Sunday, November 5, 2017

Horror Fiction, Lyric Poetry, and Short Stories

Joanna Russ on horror fiction:

"Perhaps the very nature of fiction militates against the use of horror-story material as narrative fiction. Although the horror-story image feels true (at least at the time one feels like that), it's not the whole truth of anybody's situation and so a moment's reflection will qualify the impact of the image. To my mind, even the best examples of pure horror story (like Poe's) are badly weakened by the necessity of keeping the reader from that moment of reflection. Avoiding thought is not a good recipe for art. I suspect that the most aesthetically successful examples of the genre move toward tragedy or social protest or something besides horror-story per se. Probably the ideal place for the raw, undiluted experience-treated-as-the-whole-truth is in lyric poetry, which is not under an obligation to add to the question What does it feel like? the further question Yes, but what is it, really?


"One very bright young woman described her adolescent reading of SF as a genuinely subversive force in her life, a real alternative to the fundamentalist community into which she had been born. This alternative had nothing to do with the cardboard heroes and heroines or the imperial American/engineering values which she had skipped right over. What got to her were the alien landscapes and the alien creatures. We scholars perhaps tend to forget how much subversive potential both SF and fantasy have, even at their crudest. Orwell to the contrary, there really is a certain subversive force to statements like Big Brother is ungood. Of course if people stay at this level without analysis and without remedies, nothing happens except a constant desire for repetition of the original, elementary validation. That is, you have addiction, a phenomenon well exemplified by the Lovecraft fans, who seem to constitute a perpetual audience for more HPL, more posthumous collaborations with HPL, more biographies of HPL, more imitation HPL, and so on."

-- From
"On the Fascination of Horror Stories," in
To Write Like A Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction, by Joanna Russ.
Indiana University Press, 1995.
To her comments, I'd like to add my own perspective:

As H. E. Bates and Seán Ó Faoláin have pointed out, short stories often bear a stronger resemblance to lyric poetry than to any other literary form. In my view, this makes short stories ideally suitable for horror that focuses on "raw, undiluted experience-treated-as-the-whole-truth." (William Sansom, for one, offers pure examples of this.)

Also, it is precisely because horror is not a genre that it can easily encompass tragedy, or social comment, or any other narrative element that writers bring to it.

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