversals “provide the only defense, and occasional revenge, for those who routinely suffered maltreatment.” Now let us imagine the implications for slaves in Rome, if they too, had an encounter with the divine and awakened to a new way to conceptualize their existence. This analysis does not suggest that Paul’s readers had access to The Life of Aesop, but does highlight the fact that a contemporary non-Christian source portrayed slaves with the capability to transcend power relationships; one can only imagine how Roman slaves could replicate the same conditions by participating in the death of Messiah Jesus through baptism. The Life of Aesop presents a literary source contemporary with Paul that, in a similar way, challenges slaves to subvert how institutions and power structures imposed identity on slaves as subjects. Paul’s theological concept of identity formation subverts how the Empire imposed identity on subjects. Such a reading also asserts that Paul’s description of himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus resonates with aspects of the slave Aesop’s identity that had been silenced by conquest. The Life of Aesop suggests how Paul’s polemical construction of messianic identity may have facilitated a role reversal that generated the acceptance of one’s new calling as a Slave of Messiah Jesus. On the one hand, this reversal of fortune annuls the negative implications of social cohesion and formation. On the other hand, we suggest that Paul’s polemical construction of messianic life contributed to an upsurge of the human spirit.

Second, the reclamation of identity generated the courage for slaves to resist aspects of the identity that Roman rule imposed on conquered peoples. After receiving his gifts from Isis, Aesop became aware of the maltreatment of slaves and contested how the propertied class exploited the ambiguities of slavery. Aesop was also conscious of how Xanthus attempted to exploit his intellect. In ways similar to the Life of Aesop, Paul’s description of himself as a slave of Messiah Jesus facilitated an awakening of Christian identity. The final episode in The Life of Aesop reveals Aesop’s willingness to be hailed by the deity in order to thwart the attempt of the men of Delphi’s to kill him. Instead, Aesop accomplishes his own fate to prevent dying at the hands of moral slaves. That Paul describes himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus serves as an invitation to auditors who were slaves to realize their calling by participating in the death of Messiah Jesus. We posit that the grotesque perspective generated the grammar required for urban slaves to imagine an existence apart from their legal condition.

p. 76

To contest the ways that dominium ideology facilitated violence required slaves to employ a grammar of resistance that permitted them to subvert the identity that Rome sought to impose on its subjects. Our exploration of The Life of Aesop revealed a representation of a slave who possessed the intellectual prowess to negotiate, and in some ways transcend violence, and subvert how masters understood the legal and political definitions of the slave as subject. Thus, The Life of Aesop provides a helpful resource for appreciating the language of Paul’s letters, at the same time that it illustrates how slaves tried to imagine an existence apart from the identity that Rome imposed upon them. In this context, we may form an impression of how Paul’s description of himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus was understood by members of urban slave congregations. We propose that Paul crafted Rom 6:12-23 to convince Slaves of Messiah Jesus, who were restricted to conditions similar to modern ghettos, that they might awaken to a new messianic life. Thus, Paul’s description of himself as a Slave of Messiah Jesus functioned to reclaim slaves from the negative implications of subjectivity and generated a positive valuation of the slave as subject.

p. 200

Turning now to Paul, it is impressive how closely Paul’s requirements for slave participation in messianic identity parallel Aesop’s decision to take his own life rather than allowing the men of Delphi to force a meaningless death upon him. Paul’s exhortation to slaves in the “now” time signals that the only way to “rise” from the profane verdict assigned to slaves involved the willingness to share in the death of Messiah Jesus — only then can one generate a new meaning for life that transcends the imposition of Rome’s demonic rule. Paul’s repeated use of the word vuv (now, present time) in Rom 6:19, 21, and 22 confirms our exegesis of Rom 6:18-20. The process of interpelation awakened slaves to a new messianic consciousness that facilitated an awareness of how humiliation, torture, and violence were employed to reinforce the subjectivity of slaves as subjects. Thus, the positioning of “now” in Rom 6:19-23 announces an end to the domination, humiliation, and torture produced in a context of shame. Paul’s reference to the “now time” of salvation signals that slaves encountered “new ethos that had ethical and theological implications.” Roman Imperial ideology assigned slaves as weapons of wrongdoing: slaves can now participate in community with a “messianic consciousness.” Based on Paul’s use of […], we can say that slaves who participate in messianic community are able to reimagine their existence in positive ways without shame (cf. Rom 1:16).

Horror vs Violence/Torture Porn

I just read this from Matt Cardin’s The Teeming Brain:

The meaning of horror and “that dark sorcerer” Cormac McCarthy (with nods to Ligotti)

He quotes the following from Benjamin Percy:

I feel that violence needs to be earned somehow — or it needs to earn out. You need to pipe the oxygen in before lighting the flame — or, in the wake of some violent act, there needs to be repercussions: a period in which the characters suffer and soak up what has occurred. Making it part of the causal structure and making it emotionally resonant, too. I would hope that any narrative that wrestles with this sort of thing is meant to horrify, and not excite. To discourage, instead of encourage, violence. And that’s the problem with movies like Saw and Hostel: They make a bloodbath into a kind of joyous exercise.

I’ve been practicing for these kind of scares my whole life. I grew up on genre: Westerns, sci-fi, fantasy novels, mysteries and spy thrillers — but especially on horror. Horror’s always gripped me in its bony fist. So I read everything by Shirley Jackson, and Anne Rice, and Stephen King, and Peter Straub and Robert Aikman [sic], John Saul, and Dean Koontz, and H. P. Lovecraft, and Poe. There’s something about me that’s drawn to darkness and to the theater of fear. I can’t quite put a finger on why that is — it’s the same reason some people like romance stories while others like action movies. But my greatest pleasure growing up was terrifying my sister by leaping out of closets with my hands made into claws, or scratching at her bedroom window. She slept with the light on until she was 27. I guess that was training ground for the novelist I’ve become.

I’ve become so attuned to craft that it’s sometimes difficult for me to get lost in a story. When I grew up reading, the only thing that concerned me was the question of what happens next — and the pages turned so fast they made a breeze across my face. The Road, for the first time in a very long time, owned me emotionally in that same fashion. I was able to turn off my craft radar and be swept away. I felt true terror. The kind of terror that used it [sic] make me, when I was a kid, wrap the sheets around my face and breathe through a little blowhole in fear of the shadow that seemed at the edges of my room. Cormac McCarthy, that dark sorcerer, makes me feel that way again.

