Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I am a liberal arts student

I'm going to visit Kant sooner than later; I've pretty much decided to write my first paper for that class on the passages I quoted below. But for now, I want to work on something else I've been meaning to: the ideas for my BA. (Please forgive the in-all-probability stream-of-consciousness form this post will probably take.)

My major, in brief, is an interdisciplinary program focused on the study of philosophies of ethics, and how ethics can be explored through the mediums of literature and film. Now, that is a pretty broad question, so for my actual BA I am going to narrow it down. Therefore, I am currently planning on looking specifically at how morality functions within the framework of the horror genre.

OKAY. That said, I have a ton of work to do. I need to come up with a definition for horror. I need to read some carefully selected books/stories and movies (I'm thinking Frankenstein, Edgar Allen Poe, Psycho...but I need suggestions). And while doing these things will hopefully help with us, I'd like to form an idea of what I'm looking for (not in the sense that I want to go into the project with preformed notions, but I don't want to head in blindly, either, stumbling around, waiting for the ax-murderer to remove my head with one or two deft strokes).


Something I have been thinking about in general is, what is frightening/horrifying, and what does these things have to do morality. Most of what people think of as horror films seem to rely on things like gore, extreme violence, disfigurement, and darkness (and the things hiding in it) to frighten their audiences. There's another, less campy way to classify a few of these things, though: the category of "the unknown," which encompasses of course the darkness, as well as change and things that are just different (I suppose we can throw disfigurement in here, too). Monsters and demons are often a combination of all these things--they are ugly but just human-looking enough to grip us on the inside, and yet they are not human enough of us to understand.

I want to go in a slightly different direction, too, mostly because I want to see what I can do with it. Another thing I believe we, as humans, are afraid of is not knowing what to do (this too fits under the category of "the unknown"), of being out of control, or at least lacking any controlling force in our lives. I think something that goes along with this is a fear a moral ambiguity. In my philosophy studies it has become glaringly apparent that what we are always searching for is some kind of system or mechanism that will help us determine the correct course of action in a given situation. A machine where you input your situation, and the right way to act comes out the other side. Because knowing the difference between right wrong isn't always so simple, and which is which isn't always clear. Intense "moral" situations usually are so exactly because the "right" thing to do is unclear. And it seems to me that we never will uncover a system that can apply infallibly to every situation, and such a thought can be terrifying.

Of course, it isn't terrifying in the same way giant spiders crawling out of your toilet, or being buried alive are terrifying. But as frightening as evil is, isn't it worse when you can't tell who is evil and who is good (and never mind the thought that the dichotomy probably doesn't exist at all).

That's all for now, but I will certainly come back to this.

4 comments:

Duff said...

I've never cared much for Poe. H.P. Lovecraft, on the other hand, is the master of eldritch horror. Perhaps Call of Cthullu?

ayn said...

Well, I do like Poe. And I am considering Lovecraft, but I am less familiar with it and what I've gleaned from the little I've read seems to have much to do with mythology which, while interesting, isn't necessarily an angle I'm interested in taking...

Also, I started reading Call of Cthullu and got a bit bored...I desperately want to love HP Lovecraft but I've actually read more spin off than his actual work. I tend to have difficulties in general with writing from that time period (yes, I know Poe falls in there, too), and I'm somewhat apprehensive about want to read Frankenstein because of it...

...eh...

Alex said...

i haven't read it myself, but Dracula might fit the bill as a source. I personally liked Frankenstein a lot. i think i had to read it for HIPS civ, but i ended up reading the entire thing in a single sitting. It would do well with your eye towards moral ambiguity. Both Frankenstein and his monster have much to learn about ethics.

ayn said...

Thanks for the comments...I tried once and failed miserably at reading Dracula, so I'm going to try other things first. I am looking forward to Frankenstein, though; I'm going to try to set up a reading course for it with my lit prof on Monday.