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A game of mirrors

Mircea Pricăjan

Publicat Sâmbătă, 16 Septembrie 2006, ora 09:08

      I’m not going to say new things here; I just hope to say them better. Each of my ideas has already been stated by others. Hell is repetition, Stephen King thinks, and I partially agree, but sometimes you discover that hell is just the purgatory and that at the other end heaven awaits you. Bearing this hope in mind, I start writing the present essay.

      There are some questions we should consider first, questions so simple that no one tends to ask anymore. Nevertheless, they are of no less importance than the more profound ones.


      1. Is literature important to the new millennium?


      The answer is definitely affirmative. Literature may have changed its form a bit, some writers may have toyed a little too much with its means of expression, but it still plays an important role in every human being’s life. An important Romanian critic, Nicolae Manolecu, once said that literature enriches your life; it gives you the opportunity to expand your imaginational boundaries; a person living only within the concrete world’s surroundings is far poorer than the one leading parallel, bookish lives. All these things are still true, maybe even more than in any other historical times. For our society tends to “eat you up”, chew and digest you, according to its needs, forgetting that each individual has his/her own needs that are almost always very different than that of society’s. The new millennium writer must keep in mind that he is the one to provide a fictional escape; he is the key-keeper of the gate to a dimension of time and space that the reader should feel comfortable in. I don’t think that a self-reflective author, one that embraces the writing career only for the sake of letting everyone know he is aware of its rules, which he chooses to show out in front, has any importance to a common reader. Salman Rushdie’s success is not a good example to prove me wrong. His writing has never attracted other readers but the already literary kind. Postmodernism can be accepted as a surviving and long-life living way of writing only if it limits its tools to the plain story telling (making use of the already mythical postmodernism irony and intertextuality, if necessary!) As for the genre-oriented writers, they should try and lean their ears to every aspect of the literature’s manifestation. Literature is an on-going process, always evolving, and, for the things to work still, they have to keep the pace with the time. Fragmentarism is a tool every genre should pay attention to.

      Other than that, literature is not in danger of anything. The need for it will always be active and there will always be writers skilled enough to quench this hunger.


      2. What is the writer’s role in the new context?


      I feel that I have already answered to this question in the above paragraph. But let’s develop a little the subject.

      Unlike other professional activities, writing implies and stresses more upon the philosophical side of human existence. The writer devotes most of his/her time to thinking: asking questions and trying to provide some answers. When finding such answers, a writer should think of a simple, but metaphorical (art-ish, we may say) way to express them. The example of the Japanese allegorical tales is conclusive in this matter. For what is a short story, a novella or a novel but a tale relating common or extraordinary things in order for the perceiver to come up with a conclusion? The work of literature which doesn’t fulfill these requirements can not be defined nether as “work” or as “literature”. The writer, therefore, is a man living the same life as any other of his/her contemporaries and his/her mission is to tell others what’s wrong and what is right about their common lives.

      Majestic words, yes, I know it. But there’s no other more direct way to put it.

      One more thing: a serious writer should always consider when writing the “according to me” factor, that is the acknowledgment that he’/she’s not providing immutable answers, only an angle of sight – a vision of the way things might be interpreted. The writer is not the mirror flying over a long road, but a grain of dust capable of describing what it sees in the mirror.


      3. What kind of literature will the new millennium embrace?


      Good literature! Be it sci-fi, fantasy, horror, romance, or mainstream. That’s my answer. It’s a common statement that art transgresses genre.

      Of course, there may come a time when sci-fi will be more widely accepted, or fantasy, or horror, or any other of those mentioned or absent from above. The most important thing, the one linking all genres, is the amount of humanity the authors have been able to give to their works. If we can find a strong subtext in a fine story, and if that subtext plays on a conscious or subconscious generally accepted mind, we can be sure we have stumbled over a genuine piece of literature.

      Thus, one should not fear for the disappearance of a certain genre as long as there are powerful writers to enforce it.


      These basic matters being laid aside, we can now focus on the subject of horror fiction, the one we meant this essay to be about.

      All of the things said above apply to horror as well. And many more remain to be said. Let’s discuss them soberly.


