Contents
  Notes &
Permissions
  Preface & Acknowledg-
ments
1:
Introduction
2: Horror in Literature and the Literature of Horror
3: The Marvelous Horror Thriller
4:  The Fantastic/Uncanny Horror Thriller
5: The Aesthetics of the Horror Thriller: Stoker's Dracula
6: The Pure Fantastic Tale of Terror
7:  Anticlosure: Poe's "Ligeia"
8: The Entrapped Critic:
Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"
9: The Master's Trap:
James's The Turn of the Screw 
10: Escape: An Aesthetics of Terror Fantasy
11: Terror and the Sublime
Sources
Index

 
Chapter Ten

Escape: An Aesthetics of Terror Fantasy

 

I
 
And philosophers agreed, like a kinetic gas, that the universe could be known only as motion of mind, and therefore as unity. One could only know it as oneself; it was psychology.... To his mind, the ... [soul] took at once the form of a bicycle-rider, mechanically balancing himself by inhibiting all his inferior personalities, and sure to fall into the sub-conscious chaos below, if one of his inferior personalities got on top. The only absolute truth was the sub-conscious chaos below, which everyone could feel when he sought it. (Henry Adams 432-33)


How does terror fantasy work?
     Why do we value it?

     We have examined several tales of terror that realize the potentials of the pure fantastic as defined by Tzvetan Todorov. Each tale sustains the hesitation of the implied reader over how to interpret ambiguous events through the end of the story. Such events may be interpreted as supernatural or natural, as marvelous or uncanny. "Ligeia," "The Fall of the House of Usher," and The Turn of the Screw distinguish themselves in that they first create and then destroy aesthetic distance. They violate Edward Bullough's antinomy of aesthetic distance: "What is, therefore, both in appreciation and production most desirable is the utmost decrease of distance without its disappearance"(758). Those works that I call horror thrillers, such as At the Mountains of Madness and Dracula, are careful to preserve the antinomy, for their effects depend upon safe brushes with the forbidden that will generate the desired safe thrills. The simpler forms of the pure fantastic tales of terror are located between horror thrillers and terror fantasies. Tales such as "The Black Cat" and "The Horla" threaten to entrap the implied reader, but they stop short of the radical step of anticlosure. We have seen such a trap sprung three times in what I call terror fantasies.

     Like all literary works, a terror fantasy invites the reader invites the reader to use the signals of the text to construct an implied reader and to establish thereby an aesthetic relation to the text. Unlike most literary works, a terror fantasy offers at least two simultaneously valid but opposed readings, each of which illuminates the strengths of the other and betrays its own weaknesses. This splitting of the role of implied reader precludes the ending of that role. As a result, the terror fantasy produces anticlosure; it pointedly refuses to end.

     Anticlosure is not merely a failure to resolve thematic complications, nor is it a thematic assertion of the openness of reality. It is not at all like the story with its last page removed nor the "slice of life" in which it is presumed that life goes on after the arbitrary ending of the history. Anticlosure results from the tale's turning back on itself to form a closed loop. It is not the text that fails to end, but the reading, the activity of concretizing the work. This activity cannot stop because each of its possible resting places is disturbed by the presence of another.

     In these tales, then, the role of implied reader becomes a snare. And the trap by itself produces anxiety. In Mystery and Its Fictions, David Grossvogel demonstrates how unclosed, metaphysical mystery fictions, such as Kafka's The Trial, arouse anxiety. Terror fantasy exploits this same anxiety by means of the threat of transformation. When the role of implied reader splits, its doubleness becomes a third role, an entrapped, vibrating suspension between the alternative readers -- and readings. This heightened hesitation mirrors the narrator's terrified hesitation. The more desperately the implied reader tries to complete the reading, the more he becomes like the narrator who attempts to complete the telling, which in each case is also a reading. As the narrator obsessively strives to complete the reading of the world, the implied reader obsessively strives to complete a reading of the tale. The catch is that so long as the implied reader is engaged in the reading, the real reader, who constructed this implied reader, cannot be free: the real reader is also ensnared.

     Insofar as the real reader feels the anxiety of entrapment and the threat of transformation, the antinomy of aesthetic distance is violated. For as long as it takes to read the tale after completing the text, the real reader is haunted; he labors under the pressure of literary terror to complete a reading, and the tale resists him, pushing back with exactly the force that he exerts on it. As Henry James says, the texture of the work stiffens as one challenges the character's interpretation of his or her experience (Theory of Fiction 113). When the antinomy of aesthetic distance is violated, the real reader's relation to the work of art is transformed. The implied reader has been constructed as one (but not always the only) intermediary between the real reader and the work. That implied reader is one element of aesthetic or psychical distance. But when the implied reader's role becomes a trap, when by it the work reaches out a claw toward the real reader, then the relationship between real reader and work ceases to be disinterested. I mean disinterested in the special sense implied by Bullough's definition of psychical distance as the separation "of the object and its appeal from one's own self by putting it out of gear with practical ends and needs" (756). The real reader becomes personally interested in this work, which has taken hold of him in an unexpected way and from which he cannot disengage in the way he has learned from traditional fictions.

     Included in this fall from the grace of an aesthetic attitude is a deep nostalgia for the lost state. The drive to complete the reading comes from several directions. First, the aesthetic relation to the work is much more comfortable than a personal relation. To complete the reading requires reentry into an aesthetic relation. Furthermore, for many if not most readers, a literary work is not supposed to behave this way; it offends their sense of propriety. This observation points toward deeper needs of humans to complete patterns and to experience wholeness. The strength of this drive is seen everywhere, but most notably for our purposes in the unprecedented conflicts of interpretation that surround these particular texts. It is little wonder that Wayne Booth should discuss criticism of The Turn of the Screw in Critical Understanding, a book centrally concerned with totalitarian conflict in literary criticism. The strength of this drive to closure has its foundation in the ego's inherent need for mastery, which these tales frustrate in a way perhaps calculated to teach the ego about the limits of mastery.