 

Here is the comment I left at The Teeming Brain:

My judgment on whether a movie is torture porn would be to imagine myself as a sociopath and consider whether or not a particular movie would appeal to my sociopathic sensibilities and worldview. A deep thinking non-sociopath could possibly sense a profound existential dread in almost anything, but that doesn’t mean that was necessarily the intention of the makers of the film or the received experience of most viewers.

I’m not dismissive of portrayals of violence when used for a deeper expression of human reality. My opinion, though, is that violence can only achieve this when used sparingly. Otherwise, it more likely numbs one to possibility of existential dread. A better use of violence for this purpose is a movie such as Requiem for a Dream. Another movie that achieves this without any overt bloody gore is the less well known Kids.

As someone prone to depression, I’m more wary of the impact of torture porn and violence porn. I can’t shake the feeling that artists truly do have a moral responsibility to their viewers and to society as a whole, whether or not they want to accept this. It’s the fact that art can inspire people to great deeds and horrific acts that makes art so worthy. What we put out into the world is what we help to manifest. That is such a fundamental truth that too many people blindly and ignorantly dismiss.

That said, I would never want to forbid the use of extreme violence in movies. Like anything else, it is part of life. But art should inspire people to see beyond the violence toward compassion and understanding, toward existential insight or mortal wonder at our finitude. I personally don’t see movies like Saw achieving this, but maybe for a very small minority they might gain something worthy from such films. The question is whether what is gained by a small minority is great enough to offset the damage caused to the psyches of so many others, the moral numbing and societal disregard.

Enough preaching for now.

On another note, I woke up earlier today and a dream was lingering in my mind. All I could remember was being on a very long walk, an endlessly long walk. That was all there was to the dream. Going on and on and on. Then I remembered I had fell asleep listening to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I have read several other books by McCarthy and the adaptations thereof. My friend is an even bigger fan of McCarthy which is how I discovered him back in the mid 1990s. I find his writing interesting, although I’m not as big of a fan of that description-laden style.

The Road seemed very different in style. McCarthy was holding back by leaving a lot out. There was a hyper-focus on the man and his son with the apocalyptic world a mere backdrop. There was a slogging repetitiveness to it which would have utterly failed if attempted by a lesser writer. I’ll have to read the book sometime to get the full sense of it.

Ponderings Fictional

Ponderings Fictional

Posted on Dec 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
(1) I’ve noticed a correlation between the length of stories and the type of fiction.  Genre fiction tends toward short fiction… or is it short fiction tends towards the genre?  One thing is for sure, the only way for an author to escape genre categorization is to write a novel.  The only genre writers allowed into the mainstream literature section are those who’ve written longer works.  I can’t think of any exceptions offhand.

Is my observation correct?  If there is a correlation, what might be the causation?

Some possible answers:

 – Suspension of disbelief is hard to sustain in longer works of genre fiction which necessitates both a talented writer and a willing reader.
 – In terms of fantasy and horror, maybe it has something to do with the human psyche.  It could be related to how we tend to only remember short snippets of dreams.  So, this mght imply that the imagination works most effectively when highly focused.
 – Maybe it has to do with technique.  The loose and limited narrative structure that a short story allows may give more freedom for the imagination.
 – It could be as simple as it being the tradition of the genres.  Each generation of writers take their inspiration from and thus emulate the writers that came before them.  The earliest imaginative stories were short and have been influential.
 – Another possbility has to do with the expectations of publishers and readers.  The genres have often had a special relationship with anthologies and magazines.  Partly, this is because the genres have never been big money-makers.  Short fiction is what sold, and publishing magazines is cheaper than publishing a book.  If an author wrote enough short stories, they might be able to eke out a living.  A short story has a quicker return in terms of making money than spending a long time writing a novel.

(2) Horror is somewhat unique amongst the genres.  In some ways its the most respectable of the genres and someways its the least.  The earliest horror writers such as Poe aren’t even kept in the genre section, and even many of the fantasy writers that make it into the mainstream are often of a darker persuasion.  Horror seems to attact more literary writers than many of the genres, but simultaneously horror is the least popular of the genres in that its almost always the smallest section.  Horror gets isolated by itself wheras Sci-Fi and Fantasy usually get mixed together.

Horror has always had a close relationship with philosophy, and it often seems that horror writers can be more loose with their narrative structure than the other genres.  In many horror stories, not much happens at all narrative-wise… it can be rather cerebral where your stuck in a characters head and everything is subjective.

(3) I enjoy authors that have distinctive personalities and voices.  The two examples that come to mind are William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick, but to a lesser degree Kafka and Hesse fit in this category for me.  As for WSB and PKD, here ar some of the traits they share:

 – They both wrote fiction and nonfiction, and they often mixed the two together.
 – As such, they often mixed autobiography into their fiction even to the extent of creating characters that essentially represented themselves.
 – Along with this, because of their dstinctive personalities, they were both admired by other writers who also used them as characters in their stories.
 – They use repeating themes and chracter types across all of their work.

WSB and PKD are flawed writers (and flawed human beings), but still their writings compel me to a greater extent than do the writings of supposedly better writers.  Their is a humanity to their writing in that they both were interested in people and were great observers.  Also, you coud tell how much they simply enjoyed telling a good story.

Despite their similarities, they were very different in manyways.  For one, WSB travelled widely and PKD hated to travel.  One other thing is that WSB was way more cynical, but probably the better writer of the two.  PKD was a hopeless optimistic and more overtly spiritual.  For sure, they both had their own versions of despair even though they might’ve dealt with it differently.

I sense that they represent different sides of my own personality.  I don’t think they ever met even though they probably had some common acquaintances.  In my mind I try to imagine what they would be like if they had met eachother. 

I’m not sure if they’d even like eachother.  They’d both probaly think the other one was crazy.  WSB would be more confident and aloof, and PKD would be more nervous and talkative.  If they ever became relaxed enough around eachother, they would probably start swapping weird anecdotes, and neither of them would be sure if the other one was telling the truth or merely telling a good story.

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tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 16 hours later

tuffy777 said

Interesting.  Burroughs, Kafka and Hesse were major influences on PKD.       
  ~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Burroughs, Kafka and Hesse were major influences on me. So there ya go. Come to think of it, Burroughs, Kakfka and Hesse influenced many people.

