pollution and horror

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Jack Morgan once offered the following explanation for the appeal horror has:

“As opposed to the comic sense of life or tragedy’s dignified sense of death, horror embodies a sense of anti-life or unlife; it takes note of the demarcation between the wholesome and the unwholesome, the healthy and the monstrous – a clarity essential to the organic life. “We love and need the concept of monstrosity,” Stephen King writes, “because it is a reaffirmation of the order we all crave as human beings”. That is the fundamental sense underlying horror’s various traditional tropes and conventions. In this genre the healthy mind reconnoiters the regions of the [-p.66] unhealthy. Noel Carroll correctly notes that horror creatures – and this would apply to the genre more broadly – provoke not just fear, but loathing.” (p.65)

The Gothic underscores the multifold miasmas, poisons, fungi, plagues, viruses, that are out there and able to destroy our individual or collective systemic order. “It is not the physical or mental aberration in itself that horrifies us,” Stephen King writes, “but rather the lack of order these aberrations seem to imply”. Horror focuses upon the terror of that which is bio-antithetical, bio-illogical, a fear as viable today as it was in the middle-ages or in the imagined middle ages of 18th century Gothic literature.” (p.70)

“The most famous of Poe’s tales concerns disintegration and decline – a single, organic dissipation taking in family line, the contemporary Ushers, the house and grounds. Life is flow, dynamic movement, constant refreshment, elasticity; thus, we are repulsed by what is stagnant, stale, desiccated, musty – we recognize all the latter as anti-life, entropic, unwholesome.” (p.72)

“…the remote vicinities within the dwellings in Gothic tale – cellars, attics, chambers long closed off, and so on. From what are they closed off? Essentially from life – air, sunlight, human presence and care. They are repulsive in that they bespeak abandonment and unlife.” (p.73)

The loss of all bearings, the absence of moral-ethical-rational compass, is an integral part of the horror illusion.” (p.76)

“But how to explain what Aiken and Barbald in 1775 noted: “the apparent delight with which we dwell upon objects of pure terror, where our moral feelings are not in the least involved, and no passion seems to be excited but the depressing one of fear…?” How is it that horror, as Emily Dickinson said of Hawthorne’s work, at once “appalls and entices?” How to account for the popularity of horror in its literary expressions – a highly unlikely popularity it would seem given the theory advanced here that the genre turns on our organic apprehensions – our fear of infirmity, pollution, and physical degradation?
It is first perhaps necessary to note the obvious fact that there is no pleasure to be gained from confronting the morbid and repulsive in real life; a ritual hunt-dance is not to be confused with the hunt per se. Ours is of course an aesthetic interrogation; it goes to the experience of the virtual morbid in the virtual space/time of literary art. The process is in part intellectual, but the experience of horror, like that of comedy, is centered in a bodily registration, a body-informed imagination. …
An hypothesis might be advanced here in keeping with the generally physiological nature of the thesis so far discussed. A small quantity of morbid material – smallpox vaccine for instance – provokes the body’s healthy energies to muster themselves, and tones them. Small doses of arsenic and like substances, according to homeopathic theory, can have the effect of invigorating the body’s immune responses, awakening listless organic functions.
Brought to a kind of analog confrontation with the horrid through the Gothic tale, readers are likewise reminded of the nature of their own participation in a biotic harmony and well-being. The virtual claustrophobic heightens our awareness of space in actuality; of good, well-oxygenate [-p.78] air in actuality; of our freedom in actuality. The demarkation between the healthy and the morbid is brought to consciousness and vivified. Our bodies take pleasure in the fact that we are not locked in some Gothic crypt nor the dismal, thirsty decks of the San Dominic, or walled-up hopelessly in the catacombs beneath an Italian city.” (pp.77-78)

“Through its negations, the macabre – canceling out its own morbidity – brings us round to a biological affirmation as comedy does, to an energized sense of our being-in-the-world. Stephen King recalls the effect 1950s horror films had on him: “There was that magic moment of reintegration and safety at the end…. I believe it’s this feeling of reintegration, arising from a field specializing in death, fear and monstrosity that makes the danse macabre so rewarding and magical”.” (p.78)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Jack Morgan (1998) ‘Toward an organic theory of the Gothic: conceptualizing Horror’ Journal of Popular Culture 32:3, pp.59-80

