Sunday, March 18, 2012

Horror and Post-Modernism

So these last two posts (today and possibly tomorrow) are going to be my final thoughts on Noel Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror, because this is dragging out a little longer than I'd initially thought it would.  So, here we go:

 Horror and Post-Modernism 

postmodernism - a way of approaching traditional ideas and practices in non-traditional ways that deviate from pre-established superstructural modes. (Wikipedia) 

So, because I've got this idea I want to write for my paper about horror today and what that says about our current culture, when I saw this snippet at the very end of Carroll's work, I perked up:

"...I would like to suggest is that the contemporary horror genre is the exoteric expression of the same feelings that are expressed in the esoteric discussions of the intelligentsia with respect to postmodernism."

Some definitions:

exoteric: refers to knowledge that is outside of and independent from anyone's experience and can be ascertained by anyone; cf. common sense

esoteric: ideas preserved or understood by a small group or those specially initiated, or of rare or unusual interest

intelligentsia: a social class of people engaged in complex, mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals and social groups close to them.

In basic terms, according to Carroll, postmodernism states that our beliefs of the world, and our way of looking at and understanding the world are arbitrary.  They can be deconstructed, pulled apart, and don't actually refer to the real world.  Carroll makes the point that he himself is not convinced of post-modernism's claims, but also says its effect on our culture - and horror - can't be denied.

Here's where he struck me.  Because I don't consider myself a postmodernist.  And I don't know enough about postmodern art to know if Carroll's next point is valid, but this Wiki definition of it seems to correspond:

post-modern art: the recycling of past styles and themes in a modern-day context

as Carroll says this:

"...whether for purposes of political criticism or for nostalgia, postmodern art lives off its inheritance....it proceeds by recombining acknowledged elements of the past in a way that suggests that the root of creativity is to be found in looking backward (emphasis mine)" pg. 211

And then, the coup de grace, connecting this to horror:

"...the contemporary horror genre....differs from previous cycles (of horror) in certain respects that also bear comparison with the themes of postmodernism.  First, works of contemporary horror often refer to the history of the genre quite explicitly.   King's IT reanimates a gallery of classic monsters; the movie Creepshow by King and Romero is a homage to EC horror comics of the fifties; horror movies nowadays frequently make allusions to other horror films while Fright Night (the original, thanks) includes a fictional horror show host as a character; horror writers freely refer to other writers and to other examples of the genre; they especially make reference to classic horror movies and characters." (pg. 211)

and this...

"...the creators and the consumers of horror fictions are aware they are operating within  a shared tradition, and this is acknowledged openly, with great frequency and gusto (emphasis mine) pg. 211

Okay.

Now, I'm going to admit, this totally throws me.  Not the bit on horror writers referencing its history, knowing we're part of a shared tradition.  I blogged last year about the THUNDERING revelation of how WEAK my knowledge of genre history was, when I blogged about the evening I spent with Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and Stuart David Schiff. That started me on a mission to educate myself, and I've spent most the last year reading horror from the 70's, 80's and 90's. 

Also, there's Brian Keene's Keynote Address from AnthoCon 2011, "Roots", about how important it is for young readers and writers of horror to be well-versed in the history of the genre. That alone reaffirmed my mission to educate myself in the history of the genre.

But....post-modernist?

I'm a post-modern....artist?

It's a strange label to assume.  Now, granted....it seems one can labor in their chosen art from a post-modern perspective, without viewing the world as a post-modernist.  I suppose.  I hope, because that seems to be where I'm at.  Because of my faith and the way I've been raised, I don't really view the world as a post-modernist - I've got pretty traditional views about things (but they're for me and my family), and I think they're important enough not to deviate from, to pass on.

But as a horror-writer...I guess I'd say I am post-modern, because the definition for post-modern art is a little different than the definition of a post-modern world perspective. As I've just become aware in the last year or so, as a horror writer, I'm part of a shared tradition; a tradition I need to be intimately knowledgeable of if I ever hope to take old and time-honored stories and tropes and twist them, mold them and shape them into my own creations for new readers who - also intimately aware of the horror tradition - will find resonance in them because of those classic threads, but who will also want to read them (and, of course, publish them) because I've made those stories and tropes mine, and therefore new and fresh.

Huh.

I guess that just adds another layer of complexity upon the walking contradiction that I already am.  As a father, husband, teacher - I'm not post-modernist at all.  Pretty traditional, if conservative in how I talk about and share my beliefs (ergo, I don't shove them on anyone else).  However, as a horror writer, not only do I NEED to be post-modern in hopes of gathering an audience and getting published, I sorta....STRIVE to be...because I don't want to re-write the same old thing.  I want to use those same, classic themes and tropes...but make them mine.

Wow.  Guess we never stop learning about ourselves, as we continue to perfect our craft....