Man Makes His Own Horror:
Is It Due to An Innate Bond That Compels The Artists Towards Producing Transgressive And Horrific Imagery?
Throughout time, there has always been a concern surrounding the idea of what the self is and why we act in certain ways. Jostein Gaardner states in Sophie’s World (2000) that this preoccupation dates back as far as Socrates (470–399 BCE) who claimed he was guided by a divine inner voice, and that this daimon, as it was referred, ‘always stopped him if he was about to do or say something morally wrong.’
So it seems that man has always in some way been able to distinguish between right and wrong. But why is wrong so important?
There is one major reason for this study: If, as Aristotle once said, ‘like produces like,’ I must have some seriously unresolved personal issues, so it is my task to understand and resolve them.
As an artist myself , I often find myself drawn to the horrific. The intention of this thesis is to look at the derivation of this attraction and why throughout history, societies and individuals continuously deem it necessary to document that which transgresses accepted institutions, customs and tastes. It is my premise that we are innately linked with the horrific, and therefore the production of the like.
To further the understanding of the attachment to the monstrous, throughout the text I will relate the themes back to a case study concerning werewolves. Transformation from man to beast symbolises the ultimate transgression, the violation and loss of the accepted physical form. The werewolf, with its many manifestations and meanings are of great importance to me. My choice to explore werewolves stems from my love of the cinematic genre, with metaphors and symbols that run parallel to my life. The primarily aim here is to understand why artists feel drawn to horrific imagery, however I will explore the topic beyond the confines of the art allowing understanding as to why monster(ous) images are common to almost every society. The common metaphors and archetypes that can be dissected from that which are abject and horrific is both overwhelming and exciting, hence this choice of topic.
This thesis will be structured into three sections. The first gives explanation to the central themes: essentially what exactly the horrific means and what transgression of human boundaries is, with close reference to the work on Abjection by Julia Kristeva. Looking at the suggestion that the attraction to the horrific stems from the need to define the ‘you’ apart from the ‘other’. It is considered by some, such as Louis-Ferdenand Céline, that those who obsess over that which horrifies are simply being true to themselves; an understanding of this will hopefully be gained.
An exploration then will be given to the work of Sigmund Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’. This theory suggests that some objects or experiences compel fear in us due to their being unknown yet with a strange sense of familiarity. Being that the central tenant of this thesis is that humans are innately bound to images that repulse, scare and disgust us, Carl Jung’s ‘Collective Unconscious,’ will also be discussed. Linking to why one feels a sense of the uncanny, the collective unconscious explains that we have ingrained knowledge of archetypes that structure our lives, and hence why some things seem unknown yet familiar, and therefore totally compelling.
The second section discusses how horrific representations transcend time and society hence strengthening the argument that humans are innately linked with said representations. The wider context of cinema is considered so to give deeper understanding to why the horrific is so inescapable no matter how hard one tries to repress the bonds.
The final section deals with why there is a need to perpetuate the horrific, and aims to provide possible explanations for the origins of the seemingly innate attraction. Closely looking at the werewolf, three lines of enquiry will be pursued, all of which link back to being innately connected with the monstrous: firstly, our affiliation with monsters that stems from our displacing into a fictional monster, facets of our personality that we do not understand. Secondly, horrific representations or monsters are metaphors for the evil within us. Finally, the idea that guilt can be purged through cathartic use of horrific representations will be explored.
Who Are We, Without The ‘Other’?
Before attempting to answer why artists can be drawn to abjection, the horrific, and transformed body representations, it is useful to look at what abjection is. It has no physical attributes. Abjection, as Julia Kristeva states, is ‘that which is opposed to I,’ it is those things that repulse us, it is those things which threaten to break down divisions between subject and object; it is vomiting, it is expulsion. Abjection is the sensation felt when our personal boundaries, such as taste or morality are breached.
‘It is thus not the lack of cleanliness or health that is abjection, but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules.’
