Dark and Dystopian Entertainment

Dystopian and utopian stories come and go in popularity. But this present moment is dominated by the dystopian variety, for understandable reasons.

As GenXers, we grew up on post-apocalyptic movies along with other dark and demented entertainment-visions. It was the slowing down of the Cold War during our childhood. But fears of nuclear war were in still in the air. And the sense of doom lingered. The End of History with the end of the Soviet Union simply ramped up anxiety further. It led into a decade of school shootings and homegrown terrorism, such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the the last killing spree of the Unabomber, with a new threatening crisis following after that about every decade: 9/11 terrorist attack, 2008 recession, and now 2020 pandemic.

In the childhood of Generation X, there was an innocence to the idea of civilizational collapse. Even war was something that happened elsewhere, as no foreign power had yet attacked the United States mainland. The dark bent of public imagination mired in a post-Vietnam malaise did make for a less than optimistic mood in that era, but those post-apocalyptic movies were often playful and over-the-top, like The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). It was letting off steam that had built up from decades of Cold War paranoia and anxiety. Besides, the American imperial hegemony stood all-powerful, as the Soviet regime wound down into irrelevance and then disappeared. Amidst American greatness, doomsday entertainment could be taken as safe escapism.

Nonetheless, it may have led to a demented fantasy life for children growing up in it, an entire generation often thought of as cynical in adulthood. There was the beginning of a sense of decline back then, that America was somehow no longer as great as it once had been. The post-world war new car smell had faded. The economy was heading downward in the 1970s, as violent crime shot upward. This led to moral panic involving weird conspiracy theories embraced by the mainstream — like child molestation rings operating out of childcare centers and satanic cults abducting children for sacrifice. Some innocent people got caught up in the hysteria and were prosecuted and imprisoned based on the manipulated testimony of children. The line between fantasy and reality became blurred.

It was a strange time. Besides post-apocalyptic movies, there were all kinds of violent Vietnam War movies and horror movies featuring children as victims, demonically-possessed, monsters, psychopaths, violent punks, and devil worshippers. Even superficially patriotic movies like the Rambo movies (First Blood, 1982) gave expression to a sense of rot in America, that the government had failed. And as late as 1984, a movie like Red Dawn could still be made about the Soviet Union invading the United States. This is the entertainment GenX grew up on.

It felt different as American society moved into the 1990s, even if new fears replaced the old, such as a focus on technology in stories like The Matrix (1999). For the younger generation, the partisan culture wars were tiresome and posed no existential threat, no matter how shrill the right-wing screamed. Because real threats were hard to find, the Christian right turned to End Times fantasies, such as the first Left Behind movie in 2000. That turned out to be perfect timing with an Evangelical as president when Islamic terrorists attacked the United States — President Bush declared a “Crusade” and that gave a boner to fundies all across the land. Rather than fear apocalypse, many of these Christian lunatics have longed for the end of the world. Even their support for Israel has been inspired by the belief that the Temple must be rebuilt so that Jesus can return with a flaming sword of destruction.

The reality of American decline, though, is less dramatic. Even now in this global pandemic, the average person’s experience is boredom as we wait it out. It’s hard to imagine this as the first of the Four Horsemen, named Pestilence. As pandemics go, it is rather minor. It was the same with the 2008 recession, as the federal government intervened to bail out big biz and big banks in order to prop up the economy once again, albeit the economic problems were merely delayed and have been growing worse. Fear has been muted, even when the threats are real and looming. This era of gloom is hard to put one’s finger on, a general sense of unease or what some call floating anxiety. Even President Donald Trump as aspiring dictator and emperor is rather pathetic as compared to previous authoritarian leaders in the Western world, although his being elected at all is disturbing.

There is growing anxiety and it is seen in our entertainment choices. Dystopian novels were rising in popularity with the election of Trump. And that probably boosted Trump’s ego knowing that many Americans thought so highly of his prospects. There was already an interest in dystopian visions of America with The Hunger Games movies (the first in 2012), and that interest is even more intense now. Over the past years, numerous highly watched television series have come out that portray dark visions of alternative Americas: Amazon’s The Man In the High Castle (2015-2019), Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-2020) with a planned second series based on the novel Testaments, and HBO’s Plot Against America (2020-).

