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Lecture 14 - The Smallest of Small Towns (16 May 2012)


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Fourteenth lecture for my students in English 104A, UC Santa Barbara, spring 2012. Course website:

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Lecture 14 - The Smallest of Small Towns (16 May 2012)

  1. 1. Lecture 14: The Smallest of Small Towns English 104A UC Santa Barbara Spring 2012 16 May 2012 "[I]t may be thought that the horror novel represents something like the underside of the Enlightenment." — Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror (1990)
  2. 2. The Gothic, Briefly, Again ● Generally thought to originate in Horace Walpole’s 1764 The Castle of Otranto ● Common conventions we discussed last time: ● An emphasis on the grotesque, macabre, or fantastic incidents, which may or may not be supernatural occurrences. ● A setting that often includes old or ruined buildings, desolate locations, etc. ● A narrative technique that “develops a brooding atmosphere of gloom or terror,” as M.H. Abrams puts it. ● Often, plots deal with extreme emotional or psychological states.
  3. 3. The Gothic in the United States ● In the 19th century, often takes the form of short stories or poems, though novels are also written in this genre. ● Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Henry James are notable 19th-century practitioners. ● Two notable trends in the 20th century: ● Southern Gothic ● More generalized horror fiction – Many subgenres
  4. 4. (Selected) perspectives on horror Tragedy is “an imitation of a noble and complete action, having the proper magnitude; it employs language that has been artistically enhanced […] it is presented in dramatic, not narrative form, and achieves, through the representation of pitiable and fearful incidents, the catharsis of such pitiable and fearful incidents.” “tragedy is not an imitation of men, per se, but of human action and life and happiness and misery.” – Aristotle, Poetics (ca. 330 BCE)
  5. 5. “[H]orror’s bite is explained as a sudden tearing-away of the intellectual trust that stands behind our actions. Specifically, it is a malicious ripping-away of this intellectual trust, exposing our vulnerabilities in relying on the world and on other people. […] horror puts forward scenarios that through their vivid depiction threaten our background cognitive reliance on others and the world around us.” – Philip J. Nickel, “Horror and the Idea of Everyday Life” (2010)
  6. 6. "The world is increasingly unthinkable – a world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, tectonic shifts, strange weather, oil-drenched seascapes, and the furtive, always-looming threat of extinction. In spite of our daily concerns, wants, and desires, it is increasingly difficult to comprehend the world in which we live and of which we are a part. To confront this idea is to confront an absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all – an idea that has been a central motif of the horror genre for some time." – Eugene Thacker, Preface to In the Dust of This Planet (2011)
  7. 7. “Horror, in this way, shows us our inherent skepticism about absolute progress. […] Dracula, The Call of Cthulu, or The Island of Dr. Moreau present a dark-regressive shadow image of the bright and progressive veneer of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century optimism. The origins of modern horror provide a vivid presentation of the inherent moral weaknesses and often-present darkness in the human imagination.” – Philip Tallon, “Through a Mirror, Darkly” (2010)
  8. 8. “Horror arises not because Dracula destroys bodies, but because he appropriates and transforms them. Having yielded to his assault, one literally ‘goes native’ by becoming a vampire oneself. [Dracula’s victims] receive a new racial identity, one that marks them as literally ‘Other.’ Miscegenation leads, not to the mixing of races, but to the biological and political annihilation of the weaker race by the stronger.” – Stephen Arata, “The Occidental Tourist” (1990)
  9. 9. “Nighthawks has more to do with the possibility of predators in the night than with loneliness.” — Edward Hopper, qtd. in. Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography (1995) p
  10. 10. Stephen King (1947-) ● Best known for his horror, fantasy, and sci-fi novels. ● ’Salem’s Lot (1975) was his second published novel. ● Many novels are set in southern Maine. ● Bram Stoker Award, National Book Foundation Award, etc. etc. etc.
  11. 11. The town of Jerusalem’s Lot “Demographically, the census of 1970 showed a pattern familiar both to rural sociologists and to the long-time resident of any small Maine town: a lot of old folks, quite a few poor folks, and a lot of young folks who leave the area with their diplomas under their arms, never to return again.” (9; prologue, sec. 3) “small towns have long memories and pass their horrors down ceremonially from generation to generation.” (51; ch. 2, sec. 6)
  12. 12. “We’re living in an automobile-oriented society.” (10; prologue, sec. 3) “[…] the Lot’s knowledge of the country’s torment was academic. Time went on a different schedule here.” (44; ch. 2, sec. 4) Larry Crockett: “If you’re fixing up to make moonshine or LSD or explosives for some hippie radical outfit, that’s your own lookout.” (99; ch. 3, sec. 11) Danny Glick: “There were preeverts everywhere.” (119)
  13. 13. “Charles Griffen’s father had marketed his own milk, but that was no longer practical. The conglomerates had eaten up the last of the independents.” (67; ch. 3, sec. 3) “Do you suppose they’ll make a go of it?” Clyde asked no one in particular. “Might,” Vinnie said. “They might show up right pert in the summertime. Hard to tell the way things are these days.” (155; ch. 4, sec. 8) Matt Burke: “There’s little good in sedentary small towns. Mostly indifference spiced with an occasional vapid evil – or worse, a conscious one. I believe Thomas Wolfe wrote about seven pounds of literature about that.” (192; ch. 5, sec. 6)
  14. 14. Father Callahan’s monologue on evil “It was the ritualistic acknowledgment of evil by a church now more concerned with social evils. […] But it was a mindless, moronic evil from which there was no mercy or reprieve.” (238; ch. 6, sec. 9) “But there were no battles. There were only skirmishes of vague resolution. […] In fact, he was being forced to the conclusion that there was no EVIL in the world but only evil – or perhaps (evil).” (240; ch. 6, sec. 9)
  15. 15. Gossip “In the surrounding towns the whispering campaign that is the beginning of legend has already begun. ’Salem’s Lot is reputed to be haunted.” (11; prologue, sec. 3) Parkins: “I figured I ought to come and ask a question or two, now that you mention it. Waited until Nolly was off somewheres. He’s a good boy, but he likes to talk, too. Lordy, the gossip that goes on.” (158; ch. 4, sec. 9)
  16. 16. “Most of the telephone lines were two-, four-, or six-party connections, and so folks always had someone to talk about.” (42; ch. 2, sec. 4) Matt Burke: “Not all the gossip in a small town is open gossip. There are secrets. Some of the secret gossip in ’salem’s Lot has to do with Hubie Marsten. It’s shared among perhaps only a dozen or so of the older people now – Mabel Werts is one of them. It was a long time ago, Susan. But even so, there is no statute of limitations on some stories.” (310; ch. 9, sec. 5)
  17. 17. Ann Norton on “they” “there’s some that think we’ve had a little too much excitement in ’salem’s Lot since Mr. Ben Mears showed his face.” (293; ch. 9, sec. 1) “they haven’t decided that yet. […] There’s some that think he may have caught a disease from the little Glick boy.” (294) “They don’t give you a breathalyzer test if you’re sober!” (295)
  18. 18. Call the roller of big cigars, The muscular one, and bid him whip In kitchen cups concupiscent curds. Let the wenches dawdle in such dress As they are used to wear, and let the boys Bring flowers in last month's newspapers. Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. Take from the dresser of deal, Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet On which she embroidered fantails once And spread it so as to cover her face. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. — Wallace Stevens, “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” (1922)