Sunday, August 25, 2013

Gothic: To Fulfill A Strange Human Need?

Psychologically, the Gothic novel serves cathartic purposes and a fundamental human need, what Virginia Woolf called "the strange human need of feeling afraid".

In the dead of the night, I shiver violently at blood-curling renditions of vampire folktales, I sometimes even let out a gasp of terror when I re-read Stoker's Dracula or another R. L. Stine novel, finding my palms clammy and my body covered in cold sweat.

So why do people torture themselves like this? Why are they so willing to be turned into traumatized yet addicted consumers of fear?

I believe in humanity's inner fascination with the grotesque and the frightening, inexplicable, overwhelming aspects of the universe and the human soul.

As a New York Times article "Embracing Fear as Fun To Practice for Reality; Why People Like to Terrify Themselves" by David Blum tells us, in real life, human beings are packaged in the flimsiest of packages, threatened by real and sometimes horrifying dangers. But the narrative form puts those fears into a manageable series of events. It gives us a way of thinking rationally about our fears.

As long as whatever that is happening in the books isn't happening to us, we feel safe and want to experience the terror and thrill without actual repercussions

However, I think it is worth wondering: with the volume and intensity of scary stories and movies and arranged experiences growing so rapidly, is it getter harder to satisfy the craving for fear?

Perhaps. That is why many modern readers find Gothic literature not very scary but instead rather conservative and refined. 

However, I do beg to differ. To me, Gothic classics such as Stoker's Dracula never fail to scare me despite the long sentences and elaborate descriptions. Stoker, I believe, mastered the arts of scaring and writing perfectly. His demonstration of humanity's division between a finite, physical identity and the often terrifying, bizarre forces of the infinite never can be attained by any modern writer, even if said writer was his great grand-nephew. 

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