As for alternative Americas, there is also the recently released Motherland: Fort Salem from the Freeform network. In that world, the persecution of witches ended several centuries ago and the result was a matriarchal society. Still, it’s not exactly a utopian narrative. There are central themes about conflict and exploitation. And it has plenty of violence, including horrific terrorism. It might turn out to be a decent addition to the rest, but so far it’s not clear it’s of the same high quality.

They keep making this kind of entertainment giving voice to a troubled society. Apparently, there is a large audience for it. In another genre, there are also other less-than-happy portrayals of alternative Americas such as The Dark Knight (2008) movies and the X-Men movies (2000-), or even bleaker the Watchmen movie (2009) and HBO series (2019). More generally speaking, the Harry Potter movies (2001-2011) along with USA’s The Purge (2018-) and HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019), Westworld (2016-), and His Dark Materials (2019-) also give hint to underlying fears in our society about authoritarianism, corruption, political failure, and impending doom. Another series HBO almost made was Confederate about the South having won the Civil War and so probably would have been another story of a fascist America.

There is a theory that, during hard times, people are attracted to escapist fantasy. Some famous examples of this during the Great Depression were Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), King Kong (1933), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). That isn’t what we are getting right now, particularly not  The Wizard of Oz (1939). There is no present equivalent to a movie like that. There is no sense that we can click our heels and return home.

There is something else that is different right now. It’s not only the large number of dystopian entertainment, from post-apocalyptic to alternative history. It is increasingly mainstream. There have always been lots of movies in this genre, but we are seeing more and more series than was the case in the past. Some of these series are prestige shows with large financial backing. There is noting schlocky about them and they aren’t being presented as niche genre entertainment. They are popular shows that are being watched by people who don’t necessarily otherwise seek out speculative fiction.

This is a different historical moment. These shows are being made in a highly realistic manner and they are ambitious. Their intention is to be taken seriously and, in the times we find ourselves, they are being taken seriously. But it isn’t only about President Trump as an aspiring tyrant. Consider that the first seasons of The Man in the High Castle came out under the Obama Administration, as did the initial entry in The Hunger Games film series. A sense of dread about where society is heading has been growing for decades now. It’s now hitting a fever pitch, but that fever is a symptom of the disease, not its cause.

The infection began long ago and the disease has progressed without notice. The danger of dystopias is that they can be self-righteously comforting in making us think we know who the bad guys are. And as with white middle class feminists unconsciously wielding privilege, we can too easily learn the wrong lesson from a show like The Handmaid’s Tale, in not recognizing our own complicity. It’s not like being bottlefed on dystopian nightmares helped GenX to fight the system and stop the slow but methodical authoritarian takeover. If anything, it more powerfully inured our minds to the worsening conditions, not only with cynicism and apathy but moreso a numbed disconnection from the banality of evil, the creeping nature of worse becoming worse — such as being led along by the chains of lesser evil voting that made greater evil inevitable.

Dystopian entertainment, in its exaggerations and caricatures, can blind us to the evil already around us. It makes one wonder what it all means. The growing popularity of dystopias may not mean the public is waking up, no matter how nice it would be to believe we finally might begin to groggily open our eyes to the morning light piercing our nightmares. New generations are being raised on this mainstreaming of dystopia, not only in summer flicks but hyper-realistic dramas that go on for years and so becoming deeply embedded within the psyche. It forms the background of the collective imagination, for good or ill.

* * *

Let’s explore some further historical background to entertainment in the horror and dystopian genres.

As the Second World War came to an end, there was the baby boom and so a renewed focus on the young. The cover article of Parents’ Magazine, in January 1950, declared that, “Because in the next 10 years the United States will have a record child population, we are now entering upon what can well be termed the Children’s Decade” (quoted in the abstract of Andrew Scahill’s It Takes a Child to Raze a Village: Demonizing Youth Rebellion). A new generation of children offered not only hope but fear as well. “During the Cold War crisis, children’s bodies became the primary symbolic battlegrounds for political ideology” (Andrew Scahill, The Revolting Child in Horror Cinema). In both the United States and the Soviet Union, children were seen as targets of propaganda and so entry points of alien or corrupting forces.