For Kristeva, this process is necessary and inescapable. It is a ‘primal repression’ that humans initially use to create a symbolic order, before need of communication or subjectivity. Repulsion, rejection, and sense of mortality at the sight of a corpse for example, helps shape personal sense of self and existence, reminding us of being alive and not akin to the cold hard pile of flesh in front of us. We reject the image/object the result is a further understanding of who we are. Without even knowing, from birth humans begin defining themselves separate from everything else. These are first steps towards consciousness of oneself. Similarly Jacques Lacan’s ‘mirror stage’ deals with this early development.
‘This act marks the primordial recognition of one's self as “I”.’
Unlike Kristeva, the mirror stage is acceptance of what we ‘are,’ both however work towards the same goal. When the child first recognises itself in the mirror, the child lays the foundations of the ego . Kristeva states that in order to fully comprehend what the ‘I’ is, elementary abjection exemplified in the infants rejection of rotten food, must occur in conjunction with the mirror stage.
The attachment with the abject is not exclusive to childhood. It seems that abjection remains a preoccupation with some throughout life. Abjection in its truest form according to Ferdenand Céline , is a natural state and those who revel in abjection are simply being true to nature, as the ideas in Carl Jung’s ‘collective unconscious,’ which I will examine later would suggest. Louis- Ferdenand Céline gives example of ‘free’ individuals as the criminal with a good conscience and the shameless rapist. Most people however, do not act upon said dark feelings, opting to abide by socially accepted codes of conduct, repressing these desires, or channelling them into different mediums such as art or literature. For example Cindy Sherman felt drawn to depict death, ‘the ultimate abjection,’ in her centrefolds series (see appendix 2). Sherman’s use of the abject presents threat to accepted constitutions and codes, allowing a transgression of her self away from the confining language of femininity.
‘Rejection of the symbolic order and the reconstitution of the subject.’
The method of abjection defines what we are so with death, being alive is reiterated. Carl Jung confirms this by stating that opposites are necessary in ‘confirming all conscious knowledge.’ Essentially artists are compelled to gravitate to the abject, that which is not ‘I’. Suggesting that abjection and the production of the likes is a not just conscious rejection of accepted moral codes but an unconscious and innate attachment.
Sigmund Freud, in his theory of the ‘death instinct’ suggests this attraction to the abject stems from our desire to regress back to the ‘uterine state before the ego’s formation.’ The memories of this former period of non-identity, propels some to desire to destroy the ego and return to the said pleasant state of being. By this token, one can address the preoccupation with a topic such as werewolves. This attachment to animalistic transformation suggests the desire to return to a primitive animal state. When transformation into the monster such as the werewolf is depicted, it is the animal within becoming the outside. Inner fluids, such as blood and mucus are released and inner desires realised. Kristeva refers to primitive man’s effort to separate man from animals,
‘By way of abjection, primitive societies have marked out a precise area of their culture in order to remove it from the threatening world of animals or animalism, which were imagined as representatives of sex and murder.’
By regressing the human form back to the animal, as with the werewolf, understanding of the actual human condition is reiterated. Often viewed as a monster, the werewolf serves to structure the way we should act.
So Strange, Yet So Familiar, I think I’m Scared…
Consideration must be given to another sense of fear: the unknown, and why we have an attachment to it. Sigmund Freud in ‘The Uncanny’ (1919) looks at why some objects or experiences provoke fear and unease, without categorically being horrific, challenging of accepted tastes or totally unknown. Freud states of the uncanny,
‘It derives its terror not from something externally alien or unknown but-on the contrary- from something strangely familiar, which defeats our efforts to separate ourselves from it.’
For Freud, the uncanny occurs when an object or experience stokes up a memory from the subconscious that has been forgotten or repressed, hence the common feeling of ‘have I seen this/been here before?’ Déjà vu is a common example of the uncanny. Wax works are also said to have uncanny qualities, because we know they are inanimate but they look as if they could get up at any point, creating the fear of uncertainty. It could be argued that it is without being aware that artists create work of uncanny quality and are expressing their subconscious, into something familiar. However, there is a certain power with the uncanny and many artists use it. In his essay Foul Perfection: notes on caricature, Mike Kelley (1989) states that art that evokes the uncanny has power over the onlooker because it appeals to their subconscious thus seeming familiar but without actual understanding of why. It is both familiar and strange, unlike art that is distasteful or horrible, such as that of Paul McCarthy, (see appendix 3,) which because it often involves blood and shit is physically repellant for most people. When a piece stirs a sense of the uncanny, it is the fear of the unknown doubled with familiarity that is hard to be dismissed or ignored; we are connected with it.
