Skip to Content

Thinking the “Unthinkable World”: Theories of Horror, Horrors of Theory

«Back To Seminars

Organizer: Saul Anton

Co-Organizer: Anthony Adler

Contact the Seminar Organizers

In the fun-house of contemporary horror films and literature, our world manifests as an exhibition of atrocities—ecological catastrophe, capitalist exploitation, unbridled violence, thinking machines run amok. Horror appears to have escaped from the dark corners—the closets, attics, or basements—where it lived; it is no longer just rooted in original sin, repressed drives, or the hauntings of memory. Rather, the world appears immanently horrifying. If, in the past, horror was preeminently expressionist (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), today, it often presents itself as the new realism, the sublime revelation of the unthinkable.

If this is the case, however, it is no longer possible to clearly distinguish between horror and the theory of horror. These converge in an ontological un-thinking of the world. This panel aims to consider the implications of this convergence. In particular, we welcome explorations of the relation between the concept of horror and genre. While horror is often taken as the quintessential genre in the pejorative sense applied to works lacking originality, it also taps into something that transcends traditional poetic or aesthetic forms. Horror thus represents a hyper- or supergenre—a transcendent moment in which all genres participate to some degree. The new ontological horror, is seems, does not confine itself to the margins of reputable poetic, aesthetic, or cinematic modes; rather, it floods into the world, laying waste to the classificatory systems that made it intelligible. The old horror, we might say, represents the moment before the “hell mouth” opens. If horror is the unthinking of the world, how can we develop the theoretical resources to think this unthinking? What are the ethical stakes of thinking horror? Can theory, once it represents the claim of horror, avoid simply doing its work? Can we distinguish between thinking the unthinkable of horror, thinking its unthinking, and rendering the world unthinkable? Can we still rescue the world as a horizon for thought? To what extent are the “global” or the “planetary”—categories that have become vital disciplinary horizons for comparative literature and critical theory—inseparable from horror as a supergenre of contemporary literature, film, and theory? If the world-historical dimension implicit in these notions necessarily includes accounts of alterity, how is this alterity inscribed in these works? Does horror necessarily imply an experience of alterity or does the new horror neutralize the Other, serving merely to mask its immanence to our world? Is there a discourse of horror that comes after monstrosity and all the names of the Other, an absolute horror?

We invite proposals that consider these and related themes and questions across cultural and historical boundaries, ancient and modern, Western and non-Western, in literature, film, the arts, and philosophy.

«Back To Seminars