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… has had UD thinking about horror. So here is her sermon on horror.

This is Part One, because Les UDs are going out for a meal soon.

She begins with this text, from the novelist Harold Brodkey’s memoir, written as he was dying of AIDS:

Life is a kind of horror. It is OK, but it is wearing.

It is OK – that is, we can take it, we do take it; or we ignore it (“I have wondered at times if maybe my resistance to the fear-of-death wasn’t laziness and low mental alertness, a cowardly inability to admit that horror was horror,” Brodkey writes elsewhere.), or we – and this is where it gets interesting, if you ask ol’ UD – we cultivate that admission as an important awareness.

Brodkey rightly identifies his inability to admit that horror is horror as cowardly: Keep your mind in hell and do not despair is the epigraph to Gillian Rose’s early-dying memoir, and it goes to the ethical imperative, if you want to be a serious, reflective person, to evolve and sustain the double vision implicit in Saint Silouan’s famous statement.

Even our writers, though, seem reluctant to help us out here. In his essay, “Inside the Whale,” George Orwell points out that “ordinary everyday life consists far more largely of horrors than writers of fiction usually care to admit.”


Taking on board the horror means not merely acknowledging as fully as you can the first noble truth of suffering; it also means (I suppose this is a subset of suffering; but hold on, cuz my sermon wants to focus on our love of profoundly horrifying films) acknowledging how intimately, sickeningly, undone we are by the lifelong spectacle of just how enigmatically grotesque and grotesquely enigmatic are both grounded human existence and ungrounded cosmic reality.

I read somewhere (can’t find the source) that the best way to get through life is engrossed in “reasonably short-term, manageable anxieties.” Your kid needs to get a job; you want to pay off the mortgage in five years; you want to take fifty points off your cholesterol score. If you can manage, for most of your run, to keep your head down and contend not at all with the incommensurable violent isolating madness just over the atmosphere, bravo. Or maybe it’s cowardly. But anyway, it’s functional, and you’ll get by.

Think of all those great books about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Most people would prefer to be John Roebling, totally engrossed for decades in iron probes, than doomed, metaphysical, Hart Crane.

You probably don’t get Chartres or the Brooklyn Bridge built if, like John Koethe, you spend extended time wondering this:

What feels most frightening
Is the thought that when the lightning
Has subsided, and the clearing sky
Appears at last above the stage
To mark the only end of age,
That God, that distant and unseeing eye,

Would see that none of this had ever been:
That none of it, apparent or unseen,
Was ever real, and all the private words,
Which seemed to fill the air like birds
Exploding from the brush, were merely sounds
Without significance or sense,
Inert and dead beneath the dense
Expanse of the earth in its impassive rounds.

Horror vacui is a place many of us have been, and fine, because the capacity to entertain the possibility of nihilism is, I think, a mark of a sensitive, educated person.

But there’s also horror plenitudinis, no? That moment in our lives, wrote Rilke, where

the pure too-little

is changed incomprehensibly -, altered

into that empty too-much.

And this is where the horror film comes in.


My opening text on that subject is this one, from one of many excited reviews of Hereditary:

Despite the challenge of watching the film, reviews so far have been almost universally glowing. Critics have lauded Hereditary’s ability to get under their skin, noting that it’s the kind of movie you just can’t shake, as much as you’d like to. The feedback suggests that people turn to films like Hereditary because they want to be fucked up

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