The apparent lack of understanding creates a sense of unease, and the feeling of attachment simply deepens the discomfort. The Freudian opinion is that the uncanny occurs when an object (or art work) resurfaces a repressed or forgotten memory from the subconscious into the conscious mind, hence feeling unsure of the connection. Conversely, it could be argued that this prior knowledge stems further back than repressed or forgotten personal experience. It is necessary to consider the work of Carl Jung. Jung’s theories branched away from that of Freud. According to Jung, the origins of self are not only due to personal experience but innate knowledge of archetypal structures that govern our choices and the way we act, a primal social structure that is genetically transferred. Jung terms this ‘the collective unconscious.’ Somewhat different to Freud’s ideas of the subconscious, as Jung states it is not the result of personal experience as, (see appendix 4). He states of the collective unconscious,
‘They are the Conceptual matrixes or patterns behind all our religious and mythological concepts, and indeed, our thinking processes in general.’
Horrific images such as the werewolf can be categorised and recognised by everyone. Linking the collective unconscious to werewolves, it can be argued that werewolves have a significant link to our primitive ancestors. It embodies within man the animal desires and instincts that, throughout the procession of time, we have tried to further and further suppress with traits of a higher ilk. Though sublimation of more aggressive and animalistic traits is the norm, sometimes as journalist Gillian Bowditch explains, learnt social conduct is forgotten or ignored.
‘The carriage was dominated by small groups of loud, drunken, foul-mouthed animals eating smelly takeaways, the detritus of which was strewn around. It was impossible to escape the inanities and profanities.’
The animalistic hooliganism synonymous with what tabloids term ‘yob culture’ provides understanding that perhaps the society, as we know it, is merely a facade. Looking at intoxicated ‘out of control’ people reveals an uncanny resemblance to animal patterns of behavior. Repression of our ‘nature’ seems to have occurred. So it seems that for an artist to represent the wild side of man is giving into the natural order. However, our deep bond with animals does not end with simply DNA links, and they are not all detrimental. S. Baring-Gould examines in The Book Of Werewolves how Homo sapiens overcame competition from Homo erectus and Neanderthal with the use of primitive canine wolf packs. Not only learning from their hunting technique, but actually hunting alongside them, as Steiger puts it, ‘We are forged in history with the wolf.’ As a consequence, man’s obsession has manifested itself in werewolf mythologies. This brings me back to Jung’s theory. He lays claim that we have ‘shared instincts’ resulting from as far as primordial hunter/gatherers that hunted with wolves. As a result we have kept a preoccupation with transforming into the wolf in an age where we have lost the need to be the hunter/ gatherer. Jung explains in On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry (1922) the reason for recurrence of primordial themes in art or literature.
‘The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy of the present.’
The artist draws from the unconscious a way to deal with the present. It is the desire to regress back to easier time of primordial man. It can therefore be understood that it is the collective unconscious that structures art, fantasies and fictions. Story structures are common the world over. Joseph Campbell states that ‘despite their infinite variety of incident, setting, and costume,’ that mythologies and stories are limited in structure and response to the ‘riddle of life.’
Werewolves are common in many regions, but there are other transformation myths such as were-cheetahs in Africa and were-boars of Norse mythology. It seems that animalistic metamorphosis occupies the world over but each version is regionally dictated, thus empiricist would claim, the product of experience. However, it is the collective unconscious that draws these cultures (with no knowledge of their contemporaries) to transformation itself. So it can be understood that the transformed man to beast is one of Jung’s universal archetypes.