I don’t know all the authors PKD read, but I know he read widely. PKD was also influenced by Jung and so was Hesse… probably Burroughs too.

sensawunda

sensawunda

Posted on Nov 28th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
Sensawunda is the sf genre term for sense of wonder.  I’ve come across the term before, but I was just thinking about how its something I value highly in fiction.  I was reminded of it because I came across a blog that  was questioning if it was missing in contemporary fiction.  I don’t feel like analyzing the concept, but one interesting idea stood out to me.  The Wikipedia entry contrasted sense of wonder with the numinous in gothic horror.  One blogger I came across thought the term awe covered both the sensawunda and the numinous.  I agree.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sense_of_wonder

http://futurismic.com/2008/11/22/has-science-fictions-sensawunda-lost-its-sense-of-wonder/

http://www.bookslut.com/science_fiction_skeptic/2007_12_012076.php

http://allumination.wordpress.com/2008/04/01/sensawunda-removal-machine/

http://sensawunda.wordpress.com/

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Horror and Science Fiction

Horror and Science Fiction

Posted on Nov 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade

My friend reads a lot of horror fiction.  I’ve never been all that attracted to horror even though it crosses over with the fantasy genre which is something I read quite a bit.  However, because of my friend, I’ve learned a lot about horror and begun to read some.  He enjoys reading many of the small press horror writers which actually are some of the better horror writers from what I understand.  For instance, my friend says that a number of horror writers consider Ligotti to be one of the best living horror writers and yet Ligotti is practically unknown.

Anyways, my friend and I talk about fiction all of the time.  We share some of the same favorite writers (such as William S. Burroughs and Barry Yourgrau), but usually we’re reading entirely different authors.  In particular, this past year or so, my friend has read hardly nothing else besides horror.  So, even though I’ve read only a smattering of horror, I’ve listened to my friend read quotes from and give synopsis of hundreds of horror stories.

I’ve come to have more respect for the horror genre.  Because it deals with human suffering in such a direct fashion, its heavily influenced by philosophical and religious ideas.  Interestingly, horror has attracted a number of writers of the Catholic persuasion.  Horror writers for sure have been influenced by the ideas of Catholocism: original sin, fallen world, demonology, etc.

I pretty much appreciate any imaginative fiction partly because imaginative fiction tends to be fiction of profound ideas.  Philip K. Dick is one of the writers of profound ideas, but he is somewhat opposite from horror writers.  PKD used Science fiction for his plots even though his stories were often more fundamentally fantasy.  The closest that PKD came to horror would’ve been A Scanner Darkly.  That book could be made into horror with only minor changes.

I was discussing with my friend the differences between the genres.  I was thinking about how its rare for writers to combine horror and science fiction, and when they do its usually through the mediation of fantasy.  Fantasy crosses over easily with both horror and science fiction maybe because fantasy is a more general category.

I’m reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson right now.  I started it quite a while back but became distracted by other books.  I decided to finish it now as its a direct influence on Google Earth and other virtual worlds.  It has some similarities to PKD: the average hero and the interspersing of philosophical discussion.  But its a bit more hard sci-fi than PKD tended towards. 

Hard sci-fi often goes for these massive multiperspective epic narratives.  This is quite different from horror.  Horror is more likely to go for the small scale and single perspective.  Horror writing often creates a sense of isolation and claustrophobia through an extreme subjective narrative voice.  This disallows one to see outside of the character and thus magnifies the emotional impact. 

Ligotti believes you need the subjective perspective of a single human to register the horror.  A horror story can’t be portrayed from the perspective of the monster.  The monster portrayed can never touch upon the imagination in the same way as a monster left as a mystery.  This is why Lovecraft stories too often make terrible movies because monsters in movies can come off as simply ridiculous.  Horror is a profound emotion that isn’t fundamentally about blood and guts.  Slasher movies aren’t the most horrific stories.

Besides the claustrophobia of subjectivity, the other technique is intimacy.  Almost everyone remembers sitting around a campfire or in a tent sharing ghost stories.  This is often recreated in horror stories.  Poe used this technique, for instance, in The Telltale Heart.  The main character in that story is telling the story in what seems to be a confession.  This intimacy creates sympathy all the while throwing one off with questions of the narrator’s reliability.  Part of the horror is how the narrator tries to make sense what happened or else tries to rationalize what he did.

How this is different from science fiction is that with sf there is much more action by and interaction between characters.  SF characters may spend pages explaining some idea but they don’t tend to tell the story.  The narrator’s voice is more likely to be less identified with the subjective perspective or at least not a single subjective perspective.

This is intriguing in what it says about human nature.  Science fiction tends towards the optimistic by taking on the big picture.  Horror tends towards the pessimistic by confining it to the small view.

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tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 7 hours later

tuffy777 said

Actually, Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Father Thing” is horror.  Hollywood ripped it off for the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  – nice article! 
  ~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 11 hours later

Marmalade said

Nice to meet ya tuffy!  I see you just joined.  I’m glad you liked what I wrote and you compliment me by calling it an article. 

You are correct about “The Father Thing”.  That story is very much like a traditional horror story, but it was more of an original idea when he wrote it of course.  Yes, Hollywood has benefited from PKD.

Do you know of any other PKD stories that could be considered horror?

