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in part, to mark off the fictions in which they thrive as horror fictions.13
Nevertheless, even if the correlation between horror and the presence of a
monster can be defended as a necessary condition for horror fiction, more must
be said. For there are many fictions that contain monsters that we do not classify
as horror fictions. For example, the space odyssey Star Wars contains the creature
Chewbacca, who, for all intents and purposes, is a monster, a monster who looks
exactly like the sort of thing we would expect to find in a werewolf movie. In fact,
there is a 1940s movie called The Return of the Vampire where, to my mind, the
vampire™s assistant is virtually a dead-ringer for Chewbacca.And yet we do not call
Star Wars a horror film, even though we might call a werewolf film with a creature
made-up exactly like Chewbacca a horror film. So, the question is: What is the
difference between a horror fiction proper and a nonhorror fiction like Star Wars
that has a monster in it?
One obvious difference between a horror fiction and a mere monster fiction “
that is, a fiction with a monster in it “ revolves around our emotional response to
the monster in the horror fiction.We are horrified by the monsters in horror fic-
tions, whereas creatures like Chewbacca in Star Wars are not horrifying.We regard
Chewbacca emotionally as we do any of the other protagonists in the film. So the
solution to the problem of distinguishing horror fictions from mere monster fic-
tions depends upon saying exactly what constitutes our emotional reactions to
horrifying monsters.
At first, this may appear to be an impossible task. Is not everyone™s emotional
reaction to horror unique, and, in any case, insofar as it is subjective, how could we
ever hope to get at it in a way that could yield precise generalizations? However,
the problem is not so daunting once one realizes that horror fictions are generally
designed to guide audience response. Specifically, such fictions are generally
designed to control and guide our emotional responses in such a way that, ideally,
horror audiences are supposed to react emotionally to the monsters featured in
horror fictions in the same manner that the characters in horror fictions react
emotionally to the monsters they meet there.
That is, with horror fictions, ideally, the emotional responses of the audience to
the monster are meant to mimic the emotional responses of the human characters
in the fiction to the monsters therein.The makers of horror fictions, in the standard
case, want the audience to shudder at the prospect of encountering the monster
when the characters in the plot so shudder. Indeed, most frequently, the emotional
responses of the fictional protagonists even prime or cue the emotional response of
the audience to the relevant monster in such a way that the audience™s responses
recapitulate the characters™ response.Thus, if we can say something by way of gen-
eral summary about the standard or generic types of emotional responses that fic-
tional characters evince toward monsters, we will be able to hypothesize something
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about the way in which, normatively speaking, audiences are supposed to respond
emotionally to the monsters in horror fictions.
But how do fictional characters respond emotionally to the monsters they
encounter in horror stories? Let this paradigmatic example from Stephen King™s
novel Needful Things serve as a basis for discussion.
The character Polly has been set upon by a spider of supernatural origin. It is
growing larger by the moment. It is already larger than a cat. King writes:

She drew in breath to scream and then its front legs dropped onto her
shoulders like the arms of some scabrous dime-a-dance Lothario. Its listless
ruby eyes stared into her own. Its fanged mouth dropped open and she
could smell its breath “ a stink of bitter spices and rotting meat.
She opened her mouth to scream. One of its legs pawed into her
mouth. Rough, gruesome bristles caressed her teeth and tongue.The spi-
der mewled eagerly.
Polly resisted her first instinct to spit the horrid, pulsing thing out. She
released the plunger and grabbed the spider™s leg. At the same time she bit
down, using all her strength in her jaws. Something crunched like a
mouthful of Life Savers, and a cold bitter taste like ancient tea filled her
mouth.The spider uttered a cry of pain and tried to draw back¦.