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Zombies and global mass culture

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In his analysis of zombie narrative – and of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, in particular – Gerry Canavan asserts that “the figure of the zombie now lurks at the very center of global mass culture.” (p.431)

He explains: “Steve Shaviro suggests in a 2002 special issue of Historical Materialism on “Marxism and Fantasy” that our preoccupation with the zombie originates out of the zombie’s relationship with contemporary global capitalism…. Remorselessly consuming everything in their path, zombies leave nothing in their wake besides endless copies of themselves, making the zombie the perfect metaphor not only for how capitalism transforms its subjects but also for its relentless and devastating virologic march across the globe.” (p.432)

Canavan reminds us that we must think about “the problems of subject position and identification that arise when speaking about the “universal residue” (Shaviro 288) called the zombie. The zombie’s mutilation,” he explains, “is not one that we easily imagine for “ourselves,” however that “we” is ultimately constituted; the zombie is rather the toxic infection that must always be kept at arm’s length. Because zombies mark the demarcation between life (that is worth living) and unlife (that needs killing), the evocation of the zombie conjures not solidarity but racial panic. To complicate Deleuze and Guattari’s proclamation in A Thousand Plateaus, then, the myth of the zombie is both a war myth and a work myth (425); one of the ways the State apparatus builds the sorts of “preaccomplished” subjects it needs is precisely through the construction of a racial binary in which the (white) citizen-subject is opposed against nonwhite life, bare life, zombie life—that anti-life which is always inimically and hopelessly Other, which must always be kept quarantined, if not actively eradicated and destroyed.” (p.433)

Canavan refers us to “Vivian Sobchack’s approach to sf in Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film,” to establish some generic distinctions for his analysis of The Walking Dead; drawing on Sobchack, he writes: “In contradistinction to the Suvinian approach to sf prose, for Sobchack the important genre distinction to be maintained is not sf-vs.-fantasy but sf-vs.-horror, a divide she finds to be hopelessly muddled by a blurred and indistinct “no-man’s-land” between the two populated by hybrid films (in our case, zombie cinema) that arguably belong to both modes (26–27).
The horror film,” Sobchack says, “is primarily concerned with the individual in conflict with society or with some extension of himself, the sf film with society and its institutions in conflict with each other or with some alien other” (30). It is for this reason that we find a key distinction between horror and sf to be the question of scale; we expect horror to take place in a small and isolated setting (perhaps, as in Night of the Living Dead, as small as a single farmhouse) while sf expands to fill large cities and nations, even the entire globe. We might think, for instance, of England after the Rage outbreak in 28 Days Later, or how in the recent Marvel Zombies and DC Blackest Night [-p.434] storylines in superhero comics the zombie outbreak swells to fill the entire cosmos, even the entire multiverse. If we accept Sobchack’s genre definition, we find that the zombie subgenre starts out in horror in its earliest film formulations but winds up in sf in its later ones; while “horror” entries in this hugely prolific subgenre certainly remain, the most popular and influential mode of zombie narrative (especially during the Bush-era “zombie revival” period on which I focus) has been the “zombie apocalypse”: the large-scale zombie pandemic that leads to the rapid total breakdown of technological modernity and transnational capitalism on a global scale. To put this another way: For Sobchack the local scale of the horror film is concerned with “moral chaos”—the disruption of the natural order—while the broader scale of sf film lends it to “social chaos” (30). Unlike horror’s Monster, sf’s Creature is unparticularized and uninteriorized; it does not hate, nor seek revenge, and does not even “want” to hurt us. It just does (37). The sf Creature is an eruption that is only disruption—and it is for this reason that the sf film is so often preoccupied with the reaction of society to catastrophe (on the one hand) and to a dispassionate, spectacular aesthetics of destruction (on the other). In the end, Sobchack’s division between horror and sf comes down to the difference between terror and wonder (38). If in the horror film we feel “fear,” in the sf film we feel “interest.” In the horror film we find we want to close our eyes and look away, and the excitement is in forcing ourselves to watch; but in the sf film the narrative pleasure comes precisely in anticipating, and then seeing, what will happen next.
And so, having discovered the zombie right at the intersection of these two modes—the zombie is both local and global, personal
and depersonalized, symptom of moral chaos and cause of widespread social breakdown, grossout consumer of flesh and spectacular destroyer of our intricately constructed social and technological fortifications….[Canavan’s analysis of The Walking Dead begins]” (pp.433-434)