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 14 hours later

tuffy777 said

well, there’s my favorite, “Roog”, in which the dog is trying to warn the family that the garbage collectors are monsters
  – and many more, so I’ll name some more stories later
  ~~~

 

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 15 hours later

Marmalade said

I’ve read Roog.  I guess I didn’t think of that story as horror, but I guess it could be labelled such in a more general way.  Its true that the dog did see the garbage collectors as monsters.  As I see it, PKD does use elements of horror, but for me his fiction doesn’t usually have the feeling of horror.  However, there is much from PKD I haven’t read and so maybe they’re are more horror-like stories I’m unaware of.

Do you read much horror?  And how do you define horror?  I usually define horror as any fiction that creates a feeling of horror, but that isn’t how everyone defines it.  As I see it, many shows such as Buffy aren’t horror even though they use elements of horror because they don’t cause a feeling of horror.  Then again, horror merges with dark fantasy and so there is a wide variety.  And, besides, what causes horror to one person might not cause horror to another.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

about 17 hours later

tuffy777 said

My choice of reading material is quite eclectic, ranging from newspapers and scientific journals to humorous poetry, and from classics to comic books.

Most of my “reading” of horror has been movies, but I have read “Frankenstein”, “Dracula” and “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde”. I read Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire”, but I classify that more as a romance than as horror.

I used to teach classes in horror fiction and film, and when I asked my students to define horror, I got many different answers. My own definition is that horror first evokes fear and then purges it, much as the Greek tragedies did. I have a book titled “The Thrill of Fear”, and that title suggests that horror is like a roller coaster ride – first we scream, but then we laugh.

~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 24 hours later

Marmalade said

Same here.  My reading is eclectic too, but I can’t say I read scientific journals too often.  I suppose that most of my “reading” of horror has also been movies.  Plus, I’ve read some interesting nonfiction books about horror the past couple of years.  Two really cool books are The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson and The Melancholy Android by Eric G. Wilson. 

I don’t think I’d previously heard of the book you mention.  I did a search on it and I think I might enjoy it.  I like books that give an overview.  I also like books where the subject is analyzed across many media such as film and books.

Your definition of horror is pretty good.  I think that fits a lot of horror.  I was thinking, though, about how Ligotti would likely disagree.  I get the sense that he wants to evoke fear without purging it aferwards, but maybe fear is purged just by the story ending.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

1 day later

tuffy777 said

Most horror fiction either kills or confines the monster at the end. That is why “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Halloween” were so shocking to audiences of their time.

The author of “The Thrill of Fear” is Walter Kendrick. Perhaps that will help you to find it?

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

Cool discussion. I like the generalizations you made, Ben.

One of the most horrific stories I ever read I am not sure whether was fantasy or scifi. I have read a ton of the latter and almost none of the former. It was about white spiders, and how their bite would cause one to live in an alternate reality but not know that…. I have no ideas of author or title. But I know it led me to doubt my reality for many days, and of course to get even more phobic about light-colored spiders than I already am about them ALL !!!!!!

Most people might not think that having one’s sense of reality undermined or shaken is “horror” but to me it might be the ultimate of horror…….

Does either of you consider Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as horror? I don’t remember any specifics about it now, except a few generalities, but the protagonist does say, at the end, as he looks back on his life “The horror [of it all that I have done…] and one FEELS that along with him. A kind of almost self-annihilating guilt. That’s pretty horrifying, too !!!!!!

Blessings,
OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

Welcome to the discussion, OM.  I’d have to think much more about it to figure out how much these generalizations make sense.  I haven’t analyzed the horror genre all that thoroughly.  I usually only care about horror to the extent that it relates to sf.

The experience of having your sense of reality undermined could potentially fit into the horror genre.  I’m somewhat familiar with the horror writers Ligotti and Quentin S. Crisp, and they both play around with the sense of reality.  I love any writer of any genre that plays around with my sense of reality. 

PKD plays around with reality perception, but he doesn’t exactly focus on the horrific experience of it.  The reason is that PKD’s characters tend to take on an attitude of problem-solving which lessens the emotional impact of horror.  PKD’s protagonists don’t usually have a victim mindset.  They most often either overcome their problems or at least aren’t overwhelmed by them.

I don’t know about Heart of Darkness.  I did a quick search about it in reference to the horror genre.  I saw an article which stated that it could’ve been categorized as horror when it was first published.  I wouldn’t consider it horror myself, but my memory of it isn’t perfectly clear.  I read it in highschool and don’t remember experiencing it as horrific.  Even though some horror is expressed in it, I don’t think it has an overall feeling of horror.  That is a good example though because I’m not sure what the dividing line is.  My friend likes Conrad and I’ll ask him what he thinks.

Of books I read in highschool, I personally found some other books more horrific.  Lord of the Flies was pretty darn horrific in that it was so believable.  Another novel was Hardy’s Jude the Obscure which has had a longterm existentially horrific influence on my poor psyche.

Its kind of hard to make an objective definition of horror as the experience itself is so subjective.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

Yeah, I agree about Lord of the Flies. I am glad I’ve never read Jude the Obscure !!

Must we distinguish horror from terror from upset? From being disturbed or shaken? As you say, the experience is so subjective. My question is prompted by a couple of disturbing books I read when much younger: George Orwell’s 1984 tops the list, and Animal Farm was very upsetting to me also, but there are psychological torture things in 1984 which freak/creep me out to this day if I ever think of them.
 
That’s cool, about the attitudes of PKD heroes !! And it’s cool that you love having your sense of reality messed with !! I can appreciate the great flexibility that requires. (I have more now than I did when younger.) Do you think that’s an Intuitive characterstic, flexibility around “realities?”

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

1 day later

Marmalade said

We mustn’t anything at all.  In some ways, genres are arbitrary categories.  A funny thing is how any genre writer that is particularly talented gets put in the mainstream literature section of bookstores and libraries.  If a writer is good, his writings must not be genre because by definition genre is crap.  For instance, I’ve read plenty of genre fiction that is closer to mainstream literature than is Kafka.  I think Kafka is one of the greatest horror writers who ever lived.
I’d be perfectly happy if they simply got rid of genre categories or else made them more relevant.  In particular, horror doesn’t seem like a real genre to me.  I’ve always considered it to be a sub-category of dark fantasy which is further a sub-category of speculative fiction overall.

Do I think flexibility around “realities” is an Intuitive characteristic?  By definition, the Sensation function is the tendency towards concrete reality and a conservative attitude.  Sensation types prefer life to not change and be reliable.  It also comes down to the thin vs thick boundary types which correlates.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

2 days later

tuffy777 said

Hi, OM, and thanx fur joining the discussion! You have some pawesome ideas!

When we discuss horror, we tend to think of monsters like Godzilla and the Mummy, but the monster story is only a subdivision of the horror genre.

“Heart of Darkness” is an excellent choice because it is the story of a whtie European man coming to the realization that the horror of the “dark” continent of Africa is actually in his own heart, and not in the dark-sknned natives.

I believe that the horror is greater when you become a monster, than when a monster attacks you.

The irreality of one’s external world is also a type of horror. For example, in PKD’s novel “UBIK”, we can’t be sure who really died in the explosion and who survived. Somebody is in cryogenic storage with a futuristic telephone attached to the coffin, while somebody else is on the outside and still living.

Another PKD novel that I consider horror is “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”, in which a recreational drug turns people into evil cyborgs.

~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

21 days later

Marmalade said

Hey tuffy… in case you notice this new comment…
“I believe that the horror is greater when you become a monster, than when a monster attacks you.”
I lost my first response. Let me try to partially reconstruct my argument.
Yes and no to what you said. Yes, horror is more relevant the closer it is to one’s own experience. No, horror in its most profound form can’t be described in human terms. Horror is only horrific to the degree that it has an element of Otherness. But, as Ligotti theorizes, horror necessitates a human or human-like character to register it. Even in “Heart of Darkness”, the protagonist experiences the horror at some distance as he is an observer entering into the world of horror. That is a common technique.
On a different note, I wanted to return to another idea. I found this following quote which relates to the distinction I made between Science Fiction and Horror.

Aron’s twofold task was to remind us, first, that there is no human nature unsullied by the Fall and, second, to suggest, as does orthodox Christianity, that what prophets of the absolute decry as a disaster was in fact a “fortunate fall,” a condition of our humanity. The utopian is optimistic about man, pessimistic about particular men and women: “I think I know man,” Rousseau sadly wrote, “but as for men, I know them not.” The anti-utopian is pessimistic, or at least disabused, about man; this forgiving pessimism frees him to be optimistic about individuals.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

22 days later

tuffy777 said

Hi, Marmalade.  You make some good points, but consider this:

When a monster attacks, you can lose your life.
But when you become a monster, you can lose your soul.
Many children of the 1960s learned this tragic lesson when they became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

  ~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

22 days later

Marmalade said

Horror is a rather general term. There are many kinds and degrees of horror. Its an interesting question to consider what is most horrific. Everyone would probably have a different answer. To me, ultimate horror is a complete metaphysical Otherness… the dark wrathful face of God or elsethe silent infinite Void.

What is horrific about how serial killers are portrayed isn’t the fact that they’re human, but that they’re made into the monstrous Other. I notice how the news media resists giving any explanations or insights which leaves every event as an inexplicable phenomena. There are no reasons, just the gritty details of reality, facts that add up to nothing… now, that is what seems horrific to me.

The movie “Monster” made this point. Its the only serial killer movie that fully expressed the human side of the killer and thus made her seem less monstrous. Its psychological realism is what encouraged empathy rather than horror.

As for the horror of addiction, “A Scanner Darkly” is truly awesome. Another good one (in a suicidally depressing kind of way) is “A Requiem for a Dream”.My favorite author that has great insights into addiction is Burroughts. Hiswork can be very dark.

Self-destruction is a very horrific topic. Its the Otherness felt within… something we can’t control. Its horrifying in that its so predictably human and yet so humanly incomprehensible. Addiction is akin to demonic possession. The sense of loss of soul is in how addiction can utterly transform someone. When at rock bottom, everything that one previously loved and cared for becomes unhinged and distant as if from a dream or a previous life.

What is horrific about it is that one’s normal sense of humanity (ie soul) is lost. One becomes the Other, a disconnection from self. What may be worse for the addict is that everyone else might also treat the addict as Other in having fallen from the grace of acceptable society… which leaves no lifeline back to “normal” reality.

tuffy777 : Reality is not real

22 days later

tuffy777 said

Consider Dr. Jekyll, the kindly gentleman who becomes the loathsome Mr. Hyde whenever he drinks the potion.  (They say that R.L. Stevenson based this character on an alcoholic uncle.)  Eventually, he becomes Mr. Hyde without drinking the potion, and he is unable to resume his former identity as the good doctor when he most needs to revert. 

Only in death can he subsume the monstrous side of his psyche and become the respectable gentleman once more.

