WHAT DO WE seek from the horror genre? In his essay on philosophical pessimism, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (2010), Thomas Ligotti deploys Peter Wessel Zapffe’s concept of “sublimation” to explain the artistic creation of horror. Ligotti reminds us that some people are brooding, and their thoughts have cursed them. Like occultists who have read forbidden grimoires, they have come into tragic awareness of their ephemerality, their lack of agency, and the meaninglessness of the cosmos. Moreover, some of these dispirited people — artists like Ligotti, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allan Poe — respond to these horrible insights curiously: with an artistic display. As Ligotti writes, “That we might annul a paralyzing stage fright at what may happen to even the soundest bodies and minds, we sublimate our fears by making an open display of them.” For Ligotti, understanding the true horror of our situation demands a defensive response; one response is sublimation in the form of making horror art. This view of horror art as a defensive maneuver to fortify oneself against horrible ruminations via artistic sublimation is curiously contradicted by Brandon R. Grafius in Lurking Under the Surface: Horror, Religion, and the Questions That Haunt Us (2022). For Grafius, horror art’s value is not in its capacity to strategically obscure and so defend against the real; instead, horror art is valuable because, like a pharmacokinetic drug carrier, it injects the real into the unsuspecting mind. Commenting on the horror films that left an […]
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