Featured Post


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, December 9, 2016


During 2013 I devoted a great deal of blog-space to investigating the source of C.S. Lewis' trinity of "fear, dread, and awe" as he expressed them in THE PROBLEM OF PAIN. These terms, in less organized form, stemmed from Rudolf Otto's 1917 THE IDEA OF THE HOLY, which Lewis had read and appreciated. Both writers fall into the philosophical category of "Rationalists," whom Kant defines as those who "intellectualize experience."

I also wrote, in HOLY NUMINOSITY PART 2, that I believed Sigmund Freud may have encountered Otto's book and the author's use of the term "the uncanny" to describe a Rationalist's conception of religon, and that Freud then hijacked the term for his own Empiricist project. However, on reconsideration it's more likely that Freud derived the term from a 1906 essay by fellow psychologist Ernst Jentsch, especially since he's mentioned in the text on Freud's work. I don't imagine there's any way to prove that Rudolf Otto did or did not read the Jentsch essay, and in any case it's perhaps more likely that he was drawing upon the way the word was used in demotic speech.

Otto's religious conception of the word is central to his argument, as he argues that tribal cultures were governed by what he called "daemonic dread," the fear and fascination of imagined spirits. Otto didn't argue for any one-on-one equivalence between this form of worship and later forms, particularly the author's own Christianity. Yet he suggested something of a teleological relationship, in which the greater form more or less grew from the latter, even as Aristotle imagined great tragedies growing from the crudities of satyr-plays. This was plainly a different approach to the idea of "superstitious dread" than that of Freud, who would largely consign all religious to the dustbin of failed ideas.

These Empiricist-Rationalist intellectual arguments have not died out in these later decades: they simply found new expression, such as that of James Twitchell's 1987 DREADFUL PLEASURES. I'm in the process of rereading this book, but I'm not so much concerned with tracking its highly Freudian interpretation of the horror-genre, as I am with Twitchell's attempt to reduce the genre's appeal to the "physiological factors" that Freud used as the bedrock of his system.

Freud's disaffected disciple Carl Jung was perhaps the first major voice to detract from Freud's emphasis on the physiological. In my essay WAKE ME UP BEFORE I IMAGO-GO,  I featured this segment from Jung's 1936 essay outlining his opposition to Freud:

Now religious ideas, as history shows, are charged with an extremely suggestive, emotional power. Among them I naturally reckon all "representations collectives," everything that we learn from the history of religion, and anything that has an "ism" attached to it. The latter is only a modern variant of the denominational religions. A man may be convinced in all good faith that he has no religious ideas, but no one can fall so far away from humanity that he no longer has any dominating "representation collective." His very materialism, atheism, communism, socialism, liberalism, intellectualism, existentialism, or what not, testifies against his innocence. Somewhere or other, overtly or covertly, he is possessed by a supraordinate idea.

I tend to think that Jung's "superordinate ideas" probably come closer to what Otto was trying to say about the relation of "the uncanny" to "the numinous," even though as a religious man Otto would have opposed Jung's tendency to subsume religion into pure psychology.

Just in reading the first chapter of DREADFUL PLEASURES, I'm impressed by Twitchell's foursquare effort to define the horror-genre through "physiological factors." He quotes Otto just once in the first chapter, clearly doing so in order to distance himself from Otto's concept of "dread." (After a quick summary of Otto's project, Twitchell avers that "My concerns are thankfully less transcendental.")

I don't for a moment believe that Twitchell's project as a whole has broad applicability to either the specific genre of horror or metaphenomenality in general. However, I think that some of his observations may impact upon the concept of *artifice* that I broached here, and in future essays, I'll be investigating these matters more fully.

No comments: