The Darkening Garden: A Short Lexicon of Horror
By John Clute
From the collection Stay (2014)
By John Clute
From the collection Stay (2014)
....the funeral last words Cyril Connolly wrote in the last issue of his journal Horizon in 1949, that "It is closing time in the gardens of the West and from now on an artist will be judged only by the resonance of his solitude or the quality of his despair." It refers to the increasing pathos of the various secret gardens in the literature of the twentieth century: gates and passageways are no longer portals to paradise....
....the disappointment-management culture
of the West as it declines: to the illusion that it's OK to continue to consume what consumes us, that the Garden will continue to feed our utterly sad maws. It also refers to the world itself darkening beyond consumption: because describing the fate of the Garden of the world is the underlying burden - as far as this lexicon is concerned - of Horror.
....Since the 1820s, terror has been defined as an apprehension that something not yet experienced, but deeply to be feared - something horrific, or inhumanly sublime, or vast beyond our frail human capacity to survive the experience of its arrival, or a temblor announcing some deep shift in the grammar of the world - is nigh. Horror, on the other hand, is usually described as exactly not a matter of anticipation; horror is the experience of the atrocity of the thing itself, which can be seen whole. Terror may lie too deep for tears, though FUSTIAN may veil our reluctance to admit that
the unsayable is precisely unsayable; horror, which is compounded out of the visceral responses of the appalled protagonist, can be put in words: what you see is what is said. Distinctions of this sort between the two terms have been very erratically applied since Ann Radcliffe first separated them in "On the Supernatural in Poetry" (1826 New Monthly Magazine ); but Radcliffe was as inconsistent in applying her arguments to her own work as any of her fellow Gothic writers, and an ongoing fuzziness over how terror and horror differ may be diagnostic of a general uneasiness about the nature of H ORROR (the shorthand use of this one term is very generally accepted) as a genre. But the distinction between the two terms remains suggestive. Horror as Radcliffe defines it is Affect Horror in modern parlance. Terror can still usefully refer to tectonic shifts in the nature of the world too fundamental for our senses to apprehend directly; and, so defined, clearly furthers the declared purpose of this lexicon: which is to understand Horror as a pattern of stories bound to the wheel of fire of the world entire. Something similar to this breakdown is of course adduced by H P Lovecraft in Supernatural Horror in Literature ( 1945 ) when he distinguishes between "the literature of cosmic fear" and "the weird tale", but his readers have tended to understand these promising divisions as varying descriptions of affect. Terror as understood above has not been a major focus of critical attention for some time.
....In 1982, introducing his anthology Prime Evil ( 1982 ), Douglas E Winter, in a passage which has also become famous, effectively translates King's lengthy and personalized explanatory narrative into a generalization: "Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto … Horror is an emotion." Winter later amplified his argument, suggesting that this emotion of horror was experienced by protagonists, and hence readers, through a powerful need "to confront the unknown": the protagonist of a horror story was himself or herself, therefore, the motor at the heart of the story, whose thrust into the unknown recruited the identification of readers eager for affect. That this can lead to an unhinging of story, and to the kind of escalation of effects almost fatally experienced by the field in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is obvious enough.
....it could be argued that the greatest challenge non-supernatural Affect Horror novels in particular must surmount is the risk of becoming stymied in THICKENING , with no storyable exit into REVEL....
....At the very heart of the moment of Aftermath lies an awareness that the story is done. This moment - which prefigures a world incapable of change, a world no longer storyable - terminates the four-seasons model of the narrative structure for Horror laid down in this lexicon, the other stages being SIGHTING , THICKENING and REVEL.
....the passage out of Revel - out of the moment of transvaluation of all values into a fixated awareness that the world so exposed is in fact the real world - may be so swift, and the ending of the tale may come so soon, that the desiccating torpor of Aftermath may be no more than glimpsed, a surreal echo of the flash of Sighting which has earlier announced that the end is nigh.
....Horror is best understood in relation to the world. The choice implies a further claim: that Horror, which as a formal enterprise is a creation of the Western World, ends where the buck stops for Western humanity: in the Waste Land we have created. The true conspectus and habitation of Horror is the desolate world proleptically glimpsed by Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" (1899 Blackwood's Magazine ); it is the most famous use of the word Horror in all literature, and the truest to the case: "The horror, the horror!" exclaims Kurtz, on being vouchsafed one final dying gaze upon the world, which is also the world to come.
....only in the spasm of Aftermath - which may seem an eternity - are the lineaments of the future likely to come clear. A single example can demonstrate the case, and provide an exception to the rule that Aftermath is a "prestige" of the flaccid relaxation of the tale into death. Perhaps the most striking single novel of Horror set in World War One is The Cross of Carl: an Allegory ( 1931 ) by Walter Owen (1884-1953). It is a short novel, with no real compass for expressions of Sighting or Thickening; it properly begins at the Battle of the Somme (see REVEL for description), and continues into an apotheosis of Aftermath that occupies more than half the book. After Carl has undergone the Danse Macabre of the battle, he is left for dead on the shattered ground: as dead as Europa seems then. He awakens some time later on a railway siding, bound into a faggot of corpses from the battleground; he is shunted into the adjoining warehouse-like "utilization" factory, where the dead are rendered into swill for pigs (see SERPENT'S EGG ). Owen is of course not literally prophesying Auschwitz here: but he is certainly delineating a paradigm for Europe into which Auschwitz slides like grease. As for Carl, he escapes the factory and is shot dead, while lying in the shallow grave he has constructed for himself, by two powerful bemedaled gentlemen who represent the obscenity of the powers-to-be in the world to come. To construct - or to witness - such paradigms is an essential function of Horror: a flash of such a paradigm perhaps constitutes the central extra-textual or para-textual function of Aftermath, beyond its central role in terminating the story at hand: to flash-freeze the future is the final gift of Horror.