“In such a story the fear of “moral chaos” of the early outbreak will necessarily give way to “interest” in the way society changes in the wake of the zombie disaster—and so it’s no surprise that Kirkman uses the same “waking up from a coma” trope as 28 Days Later to “skip” the initial outbreak and get immediately to the postapocalyptic breakdown world.” (p.435)

“The rotting zombie corpse inevitably suggests the psychological horror Julia Kristeva called “abjection,” the disturbing of the boundary between object and subject.” (p.441)

“…we find the zombies allegorizing the racial forms of exclusion and extermination that already surround us. Zombie narratives are ultimately about the motivation for and unleashing of total violence; what separates “us” from “them” in zombie narrative is always only the type of violence used. They attack us (like “animals,” “savages,” or “cannibals”) with their arms and mouths; we attack them back with horses, tanks, and guns.
In The Walking Dead—as in any zombie narrative—the tools and technologies of empire are continually borrowed for the purpose of priming precisely this sort of violent colonialist fantasy. Swords and guns, tanks and trucks, repeated references to the brutal physical and sexual violence of slavery and to the cowboy or “frontier” imaginary (especially through the ubiquitous riding of horses and Carl’s cowboy outfit and mannerisms) are all employed in a bizarre postmodern pastiche of the history of U.S. imperialism, as different moments of its empire collide into a single simultaneous instant in the face of an essentially inimical and totally implacable racialized threat. There are few moments in the series that suggest this pastiche as well as the splash panel at the end of issue 12, when Rick and his group discover the abandoned jail in which they will make their home through the bulk of the series. The jail is drawn so as to visually double a frontier fort (and, for that matter, a modern military base); these locations collapse into a single spatial imaginary, with only the polarity of “inside” and “outside” reversed.” (p.443)

“Whatever else might be said about The Walking Dead, or about zombie narrative in general, its uncritical relationship to a particular pre-feminist narrative about the need to “protect” women and children cannot be glossed over. “Proper” control over wombs, and anxiety that they will somehow be captured, polluted, or compromised, is a kind of Ur-myth for the apocalyptic genre in general and the zombie sub-genre in particular; speaking broadly, the function of women in most apocalyptic narratives is to code the ending as “happy” or “sad” based on their continued availability to bear the male protagonist’s children when the story is over. This theme is so common in the zombie subgenre as to constitute one of its most ubiquitous and most central ethical clichés: the question of whether or not one should decide to “bring a child into” a zombie-ridden world at all—and, as is common in many such apocalyptic stories (as in, for instance, Cormac McCarthy’s 2009 novel The Road), the death of Rick’s wife and daughter, the moment the circuit of reproductive futurity is cut, is the moment that basically all hope is lost in The Walking Dead.” (p.444)

Under the heading ‘Zombie Ethics’, Canavan explains: “So while in zombie narrative the “enemy” who is killed is always first the zombie—who is unthinking and unfeeling, and can be killed without regret—as the story proceeds the violence inevitably spreads to other, still-alive humans [-p.445] as well. Anyone outside the white patriarchal community, anyone who is not already one of “us,” is a potential threat to the future who must be interrogated intensely, if not kept out altogether. Even those inside the community have to be surveilled at all times for signs of treachery, weakness, or growing “infection.” This is the second way in which the zombie infects us, besides the obvious; they infect us with their vulnerability, their killability make us “killable” too. One’s position in the state of exception is, after all, never secure; the class of dangerous anti-citizens, bound for the camps, tends only to grow. In this way zombie narratives make the latent necropolitical dimensions bound up in both “survival” and modern citizenship explicit….” (pp.444-445)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Gerry Canavan (2010) ‘We Are the Walking Dead’: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative. extrapolation 51(3)Fall; pp.431-453

Haunted spaces and Gothic emotion

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Bruno Lessard explains:

