Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ghost Stories


In a recent issue of THE NEW YORKER, in a review of a new collection of M.R. James' stories, Anthony Lane quotes Virginia Woolf as saying, "it is pleasant to to be afraid when we are conscious that we are in no kind of danger." This was a quote from a longer essay by Woolf entitled " The Supernatural in Fiction."

This quote explains to me why some people are able to read and watch ghost or horror stories without feeling threatened. Part of their brain tells them that they are safe. They have a certain detachment from the goings on.

It is not like this for me. If the story is well done, I cannot tell myself that because my entire brain believes I am in danger like the people in the story.

How is it for you? Are you able to step outside the story? Can you watch or read it without feeling threatened?

18 comments:

Heath Lowrance said...

If it's well-done, then I have no problem with turning off the logical part of my brain and allowing myself to get caught up in the creepiness. I enjoy it. The fact that I obviously don't believe in ghosts and what-not becomes irrelevant. I take it you don't enjoy being spooked?

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have a lot of trouble at a movie. I can read a book more easily but nothing in my brain reminds me that I am safe. I am swept away like one of the characters.

George said...

My brain works more like Virgina Woolf's. I can read Poe and M. R. James and not get freaked-out. But movies are a different story. No matter how many times I watch ALIEN, I'm still antsy as Sigourney Weaver and the alien play their cat-and-mouse games.

F.T. Bradley: said...

If the story is good enough, I'm completely there. Books more so than movies.

I don't like horror movies, though. Blood, guts, zombies--not my deal. I like the threat to be psychological instead.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've written and read so many horror stories by now that I don't think I can completely let myself go into that world. I do get creeped out at times. Can't remember the last time a book really kind of scared me. It's easier for me to recognize the basic unreality of a movie than of a book so they don't have as much impact.

Ron Scheer said...

Never mind books and movies. I can get spooked by my own imagination.

Naomi Johnson said...

I love suspense. Can't watch horror films unless they're really old with poor special effects.

Erik Donald France said...

Nothing creeps me out more than a good mob film or series -- when things can turn on a dime from "status quo" to ultra-violence. Very little else stirs unease in me quite like that. Maybe Boys Don't Cry and The Last King of Scotland.

David Cranmer said...

I've always been able to step outside the story, Patti. Not sure if that's a good thing if you wanna enjoy the tale to the fullest.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think I would enjoy it more if I wasn't so ensnared. I can never watch BOYS DON"T CRY again. Devastating.

John said...

It's rare that a ghost story or anything involving the supernatural in fiction will affect me. What really gets me is the horror of what real people are capable of, especially sadistic cruelty. I can't read books about rape or child abuse anymore for very personal reasons. And movies like A Clockwork Orange, Shoot the Moon (mentioned this one before) and Hotel Rwanda left me numb the first time I saw them. I can't ever re-veiw them.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Real and imagined horror scare me.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Interesting question as ever. I generally don't have a problem staying outside a story in terms of feeling threatened. I can get drawn in in terms of caring deeply about the characters, though...

Todd Mason said...

The experience of horror in art is a controlled dose, compared to the experience of horror in unfiltered life, whether in literature or drama or the visual arts or music. Horror is about dealing with the ultimate facts of life, which is that it will be taken from us, and those around us...and it does so more immediately than any other mode in art, even realistic suspense, since horror can play with archetypes and metaphors that hook even more deeply into our psyches.

I remain impressed that you, Patti, find film in a theater so much more immediate than literature, which in turn is more engaging than drama on television. How does suspense or horror "live" theater grab you? Do the less eye-fooling conventions of the stage make it more removed/controlled?

Todd Mason said...

So, I feel empathy for characters in well-drawn situations. I feel the frisson when faced with good art in this mode.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have only seen a few "scary" plays but visual images are more scary to me than reading about them. The scariest play I saw was WAIT UNTIL DARK, I think.

Todd Mason said...

The notion that horror is just blood and guts is silly. There are no kinder words for it, though plenty of stronger ones. One might as well say that all westerns are shootouts on the street.

Todd Mason said...

I remember how good my high-school friend Steven Durost was in an amateur production of "The Black Cat", the Poe story as playlet. Even with typical hesitancy and such from those around him, his talent and commitment as the besieged murderer carried the day. I've only seen a little "legit" theater devoted to suspense or horror, too, but that was memorable.