"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."
THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.
Monday, May 21, 2012
ON THE "GOTHIC"
Shirley Jackson, “The Haunting of Hill House”
Though I don’t recall the percise wording, it was Clive Barker who described Gothic fiction as an art form which rejects psychological and pseudo-scientific explanations in favor of poetic, magical thinking. It earns the label, “gothic,” because it recreates the Dark Ages, a time of brooding uncertainty and dark superstition. Gothic came into its own with the Age of Enlightenment; as people turned increasingly towards rationality and reason in their daily lives, the superstitious and the sinister was repressed, predictably to find expression in art. Naturally it was in England—the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution—that it found its strongest voice and attracted its greatest practitioners before seeping out to infect the rest of the world.
I’ve written all sorts of things since I started around the age of 12, but it is invariably the Gothic that draws me back to write again. My attraction is twofold. On one hand, I write the Gothic because I am intellectually a rational materialist. My worldview does not generally include the supernatural (though I remain open to the possibility should evidence ever present itself). I don’t believe in the notion of devils, spirits, and gods except as projections of the human condition on the cosmos at large. Because of this, I suppose, the notion of them existing is particularly terrifying to me. Which brings me to the second point. I find it very difficult to understand people who do believe in the supernatural. That people chose to live in worlds where the disembodied dead continue to exist, where evil finds genuine personification in the guise of demons, where a single spiritual dictator sits in absolute judgement over all boggles my mind. Writing “Gothic” therefore is a way to explore that side of myself I usually deny, and to try to crawl into the worldview of people I do not easily understand.
My personal feeling is that man is by nature an amphibious being that swims in the lagoon of dreams and irrationality only to emerge and crawl about on hard, dry, logic. This seems natural and necessary: otherwise there would be no art, mythology, or religion. People with no poetry in their souls as at least as broken as those who cannot separate fantasy from reality, and the worst doom I can imagine is to “grow up” and become one of those 9 to 5 people who never allow themselves moments of childish terror and wonder. To characterize such pursuits as mere “escapism” is to mark yourself not as a human, but as some gray-faced automaton.
Aside from writing and telling stories, one of the ways I keep in touch with my irrational side is my “ritual chamber.” I keep a room in my house set aside for this, as what Anton LaVey so wonderfully called an “intellectual decompression chamber.” Inside that room, the unseen universe of devils, ghosts, and angels is real, and fantasies are indulged in. But these get left by the door. What happens in that room happens to scratch a primal, primitive itch, and when I emerge I can fully be the 21st century rationalist again. The same process occurs when I sit down to write (or role-play). I switch off the part of me that says “Humbug, bah!” and allow myself to think as a child again. I suppose because my world view is in general so bleak (we exist to propogate, life has no intrinsic meaning other than living, death is the end), I need these bouts of irrationality to vent off steam.
If I found religion, perhaps I would no longer need to write at all.