It tried to lunge away. Spitting out the bitter dark fluid which had filled
her mouth, [and] knowing it would be a long, long time before she was
entirely rid of that taste, Polly yanked it back again. Some distant part of
her was astounded at this exhibition of strength, but there was another part
of her which understood it perfectly. She was afraid, she was revolted.14

In this passage, whose essential features one finds repeated endlessly in horror fic-
tions, King informs us quite explicitly about the nature of Polly™s emotional
response to the spider, which, all things being equal, should be our response as
well.What is quite clear is that her response “ and, by extension, our response “ is
not simply a matter of fear, though surely both we and Polly regard this unnatural
creature as immensely fearsome. But also “ and this is key “ we, along with Polly,
are disgusted by the monster.We find it loathsome and impure. Polly must force
herself by an act of will to touch it; we would certainly cringe if something like
that spider were to brush against us.
Confronted by such a creature, our response would be to recoil, not only
because of our fear that it might harm us, but also because it is an abominable,
repugnant, impure thing “ a dirty, filthy thing. So, on the basis of this example,
which I claim is paradigmatic, let us hypothesize that horror fictions are distin-
guished not simply in virtue of their possession of monsters, but also in virtue of
their possession of monsters of a certain type, namely, monsters that are not only
beings whose existence is not countenanced by science, but also beings designed
or predicated on raising emotional responses of fear and disgust in both fictional
characters and corresponding audiences.
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Crucial to distinguishing horror fictions from mere fictions with monsters in
them is the peculiar emotional state that the monsters in horror fictions are designed
to elicit.Thus, in order to be more precise about that emotional state, it would be use-
ful for me to be explicit about the view of the emotions to which I subscribe.
Emotions involve feelings. These feelings are comprised of a mix of experi-
ences “ some of which, like changes in heart rate, are physiological in nature, and
others, like an expansive sensation, are more of the order of psychological
changes. Broadly speaking, we can call these feeling states agitations or modifica-
tions.Any emotional state involves some accompanying feeling state of these sorts.
Being horrified, for example, often involves shivering, gagging, paralysis, trem-
bling, tension, an impression of one™s “skin crawling,” a quickened pulse, or a sense
of heightened alertness, as if danger were near to hand. However, no emotion is
reducible to such feelings alone.Why not? Because feeling states such as physio-
logical agitations or psychological modifications can be induced by drugs where
there is no question of the subject being in an emotional state.
For example, suppose I could be injected with a drug that replicates all the
internal sensations that I underwent the last time I was angry. In such a situation, we
would, I suggest, nevertheless refrain from saying that I am angry.Why? Because in
the present case, there is no one with whom I am angry. I may feel weird; I may feel
internal turbulence. But I am not angry, because in order to be in the emotional
state of anger, there must be someone or something with whom or with which I am
angry; that is, I must believe that there is someone or something that has wronged
me or mine “ someone who serves as the focus of my mental state.
Emotions are mental states; they are directed.They are intentional states.They
must be directed at objects, real or imagined. In order to be in love, I must be in
love with someone. In order to be afraid, I must be afraid of something. An emo-
tion is a mental state that takes or is directed at some object.An emotional state is
not merely a feeling state, though it involves feeling.An emotional state involves a
feeling that is related to some object.
But how does a feeling get related to an object “ an object like my own true
love? Clearly, thought must be involved; cognition must be involved. Cognition
directs our attention to the objects that give rise to our emotional responses.Thus,
emotions are not simply a matter of having certain feelings; emotions also essen-
tially involve having certain thoughts. Emotion is not the opposite of cognition;
rather, emotions require cognition as an essential constituent. Indeed, the way in
which we identify or individuate emotional states is by reference to the cognitive
constituents of an emotion.
The feelings of patriotism and love may be exactly alike in terms of their feel-
ing-tones. In order to distinguish these two emotions, we need to look at the
objects to which these mental states are directed.Where the object is one™s coun-
try, the emotion is apt to be patriotism; where the object is one™s spouse, the emo-
tion, one hopes, is likely to be love.
