Nightmare Magazine runs a regular column, ‘The H Word’ which looks at various issues pertaining to horror literature. The most recent column, subheaded ‘Why Do We Read Horror‘ is by Mike Davis of the wonderful Lovecraft Ezine. He begins his piece by bravely giving an example of some of the abuse that he suffered as a child whilst growing up in a religious cult -he has mentioned this on the Ezine chats a number of times otherwise I wouldn’t mention it- and then goes on to look at his own personal reasons for reading disturbing fiction. It’s a good read and I would suggest that you give it a gander.
The piece got me thinking a bit about why it is that I enjoy dark fiction as well as the idea of horror as a form of catharsis whether I read this sort of stuff because it allows me to exorcise some of my demons (do I, therefore, write it to exercise those same demons?) and the conclusion that I came to is: nope. Looking back over the course of my life and my reading patterns I tend towards escapist fiction -science fiction and fantasy- when I’m in a dark place myself and towards darker literature when I’m in a slightly better place. I think that I read dark fiction because it allows me to keep the demons at bay in way that is healthier than indulging in my other pain killers of choice. Healthier for me and healthier for those around me.
Engaging with the darkness in this way isn’t an intellectual exercise -though for something to be horrifying to me it has to engage my intellect but that’s by the by- it is a way of stimulating those parts of my psyche that come to the fore when I feel the clouds begin to muster. In doing this it ensures that I am used to feeling a certain way and can identify the warning signs of a black spell coming on and take measures to mitigate the worst of the effects. Keeping one foot in the darkness means that I am rarely surprised when it sends its tendrils into the light.
I have a similar way of dealing with ‘traumatic’ events that have happened in my life -and boy, some of them have been proper doozies. Whilst I can’t say that my life experiences have been anything like Mike Davis’ experiences I have led a rather colourful and pained life. I’m not going to go into the specifics here as unlike Mike I, primarily, don’t have the courage to be so open about the things that have scarred me and secondly, in light of what I’m about to say, I am appalled by the trauma Olympics that play out in the discourse around trauma and ‘trigger warnings’ online. Mike Davis, for the record, isn’t engaging in the Trauma Olympics here, he’s just using his experiences to illustrate a point which is a completely different thing.
I placed ‘trigger warnings’ in scare quotes above as the practice has mutated over the last 4-5 years into something that bears little resemblance to the practice first utilised on feminist message boards to allow full and frank discussion of violence, both domestic and sexual, against women. Now there is a profusion of these warnings that cover everything from sexual assault to ‘imperialism’. We also see absurd calls from students in American universities -and yes, I live in the UK but these things have an awful habit of making their way to the Old World rather rapidly, thank you internet- calling for trigger warnings to be placed on Ovid’s Metamophoses and other works of literature.
This desire to protect survivors of trauma has had an extremely toxic effect in that the only voices that are heard are those of people able, and willing, to talk openly -and very publicly- about traumatic experiences and the voices of those who present themselves as ‘allies’ of survivors. Unheard are the voices of those who do not wish to make public their private life experiences -I most certainly won’t though you’re welcome to read my stories and try and glean something from them, that’ll be a laugh. No, we now see the discourse around trauma dominated by the vocal few and those who opt not to click ‘Share’ on their own experiences are silenced by the ‘allies’ of survivors as they do not visibly tick the right boxes when it comes to who should be listened to on these matters. Those who don’t bare their souls are instructed to ‘shut up and listen’ -the assumption being that if their Tumblr profile doesn’t include a list of their own personal traumas then it should be assumed that they have no right to speak on such matters.
I mentioned in my piece on Simon Pegg’s comments with regards the infantilisation of culture that I do believe that this process is ongoing though I identify a different manifestation of the process. It is this attitude towards trauma and uncomfortable life situations which is, to my mind, responsible for the infantilisation of our culture. It is the desire to hide from uncomfortable and unpleasant experiences which leads to grown adults being unable to cope with the world around them -unable to cope as the world is a dark and fucked up place that, at the end of the day, does not bend to individual desires.
Now; I am not special. I am a random confluence of atoms that have coalesced through all manner of extremely complex processes kicked off by a chain of events stretching back billions of years and shaped by experiences and interactions that were all brought about by the same chain of events. This is remarkable, this makes me unique, but on a lump of rock covered in over six billion other similar entities and accompanied by uncountable billions of other unique creatures I am not special at all. There is nothing in my life experiences that is not manifest a thousand times over elsewhere on the planet and so why should I, in my unique and remarkable non-entitiness, expect the world around me to be shaped and moulded by my desires? It is I who must learn to live with the world -not the world with I.
It is the fostering of, and pandering to, this expectation which is responsible for the infantilisation of our culture. As children our parents, hopefully, try their best to protect us from the harrowing reality that can be adult life. They protect us from the reality which they themselves have to deal with. This is, I think, a good thing as childhood should be the sort of thing which is experienced in glorious technicolour rather than the drab browns and greys of adulthood. It is not however right for adults to expect to have a layer of cotton wool between themselves and the world. It is even less right for adults to expect the rest of society to be responsible for providing and maintaining this barrier.
One of the things that we do as adults is find ways of being able to function in a world that is not of our making nor under our control. There are as many ways of doing this as there are people -everything from watching chat shows through hanging out with friends to having therapy or medication to deal with specific issues. Everyone has their way of coping with the realities of adult life.
To be continually sheltered from the vicissitudes and discomfort of adult life means that the ability to cope with life is stunted and for this reason the culture of ally-dom and supposedly survivor centric discourse around trauma has a negative effect both on wider society and the individual survivors.
The way that I have developed to deal with the sheer existential horror of both life in capitalist society and the knowledge of the utter meaninglessness of the sickeningly short amount of time that we have on this planet is to stare into that darkness, laugh loud and make a joke about its mother. Reading dark and disturbing fiction -and listening to dark music and watching dark films- allows me to do this. It keeps my one foot in the darkness so that I can kick it in the nuts when it tries to take away the light.
Full Disclosure: Before folk start to question the validity of my opinion on trauma fetishists I have indeed experienced traumatic events -some that would make your fucking toes curl- and have worked extremely closely with people who have suffered traumas the likes of which privileged Western college kids couldn’t even begin to imagine, let alone understand. So, yeah, the fetishists of trauma can cock right off. 😛
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