     How, then, can this drive be dealt with in this situation that stimulates and frustrates simultaneously? How do we read the unreadable? Shoshana Felman suggests that the unreadability of The Turn of the Screw can end in madness or escape (206). For her madness is a continuing, obsessive relation to the work, either by continued reading or by fixing the governess in one interpretation or the other. Escape then becomes the surrender of mastery: "James's very mastery consists in the denial and in the deconstruction of his own mastery" (205). This, of course, is the author's response to his act of creation. James consciously makes this denial in his refusal, in his prefaces and notes, either to affirm the objective reality of the ghosts, to validate the characters' interpretations of them, or to specify the "values" of the ghosts (Theory of Fiction 111-14, 173-74). How can the reader successfully imitate this escape? How does the reader escape madness? To come to this question in a manageable way, it is useful to look briefly at the real terror that some people experience in their real lives.
 

II

     William F. Fischer, in "Towards a Phenomenology of Anxiety," contrasts the generalized state of anxiety with the state of fear: fear is essentially physical, a response to potential physical danger, while anxiety is a response to psychological danger. When he speaks of anxiety, he refers to what I call terror:

My world, my relations, my situation no longer speak to me in the familiar language. I am no longer at home. The situation seems dissonant, inappropriate, even meaningless. Nothing offers support as I frantically run from object to object seeking support.

     ...The situation is collapsing and I am caught in the here-and-now of its destruction. The future recedes into vaguery and I can neither clarify nor recapture it. Who, where, and what I am are no longer clear. My wants mingle in confusion. The past seems uncertain as it ceases to support the present and it surrounds me without revealing avenues of escape.

     ... If and when anxiety appears in reflection, then the anxious individual finds that his standing and competence as a human being ... is vulnerable, under attack, in danger of dissolution. He is threatened as a psychological creature.... That totality, that matrix of meanings which made all objects and relations significant in the first place, is slipping through his fingers. He continues to will the totality to be so, but the world is more resistive and he becomes still more uncomfortable....

     Temporally, the individual experiencing anxiety flees from the disquieting, dissonant, anticipated future into the here-and-now of a meaningless present.... There are no places to run, nowhere to hide or to recover the feeling of familiarity. That which threatens in anxiety cannot be avoided by movement. It is so close that it is oppressive and it stifles one's breath, and yet it is nowhere. (110-11)

Fischer's description of anxiety touches precisely on those central elements of the narrator's terror in the tales we have discussed. The narrator loses a familiar and relatively secure world, finds him- or herself isolated in an eternal present without connections in any direction in time or space. Identity begins to dissolve, and that into which he or she is changing is the terrifying other that seems to approach from all directions. This experience is most completely the "Usher" narrator's, but the "Ligeia" narrator and the governess share many of its elements. We can shed more light upon terror as a subjective state by looking at anxiety dreams or nightmares.

     In Nightmares and Human Conflict, John E. Mack defines the nightmare as "a type of severe anxiety dream in which the level of anxiety reaches overwhelming proportions" (209). He argues that nightmares normally are not, as some have thought, discharges of aggressive or sexual libido, but rather responses to more or less immediate conflicts in the dreamer's life, often some insecurity over an impending or presently occurring life change. In sleep and dreaming, there is a tendency for the ego to regress toward earlier stages of development, drifting backward through other critical life changes. The dream tends to weld together the anxieties associated with any or all of these developmental stages. In this state, the "I" of the dreamer becomes more childlike, losing certain adult ego functions. The dream-ego loses the ability to sample and limit anxiety through repression and intellectualization. It loses the faculty of reality-testing, the ability to distinguish frightening thoughts from "real," external threats. Mack distinguishes nine forms of anxiety in developmental order, that is, in the order in which humans normally experience them when moving through the life cycle. The following is a paraphrase of Mack's list:

1. Stranger anxiety, fear of a strange face;
2. Separation anxiety, fear of the absence of parent;
3. Fear of loss of love of the caretaking person;
4. Fear of loss of a valued part of [the] body;
5. Fear of disapproval by the superego, of internal self-judgment
     (a major element of this fear, which often appears in nightmares, is fear of one's hostility toward others);
6. Fear of masochistic surrender;
7. Fear of risks of adult responsibility, e.g., marriage, parenthood, career change, fear of failure;
8. Fear of death;
9. Fear of loss of bodily functions in old age. (210)


     These fears, which are sources of anxiety in nightmares, are related to the major features of conscious anxiety as described by Fischer and to the terrors of the narrators in our tales. To lose the familiar world and find oneself in an alien, unfamiliar world is like the experience of having differentiated one's mother as essential to one's well-being and then seeing her replaced by a strange face. To be threatened by powers in the world is like being threatened by any of fears numbered three through nine. Furthermore, the regressive process of any nightmare is reflected in waking anxiety and in the narrators' experiences. One is confronted by some fear that originates "in the world" and that pushes one back toward the loss of that world and finally toward the loss of one's identity, when the naked, defenseless ego stands before some overwhelming transforming power. A useful illustration of this sort of dream appears in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables.