There had been concern about youths gone wrong far back in history with moral panic rising in reaction to the mass urbanization and technological changes in the late colonial era (Technological Fears and Media Panics). So, children had increasingly become symbols of uncertainty and anxiety. Along with an emergent idealization of childhood, there was an ideological motivation to control children, as the ideal clashed with harsh realities. This underlying tension finally boiled to the surface with the under-parented Lost Generation of children working in factories and roaming in street gangs, although juvenile delinquency didn’t became a society-wide obsession until the 1940s and 1950s. The concern grew worse in the following decades. “Dixon notes that Rhoda in “The Bad Seed” was the first mainstream demon child, but the trope really took off with the 1960 British science fiction film “Village of the Damned” and the sequel “Children of the Damned,” in which a mysterious force impregnates all the women villagers simultaneously” (Douglas J. Rowe, Evil children chill moviegoers).

By the 1970s and 1980s, as another generation was coming onto the scene, it felt like the world was going to hell. Besides the peak of a violent crime wave, it was the period of economic recession and austerity, of farm crisis and AIDS crisis, of the final clashes of the Cold War and the lingering threat of nuclear catastrophe. “I’m a child of the ’80s,” writes David Sirota, “and I was deeply impacted by that decade and that pop culture — and for many reasons, that pop culture is back in a lot of ways. So I started thinking about why it’s back — and some of it is Hollywood laziness, some of it is coincidence — but it’s really kind of eerie, too, with the crisis at the Japanese nuclear power plant happening; you know, the last time that kind of thing was happening was at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, in the ’80s. So there’s a real zeitgeist of the ’80s returning” (from Jef Otte’s interview, David Sirota on Back to Our Future, Ghostbusters and the decade of “me”; see Back to Our Future: David Sirota on the 80s). There is also the fact that GenXers and their older siblings, the late Boomers, who were shaped by that era are now the majority of parents of youth and producers of entertainment.

Still, it’s the Fifties that must be given credit for giving birth to a particular strain of filmographic fear, and there were social circumstances to explain what went wrong. “While the media frequently portrayed teens as a monstrous threat to the stability of American society, these films show the teen as monster to be a creation of a corrupt adult world. If the teenager is vindicated in many horror films, mom does not come off so well” (Cyndy Hendershot, I was a Cold War Monster, p. 5). Yet, “In many of these films, the father is absent or bamboozled by his precious prince or princess; it”s left to the mother to come to the slow, horrifying realization about her offspring” (Douglas J. Rowe, Evil children chill moviegoers). In either case, it was a failure of adult authority figures, often the parents but also a sense of societal corruption in general.

Even when children were portrayed as dangerous, they often were also framed as victims and casualties of post-war changes or Cold War dangers. “With strong antecedents in the late 1950s (The Bad Seed, Village/Children of the Damned, The Lord of the Flies), the figuration of the revolting child—and specifically the child collective—is best understood as a Cold War monster. Indeed, […] public investment in the “good democratic child” and public outrage over the “juvenile delinquent” loomed large on the U.S. consciousness” (Andrew Scahill, It takes a child to raze a village: demonizing youth rebellion, p. 2). From a Fifties newspaper article, in reporting on the “Children’s Decade”, it was argued that all of society’s resources needed to be invested in children, as much out of fear as of loving concern: “The disturbed, hostile and rebellious child is a danger to himself and to the community, and a poor risk as a future citizen” (George Hecht, Today Is Termed Children’s Decade; Their Needs Cited, Madera Tribune, Number 75, 29 April 1952). “Beneath the insistence on creating a positive and healthy environment to foster children’s individual growth and social development was a concern over the nation’s future” (Daniel Gomes, “Sissy” Boys and “Unhappy” Girls: Childrearing During the Cold War). Childhood was the site of existential crisis.

