The case for horror literature
Stephen King makes his case for the
…the horror story as both literature and entertainment, a living part of twentieth-century literature…They are books and stories which seem to me to fulfill the primary duty of literature— to tell us the truth about ourselves by telling us lies about people who never existed.”
Danse Macabre, Stephen King
parse v. 1 resolve (a sentence) into its component parts and describe their syntactic roles
2 Computing analyse (text) into logical syntactic components
-Origin C16: perh. from ME pars ‘parts of speech’, from Fr. pars ‘parts’
syntax n.1 the combination of words and phrases to create well formed sentences > a set of rules for or an analysis of this 2 the structure of statements in a computer language
-Origin C16: from Fr. syntaxe, or via late L. from Gk suntazis, from sun-‘together’ + tassein ‘arrange’
Concise OED 11th th
Sunday School Religiousness in the American Deep South.
I speak from my experience and not hard numbers and facts.
So what I say will be true of my experience. And, what I extrapolate from my experiences will be messy and imprecise.
This not a scholarly approach. I’d like to share my thoughts as a cultural player.
Performances of scholarly work in public forums must come clean to the audience at every possible misstep.
The World’s Worst Disasters. Season 1; Episode 4-Alpine Avalanches. Lazy Saturday of indulging in ‘this type of show”, when this episode’s discussion included an explication of the types of avalanches, gave me the “hey, I never noticed that” experience and also triggered a memory. I’m a native, English speaker who grew up exclusively in the ‘Deep South’ region of the US; and, I did not have experiential knowledge of ‘snow’ whatsoever. (ref. ” ‘Snowmageddon’ in Birmingham, AL 2014″ vis a viz internet search engine results).
Two decades ago, in 7th grade, I took a class entitled “French I”, and that was also my 1st formal exposure to foreign language. One of the first words the class learned was “après–ski.” My experience-to date at the time-of 13ish years of reality could not conceive of a reality where the need to express such a thing would exist was an outrageous concept. How could it be a noun? Do you go to an après–ski? If it was a revelation when linguists discovered how many words Aleutians possessed to denote “white”; it was a revelation to a 13 year old girl in Tuscaloosa, AL that whatever it was these people did after skiing would require a formal symbol for representation.
Psychologists deal with the slippery subject of mental states. Now, your general practitioner, who you see for your annual physical check up, can flirt with the treatment of mental states. She or he may prescribe you something for low-level anxiety or sleep but they generally only provide medication or a referral.
That is the standard physician approach: there is a tangible thing presented as the probable solution for any given health concen–medication to produce chemical changes within the body; an incision to physically pluck the ailment from the body; a replacement for a broken part, a lung transplant, for instance. A general practicier, however, cannot help with that root canal you’ve been ignoring.
Fair enough, right?
Human bodies are complicated meat sacks with numerous systems, pieces of anatomy, sensory receptor devices like eyes or tongues, and organs that keep it all going. So we see specialization (dentistry, gynocology, surgery, etc) and even specialized specialization (neurosurgeon, pediatrist, optometrist, etc).
Yet. those specialities related to mental wellness appear idiosyncratic in regards to both the doctor-patient relationship and the standards & management of patient care. Namely, the coordination of medication with therapeutic treatment sessions.
Historically, health praticicioners and society referred to mentally unwell folks as mental defectives, demonically possessed, undesirable, prophets, lazy, feeble-minded, and genetically undesirable
It is elusive to us in a way ‘physical’ illness is not
I can see a hairline fracture with x-ray technology and I can see lab results produced by the scientific testing of my bodily fluids, and the report advises the lab discerned a virus had invaded my system,accounting for my aches and pains.I cannot see Post Traumatic Syndrome; I can take someone’s blood pressure, I cannot quantitatively measure someone’s level of depression.
Perhaps this is why we feel the need to distinguish between ‘physical’ malady and ‘mental’ malady in the first place, as opposed to just calling all illnesses ‘illness.’
The connections wired throughout the physical brain, create a self and this self experiences the surrounding reality to the extent that the physical body remains in its proper working condition (good health).
The symptoms of mental maladies manifest via our behaviors in the way that anatomical and physiological maladies present in the body’s various organ systems.
Perhaps we cannot shake the idea that physical sickness is largely outside of a person’s control. If my appendix ruptures I cannot will it back together again, nor would anyone in their right mind expect me to be able to do so.
However, what if I won’t go to work because I believe an evil elf lives inside my mailbox and will kill me if I walk by it? Do you expect me to will myself to ‘get over it?’ If my sense of reality has ruptured somewhere within my perceiving mind am I anymore capable of willing it back together than I was capable of willing my appendix back together?
It is almost as though some area of my mind I am generally unaware of on a day to day basis is taking control over ‘me’ or whatever you call that perceiver who examines the thoughts of the mind and chooses which to act on, which to ignore, which to believe, etc. Think of autoimmune diseases whereby an afflicted individual’s immune system begins to attack good, healthy cells. Here an evolved physiological system goes haywire and attacks that which gives it being and existence in the first place.
