I think a lot about the horror and suffering of the world, from the minute and seemingly trivial up to the all-encompassing and overwhelming — Ironically, it is these two extreme ends on a horrific spectrum that we lost sight of. Too small and we disregard or deem unworthy of being named, such as losing money, falling over, being disorganized etc, and/or too big it seems to resist such a naming, such as ecological disaster, political corruption and even ones own future self.
The inability of seeing beyond the confines of a median horror out towards the periphery of inner-self and outer-life, what we name as the experience of horror is that which is – quite literally – in our very local vicinity. For instance, depending on the severity of injury, we regard and thus associate horror based on the length of impact such an injury has on our future – how it effects our ‘local’ foreseeable future self. Or, of being aware that we are in close proximity to an outside horror, such as stabbings in your neighborhood. Its because of this short-sightedness that it becomes much easier to care for these local horrors than it is too acknowledge the wars going on in other countries, the emotional anguish of strangers, or the deep depths of our own unconscious or future self (e.g. smoking), and finally the ultimate horror that will effect us all yet seemingly none is ecological disaster – a too grand of an object to contemplate and thus tackle oneself let alone think about. It is a horror so sever that it breaches its own boundaries as to escape the very confines of what can be considered terrifying.
This post is not about the horrors of the world as such, as it it a personal rumination on horror and how effectual thinking horrifically – that is, in terms of locality (a nearness to us) – can be useful to the way we think and act in this world.
As it ought to be known, I don’t like watching horror films – or more precisely, I find myself too easily susceptible to strong feelings of sadness that I reduce all interactions to a minimum. Nor any material that readily presents itself as content uneasy for light viewing, such as the bite-sized clips naughtily posted on obscure facebook pages of tortured animals, fights between people on derelict streets, the terror that overcomes individual people of all ages – unnecessary cries of toddlers, children that are lost, adults losing someone, old people forgetting themselves. Or even watching the news or listening to talks told reminiscently. Of course, one should be aware of the suffering of others as to allow empathy to flow, responsibility to take place and care to take action, but it is not that by not watching these videos I attempt at avoiding responsibility and effectively caring for, and building relations with, others. Or relieve myself of guilty feelings by pretending pain doesn’t exist.
But it is paradoxically the nature of ‘enjoying’ the experience of emerging oneself in horror (films) that nonetheless separates us from a real horror to contemplate and explore and tackle or live alongside. It is this that one invariably loses sight of the horror that occurs on base level, at the very local vicinity of day to day, moment to moment micro-actions that have and leads to much larger longer lasting consequences. All Horror is necessarily mediated through imagery, with each level of mediation taking us further and further away, presenting to us a caricature, ideal, type, etc., from the acute reality of horror one needs to not only take seriously, but acknowledge such contemplation of micro-horrors are worth taking seriously.
Horror is reassuring.
It seems oxymoronic to suggest Horror is reassuring. That it soothes us and prevents our being fearful and scared, consoling and comforting us by presenting to us that which we might most be fearful of, mediated through imagery/films/books. But it is this mediation between us and them, our reality and that reality, that allows us to displace or defer the sense of fear we feel by transcribing it onto a different reality altogether. Wherein, I’m not so much as scared by my reality as I am of/for yours. Intuitively, this suggests an added ability to empathize for a reality that is not our own, except, as I have previously remarked, this mediation or displacement between realities is what disables us from every actually coming to experience the true horrors of an others experience. Reassurance to me means a reminder of what goes on and what could go on. It sets itself up as a marker of terror, providing us the tools of how to feel and when to feel it like a big brother – a quality with which does exist in art.
Again, Horror is always necessarily mediated through some artistic medium with the goal of allowing us to acknowledge such horrors in the first place. But my problem is that mediation is only the beginning, what it misses or what we miss from it is the awareness to an all too true unseen reality of horror that are dismissed, ignored or unworthy based on the grandiloquence of Horror that mediates in the first place. Not unseen as undocumented, but as not worthy of contemplation because it doesn’t conform to any horrific ideals. If Ecological disaster strays from our imagination as not being horrific, so too does the other end of the spectrum with the minute and seemingly trivial. The exaggeration of Horror paradoxically only cares for the means in-between the two ends of sizable horrors – from the tiny to large. This is to say that another task for Horror is to really bring it back down to reality, not focus solely on the very local and instantaneous horror that can happen but on the slow undulating unsexy horror that exists from mental health to climate change.
Like the somewhat insincere attempt to console your friend in hopes of getting them to stop crying, avoiding any attempt to help aid the cause of the crying, conversely then, horror is the insincere friend who wants for you to only cry about the subjects for which horror deems worthy of contemplation – the very local, effectual, visceral and instantaneous and filmic horrors – and not the real underlying and overlying problems.
When speaking about believing, Zizek says it is not that we don’t believe – when for instance we say “I Love You” – but that we believe too much. It is not that we don’t believe in the effects of saying I Love You that by not saying it we save ourselves any quarrel or burden, but that we in fact believe in it too much and its effect. We believe “absolutely” in the power of saying I Love You that any deferral or reluctance for saying it doesn’t risk the inevitable consequences of doing so. And this in some ways, about belief, is what we do when we watch a horror film. One could happily say to themselves that what they are watching is not real, that the character of the killer clown or groups of zombies isn’t real, that we don’t believe in it. But, apart from believing literally in killer clowns and zombies themselves, we do in fact believe in a kind of ‘monster’, and as such, because we believe so absolutely, we reside ourselves to the comfort of watching these imagined monsters mediated via the screens of horror films as to not allow ourselves to fall trap to the real horror of our everyday reality. That horror films literally provide a caricature and face of a monster so deeply disturbing we would rather go outright an watch it, full frontal, – as if we were the ones in control of our own sense of being scared – than be witness and victim to the true horror of the faceless unknown that is not meditated but totally real and in out periphery. We believe in monsters so much as to only confront them on our own terms. We create superstitions as to make them real, relieving us of the doubt that we don’t know of what were most afraid of (Yet how can we be scared of that which we don’t know we’re scared of?). One could say that, calling mummy or daddy to check underneath your bed at night, or in the wardrobe, is a way of creating for yourself an image of an monster that which you don’t actually believe, but nonetheless are still frightened of as the feeling of being scared itself has to be pointed towards something, yet this something is always in a local vicinity to one self as that which is outside our own reality can be quite easily dismissed. The parent then is the mediation between the child and the monster, for when the parent says nothing’s there, you continue to sleep, except that its not being there is really not a sign of its non-existence as it is more a process of being scared through something (the parent), of confronting through someone, as to alleviate any feeling of personal horror. As such, a mediation could thereby be seen as a horror for a spectacle that is quite literally dispelled and dissipated, dispersing and diluting the power of horror over its audience. Paradoxically, the child wants to prove its own disbelief. By getting its parent to check what the child already doesn’t believe is to confirm for the child that which doesn’t already exist. A parent confirms what you already believe, or not believe in. The imagination of the monster is as real for the child (and us) as the monster itself.
“Scratching an itch that doesn’t exist – thereby bringing it into existence” — Timothy Morton
This is what I mean when I say horror is reassuring. Media provides us with the scapegoat of reality, as we all know, as to not confront it head on. Of course one could say that horror films are a horrific reality in and of themselves, but I’m not talking about the realness of horror as I am the impracticality of mediation when it comes to understanding what is also really horrific – our everyday micro-actions and those action within – and contributing to – a far larger macro-horror (world). Taking cue from art, we need to quite literally give a face to the faceless monster, bring about its existence in out imagination as to dispel with it. In order to overcome the fear of Horror, what one needs is to think Horrifically.