There was something different, though, in the late Cold War era when horror movies fully went mainstream. Instead of the sins of the father and mother falling upon the next generation, it became more common for fictionalized children and youth to be made into something else entirely, ever more monstrous and alien. Youth culture was becoming its own force that diverged further and further from the adult world. This led to unsettling movies like the 1979 Over the Edge about juvenile delinquents running rampant and turning violent that shaped many minds of that generation of youth. “While somewhat raw and certainly not without imperfections, it’s easy to understand why Kurt Cobain claimed that the movie “pretty much defined my whole personality,” and why it so heavily influenced Richard Linklater in making his own ode to restless youth, Dazed and Confused” (Mike Sacks, Over the Edge).

Even so, most horrifying movies of that era didn’t put on a pretense of realism. That is what feels different about present entertainment. Movies and shows are so much higher quality in terms of special effects, script writing, and acting. It’s much bigger business these days and the profits are so much higher. Oddly, this has led to an increased popularity of gritty realism. Even alternative histories like The Man in the High Castle are made to be quite compelling in creating a plausible world that is fleshed out in great detail. Another difference is that the obsession with youth culture has completely changed in tone. In present speculative narratives of the dark bent, the younger generations are no longer demonized and made into scapegoats. Instead, when not simply ignored, they are heroes on a hero’s journey, rebellious fighters against oppression, and saviors of humanity.

We fantasize about the younger generation undoing our failures and making the world right again. At least, there is an acknowledgement of something being amiss and that someone had better do something about it. But what is our society supposed to do as GenZ reaches adulthood and they no longer are innocent children upon which we can project our failed aspirations? How are the young supposed to reverse centuries of damage to the environment, worsening inequality, and growing authoritarianism? Anyway, isn’t this rather convenient? Instead of doing the hard work right now, we can simply make and watch entertainment about alternative worlds and future worlds where fictional people do what needs to be done in fighting for a more just world.

* * *

Other examples of dark entertainment from the past couple of decades:

  • Children of Men (2006)
  • The Road (2009)
  • Dark Angel (2000-2002)
  • Jeremiah (2002-2004)
  • Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
  • Jericho (2006-2008)
  • The Walking Dead (2010-)
  • The Leftovers (2014-2017)
  • The 100 (2014-)
  • Colony (2016-2018)
  • 3% (2016-)
  • Black Mirror (2011-)
  • The Twilight Zone (2019-)

Articles of interest:

The US writers who imagined a fascist future
by Sarah Churchwell

Uneasy About the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics
by Alexandra Alter

Field Notes on Fascism: Four Novel Revivals, One Theme
by Harvey A. Schwartz

The creeping fascism of American literature
by Adi Robertson

Dystopian novels are dominating best-seller lists
by Michael Miner

Dystopian Fiction Finds New Meaning In The Age Of Trump
by Ben Barna

Why Even the Worst Alternate Universes Can Feel Like Safe Spaces
by Liz Shannon Miller

The Plots Against America
by Matt Gallagher

The Handmaid’s Tale TV Series Isn’t Revelatory, But Unfortunately It Doesn’t Need to Be
by Katharine Trendacosta

A Cunning Confection, and Some Food for Thought: A Review of The Hunger Games
by Gary Westfahl

Dear Television: I Can’t Handle Another Prestige Drama About America as a Fascist Dystopia
by Chelsea Steiner

The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be
by Evan Kindley

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.

Review: The Man on the Ceiling by Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem

Review: The Man on the Ceiling by Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem

Posted on Jan 7th, 2009 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade

I don’t enjoy most popular horror and I don’t normally buy horror to read, but this book attracted me.  It has nice cover art (you can judge a book by its cover), and I had noticed it at the bookstore for some time before finally deciding to get it.  I might write more about this later, but for now my review from Amazon…

