Horror and the Responsibilities of the Liberal Educator

The latest issue of DISSECTIONS: The Journal of Contemporary Horror just went live online. The theme this time around is “Teaching Horror” which emerged as part of a series of panels at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts in March 2008. It includes a few spectacular articles from a panel I was on with Doug Ford and Frances Auld. My article from that panel (“The Unlearning: Horror and Transformative Theory”) went on to be published at a journal called Transformative Works & Cultures), but I wrote a new essay for Dissections in its place: “Horror and the Responsibilities of the Liberal Educator” . Here’s a sample:

….Luckily, the teacher fully knows what the students want to ignore: that horror is inherently an educational genre. The very notion of a ‘cautionary’ tale is predicated on the notion of teaching someone a lesson. And while not all horror stories and films are cautionary in nature, they are always stimuli that aim at generating a dark emotional reaction which – when all the screaming stops – one inevitably attempts to manage with enlightened intellectual reasoning: whether it’s in the mode of investigation (‘what’s really lurking in the shadows?’) or metaphysical inquiry (‘do alternatives to God exist?’) or logic judgement (‘why did her baby have to die?’). Our rational minds are still at work when we contend with the most irrational of fictions. Indeed, even when a horror narrative – such as the work of Lovecraft – attempts to obliterate logical reasoning and symbolic systems altogether, it needs to construct them first.

What all this means is that, despite the naysayers, horror provides an excellent context for learning. It raises the serious questions that allow critical inquiry to transpire.

Go visit Dissections to read on, or to see other essays on issues related to integrating the horror genre into the classroom by Ford, Auld, Brock-Servais, Schnopp-Wyatt, Wisker, and more!

Published by

Michael Arnzen

Professor of English, Seton Hill University.