Posts tagged with "fear" - Faerye Net 2009-10-11T10:03:53+00:00 Felicity Shoulders Random thought: zombies 2009-10-11T10:03:53+00:00 2009-10-11T10:12:54+00:00 <p>Yesterday I started listening to a fresh audiobook, <em><a href='' title='More info about this book at' rel='powells-9780142001431'>Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague</a></em> by Geraldine Brooks. As the name implies, it&#8217;s set around a 17th century outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in England. When the novel opens, the plague has already swept through, and the main character is coping with the emptiness of her village. I&#8217;ve barely begun, but the story has a lot of interest for its sheer novelty: I could name social effects of the plague or list a few historical facts about it, but I&#8217;ve never read a book set during or after it. But it also made me think of a sort of story I have heard more than once: zombie stories.</p> <p>I know, I know, there are no zombies in 17th century history. But the empty streets, the feeling of being an island of humanity &#8212; those are definitely part of modern post-apocalyptic fiction. And that&#8217;s when zombies came up &#8212; I began to wonder if zombies are a plague fear. I know, a lot of stories refer to it as &#8220;the infection!&#8221; and so forth so this may seem obvious to others, but it had never occurred to me to wonder if that&#8217;s where zombies get their archetypal oomph. I&#8217;ve always figured they were a very literal fear of death, uninteresting from a subtextual standpoint. But in an epidemic, even the people you love can kill you. Especially them, as you stay near them and tend them. Everyone is a threat, anyone could prove the agent of your death. You&#8217;re surrounded by bodies and death and there are few survivors, traumatized and isolated. Zombies!</p> <p><a href="" target="links">Ryan</a> responded to this musing of mine by saying he thought zombies came from someone thinking the dead walking and making you one of them would be a good story. But I think recurring stories &#8212; especially scary stories, like werewolves and zombies &#8212; have to tap into something in the human psyche or they wouldn&#8217;t keep coming back. Like plagues and zombies, these stories keep coming and won&#8217;t lie down.</p> What's in a frame? 2008-10-02T14:52:18+00:00 2008-10-04T11:19:06+00:00 <p>I&#8217;m reading Mark Z. Danielewski&#8217;s <a href="" target="powells"><em>House of Leaves</em></a>, which is on one level a horror book. I don&#8217;t read many horror stories: while I do, like most humans, enjoy the occasional self-induced <em>frisson</em>, and I have a fondness for ghost stories, I can imagine all manner of phantasms into the darkness without professional help. In short, they tend to stick with me for too long (estimated time from viewing <em>The Ring</em> before could stare into darkness without eyes resolving nonsense lights into you-know-who: 10 months.). This book came highly recommended by <a href="" target="links">Ryan</a>, and threatened, via said Ryan, to transmute my love for Poe&#8217;s <a href="" target="links"><em>Haunted</em></a> into fear. Of course I wanted to prove him wrong on that point. On top of these inducements, Ryan told me a recent <a href="" target="links">xkcd strip</a> would be hilarious when and only when I had read <em>House of Leaves</em>.</p> <p>I&#8217;m a third of the way through the physical volume, a &#8220;remastered full-color edition&#8221; snagged from Ryan&#8217;s shelves, which means I&#8217;m almost halfway through the body of the novel (there are copious appendices). It is legitimately creepifying, and its typographical oddities do work, for me, to physicalize the wandering in the story and depict an erosion of the rational and solid. These contrivances are part of why the book&#8217;s considered experimental and postmodern. But one device it uses is not in itself postmodern, and has been used to great effect in the horror genre over at least a century.</p> <p>I speak, of course, of framing. The frame story is a very old device indeed (at least some versions of the <em><a href="" target="links">Ramayana</a></em> are framed, and that&#8217;s around 2,500 years old), but I&#8217;m thinking especially of its use in Henry James&#8217;s <a href="" target="powells"><em>The Turn of the Screw</em></a>. In that classic novella, there are two frames. The ostensible narrator that begins the book (Frame 1) has a friend who introduces and reads a manuscript to him (Frame 2) that has been written by a woman once governess to the friend&#8217;s younger sister (the story itself). Much has been made of these nested frames, which put layers of hearsay and distance between the reader and the governess. If <em>The Turn of the Screw</em> were presented without these introductions, the narrator might not be seen as unreliable (though in the 19th century a governess, an unmarried woman in an interstitial social class, was fairly unreliable to begin with) and the reader might take at face value the ghost story she relates. The frames remove some of our intimacy with this primary narrator and help to create the piece&#8217;s legendary ambiguity.