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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...

Friday, May 23, 2014


Though the other four essays in this series focus on my abstract theory of the combinatory-sublime, I will confine this one to a particular case shared online by horror-fan Brittany-Jade Colangelo, in her essay "How Can You Watch Horror While You're Dying?"

In this essay Colangelo details her struggle with pancreatic cancer, which as of May 2, 2013, was still ongoing:

As of right now, I'm cancer free.  However, I have to wait 5 years to be determined truly out of the woods.  I don't want to sound like a John Green novel, but I really am a ticking time bomb.
The diagnosis affected her viewing habits:

I've always watched a large amount of horror movies, but since being diagnosed I've found myself almost exclusively watching horror

I think it's safe to venture that most persons who don't have a strong liking for the horror-genre would be surprised at this, but Colangelo offers a succinct explanation.

The ultimate and universal appeal of horror is the desire to survive despite tremendous odds and uncertainty. How could sick people not enjoy that?  The other part is the need to realize it could be worse. I may have cancer, but they can cut that out of me and I can (hopefully) move on with my life.  I just watched a chick get arrowed to death by some indigenous people on her spring break.  I may have staples down my stomach, but those will get removed and this other girl just took a nail gun TO THE FACE.  Okay, so I can't have sex for a month or two, but this guy was just killed while he was IN his girlfriend.

While I would not imply that Colangelo's essay "proves" any of the theories I have advanced, I would say that the use of fictional deaths to offset one's own real-life fear of mortality is about the best possible example of "positive compensation" I can come up with, even better than Tolkien's validation of fantasy-fiction for its ability to provide "consolation."  Colangelo is certainly not justifying her favored genre in terms of some airy-fairy "I wish things could be better" sentiment. In fact, Colangelo sums up the appeal of the horror genre not as some vague masochistic impulse, but in terms of "the desire to survive despite tremendous odds and uncertainty."  This emphasis upon strength and will puts me in mind of a quote from the endocrinologist Hans Selye, which I quoted earlier in this essay.

Selye published in 1975 a model dividing stress into eustress and distress.[16] Where stress enhances function (physical or mental, such as through strength training or challenging work), it may be considered eustress. Persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation, deemed distress, may lead to anxiety or withdrawal (depression) behavior.

So, using Selye's terms, the beneficent effect Colangelo derives from horror-films can only be considered an example of "eustress," since it enhances her power to function positively in the world. That statement does not demonstrate that other individuals might not use the same genre-materials as a means to withdraw from the world, a.k.a. "distress." But as I've mentioned in countless essays, the elitist critic can only see one side of the coin, because his subliminal message is always, "Don't read this thing that *I* think is worthless trash; read this other thing that I think is valuable and enduring."

Fortunately, the venerable William Blake has provided the counter to this presumption, which I can't possibly improve upon:

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