Horror and the sublime

Psychology, transcendence and the role of terror

Authored by: Christopher Hauke

The Routledge International Handbook of Jungian Film Studies

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138666962
eBook ISBN: 9781315619163
Adobe ISBN:


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I am not a particular fan of the horror genre in film or literature but I have always been fascinated to know why horror attracts people as it does. Coming across the modern horror writer Thomas Ligotti, his reading of Lovecraft and the general distrust of human consciousness and pessimism regarding the human place in the world, I associated this with Jung’s critique of dominant conscious rationality and his Nietzschean scepticism about the achievements of rationality since the Enlightenment. For Jung,

reason and the will that is grounded in reason are valid only up to a point. The further we go in the direction selected by reason, the surer we may be that we are excluding the irrational possibilities of life which have just as much right to be lived.

(1943: §72) In this way the attraction and use of horror as a genre of entertainment and interest came together with a postmodern Jungian distrust in the achievements and place of human consciousness in nature. This then led to the idea that what was being sought was a transcendence of the limits of rational consciousness in an experience of the sublime. At its core, the horror genre sees our humanness and consciousness not as an enhancement or culmination of nature but an aberration. A mistake. In horror we may be seeking a route past such limitations. Otherwise we are left like the renegade Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness who, when confronted by the numinosity of life far beyond civilisation and human values, overwhelmed with awe merely whispers, ‘The horror! The horror!’

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