     In the eighteenth chapter of The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne attempts to entrap the reader momentarily in an anxiety dream to evoke a deeper sympathy for the suffering of his protagonists, Clifford and Hepzibah, and to make the reader feel more deeply the humanity and secret suffering of the proud Judge Pyncheon. Examining this chapter briefly reveals the degree to which Hawthorne and his contemporaries, Edgar Allan Poe and Henry James, could have understood the nature of anxiety and how to produce it in readers. Furthermore, the examination helps us move toward a conception of the characteristics of the reader's anxiety in a terror fantasy.

     The chapter begins in a tone of mockery as narrator and reader play the game of pretending that the judge is alive, though he has just died in his chair, to judge him for his sins and to twit him for his inability to act out his greedy ambitions. But, as we mock the judge, time passes. The twilight comes "glooming upwards out of the corners of the room" (240). We are left in utter, deathlike darkness: "An infinite, inscrutable blackness has annihilated sight! Where is our universe? All crumbled away from us; and we, adrift in chaos, may harken to the gusts of homeless wind, that go sighing and murmuring about, in quest of what was once a world!" (241). We have been captured in our game, and the mockery has turned back upon us. Evil as he was, the judge is not to be judged finally by us. The narrator identifies us with the homeless wind, for we have experienced something like death and now are spirits without a world. While time is no longer of importance to the judge (so we agreed when we mocked him), now we experience it as unendurable duration: "Would that we were not an attendant spirit here! It is too awful! This clamor of wind through the lonely house; the judge's quietude as he sits invisible; and that pertenacious ticking of his watch!" (242). When the moon restores some light, the narrator lightens the tone by mentioning the ghost legends of the house. However, we again are caught by his efforts to make "a little sport" with the legends. His vision assumes a life of its own and reveals more than we can know, that the judge's heir is also dead. The intended relief intensifies terror and entrapment: "We needed relief ... from our too long and exlusive contemplation of that figure in the chair ... yonder leaden Judge sits immovably upon our soul. Will he never stir again? We shall go mad unless he stirs!" (245). Several distancing factors, including a certain playfulness in the narrative voice, prevent the dissolution of aesthetic distance in this chapter. Still, it is clear that Hawthorne seriously intends to give his readers a taste of terror by compelling them to imagine death, to undergo entrapment in an alien world, confrontation with a threatening other, and the threat of transformation into that other.

     Because Hawthorne is fairly transparent about his end and means, we can see with some clarity what threats he believes are most terrifying: the loss of a familiar world, the fears that powers in that world will harm one, and ultimately that one's personality will disintegrate. The terrors of the narrators in our terror fantasies are the terrors of waking anxiety. These are parallel to the terrors of the nightmare, except that the narrators are unable to awaken. Their anxiety is "real." To the degree that the stories are effective in their drive to threaten the real reader, entrapped in the role of implied reader, with transformation into the narrator's double and with consequent loss of identity, the reader's experience is also of "real" anxiety.

     Mary K. Rothbart's flow chart of "Affective Responses to Sudden, Intense, or Discrepant Stimulation" also sheds light on the response to anxiety (figure 2). The narrator, the implied reader, and the real reader all find themselves in intense and discrepant situations: there is an insistent division between the "reality" of present experience and either the expected or the desired. Rothbart constructed her chart to illustrate how such incongruous experiences might be made to end in laughter, but the chart has two infinite loops in which the release of laughter cannot be reached. When the experience of intense discrepancy is high or medium, when danger is not present, and when the stimulus challenges existing schemas (i.e., fundamental patterns of organizing personal experience), then the reader engages in problem-solving to resolve the discrepancy. As long as the problem-solving is unsuccessful, there is no exit from that loop. Of course, if the stimulation goes away and if its memory can be repressed, one can escape conscious awareness of the feeling of obsession, but one cannot really escape the experience. As in the case of natural anxiety, escape, if it is not a cure, is an illusion. In the case of nightmares, if the cause really is essentially external, the stimulus may go away. Terror fantasy is more like natural anxiety; it must be repressed or cured. Repression is the most likely response if the work seems too dangerous, if "danger is present." This response probably occurs only in a few readers of terror fantasy. In this case, the stimulus still cannot be permanently removed by flight, aggression, or seeking shelter. As a psychological threat, the terror fantasy stays with the reader. If he feels it as a danger, the level of stimulation is stepped up, and attempts at avoidance become obsessive. Terror fantasy is so constructed that neither problem-solving nor avoidance produces closure. Still, there are important differences between the experiences of terror fantasy and of natural anxiety, differences that allow for a transformation of terror into beauty.

     One difference between the terror of terror fantasy and that of real anxiety is that the reader has consciously chosen to read the work and has come to its reading not only more or less intact, but also with his faculties hyper-alert. The reader who has any knowledge of tradition cannot read far into these tales without realizing that he is in the general domain of the horror thriller. The conventions of the horror thriller are, in part, instructions for the formation of the implied reader as one ready for the terrifying and alert to penetrate mysteries. In terror fantasy, both of these elements of the implied reader are traps, but they are traps for which the reader is, to some degree, prepared. The real reader who constructs the implied reader is not the sleeping ego of a nightmare, nor is he necessarily the victim of a real anxiety that surrounds him. The terror of the text wishes to surround the real reader, but the real reader possesses a defense that is less available to the person who experiences natural anxiety.

     The real reader has the implied reader. The terror of the terror fantasy begins its attack by swallowing the implied reader. The real reader's desire to read, to know, to complete, sends him into the maw after his other self, to effect the rescue and carry both away. But he discovers that the trap was set for him in the first place. He discovers that rescue is impossible, and that, just maybe, death, as the loss of self, is possible. The sufferer from natural anxiety has no such second self prepared in advance to act as any sort of buffer between himself and his terror. If he needs such a self, he must construct it alone. His terror is his alone and, therefore, may be inescapable. But the implied reader is the real reader's savior. The implied reader may be sacrificed.
 