It seems some people just didn’t get this book.  I suppose I understand their confusion.  Its a very experimental book in how it combines autobiography and story all the while doing this as a collaboration.  Its impressive considering how difficult a challenge this must have been.
I liked it.  There were some deep insights in this book and they avoided giving easy answers or simple stories.  Its not exactly a novel, but I wouldn’t go so far to say the label doesn’t apply.  There are many stories within the book.  More importantly, its about the process of making stories out of life experience and making sense of life experience through story.
There is a cleverness to this book, but it didn’t seem pretentious to me.  What the authors set out to do necessitated cleverness.  I enjoyed how smoothly they mixed nonfiction and fiction.
I was satisfied enough with this book that I give it an overall good review.  It was worth the money spent.  It wasn’t perfect, but its hard to imagine any two authors collaborating to create something better.  I’ve never read anything that compares to this book and so reviewing it is difficult.  Fortunately, I had no expectations going in and so I was able to judge it on its own merits.  However, if someone buys it hoping for a normal novel, then they’d be dissapointed.
There is something specific that I appreciated the most.  Horror is too often limited to the perspective of the individual.  This book is about how closely related are love and fear.
Its a hard book to get a grasp of, but I think it will grow on me more and more.  I immediately read back through the book after finishing it.  I’m sure its a book I will return to many times.

Access_public Access: Public 3 Comments Print Post this!views (151)  

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 5 hours later

Nicole said

i will probably never read it, but it’s interesting how strongly this book has attracted you.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 10 hours later

Marmalade said

Its a very unusual book that attempts to convey a very difficult subject matter. The authors are a married couple. The book is a collaborative work about the very collaboration that is their shared life together. They are very different people and yet seem to balance eachother.

All of their children are adopted, and for whatever reason they seem attracted to somewhat troubled children. One of their sons hung himself when he was 9 years old, an age when a kid can’t even comprehend death.

They clearly demonstrate their love for eachother and for their children. I’ve never been married nor have had children, but I was completely able to understand and empathize.

The book isn’t about horror vs love, but about how horror and love flow into one another, how love demands risking ourselves to the horrors that can befall those we love. This book has the emotional impact that it does because the stories they share are so personal. They give you about as much of a glimpse into their lives as is possible for an author to give.

The book also goes beyond just this. Its about what makes life worth living, what keeps a person doing what they do, what they must do. And its about feeling wonder. Life is hard to make sense of and even story can only go so far. This book is about the limits of life and about looking beyond these limits to see what is there… even when we are afraid or maybe because we are afraid.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

1 day later

Nicole said

it sounds very powerful.

Comedy Horror Musicals

I’ll sort of keep with the theme of my recent blogs, but lighten up the mood a bit.  One thing I’ve come to enjoy more and more is a good musical.  It was either The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Jesus Christ Superstar that first made me fall in love with musicals.  Even so, I still don’t like the classic musicals to any great degree.

I’m glad that the musical is getting a modernized revival, but there is a particular category of musical that is quite surprising in its popularity.  The category I speak of is the comedy horror musical.  Its about as lighthearted and silly as horror can get and still vaguely be called horror.

Maybe it isn’t surprising at all when considering the modern musical’s origin in opera.  There are plenty of tragic operas, but as far as I know operas aren’t known for their comedy.  In my meager research, it seems that the comedy horror musical was an American invention, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show might’ve been the first.

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

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073629/

http://www.rockyhorror.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Shop_of_Horrors_(film)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091419/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannibal!_The_Musical

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115819/

http://www.cannibalthemusical.net/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweeney_Todd:_The_Demon_Barber_of_Fleet_Street_(2007_film)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0408236/

http://www.sweeneytoddmovie.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repo!_The_Genetic_Opera

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0963194/

http://www.repo-opera.com/

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

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071994/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Frankenstein_(musical)

http://www.youngfrankensteinthemusical.com/

http://www.youngfrankensteinthemusical.com/

http://www.evildeadthemusical.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poultrygeist:_Night_of_the_Chicken_Dead

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0462485/

http://www.poultrygeistmovie.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_More,_with_Feeling_(Buffy_the_Vampire_Slayer)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0533466/

http://www.buffymusical.com/

One other that might be added is Wicked: The Musical. But I’m not sure as I’ve never watched it. Even though its about the Wicked Witch of Oz, it sounds more like a tragic romance story.

Then again, most of the musicals I put in my blog aren’t very horrific. Cannibal hasfew scenes ofpartially realistic ripping and eating of flesh, but its pretty silly for the most part. Sweeney Todd might be the least funny of these, but its definitely over-the-top… althoughmost horror movies are over-the-top I guess. I’ve never watched all of Repo. It looks like it could get a bit graphic.

