What Joy from Misery: the Pleasures of Horror

Allen, Katherine (2012) What Joy from Misery: the Pleasures of Horror. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

This thesis investigates the allure of narrative genres, such as horror, that have historically been viewed as philosophically (and often morally) problematic owing to their negative content and the painful emotional responses they elicit. It departs from the majority of classical and contemporary solutions to the alleged paradox posed by such genres, in that it does not attempt to render their pleasures explicable by appealing to their fictive status, thematic or ideological meanings or the more comprehensibly-pleasurable meta-responses they inspire. Rather, this account suggests that we choose to consume stories – fictional and factual – that depict violent or distressing situations and evoke discomforting emotions, for the same reason we choose to engage with less obviously conflict-filled narratives.
Fictions compel our attention insofar as they resemble potentially salient information, appealing to a set of deeply ingrained and unconscious cognitive biases that prompt us to attend to certain kinds of stimuli. We are capable of finding narrative genres such as horror, tragedy and the ‘misery memoir’ compelling – without, it is important to note, finding their content in any way pleasant – because we are predisposed to find some types of mental effort rewarding. While horror is often criticised – and defended – on the grounds that its pleasures must lie in slaking anti-social appetites, this thesis criticises the model of fiction’s appeal on which such assumptions are based. Instead it suggests that narrative pleasure characteristically resides in intellectual and emotional absorption or stimulation rather than any straightforward fulfilment of our real life desires.
In support of this contention, this account incorporates analyses of a number of related topics, examining subjects such as the alleged rationality of the emotions, whether our attraction to non-factual narratives represents an adaptive trait and how fiction-making, criticism and consuming function as cultural practices.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Philosophy
Depositing User: Mia Reeves
Date Deposited: 02 May 2013 11:31
Last Modified: 02 May 2013 11:31
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/42350
DOI:

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