....coerced djinns, spiteful witches, vengeful fakirs, swamis, Tibetans - simply articulate the underlying message, which W W Jacobs makes very clear in his classic Answered Prayer tale, "The Monkey's Paw" (1902 Harper's Monthly ): for the basic sin committed by anyone who wishes to make wishes is to attempt to trick the gods. It is not surprising, therefore, that wishes, no matter how carefully phrased, become Answered Prayers: wishes which are fulfilled in a fashion which punishes the wisher, the biter bit; almost always, the god or other grantor grants the wish literally , and most of the stories whose protagonists try to avoid the consequences of this are couched around attempts at foolproof framing of the wish.
....(It might be noted parenthetically that the genre of the fantastic in which the Answered Prayer is least frequently found is science fiction; and that 20th century science fiction could be seen to have been founded on the premise that its wishes - which are answered in the guise of inventions and breakthroughs, in the granting of the conquest of space and time - have traditionally been put into story structures in which side-effects are scanted. Traditional science fiction is premised on the assumption that progress does not affront the gods.)
....Lynne Reid Banks's The Adventures of King Midas ( 1992 ), a very late retelling of the legend which may be the locus classicus of the Answered Prayer for Western cultures.
APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA
...."There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and [fled to Samarra]. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra." From the play Sheppey by W Somerset Maugham (1875-1965).
....In tales of horror, and in most folklores, that wisdom comes too late, or is misunderstood, or itself inspires a dreaded SIGHTING of fate, which, when personified in the form of a god, may be understood in horror as an articulation of the malice of the universe. The appointment is honoured in horror when a protagonist attempts to run away from (or as in Robert Aickman's work refuses to face) that which is most terrifying to encounter: a mirror; a DOUBLE or twin; DUENDE in the shape of a mocking muse; a famished ghost. Anything that seems to impel the protagonist into a Quest, but is in truth a HOOK which drags that protagonist closer to nemesis, is likely to take the shape of an appointment in Samarra. (In sf, a similar underlying structure determines many time travel tales involving attempts to change history.) In much horror - as in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There ( 1872 ) - the faster you run, or the more intricate your ATTEMPTED RESCUE becomes as you age, all the more surely must you approach checkmate. For the faster you run, the closer you come to the reality - the embryo aborning within the SERPENT'S EGG - that you flee. The appointment in Samarra is an appointment with the true nature of things, as they are finally unveiled. In this most general sense, the motif underlies the entire literature.
....course of human life in general, could be described as an attempt to rescue oneself from the iron cage of circumstance and destiny and gene: from family, disabling inheritance, accident, destiny, mortality: to make one's adult self into a kind of vessel capable of floating free of these iron circumstances. Attempted Rescue is a shorthand for any understanding of the personality structure of the mature human being which conceives of that structure as being guardedly recuperative of past stages of the self and of the unconscious. More specifically, as far as the arguments suggested in this lexicon are concerned, Attempted Rescue can usefully refer to the personality structure of the twin who is visible, the twin on top of the world (in HORROR it is the invisible twin who counts in the end: the untermensch twin, the monster, the twin whose SIGHTING spells the end of the Attempted Rescue personality of its mate above): see DOUBLE . Even the most successful self is only an Attempted Rescue.
....Its most melodramatic formulation is in the APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA tale, where the protagonist flees a projected terror in exactly the direction fated to confront him with that terror. Quest tales in horror - there are relatively few of them, as opposed to the vast number of quests in fantasy literature - can be thought of in these terms too, as types of the Appointment in Samarra: for they are generally disguises for attempts to flee; they do not normally succeed (see FOLLOWED ; HOOK ).
There are so many terms used to describe various shapes the fantastic has taken over the past 250 years that it has seemed convenient here to replace this plethora - if only within these pages - with two terms designed to highlight the ultimate relationship of any group of stories of the Fantastic to the planet. The various categories of the Fantastic - the range of terms being of course immense, from general divisions ( HORROR itself, or fantasy, or science fiction) into more and more specific pigeonholes (dark fantasy, sf horror, the weird tale, the STRANGE STORY , posthumous fantasy, space opera, conte cruel , dream tale, etc, etc) - either move toward bondage, in which case they are examples of the Bound Fantastic; or they move toward an exempt relation to the prison of history (as in Science Fiction) or toward an escape from prison (as in Fantasy), in which case they are examples of the FREE FANTASTIC . This peremptory (but convenient) simplistic depends on a conviction asserted throughout this lexicon: that the literatures of the Fantastic began consciously to evolve around 1750, just as the planet itself began to be understood as a mortal engine; that these literatures can be understood as manifestations - and the figures human and inhuman who fill their pages can be understood as utterands (see HORROR ) - of that sudden apprehension of the Earth beneath our feet.
