This is the conclusion of my Realms of Horror series. Here I will talk about how all the Realms can be brought together to better understand horror psychology as a holistic experience of all three realms.
Noel Carroll is an aesthetic philosopher that has sought to undertake the development of a philosophy of horror and in his work hits on a blending of the three aforementioned elements of the horror experience. Key to Carroll’s argument is the use of the concept of disgust. About this emotion in relation to the experience of horror Carroll (1987) said the following:
The character’s affective reaction to the monstrous in horror stories is not merely a matter of fear, i.e., of being frightened by something that threatens danger. Rather, threat is compounded by revulsion, nausea, and disgust. The monster is so unwholesome that its very touch causes shudders. And this corresponds as well with the tendency in horror novels and stories to describe monsters in terms of, and associate them with, filth, decay, deterioration, slime, and so on (p.55)
In this quote we start to see how Carroll relates horror to the biological, however he does not leave it there. Carroll (1987) expounds further on disgust, explaining that this disgust largely comes from the idea of impurity, and citing Mary Douglas’s cultural study of impurity, we detect impurity when we believe something is a category error (Carroll, 1987, p. 55). He says “we initially speculate that an object or being is impure if it is categorically interstitial, categorically contradictory, categorically incomplete, or formless” (Carroll, 1987, p. 55). Here we see the combination of the mental and cultural along with the previous mentioned biology. The mental and biological aspect blend is represented in the notion of mental categorization of the monsters and their ambiguity creating disgust; this is not all the different from the categorization techniques mentioned in the work of Pezzulo that was presented earlier.
In particular Pezzulo (2013) argues that because we are embodied, when something presents itself as ambiguous, such as the category errors monsters present to us (or being in the dark), we will follow our internal bodily feelings rather than sensory input. The mind treats internal feelings as more reliable, or at least more concrete, than the sensory ambiguity in front of us. The social zeitgeist gets weaved into the theory through the idea of what is considered impure. Carroll (1987), citing Douglas’ work, talks about how examples of impurity are culturally bound, such as the kosher laws laid down in the Old Testament determined what food was considered unclean because of the categorization error. I would add that this maps even more onto the model of a three part horror experience when one looks at how some of this changed over time. The taboo/disgust/morality of eating non-kosher things changed for the early Christian church (which was largely Jewish at the time) with Peter’s vision as recorded in the New Testament, in which he is commanded to eat unclean things, and even among some branches of the modern Judaism. What is horrific can change over time, in bodily sense and mental state.
To conclude I have demonstrated that there is evidence to point to the fact that the emotional experience of horror is a holistic mind-body experience. But what comes along with this understanding? The answer to that question lies in exploring the whole of the emotional experience of horror fans. This paper has focused on the ideas of horror as they pertain to horror in the artistic sense, however I believe that there are ramification for dealing with real world horror. The key to this idea is integration. It appears to me, but remains to be proven experimentally, that horror fans are better able to synthesize their experiences better than most. They view the horror experience in its fullest context, and recognize it for what it is, not a deviant social experience, or isolating a panic response in the experience of the body, or sequestering the anxiety all in the mind. They are opened up to a larger world of experience.
What remains to be seen is if this ability of horror fans is something they have developed or something that was innate. If it is, as I intuit through my own experience as a horror fan, it is a developed trait that can be grown by exposure to artistic horror then it is something can be cultivated in others through exposure. If the theory pans out then there are definite therapeutic aspects that might be developed by exploring the full holistic experience of horror, in treating things like chronic anxiety, panic disorders, or any other disorder in which strong emotions of fear, anxiety, or dread get isolated into one realm or another.
Well that concludes this series of posts. Any thoughts or comments?
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