III

     The ultimate threat of terror fantasy is against the self of the real reader. The tale gestures toward capturing the real reader's self. Paradoxically, self-defense -- the attempt to master the work -- only strengthens the work's hold over the real reader. The overwhelming anxiety of the nightmare causes the dreamer to awaken, to reassert all the integrative powers one has learned in the process of maturation. When the real reader attempts to assert such powers, he only increases his entrapment. Responses to natural anxiety include the neurotic's attempt to preserve the self by means of the symptom and the psychotic's radical splitting of the self. As long as the real reader continues his reading, his response mirrors that of the neurotic; his reading, his being haunted, becomes his "symptom." The escape, the completion of the reading, is more like psychosis, though the differences are not insignificant.

     To escape from the terror of terror fantasy is not to give in, but rather to let go of the drive for mastery: to consciously surrender a recently acquired aspect of oneself by giving up the implied reader. Driven toward his ultimate resources to deal with literary terror, the real reader turns to his imagination, the mirror in which is found the image of himself that he constructed at the behest of the tale. The tale has shown him that image and has identified him with that image. To complete his interaction with the image, the real reader must allow the image to belong to the tale. How can this be done?

     The possibility of sacrificing the implied reader is suggested by the metaphor I have adopted from Wolfgang Iser, that of the actor playing a role. The actor can begin to play a role and then cease to play the role because he knows he is playing a role. He looks upon his part as a role he plays, not as himself, though the relations between these two may be intimate and complex. The real reader, however, does not normally conceive of himself as playing the role of implied reader. The concept of implied reader is a construct of literary theory that accounts for major phenomena of the reading experience. The real reader need not be and, in fact, usually is not conscious either of the concept or of the activity of creating the role as he reads. Terror fantasies make the already created role visible to the real reader. The role becomes visible because of terror.

     Terror creates the desire, the need for escape, for disengagement from the fiction. The usual and expected means of disengagement from the horror thriller is closure. When a terror fantasy asserts anticlosure, the real reader demands closure and labors toward it. Laboring for closure, however, only intensifies the experience of entrapment and terror. At some point, in some way, the failed and terrified laborer becomes visible. The real reader, in effect, asks "Who is this obsessed reader enmeshed in this fiction?" To be able to pose this question is to be able to answer, "Not I."

     At the psychological level, one's identity becomes an object of contemplation. The reader becomes able to see himself as the entity or subject that stands apart and holds itself together in the universal chaos, like Henry Adams riding his bicycle on a tightrope (433). The real reader becomes aware of himself as a process, as able to move and, therefore, as superior to the narrators who are obsessed by and trapped within their stories. This realization has many and deep implications, but for now the crucial one is that the terror of the tale moves the real reader to a new perspective in which the analogy between the implied reader and the narrator becomes visible. The reader knows himself as entrapped in the story and as having taken a critical stance as we did in examining the tales. This act in itelf restores the division between real reader and implied reader that the tale had collapsed. The real reader's consciousness expands to take in a larger situation. Time and distance are the advantages that the real reader has over the narrator, distance from the reality of the narrator's obsessions, especially of the need to tell. The need to tell may be seen as the narrator's hope to achieve distance over time and to become an object for himself or herself. But the narrator's experiences involve acts in the world that entangle him or her more surely and inescapably than do the reader's acts on the text.

     When the reader's consciousness expands, his aesthetic relation to the work is restored. He leaps outside the role of implied reader. It may be appropriate to say that he creates yet another implied reader, who comprehends the hesitating implied reader who, in turn, comprehends the readers of the two main alternative readings. All of these roles become samples of many roles that the real reader can play. Inevitably, this experience points at the "I," the real reader's picture of himself apart from the work, and this, too, becomes one of many possible roles, but more of this later. The key to the restoration of aesthetic distance is the establishment of psychological distance within the self, the adoption of a perspective in which one's identity as implied reader becomes an object of his own consciousness. From this perspective, one sees this identity over against the terrors of the story, locked in struggle, but undefeated. This is a victory, not over the mystery, but over the terror the mystery helps to arouse; this victory becomes a part of the work. The irresolvable indeterminacies of the text become beautiful parts of that victory and beautiful parts of the work. When the reader acknowledges and accepts that his state before the text is helplessness, that his powers of integration cannot solve the insistent indeterminacies, he discovers himself as an observer of the entrapped self before the text, and he retains identity within this new perspective. At this point the story ceases to be threatening, for the reader has withstood the threat of the story to disintegrate his personality. One naturally feels elation and power at such an accomplishment.

     To experience the anticlosure that entraps the implied reader, to feel the reader split and suspended between opposing but ever insistent readings, to feel the pull of transformation as the implied reader's obsession comes to mirror the narrator's obsession, to feel the threat of transformation as the tale refuses to release the real reader from the role he has accepted -- this is the terror of a terror fantasy. To become conscious of the implied reader as a construct, to abandon that role and leap into a different imaginative stance, to be released from the terror of entrapment and the tension of struggle, to see the work as a whole of which a surrendered construct of the self is a part, to master the reading by surrendering the tale -- this is the pleasure of terror fantasy. To read and reread these fictions is to relive a liberation of self from self, which is a means to the end of concretizing these works. The unique pleasure of terror fantasy arises from forcing the reader to construct an appropriate closure of the reading that includes the anticlosure of the tale. As a result, the reader achieves a particularly intense experience of psychological liberation as a major component of the concretization.

