The world didn’t end, so I will wish you a Merry Christmas!
I hope everyone is with the people they love and that the day is filled with peace and joy. For those that do not celebrate Christmas, peace and joy to you as well.
The world didn’t end, so I will wish you a Merry Christmas!
I hope everyone is with the people they love and that the day is filled with peace and joy. For those that do not celebrate Christmas, peace and joy to you as well.
I’ve read Newsweek for decades. As I recall, my mother subscribed to it and I also read it at school. I eventually subscribed to it myself and found it to be of reasonably good quality with some top notch contributors. Like much of the printed media, Newsweek began to fell victim to the rise of the internet and, although the magazine created a web page, it seemed to have difficulty keeping up with the times. Some of its top people moved on to other venues and the magazine struggled to remain relevant and profitable.
Since I have been involved in a home improvement marathon, I just got around to looking at the latest issue of the magazine. For some strange reason, they decided to add a computer-aged image of Princess Di to a photograph featuring Kate Middleton and used this as the cover. The feature story, by editor Tina Brown, is a counter-factual piece that speculates what Princess Di would be like now, if she had not died.
While such alternative timelines can be interesting as science fiction or as academic exercises in what might have been, they generally seem to be out of place in the context of the news. After all, fiction and speculation deal with what might have been. The news is supposed to deal with what is (or was).
True, there can be some merit in including some speculation about what might have been if certain things had been different. However, for the news this should remain a small part of the whole (specifically in the editorial realm), rather than a major focus of the story. Otherwise, it will cross over from being news to being science fiction. The fact that Newsweek is engaging in this sort of thing is a clear indicator of what the magazine has become.
This sort of speculative story could, perhaps be forgiven as a lame attempt to cash in on what would have been Lady Di’s upcoming birthday. However, creating a doctored image for the story certainly crosses an important line.
As noted above, a publication that purports to be a news publication needs to remain within the realm of news. This is supposed to be the realm of facts. As such, images used by a news source should be real images, not modified. While Newsweek did not stoop quite to the level of a tabloid (the level at which one might claim that Princess Di is still alive and offer up a doctored photo as evidence), this is certainly a step down from legitimate news.
This need not be a fatal blow to Newsweek, but recovering from this sort of thing will be difficult. Of course, this assumes that they want to remain a news magazine rather than descending into the realm of tabloids. That still seems to be a profitable realm, so perhaps it is worth going there.
Put roughly, Aristotle’s account of tragedy sets forth three main requirements for tragedy. The first is that the work is supposed to produce the emotions of pity and fear in the audience. Second, the main character must be not exceptionally good but is also not morally bad. The third involves the means by which these emotions are to be produced. Put simply, a person must pass from happiness to misery through an error in judgment. A work that meets these conditions can be considered a tragedy and one that excels at meeting them would be a good tragedy[i]. While this is an oversimplified account of tragedy, it does provide the model to be used in the discussion of horror.
As has been noted, the end of tragedy is the production of particular emotions. This is true of horror as well. As Lovecraft says, “…we must judge a weird tale not by the author’s intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point.”[ii]
While tragedies are calculated to produce pity and fear, works of horror are aimed to produce horror in the audience. While the feeling of horror might be regarded merely as a stronger form of fear, strong fear is more correctly known as terror.
The feeling of horror involves more than merely being terrified. It also involves more than being terrified by startling or gruesome things, such as those in Psycho or Seven. While such works are superficially similar to horror, they are, in Lovecraft’s view, works “of mere physical fear and the mundanely gruesome.”
What then is the true definition of horror? Lovecraft asserts that horror is “a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.” [iii] This definition seems reasonable for it captures an intuitive view of horror-that it is an emotion beyond merely mundane fear. This feeling, then, is the true feeling of horror and is the feeling that the creator of true horror must aim for if she hopes to succeed.
Of course, it cannot be expected that a work must always produce a feeling of horror in everyone at all times in order for the work to fall within the genre of horror. This condition would be all but impossible to meet[iv]. Rather, one must say that a work would need to tend to produce such an effect in the audience.
