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Tuesday, October 31, 2023

A Pleasing Terror: Unease and the Ghost Tale

What is it that creeps in the night? The shadow, the strange sound in the distance? The feeling of unease, of terror tingling up your spine? What is it that provokes these feelings in us? And why do some of us find this sensation so appealing? The slow creeping shadow, you look away, but you know in the back of your mind if you look back, it will still be there. The thing that should not be there, the uncanny, the abject. Ghosts and phantoms exist in candlelight and in our modern technology. In our mythologies, in our books, and in our films they lurk. Thanks to writers like M.R. James, Fritz Leiber, Robert Aickman, Shirley Jackson, and Ramsey Campbell, the literary ghost story has grown and evolved, but it is also a form as old as literature. In films like The Haunting, The Innocents, Kairo, and The Others, the art form of the ghost story has chilled audiences, either in dark movie theaters or late at night on the television, for over a century. But what is this art of unease?

We all have experienced a fear of the unknown, a fear of what may lurk in the shadows. And maybe the ghost story says, what if what you fear… actually is real? What if a monster actually is hiding in the corner, or that sound was some inhuman thing? What if the worst-case scenario was not only real but worse than you thought? We go through our lives assuming things are safe and sane, but in the shadowy parts of the world, something nightmarish uncoils in the dark. Why does it hide? Why does it stay unseen, rarely making its presence felt? Maybe it's the tease, the slow revealing of itself that it cherishes? I think, deep down, we are aware of our tenuous place in existence. We live in a fathomless void. Surrounded by eons of death. Yet we try to live our lives to the best of our ability. Go to work. Enjoy a delicious dinner. Find love. But in the background, the darkness still lurks. I think the creepy and the eerie in horror serve as a reminder of something we repress. That nightmare is where we come from and from where we are damned to return. Is the darkness sentient? Were we created from its abyssal womb? We shamble in the eternal night, our rotting flesh carrying us under a sky of limitless nothingness. A universe of ghosts and absences. We are the dead. We are the ghosts of the universe. We haunt ourselves. Doppelgangers, specters, strange sounds in the night. Maybe these are all reflections. We see ourselves in the nothingness of the night sky. Under the skin hides a corpse. And sometimes, we can enjoy the deliciousness of our damnation.