By the way, you can watch a recording of the entire live performance of Wicked. Its on Youtube and you’ll find it at the link I provided in my previous comment. I just watched it and it doesn’t fit with the others. There is a Wicked Witch, but she is portrayed very sympathetically. I would recommend it thouhbecause it shows what happened before Dorothy ever visited Oz.

Quotes: the Gothic, the Gnostic, and the Rational

The Secret Life of Puppets
by Victoria Nelson
pp. 18-19:

At the same time, however, this demonology is the only avenue open to the transcendental.  “You can raise issues in the horror genre that you can’t raise so easily in other types of films,” a Hollywood screenwriter once ingenuously explained, adding, “Characters can talk about the existence of God in a horror movie, whereas in other films that would be incredibly pretentious.”  Ironically, beacause of the old Reformation link between Catholicism and the supernatural, the only means for defending oneself against the Devil in these narratives is always represented as a potpourri of faux rituals rendered in Latin or Greek and always erroneously attributed to the Catholic Church, to the unending aggravation of that church’s worthies, who might be less upset if only they reflected on the unavoidable implication—that the Protestant mainstream unconsciously perceives its own rituals as utterly inadequate for warding off demons.

p. 19:

Lacking an allowable connection with the transcendent, we have substituted an obsessive, unconscious focus on the negative dimension of the denied experience.  In popular Western entertainments through the end of the twentieth century, the supernatural translated mostly as terror and monsters enjoyably consumed.  But as Paul Tillich profoundly remarked, “Wherever the demonic appears, there the question of its correlate, the divine, will also be raised.”

p. 28:

Far from being mutually exclusive, nous and logos share this common denominator of human consciousness, a field that remained constant while its content and focus have swung like a pendulum between the two modes.  For the gnosis-oriented authors of the Corpus Hermeticum tractates, consciousness was not only humanity’s distinguishing characteristic but the special feature that connected us with the divine.  This position  was counterbalanced by the materialist views of their contemporaries the Stoics and Skeptics; indeed, many Greeks and Romans of the time openly mocked graven images.  And, as Susanna Elm argues, far from being a “decline into belief” as is usually supposed, the radical iconoclasm of Judeo-Christianity, learnedly argued first by the rabbis and then by the early Christian fathers, represented a scientific revolution of rational discourse that supplanted the gnosis-dominated cults and religions of Late Antiquity analagous to the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation, which performed a similar function in relation to the Catholic Church a millennium later.

Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film
by Eric G. Wilson
p. 26:

Gnostic films understandably migrate toward the gothic genres—science fiction pictures devoted to ambiguous relationships between humans and machines; fantasy movies exploring blurred boundaries between dream and reality; noir movies hovering on the boundary between psychic projection and brute fact; horror films fraught with ambiguous meldings of monstrosity and miracle.  There are historical reasons behind this connection between the Gnostic and the gothic. As Victoria Nelson has shown, ever since the early modern age, esoteric ways of knowing including Gnosticism, Cabbala, and alchemy, have been pushed to the margins of culture.  There on the edges these heretical visions have attracted the aesthtic mediums rejected by mainstream institutions.  This confluence of occult religion and underground expression reached full force in the pulpy sub-world of the twentieth century, the lurid realm of weird tales, comic books, and gothic movies. These historical connections are valid and interesting.  However, as I have been suggesting, there are also deep epistemological reasons for the merger between Gnostic vision and gothic cinema.  Both modes are dependent upon mental failure: the inability of the rational mind to reconcile opposites and of the physical world to transcend dualistic conflict.  However, these failures offer success: the possibility of the mind finding knowledge beyond reason, of the world dissolving into a unity beyond time.

Religious Scholars and Horror Writers

Religious Scholars and Horror Writers

Posted on Dec 23rd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
This relates to the connection between Gnosticism and the Gothic.  Many Horror writers study religion and spirituality.  Some even practice it or are members of churches.  Some horror writers go so far as giving up their horror for religion… such as Anne Rice’s conversion.  Most Christian horror writers find a middle-ground because Christian theology gives plenty of space for the horrific… especially Catholicism.