But, it must be noted that the production of horror is not in itself a sufficient condition for the classification of a work as a work of horror. That this is the case can be shown in an analogy. Works of terror, such as Psycho, aim at creating strong fear in the audience. It is easy to imagine, for example, some people who are so absolutely terrified of deer that even seeing cartoon deer causes them to experience terror. Despite this, one would not classify Bambi as a work of terror. Similarly, simply because a work produces horror in an audience does not entail that it must be a work of horror. For it to be a work of horror, the horror must be produced in the right way. Before proceeding to the topic of the proper cause of horror, the nature of the characters in horror will be considered.
Aristotle notes that the main character in a tragedy cannot be exceptionally good. Seeing such a person meet a tragic fate would be odious and offensive-the audience would more likely feel anger and outrage rather than pity and fear. However, the main character must not be a bad person. Seeing a bad person meet a bad fate is more likely to satisfy the audiences’ craving for justice than to create pity and fear. Ideally, the main character falls into a moral middle ground. Since most people fall into that category as well, their identification with the character is strengthened and hence so is the potential emotional impact of the work.
Thus, the nature of the main character can have a significant impact on the emotions produced by a work of tragedy. It is contended that the same holds true for works of horror. What remains to be determined is the ideal sort of character for horror.
It might be thought that the ideal character for horror is one who is exceptionally good. After all, seeing an exceptionally good character plunged into horror should make the audience’s feeling of horror that much greater. However, as in tragedy, choosing such a character is likely to backfire-the audience is likely to become offended when such a character experiences such horrible things. Further, since most people are not exceptionally good, the typical audience member would not identify closely with the character and this would tend to reduce the emotional impact of the work. Thus, the main character in a work of horror should not be exceptional good.
The matter of morally bad or defective characters is more controversial. In fact, it is something of a tradition for works of horror to focus on horrible things happening to bad people (often in retribution for their evil actions). For example, Tales from the Crypt, Outer Limits, and The Twilight Zone often featured episodes that fit this pattern. While the audience might feel some sympathy towards the bad character and feel some horror at her fate, the badness of the main character would reduce the horror of the work. First, any feelings of horror would be tempered by the knowledge that the bad character at least partially deserved his fate. This would, as with a tragedy, reduce the emotional impact of the work-at least the emotion of horror. Such a work would be more of a morality play (or a tale of vengeance) as opposed to a work of horror. Second, since most people are not bad, the audience would most likely fail to identify closely with the character. This would likely result in some emotional distancing and hence the effect of the work would be lessened.
The ideal character for horror would seem to be the same as the ideal character for tragedy-someone who is neither exceptionally good nor bad. First, It is more likely that the audience will be able to identify with such a character. This increases the likelihood of sympathetic involvement and such involvement can enhance the emotional impact of a work. Second, while the character’s involvement in the horrible events would be seen as at least partially undeserved, he would also be regarded as having some relevant flaws that contributed to his fate. This combination would enhance the emotion of horror. An excellent example of such a character is Charles Dexter Ward in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward[v]. Like many of Lovecraft’s characters, Ward is driven by his curiosity to dabble in forces best left alone and this choice leads to his destruction at the hands of a resurrected ancestor. The audience can rightly regard Charles as bringing on his horrible fate, yet also correctly see the fate as far more than he deserved.
Now that the nature of the horrific character has been discussed, the final matter to be addressed is the proper cause of the emotion of horror.
According to Aristotle, the tragic effect is brought about when the main character is brought from happiness to misery by an error in judgment. Because the character is not brought to her fate by depravity or moral badness, the audience can feel pity for the character and fear that they might meet a similar fate. Thus, the production of pity and fear by the appropriate means is the hallmark of tragedy.
In the case of a work of horror the goal is to produce the emotion of horror. As argued above, this must be done by the proper means. Not surprisingly, the main character must experience horrible events calculated to produce the effect of horror. As with a tragedy, the victim of horror typically undergoes a transition. In horror, this transition would take the form of a change from a state of normalcy to a state of horror. As argued above, this fate should not result from evil or depravity but from a flaw or flaws in a generally laudable character.
Such a transition also takes place in works of fear and terror: the main character is taken from the realm of the normal and brought into the realm of fear or terror. For example, the aptly titled Cape Fear and many Hitchcock films fit this mold. The events and things that produce fear are generally well known. For example, “secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule”[vi] are all things that can create fear and perhaps even terror. However, it is contended that such things are not the stuff of horror. What then, is the proper genesis of horror?
