Współczesność w zwierciadle horroru. O najnowszej polskiej fantastyce grozy

Contemporary Times in the Mirror of Horror The focal point of the present monograph are literary texts published between 2004 and 2009 (that is during the previous five-year period). Accepting this line of division results from the fact that – to a greater or lesser extent – this very period saw a few publishing offices established, specializing in fantasy and also ones, in particular, promoting horror and literature of horror. They are, for instance, Fabryka Snów /The Factory of Dreams/ (established in 2001), Red Horse (established in 2005), Runa (established in 2002), Grasshopper (established in 2008). The subject of the present study is an observation in what way contemporary Polish literature of horror processes and updates traditional motifs characteristic of this genre, adapting them to contemporary conditions. It needs to be observed that the contemporary existential model, connected with commercialization, globalization or ‘supermarketization’ of life to a great degree influences the space being presented, determining the appearance of such motifs as, for example, Satan identified with the consumerist lifestyle or corporational Zombie. The area of interest includes three thematic circles: the space, society, characters and motifs typical of the genre. Such a stratification determines the composition of the work, which consists of three chapters. Conditio sine qua non of selecting concrete texts for analysis was either their placing the plot in the contemporary world or (which was rarer) their making clear reference to objects or phenomena existing, or manifesting themselves at the present moment, or still being typical of contemporary times. This results from registering the degree to which the fixed toposes and also methods which creators use are subject to modifications in order to update the message. There appear, in the works under analysis, numerous fiction schemata and details which contribute to the picture of the presented space, and which function within the area of fantasy of horror – both in the art of word and in that of film – on the basis of certain stable coefficients. The latter play the role of elements liberating given emotional states. Referring to the traditional register of archetypes is a conscious operation directed to or written in the artistic tradition of this genre. Although the main principle of inducing fear has remained unchanged (making reference to the key instincts) and the basic methods of provoking anxiety have been preserved, the conditions and space which can transform into a threat are changing dynamically. Hence, the memorable reference to phenomena, objects, or – generally – products of contemporary times. It often happens that the classical motif becomes simply reconstructed in such a way that it does not give the impression of dissonance in collision with contemporary times or caricatural overstatement, only rarely being a pastiche. All the elements that are part of the gothic and post-gothic convention harmonize with the present image of the world. Written in the current reality, they blend with the portrait of the real and close space, referring – at the same time – to the principle of searching for threats in the best-known territory (and because of that interpreted as completely safe). In the Polish fantasy of horror, there also function urban legends, signaling threat in the area that is supposedly tamed and harnessed by man. Civilization slips out of control, additionally connecting factors regarded as posing threat to man, that is – apparitions, souls in torments, vampires, werewolves, monsters, curses, and the like – with aspects belonging to the sphere of technology – like, say, a tenement house, a car-murderer, or a “killer” lift. There appear also allusions to the components of pop-horror and pop-awe that have already gained a cult-like significance, sometimes also to promoting macabre known from various horror tales and films (blood, severed limbs, worms). Each of these elements constitutes a separate mechanism fear- and stress-generating, writing in the traditional register of motifs within the scope of horror fantasy. Incorporating traditional motifs into the presented space “arranged” in a modern way is treated as a peculiar polemic or play with the genre, pointing to new possibilities of interpretation, completely different perspectives. Refreshing certain motifs makes the writing of them in the specific character of contemporary times influence the reader’s imagination more intensively. The broadly-conceived modernity as a rule has, in the Polish horror fantasy, negative connotations, becoming synonymous with the negative changes occurring in man and his environment in consequence of ‘technologization’, industrialization and urbanization. Weariness of contemporaneity brings surprising results since it does not mean here exclusively a critical or polemic attitude, but calling on and crystallizing of civilization-related fears. Hence, the pictures of the space made monstrous, deformed social phenomena and monsters becoming concrete as an integral element of the surrounding reality. The weariness of the current manner of existence of the world determines its deformed image, appearing in the horror literature as a scared space, filled with dangerous objects and occurrences. The civilization-related reality freed from under control of man is beginning to engross him, menace him, at last – annihilate him. The individual, being coerced by social and economic rules, becomes a hero of tales of horror; here, the civilization most frequently takes over the role of the archetypal monster. The conviction is usually complemented with the concept of dehumanization under the influence of factors related to industrialization, technicization, automatization, commercialization, etc. . This is an action shown as a mechanism of wielding control over the human mass. Unification or control of the degenerating technology over the traditional morality of the individual, as well as action, at the foundation of which lies, for example, consumerism or the good of corporation – everything that leads to regress of humanity – causes the individual to become of little importance in processes of the world’s functioning. Melting down of the individual inside the mass becomes an object of literary interest and is considered from a variety of perspectives. Phenomena connected with the civilization are, in the horror fantasy, synonymous with evil forces, they result from the activity of the latter, or make a tool which serves the purpose of the ultimate annihilation of mankind. Given social mechanisms influence the shaping of certain concrete associations, civilization-based legends which many a time are related with plot theories. Some of them function in the horror fantasy as material or an idea determining the course of the plot, others – on the other hand – become re-constructed and appear as background motifs, co-creating the reality presented (e.g. a district of blocks of flats as the background for a tale of horror, which makes concrete civilization-related fears and degeneration of characters). The genological evolution within the horror fantasy has led to searching for new forms of expression, provoking to experiment with the convention, to challenge the fixed patterns, to refresh fossilized compositional rules. Such a polemic signals, at the same time, initiating another stage in the area of esthetics, where the constant literary scheme becomes complemented by inspirations deriving from the film industry. Playing with a convention consists here in manipulating with rules of representation, referring not only to areas of imagination, but also to visual memory recalling associations with well-known film productions. This process favours the reception, broadening the image built by the receiver with components already perceived, watched in the cinema or on TV. Contemporary horror and horror fantasy are basically esthetics of the inter-textual character, impossible to be deciphered without knowledge of the subject. Diminishing the role of this type of literature – which constitutes after all a relevant component of popular culture, and mass culture as well – brings it down to play the role of unsophisticated entertainment. One should not forget, however, that a similar way of perceiving is contradicted by the wide cultural context like referring to folk tradition, urban folklore, cinematography (indeed, not the ambitious type, but certainly willingly watched), technological and civilization concepts, psychological theories, and – at last – questions about fears and phobias hidden by man.
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