....The reason why there was no genre of Fantasy before 1750 was that there was no planet to escape; there was no Science Fiction because there was no planet to address; there was no Horror because there was no torturing of the planet till our world could be seen entire: turning on the wheel of history: nor (in any case) did history exist before Gibbon conceived of Empires toppling (rather than Emperors) into the grave....
....what is defined as Portal in Fantasy does not exist in Horror: so the term Cloaca is applied here to semblances of Portal when such are uncovered. If entering a Portal can be likened to swimming with the tide as upon a quest, then entering a Cloaca can be likened to swimming upstream like a gaffed fish: HOOKED . The Cloaca is a Parody of the Portal: an extremely bad joke (such being common in tales of Horror) about the true nature of the world. The term is visceral, it allows a strong inference of deep unpleasantness ahead. Almost always, Cloacas are lesions in the Thickening of the world towards the moment of truth, when the rind of things is peeled. They are indentations in the rind which hint falsely of egress. then sully. They are indistinguishable from the Bad Place: the house built with cavities beneath the cellar, or the bottomless swamp, or some labyrinth which strangles Ariadne: the omphalos that leads to the blank stone exitless stair to the underworld.
....In the end, the message is clear enough. If the omphalos into the body of the earth is in fact Cloaca, then the world is surely diseased, and we are all up shit creek without a Portal.
A phrase devised by Charles L Grant in the 1970s as a bridging term between Fantasy (see FREE FANTASTIC ) and Horror (see also BOUND FANTASTIC )....
....In this lexicon, Dark Fantasy is used primarily to designate certain kinds of fantasy which cannot usefully be described as part of the Free Fantastic: fantasies EQUIPOISAL between escape from prison and learning the world....
....Dark fantasy is therefore a term most effectively applied to works which tend to adhere to that part of the full model of the Fantasy narrative defined as Thinning, and to that part of the full HORROR model defined as THICKENING . They are stories which revolve or hover within a continuing drama, displaying a continuousness of pre-climax elements of story not normally found either in full fantasy or horror tales. Dark Fantasy is, in other words, habituated to the anxieties of Thinning and Thickening. Stories which pass through these moves into darker or lighter territory are stories which are not about anxiety . The concentration on unresolved anxieties (a concentration exquisitely prolonged in the form of the soap opera) is perhaps best articulated through open-ended sequences whose readers have become habituated to the "larger" picture, which can reappear indefinitely without any essential change: any simplistic or threatening move towards resolution.
....exemplary Dark Fantasies: anxiously adherent to a drama whose evolution is glacial; disinclined to bestow full victory (or resolution) on any character who survives, and whose survival is local : for the world does not shift; and in the end, perhaps maturely, reluctant to give any sense that the trammels of melodrama might ever unfold into a window of escape, or a true Mirror of our state.
....much Horror literature is only difficult because it is badly done, that its authors often stumble through incompetence, in their attempts to convey storylines often and necessarily divergent from what might be deemed normally storyable. It is also right to think that the use of FUSTIAN (as in H P Lovecraft's passages about cosmic terror) to signal a sensation of the sublime also conveys, perhaps inadvertently, a sense of bewildered (rather than bewildering) obscurity.
....It can take considerable skill not to say the "unsayable".
1. Difficulty as a consequence of structural obstacles....
2. The actual language of some dark fantasy and Horror texts is, moreover, inherently difficult, in a fashion that asks the reader to "earn" a linguistic understanding that the subject matter being unfolded is not be understood in the diction of the "normal" world. The language of daylight cannot penetrate the labyrinth into the coigns of the underworld - especially if that under/inner/other world can be seen as conspicuously opposed to consensual reality, or - which may be much the same thing - only perceptible in terms opposed, to consensual reality....
3. ....the form of the story incorporates an inbuilt bias towards a coming through of its protagonist or bearer: that that which is storyable tends (naturally enough) to succeed : that the storyable adds up to a consonance with the world described, even though that world may entail the death of the protagonist, like Aschenbach's in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice ( 1912 ). It is in this sense of ultimate good fit that stories of the FREE FANTASTIC - and certainly almost all examples of fantasy - may be seen as monologic in their relation to the storyable; the world told is at one with the fact that it is being told.
DOUBLE [Or Doubles]
....short overview of the implications of the term over the past 250 years could have therefore also been called: Twin: or Twins: or the Doppelganger: or Shadow.
....As Doubles are understood in this lexicon, they begin to appear in various artforms in the late 18th century, a period in history when it was a dominant philosophical understanding of the world that the engines of Reason had already begun to focus their clear gaze upon the products of the rising civilization of the West - purging them of their relic discords, whether political, religious, scientific, or aesthetic - and harmonizing them in terms of unassailable Truths. But something happened. This purgative progress of a world subject to harmonization (though its premises have arguably fueled the totalitarian impulse ever since) soon turned into badlands. A century of controllable social change and wars was transmogrified into the parodic apotheosis of the French Revolution and the rule of Napoleon and the out-sourcing of increasingly unendurable stresses onto the rest of the world, during the century of imperial swelling. During this period the arts of the Western world tremble and change like a great constantly shaken kaleidoscope. It is hard to think of any form of art during this period that does not formally demonstrate stigmata of undue stress (perhaps the novels of the Great Tradition are an exception: it is for good reason that they are never instanced in this lexicon).