Similarly, the mind can go haywire, and attack the mental state of the self. Having an appendectomy is an acceptable reason to take leave from work and family and to rest and heal. Taking these same allowances while working past the evil mailbox troll (with all it’s panic attack inducing, odd behavior causing, work/family missing consequences) until I no longer suffer from its alleged influence is a much harder sell to make to the rest of society at large. The idea of allowing people to openly profess and work through their own mental delusions does not always sit well with the rest of our cultural compadres.
This mental, existential type of malady requires a certain amount of comfort with the idea that we are not always in control of our minds that society, by virtue of it being society, cannot accept. Society forces us to constantly be in control of our minds. We pick up and send out cues to signal and follow other cues and behaviors such that our many independent parts become something larger than the sum of ourselves. Collectively we are one of Douglas Hofstadter’s ‘epiphenomena.’
Society’s existence requires the creation of, learning of, and obeying of accepted rules. These rules inform our mind in various situations, and we remember past situations which required us to follow these same rules and we use those memories to guide us to appropriately follow the rules this time, too. Thus society sets up a framework through which we can perceive others in relation to ourselves. More accurately, it is a system that allows us to see ourselves by juxtaposing your self against other selves, seeing your own idiosyncratic mind reveal itself in contrast to the minds of others , and we glimpse within those other minds that we can never open up and look inside. Thus society gives us a framework with which to perceive ourselves as individuals creating something bigger than our individual selves.
The idea that the mind could, at anytime, take that socially learned framework and distort it, terrifies and undermines society’s teleological purpose, which is to bring order to chaos. So society has a vested interest in defining what is real and what is not; what is expected and what is unacceptable; what a normal brain is and what a disordered brain is. But perhaps there is no such thing as a normal brain. We must be careful not to confuse the demands of society on an individual’s mind with the demands of natural selection or misfortune on an individual’s brain.
The radical cultural relativism popular in contemporary anthropological thought presupposes that cultures are incommensurable* with one another. On one level, this is true, on a higher level, it is a truism–they are still both ‘cultures.’ Cultures, as considered here, is a fundamental psychological mechanism that is included in the homo sapiens adaptive package.
This is not a reductionist call to arms. By reference to biology and physics, we anchor the human experiences to the same weight–we do so with awareness of the western biomedical paradigm which we in the western sciences use to see–we do not do so to reduce the human experiences to the same end or to the sum of their parts, as much as out of respect to those who would be upset were not to acknowledge our own self-awareness (I find this practice tedious and unnecessary, but I am pliable).
The elegance of anthropology is not to be found in the creation of axiomatic laws of culture nor can it be found with long-winded diatribes that can appear to be little more than an appeal to authority–not a legitimate data source.
Its elegance lies in its ability to elucidate the unseen and unseeable veil of the unknown and the unknowable. It is the notion of experiencing that meta-pattern which is the epi-phenomenon of our actions and thoughts and their innumerable interactions and influences. “Except in pure mathematics, nothing is known for certain (although much is certainly false).”(Sagan)
To tack the discussion back towards something more tangible, there exists a black and white distinction within the hard sciences in regards to what is scientific and what, conversely, is not scientific: does it meet the standards of the scientific method (is it repeatable, is it measurable?) Yes or no?
“Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions.”(Sagan, a candle in the dark).
Whereas a biologist can confidently announce, ‘yes, this is so’ (assuming proper lab conditions and standards); a social ‘scientist’ cannot. A social scientist has reservations and restrictions: about the repeatability of the experiment and the repeatability of the experiment’s environment, about phantom variables that may not have been controlled for, about the success of maintaining objectivity during methodology.
The biologist’s evidence is ‘scientific’ by definition and thus the biologist’s conclusions are sure-footed, so to speak (even if they are not directly on the bull’s eye). The social scientist’s evidence is ‘take my word for it’ or ‘you had to be there’ (i.e. others have no way to verify the data or methodology and thus the social scientist’s conclusions are grasping at straws (even if the analogies appear to be commonsense).
(1) Whether the social scientist’s conclusions are correct in the ultimate sense, is not the the concern here. The concern is the social scientist’s conclusions are intuitions but there is not a whole lot in the way of objective evidence for the social scientist to point at and say ‘see for yourself.’
(2) The heart of what this blog tries to get at directly reduces to the phenomenon of a priori reasoning.
Many physicists, especially of the theoretical persuasion, use a priori reasoning and only afterward design and perform an experiment. But when social scientists, particularly anthropologists, use a priori reasoning they construct a paradigm or viewpoint, a perspective, from which they will watch the experiment as it unfolds. What they see and what they do not see will be determined by this a priori explanatory paradigmatic scaffolding. When someone later on questions this constructed meaning-making paradigm, you can point to the experiment; but, what has happened is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You decide what “culture” means scientifically, measurably, precisely, and consistently. To prove this definition you cite the experiment you performed using your personal or externally referenced paradigm of what culture is. But, your experimental evidence does not confirm or support your paradigm necessarily, it reflects the assumptions you made before you even began experimenting. You did not really learn anything, you saw what you set out to see.
I owe some references here and will cite sources shortly.