</p> <p>Other uses of frames in horror include the very effective stage play of <em>The Woman in Black</em> by Stephen Mallatratt, where the audience is invited to identify the artifice of the performance with the frame and thereby believe the central story to be real, and found-story narratives like <em>The Blair Witch Project</em>, where the story itself (a manuscript or video) is found as a mysterious artifact after the characters in it have disappeared or died. As I said, I&#8217;m not terribly well-versed in horror, so I may be overlooking other striking examples.</p> <p><em>House of Leaves</em> has a number of frames I have not yet counted. Let&#8217;s count them together! (<a href="" target="links">Ah-ha-ha!</a>) The book begins with a Foreword from &#8220;the Editors&#8221; who make &#8220;every effort&#8221; to translate and attribute, et cetera, and make references to previous editions, in what appears to be Bookman Old Style. Given that this is a novel, not a found manuscript as the text maintains, it&#8217;s safe to assume this is a narrow little frame, Frame 1. Then we have the Courier stylings of manuscript-finder, anecdote-teller and annotater Johnny Truant, Frame 2. Then we have the main body of the manuscript, a discursive and highly footnoted piece of eccentric criticism by Zampan&ograve; (Frame 3) on a documentary. This documentary, <em>The Navidson Record</em>, does not seem to exist as far as Truant can discover, nor do the endless articles of criticism on the work Zampan&ograve; references. The documentary is the main story. Although arguments could probably be made that it&#8217;s not, they would, themselves, get pretty damn academic pretty fast, which would probably please the spirit of the book. The documentary film, since this is a book, is unseen. There&#8217;s an empty center at the middle of the frames. It&#8217;s interesting, since Ryan told me that this book actually <em>shows you</em> what drove a character mad (unusual) &#8212; but the central story remains unseen, or half-seen, translated, transcribed, half-captured.</p> <p>These frames within frames do remind me of <em>Turn of the Screw</em> (which is mentioned, and its connection to the <em>Navidson Record</em> rejected along with all the classic ghost stories of Western Literature in footnote 167), but there&#8217;s more at work here. The book is, despite the nebulosity of the term, postmodern. Here&#8217;s the definition of postmodern from the American Heritage Dictionary (as I said, it&#8217;s a nebulous term, and this is only one opinion:)<br /> <blockquote>Of or relating to art, architecture, or literature that reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes</blockquote></p> <p>&#8220;Extreme&#8221; is a good word for this book. The use of <em>three</em> frames (James&#8217;s two is already pretty unusual), the way the frames do not just stand aside once the central story is introduced but continue to interfere and interact with it <del>- which may make the term &#8216;frame&#8217; less literally applicable&deg; -</del> the multiple appendices, and the crazy typography are all pretty out there. In addition, the classic horror trope I mentioned, the found-story, recurs. Within <em>The Navidson Record</em>, some footage is found. The <em>Navidson Record</em> itself may not qualify, since it&#8217;s un-found: Truant can&#8217;t find it, even though Zampan&ograve; and all his perhaps fictive academics have access to it. Zampan&ograve;&#8216;s manuscript is, again, found. And while Truant is very much present in the earthy footnotes to it, in footnote 197 if not before <span class="caps">SPOILER</span>: <font color="white">it becomes clear Johnny has disappeared.</font> As I&#8217;ve said, framing is older than Modernism, but he&#8217;s certainly applying it to extremes here.</p> <p>Without a doubt, the frames do allow Danielewski to cast doubt on his narrator(s). But it seems like the interplay of doubt and faith in a narrator is one of the things he&#8217;s playing with: the way Zampan&ograve;&#8216;s academic pretensions seem to be a way of bolstering his authority, a plea to convince the reader (and, I think, perhaps the universe) to believe him; the way you find yourself attentively reading Zampan&ograve;&#8217;s arguments for the authenticity of <em>The Navidson Record</em> even when you &#8216;know&#8217; that in the universe of the book &#8211; assuming the universe of Truant and Zampan&ograve; to be the same &#8211; the film doesn&#8217;t exist, hoax or not! Who is reliable? What&#8217;s truth anyway?