....no more overt and blatant insult to the world-harmonizing claims of the Enlightenment than the obsessive focus on Doubles in Horror from about this time: because Doubles say in thunder that the world is more than one thing; that to understand the world is to say more than one thing; that harmony can only be achieved through the death of the Other who loses.
....The insult is manifest and insistent. Thousands of Gothic novels were published between 1770 and 1820: the larger moiety contain Doubles, most of whom have been somehow disinherited from the surface world (which claims to be the whole story), and most of whom are deeply and intractably angry : an anger isomorphous with that rage to uncover the world under the world, the world beneath the rind of "reason", that impels the Horror tale through the moves suggested in this lexicon: through SIGHTING , THICKENING and REVEL into the post-coital, posthistorical Waste Land of AFTERMATH .
....From the very beginning of Horror, Doubles do not simply represent a need to unmask the imperialisms of harmony that were beginning to suffocate the world after 1750 or so; they also literally manifest what happens to individual souls when the world turns so fast that we leave something of ourselves behind, something torn from us unfinished.
....Horror conveys a constant message that the concept of the orderly self is a farce, and that any art based on orderliness is a lie; that there is no soul, no homus economicus, no voter, no father, no wife, no heir: that each human being is a cabal, or a mob, or a chivalry....
A term used frequently by the Spanish poet and playwright, Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), to characterize the mysterious dark thanatopic creative impulse....
....etymologically linked to both "daimon" - a term used by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) in the mythological psychodrama he erected to articulate his own anfractuous impulses - and to "demon".
....In horror, a feverish affliction of Duende may also be the likely consequence of a pact with the devil. There are many examples of such a pact delivering its signer into creative frenzy, the most sophisticated in its analysis of the relationship between creation and unassuageable intensity probably being Doctor Faustus ( 1947 ) by Thomas Mann. In horror, to embrace or to be embraced by Duende is to die - like Semele face to face with Apollo - of mortal love. Only very occasionally, as in Mann's great novel, does the game of making seem worth the candle.
....Every story of any interest in any genre is a signpost of change; each genre is a highway under construction. Any fixative definition scants the exorbitance and opportunism exhibited in any examination of the products of any genre of the Fantastic through time. As a whole, the Fantastic is the rescue archaeology of the world.
....The term Equipoise, as used here, depends on the assumption that both the font and frontage of any story of the fantastic are motile in the mind's eye; that all stories are to some inherent degree - some stories being conspicuously so - not only signposts that tell you where you are, but also
crossroads: hoverings of the liminal. A story whose generic nature is clear and rigid is presumed in this lexicon to mean to do that : which is to say that such stories do not constitute acts of observance of rules which should not be broken, but choices whose relationship to the crossroads of fiction at the edge of things is deliberate. It is of course true that at any one point in any of the literatures of the fantastic most published stories do to some extent observe the option of attempted obedience to rules - though it should be kept carefully in mind that most rules are in fact difficult to interpret and to observe literally, and it is indeed surprisingly difficult - after all is conceded - actually to find a pure example of any ideal type of any story within any genre. Indeed, from the perspective of taxonomy, the literatures of the fantastic could be viewed as a tumult of mistakes.
....A tale describable as Equipoisal will be peculiarly rife with the kind of slurry and violation of norm that, in a story adherent to rules, will seem incompetent. But Equipoise is the "incompetence" of those who know the rules (the term does not usefully apply to writers breaking rules or norms they did not know existed). The heart of HORROR as it is described in this lexicon is the frontal edge of Equipoise, where "incompetence" and grasping the new can be one thing; more modestly, it might be said that great Horror stories strive to advance towards that front, that they are forays of understanding.
....Equipoise describes therefore a very loose category of stories which - rather than "failing" to achieve generic closure, or "failing" to give birth phoenix-like to some new form of genre - can be seen as taking their nature precisely from their refusal of closure.
....the "shiver" of equipoise lies technically along the fissure between the fantastic and the mundane, or between tomorrow and today; but "indecisions" within categories of the fantastic are also common. But always they face front.
....antagonistic dualism: the past versus the present; history versus paradise; death versus life (or, it may be, vice versa); good versus evil; the doppelganger or DOUBLE versus the seeming protagonist; the Ghost ravenous to eat meaning or redemption from the living; the underworld in any full-blown Urban Fantasy, which reads as an oppositional Parody of the world above; the Mirror versus the glass; the REVEL that uncovers the true face of Recognition.
....who is Followed - in this lexicon, the term "followed" is used in these two separate though closely linked senses. When a protagonist is focused upon with particular intensity, so that he or she becomes a kind of sigil of the state of being Followed, the term may be used as a substantive to designate the protagonist's essential condition: Dr Jekyll, in Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde ( 1886 ), is one of those who are thus Followed; more usually, the term designates the actions of Mr Hyde. Their relationship to one another encapsulates that poisonous, intimate discharge of dualism central to the literature. In the literature suspicion that one is being Followed (see also DOUBLE ) is normally tied to an initial SIGHTING of the eventual true shape of one's fate....