     It is important to understand that, even though the aesthetic experience can come to a close, the work remains unclosed. In surrendering the implied reader to the tale, the real reader surrenders mastery -- the insistence upon the power of the ego to comprehend (understand and enclose the totality of) reality. The real reader, at least tacitly, admits that the conscious self is not adequate to the mystery of the text. He accepts that the tale eludes him. Without this surrender, the completion of the reading is impossible, yet paradoxically, this surrender is an admission that the tale cannot be read. In the case of terror fantasy, completing the reading, in the sense of closing the aesthetic experience, can be accomplished only by accepting the impossibility of reading the tale. The real reader becomes different in this process because he becomes conscious of himself as a performance.

     Because the experience of psychological liberation from the self as a totality is so central to the pleasurable concretization of a terror fantasy, I would like to describe and explain the implications of this liberation more fully. Furthermore, at this point, the examination of terror fantasy makes connection with recent theoretical work in the general field of fantasy.

     Rosemary Jackson, in her study of fantasy as a literature of subversion, has brought together recent thought on fantasy in a way quite useful to the understanding of terror fantasy. She argues that the desire of the fantastic in fiction is to express:

a longing for that which does not yet exist, or which has not been allowed to exist, the unheard of, the unseen, the imaginary, as opposed to what already exists and is permitted as "really" visible. Unlike the symbolic, the imaginary is inhabited by an infinite number of selves preceding socialization, before the ego is produced within a social frame. These selves allow an infinite, unnameable potential to emerge, one which a fixed sense of character excludes in advance.... [T]he most subversive fantasies are those which attempt to transform the relations between the imaginary and the symbolic. They try to set up possibilities for radical cultural transformation by making more fluid the relations between these realms, suggesting, or projecting, the dissolution of the symbolic through violent reversal or rejection of the process of the subject's formation. (91)
Terror fantasy may be one of the most subversive divisions of the mode of subversive fantasy because, finally, it cannot be read without actually experiencing the fragmentation of the self or of the symbolic.

     To understand what this means, we can draw upon Jackson's working out of her readings of Jacques Lacan and his associates and followers in the elaboration and revision of Freud's ideas. Her opposition of the imaginary and the symbolic derives from these readings, specifically from the elaboration of Lacan's discussion of the mirror stage in the development of the ego. In Freud's model, the child moves from primary narcissism, through attachment to loved objects, to a reality principle that accepts the separation of the ego from the world, the laws of necessity, and the certainty of death. Lacan elaborates the transition from narcissism to the attachment to loved objects as the mirror stage.

     We have glanced at this description several times in previous chapters because it seems crucial to understanding the dynamics of tales of terror. Many of the tales of terror that are most memorable seem centrally concerned with the nature of the self and the process of the formation of the self. We will remember Christine Brooke-Rose's useful summary of the three main stages of the mirror phase: "recognition of the other, recognition of the other as self, recognition of the other as self but other" (161). The child emerges from narcissism with the recognition of a wholeness in others, the distinction between his body and the body of another. The recognition merges into a desire to be the other, to be whole in the same way. The mirror, the reflection of his own physical wholeness, or the gaze of another that more directly implies wholeness of identity, reveals a relationship of self and other. The child is like the others he has distinguished. At this point begins the construction of the self, the deliberate making of the image of what the child will be. In constructing that image, the child necessarily splits. The child is the image and the child is the maker of the image. The child is the subject and the object of that subject. The object is symbolic. As we have noted earlier, to give graspable form to the image of self, the child must symbolize that image in language, the symbol systems provided by his culture. The manipulator of that image, the subject, is only known, then, insofar as it conforms to what has been symbolized. Where it does not conform, it is invisible, unspeakable, "nonexistent" within the symbol systems available in the culture: in short, it is imaginary. This is the realm of the imaginary, then, as opposed to the symbolic, the unconscious repository of all that we have chosen not to be.

     The symbolic, then, refers to language in the widest sense, the various means by which we make present to consciousness the reality we wish to manipulate. These means are culturally determined and, hence, laden with cultural ideology. This ideology includes the culturally acceptable limits for the constitution of an "I." As the child moves through socialization, his commitment to this "I" necessitates acceptance of the social determinants of the "I" he has already chosen. In the language with which I grew up, every child buys his identity as a "pig in a poke," only to discover gradually, over years of growth, what was in the bag.

     The imaginary consists of what the child gives up by choosing to become an identity, to become an object of his own consciousness. As the child grows, he feels a constant tearing away from himself. What he becomes is never what he hoped to become. He secretly longs for himself as subject, the self that he is never allowed by his identity to "speak." The imaginary is the unspeakable, the lost other, the unconscious.

     Fantasy, according to Jackson, seeks to express the imaginary. To the extent that it succeeds in this expression in such a way as to "interrogate the category of character," fantasy is subversive of "that definition of the self as a coherent, indivisible and continuous whole which has dominated Western thought for centuries and is celebrated in classic theatre and 'realistic' art alike" (82-83).