      Apart from some already acknowledged writers, the horror marked gives indisputable signs of… shrinking. Why’s that? After its climax in the 70s and 80s, no important horror writer has revealed his/her fangs. Of course, I’m not saying here that no young writers of horror have appeared. Certainly, they did appear! But they did not bring anything new to the genre. Same old vampire stories, same old haunting houses and dead-walking themes. And this would not be such a big problem – after all, themes are immutable – but the ways of approaching them suffered no significant mutations. We have discussed before the importance of change in literature, evolution and revolution – in modern horror, it seems, there are no such… trends. Along with technology and science, humanity has expanded its expectations and mere gore stories do not please it. The fears of the new generation are not the same with those before it. Who can say that it’s frightening a scene such as in ‘The Exorcist’? More frightening seems the story of Norman Bates, in Robert Bloch’s ‘Psycho’, because it forms its expectations on a more subtle level, the split-identity and the travesty. And if we are forced to accept a vampire story, we are more inclined to see the Boticelli-like narcissism of Anne Rice’s Lestat than mute-shadowy presence of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula. About the walking-dead, what’s to be said? Again, the split-identity in Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Half’ seems more potent an idea than that of the zombies in Romero’s ‘Dead’ trilogy.

      The horror genre is in a desperate need for innovation, no doubt about that. (Here we open a digression: happy for those cultures that can say their horror market suffers from such a need, for it means the horror as a genre did and will exist within it. Unhappy is the case with the Romanian culture, which, although famous for Dracula’s origins, has never had such a market. Horror in Romania is still perceived as an off-the-way practice, something too morbid and deranged to be approached either in writing or in cinema!) To gather the premises for the future of horror is interesting to see what its master, Stephen King, did. His latest two books – the collection of short stories ‘Everything’s Eventual’ and the novel ‘From a Buick 8’ – speak for themselves.

      The first book collects stories that do not seem like appertaining to the horror we were used to. He calls them ‘literary tales’. Should this be the future of horror? To become more literary? Yes, that could be the answer. ‘The Man in the Black Suite’, a story first published in The New Yorker and afterwards awarded with the O. Henry Award, is more than a scary tale of a meeting with the Devil. It’s a story about initiation and the dark figure of death is seen with eyes that have not been used before in the horror-writing world. Even the title story, ‘Everything’s Eventual’, speaks of horrors that are more intricate. The balance shifts from the ‘gross-out’ (as defined by the same Stephen King in ‘Danse Macabre’) to the more potent level of meaning and significance of symbols. Nevertheless, the story-line has nothing to suffer as of intrigue and anxieties.

      The second book we are dealing with, ‘From a Buick 8’, is even more explicit. This novel took by surprise every King-reader – it is perhaps the most unlike King book in his bibliography. The main theme is exactly that of the impossibility of giving certain explanations. Fragmentation – a technique we’ve mentioned before – makes its appearance for the first time in horror fiction here, according to my knowledge. The story is told by many characters, using many voices and points of view, each avoiding giving an interpretation of the facts. The whole novel ends openly, as a matter of fact. It’s a unique example of a game of mirrors in which the author’s job is only to describe the image.

      These are only two examples of the direction the horror fiction is supposedly going towards. There may be others, there should be others – and if there are not, there will be. That much is certain!

      In the 3rd millennium the horror writer should – as always – speculate the common fears and use them as tools to express things not necessary appertaining to horror, but to humanity as a whole concept.


      As for the Romanian horror writer, the battle is much more complex. Before being able to join the fight of the rest ‘of his kind’, he/she has to win a local fight with mentalities and traditions. The alternative would be to ignore them and to focus on the things stated above, but the risk would be for him/her to gain a voice and to discover there’s nothing he/she can say. It’s been proven that, in the globalized world, what’s important is not for all the people to act identically and to think the same things, but, on the contrary, for each other to speak his/her identity, always making use of a commonly accepted language – i.e. that of true art.

      What comes out of this is the conclusion that the Romanian horror writer (particularized only for the sake of simplification, otherwise it could be any horror writer coming from cultures repudiating horror as art) has to fight and has to win the local fight with mentalities.

      Fortunate enough, the new kind of horror shining timidly at the horizon favors his/her winning. The mild horror of the new millennium is not the sharpened knife every Romanian fears it to be, but an allegorical form of story-telling, using the mirror as weapon. Of course, you can get cut in a mirror as well, but only if you refuse to accept the image it shows and you decide to break it.

© Copyright Mircea Pricăjan
Sursa :   Imagikon
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