  ~~~~

Marmalade : Gaia Child

22 days later

Marmalade said

Ah, yes… a good example. I love stories about doubles or alternate personalities. That is a theme that PKD usesextremely wellin “A Scanner Darkly”. Reintegration can come at a great cost.

Tropes in SciFi

Tropes in SciFi

Posted on Oct 7th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
I’m watching the movie Stargate Atlantis: Rising.  Its decent.  The special effects are good and its fairly imaginative.  The acting is adequate… not awesome though.  The plot holds my attention if somewhat predictable.  I love SciFi, but this show is mostly typical for the genre.  In general, I’d say the Stargate series is not as good as the Star Trek series.

The reason I’m writing about this movie is because it reminds me of the tropes site.  A show like Stargate is filled with tropes.  For instance, the characters are largely stereotypes.  I don’t mean to say that this show is worse than most shows.  Actually, its an enjoyable show, but the stereotypes do annoy me.  I don’t empathize with the Stargate characters to the extent that I empathize with the characters in Star Trek: Next Generation.

Genre shows are often filled with cliche’s and predictable plots, but there are some very good genre shows.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show that uses tropes but manages to bring new life to them.  And then there are shows like Dead Like Me which step outside of the typical tropes of a genre.

What I was wondering about is why people enjoy tropes, and furthermore why people enjoy tropes used in unoriginal ways.  Creating original stories and characters is challenging, but that can’t explain the vast amount of copycat shows.  I suspect that most people enjoy shows because it gives them an escape from their normal lives.  Life is mostly unpredictable and so people turn to shows with a desire for the predictable.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

27 minutes later

Nicole said

I liked the first Stargate movie, but it is probably worse than the series in terms of stereotypes, eh? I liked it because it was so unreal 🙂

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 7 hours later

Marmalade said

I’m very forgiving of SF in general whether written story, tv show or movie.  I love anything that is imaginative.  Stargate is definitely imaginative.  The Stargate series mostly creates a believable world, but it does demand a bit of suspension of disbelief.

I was considering what makes shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer stand out.  For one, Joss Whedon is a master in creating excellent tv shows.  The dialogue in Buffy is always top-notch and the story is rarely predictable (even though it has plenty of predictable tropes).  Another extemely important element is that the actors are quite talented.. way beyond anything seen in Stargate.  Is it that the script of Buffy attracted good actors or is it that Whedon knows how to pick good actors?  Do stereotypical scripts attract stereotypical actors?

However, it must be said that apparently Stargate was more popular than Buffy.  The original Stargate show is the longest continually run SF show ever… so, they must be doing something right.