“Gothic space differs from ancient Greek space, again according to Worringer, on the basis of the former’s wresting from space “a vitality of expression” (158) that facilitates the coming to life of the sensuous pathos of Gothic that is to be desired in the first place. As Worringer describes it, Gothic architectural space relies on a visual spectacle and embodied impact that force us to reconsider the legacy of Gothic through the ages in order to investigate the transformations it has incurred in other artistic phenomena and media environments. When Worringer mentions that, upon entering a Gothic cathedral, one “encounters an intoxication of the senses … a mystical intoxication of the senses which is not of this world” (159), we can rest assured that affect, sensation, and emotion have become as primordial in the construction of the cathedral as they are in art historical discourse. The sensuous and affective dimensions of Gothic can only take form in the context of a critical practice that will be attuned to these aesthetic and corporeal dimensions, which equally rely on their hypostasized presence in the work. The overwhelming nature and often violent enrapture of Gothic space, as “sensuous-super-sensuousness” (176) or “Sinnlich-Übersinnlich” and affect-value, would undergo a crucial transformation in what is known in literary studies as the “Gothic revival.” A primordial characteristic of Gothic, as noted by a number of scholars, is its reliance on visuality and spectacle. Insofar as this can be relayed through the written word, Gothic writers’ descriptions of emotional states often went beyond their medium of expression in a way that sought to question the boundaries of expressive forms: “Though [Gothic writers] always insist on the powers of feeling and imagination, they tend to concentrate on external details of emotional display while leaving readers to deduce for themselves complex inner psychological movements.” The rise of Gothic cannot be separated from a dual emphasis: the heightened display of emotion and the visual characterization of emotion to the detriment of inner motivation and psychology. The creation of Gothic emotion has to be linked to exterior stimulation, a point that has led to the critique of Gothic as a mode that relies too heavily on sensation, melodrama, and theatrical display. Therefore, the intermedial ambiguities at the heart of Gothic seem as disturbing as the plots of the novels themselves, and the fact that these novels provoke pictorial effects, or ekphrasis, appears equally problematic in terms of defining what Gothic affect is.” (p.218)

“…commentators on Gothic and horror film have noted a first difference [between literary and film Gothic] that would lie in the production of emotion and affect. On the one hand, literary Gothic would rely on an invisible presence that incites a plurality of interpretations; meaning thus becomes overdetermined in the field of suggestion. On the other hand, cinematic Gothic would tend to show the threatening agent, thereby reducing the number of possibilities. Therefore, the production of affect and emotion would always be accompanied by the production of subjectivities in a dichotomous scheme that leaves little room for the contradiction and hybridity that has always fueled Gothic.

“A film such as Wise’s The Haunting already problematizes the aforementioned distinction between literary and cinematic Gothic. The problem may arise when, as in Wise’s film, Gothic does away with the immediate visible presence of the threatening agent; the house replaces the monster. Instead of a physical presence haunting space, we have physical space h(a)unting the characters. Characters and spectators hear pounding and thumping noises and see doors bend. It is therefore appropriate to speak, as Misha Kavka does, of the cinematic Gothic’s use of the “plasticity of space” to convey emotion and affect, thereby disclosing “an underlying link between fear and the manipulation of space around a human body.”” (p.219)

Kavka argues that in Gothic “something … remains shadowed or off-screen,” while the horror film would present “something terrifying placed before our very eyes but from which we want to avert our gaze” (227). Kavka goes on to refine the dialectic between seeing and not seeing by adding that in the horror film there is something to see that we try not to see. In the case of Gothic, she maintains, the dialectic is different in the sense that it is “part of the structure of visualization itself” (227). Indeed, she suggests that it is not that we do not want to see, but that we cannot see: “Rather than the horror film’s challenge to the audience to open their eyes and see, the feared object of Gothic cinema is both held out and withheld through its codes of visual representation” (227).” (p.220) [NB Lessard goes on to complicate this distinction through consideration of Wise’s The Haunting]

“…perhaps it is Worringer who stated it best about haunting, life, and the use of CGI in contemporary Gothic films when he said that “[b]ehind the visible appearance of a thing lurks its caricature, behind the lifelessness of a thing an uncanny, ghostly life, and so all actual things become grotesque” (82).” (p.222)

Ref: Bruno Lessard Gothic Affects: Digitally Haunted Houses and the Production of Affect-Value, pp.213-224 in Esther Peeren, and María del Pilar Blanco (Eds.). Popular Ghosts : The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2010.

