A piece I wrote for the excellent Another North on my childhood, hauntology and the eeriness of human existence is now up on their site.
Click the image for the full thing.
I have a new article – the first in a series on the gothic roots of sci-fi horror – up on the Sublime Horror website. In it I look at the literary establishment response to both genres and also how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein acts as a linking element between the two.
Future instalments will look at how sci-fi horror uses gothic elements like monstrosity (with Alien and Dracula as case studies) and environment (looking at the links between Event Horizon and The Castle Of Otranto).
This article was first published by the now-defunct Dirge Magazine.
There is something about the myth of a sunken city that seems to call out, siren-like, to our collected subconsciousness. They come in many shapes; the hubris of Atlantis, the horrors R’lyeh and the decadence of Ys. Even Tolkien subsumes the idea into his own mythic cycle of The Silmarillion when he has Beleriand flooded after the War of Wrath. We can see quite clearly the dappled columns, kelp-wrapped and silent, and the shoals of darting fish that move between them. Abyssal canyons are populated with immense spires, outlined dimly by glimmering bioluminescence and haunted by vast, lumbering shapes. Those of us who have lived by the sea will have heard tales of forlorn church bells that ring out from under the night-time sea, pulled into life by the ebbing Spring tide or turbulent storm-waters. Perhaps we have even heard the bells ourselves…
The second volume of Thinking Horror, which includes my essay ‘An Endless Laceration: The Limit Experience in Horror’ – an investigation into Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart through the philosophy of Bataille and Blanchot, a Marxist reading of penal theory and the reciprocity of sado-masochism – is now available through the Thinking Horror website. Thinking Horror 2 also includes work from DP Watt, Kristi DeMeester and Gemma Files, amongst others.
“When [suffering] calls upon death it is still bearable, for it hopes; it places its hope in the end and this hope signifies an alliance with the future, the promise of time. Man then remains master of his destiny, free to have done with his suffering; he suffers and bears up under it, he dominates it by this end to which he appeals. But there is a suffering that has lost time altogether. It is the horror of suffering without end, a suffering that time can no longer redeem, that has escaped time and for which there is no longer recourse; it is irremediable” – Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation.
The Austrian town of Hallstatt is beautiful. Slightly touristy, but still beautiful. It sits on the edge of the Hallstattersee, where pleasure cruisers entertain the holiday-makers who haven’t ridden the funicular up to the salt mines that pock-mark the looming mountains.
As evening falls the tourists leave, their coaches heading onwards to Salzburg or Vienna. A few of them, perhaps, will have walked to the edge of town, to the Chapel of St Michael and the small building that sits beside it with the word ‘beinhaus’ written in stark, black-letter text above the entrance.
I arrive in Hallstatt later than expected so have to rush along the single main street, against the flow of tourists heading back from the closing shops, to get to the church grounds before it is closed to visitors. The church itself is an angular building but I have time to do little more than glance up at its white-washed walls and black slate roof as I crunch along the gravel path to the beinhaus, the ossuary. The door is guarded by a stern-faced, middle-aged man who glares out from above an impressively Teutonic moustache. The clock hasn’t yet struck six so I chance my luck. “Fünf minuten, vielleicht?” I ask him. “Nur zwei,” he replies. It seems unwise to haggle further so I nod and duck into the small, stone building.
I’ve been to ossuaries before, many of them in many parts of the world. They all have their own impact; some stern and cold, simply collections of bones rendered meaningless by quantity, while others, like the Sedlec ossuary near Kutná Horain the Czech Republic, have a humanity to them that is almost comforting. The ossuary of the Chapel of St Michael, small as it may be, is beyond any of this. I gasp as my eyes adjust to the candle-haunted gloom.
The soul ascending
Sits in some high and hallowed place
Then, looking down
Sees only huddled ghosts and haunted dreams.
It shivers, sighs, spreads wide silent wings
And is gone.
This piece was inspired by a member of the FHR Facebook page querying mention of Kate Bush on the group; it struck me suddenly that many people may not understand why this pop-star has such a hold on the hearts of those who grew up in a certain time, in a certain place, and why she is so indelibly linked with that particularly eccentric Englishness that is a core of folk horror. There is the same dark and capering glee in Kate’s work, a mindset that makes dressing up as itinerant monks to perform ‘Running Up That Hill‘ on Wogan seem perfectly normal, as there is in the concluding procession of The Wicker Man, as there is in Cotswold cheese-rolling and the fireworks of Lewes. There is the delight in sun-kissed mornings and the melancholy of mist-shrouded nights, there is the sadness of loss and the purity of love.
I’m not attempting to write a biography, there are better ones out there, but simply to select an hour’s-worth of music that, for me, exemplify this claim that Kate Bush has to part of the folk horror pantheon and that inspire something in me, personally. This selection will be challenged, I am sure, as there are what many people will consider to be glaring omissions. I’ve not included ‘Wuthering Heights’ because, well, it’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and is very much its own work as well as having a tendency to dominate collections. Neither ‘Waking The Witch’ nor ‘Jig Of Life’, perhaps obvious choices, make appearances here; sadly, other tracks from Hounds Of Love took precedence. There are probably rare b-sides or alternate versions that could’ve made the cut, if only I had heard them.
I’ve enjoyed sitting with these songs for a while, listening more intensely than I have done for some time.
I hope you do too.