A shared unconscious may also explain the creation of works by outsider artists such as Henry Darger. Without any formal artistic training, Darger’s prolific works depict scenes of death and destruction (see appendix 5) but Darger had no intent on showing his work, they were only discovered on the event of his death. On understanding that Darger watched his entire town destroyed by a tornado and was institutionalised for the best part of his early life, a positive correlation can be drawn between repressed memories of traumatic events and a preoccupation with the horrific, that some artists have within their works. It is not surprising then that archetypes occur regularly in works by outsider artists and children, who feel freedom to express fascinations with usually taboo topics such as death and bodily functions ‘from pure and authentic creative impulses - where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere .’
Horror: Transcending time
It is apparent that the horrific occurs throughout history. This chapter will consider why although the world constantly evolves, what is horrific and scares us remains the same.
Mike Kelley, in his essay Urban Gothic claims that human concepts of horror and what is essentially ‘bad’ does not change throughout time. Here Kelley looks at how there are common themes that are reproduced throughout time, in mediums such as art and film. He uses the example of two film images (See Appendix 6) to exemplify the reproduction of key imagery One from On the Waterfront (1954), the other from Bladerunner (1982). Essentially the same happens in each image proving historical and social contexts do not inform visual notions of fear and impending danger. By correlating this with research into the genre of horror, in general it would seem that perceptions of good and bad are not only socially constructed. A key example of this is Pasolini’s film Salo, which changes the historical context of The Marquis De Sade’s ‘120 Days Of Sodom.’
‘Despite my absolute fidelity to Sade's text, I have introduced an absolutely new element: the action instead of taking place in eighteenth-century France, takes place practically in our own time, in Salò, around 1944, to be exact. ’
So it would seem that horror and atrocity transcends its socio/political context thus confirming that our affiliation with the horrific is natural. It is only society’s tolerance for said images that change over time. It is what is deemed as acceptable, and allowed to be displayed by art institutions that constantly progresses. Therefore the social context for many working artists affects their output greatly. So when we look back over the history of art we consider the socio/ political context in order to reference how ‘shocking’ it is. Karl Marx once said,
‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.’
Man has the capacity to act at will but these actions are contained within a sphere of influence over which we have no control. Every action we make is not organic and free but is impacted upon the circumstances of the individual such as their class, race, gender or sexuality. In light of this one could conclude that the average person is not always at liberty to express their emotions and desires. Many artists conscribe to social acceptability, but because, as I have said before, art can be an uncontrolled expression of the subconscious, transgression of social acceptability occurs.
To suggest everything we do is deterministic, one would suggest the artist is always going to respond in a specific way. Human agency thus reduced, has no control over our actions or artistic expression. However it must be argued that it is not the social or political climate that necessarily dictates the output of an artist, rather it informs how the work is viewed. Art is something unique to the artist and individual. For example one hundred years ago pornography would not have needed to be as explicit as it is now, though they would have had the same effect (see appendix 7). As society evolves, the transgressive tactics used by artists correspond, and the attraction to the horrific remains the same.
One can treat the past as ‘foreign country,’ essentially people in the past have a different zeitgeist to the people of the present. However to what extent was this way of thought defined by the ruling elite? For example, in Victorian England curtains were deemed necessary for the legs of pianos to censor their phallic nature. This however is not the case in modern era England. This can also be related to art. Critical thinker John Lechte, states,
‘Art involves a questioning of a modern epistemology based on a clear distinction between subject and object. ’
This is not due to a change in the shape or style of piano legs but a shift in what is socially acceptable. In every epoch, the social norms are the ideologies of the ruling elite. Today there are many influences which have the power to shape the way we think and decide what is acceptable. Edward Bernays , in Propaganda (1928) states,
‘Those who manipulate the organized habits and opinions of the masses constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of the country.’
Past societies would be shocked in similar ways as we are today to the same atrocities. Although at times they may not have been exposed to them as graphically as we are today. This justifies the claim that what horrifies us is innate and comes from ones personal sense of disgust. In approaching a past age one should not assume the modern ideology, because circumstances and knowledge change. However human nature is something that transcends time unlike communication and ruling classes, we are essentially the same as the people of the past.