     Within the category of subversive fantasy is terror fantasy. Terror fantasy momentarily focuses upon and heightens the interrogation of the category of character by offering the "I" a new part and then requiring that it be given up. In offering a new part, terror fantasy, like most fiction, mirrors the mirror phase. It offers the reader a version of an "I" to try. Terror fantasy differs from most fiction, however, in its attempt to entrap the real reader in the role of implied reader. This entrapment is analogous to the narrowing experience of maturation, though perhaps more intense because more brief and concentrated. As the subject confines himself by conforming to the "I," so the real reader confines himself by conforming to the implied reader. When the implied reader becomes a terrifying trap, the real reader feels this confinement. When the real reader abandons the role of implied reader, he does something that, in all probability he has rarely if ever accomplished before reading a terror fantasy. He cuts himself free from an imprisoning "I." To an adult reader, this experience promises liberation from the tyranny of the "I" because it points at the implied reader (perhaps as many as three implied readers), this recently constructed and provisional "I," as fictional, as created by the real reader and the arrangement of the language in the text. This pointing implies, at least, that the "I" that the reader brought to the work is a similarly fictional construct that may be abandoned or modified by choice. While all humans are aware, perhaps painfully, that their choices of being arise out of various views of the "I," their own and others', not all become aware that the "I" is a fiction, that it can be changed.

     Terror fantasy provides the opportunity to reenact the appropriation of the image of the "I," but in a way just the opposite of the reenactment of repression that is central to the horror thriller. In the horror thriller, the forbidden is expressed to allow us to remake the decision to forbid it, to remake the decision in favor of the "I." We thereby enjoy the pleasure of creating an identity. Terror fantasy provides an opportunity to reconsider the creation of the "I," to achieve an awareness of the process of creating the "I" as in a fundamental way, voluntary. Of course, our initial experience of appropriating the other in the mirror phase seems involuntary. It is hardly a considered choice. By making possible the reconsideration of that move, terror fantasy introduces or reminds us of the voluntary element, the act of will by which we begin to become persons. In Jackson's view, the final purpose of all subversive fantasy is to reveal that character, the "I," is a fiction. This, of course, is a psychological rather than an aesthetic opinion, for from an aesthetic point of view, the final purpose, at least of terror fantasy, is to become a concretion, an aesthetic whole in the experience of its reader. The revelation of the fictionality of the real reader's "I" is a means to the end of the concretion.

     Following Leo Bersani's argument in A Future for Astyanax, Jackson develops a historical thesis that is also instructive at this point. She sees fantasy developing historically from religious fantasy, in which the impossible is attributed to another world, toward secular fantasy, in which the impossible comes more fully to be recognized as projected from within the mind. Secular fantasy is more subversive because it tends to turn away from "supplying a vicarious fulfilment of desire and neutralizing an urge toward transgression" such as she finds generally in Gothic fiction (72). Instead, secular fantasy tries in various ways to "dissolve structures," to recover the preconscious narcissistic state, that entropic Nirvana "where all tensions are reduced" (73). She finds in the Marquis de Sade and in the Comte de Lautréamont expressions of this longing that may stimulate such longings in their readers. In much of twentieth-century fantasy, from Franz Kafka to Thomas Pynchon, she finds examples of the longing for absolute otherness and the exposure of the emptiness in the apparent but fictional fulness of the symbolic order that is public reality. While such longings may indeed be expressed in them, these tales seem significantly less effective in their interrogations of character than are terror fantasies. Kafka's major fables of anxiety seem more to challenge culture than character, though, of course, character is indirectly questioned. Kafka portrays a world that portentously refuses to speak, that claims to be comprehensive but constantly betrays its fictionality, its failure to be a total picture. Likewise, Pynchon's novels seem, as David H. Richter has argued in Fable's End, to move toward thematic critiques of cultural ideology rather than to involve the reader in experiencing the fictionality of his own character. By questioning cultural ideology, such works question the foundation, the language of the "I," and so express a longing for that which is not included in the language; but, without the terror of an entrapping anticlosure, they seem aesthetically tame beside The Turn of the Screw. The liberation of the reader, which is essential to the concretization of a terror fantasy, involves more than an intellectual realization that modern Western culture, despite its claims to the contrary, is not ALL. Kafka and Pynchon make the reader feel the oppressiveness of modern culture and so stimulate the desire for escape. Terror fantasies provide escape, insofar as it is possible, for the actual experience of the fictionality of the "I" imparts a useable conviction of the fictionality of culture.

     Terror fantasies, like what I call fables of anxiety, speak to a fundamental individual and cultural need for the new, though in quite different ways. As Jackson and Bersani argue, this need has deepened as a result of the increasing cultural totalitarianism of modern Western cultures, which seem bent on concentrating all power in the "I." While Jackson and Bersani agree that there is no culture without repression or without ideology, they also argue persuasively that some of the painful oppression of this Apollonian order may be relieved by a revision of the ideas of the "I" that Dionysian fantasy can help to bring about (Jackson 178; Bersani 314-15).

     In her discussion of the character of character in fiction, Hélène Cixous describes the experience of works in which character as the necessary mirror of the reader is conspicuously absent, for example, some works of E. T. A. Hoffman. Such works, she says, "unmask" character; character is: "denounced, returned to his reality as simulacrum, brought back to the mask as mask. He is given up then to the complexity of his subjectivity, to his multiplicity, to his off-centre position, to his permanent escapade: like the author, he disappears only to be multiplied, attains the self only to be, in the same instant, differentiated into a trans-subjective effervescence" (387). This passage aptly describes the experience of liberation that allows the concretization of terror fantasy. The tale exposes the "I" and hence all "I's" as fictions. Terror fantasy pulls the reader toward a perspective in which he becomes another, not The Other, or the unconscious, which threatens madness and dissolution, but another who stands, as it were, outside his own character, seeing it, as Cixous says, "off-centre." The reader, in the moment he takes a new perspective, stands for a moment outside the culturally, linguistically determined self in confrontation with its "invisible" antithesis. This perspective in itself is liberating, not because it frees one from choice nor because it allows one to be free of culture, but because it tends to free one in culture. Culture becomes visible. Of course, it always has been visible; by definition, culture is what we symbolize or make visible. Now, however, the process of making the visible, of making culture becomes visible. It is as if one saw one's culture as a new language to be learned, as if one had entered a foreign culture as an adult, with the ability to analyze and make considered choices about what he will adopt and how. Culture ceases to be an "invisible" determinant of the "I."