....when such protagonists suspect they are being Followed, they are correct. Whenever - as a response to that initial Sighting of the true face of things - protagonists enter upon a quest (see HOOK ) to pierce the mystery of the THICKENING world which has now caught up with them, it is almost certainly the case that they are not Following but being Followed; not solving the mystery but increasingly focused upon by that mystery.
....protagonists of horror do not normally seek; that they are found.
....one of the two conjoined matrices which underlie the grammars of the Fantastic, as argued here (see HORROR for discussion of both Horror and fantasy). The second term or matrix is BOUND FANTASTIC .
....form of story itself has an inbuilt bias towards a coming through of its protagonist or bearer, that Story itself can be thought of as an escape from prison that the prison believes - which is to rephrase an argument made in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy that fantasy is that set of stories set in worlds which are impossible but which the story believes. Works of the FREE FANTASTIC can be seen as monologic in their relation to the storyable: the world told is at one with the fact that it is being told.)
....language draped over subject matters fatal to approach, like the dark ecstasies of DUENDE , subject matters often described, fulsomely, as unsayable (words like "infinity," "unnamable," "maddening" cluster in the purpler passages of the mode). As an index of fatal Belatedness, as a manifestation of language patently external to mysteries no longer addressable in our mortal tongues, fustian may be, of course, a carefully deliberated effect; as (we must presume) it is in the works of H P Lovecraft, where fustian almost always drapes material whose retrieval into language would constitute a highly dangerous awakening of the past; in Lovecraft, and in much modern Horror, fustian could be described as a ceremental language: it is a cloaking of that which is dead. Fustian comes after ; it is a language or cerement whose inauthenticity stands glaringly in contrast to the truths it rouses through the act of injurious cloaking....
....term Holocaust refers solely to Germany's attempted extermination of the Jews of Europe during World War Two.
....an increasing number of artists, including writers of fiction, have felt the need to attempt to test these human acts in the crucible of the imagination: on the grounds, at least in part, that they are human acts and that unless we understand them as human acts we will continue to commit suicide with this planet. Given an understanding of the literatures of the fantastic as being perhaps uniquely sensitized (see HORROR and subsequent modelling essays) to the traumas of historical change, it is to be expected that several Horror novels, with some direct take on the Holocaust, have been published since about 1980....
....in the sense that a gaffed fish is understood to have been Hooked. It is the equivalent in HORROR to the Quest in Fantasy; its use here is primarily as a mnemonic device to remind readers of a characteristic expression of the grammar of Horror. It is not, in other words, intended to provide an architectural equivalent to Quest....
.....what is it that can impel a protagonist to pass through the frying pan of THICKENING into the fire of REVEL ? Advocates of AFFECT HORROR tend to think of protagonists as in fact engaging upon a kind of Quest, that their lust to penetrate the Unknown is in some sense voluntary . The model here presented of Horror - as a grammar of moves that culminate in an understanding that the true world augurs and embodies an ultimate terror that does not lie to us - does however make it difficult to focus on volunteers: hence the use of the term Hook.
....one of several genres or modes of the fantastic in literature.
....a pattern of story moves deeply and at times grotesquely responsive - like all genres of the Fantastic - to the nature of the world since 1750: attendance to the world precedes affect.
....Horror is born at a point when it has begun to be possible to glimpse the planet itself as a drama: a very dangerous time in the history of the West, because it is at this point that (to put it very crudely) Enlightened Europeans were beginning to know it all, were beginning to think that glimpsing the world was tantamount to owning it. Horror is (in part) a subversive response to the falseness of that Enlightenment ambition to totalize knowledge and the world into an imperial harmony that, soon enough, would become treasonous to dispute (viz Stalin). Horror - and the Fantastic as a whole - are conceived in contradiction to the imperialisms of the West. The Fantastic is Enlightenment's dark, mocking Twin: Humbert Humbert's Quilty. Bound to the world, the Fantastic exposes the lie that we own the world to which we are bound....
HORROR = SEASON
Sighting = Spring
Thickening = Summer
Revel = Autumn
Aftermath = Winter
....over the past 250 years there has evolved an understory or grammar that governs the literal telling of stories of Horror, and that the cast of Horror - the bloodsuckers, the eaters, the undead, the DOUBLES and/or twins surfacing out of the oppressed past into the mirror, the creatures of the Id, the ATTEMPTED RESCUES , the fanatics, the elder races - that all these creatures who might be called the utterands of Horror are participants in a great parade, that they march truthwards to the tune of the BOUND FANTASTIC , the tune of history turning out of Eden. The still centre of Horror may be the supernal intransitive howl of Kurtz, but the passage to that ultimate point - as in some great Theatre of Memory - is lined with utterands of the storyable, who remind us through their grimaces and caperings of the world that burned them into these shapes. They are expressions of the world. When we encounter Horror's utterands in our waking dreams, we are communing with stigmata of the Earth, anguishes of the darkening of the garden.
....It preludes the evacuation of the protagonist's self into nothingness or death, or the absorption of the protagonist by a twin or DOUBLE . In the horror literature of the past two centuries, identity loss works as a confirmation of the fragility of the self's purchase on the present tense of the daylit daily world; it is a marker of Belatedness made visible or to come; it is a signal that the abandoned past (over the last two centuries, most of our pasts have been abandoned) is catching up on one. Almost every horror story featuring DOUBLES or twins conveys, at some point or other, a sense that something is retributively catching up on something else - usually the protagonist of the tale, whose perception of self and world will usually become hollow, as in the Commedia dell'Arte, before crumbling. If a Mirror is present, it will show this happening.
