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HORROR, HELPLESSNESS, AND VULNERABILITY: A REPLY TO ROBERT SOLOMON by Noël Carroll In a recent issue of Philosophy and Literature,1 Robert Solomon published a very provocative review-article ofmy book The Philosophy ofHorror.2 In part, Solomon's review is so very interesting because he approaches horror from a different methodological angle than I do, and he develops what is, in effect, an alternative theory ofhorror. Thus, before turning to some ofSolomon's detailed criticisms ofmy philosophy of horror, it will be instructive to attempt to mark some of the fundamental differences between Solomon and me. A recurring theme in Solomon's review is the notion of what I will call a reflexivecomponent in our response to horror. That is, in Solomon's account, our response to horror fictions is somehow involved with a thought about ourselves and our vulnerabilities (perhaps our vulnerabilities as human beings). The prototype here is Aristode's Poetics. Aristotle conjectured that when we witness the reversal of fortune of the tragic figure—a figure like us—we are put into a state offear because we realize that such reversals could befall us. And in this we become aware of a general feature of the human condition—one which is so nicely described by Martha Nussbaum as the "fragility of goodness."3 Solomon seems to think that horror, like tragedy, also involves an apprehension of our own vulnerabilities or of human vulnerability. Of course, the vulnerabilities that are relevant to the horror genre need not be connected and, indeed, generally are not connected to the theme of reversal of fortune. In The Exorcut and Invasion ofthe Body Snatchers, Philosophy and Literature, © 1993, 17: 110-118 Noël Carroll111 the relevant vulnerability pertains to personal identity—that I might be taken over, or that I might lose myself, or that personal identity is a fragile thing. Solomon does not claim that the thought of the vulnerability of personal identity attends every response to horror fictions. But he does appear to be committed to the view that every response to horror involves a reflexive component—some apprehension of our own vulnerability or of our own vulnerability as human creatures. Undoubtedly, there are horror fictions of the sort that prompt reflection upon our vulnerabilities, or upon the human condition. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein explicitly conveys the idea that anyone might be a monster, if deprived of human relationships. But I think that horror fictions that bring us to the point where we reflect upon our vulnerabilities or the, vulnerabilities of the human condition compose a special subclass of the genre. Such reflexive apprehensions of vulnerability— such moments of existentialfrisson—need never arise in run-of-the-mill horror fictions. Michael Crichton's recent bestseller Jurassic Park—an entertainment center rather like his previous Westworld, only contrived by gene splicing rather than circuitry—does not, as Solomon puts it, "remind us of something essential about ourselves" (p. 173). Rather, a bunch of genetically engineered dinosaurs get loose and start killing people until they, in turn, are destroyed. There is death and mayhem, but it does not, I think, lead us to contemplate our vulnerabilities. We don't, I would guess, begin to dwell on the prospects ofour own death-by-dinosaur nor even our own death by other than science-fiction agencies. The deaths in this novel, like most of the deaths in most horror novels, are part of the formula and provoke no more self-awareness than the fictional deaths of so many gunslingers in shootouts at the OK Corral. Not every death in fiction nor every outrage reminds us of our vulnerabilities as humans. The mere portrayal of death guarantees no automatic ode to our mortality. Nor is the standard murder, carnage, and transgression in horror typically an occasion for reflecting on the human condition. It may be true that often the very best horror fiction has this effect. But, at the same time, even the very best horror may lack a reflexive dimension as is generally the case with merely good, mediocre, and bad horror. Insofar as Solomon appears to presume that a reflexive component is a necessary feature of horror, I am tempted to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 110-118
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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