     D. H. Lawrence seems to have seen through to this fundamental effect in Poe's tales: "Moralists have always wondered helplessly why Poe's morbid tales need have been written. They need to be written because old things need to die and disintegrate, because the old white psyche has to be gradually broken down before anything else can come to pass." Furthermore, Lawrence says, "Man must be stripped even of himself. And it is a painful, sometimes ghastly process .... For the human soul must suffer its own disintegration, consciously, if ever it is to survive" (Woodson 39). This is the perspective that the governess and the Poe narrators need so desperately, to let the old self die to make room for renewal. They need to surrender the drive for mastery. The reader, fortunately not fixed within the text, can surrender the drive for mastery, indeed must. In this process The Other (the unchosen selves) does not cease to exist, nor does it become visible or cease to be an object of desire, but it may be spoken of, for a moment, as tamed or blessed, for its silence becomes part of the beauty of a work of art. Alice Staverton teaches Spencer Brydon the reasons for pitying his "other," the self he has chosen not to be, in Henry James's "The Jolly Corner." The unchosen Brydon is as much to be pitied as the chosen one; furthermore, each "has" his compensations. At least part of the meaning of this tale is that when one sees oneself as chosen and the other as unchosen, it becomes possible not only to alter choices but perhaps somewhat easier to accept what one inevitably loses by choosing.

     We see, then, that there is a political and a social dimension to the experience of terror fantasy. As Fredric Jameson suggests in "Magical Narratives: Romance as Genre," the liberation entailed in the aesthetic experience of terror fantasies may be psychological, aesthetic, political, and social. These tales "set up possibilities for radical cultural transformation by making fluid the relations between" the reality we choose and the imaginary that "is inhabited by an infinite number of selves preceding socialization, before the ego is produced within a social frame" (Jackson 91).

     As Wolfgang Iser shows in The Act of Reading, the general effect of liberation is not unique to terror fantasy, for all great literature tends, through its "repertoire," to interrogate the limits of the ideologies it chooses to represent (chapter 3). Frank Kermode, in The Sense of an Ending, also argues that all literature, by its very existence, can remind us of the fictionality of all forms of ordering experience. Terror fantasies are unique among works of literature in their manipulation of aesthetic distance in a way that makes a particular version of the reader's self into a part of his concretion of the work, thus bringing that self in its relations to ideology before the reader's own consciousness.
 

IV

     At this point in the argument, a brief digression seems necessary. When I was nearly finished with the final draft of this book, I talked it over with a friend who balked at my description of terror fantasy. He argued that ordinary readers are unable to read terror fantasies in the ways I have described. In effect he said that, caught up in a love for certain authors and a passion to explain, I had forgotten ordinary readers. When I describe the workings and the pleasures of terror fantasy, do I not construct a level of experience unavailable to all real readers, except for those like myself who succumb to the obsession to explain by working out a complex and fantastic reading? Is it possible that my elaborate explanation is of an absolutely unique experience that only I have had and that no one can share?

     In a sense, this is a question for other scholars to answer. I can only make my best effort to discover continuities between my experience and that of other readers and to present them clearly. The community of thought that transcends me is, perhaps, the only force that can judge whether I have succeeded. However, it is important that the question be raised. Indeed, my friend reminded me of another form in which it has been asked. In Critical Understanding, Wayne Booth devotes part of a chapter to The Turn of the Screw. He argues that we can achieve greater sanity as well as validity in interpretation if we carefully use the concept of the implied author. Booth asks whether any of the more "ingenious" interpretations of the novella correspond to what we can reasonably imagine James might attempt in writing a ghost story. Booth and my friend raise essentially the same question: do real readers read terror fantasies in the way I have described? Have real writers really written such works?

     Booth attacks interpretations of The Turn of the Screw that fail to refer "explicitly or even by indirection, to what a human being might conceivably do if he attempted to write a story according to the new hypothesis being offered. Each interpretation springs full-bodied from an assertion of a possible reading, not a possible writing" (286). He concludes that even the most careful analysis of the governess as a mad hallucinator must assert the apparent absurdity that James set out and continued to write the novella with the purpose of concealing his true meaning from virtually all of his real readers, that his aim was not to frighten readers, but to fool them. Even more absurd, perhaps, is the conception of James as an author more interested in presenting psychological cases than in producing fine artistic effects. One of Booth's most telling points is that only a clumsy or a diabolical artist would make this particular governess the narrator: "To think of a mad governess who could and would write her own story in this way entails the absurdity of thinking that Henry James could commit such an absurdity. Think of the thousands of details that such a narrator would suppress -- given the skills at suppression and distortion that she must have.... Why would either a mad person or a formerly mad person trouble, in telling her story, to talk about her own 'dreadful liability to impressions of the order so vividly exemplified by the appearance of Quint and about Mrs. Grose's 'exemption' from 'my more than questionable privilege'?" (299). On his way to this conclusion, Booth offers a reading of the novella that is closer to his conception of what James -- or any intelligent writer -- would most likely have intended in producing this particular text.