....an experience of identity loss may readily constitute part of the grammar of VASTATION.
The unfolding of almost any tale in the literature of the BOUND FANTASTIC involves some sort of transition between SIGHTING and THICKENING, between the first glimpse of a threat against the stability of the world, and the spreading of that first insight into the sinews of the assaulted (or exposed) environment....
....spreading into the world at large of an initial SIGHTING ; infection, in other words, can be understood as a synonym of THICKENING .
MOTIF OF HARMFUL SENSATION
....Wiki: "Harm befalling a person directly from the mere fact of their experiencing a sensation."
....horror: Gorgon, Medusa
....experience of mandatory harm is a sigil of the world to come....
Some real books, like The Thousand and One Nights (variously inscribed and printed), have been deemed fatal to read, or to read from cover to cover.
....Books whose perusal is damaging can be found in Robert W Chambers's The King in Yellow ( 1895 ), though it is properly a playscript; in Jonathan Carroll's The Land of Laughs ( 1980 ); in the Ægypt sequence ( 1987-2007 ) by John Crowley....
Other devices or works of art either intrinsically damaging or damaging if used contrary to instructions include a wide range of music... physical objects....
....also comprises aesthetic rapture, most famously perhaps the Stendhal Syndrome, named from experiences recounted by Stendhal (1783-1842) in Rome, Naples et Florence (1826; trans Richard M Coe as Rome Naples and Florence: a Journey from Milan to Reggio 1959 ): a psychosomatic and/or epiphanic response to an overload of beauty.
....In AFFECT HORROR , the discovery of petrified remains is a common device, and may as well constitute an opening into time abyss. More interestingly, perhaps, Petrification can represent the outer shell of a freezing of the self whose shutting down has been internally generated. When the protagonist of Thomas Tessier's The Nightwalker ( 1979 ) suddenly finds himself petrified, "standing rigid as a statue" for moments on end, "his face an empty skin mask", it is clear that the dark twin (see DOUBLE ) who haunts his dreams has suddenly occupied the hollow within the Mask that lurks under the integument of daily skin....
....full articulation of meaning, in picture books of interest in the context of this lexicon, is essentially covert, though the first examples of the mature picture book, which dates from the printing revolutions of the nineteenth century, do demonstrate what may seem to contemporary sensibilities an astonishing callousness about children and what properly may befall them.
....what is usually concealed in the double narratives of the picture book, within a frame of ostensible narrative freedoms appropriate to children, is Bondage. In this understanding, picture books can be seen as a kind of ideogram of the full meaning of the term BOUND FANTASTIC .
....The DIFFICULTY of most Picture Books is generated by the dialogue between text and image; many Picture Books can only be understood as HORROR through an understanding of the implications of that dialogue.
....an event in which the field of the world is reversed: good becomes evil; parody becomes jurisprudence; the jester is king; Hyde lives; autumn is the growing season.
....actions which create and animate such an event, actions of telling which catch revelation on the wing; it also points to the subversive nature of story itself: because, as it is being told , every story about the world threatens to transport us out of our previous understanding of the world.
....Revel as noun and verb represents the third of four successive stages - SIGHTING , THICKENING , Revel and AFTERMATH - that describe those works of HORROR which seem most completely to exhaust the potentials of the form. Revel comes after the thickening rind of appearances is peeled away at last, when the truth of things glares through the peeled MASQUE or DANSE MACABRE ; and resolves into the exhausted latency of AFTERMATH . Revel delivers the truth (see also SERPENT'S EGG ); it is most devastating when the truth it delivers is revealed to be some form of VASTATION , some defining expression of the malice of the world.
....Revel tends to announce the world to come (and the season it is analogous to is fall). The wings of revelation create a wind from the future, from the winter of the world that the occupants of the early 21st century are now entering (see HORROR for a short presentation of the concept that as a whole Fantasy is shaped around recapturing the past, while as a whole horror is shaped around obeying the future: see, again, Vastation. Revel is the action of the real world announcing itself. It is "Reason" awakening itself from sleep.
....marks the moment when a horror tale ceases to describe the welling up of the repressed and the subversive within the restraining walls of "civilization", and begins to tell it as it is.
....subversive power of Horror to open the eyes. This seductiveness of Horror (some form of seduction or uncanny persuasiveness lies at the heart of almost all supernatural fiction, cf. the angel in Capra's film) is often rendered as a Masque or Carnival, in which the movements of the dance themselves seem to peel away the rind of the congested past.
....The artistic rendering of a Revel, in Arthur Machen's "The Great God Pan" (in The Great God Pan , coll 1894 ), persuades the appalling clique of Late Victorian gentlemen who "occupy" the foreground of the tale into forcing the suicide of a woman who kills men by - in effect - forcing them to see her naked and entire (see MOTIF OF HARMFUL SENSATION ). Much fin de siècle and decadent writing hints at Revels which unfreeze the action into full horror, but rarely enters fully into the enactment of "festivities" prophetic in this way of the world to come, though Joseph Conrad, in "Heart of Darkness" (1899 Blackwood's Magazine ), comes very close indeed in his depiction of the life of Kurtz. More explicitly, though very much less resonantly, Kenneth Grahame comes closer to creating a pre-Aftermath vision of the world turned upside down in the picnic of the under-beasts in The Wind in the Willows (1908). It is, however, an argument frequently proposed in this lexicon that Horror - like all examples of the literatures of the fantastic - is deeply sensitive to the nature of the world itself, and as the engines of history accelerated the rate of change at the beginning of the 20th century, this sensitivity became more and more tortured, increasingly more exorbitant.
