My Life In Horror:Transcendent Torment
Imagery and sensation are parts of my imagination’s anatomy. It came as a powerful surprise to me to learn: Not all imaginations are similarly comprised. It sincerely shocked me to realise that others cannot, for example, conjure images behind their eyes; faces, forms, places, animated scenes and sequences as vivid as any film. Similarly, that some cannot hear voices or music; replicate sensations such as dust between the fingers, the tastes of childhood sweets or the delirium of old illness.
It’s a realisation I’ve yet to reconcile. That, to my way of thinking, makes us all singular miracles; unique works of art, but also ineluctably isolated within our interior landscapes. I struggle to imagine what life is without that vivid, sensual interior condition, without being able to see and hear and touch and taste; to project oneself into the impossible:
Other realms, other worlds, dreaming realities and inhuman states of being.
Much of my fiction is an attempt to express and explore that condition; to make it outward and actual rather than exclusively abstract. What might we make of the world, of ourselves, if given what God takes for granted?; The instruments and capacities of a creator deity, to sculpt our conditions with reference to idiosyncratic ideals and designs?
As previously explored, in my youth -and still, to some degree, today-, that sensory, detail-oriented imaginative capacity often impinged on waking reality, blurring the lines between and leaving me in liminal conditions not unlike those of the fictional and mythic entities I envy. The consequent disassociation was, potentially, dangerous, leaving me vulnerable to magical thinking, flights of fantasy that might have proved self-destructive. Furthermore, the vivid, visceral connection with those imaginary states has the effect of further divorcing one from a waking reality that, in terms of poetry, beauty and meaning, cannot compare.
Again, so much of my fiction is an attempt to wrestle with that irreconcilable tension:
We are animals with the capacity to imagine better for ourselves; for our species, our states of being, but operate in a physical reality that consistently denies any realisation of such by virtue of its innate parameters.
Given that, the phenomena of conscious existence -married to imagination- becomes as much horror story as miracle. We can imagine Eden, but never trespass beyond its gates. We can dream our own evolution, our transcendence, but never physically experience it.
Thus, our skulls become sublime, spiritual torture chambers; Tartarus-like cells in which all the best and worst of us is painted, but only in the most distant and abstract sense.
Imagination is the most transcendent torment. By its very nature, it tortures us with what we can never have or know or be; paints utopias we can never operate in, as well as the myriad and manifold forms of Hell with which we might flagellate ourselves (perversely, often more realistically attainable -even likely- than their Utopian or Edenic equivalents).
The most sublime -and perverse- irony of our existence is that we are simultaneously entities of the brute material -miracles of evolution in which matter has developed some sapience of itself- and the abstract, cultivating from the moments of our births -and maybe before- shadow and simulacra conditions that operate on the level of dreams, nightmares and fantasies.
All too often, the dynamic between those components – essential parts of the same, sublime engine- is tortuous; we suffer beneath the limitations and degradations of the physical, whilst being tortured by the ideals and transformations the abstract promises but can never deliver. That tension is enough to grind sanity to powder, to make us little more than existential torture chambers in which every moment, every thought, is spent seeking solace or distraction from that inalienable and irreconcilable truth:
We are created sick, and commanded to be well.
Stories, art; dreams and fantasy, allow us windows into more desirable conditions, often even when those conditions are horrific: Being products of human creation, they are, by their natures, suffused with a poetry, meaning and significance that the arbitrary cruelty and insufferable chaos of waking existence will never have.
In that, it is easy to lose ourselves to the abstract and unreal, especially for those of us whose imaginations are particularly vivid.
I can only speak for my own state of mind, the shape and function of my own imagination, but: I often experience a fantasy life so vivid, so textural and sensual, it makes a mockery of the grey and banal absurdity of physical existence. This presents with some thorny -and potentially self-destructive- psychological problems:
The obvious question begged is: why would one settle for a reality so obviously and evidently inferior to those imagined? True, any effort to escape that reality ends in oblivion, and therefore the end of the imagined too, but what of it? If conscious existence degrades beyond particular bounds of tolerance, surely it’s a considerable option to gamble on oblivion (which is a completely neutral state; if such is all that waits beyond this life, then it isn’t going to concern us; by definition, we won’t exist any longer to experience it)?
I realise the problematics of this line of argument; it is one of suicidal ideation, which is also often a by-product of vivid imagination, which any counsellor or therapist would identify as the language of psychological disease. Even given that, I find it difficult not at least considering that gamble, weighing the potential options at least once every day.
To want the impossible, to imagine it and find all other aspiration prescribed by culture and tradition picayune by comparison…that is a sincere problem, and one for which I will not pretend to be even close to solving.