Reference is to: Misha Kavka ‘The Gothic on Screen’ in The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, ed. Jerrold E Hogle (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University press, 2002)

Wilhelm Worringer, Form in Gothic, trans. Herbert Read (New York: Schocken, 1957)

A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend – Mathias Clasen

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I am interested in how bioliterary criticism is applied, so this article caught my eye…. I am also interested in the narrative treatment of fear, so… Mathias Clasen writes:

“Richard Matheson seeded several weird fish in the deep and dark waters of the American myth pool, not least as a prominent screenwriter for the legendary 1960s TV series The Twilight Zone. I Am Legend, a post-apocalyptic science fiction/horror novel, published in
1954 and set in 1976, remains one of his best known works. It shows up persistently on “Best of Horror” lists and is generally regarded as a milestone in modern Gothic fiction. What is it about this novel that has invested it with canonical status? It tells a surpassingly bleak story, one that seems to encode very specific and largely outdated cultural anxieties. And as prophecy, it falls rather flat: Matheson depicts a vampire holocaust, and the seventies came and went with no noticeable increase in the population of vampires, except perhaps on television. So why should anyone want to read this novel?
The historian David J. Skal rightly observes that “very little about the underlying structure of horror images really changes” over time. I Am Legend is the product of a troubled man in troubled times, at once intensely personal and highly dependent on local, sociohistorical anxieties. Yet, the story retains its power to engage and to disturb in contexts far removed from that of its production. I think an evolutionary perspective offers the best explanation for the underlying continuity in horror fiction. It also offers the best way to get at the continued fascination Matheson’s novel exercises on readers. Using an analytic scheme put into play by Joseph Carroll, Brian Boyd, and other evolutionary critics, I get a fix on the novel by triangulating between universal human fears, local cultural conditions, and peculiarities of individual identity.” (p.313)

One striking and presumably unique aspect of human mental architecture is decoupled cognition, our capacity for mentally producing and hosting elaborate imagined worlds. Decoupled cognition gives rise to a [-p.315] range of imaginative behaviors, from pretend play in young children to futuristic science fiction stories. It is perhaps unsurprising that natural selection has favored an ability to construct imaginative scenarios, but an ability to go from imaginations of future food sources and hunting strategies to imaginations of life on Mars and zombie invasions is more striking.
However, not each and every single one of the literally endless imaginative scenarios that could be produced by the human mind would have the power to fascinate a substantial number of persons: the what if’s that interest people are severely limited, and so is the possibility space of viable speculative narratives. As Brett Cooke observes, since science fiction “so readily outruns human experience, it typically probes the limits of human interest.” In turn, human interest is circumscribed by our evolutionary heritage. I Am Legend offers a speculative account of what happens when basic human needs are suppressed. Matheson portrays the struggles of a man completely cut off from fellow human beings and trapped in a severely threatening environment. In this way, Matheson taps into an intuitive understanding of human nature—an evolved folk psychology—to make his tale believable and interesting.” (pp.314-315)

Apparently, Richard Matheson “has pointed out, “the leitmotif of all my work . . . is as follows: The individual isolated in a threatening world, attempting to survive”” (p.316) and it is from this perspective that Clasen approaches I Am Legend:

Fear is probably the key word in Matheson’s work, and the defining affective feature of horror fiction. It is a striking fact of human anxiety that the things we fear are non-randomly distributed: humans acquire fear not just of any old thing, but of things dangerous in our evolutionary past. That does not mean that we are born pre-programmed with a completely inflexible fear system. Like so many other human capacities (such as language), the innate fear system depends on interaction with the environment for its development and optimal functioning. This [-p.317] makes sense in an evolutionary perspective, since our environments have been changing rapidly and frequently during the last several tens of thousands of years, especially due to human migration. Thus, while certain dangers have remained constant in various environments, others have changed. The threat from snakes, spiders and other people—so often the objects of phobias—probably constituted a constant selective pressure, whereas a variety of large mammals have preyed on humans during our evolutionary history. Hence, fierce predators with sharp teeth and claws play a prominent role in modern horror fiction, even as they are now, in industrialized civilization, relegated to zoo cages and televised nature programming.