Moreover, as this example suggests, what a given emotion takes as its object is
not arbitrary: it is governed by formal criteria. Romantic love, for example, must be
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directed at a person, or what one believes to be a person. Fear must be directed at
something that is perceived to be or believed to be harmful. Standardly, one cannot
be afraid of something that one does not believe is harmful. I cannot be afraid of a
kidney bean, or, if I am afraid of a kidney bean, then that must be due to the fact that
I have some rather strange beliefs about kidney beans, for example, that they are
mind parasites from an alternative universe. One who claimed to be in a state of fear
with respect to x, but who genuinely denied that she thought that there was any-
thing harmful about x, would be suspected of contradicting herself.
That is, I cannot be in a state of fear unless I cognize the particular object of
my mental state as meeting the formal criterion of harmfulness. Or, another way to
put it is to say that I cannot be said to be afraid of something unless I adjudge the
object in question to be subsumable under the category of the harmful. In order
to fear x, my beliefs, thoughts, judgments, or cognitions with respect to x must
accord with certain criteria of appropriateness. It is in this sense that the cognitive
constituent of my mental state determines what emotional state I am in; for how
I cognize the object of my emotion “ what categories I subsume it under “ estab-
lish what emotional state I am in.
This is not to say that feeling has no role in the emotions.To be in an emo-
tional state one needs to be in some feeling state. However, what emotional state
one is in hinges on one™s thoughts about the object toward which the emotion is
directed. The relation between the thought constituents and the feeling con-
stituents in an emotional state is one of causation.That is, when I am in an emo-
tional state, that is a matter of my having certain appropriate thoughts about a
particular object, which thoughts, in turn, cause certain physical agitations and
psychic modifications “ that is, certain feeling states “ in me. To be concrete: in
order to be afraid I must have certain thoughts “ for example, that the hissing
snake before me belongs to the category of harmful things “ and such thoughts,
in turn, cause certain feeling states in me “ for example, a psychological state sen-
sation describable, for example, as my blood running cold, and perhaps a physio-
logical agitation caused by a surge of adrenalin in my circulatory system.
Emotions, then, involve feelings and cognitions, cognitions about the categories
to which the objects of the overall state belong.Applying this model to the charac-
teristic emotional state that monsters in horror fiction provoke, we can say that we
are horrified when the monsters who are the particular objects of our emotional
state are thought of as harmful or threatening (i.e., they are fearsome) and they are
also thought of as impure (i.e., they are revolting or disgusting), where making these
categorical assessments causes certain feeling states in us “ like shuddering, trembling,
chilling (as in “spine-chilling”), a sensation of creepiness, of unease, and so on.
To be horrified, that is, involves our subsumption of the monster in a horror fic-
tion under both the categories of the fearsome and the impure where, in turn, these
cognitions cause various psycho-physical agitations, such as that of feeling our flesh
“crawl.”The horrific response is a compound, as King frankly states in the passage
quoted, of fear and revulsion, where the harmfulness of the monster is the criterial
ground for fear and the monster™s impurity is the criterial ground for revulsion.
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A horror fiction, then, is a narrative or image in which at least one monster
appears, such that the monster in question is designed to elicit an emotional
response from us that is a complex compound of fear and disgust in virtue of the
potential danger or threat the monster evinces and in virtue of its impurity.15
Central to the classification of a fiction as art-horror or genre-horror is that it
contains a monster designed to arouse the emotions of fear in the audience by
virtue of its harmfulness, and that of revulsion in virtue of its impurity.
The insight that horror fictions contain monsters is admittedly pedestrian, and
the claim that the relevant monsters are fearsome is perhaps equally obvious, since
the monsters in horror fictions customarily occupy themselves with killing and
maiming people, as well as eating them and worse. Where my theory may be
innovative, however, is in the hypothesis that horror also essentially involves the
emotional response of abhorrence, disgust, or revulsion in consequence of the
monster™s impurity.