It is what we are, insofar as I can perceive: The flux that erupts from the existential abyss of our lives, that bleeds down from our imagined heavens to meet itself. We are walking maelstroms of uncertainty and shifting identities, alien to ourselves from one day to the next, unable to reconcile our ephemeral natures, aching for stability and certainty and definition such that we construct fantasies of them around and within ourselves, calling them culture and society and identity. All the while, writhing and squirming on that barbed hook called life, we refuse to realise that we are aching for our own enslavement; a prison that will stunt and suffocate us, grind us into the dirt as surely as any worm beneath the boot. We fear and suffer conditions that we could celebrate, in all their complexity, contradiction, inconsistency, if the fictions history has constructed and imposed upon us would just allow for it.
Horror fiction, in all of its various forms, mediums and permutations, so often broaches upon this fundamental human tension without realising it. By its nature, it explores situations and circumstances that break the parameters of everyday experience, even when the horror in question is essentially mundane, rational. On an abstract, psychological level, horror tends to pull a moral slight of hand, emphasising the awfulness of its subjects whilst simultaneously relying upon its audience’s enthusiasm and appetite for them. Far from, as moral and conservative analyses would have it, being merely prurient, evidence of some moral decline or denigration, this appetite derives from a sublimated desire to tear out of the straight-jacket, even the skin; to be free and atavistic and lycanthropic. The irony of supernatural horror in particular is that it universally paints the picture of conditions beyond waking reality; dreaming states in which the parameters of possibility are blown wide. Even when what occurs is ostensibly terrible, there’s still the lingering, subconscious inference of potential; conditions beyond those we wake to every day and dread facing, even when the alternative is a nightmare.
The liminal and the lycanthropic; your wereolves and vampires and other states in which human form and identity are subverted, are as much examinations of our yearning for those monsters as our conditioned terror of them. We are invited, particularly in the instance of entities that are capable of transmuting their conditions, to imagine what it would be to inhabit those monsters; to be more and less than human. This is what makes horror fiction so dangerous, beyond any moral justifications conservative platforms might provide for their finger-wagging:
It provides a medium by which transgressive ideas, notions, avenues of thought, can take place. Such examinations are, by their natures, antithetical and corrosive to the templates and strictures of identity imposed upon us by tradition and history. This operates on a multitude of levels, from the personal to the culture-wide; something forces that rely on oppression -and call it “order”- cannot abide or allow for.
Just as every act of queer engagement in cultures determined on our extinction is an act of rebellion and defiance, so too is our engagement with horror fiction, in all its forms. Even the act of imagination -which such forces would prescribe, sculpt and curtail if they had the means- is one of profound deviance; a transgression that, potentally, carries us beyond the bounds of the prescribed, and into more protean arenas.
It starts with us, on an individual and personal level, through the act of imagining and engaging with the imaginations of others. The intimacy of that engagement is a trangression beyond the sexual, insofar as conservatism is concerned. The act itself is one that structures of establishment and tradition do not want and cannot abide; allowing us to dissolve our parameters and assumptions of the probable, the possible, of our own identities. It inspires and unsettles and disturbs, eliciting tectonic ructions through the flux of mind. To be connected and to communicate in that manner, to necessarily develop empathy and understanding on that intimate a level, is terminally corrosive to the aesthetic delusions and narratives conservatism relies upon to maintain its existence, let alone relevance. This is why they take every step to stunt, wither and stamp down on the capacity -and anything in culture that feeds or inspires it- from the first instance.
Imagination is our sublime curse. It is also our divine weapon, and must be honed if we are to wield it effectively.
This is where we stand, in the early decades of the 21st century:
In flux, inside and out, alienated from one another and ourselves, but desperate to be known, fighting revolutionary wars in our own minds and the cultures to which we were born. The price of losing either one is extinction, slow or swift, individually and collectively, and only through realising the inalienable nature of our conditions can we hope to survive.
Strange Playgrounds by George Lea
A vile waking… There are places we walk; cold and dusk-lit; places where the wind whispers, carrying echoes of forgotten games. …a storm of sadism, more loving than any embrace or caress he’d ever known… There are places where we are naked; where the grass and weeds rasp across bleeding wounds, exposed nerves, their dew glistening red. …we are all sick; some are simply sicker than most… Places where the silence cannot be broken, its insect chatter fraying thought, fracturing sanity. …shadows swarming around their intertwined bodies, whispering, congealing… These are the Strange Playgrounds; places where we meet our murdered or abandoned selves, and join their desperate games. Come and play awhile.