“The abstract fear of death can be fleshed out in locally specific, context-dependent ways. In one context it’s the fear of a large carnivore attacking at night; in another, the fear of bombings. The adaptive fear response is largely generalized, and the physiological fear response is triggered by a range of diverse threats, from thunderstorms to predators, from darkness to social separation.” (pp.316-317)

“…we should not lose sight of the vampire’s literal presence: the vampire is, first and foremost, a predator….” (p.318) “Predation is the central theme in horror fiction. Being threatened by powerful forces, whether ghosts, chainsaw-wielding maniacs, or vampires, is a powerful motif, probably because the selection pressure from predation has been a ubiquitous fact of human existence for millennia. However, I Am Legend is slightly atypical as a horror story in that the horror of the monster is pushed somewhat to the rear. The vampires prowl relentlessly in the periphery, craving Neville’s blood, but the reader is not treated to lengthy descriptions of the bloodsuckers.” (p.318)

“For members of a social species such as ours, the horror of isolation is very real and very rational. Solitary isolation in the criminal justice system is considered an especially severe form of punishment. […] Other people have for millions of years been a crucial component of our species’ ecological niche; we are highly adapted to social life and depend on culture for our mental development. Sociality is and has been crucial to human ontogenetic and phylogenetic development. We depend on other people not just for reproduction and survival, but for psychological and emotional growth and fulfillment. This is the common-sense observation that is conveyed by I Am Legend….” (p.320)

“It is reasonable to regard sub- or para-human horror monsters as meditations on the human: zombies and body-snatchers, for example, offer apt metaphors for the masses and mindless humanity, whereas the vampire—a vastly overdetermined figure—has somewhat different connotations. The horror critic Mark Jancovich identifies a group of 1950s horror texts, I Am Legend included, that are characterized by a “preoccupation with the figure of the outsider, and their experience of alienation, estrangement and powerlessness.” As he notes, the concept of conformity in 1950s USA was not just highly prevalent in social discourse, but highly ambivalent. The paradoxical motif of being alone among others is one that finds currency in a paranoid Cold War cultural climate.” (p.321)

(While he is perhaps oversimplifying the traditional role and reception of folklore,) Clasen also comments on the figure of the vampire: “As the historian Paul Barber has convincingly argued, the modern vampire has its origin as a pre-scientific explanation for infectious disease. Before the germ theory of disease, a vampire was as good an explanation for the outbreak of lethal disease (such as tuberculosis) as any….” (p.323)

The contagious aspect of vampirism remains an essential characteristic of the archetype.” (p.323)

In fact, one of the most disturbing and dramatically effective qualities of several traditional horror monsters—vampires, werewolves, and zombies—is their contagiousness. Characters battle not just ferocious beasts, but monstrous germs, as well.” (p.324)

The vampire has adapted cunningly and with panache to ever-changing cultural ecologies over the centuries, yet never losing its essential predatory nature and its defining violation of biology, its undeadness.” (p.324)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Mathias Clasen (2010) Vampire Apocalypse: A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.  Philosophy and Literature 34(2)October, pp. 313-328

Challenging normative masculinity and femininity in children’s horror – Heinecken

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According to Dawn Heinecken:

Horror fiction for children, including stories of the gothic, the uncanny, the supernatural, and the occult, is a dominant genre within present-day children’s literature. To date, the developing scholarship around this phenomenon has focused on the works of contemporary writers (Brennan et al., 2001; Jackson et al., 2008; Gooding, 2009). Absent from existing scholarly discussion is a consideration of [-p.119] earlier novels by writers whose works of horror fiction clearly precipitated this trend. [/] Most notable among these early practitioners is John Bellairs.” (pp.118-119)

“Featuring disturbing and uncanny imagery and plots revolving around ghosts, witches, possession, and the resurrection of the dead, his novels emerged as a significant contrast to the serene tone of children’s literature in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century (MacCleod, 1985). Popularly as well as critically acclaimed, fan websites such as Compleat Bellairs and Bellairsia.com attest to his continued significance as a major writer of children’s horror (Stasio, 1991; Sutherland, 1980).
Yet despite Bellairs’ importance in the development of children’s horror fiction, there has been no serious examination of his work to date. While popular accounts of Bellairs’ success often point to the ways that the chills of his novels are mediated by humorous elements and a reassuring message of adult love and protection (Stasio, 1991), such framings overlook the ways that his books may nonetheless be experienced by readers as terrifying, if only temporarily. Indeed, more significant than the reassuring resolution of his novels is their particular construction of the monstrous and the horrifying.