Nevertheless, though this may represent an innovation in the theory of horror,
it may be an innovation that some readers feel is more obfuscatory than informa-
tive. For central to this theory of horror is the notion of impurity, a notion that
many may think is so vague that it is of no theoretical value whatsoever. So in
order to allay such misgivings, let me say something about the nature of impurity.
According to a number of anthropologists, including Mary Douglas and
Edmund Leach, reactions of impurity correlate regularly with transgressions or
violations or jammings of standing schemes of cultural categorization.16 In their
interpretation of the abominations of Leviticus, for example, they hypothesize that
crawling things from the sea, like lobsters, are regarded by Jews as impure because,
for the ancient Hebrews, crawling was regarded as a defining characteristic of
earthbound creatures, not creatures from the sea. A lobster, in other words, is a
kind of category error or categorical contradiction (or traif, in high-powered
philosophical jargon).
Similarly, according to Leviticus, all winged insects with four legs are to be
abominated because, though having four legs is a feature of land animals, these
things fly, that is, they inhabit the air. Things that are interstitial “ that cross the
boundaries of the deep categories of a culture™s conceptual scheme “ are primary
candidates for impurity. Feces, insofar as they figure ambiguously in terms of cat-
egorical oppositions such as me/not me, inside/outside, and living/dead, serve as
a ready target for abhorrence as impure, as do spittle, blood, tears, sweat, hair clip-
pings, nail clippings, pieces of flesh, and so on.
Where objects problematize standing cultural categories, norms, and concepts,
they invite reactions of impurity. Objects can also raise categorical misgivings in
virtue of being incomplete representations of their class, such as rotting, disinte-
grating, and broken things, including amputees.And, finally, stuff that is altogether
formless, like dirt, sludge, and garbage, provokes categorical anxiety since it seems
completely unclassifiable; it is matter out-of-place.
Following Douglas and Leach, then, we can somewhat specify the notion of
impurity. Things are adjudged impure when they present problems for standing
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categories or conceptual schemes, which things may do in virtue of being cate-
gorically interstitial, categorically contradictory, incomplete, or formless. More-
over, the relevance of this characterization of impurity for the theory of horror
should be immediately apparent, since the monsters in horror fictions could be
said virtually to operationalize the sorts of categorical problematizations that
anthropologists have itemized.
So many monsters, like werewolves, are categorically interstitial, straddling the
categories of wolf and man as a result of being composite creatures. Other mon-
sters, like Dracula and mummies, are categorically contradictory, they are both liv-
ing and dead at the same time; likewise zombies, a phenomenon captured in the
title of films like The Night of the Living Dead and Dead/Alive. And the Franken-
stein monster is not only, in some sense, living and dead, it is also newborn at the
same time that it is aged. Categorical incompleteness is also a frequent feature of
many horrific monsters “ headless ghosts and noseless zombies come to mind
here. And, finally, formless is just about the only way that one can describe such
beings as the Blob.
Not only is the concept of impurity not hopelessly imprecise, it also turns out to
be particularly apposite in characterizing the monsters we find in horror fiction. Our
emotional response to horror fictions involves not simply fear, but revulsion because
such monsters are portrayed as impure “ where impurity can be understood in terms
of the problematization, violation, transgression, subversion, or simple jamming of
our standing cultural categories, norms, and conceptual schemes.
Moreover, the recognition that horror is intimately and essentially bound up
with the violation, problematization, and transgression of our categories, norms,
and concepts puts us in a particularly strategic position from which to explore the
relation of horror to humor, because humor “ or at least one very pervasive form
of humor “ is also necessarily linked to the problematization, violation, and trans-
gression of standing categories, norms, and concepts.

I I . S TAG E T WO : H U M O R

My aim in this section is twofold. First I want to explain how the movement between
the putatively opposite mental states of horror and comic amusement is not only
unproblematic, but even somewhat natural.This will involve showing what these two

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