I’m afraid of the dark. I wake up in the middle of the night to a creak and I have the relentless terror of an Edgar Allen Poe protagonist: “it’s only the wind in the chimney…” I look in the mirror late at night and am always afraid of what I might see over my shoulder. BUT I live in a house where a horror film about a family of cannibals was filmed and it thrills me more that alarms me (though I still don’t go to the cellar.)
I’ve read scary stories since I was a kid and love horror movies (David won’t watch them so I binge watch them on planes where people clearly think I have problems.)
There are many who suggest that fear as a genre (the ghost story) was really perfected by Victorians who had to grapple with the sudden rapid shift of the way their worlds had changed. Servants especially had to understand the move from village to town, from the understood cottage context to great electric lit homes. Scary stories (often told on Christmas Eve) were a way to interpret the radical change they were experiencing.
At the bedside in every guest room in our house there’s a copy of M.R. James’ stories because nothing quite captures the uncanny so quickly. Whistle and I will come - A story with a figure approaching from a distant landscape has no intricate story telling devices, it relies on the immediately understandable horror of a distant approaching figure and nothing more. True horror arises for immediately understandable context.
Monk on the beach by Caspar David Freidrich takes the glory of humanity, alone in nature, to a place of despair and horror that is similar to the best of M.R. James. A simple trope that once seated in your mind won’t leave. It’s the reason looking in the mirror still holds fear, it’s so easy to believe that there will be someone right behind you.
I was having dinner with an interesting mix of media folks and academics in Miami recently and we discussed the notion of “dark play,” games and gaming that allow children to play all roles, victim and victimizer. These can be as diverse as astronaut and alien or video war games which allow you to play all parts. This dark play doesn’t turn out dark kids - rather kids with surprising empathy.
If there is a role for dark play, then what is the role of dark memes in our lives? While the Victorians may have crystallized it - not just in fiction but in the new medium of photography - the web has made dark memes more prevalent more wide spread. Scares have gotten shorter, easier to convey, and more visceral.
Websites like creepy pasta. http://www.creepypasta.com take short text based horror into the world of horror memes. Whether it’s 1 line terror…
There was a picture in my phone of me sleeping. I live alone.
Or one image terror (which has been around well before Photoshop):
We’re still looking for fear as a way to interpreted and re-interpret our world.
I’m curious to spend more time thinking about why and how fear helps us interpret and understand the worlds we live in.
This gazelle (or is it an Ibis)now sits above our dining room table and represents an obsession I’ve had with taxidermy for years. It likely started with my first visit to Le Musee du Chasse et Nature, my all time favorite museum which focuses almost entirely on taxidermy. It’s an artful and playful place that somehow let’s impressive wild beasts though long dead hold sway over the visitor as though they live. You can’t help but be awed.
Maybe it’s a momento mori effect the idea that we invite death into life that attracts me. Even at dinner after all death awaits. Maybe it’s the vaguely comic ways taxidermy shows up. From surrealist art…
To the ubiquitous fox with a bird in its mouth…
I’ve really struggled with the idea of owning my own taxidermy until we moved to the farm upstate where taxidermy is real. It’s a profession, it matters and is an art. I was speaking to an expert recently who was talking about how in the past great taxidermists carved wooden forms as the support for the animal, now it’s all done with spray foam and styrene which has no art to it at all
Of course at present the only person who’s yet to like my gazelle/ibis is from France.