As critics of adult film and literature have noted, horror is a constantly evolving genre, whose shifting forms and content express the uncertainties haunting a society at any given time; it has been particularly expressive of fears related to gender and sexuality (Magistrale and Morris, 1996, p. 4; Williams, 1995, p. 7). Horror may function in a ‘‘reactionary’’ manner, punishing transgressions of conventional gender roles and reinforcing stereotypes, or it may function to subvert existing structures of power located around race, class, gender, and sexuality (Badley, 1995, p. 102). This essay provides a close reading of Bellairs’ foundational trilogy, The House with a Clock in Its Walls (1973), The Figure in the Shadows (1975), and The Letter, the Witch and the Ring (1976), to argue that, like works of adult horror, the trilogy is usefully understood as an exploration of the period’s fears and
anxieties related to gender and sexuality.
Published in the early and mid-seventies, Bellair’s trilogy may be situated against the mainstreaming of horror for adult audiences during the Post-Vietnam period (Schweitzer, 1999, p. 1; Carroll, 1990, p. 2; Colovita, 2008, p. 7), a mainstreaming which has been tied to the upheaval of traditional gender and sexual relations brought about by the feminist, anti-war, civil rights and gay rights movements (Clemens, 1999, p. 185; Magistrale and Morris, 1996, p. 2). These movements radically transformed discourses surrounding masculinity, destabilizing Cold War notions of a (white) masculinity built around an ideology of toughness and the image of the breadwinner and suggested the need for ‘‘a range of alternative masculinities’’ to replace this ideal (Winter, 2003, p. 118).” (p.119)

Clover […] observes that the reframing of masculinity in horror films is often dependent upon particular constructions of femininity and the female body that displace women to even more marginal realms of feminine excess (p. 105).
The three occult novels forming the original trilogy of Bellair’s series reveal a similar pattern of masculine revision and feminine displacement at work in children’s literature. Echoing changing discourses about masculinity at work in the larger culture of the late sixties and seventies, the trilogy rejects hegemonic notions of masculinity and proposes a new form of manhood for young readers built around a reevaluation of the relationship between masculinity and femininity. However, the series continues to reinscribe heterosexist norms at the same time femininity remains tied to loss, lack and unspeakable desires.” (p.120)

“As Barbara Creed notes, horror is often dominated by images of the ‘‘monstrous feminine,’’ those qualities of Woman that are ‘‘shocking, terrifying, horrifying and abject’’ (p. 67).” (p.121)

“Often citing the biographical features of his novels, John Bellairs worked to challenge existing gender norms through the construction of shy, clumsy loners as his protagonists. Like other forms of children’s literature emerging in the seventies, his works of children’s horror are particularly reflective of the period’s changing discourses around masculinity (Herzog, 2009, p. 72). However successful his novels are in deconstructing hegemonic masculinity, they are less so in challenging dominant notions of femininity and sexuality. Despite the apparent gender nonconformism of his characters, women and the feminine are closely related to the monstrous in Bellairs’ trilogy, and ultimately female identity remains linked to loss and uncertainty.
After the completion of the original trilogy in 1976, Bellairs worked primarily on two other horror series featuring the adventures of Anthony Monday and Johnny Dixon. He died in 1991 before the completion of a proposed fourth novel in the series, The Ghost in the Mirror, which was substantially fleshed out and published posthumously by Brad Strickland in 1993. Using the drafts and notes left by Bellairs, Strickland authored three subsequent novels in the Lewis Barnevelt series.” (p.129)

“While children’s horror of the seventies suggested the need for a refreshed, renewed masculinity, it was left up to later works of horror to formulate power as a necessary ingredient of femininity.” (p.130)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Dawn Heinecken (2011) Haunting Masculinity and Frightening Femininity: The Novels of John Bellairs. Children’s Literature in Education (42):118–131