</p> <p>Tolkien condemned dream-frames, in his essay <a href="" target="links">&#8220;On Fairy Stories&#8221;</a>, as deprecating the fantastic nature of a framed story. A realistic frame can trick a skeptical reader into accepting a non-realistic story. In horror, there&#8217;s another reason for a realistic frame &#8212; it&#8217;s a reality the reader/watcher accepts, which makes it easier to suspend disbelief and enter upon the fantasy of the inner story. That suspension of disbelief is necessary in order to give the audience the fear they came for. In <em>House of Leaves</em>, the nesting of frames lets the <font color="blue">House</font> exist several removes from the world of the reader, the world the reader accepts natively as real and true. But at the same time, the frames jostle and shift against each other, making the reader militate for the existence of the horror, making the reader want to believe the film exists, the <font color="blue">House</font> exists, because it&#8217;s interesting, and because it&#8217;s scary. A found-story frame allows the audience to see the story-record itself as its own evidence, its own artifact, even though they know the frame is fiction as well. In <em>House of Leaves</em>, the reader is even more complicit in scaring herself. Reading this book is tricky, it&#8217;s work. I am not only scaring myself, I&#8217;m working hard to do so. How much more complicit can I get?</p> <p>&deg; <b>Update, 10/4/08:</b> in footnote 308, Zampan&ograve; calls them &#8216;generations&#8217;:<br /> <blockquote>Here in particular, he mockingly emphasizes the fallen nature of any history by purposefully concocting an absurd number of generations. Consider: 1. [event] &#8212;&gt; 2. Navidson&#8217;s perception of [event] &#8212;&gt; 3. Navidson&#8217;s description of [event] to Reston &#8212;&gt; 4. Reston&#8217;s re-telling of Navidson&#8217;s description based on Navidson&#8217;s recollection and perception of [event].</blockquote><br /> &#8212;&gt; 5. Zampan&ograve;&#8217;s scholarship on the event. Heh.</p> Choice 2007-01-22T22:57:53+00:00 2008-05-30T13:49:29+00:00 <p>This blog is rarely a political space. Except for the occasional despair over school funding or bitter little jab at Shrub, I consider this site a place for anecdotes, fiction, reviews, and fun. This site pre-dates the boom in political blogging, or at least my awareness of it, so participating in any sort of cross-blog political &#8216;action&#8217; seems not to fit Faerye Net.</p><p> However, it would be far, far too easy for me to use these excuse to duck out of <a href="" target="links">Blog for Choice</a> day. There are already too many reasons that Americans keep silent about our feelings on abortion rights. The minority who oppose abortion rights are so vocal that we fear immediate vilification if we speak up. The presence of violence in the debate, however fringe we may be assured it is, has a chilling effect. So we don&#8217;t put that bumpersticker on, in case we get keyed. We don&#8217;t march, in case someone throws a jar of fake blood on us. We don&#8217;t say what we believe, afraid that someone will call us &#8216;whores&#8217; or &#8216;murderers&#8217; for supporting a woman&#8217;s right to choose. We don&#8217;t stand up for others&#8217; rights because we don&#8217;t plan to have an abortion ourselves. There are too many reasons not to speak up about abortion rights, and too many people not speaking up. </p> <p>The Blog for Choice topic this year is &#8220;Why are you pro-choice?&#8221; I will skip over the obvious: over the right for the individual citizen to come to her own religious and philosophical conclusions about the nature of life; over the consequences in blood and tears of unsafe, illegal abortions over the centuries; over the benefits to parents and children of planned, wanted families.</p> <p> I am pro-choice because the debate over abortion rights in this country is not really about abortion. If it were truly about abortion, the anti-choice side would be in favor of sex education, of contraceptive use. The Democrats who vote pro-choice but wish to reduce the number of abortions would have support from anti-choicers when they try to fund those measures, instead of finding themselves <a href="" target="links">high and dry</a>. It&#8217;s about sex, and people, especially women&#8217;s, right to have it. The priorities of the anti-choice movement are consistent with the desire to <a href="" target="links">punish women for being sexually active</a>. That isn&#8217;t fair to women, and it isn&#8217;t fair to the children who would be meted out as &#8216;consequences&#8217; if they had their way.</p> <p>I&#8217;m pro-choice because I don&#8217;t believe I have the right to push my sexual mores on others, or that others have that right. I&#8217;m pro-choice because after abortion rights, they want to take away contraceptive rights. I&#8217;m pro-choice because I believe women should be considered people, not birthing vessels, and should be allowed to make our own medical decisions accordingly. I&#8217;m pro-choice because I don&#8217;t believe in Eve. I don&#8217;t believe that every woman in America should be pre-condemned to pay for one mythical, forbidden bite.</p>