I’ve noticed that I have different standards for different types of entertainment.  I’m less accepting of stereotypes in written stories and I’m less accepting of stereotypes in ‘realistic’ tv shows and movies.  I’m more accepting of this in genres such as SF because genres are by definition based on well-known tropes.  I’m even more accepting of stereotypes in kids shows and movies. 

Its very interesting how kids don’t mind stereotypes at all.  Most kids’ shows if anything go out of their way to be predictable and simple.  Partly, kids don’t mind them because a kid has had less exposure to stereotypes and so they won’t even notice the stereotypes until after they’ve grown up.  But also kids just enjoy stereotypes.  Its how cultural knowledged is transmitted, how kids learn about the world they’ve been born into.  Kids learn through repetition.  An example of this is the Teletubbies.  The show repeats itself a second time.  Its boring enough to send an adult into a coma, but it was an extremely popular show for little kids.

Maybe adults like predictable stories because stories put them into a child-like mindset.  They spend the whole day pretending to be an adult, and when they get home they want to forget their adult selves.  A predictable story is comforting.  The recongnition of stereotypes allows us to relax with the sense that we know what to expect.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 17 hours later

Nicole said

that’s very interesting, Ben. I hadn’t noticed before that I too have totally different standards for different genres at different times. Sometimes I really like the housecoat and fuzzy slippers comfort of a predictable story and sometimes I just feel bored and annoyed. Usually though I am very indulgent toward science fiction and fantasy as long as it is skilfully done.

Of course, there are some classics in really bad movies that are fun to watch 🙂 good ol’ Ed Wood and Plan 9, for example. Why do we love really bad movies, is it the fascination that makes people slow down for car accidents?

Love of Stories: Modernism and Education

 
PLOTJon Krause
A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It’s what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it’s also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.

Well, that is a bit melodramatic.  Good storytelling is far from being limited to “crass commercialism and cheap thrills”.  People simply enjoy good storytelling whether or not it’s considered high art by academics.  But it’s no secret, dirty or otherwise.  I do understand the point he is making.  For any ‘intellectually respectable’ person, maybe good storytelling has been somewhat of a dirty secret… but I’ve never considered intellectuals who can’t think for themselves as ‘respectable’.

It’s not easy to put your finger on what exactly is so disgraceful about our attachment to storyline. Sure, it’s something to do with high and low and genres and the canon and such. But what exactly?

Unfortunately, Mr. Grossman only manages a partial answer.  There are some truly great analyes about the relationship between high and low genres, but you’ll have to look elsewhere.  That said, I did appreciate this article.  His pointing out the enjoyment of plot does touch upon something quite significant.  And I agree Modernism represented a pivotal era.  Writers, especially in America, were seeking a distinctive voice.  They didn’t just want to write entertainments but to offer some semblance of reality.   However, what the modernists didn’t realize is that ‘realism’ is just another genre with rules.

I think that not only some of the most popular but some of the best fiction of the last 50 yrs has come out of the genres. Mr. Grossman is correct that many people turn to fiction written for the young (which often equates to genres) for the simple reason that genre writers know how to tell a good story.  At the same time, the most innovative writing has come from genre writers and mainstream writers experimenting with genre.

If you look at recent genre writing, it’s as much about breaking rules as following them. Genre writers are less confined than mainstream realism writers in both what they can write about and how they can write about it. Mr. Grossman points out that modernist writers invoked realism as their ideal, but what they forgot is that imagination is a part of human reality… or, to put it another way, subjectivity isn’t a mere extension of objectivity. Genre writers are more open to the mixing of realism and imagination which is why genre writers often come closer to the reality of genuine human experience.

I’ve found the fantasy genre inspires many authors with a basic love of storytelling.  Fantasy is rooted in the first stories we heard as children.  We read in order to have someone help us imagine something different than our normal experience.  Even so-called realistic fiction portrays people and event outside of our normal experience and helps us understand them.  There is no such thing as purely realstic fiction because imaginaton is always invoked when a story is told.

I think that the freedom allowed by genre fiction gives authors the opportunity to think outside of the box.  When not constrained by the rules of realism, authors can more easily capture the subtle and complex aspects of reality.

 – – –

David Walter Banks for The New York Times

Lorrie McNeill gives her middle school students a wide choice of reading in Jonesboro, Ga. More Photos >

But fans of the reading workshop say that assigning books leaves many children bored or unable to understand the texts. Letting students choose their own books, they say, can help to build a lifelong love of reading.

If a kid learns to hate reading, then trying to teach them difficult texts is rather pointless.

Critics of the approach say that reading as a group generally leads to more meaningful insights, and they question whether teachers can really keep up with a roomful of children reading different books. Even more important, they say, is the loss of a common body of knowledge based on the literary classics — often difficult books that children are unlikely to choose for themselves.

Many kids simply won’t read a book or will just read the cliff notes.  You have to first to encourage them to want to read because you can’t force anyone to anything.  I remember as a kid writing a book report about a book I never read and the teacher even gave me a good grade for it.  I did have some decent English teachers, but I must admit that I had to learn my love of reading on my own.  I’m just glad that no teacher taught me to hate reading. 

Ms. McNeill, an amateur poet whose favorite authors include Barbara Kingsolver and Nick Hornby, wondered if forcing some students through a book had dampened their interest in reading altogether.

Every child (and adult) natualy loves stories.  It takes great effort to destroy that love.  Many adults learned to not enjoy reading fiction and have only regained their enjoyment of reading through books such as the Harry Potter series.

Though research on the academic effects of choice has been limited, some studies have shown that giving students modest options can enhance educational results. In 11 studies conducted with third, fourth and fifth graders over the past 10 years, John T. Guthrie, now a retired professor of literacy at the University of Maryland, found that giving children limited choices from a classroom collection of books on a topic helped improve performance on standardized reading comprehension tests.

This is so obviously true.  Even without the research, it just commonsense that giving kids some choice engages them in the learning process.  Once the kids are engaged, the teacher can then guide that learning process.

Most experts say that teachers do not have to choose between one approach or the other and that they can incorporate the best of both methods: reading some novels as a group while also giving students opportunities to select their own books.