Abstract: “While developing scholarship around children’s horror fiction has focused on the works of contemporary writers, this essay provides a close reading of the novels of John Bellairs, a leading and early practitioner of the genre. It argues that the first three novels in his Lewis Barnevelt series may be understood as addressing some of the same anxieties related to gender and sexuality as those found in adult works of horror. Echoing changing discourses about masculinity at work in the late sixties and seventies, Bellair’s novels propose a new form of manhood for young readers at the same time they continue to tie femininity to loss, lack and unspeakable desires.” (p.118)

The Myth of Evil

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Just came across a book that looks interesting: The Myth of Evil, by Philip Cole…. Reviewing The Myth of Evil, Niall Scott writes:

The Myth of Evil does not just concern the words in the title, but is a sophisticated treatment of evil in general, focussing strongly upon both the coherence of the concept and the attribution of the description ‘evil’ to phenomena and human behaviour. Cole’s aim throughout the book is to show that evil is a myth, that as a concept it is neither philosophical nor psychological, nor religious, which is quite a challenge. Although he argues that we would be better off without the concept of evil altogether, flying his flag in this way from the outset does not diminish how serious he takes the discourse of evil to be. This is evident in his willingness to recognise how the term and associated adjectives are used. In his introductory chapters, he provides a truly illuminating history of the devil, and challenges what is meant in descriptions of human behaviours as diabolical or demonic.
Although predominantly a politico/philosophical enquiry, the book offers much more than this. It is an argument drawing upon literature, history, and popular visual culture, and as a result it speaks to a range of disciplines. Cole addresses contemporary questions that have arisen around the multi-faceted concept of evil, such as fear and horror. This is also a political work that does not just provide a treatment of evil as a myth. It engages directly and importantly with the now frequently encountered political discourses regarding the holocaust, terrorism, Iraq, and the Bush and Blair administrations’ participation in disseminating discourses of fear and (in)security. These use the terminology of evil, the demonic, and the monstrous in contemporary conflicts, and the frequent occurrence of ‘evil’ functions as an explanatory device in the justification of appalling human behaviour. Cole provides four possible ways of conceptualising theories of evil. They are: (1) a monstrous conception, (2) a pure conception, (3) an impure conception, and (4) a psychological conception.” (Scott, p.97)

Apparently, Cole’s “concluding chapter presents a challenge to the reader where it addresses the contemporary state of world politics in the context of discourses of evil, with a detailed analysis of terror, terrorism, and violence. Cole spends time laying out the Iraqi problem, drawing parallels between the language of terror and fear and the phenomenon of witch trials and the eastern European vampire myths dealt with earlier in the book. Cole’s strategy is again seductive. At times, he tempts the reader into agreeing with the description of, for example, the western regimes and the terrorist as monstrous and demonic. However, it is clear that if one has paid any attention to his preceding argument, such very understandable, but simplistic assessments of terrible and horrific human actions require a more responsible treatment. So he refers to the sheer monstrous arbitrariness of terrorist victims in recent terrorist activities, and rhetorically asks that ‘Surely this arbitrariness fits the model of Monstrous evil?’ (234). But it is this very description that he challenges. We can move beyond evil in our understanding of such events and come to a position that even the arbitrariness is not without significance, and this reminds us that literary monsters have a history of grievance and need not be characterised in terms of a model of monstrous evil.” (p.100)

Ref: Niall Scott (2009) Has Evil Run its Course? Phillip Cole, The Myth of Evil, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006, 256 pp. [Review] Res Publica (2009) 15:97–101 DOI 10.1007/s11158-008-9062-2

the “seek-it-out-and-destroy-it” pattern

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Hmmm:

Kratter writes : “In his well-known sociological study Image and Influence, Andrew Tudor writes that it is possible [‘]to distinguish a single basic horror narrative to which all conform, something we might label the “seek-it-out-and-destroy-it” pattern. . . The whole genre revolves around the creation or discovery of an it, its recognition, seeking, and destruction.[‘] (209)” (Kratter, p.41)

Ref: Matthew Kratter ‘Twilight of the Vampires: History and the Myth of the Undead’ Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture, Volume 5, Spring 1998, pp. 30-45

Reference is to:  Tudor, Andrew. 1974. Image and Influence: Studies in the Sociology of Film. London: George Allen and Unwin.