‘In the scriptures it says, “In the Beginning was the word.” No! In the beginning was the emotion. The word came later, replacing emotion… Man was removed from emotional poetry and pushed into dialectics.’
Monsters Here, There, Everywhere!
It is extremely apparent that the monstrous and transgressive images are very important to every society; we remain fixated on monsters that we know are not real, whilst both knowledge and technology evolve. Cinema should be considered to understand the wider context of the horrific and monstrous. The example used here to exemplify the monstrous in cinema is the werewolf. An entire cinematic werewolf genre has grown from the original folk tales.
Enquiries into modern adaptations of werewolf films reveals the werewolf to be often both hero and victim. Which reiterates that we associate the self with the monstrous. Take for example the film Ginger Snaps (2000). Here the werewolf protagonist is not only a monster that tears to shreds countless innocent victims, but also the helpless school girl attacked by a beast in the woods. Forced to deal with physical pain, growth, bloodlust, uncontrolled anger and ultimate metamorphosis into a hairy ferocious ‘other’, the film metaphorically likens her transformation to puberty, associating the monster to every single viewer, particularly women.
Final redemption of the beast is commonplace within the genre. From the first manifestation in The Werewolf (1913) and throughout the cinematic history of werewolves, the most common scenarios show the protagonist as an emblem of fear and disgust, with redemption coming through their climatic deaths. Through death they return to human form, which allows the audience to associate with the monster; this places the werewolf as only one facet of the character’s life. Returning to the theme of religion, the werewolf can be seen as the human who must suffer before entrance into heaven, death is their final casting out of sin.
To an extent the werewolf curse be seen as a metaphor for more complex themes. This is true of Angela Carters works. Her works involve themes that do not exist in the our known world, witches, shape-shifters and mysticism replace as metaphors the torments of Carter’s life, such as her battle with anorexia. Metaphors become a language as a means of dealing with reality. Carter writes of her work and art,
‘Fine art, that exists for itself alone, is art in a final state of impotence. If nobody, including the artist, acknowledges art as a means of knowing the world, then art is relegated to a kind of rumpus room of the mind…irrelevance of art to actual living becomes part and parcel of the practice.’
Although for Carter, the work remains a metaphor for her life, by using fantastic and mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction, the reader should be able to draw personal ties with the Carter’s work. Perhaps this is due to our innate association with archetypal characters to which Jung refers. Take for example a story from Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales, The Chinese Princess (Kashmiri). Here a beautiful woman tricks a King to marry her, though she is actually a snake demon in disguise. She slowly drains the strength and health from the King, until he kills her. One could believe this means trust should not be afforded beautiful women, but what it means for Carter remains unclear.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, help give explanation to Carters work, stating that art occupies a realm where representations do not have to be exact but exist as the result of something which has been experienced although its meaning is dictated by personal definition (these too dictated by personal experience.) They state,
“There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (the book) and a field of subjectivity (the author)”
The Redirection Of That Which We Fear
Returning to the idea that horrific depictions occur throughout the history of art, the aim of this chapter is to explore how absence of knowledge may drive some towards creating horrific imagery through art or literature and how they can be perpetuated through mythologies and religions.
Consideration here is given to the idea that when an emotion or feeling is not understood, our lack of understanding or unwillingness to explore it is ‘displaced’ into an expressive medium.
‘Separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening.’
These mediums are purely expressive, abstract and subjective. Allowing the acceptable expression of abject thoughts that continuously violate ones own borders, both sickening and irresistible . Therefore it might be logical to suggest that werewolves and transformed man beasts have grown out from the attachment we have with the animalistic instincts not understood within us. As with the production uncanny works, werewolves are both familiar and strange. The creation of something so far removed from reality (such as the amalgamation half-man, half-wolf,) could be understood as a way to deal with human traits not fully comprehended, such as uncontrollable outbursts of anger, lust and revenge. The werewolf serves the purpose successfully due to the preconceived notions of a wolf, which Brad Steiger outlines in The Werewolf Book.