According to Lovecraft, there are two key aspects to horror. First, “ A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present.”[vii]
Because people seem to naturally fear the unknown, unknown forces are quite effective in the generation of fear and terror. For example, an unknown party committing gruesome murders is a stock element in much film and literature. However, such works do not go beyond fear and terror. To get beyond mere fear and terror, something extra is needed. If the forces involved are both unknown and outer in nature, then this something extra can be present and the impact can go beyond fear and into horror.
Further, it is common for works of fear and terror to reach a resolution in which the nature of the forces is exposed. For example, the identity of the secret killer is revealed. If a work includes an explanation of events and the unknown is made known, then what might be called a “Scooby Do effect” occurs-the masks are removed and it is seen that nothing is as terrible or horrible as one might imagine. Put more precisely, almost no matter how terrible something is, once it is known it is somehow lessened and limited-at the very least one no longer worries that it might be something worse. The horrific effect is thus best served by leaving the unknown intact at the end of the work.
An excellent example of a work that meets this condition is The Haunting. The nature of the force (if there is in fact a force) is unknown-the mind is left in ignorance to speculate on the horror. Because one does not know what the force is, it could be anything…anything at all. As such, the film is a very effective work of horror. Psycho is scary and is extremely effective at creating fear. But it is not a work of horror. Too much is revealed and the killer, despite his madness, is still just a man. And men, even madmen, are known to us.
Second, “there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain –a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”[viii] Just as people feel fear at which they do not understand, they also feel fear when they are vulnerable to a threat. The greater the threat and the greater the vulnerability, the greater the fear. If the vulnerability extends to the very foundations of the universe and the threat is extreme, the effect can go well beyond fear and into horror.
A person with a gun might cause fear, so too might a shark. We fear them because they are sources of danger to us. They are, of course, natural things. We are vulnerable to such things, but they too are vulnerable in mundane ways. Hence, we fear them but are not horrified by them. Creatures like wraiths, vampires, Shoggoths, demons, the thing and the alien are beyond the natural laws we accept. So are people with unnatural powers, like the girl named Carrie. They are not like us and seem to be exempt from the rules that govern us. As such, they can go beyond inspiring mere fear and terror. They can inspire horror.
As the examples show, the suspension of natural laws need not be supernatural in nature. While horror is traditionally regarded as involving the supernatural, works like At the Mountain of Madness, “Who Goes there?” and Alien show that horror need not be confined to the supernatural realm. This is hardly surprising-as technology and science grow into areas once dominated by religion, our demons will increasingly come from the icy void of space rather than the fires of hell.
[ii] Lovecraft, H.P. . “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”H.P. Lovecraft’s Book of Horror Ed. Stephen Jones and Dave Carson. New York:Barnes & Noble Books,1993. 1-65.t, p.4.
[iii] Lovecraft p.3.
[iv] Under this requirement the only works of horror would be perfect works of horror-those that produce the emotion without fail. Only IRS forms are likely to meet such a requirement.
[v] Played by Vincent Price in the improperly titled The Haunted Palace.
[vi] Lovecraft, p.4.
[vii] Lovecraft, p.4.
[viii] Lovecraft, P.4.
When it comes to hunger, people often desire particular types of food. For example, suppose a person finds she has a craving for something sweet. Conveniently, the aisles of her local grocery store are organized so that she can find her sweets. It is, of course, easy to imagine her disappointment if she buys a box promising a “crispy chocolate taste sensation” and instead gets a “mushy broccoli taste sensation”. When it comes to aesthetic appetite, people often desire a particular type of aesthetic experience. For example, imagine someone gets a craving for horror. Conveniently, the aisles of her local book store and video shop are organized so she can find works of horror. It is, of course, easy to imagine her disappointment if she buys a book whose jacket speaks of “ mind-blasting cosmic horror” but actually delivers an insipid romance set in Dayton, Ohio.
The point of this is to illustrate and argue that genre distinctions matter because they make it significantly easier for people to satisfy their aesthetic desires.
