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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, April 29, 2013


I've mentioned earlier that during my first re-readings of C.S. Lewis' introductory essay from THE PROBLEM OF PAIN, I found it curious that Lewis should have used the figure of the "ghost" for his figure of dread.  For many readers, the idea of a "ghost" may evoke the feeling of "awe" as much as "dread," since ghosts are no less marvelous entities than gods, if one views the marvelous as a breach in the nature of the causal order.

Lewis' use of the term "ghosts" for his interstitial category of "Dread" takes on ironic context in my system. In said system any work that depicts a ghost as being unquestionably existential does of course fall into the category of the marvelous, not the uncanny. 
However, as a result of reading THE IDEA OF THE HOLY, I realize now that for Lewis the phenomenon of the ghost was not a true marvel.  Lewis was almost certainly following the lead of Rudolf Otto, who views the ghost-fears of primitive cultures to be no more than gross superstition, informed by the numinous impulse but not possessed of any existential reality, as a ghost in a M.R. James story would have.

In fact, the passage I've previously quoted from Otto firmly sets all such superstitions within the sphere of "daemonic dread," a state clearly lower than that of "developed religions."

 The numinous only unfolds its full content by slow degrees, as
one by one the series of requisite stimuli or incitements becomes
operative. But where any whole is as yet incompletely
presented its earlier and partial constituent moments or elements,
aroused in isolation, have naturally something bizarre, un-
intelligible, and even grotesque about them...[Daemonic dread]
looks more like the opposite of religion than
religion itself. If it is singled out from the elements which form
its context, it appears rather to resemble a dreadful form of
auto-suggestion, a sort of psychological nightmare of the tribal
mind, than to have anything to do with religion ; and the
supernatural beings with whom men at this early stage profess
relations appear as phantoms, projected by a morbid, unde
veloped imagination afflicted by a sort of persecution-phobia.
One can understand how it is that not a few inquirers could
seriously imagine that * religion began with devil-worship,
and that at bottom the devil is more ancient than God.
What's fascinating about this passage is that in his dismissal of superstitious faiths-- sometimes characterized as "uncanny"-- he characterizes superstition in ways that resemble three of the fiction-tropes to which I attribute the phenomenality of my "uncanny" category.  Just as my category connotes the way "strangeness" can appear without violating the causal order in the cognitive sense, Otto is, for very different reasons, concerned with associating the uncanny with a level of religion which is explicable in terms of causality and contingency.

"Auto-suggestion" strongly resembles my trope "enthralling hypnotism and illusionism," which I have used to describe those works in which manipulative individuals can sway the wills of others with the art of suggestion and/or illusion-effects.

"Psychological nightmare" calls to mind my trope of the "perilous psycho," in which madness takes on uncanny status when it discloses a level of "strangeness" that goes beyond empirical concepts of simple insanity.

"Phantoms projected by a morbid, undeveloped imagination" bears comparison with the trope of "phantasmal figurations," in which a figure like a ghost is unreal in some way, either because it's an outright counterfeit projected by a human agent, or because it has some questionable origins.  In this recent essay I compared two films that used this trope, one of them not too well known-- REVENGE AT THE OLD DANISH CORRAL, or something like that.

I 'll note that if I were rewriting Lewis to fit my scheme, his "fear/dread/awe" trinity would be illustrated with the three examples of "tiger," "daemon," and "god"-- for even in archaic Greek tradition, the notion of the daemon was often ambivalent as to whether it was a real entity or not. 

Lastly, I noted here that though Otto does not formally propose that "the uncanny" as an interstitital category, it is a term that he often applies to the process of "daemonic dread"-- and this dread, which he states to be an *a priori* quality, does occupy an interstitial place between simple, natural fear and the awe of Abraham before his Maker. 

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