‘Animalistic instincts, fur, large teeth, tearing flesh, hunting, wild defecation, the night time and howling are not traits synonymous with the modern man.’
These ideas, doubled with preconceptions of the transformation process (the loss of control of the body and mind) mean condemnation of the ‘werewolf.’ The werewolf is the fictional manifestation of the negative human traits I previously outlined.
However, because there is a powerful link between body and mind, it can be possible for one to literally believe that they have become a wolf, such as Bill Ramsay, who would sporadically believe he was one. The medical term for those who believe they have transformed into a wolf is lycanthropy. Essentially, emotional experiences have ‘given birth to the idea that they could become a wolf.’ They have escaped into a fantasy where they can justify their unacceptable beast like actions.
To surmise, when something is not fully understood, other ways of explaining or dealing with it is used such as art, lycanthropic fantasies or even religion. Of religion, Henry Drummond’s late 19th century ‘god of the gaps’ theory suggested that the need for religious explanation was slowly shrinking as science found explanation for everything. Similarly art acts in the same way as religion. Acting as a catharsis for the artist to deal with issues from their lives. Therefore the need to create work that goes against the accepted social order is a necessity. The creation of an alter ego, such as Marcel Duchamp’s female persona Rrose Selavy, could be considered a way to express the natural impulses which society disallows.
Emblems Of Evil From Within
There is further explanation to why some choose to depict a monster such as the werewolf- as an emblem of evil. A symbol that resembles man but at the same time able to commit socially unacceptable actions. Therefore glorifying our own basic instincts that remain repressed and hidden by society. The ‘werewolf’ and other horrific imagery is still to be considered intrinsically linked with those who perpetuate it. A route to demonize our unwanted instincts is needed as our own human condition evolves and condemns its animalistic origins. S. Baring-Gould, a leading expert on werewolves comments, the sight of bloodied animals transports us back instantly to our primordial instincts, basic traits that lie permanent but undecipherable and in the most part suppressed by our social etiquettes, something children only learn over time.
‘There are many to whom the sight of suffering causes genuine pleasure…witness a number of boys who assemble around a sheep and pig when it is about to be killed and to watch the struggle of the dying brut with hearts beating fast with pleasure, and eyes sparkling with delight.’
This links back to what Céline, and later Kristeva, suggest, that those who revel in horror with such ‘ingrained love for death,’ are the only ones true to the human condition. Werewolf expert Brad Steiger suggests that the supernatural fear of a monster such as the werewolf is our inner awareness of the beast within us. The tale of children and the sheep highlights the natural gravitas we have towards the horrific.
To revel in horrific imagery is very different than acting out said fantasies. As said earlier it could be said that werewolves are a way for some to express and displace their animal desires, taking pleasure in the fabricated exploits of the beast and imagining it as themselves, thereby answering any curiosity they may have had concerning characteristics such as selfishness or exaggerated anger. As Steiger explains tales of werewolves serve two key purposes, not only playing out fantasies like that of erotic novels, but acting as a useful deterrent to children to keep within ‘moral boundaries.’ However one may claim that if we had such a vent, why do such atrocities still take place in society? It might be that perpetrators of heinous crimes are those without means to vent their anger. Sociopaths such as Henry Lee Lucas are placed within the public eyes as monsters of our modern age. The monster is within all of us: most repress it, whilst others choose to or cannot repress their demons. For most who have become so far removed from their inner animal, their only solace is with the films, stories and media monsters that embody our deepest darkest and most repressed thoughts and represent the abject.
We Love Fear
In this chapter the idea that man is eternally attracted to what he fears will be considered. When Kristeva makes claim that ‘the vision of murder turns sublime,’ she does not condone the act, but suggests that we are held in awe of acts that we try so hard to repress, or sublimate . The sublime and abject imagery can thus be linked together. Edmund Burke states that because the sublime is so vast and imposing, beautiful beyond comprehension, the observing party can feel a threat of annihilation, by this token the regular occurrence, where we sublimate our inner self can be considered to be sublime in this sense. The denial of oneself, as Thomas McEvilley states, is the result of an overwhelming sense of awe. Essentially we gravitate towards what we fear.