Duh!  This isn’t a new concept.  You have to meet kids where they’re at and go from there.  Also, kids are different… have different past education, have different levels of reading comprehension, have different learning styles.  The goal is to get kids to learn and a teacher should do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal.  Some kids learn best when given more freedom to explore for themselves and some kids learn best when told what to do.  Some kids only need the merest enocouargement and some kids need direct guidance.  Whatever method is necessary, the primary goal is to teach a love of learning and kids are born with a desire to learn.  If a teacher can establish a love of learning (i.e., not destroy the child’s natural curiosity), a kid will carry that with them for the rest of their life.

Thoughts about Horror

I was just having a discussion with my friend.  We were talking about horror writing and what defines it.  

Neither of us enjoys slasher horror which I equate to violence porn, and for the most part violent movies tend not to be very scary to me.  Most violent horror flicks seem superficial and predictable.  There are many other types of horror writing besides.  There is your traditional supernatural story where a normal person encounters some strange phenomena often in some place that is old and dark.  That kind of horror has been done well by some authors, but its failing is that it externalizes horror. 

The real horror is the experience of horror itself, the horror that can’t be easily categorized.  The extreme version of this has been called metaphysical horror or atmospheric horror.  It goes beyond mere psychological horror.  This horror is neither internal nor external.  What makes it deeply horrifying is that the lines are blurred.  The most famous representative of metaphysical/atmospheric horror is Lovecraft. 

This type of horror relates to a blog I wrote previously: Zen Great Doubt, Existentialist Angst, and Gnostic Longing.  I was responding to a comment in a thread about spirituality.  The commenter goes by the name Jim and this is what he said:

In Victor Hori’s book on the Rinazi Koans, Victor interprets the Great Doubt (the death of meaning?) as a kind of “samadhi,” and what follows it (in which meaning is reconstituted?) as kensho or satori . . . .  I’ve heard “Great Doubt” likened to Jaspers’ notion of  the “Grenzsituation” or “boundary situation,” a condition or situation through which a person can neither escape nor transcend. Jaspers describes it as a cul-de-sac where the person can neither go forward nor backward forcing the person back on her own resources so that she experiences existential “Existenz.”

Hakuin (1689 – 1769), said of his own “Great Doubt” that “It was as though I were frozen solid in the midst of an ice sheet extending tens of thousands of miles. I could neither go forward nor retreat.

Hakuin says that great doubt is like hanging over an abyss: “we have no where to go (really) but down – eventually we must all let go and jump – it is supposedly that act which propels us to the next level – to enlightenment. What would bring us to this point – where we are willing to give up the self? Does the fall into the abyss always result in enlightenment? How would we know? What do we have to give up or suspend to make such a leap?”

I responded with this…

The following is a quote of Eric G. Wilson from his book The Melancholy Android.  Wilson, in speaking about Hans Jonas’ book The Gnostic Religion, has this to say(p. 68):

The greatest task of the fallen anthropos is not to work through his anxiety, alenation, and confusion.  It is to keep his melancholia acute. His sadness corresponds to his readiness for gnosis.  But the world conspires against his dejection, offering him either the brief comforts of matter or the more lasting solaces of soul.  Hedonism seduces in the first case; orthodox religion in the second.  The Gnostic must defend against the wretched contentment of these modes and hold open his wounds of the spirit.  Malcontented with outward forms, he turns inward to his hidden spark.  The spark, trapped and stifled, faintly flares, repeating in each flicker the homeward call.

And, in speaking about Martin Heidegger’s(Hans Jonas’ teacher) book Being and Time, writes:

For Heidegger. the only hope for authenticity — a secular, psychological equivalent of gnosis — is anxiety.  Heideggerean angst, like Gnostic longing, performs a double function.  On the one hand, it constitutes the basic mood through which one comes to understand one’s own authenticity; on the other, it forms the aggravating condition from which one flees to the collective.  Heideggerean anxiety is directed toward the “nothing” of being in the world without the help of the mass.  This condition descends when all familiar ideas fall away and one feels as if one hovers in an unfamiliar abyss.  This unfocused floating can push the sufferer in one of two ways — either cravenly back to the lotus doses of the mass or courageously into possibilities for being.  If one chooses the former path, one can never return to the ignorant bliss of the collective but spends long days neurotically attempting to repress the unsettling sense that existence is a sham.  However, if one embraces the latter way, one undergoes an uncanny experience: insight into the relaionship between individual being and the Being of all beings.

Once one commits to understanding one’s connection to Being, one never rests but realizes that the profoundities of this origin are beyond comprehension.  However, one also knows that this perpetual insecurity will lead to deeper intimacy with the abyss and a greater care for individual being and other beings.  As we have seen, Heidegger in “What Is Metaphysis?” likens this chronic melancholia to a “bewildered sort of calm… a cheerfulness and gentleness of creative longing.”

That last section would seem to contradict the experience of horror.  There is an odd kind of optimism offered by this existentialist vision.  Thomas Ligotti, however, has a different take on this which offers no such optimism, but I’ll have to go into more detail about that in another blog.  I do have a possible explanation from another writer about what leads to horror.  In the Collapse journal in which Ligotti’s ideas can be found, there is an essay by George J. Sieg.  He argues that horror writing is the most self-referential, the most self-conscious of all the genres.  Whereas the typical spiritual aspirant is seeking to escape the self in one way or another, the experience of horror is a descent into the claustrophobia of the self. 

It isn’t accidental that horror stories often have a protagonist trying to understand or feeling compelled by curiosity.  Such a person feels unable or unwilling to simply accept the mystery.  There is some urge within that isn’t content with idling in the sunlight.  Let me give one element of Ligotti’s thought.  He writes of the spiritual and comes to a conclusion of the self that isn’t dissimilar to Eastern perspectives, but even so this offers no solace for him.  The average spiritual person embraces the mystery because they assume its somehow trustworthy.  It’s not that the vision of horror denies all goodness in any direct fashion.  Rather, the vision of horror simply offers no certainties at all… at its best it doesn’t even offer the certainty of evil in its orthodox meaning.