     Booth offers his reading as a way of demonstrating one useful test of a good reading: "To pass our test, the reading ... must account for how any writer as skillful as the James everyone postulates would have found it necessary or appropriate ... to do all or most of what was done" (290). Booth accepts Douglas's statement of the effect of the governess's narrative: dreadfulness, uncanny ugliness, horror, and pain. If it has this effect on Douglas, then it would seem reasonable for it to have a similar effect on his audience and on the reader. Given this hypothetical intention, Booth works through the choices James can be seen to have made concerning his characters, the ghosts, and his narrative presentation by means of the governess. All of these explanations make good sense, and I do not dispute them.

     Does this acquiescence place my reading of the novella and my theories about terror fantasy among those that fail to consider a possible writing? Naturally, I think not, but then, how do I proceed from Booth's reading to my own?

     To begin, I disagree with Booth on two fundamental facts about the story. First, he argues on the basis of critical agreement that at least one of the ghosts is absolutely real (292). Unfortunately, the critical agreement for that assertion simply is not there. Every argument for the reality of the ghosts I have seen has a published counter-argument [counterargument]. The language in which Mrs. Grose identifies the apparitions is too slippery to provide absolute confirmation, though it comes very close. I agree with Booth that James probably wanted the ghosts to seem real, but I also believe that he wanted to prevent confirmation of their reality for the very reason that Booth cites as one of the causes of critics' doubting the governess -- James's apparent desire to make the governess doubt herself. Second, and more important, Booth asserts that though the governess finally "exorcises the ghosts with her courage" and saves Flora, she must endure the triumph of the ghosts when Miles dies (287). Booth omits from this summary the governess's statements that she has saved both children, the last assertion coming when Miles is dead in her arms.

     These disagreements are decisive in how we read the tale. If the pointedly missing end frame and the pointed uncertainty as to whether the governess has saved or destroyed Miles do not force the reader back over the text for resolution, then this tale is much more likely to be what Booth says it is, a highly effective horror thriller. But even if I am right about how to view the text, the even more crucial question remains: would James write the reading of the novella that I have presented? I think he would and that this is precisely the sort of tale of terror he would want most to produce, one to "catch" jaded readers as well as the more ordinary ones.

     Booth and I agree wholly on the apparent purpose of the work, to terrify even the most experienced readers of tales of terror. We agree on James's probable reasons for all the major choices Booth discusses: the two children as the most pathetic victims, the two sexually corrupt and convincingly -- but (my qualification) not absolutely -- real ghosts as the most diabolical, the vulnerable and resourceful protectress who also becomes the ideal narrator. I especially agree with Booth's characterization of the riskiness and the promise of making the governess doubt herself: "We must expose them [the children] both to the demons and to their hapless protectress. If we show her trying to force the children to acknowledge their communion with the demons, seeking, with less and less attention to their feelings and more and more to her own plight, for corroboration of their corruption, we shall turn the screws of horrible torture for those damned and hapless children" (295).

     To this reading I add only one more observation: that the governess's self-doubt, which Booth so accurately sees her acting out with the children, persists in her telling of the tale. Because the consequences of her choices have included the death of her beloved Miles, she can never escape that self-doubt. As it haunts her, so it haunts her telling and her various readers. Because the governess herself is never absolutely certain of the reality of the apparitions she saw, the reader can never be certain either. This uncertainty explodes into prominence when the text fails to close and the reader is caught in the toils of the reading.

     Whether or not James ever articulated an understanding that he had achieved this effect, we can see that it is clearly consistent with his professed aims in his preface and with the effects Douglas claims to have felt in the opening frame. James, at the height of his career, intuited the form of a tale of terror that most suited his talents and interests as a writer and produced what is to date the greatest masterpiece in the genre.

     If we have a possible writing and a possible reading, do we have a description of the reading that readers really do? I have not proven that all readers read these texts the way I say they do. In fact, published criticism of the terror fantasies suggests that virtually no one reads them as I have. Rather, most readers who publish their views remain in the vibration between alternate readings or settle for one of the less satisfying closures. That my theory accounts for these responses and incorporates them into the reading of terror fantasies supports the theory, but does not prove it. Therefore, the really convincing test remains ahead. Now that a picture of "successful" reading has been drawn, will real readers recognize it?

     It may help in that testing to notice and remember that an articulation of an experience is not the experience itself. This point emerges more forcefully than any other from the study of the aesthetics of terror fiction. The narrators of our three terror fantasies are trapped forever in the necessity of articulating what cannot be articulated, of trying to absolutely fix in language the unfixable reality they have suffered. We do not experience the articulation of a theory of the pleasures of terror when we read horror thrillers or terror fantasies. When I go to see Alien or Psycho, I experience the film, not a critical or theoretical discussion of the film. The test of a good articulation is how well it describes what happens to me at the film. About terror fantasy, I have argued that there are several choices for closing the anticlosed, but that the reader will be most satisfied if he finds one particular mode of closure that I call escape. Then, in concretizing the work, he will be taken out of himself in a way that may be unique in literary art, and he will receive a momentary sense of self-transcendence of immeasurable value.

End of Chapter 10.

Contents
  Notes &
Permissions
  Preface & Acknowledg-
ments
1:
Introduction
2: Horror in Literature and the Literature of Horror
3: The Marvelous Horror Thriller
4:  The Fantastic/Uncanny Horror Thriller
5: The Aesthetics of the Horror Thriller: Stoker's Dracula
6: The Pure Fantastic Tale of Terror
7:  Anticlosure: Poe's "Ligeia"
8: The Entrapped Critic:
Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"
9: The Master's Trap:
James's The Turn of the Screw 
10: Escape: An Aesthetics of Terror Fantasy
11: Terror and the Sublime
Sources
Index