H P. Lovecraft, expert in supernaturalism and horror film director, considers what he dubs cosmic fear, as ‘an exhilarating mixture of fear, moral revulsion, and wonder” as a way of showing an affinitive link between the horrific image and ourselves. ‘Cosmic fear’ represents our fascination with scaring ourselves, the result of an innate fear of the unknown that actually verges on awe. Lovecraft is not referring to a fear that we avoid that are of the natural realm, such as earthquakes or poisonous spiders, but to those things that we accept as unreal. This unknown is instead compelling and attractive, Noel Carroll states in Philosophy Of Horror (1990),
‘Fear itself is distasteful and would naturally be avoided; but cosmic fear is not simply fear but awe, fear compounded with some sort of visionary dimension which is said to be keenly felt and vital.’
Lovecraft suggests that in creating horrific imagery artists are expressing an appreciation for the unknown, which in turn could be interpreted as a facing of the subconscious. Although society tells us what is horrible and unacceptable, it is apparent we have an innate bond with those things that we fear, hence the desire to watch horror movies. In relation to art, one could claim that in creating an image of unworldly fear, such as the work of Hieronymus Bosch (see appendix 9), the artist is presenting a ‘cosmic fear’, celebrating the monstrous, though if it were real worldly would surely be avoided.
Lovecraft draws analogy between these feelings of horror and religious experience/ belief. The horrific causes the same ‘Instinctual feeling of awe for the unknown.’ They both refer to awe for things outside our realm of knowledge. One main argument for Jung’s ‘collective unconscious,’ was that man is able to conceive of things outside the realm of worldly knowledge, such as God or werewolves. The ideas outlined by Lovecraft support the claim that we have innate links to the monstrous and unknown. Rudolf Otto perpetuates the analogy between religion and horror.
‘That is the object of religious experience- and here it helps to have something like God in mind- is tremendous, causing fear in the subject, a paralysing sense of being overpowered, of being dependent, of being nothing of being worthless… it is awe-full, resulting in a sense of awe.’
Similarly, Otto also compares the parallels between religious experience and horror, ho goes further to suggest that all feelings of fear (and thus awe) that are gained from horror, is in fact the same method used to fulfil the fascinations of religion in an ‘ungodly age’. Otto suggests that much horror derives from religious concepts. The horrors depicted in Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings of hellish scenes can be seen as direct biblical manifestations. Catholicism, a key factor in my childhood, in particular, has many parallels with horror, for example flagellation, sin and damnation. More recently the Chapman Brothers (see appendix 10) have drawn from religious imagery in order to create ‘horrific’ and provoking work. Religious imagery such as Christ crucified, is synonymous with horror, and serves to control people utilising fear. Much like cautionary tales of monsters like the werewolf, told to keep children from being naughty.
One can understand that the horrific expressed by an artist is a way of coping with emotion. Freudian perspectives argue that they are a representation of the artist’s subconscious. So then, the idea of transformation into a beast or werewolf could be a method of purging guilt. In order to illustrate this point the film Salo by Pier Paolo Pasolini should be considered. Salo presents a story of explicit rape, humiliation and other atrocities to represent the sadist nature of fascist regimes. Unlike tales of werewolves, there is nothing fantastical about Salo. Pasolini is presenting not his affiliation with what happened in the war but his acknowledgement of the atrocities. He is not creating metaphors but replicates in a fictional realm the horrors of the fascist rule. He confronts issues that directly influenced his life as an Italian during the war. The film is overwhelming and horrific, but at the same time necessary, as it purges the collective national guilt. Jean Baudrillard gives insight into this discussing the conversion from historical atrocity into the realm of fiction, where recontextualizing allowing digestion of the acts. Without doing so the guilt may never be totally absolved from our collective conscience.
