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Published on February 20, 2008

Author: Goldie

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Slide1:  Class 8: Genres Slide2:  Noël Carroll: “Horror and Humor” Thesis: The nature of horror and humor is such that the mental states they produce are adjacent and partially overlapping, producing surprisingly easy movement from one to the other. What might seem comedic in a safe situation becomes horrific in another, and vice versa. Class 8: Genres Slide3:  Class 8: Genres Slide4:  Class 8: Genres Slide5:  Class 8: Genres Slide6:  Class 8: Genres Slide7:  Class 8: Genres Slide8:  Class 8: Genres Slide9:  Class 8: Genres Slide10:  Class 8: Genres Slide11:  Class 8: Genres Slide12:  Class 8: Genres Slide13:  Horror and humor seem like opposite mental states: what makes us laugh should not make us scream; what makes us scream should not also make us laugh. Humor is associated with feelings of release, lightness, and expansion; horror is associated with feelings of pressure, heaviness, and claustrophobia. Blending Horror & Humor “[W]hat is more perplexing from a theoretical point of view is not that some fusions of horror and humor fail, but that any at all succeed.” (145) Class 8: Genres Slide14:  Stage parodies of Shelley’s Frankenstein Wilde’s “The Canterbury Ghost” Blending Horror & Humor (cont’d) The blending of horror and humor is not a recent phenomenon. Class 8: Genres Robert Bloch: “Comedy and horror are opposite sides of the same coin. … Both deal in the grotesque and the unexpected, but in such a fashion as to provoke two entirely different physical reactions.” (146) Slide15:  Freud: What leads to both feelings of horror and of humor arise from the same source: repressed modes of unconscious thinking. Jentsch (on “the uncanny”) and Bergson (on humor): The ideal object of each is the blending of the human and the mechanical. Blending Horror & Humor (cont’d) Some theories of comedy seem perfectly serviceable as theories of horror: Class 8: Genres “There is some intimate relation of affinity between horror and humor.” (146) Slide16:  Horror oppresses; comedy liberates. Horror turns the screw; comedy releases it. Horror depresses; humor elates. Blending Horror & Humor (cont’d) The opposed feelings associated with horror and humor, respectively, are not contradictory in the logical sense: Class 8: Genres The very same figure – perceptually indistinguishable – can in one place stimulate feelings of horror, and in another feelings of humor. Slide17:  Class 8: Genres Slide18:  Blending Horror & Humor (cont’d) How can the same figure in one film be the appropriate object of horror, and in another film be the appropriate object of humor? How are horror and humor alike, and how are they different? Class 8: Genres Slide19:  The Nature of Horror Just as Westerns are typically populated by cowboys, horror is typically populated by monsters. Class 8: Genres Slide20:  Horror and Monsters What are monsters? Class 8: Genres Creatures whose existence science denies, whether supernatural or beyond the abilities of science. Problem (1) Not a necessary condition? While some slasher horror films involve monsters in this sense (Halloween, Child’s Play, A Nightmare on Elm Street), other do not (Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, Black Christmas). Are the psycho-killers of slasher films examples of psychological science-fiction? Slide21:  Horror & Monsters (cont’d) Class 8: Genres Problem (2) Not a sufficient condition? Films outside the horror genre contain monsters in this sense. Does the difference lie in our emotional reactions to these monsters? The emotional responses of audiences are meant to mimic those of the protagonists in the film. The emotional responses of the protagonists cue those of the audiences. Both the audiences and the protagonists are not merely afraid of the monsters; they are disgusted by them. Slide22:  Horror & Emotional Responses (cont’d) Hypothesis: “[H]orror films are distinguished not simply in virtue of their possession of monsters, but also in virtue of their possession of monsters of a certain type, viz., monsters that are not only beings whose existence is not countenanced by science, but also beings designed or predicated upon raising emotional responses of fear and disgust in both fictional characters and corresponding audiences.” (150) Class 8: Genres Slide23:  Horror & Emotional Responses (cont’d) Emotional responses are both psychological and physiological in nature. Class 8: Genres But feelings cannot be reduced to these reactions: drugs can produce the same sorts of responses without their emotional content. Emotions require cognition as an essential component. An emotional state requires an object to which the feelings are directed, whether real or imagined. The feelings associated with two emotional states may be indistinguishable except for their objects. Fear must be directed at something that is perceived or believed to be harmful. Slide24:  “I cannot be in a state of fear unless I cognize the particular object of my mental state as meeting the formal criterion of harmfulness.” (151) The relation between one’s thoughts and one’s emotional state is one of causation. “[W]e can say that we are horrified when the monsters who are the particular objects of our emotional state are thought of as harmful or threatening (i.e., they are fearsome) and they are also thought of as impure (i.e., they are revolting or disgusting), where making these categorical assessments causes certain feeling states in us.” (151) Horror & Emotional Responses (cont’d) Class 8: Genres Slide25:  Horror Fiction: “[A] narrative or image in which at least one monster appears, such