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The Philosophy of Horror, Or Paradoxes of the Heart, by Noel Carroll; xi & 214 pp. New York: Routledge, 1991, $39.50 cloth, $13.95 paper. Discussed by Robert C. Solomon Among the various virtues of Noel Carroll's Philosophy ofHorror is the delightful reminder that philosophy—even old-fashioned Ithaca-style conceptual analysis—can be fun. The book reflects hours engaged in what the author only half tongue-in-cheek describes as "research," begun no doubt in late-night Saturday sessions in front of his parent's black and white television as a teenager and continuing, so he tells us, into the bonds of marriage and tenure. These teenage habits have now been elevated to a "method," the method of"random viewing" (p. 54), for how else could one expect to gain a fair representation of the hundreds of so-called horror films? Add to this the several hundred H. P. Lovecraft short stories and Sci-Fi-type horror novels that filled in the time between movies and no doubt during high school classes as well and one gets a good idea of the dedication of this devoted scholar. His book is a delight to read, an excuse to recapture and enjoy one's own adolescent ghoulish Grendelphilia. Furthermore, the philosophy Carroll develops with regard to this peculiar and philosophically neglected genre is admirably clear and thought-provoking. That is surely what one would have expected. Carroll's earlier film book, Mystifying Movies: Fads and Fallacies in Contemporary Film Theory, was a general attack on overreaching and often obscure theories of film, including Marxist, Freudian, feminist, and a variety ofobfuscating semiotic theories. In their place, Carroll recommended a more modest, Philosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 163-173 164Philosophy and Literature bit-by-bit approach, a return to the "aesthetics of film" and the willingness to engage in theory by way of enjoying films in place of pompous and joyless ideological grandstanding. He urged there that we "start again," and this is, I would suggest, what The Philosophy of Horror represents . The piecemeal attention to a single-genre is refreshingly focused , and Carroll's own enjoyment in watching, remembering, and talking about these films is evident. Carroll sets up his book asking four questions: taxonomic, ontological, phenomenological, and psychological. The taxonomic question is, What is horror? or more precisely, What is (what he calls) "art-horror"? The ontological question is, What is the object of horror? The phenomenological question has to do with the nature ofthe experience ofhorror, what it is like to be horrified. The psychological question is, Why are we willing to subject ourselves to an experience that is intrinsically disgusting and unpleasant? Why do we seek out horror experiences? I will focus here on the ontological question, butas ontology recapitulates psychology, one would expect the answers to interweave. The taxonomic question is presented as a matter of definition. One might wonder whether this Socratic approach is appropriate, given the history and variety of the subject, and Carroll begins by giving us a historical circumscription rather than a definition as such. He traces the genre of "art-horror" back to the "Gothic" novels of the Enlightenment , although what most interests Carroll is the genre of horrormovies . His analysis, accordingly, is particularly suited to films, although he gives a good deal of attention to literature as well. He defines horror in terms of the emotion that works of the genre are designed to elicit from the audience (p. 53). But what is essential to art-horror is notjust the monster, the creature that is in one of several designated senses "unnatural." It is also the "positive human characters" in the film or the text with whom we identify. We share their "emotive evaluations of monsters as fearsome and impure, dangerous and repulsive," and this causes the relevant sensations in us. Thus Carroll cleverly distinguishes between the horror story and the fantasy notby virtue ofany differences in monsters but on the basis of the reactions of the other characters in the story. Ifthey are enchanted, we will be enchanted. Ifthey are grossed out and scared out of their wits, then we will experience art-horror. There is much to be said for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 163-173
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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