“…And in a sense this mythic conversion is the only operation which can, if not perhaps morally, exculpate us, at least absolve us in fantasy or responsibility for this original crime. But before this process can take place, before a crime can become as myth, the crime has first to be divested of its historical reality. Otherwise, since we have been, and still are, unable to come to terms historically with all these things – fascism, concentration camps, the holocausts – we will be condemned to repeat them eternally as a primal scene. ”
A fictitious story allows one to re-evaluate a situation and thus act as an acceptable outlet though the horror is recreated. This brings into the present consciousness an image or event that has been previously unable to be resolved. The subconscious hatred or disgust, that was previously an influence on ones mentality, might now, after evaluation, be resolved and firmly placed within the past. Re-evaluation may not lead to forgiveness but at least to understanding, perhaps liberating a hatred which may itself manifest into something ugly and horrific again.
However, Pasolini’s use of horrific images could be interpreted as a documentation of the war, to shock the audience and make them consider the point he wishes to raise. If using the ideas of Mike Kelley, one could conclude that we are drawn to consider its purpose and significance at face value and that it doesn’t hold a specific message or scientific formula of interpretation. Pasolini is merely creating a caricature, exaggerating representations of the wrong doings, and thus allowing them to be exposed. They hold no deeper message other than to be rejected by the audience.
‘The caricature… a portrait that deliberately transforms the features of its victims so as to exaggerate and thus expose their faults and weaknesses.’
It could be claimed that abject or monstrous images, have been created, as a way to further our more perverse interests. Man may simply be creating those things that interest us, these images therefore are a hedonistic tool; they make our mundane existence more pleasurable. Utilitarianism is a philosophical theory that claims that man should live a life that equates the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. By portraying the horrific or a werewolf for example, thus creating a sense of excitement, we may merely be propagating what we enjoy and gives us a thrill. The Marquis De Sade’s books for example are the ultimate in self-indulgent works. His 120 Days Of Sodom represents an exercise in revelling in Sade’s own interests and perverse tastes.
The Horrific, Concluded, But never Ending
Though based originally on my own idea, but having now considered my research, I feel I can confidently conclude that man and moreover artists, are innately attached to the horrific. This is based primarily on my studies into Carl Jung’s ‘collective unconscious.’ Through my analysis of Freud’s ‘the uncanny,’ it is my belief that one simply must have an innate knowledge of the archetypes defined in Jung’s work. I do however reject Freud’s claim that all concepts and production of the horrific stem from experience: in favour of Jung’s theories. I believe it was a successful decision to first outline what exactly the horrific and abject was, as it laid a solid foundation for a successful discourse into how the important the bond is and how it manifests itself in further context.
We are not ignorant of our current surroundings or free from its restraining accepted orders, so consideration has been given to the opinion that our views and artistic processes are controlled by ruling systems of the given socio/political time frame. However it is my conclusion that whilst social acceptability changes over time, it is possible to see that throughout history what compels a sense of horror does not change.
My case study into the werewolf throughout the text has made it clear that imagery similar to that which I create has reoccurred throughout history. I have showed that it is only the opinions and not what actually is horrific that varies over time, hence forth the argument that what is essentially ‘horrific’ is predetermined outside of the constraints of any given socio/political context.
I have taken into consideration the possibilities that horror does not come from any inner sense, but an awe of those things so overwhelming they threaten to destroy us. As with the sublime, the notion H.P. Lovecraft terms as ‘cosmic fear,’ is ‘an exhilarating mixture of fear, moral revulsion, and wonder.’ To believe this one would have to ignore the production of horrific images by children who have yet to develop any such attraction.
What we do not understand must be explored through an outlet if it cannot be studied by conventional means. In agreement with Rudolf Otto, and Henry Drummond’s ‘god of the gaps theory,’ I agree, there are parallels between religion and the horrific and that they are key in understanding the origins of why we as people feel compelled to create monstrosities within visual arts. To suggest however that ones attraction to horror stems from a lack of understanding as opposed to internal attachment seems illogical, because as I have previously stated the knowledge of archetypes are prevalent through countless societies.
I feel that I have gone some way in explaining the derivation of the affiliation some have with monstrous imagery. So finally it must be stated that horrific depictions have occurred throughout history, and will continue on, because are attachment for whatever reason is very strong.