Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Darkness Revisited

This recent article from BBC News makes for an interesting read.
Is 'darkness' truly the foremost characteristic of horror? The author seems to have a problem with this, though I do not really see him as making a well-rounded point anyway. 'Dark' movies like The Dark Knight owe their impressiveness because they are dark and gloomy - a natural, an intensely gritty theme and rather than slagging it off by dismissing it as a 'fashion accessory', I would much prefer to take it on board as it being a vital component of today's decadent society which is saturated by the stagnant light of dead-end, post-modern mentality, which I feel is best illustrated by the metaphor of one hopelessly but with a wisp of determination trying to punch someone in the face, while that same person is holding one's head and successfully keeping it at a safe distance, guaranteeing one's ultimate failure to inflict even the slightest injury.
Fantasy, which is merely reality in disguise, is mediated by darkness and thus sprouts horror and suspense.

I feel that the author gets it right with the examples that he gives though. He cites Philip Larkin's haunting poem, Aubade, as 'really dark', darkness reincarnated in fact. This is where he hits the nail on the head because if you read Larkin's poem, the impending sense of doom is interspersed with chilling images of 'reality' and 'everydayness'. That is where the 'darkness' really comes into action - mixing the universal and inexorable, Death, with the seemingly mundane, 'earthly' objects and situations, all done in such a way as to change your perception of those precise objects of mundanness and ostensible insignificance. You'll thus see 'darkness' in those objects the next time you come across them, and THAT is what has the potential to truly haunt you. The fact that you are familiar with them also means that you would be able to visualize them more easily and vividly as you read the poem.

All those fantastical creatures, from jokers to cyclops to vampires - they're all scary and dark, yet I can't help but think: just as art works best when hidden, as Ovid would say, horror works best when earthly...


I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare.
Not in remorse-
The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Philip Larkin

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