A Biblical scholar I enjoy is Robert M. Price.  He is very well respected as a Biblical scholar, but he is also an expert on Lovecraft and writes horror himself.  Not surprisingly, he is very knowledgeable about Gnosticism.

Some other examples I’ve heard of:  Russell Kirk wrote ghost stories, but he was more famous for his influential political theories.  Charles Williams is best known for his horror novels (or supernatural thrillers as  T.S. Eliot described them), but he also wrote widely on many nonfiction subjects.

Thomas Ligotti and Quentin S. Crisp have both been highly influenced by religion and spirituality.  They’ve both studied diverse topics, but I do know that they were highly attracted to Buddhism.   As far as I understand, both had done spiritual practices such as meditation and so their interests aren’t merely in the abstract.

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Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

Thinking about it, Catholocism and Buddhism are good religions for horror writers. Catholocism obsesses about original sin, evil, and demons. Buddhism has strong tendencies towards world-denial in their idealization of non-being and I’ve heard that they traditionallyhave rituals for funerals but not for weddings.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 9 hours later

Marmalade said

There is another connection between the Horror genre and the traditional world religions. Both are a bit wary of sexuality and often don’t portray it in the most positive light. I won’t generalize too much about horror and sexuality, but I will say that it seems common for people (especially sexually attractive girls)to bekilled in horror movies after making out. And then there are dark writers such as Kafka where sexuality is almost entirely absent.

I don’t feel up to speculating why this connection exists. I do know that Crisp and Ligotti have spoken disparaging about sex (and procreation)on more than one occasion. In fact, Ligotti has written a lengthy treatise that revolves around this and relatedsubjects. Ligotti is more articulate in his philosophizing, butone of the more amusing quotes about sex is from Crisp (in an interview with Martin Roberts):

“…I am interested in the erotic potential of sexual unfulfillment.”

I enjoy Crisp’s self-deprecating humor. If you can’t laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at.

Quentin S. Crisp: Fiction Writer and Blogger

Quentin S. Crisp: Fiction Writer and Blogger

Posted on Dec 23rd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
A favorite writer of mine is Quentin S. Crisp.  He is a fiction writer, but I admit I haven’t read much of his fiction.  He is moreso a favorite writer of my friend.  I primarily know him through his blog writings and I will say he is my favorite blogger.  He shares many of my interests and views.  I think he was raised by a psychotherapist or something.  Maybe that is the reason that, despite his occasional cynicism, he has a very accepting and easygoing attitude about life.  He is often designated as a horror writer, but does’t like that designation.  He is more just a weird write with dark streak.

I like how he is usually very reserved and humble about his opinions.  He has written that he doesn’t take his opinions as ultimate truths but simply what makes sense to him in the given moment.  I like what he says here(this is from the comments section of one of his blogs):

Actually, I feel like adding that, although I used the word ‘pessimistic’ at one point, I don’t really think of myself as pessimistic. I know some people do, because they’ve told me. But for me to call myself that would suggest I had some preformed pessimistic bent to which I wished to shape any conclusion. I don’t. I actually have a sense of enormous potential within existence, which seems, rather tiresomely, to be thwarted again and again by human stupidity, my own included. Some people have tried to find the way out of this trap but it tends to turn to the way back in, because as soon as they call themselves ‘right’ and start preaching about it, it all goes wrong. I suppose that’s why I prefer to be wrong from the start, to be a ‘lost cause’ and to write fiction rather than philosophy.

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Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

37 minutes later

Marmalade said

Its funny how similar he is to me. He admires Ligotti and Burroughs, two very dark and cynical writers. But he also reads writers like Tolle.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 2 hours later

Marmalade said

Its true, though, that I’m much less reluctant to philosophize than he is. I don’t find that I ve to assume I’m entirely right before stating my opinions. Even so, I get what he means about the difference between fiction as compared to philosophy, but some writers even let their ideology rule their fiction.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

3 days later

Marmalade said

I have a comment that I’ll put here because it more or less relates. Crisp and Ligotti are of that common variety of great varieties that are mostly unknown. I’m not surewhat that says about ourculture, but it doesn’t seem to be uncommon for great artists to die poor.