....term Serpent's Egg is used to help illuminate the BOUND -FANTASTIC nature of Horror texts to the passing of time: that the process of Horror is, at least in part, a process of uncovering the true future out of the false rind of the past; the term Serpent's Egg points to realized moments when apparent metaphors of our state turn out to be literal descriptions of birth pangs, when it can be seen that Horror is simply history to come: when the world to come turns out to be exactly what we feared. In terms of the full model of Horror, the future is what happens when you find out.
....a glimpse of terror to come; it is Uncanny to experience (see below), and it tells us that something worse than what we just sighted is in the offing more than an initial experience of horror (see AFFECT HORROR ), whose effects may be exhausted in the seeing, for it is central to Affect Horror that what you see is what you get. Sighting predicts ; it is an aliquot sample of what is to come; an Infection of the next.
....most fantasy tales set in a secondary world (see FREE FANTASTIC ). They are both transitive: they convey us to the next thing....
....signals the moment when the protagonist (or the narrative voice of the story) begins to recognize a THICKENING (which is the second stage) in the texture of the world, just as Wrongness (stage one in the equivalent Fantasy model) is an augur of the Thinning (stage two) of the old world into a condition of desert Amnesia....
....Sighting is the first sign that we are going to be unmapped or unhouseled from the normal world - "normal world" being a term simply designating a world that we are accustomed to, a world which we may indeed discover to have been unreal.
....what Horror unmaps - from the first Sighting - is exactly not the real world, though it may be the world we desperately prefer, but the world-rind of civilized usage, the world-lie we use to repress the world-story, the cover up which coats over the Horror beneath: that being the true history of our times: the universal VASTATION that attends true sight of our species and its riven planet.
....something like the return of the repressed - the re-emergence into sight of that which "ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light", as Sigmund Freud describes the uncanny in his famous essay "Das Unheimlich" (1919 Imago 5) - does characterize Sighting.
....The Uncanny - which is to say Sighting - is a trompe l'oeil which the world generates . It is the familiar, which is the false, and the unfamiliar, which is the true, in one aspect.
.....It is the wit of Terror, and makes the heart of the protagonist (and of the identifying reader) thump in the breast, though not for joy of the joke; and it is all more terrible in that the heart now beats to the rhythm of the world to come.
....to run away in Horror is to be FOLLOWED ; to run away is to make an APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA . Once a Sighting has been made, there is no Return.
....there is no such thing as a genuine quest in Horror, for the unknown has already taken them; they are already hooked. (What is quest in Fantasy is HOOK in Horror.) Sighting is the beginning of the end of things. Sighting is a flash of the future.
....Whenever a sleepwalker appears in literature, it is almost certain that someone - either the person walking or those upon whom the walker intrudes - does not know the score, and is about to learn something.
....sleepwalkers are signs of an absence about to be filled, they tally some gap or blockage between ignorance and outcome, act and implication.
....New worlds are always entered first by sleepwalkers, whom a SIGHTING may awaken.
....the first decades of fantastic literature saw a great increase in the incidence of literal sleepwalking; Gothic literature revels in this symptom of the fatal step that must be taken from the past into reality.
....Usually it is the witness whose response is the more important, for the sleepwalker's compulsion necessarily pre-exists the event. From the viewpoint of the walker, sleepwalking serves to confirm a condition, or a guilt, or a vengeance to be enacted.
....countenance of the sleepwalker is a Mask which, when the eyes open, becomes pregnant with its burden, its conveying of the fragility of the mask of self. Taking the measure of that burden is usually the task of another.
STRANGE STORIES Or "Strange Tales."
....the inner creative bent of most of those who have used the term is towards the writing of tales of estrangement rather than AFFECT HORROR as such.
....apply primarily to work from writers of European extraction, and/or work from writers, like Aickman, primarily interested in writing stories which articulate something of the inexplicable dread that the world evokes in the unprepared.
....tales whose protagonists are snared at the moment of SIGHTING : innocence is lost to them; but likewise the harsh release of a passage into the reality of things, however terrorizing that reality may be to contemplate.
....begins after the uncanny afflatus of SIGHTING begins to fade, and the future adumbrated in the terrorizing flash of Sighting begins to come true.
....moment of Sighting may be conveyed in a sentence, but the process of Thickening normally occupies most of any text being considered. Thickening, taken alone, can of course be thought of as simply another way of pointing to the kind of plot-complicating common to much fiction; but even here, if Thickening is focused on deeply, an effect similar to that of Horror - unresolved Horror - may be felt: the greatest novel focused on Thickening alone may be Samuel Richardson's Clarissa; Or, the History of a Young Lady: Comprehending the Most Important Concerns of Private Life ( 1748 ), a tale of extraordinary and suffocating intensity (but whose subtitle marks it off from Horror as understood here).