that the monster in question is designed to elicit an emotional response from us that is a complex compound of fear and disgust in virtue of the potential danger or threat the monster evinces and in virtue of its impurity.” (151) Horror & Emotional Responses (cont’d) Class 8: Genres Slide26:  Mary Douglas & Edmund Leach: Reactions of impurity correlate regularly with transgressions or violations of cultural categorization. Horror & Impurity Class 8: Genres “Things that are interstitial—that cross the boundaries of the deep categories of a culture’s conceptual scheme—are primary candidates for impurity.” (152) Lobsters Feces Amputees Amputee lobsters going to the bathroom? Slide27:  Horror & Impurity (cont’d) Class 8: Genres Werewolves, Creature from the Black Lagoon Dracula, The Mummy, Zombies, Frankenstein’s Monster Ghosts, The Blob The monsters of horror fiction are likewise categorically interstitial: “Our emotional response to horror fictions involves not simply fear, but revulsion because such monsters are portrayed as impure—where impurity can be understood in terms of the problematization, violation, transgression, subversion, or simple jamming of our standing cultural categories, norms, and conceptual schemes.” (152) Slide28:  The Nature of Humor Class 8: Genres Incongruity Theory (Francis Hutcheson): The basis of comic amusement is the bringing together of disparate or contrasting ideas or concepts. Isn’t that just a little bit vague? Schopenhauer: The proper form of incongruity is the incorrect subsumption of a particular under a concept: a category error. Kierkergaard: The relevant incongruity is a contradiction. Juxtaposition of extremes. Representing a borderline case as paradigmatic. Mistaking contraries for contradictories. Slide29:  The Nature of Humor Class 8: Genres The mental state of amusement must be directed, then, at an appropriate object – i.e., one that meets the formal criterion of incongruity. “[O]ne explanation of the affinity of horror and humor might be that these two states, despite their differences, share an overlapping necessary condition insofar as an appropriate object of both states involves the transgression of a category, a concept, a norm, or a commonplace expectation.” (154) Slide30:  The Nature of Humor Class 8: Genres Problem: Not a necessary condition? We often find things humorous not because they are incongruous, but because they are nonsensical. Still, we seem to have found one of the major recurring objects of comic amusement. Clowns and Monsters Clowns seem to fit the definition of monsters, given earlier – fantastic beings with bizarre anatomy, capable of enduring amazing amounts of physical damage. Historically, clowns are categorically interstitial: solemn/humorous, grave/lighthearted, wise/foolish… Slide31:  Class 8: Genres Slide32:  The Nature of Humor (cont’d) Class 8: Genres “[W]hat does it take to turn a clown into a monster or a monster into a clown?” (156) Turning a monster into a clown requires factoring out their fearfulness, leaving only incongruity. Turning a clown into a monster requires adding fearfulness to this already incongruous being. “On the map of mental states, horror and incongruity amusement are adjacent and partially overlapping regions. Given this affinity, movement from one to the other should not be unexpected.” (156) Slide33:  Horror & Humor Class 8: Genres With bad horror movies, we end up laughing a lot more than screaming. What might seem comedic in a safe situation becomes horrific in another, and vice versa. What do we expect in a given genre? What are the rules of the genre? Slide34:  Questions & Problems What are the boundaries of the horror and humor genres? Are there horror “monsters” that we aren’t disgusted or revolted by? How might Carroll explain this? Is Carroll’s argument that knife-wielding murderers like Norman Bates in Psycho are “monsters” convincing? Class 8: Genres Slide35:  Susan Feagin: “Tragedy” Thesis: Traces the theory and history of the genre of tragedy from the classical period to the present. Class 8: Genres Slide36:  Class 8: Genres Gorgias Poetry as a fraud, trick, or deception. Poetry, like painting, presents a limited point of view of what it depicts, and so is not a route to truth. Poets, however, use their skills to make it seem as if they are communicating something true. Plato Republic Book X: Poetry as imitation. Slide37:  Plots as constructions – writing tragedy is an act of creation, not imitation. Tragedy as focused on the universal (vs. lyric poetry as focused on the individual). Tragedy as visual, but conveyed through words. Pity and fear: catharsis. The tragic hero and tragic choices. The tragic flaw. Aristotle The Poetics: Writing poetry is a skill that requires knowledge of its nature and end. Class 8: Genres Slide38:  (1) Catharsis? Aristotle (cont’d) What is the end (or telos) of tragedy? Class 8: Genres Aristotle only mentions catharsis once, and gives us no explanation of it. Any account of the telos is based on its actual effects is suspect: “Surely, all the tragedian could be held responsible for is to write a work to which pity and fear are appropriate responses, and, as Aristotle emphasizes, this will be to write a work that has a certain type of plot.” (294) Slide39:  Aristotle (cont’d) Class 8: Genres Catharsis develops one’s moral responses (like practicing emotions in a safe environment). (2) Imparting of (moral) knowledge about how to act? Moral virtue acquired through habit; intellectual virtue requires being taught. “One might say that tragedy enables us to “internalize” moral knowledge rather than to expand it, but this view obscures the particular contributions that tragedy appropriately makes to