Fortunately, Philip K. Dick escaped this fate near the end of his life. Crisp and Ligotti may yet escape this fate also. They’ve both been stuck in the small press world where actually some of the best writers get published and where many writers get their start.

Anyways, I mentioned Ligotti because he is another horror (or weird to be more exact) writer. Crisp admires Ligotti as many writers do. And if any dark weirdwriter could make it out of small press horror and getsomewhere near the mainstream (even if only the genre mainstream),I’d be willing to bet onLigotti.

It seems he may be have gotten a toe in. I was at the bookstore and noticed an anthology which was I believe titled The New Weird edited by Vandermeer. Vandermeer is a major force in the cross-genre field sometimes called Slipstream amongst other things. It makes sense that Ligotti is included. Horror writers have too long been stuck in their very small genre, and too many writers get labelled as horror never to escape. Crisp and Ligotti write stories that go beyond traditional horror even if horror might describe the general mood of many of their stories.

I likea lotof the writers that get into these new anthologies. I prefer stories that don’t easily fit into genre conventions which simply means that the authors are attempting to push the limits of imagination. I’ll have to blog about this later on.

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.

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.

Book Review: The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson

This book is one of the best I’ve ever read. My copy is heavily underlined and well-thumbed. There are few authors that connect the topics she does in the way she does it, and there are even fewer who do so with such insight. It’s a hard book to describe as it includes much: puppets and humanity, reality and imagination, philosophy and religion, film and fiction, high and low culture. It’s a fairly large book at around 300 pages of text and also there are useful notes in the back. Even though her ideas may be above the head of the average person, her writing style is easy to follow. If you’re a somewhat curious and minimally intelligent person, then what you’ll probaby enjoy about this book is learning new ideas and discovering new authors. I’m very well read and I came across a number of things I’d never heard of.

Two topics Victoria Nelson covers that are of particular interest to me are Gnosticism and Noir. If you like these topics, then another book you’d like is Eric G. Wilson’s The Melancholy Android: On the Psychology of Sacred Machines and Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film. Wilson is directly influenced by Nelson. There aren’t many books that look at the religious aspects of Noir, but another one is Thomas S. Hibbs Arts of Darkness: American Noir and the Quest for Redemption. Somewhat oddly, a major connection for these authors is that they all discuss Philip K. Dick who is a favorite author of mine. Dick was mainly a fiction writer, but also wrote non-fiction about what it is to be human in terms of philosophy, religion, and science (in particular the subjects of Gnosticism and androids). If you read Philip K. Dick’s non-fiction, it will give you a richer perspective on the meeting of high and low culture (which is an emphasis of Nelson and Wilson)and on the dark quest for redemption (which all of these authors touch upon). Two Philip K. Dick books I’d recommend are The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings and In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis. If you want a clear overview of Philip K. Dick’s philsophical and religion thoughts, then you should read Pink Beams of Light from the God in the Gutter: The Science-Fictional Religion of Philip K. Dickby Gabriel McKee.

Some of Nelson’s best insights revolve around the notions of imagination and reality, sanity and insanity (which are typical Philip K. Dick topics in both his fiction and non-fiction). This is where she discusses various genre writers (for example, Poe, Lovecraft, Schultz and Kafka) and where she explores the connection between psychology, spirituality and creativity. If you’re intellectually fascinated by imagination and creativity, then there are some truly awesome books out there that would give even greater context to the already large context that Victoria Nelson provides. I’d guess that much of the groundwork for Nelson’s thinking comes from the Jungian tradition of thinkers and she references Carl Jung a number of times (but she also discuses Freud). If you’re interested in further reading about the imagination, then check out these other books: Dream & the Underworld by James Hillman, Imagination Is Reality: Western Nirvana in Jung, Hillman, Barfield, and Cassirer by Roberts Avens, Daimonic Reality: A Field Guide to the Otherworld by Patrick Harpur, and The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen.

Besides my mentioning a number of related books, I’d consider The Secret Life of Puppets to be very unique. There are many books out there about these kinds of topics, but she brings it together in a very compelling way. These ideas easily could’ve become lost in abstract intellectuality if handled by a lesser writer.