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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Preliminary Definition of Horror

composed for my Religion and Film class

In a culture that esteems binaries so highly, defining an abstract word by simply assigning it a series of synonyms or associated terms fails to encompass the totality of the word. We gain understanding of a concept not only by declaring what it is, but also through discerning what it is not. Oppositional concepts in particular reassure the universe’s innate orderliness: male and female, figure and ground, good and evil. Dualism permeates our lives to the point of intuition. Without a match, a balance, or an equalizer, a concept threatens stability, offsets the poise of the world.

Defining “horror” automatically invokes the usual slew of synonyms. Some perfect combination of loathing, repulsion, and terror might suffice. We could add a negative embellishment to this definition and say horror is not fondness, not tranquility, and perhaps achieve a further understanding this way. Yet none of these concepts capture the true essence of horror.

This is because horror is far beyond our system of binaries and the aforementioned concepts are not. The experience of horror occurs when a person cannot readily place an experience, an event, a sight or sense into a pre-defined organizational grid. The things we find horrific disrupt the continuity of our mental framework. Stated bluntly, horror constitutes that which is beyond our realm of understanding; it falls between binaries or is way outside of them. The best opposites of horror, “awe” or “wonder,” offer no orientating cues either for precisely the same reason: they are outside our realm of understanding. Thus, we can situate horror neither through affirmation nor apotheosis. Horror is perfectly incomprehensible.

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