living a good life that cannot be made by descriptive discourse. What is internalized is not knowledge but a disposition to feel in appropriate ways to appropriate objects under appropriate conditions.” (295) Slide40:  The disagreeable is preferable to the boring. Sorrows can be made agreeable by the knowledge that their source is fictional. After Aristotle Hume: Why do audiences enjoy tragedies? Class 8: Genres 17th Century: Focus on the logic of tragedy as a genre rather than its emotional power. No humor No subplots No change of scene Limited time of action Slide41:  After Aristotle (cont’d) Kant: The Sublime Class 8: Genres In Kant’s moral philosophy, “ought” implies “can” and “ought not have” implies “could have not”. In the world of tragedy, “ought” does not imply “can” and “ought not have” does not imply “could not have”. “In tragedy, the inevitability of the tragic events is handled by the determinism of nature, yet one also has a sense of moral responsibility that is so deep and strong that one accepts responsibility for one’s actions even when one performed them unknowingly or involuntary.” (296) Slide42:  After Aristotle (cont’d) Hegel: Tragedy based on conflicting goods. Class 8: Genres Pursuing one good entails destroying another: a tragic figure may do wrong knowingly. Schiller: Tragedy as the source of experiences of the sublime. Tragedy elevates us “to an intuition of our own inner freedom to obey the promptings of duty”. (298) Schillean tragic heroes are aware of the conflict of goods, and their suffering arises from their struggle and failure. Catharsis as homeopathis: “Pathos is an inoculation of inexorable fate, whereby it is robbed of its malignity.” (298) Slide43:  Tragedy in the Twentieth Century Sartre: Life, like art, is a construction: one makes one’s life have value by endorsing it as such. Class 8: Genres “[A]udience members become the poets: they put things together; they do things. They make their lives works of art.” (299) Tragedy is essentially a dead genre, but various types of modern plots bear a family resemblance to Aristotelean tragedies. Movies as the modern analogue for classical drama. Slide44:  Tragedy in the Twentieth Century (cont’d) Class 8: Genres How do we spot a modern tragedy? “We should look for plots in which people suffer undeservedly, where someone brings about that suffering unknowingly, so that pity and fear are appropriate responses to such situations in the ways Aristotle describes.” (299) The role of mythology, religion, and fate – no longer a part of modern, common consciousness. “[W]hat is inevitable and beyond human control can easily be reconceived as within the domain of the sciences.” (299) Slide45:  Tragedy in the Twentieth Century (cont’d) Class 8: Genres Monster on the Campus Professor Donald Blake is an anthropologist who seeks the “missing link,” and invents a potion that lets “primitive” human genes dominate “civilized” ones. Using the potion on himself, Blake turns into an apelike monster, and runs rampant on campus. Blake realizes he’s the monster, and cannot bear to live. Rather than committing suicide, Blake arranges that his friends encounter his monster-self, and kill him. Wackiness ensues. Slide46:  Tragedy in the Twentieth Century (cont’d) Class 8: Genres Noel Carroll on Horror Blake realizes he is categorically interstitial – he is horrified and disgusted by himself. Our pity arises because he upset the balance of different aspects of our biological nature. “The movie sends the message that we cannot help being what we are, so it is better to leave well enough alone: it is better not to know.” (300) Slide47:  Tragedy in the Twentieth Century (cont’d) Class 8: Genres The Manchurian Candidate Raymond Shaw is kidnapped during the Korean War and programmed by the Pavlov Institute of Manchuria to be controlled through post-hypnotic suggestion. Shaw’s mother is a Communist spy, who schemes to put Shaw’s stepfather in the White House. Shaw, meanwhile, has been programmed to assassinate his stepfather’s competition. Wackiness ensues. Slide48:  Tragedy in the Twentieth Century (cont’d) Class 8: Genres Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics: Some acts are involuntary because one is controlled by an outside force (though such acts are usually voluntary to some degree). Other acts are involuntary because one does them out of ignorance. The moral distinction between these kinds of acts lies in whether subsequent knowledge of what one has done causes pain and regret. Slide49:  Class 8: Genres Tragedy in the Twentieth Century (cont’d) Mighty Aphrodite Lenny Weinrib has an adopted son, Max, who turns out to be brilliant. Weinrib becomes obsessed with finding Max’s real parents, thinking they too must be brilliant. When he discovers that Max’s biological mother is a prostitute and a porn star, Weinrib is disappointed. Weinrib is further disappointed because Max’s biological mother is dumb as a hammer. Wackiness ensues. Slide50:  Class 8: Genres Tragedy in the Twentieth Century (cont’d) The Classical and the Contemporary The story in Mighty Aphrodite is peppered by a classical Greek chorus, providing a foil to Woody Allen’s antics. As tragedy has developed from the classical period, it has struggled “to maintain its high-mindedness and claim to veritably cosmic significance without appearing to take itself too seriously.” (303) Modern “domestic” tragedy, doing away with religion and myth, struggles to be taken seriously enough. Slide51:  Questions & Problems How real are genres? Do modern genres follow rules? How much does fitting into a genre effect our experience of a story? Class 8: Genres Slide52:  Class 8: Genres

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