Last, but perhaps most importantly, genre classifications are needed so that it is possible to assess and criticize works fairly. While a developed argument for this is beyond the scope of this work, it seems reasonable to hold that art, like competitive sports, is a purposeful activity. It also seems reasonable that works of art, like athletic performances, can be assessed on how well they fulfill their intended purpose. Naturally, a fair assessment of a performance requires knowing the nature of the intended purpose. For example, during one track and field competition a paper plate blew into the area where the javelin throw was taking place. The plate landed in such a way as to appear to be a target and this confused a bystander. After one extremely long throw, the bystander commented that the throw was terrible, since the javelin landed no where near the plate. Of course, he had gotten it all wrong. Once it was explained that the javelin was thrown for distance, not accuracy, he realized why what he had thought was a terrible throw had been an excellent through after all. The same is true of the arts. For example, it would be an obvious mistake to claim that The Haunting [i]is a poor film because it does not cause the reader to laugh. This is because The Haunting is not intended to be a comedy. Hence, its failure to be a comedy is not a mark against it.
Thus, genre classifications are important because without them it would be difficult, if not impossible, to fairly and justly criticize and assess works, including cases in which the creator of a work is assessing his work in progress.
It has been said that “there is nothing new under the sun” and that “good poets borrow, great poets steal.”As such, it makes perfect sense that David Shields would “write” Reality Hunger. This book was created by taking what others (ranging from Elvis to Yeats) wrote or said and combining it into a single work. While he did not want the work to properly cite the original sources, the publisher’s lawyers decided otherwise (for obvious reasons).
Since I am a professor, I tend to see this sort of thing as plagiarism rather than a creative work (although I have seen some creative attempts at plagiarism). However, some folks do not see it this way.
One recent example is provided by Helene Hegemann. Her book, Axolotl Roadkill, allegedly contains plagiarized text. In her defense, she asserted that “there’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” This remark nicely mixes “there is nothing new under the sun” with Tolstoy’s view that sincerity is of critical importance in art. However, Tolstoy did have the view that originality was important, as did many other great writers including Edgar Allan Poe.
While Hegemann’s remark can be dismissed as an artist’s hyperbole (or an attempt to justify plagiarism) she does raise an interesting point about art.
On one hand, it can be argued that there is no originality. After all, artists recycle old ideas that themselves are ultimately just imitations of life. True, it might be said, artists can put together old content in new ways (such as Avatar) and achieve great success. But, this sort of originality cannot be considered true (or authentic originality).
In regards to authenticity, perhaps that is what matters-to speak in a genuine voice and, presumably, with the sincerity that Tolstoy praised.
On the other hand, originality does seem to be possible in various degrees. After all, it is easy enough to distinguish between outright copying and works that provide some new element. Having graded papers for years, I have a rather clear insight into that sort of distinction. Also, if there is no originality, there would seem to be little reason to buy or experience “new” works, because there would be no such things. We would be wiser to save our money and avail ourselves of the art already in the public domain.
As far as authenticity goes, that presumably means that the work presents what the artist really thinks or feels. Presumably people can feel and think the same things, so the work of another could, for example, be an authentic expression of what Hegemann thought or felt. However, this hardly seems to be the grounds for claiming authorship. After all, suppose a student of mine turned in a paper she copied from the internet claiming that it authentically expressed her views on Descartes’ skeptical arguments in the First Meditation. Even if this claim were true, she would hardly be entitled to claim the work on her own. After all, if I see someone doing a job and say “gosh, I would work just like that” I am hardly entitled to a cut of his paycheck.
Interestingly enough, I have had students try that approach-they have said that the text they copied expressed their view and hence they regarded it as acceptable to copy it without citing the source. Obviously, I did not buy that reasoning. After all, if I caught a student copying off another student’s test, I would not accept “well, those are the answers I would have put anyway” as a legitimate excuse. The same would seem to apply in art as well.
Here it is, the day before the arrival of 2010. I have been watching DVDs of Space 1999, recently saw 2001 and have been thinking about watching 2010 again. Interestingly enough, all those shows and movies seem to have been way off in so many ways. No Moonbase and no Hal 9000 (but we do have Droid). That is one problem that science fiction faces when tomorrow becomes yesterday.
But, the world is supposed to end in 2012, so perhaps we will only have a short while to gripe about the lack of a moonbase and intelligent, homicidal PCs (though no doubt Google is working on both of these…so keep your eye on the Droids). Of course, the 2012 prediction is based on the Mayan calender taking 2012 to be the end of a cycle. Thinking this is the end of the world is a bit like thinking that the world will end on December 31, 2009 because that is when this year’s calender ends.
In any case, have a Happy New Year.