I should add that I’m not a big fan of horror as a general category.  However, I love anything with imagination which often includes horror and its cousin dark fantasy.  I’m somewhat of a fan of supernatural stories, whether the supernatural is overt or implied.  To me, I’m drawn to anything that touches me deeply and some horror writing is capable of this.  This element is hard to pin down.  I’ve read some Poe.  I enjoy his work, but I can’t say that it has a profound impact on me.  The best horror causes a mood that lingers for days or even weeks, and I’m not entirely sure why some fiction has this impact on me and other fiction doesn’t.  Along with Poe, my assessment might be similar for Thomas Ligotti.  Both are awesome writers, but somehow they don’t quite fully touch upon my emotional core.  However, my readings of both are limited and so my assessment could change with further reading.  Quentin S. Crisp may be more of my kind of writer, but I’d have to read more of him as well.

These writers (Poe, Ligotti, and Crisp) are mostly short story writers.  For whatever reason, short stories tend not to impact me in the way as a novel can.  The short story writer that gives me the clearest sense of profound horror is Kafka.  My friend is more of a reader of short stories and they seem to have more of an impact for him.  The three writers I’ve mentioned are some of his favorites.  It is important to note that many of the best horror writers tend towards short stories.  This is particularly true of metaphysical horror because it’s hard to sustain over a long narrative.  A key element of much metaphysical horror fiction is that it doesn’t confine itself to typical narrative structures.  Ligotti mentions that he is most interested in conveying the horror itself which transcends normal human experience, but he realized that a story needed a human protagonist to register that horror.  This attempt to get as close as possible to the experience of horror doesn’t lend itself to long involved narratives.  Partly, it would be difficult to accomplish.  But more importantly it would be too psychologically taxing on the average reader.  Metaphysical horror gains its potency by being imbibed in small doses.

As for novels, those that have formed my sense of horror are the following: Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ, Jerzy Kosiński’s The Painted Bird, Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly… and I might add Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolffor its dark existentialism.  None of these novels are normally considered horror, but they resonate with some dread insight about reality and human nature.  The only one of them that has any overt supernaturalism is The Last Temptation of Christ.  I like metaphysical horror, but maybe I seek more emphasis on the subjective experience than someone like Ligotti.  I need not only a protagonist to register the horror but I further need a protagonist that I identify with to such an extent that I lose myself in that character’s world.  Of these novels, the two that have haunted my psyche the most are Jude the Obscure and A Scanner Darkly.  A highschool English teacher had me read the former and I have never recovered since.  As for the latter, even though I’ve been familiar with the PKD’s work for many years, I only read A Scanner Darkly after having seen the movie version.  PKD is an uneven writer, but his psychological and metaphysical insight is second to none.  In this book, he convinces me of the reality of his character in a way few other books have done. 

A Scanner Darkly doesn’t end with an entirely tragic vision, but the descent into the dark is what makes it horrific.  It doesn’t matter whether or not a character loses himself entirely in madness.  The horror is the loss of all sense of safety and certainty, the realization that nothing will ever be the same again.  There is some kind of hope in A Scanner Darkly and that is very important.  Horror necessitates a tension.  Without hope, there can be no despair.  The horror isn’t the despair.  The horror is the descent from hope into despair.  I should explain hope because I’m using it in a broad sense.  I simply mean that the character is seeking some positive end.  In horror, this can be a desire to understand the supernatural or a desire for wealth or even a desire to maintain comforting normalcy.  In slasher horror, the tension is often between pleasure and pain.  The stereotypical slasher flick has teenagers partying and having sex right before they’re attacked, tortured and murdered.

Some writers want to get to the horror as quickly as possible.  They want to begin the story long after the character has already walked through the door.  However, the power of a novel is that it allows a sense of normalcy to be portrayed first.  This acts as the backdrop for the descent.  Without this backdrop, the descent often doesn’t have as much impact.  For example, Jude the Obscureis a very slow descent.  The story begins with Jude’s dreams as he sets off for the big city, and then over a very long book those dreams are dashed again and again and again… and again.  The descent is so slow that its almost tedious.  Interestingly, the character’s lack of self-awareness is what is so mesmerizing.  Jude just keeps mindlessly trudging on no matter what new obstacle presents itself.  So, how does this fit into Sieg’s theory of horror?  I’d say that Hardy still manages to create a claustrophobic sense of self by focusing so intensely on this one character.  Hardy isn’t trying to write horror, but his existentialism is so dark and dreary that it creates a horrific vision of life.

I’ll finish with one last point.  I’m a very spiritual person which might seem odd considering how cynical I can be.  I share much of Ligotti’s vision of life, but I get the sense that I may be more spiritual than he is in certain ways.  I may misunderstand Ligotti, but I get a sense that he is somehow content in his tragic vision.  I sense that he doesn’t feel there is anything to do about our predicament.  We’re just fucked.

I want to believe in something and this is core to my very sense of being.  Ligotti seems to dismiss this need to believe.  PKD, on the other hand, is more in line with my deeper sense of truth.  What makes A Scanner Darklyso tragic is that the protagonist is so inherently good in his intentions and so sincere in his desire to understand.  He is a light in a dark world and refuses to play by the rules of this world he finds himself thrown into.  So many horror stories are about loners, but PKD is as much interested in relationships.  Rather than nihilism or even idealistic existentialism, PKD portrays a gnostic vision.  We are trapped in a dark world, but maybe just maybe genuine truth can still be found.  This hope simultaneously acts as a light amidst the darkness and in contrast makes the dark appear even darker.

In case I mistakenly led anyone to think that I was saying Ligotti lacked deeper insight, I’ll leave you with a quote from his story “A Soft Voice Whispers Nothing”:

“’We should give thanks,’ the voice said to me, ‘that a poverty of knowledge has so narrowed our vision of things as to allow the possibility of feeling something about them. How could we find a pretext to react to anything if we understood… everything? None but an absent mind was ever victimized by the adventure of intense emotional feeling. And without the suspense that is generated by our benighted state–our status as beings possessed by our own bodies and the madness that goes along with them–who could take enough interest in the universal spectacle to bring forth even the feeblest yawn, let alone exhibit the more dramatic manifestations which lend such unwonted color to a world that is essentially composed of shades of gray upon a background of blackness. Hope and horror, to repeat merely two of the innumerable conditions dependent on a faulty insight, would be much the worse for an ultimate revelation that would expose their lack of necessity. At the other extreme, both our most dire and most exalted emotions are well served every time we take some ray of knowledge, isolate it from the spectrum of illumination, and then forget it completely. All our ecstasies, whether sacred or from the slime, depend on our refusal to be schooled in even the most superficial truths and our maddening will to follow the path of forgetfulness.’”