....Thickening will normally be felt as a cumulative movement towards a further stage: betrayals and mysterious absences (or presences) and keys that do not open and trains that do not come clot the mise en scene, force protagonists down paths they do not wish to tread; nothing adds up; confusion reigns; life is inherently impeded : there seems no exit from the suffocating tangle of plot; the atmosphere of things literally thickens; it is hard to breathe; in the end there has been a progressive unmapping of the paths within the world, which increasingly shuts in one's face, so that protagonists have no choice available to them except that of obedience to the pull of gravity, the HOOK that will expose them to the Revel: this all takes time to convey.
And all of it is false . Thickening may point to some truth which the moment of Revel may reveal, similar to the "metonomy contagion" familiar to readers of the gothic, a process by which that which lies below becomes identified with seductive bits of the surface, a knocking of the truth from underneath manifested as gear, visages, veils, fetishes in shop windows, grotesques, salads of sorts. Partly through an accumulation of these metonymies, the phenomenal world is increasingly revealed as a rind that, once peeled, exposes the vacancies within the false consciousness of "normal" life, and the imposture of the history of the world: which we are taught to think of as a story which justifies our lives, not a sentence which convicts us.
....An essential part of the 21st century experience of Thickening - where most of the icons are resurrected and told again, where most of the assumptions Horror makes about the world are iterated and reiterated at length - is therefore an experience of déjà vu ; the past inhabits our present, doubles the stories being told. Recursiveness slows the course of story, embrambles the path with echoes.
....if the contemporary Horror novel is genuinely transgressive, it is not so through any discovery of new fluxes of affect. It is transgressive because it continues to tell us that Baron Frankenstein is the true monster, that we who are the owners of the world are the devourers of the world.
Literally: a laying waste to a land or a psyche; a physical or psychological devastation; desolation....
....defines the disintegrative moment when the elements or accidents of evil are separated off from the essential goodness of those who, thus purified, then approach salvation; it also defines the even more disintegrative moment when the accidents of goodness are shaved mercilessly from the unsalvageable central core of the wicked. As far as this lexicon of HORROR is concerned, those who are destined to be saved are of less interest than those banned from any subsequent Swedenborgian uplift.
....Vastation is the consequence of a measurable change in the relationship of the sufferer to the world story.
....the final, AFTERMATH moments of a tale normally serve to focus the kind of awareness - like that of Vastation - whose effect is terminal.
.....not, therefore, used in this lexicon as a synonym for depression or bipolar disorder, nor for personal grief; nor for hallucinatory states, nor any other sort of false understanding of the external world. A hallucinatory vision of a ghost is an hallucination. To experience the malice of the made or revealed cosmos - as with the narrator's philosophical despair in Mary Shelley's The Last Man ( 1826 ) after a curse-induced plague (see INFECTION ) has begun to end all human life; or when "the enormous machinery of hell" expresses itself into the world through the objective emblem of the monkey demon from Hell in J Sheridan Le Fanu's great Swedenborgian "Green Tea" (1869 All the Year Round ) - is to experience Vastation.
....they find out too much about the world; more specifically, they find out, in a sense, that the world means its malice, for a natural disaster may evoke a million griefs, but not, in the sense here understood, Vastation. Mourning experienced after a death in the family may be multiplied a thousandfold, but still be adequately defined as mourning; mourning experienced as a consequence of the Final Solution is Vastation.
....a vision of the deranging effect of the world on story (see part 3 of DIFFICULTY for short discussion), and consequently upon the utterands of Story, who are usually us. Vastation occurs when the "malignant system of the world" (as Le Fanu puts it) is tearing you apart: after Vastation, the utterands of Story, and Story itself, fall into dead silence: for there is no way to proceed.
....In The Cross of Carl: an Allegory ( 1931 ) by Walter Owen (1884-1953), the burning of the Auschwitz-like "utilization" factory - where human corpses fresh from Somme-like slaughter are rendered into pig swill - does not mark the extinction of horror, but a prophecy that it is eternal. What Carl sees in the flames from a distance is a SERPENT'S E GG giving birth to Vastation forever: "a great red eye", "an iris of orange light that hung spectral-like above the wold …" What he sees is Sauron awakening into his kingdom.
....it may be said that the underlying tenor of all HOLOCAUST FICTION is Vastation; and the paradigm text for understanding the etiology and action of the term may well be D M Thomas's The White Hotel (1981), in which the clairvoyant protagonist's private griefs and hysteria and valiant healing exfoliate inexorably into a profound memorial paeon for the loss of civilization as a whole, but in particular - as she approaches her temporal end at Babi Yar in 1941 - for Europe Between the Wars.
* * *
Clute's creation of a new lexicon of critical jargon in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) and The Darkening Garden (2006) is either timely and useful or one of the great hare-brained crank enterprises of our time and genre. I am inclined to the latter opinion after living with and reflecting on the new nomenclature for a while.
Clute is not setting himself up to out-Zhdanov Zhdanov. There is no new revised alien orthodoxy here. I believe he is simply trying to articulate a new way that he has found of thinking out loud.
Excerpts above may be over-generous. I can think of no other way to comprehend other people's writing than by making a thematic out of passages underlined.
25 August 2019