Berys Gaut, "The Paradox of Horror"


1.      Paradox of horror/tragedy

         a.      Some of us enjoy horror fictions

         b.      They typically produce fear and disgust in the audience

         c.      Seems we enjoy the fear/disgust fictions produce in us

         d.      But fear and disgust are intrinsically unpleasant emotions

         e.      How possible to enjoy “intrinsically unpleasant emotions”?

2.      Paradox of enjoyment of negative emotions (e.g., fear, disgust, sorrow, anger)

3.      Hume’s version: How can spectators of tragedy enjoy sorrow, terror, and anxiety when such feelings essentially involve feelings of pain



5.      We are not enjoying these negative emotions but something else (curiosity at the story) which outweighs the negative emotions.

         a.      The disgust/fear in response to horror fiction are unpleasant–we do not enjoy those emotions

         b.      Rather, we enjoy some other feature of the situation

                   i.       e.g., Curiosity we feel about what is going to happen

                   ii.      Will the character’s escape the monster, when will they find out it exists, will they be able to destroy it?

                   iii.     Monsters and other things in horror and tragedy fascinate us

         c.      The same thing that produces fear and disgust (weird monsters) also produces fascination and curiosity in their story (which is pleasant)

                   i.       “The disgust part of the price we pay for pleasure at their disclosure”

         d.      The fear and disgust aimed at fiction are muted in comparison to fear and disgust if same events were real life

         e.      This allows pleasure of curiosity to outweigh the displeasure of fear/disgust

6.      Gaut’s objections to Carroll

         a.      To formulaic to engender much curiosity: Most horror films are too formulaic in plots and monsters/killers so stereotypical that not likely the pleasures of curiosity will be high enough to outweigh the (alleged) disagreeable emotions of disgust/fear

         b.      People can come out of horror films disappointed that it was not frightening enough (and might agree plenty to engage their curiosity)

                   i.       So people do seem to be enjoying experiencing negative emotions



8.      Expressivist responses claim tragedy/horror allow us to lighten or unburden ourselves of these negative emotions

         a.      Do not enjoy negative emotions horror give us

         b.      Desire to experience horror fiction

         c.      Because this allows us to relieve ourselves of them and/or lighten the grip they have on us

         d.      Aristotle’s catharsis (= cleansing or purging)

                   i.       Catharsis is like talking out one’s fears (getting rid of them)

9.      Gaut’s objections to expressivist catharsis

         a.      Scary movies don’t make scared people less fearful:

                   i.       Horror films are least attractive if one is in an uneasy or fearful mood

                   ii.      Don’t say: “I’m scared, so I think I’ll go to see a horror film–to get rid of my fear”

         b.      Fear lingers and does not dissipate

                   i.       Films often designed to leave a lingering sense of fear in audience (are scared as walk home and uneasy as go to sleep)

                   ii.      Opposite to idea these films lighten our fear

         c.      People don’t only enjoy end of scary movies

                   i.       If what was pleasurable was the dissipation of the emotion as a result of experience the emotion during the horror fiction, we would only enjoy the end of the movie instead of enjoying the movie throughout as those who like horror do



11.    The enjoyment theory: Horror attracts because people can enjoy being scared and disgusted

         a.      Gaut accepts a version of this theory

12.    Negative emotions themselves can be enjoyed; don’t always feel bad

13.    Enjoyment theory helps explain the horror genre

         a.      Its aim is to produce fear and disgust in audience and has become increasingly sophisticated and successful in achieving this effect

         b.      Majority of horror works lack any serious artistic worth and aim solely to entertainment

                   i.       Aim simply to provide audiences with enjoyable experiences

         c.      Simplest, most straightforward explanation of all this is that sometimes people enjoy being scared


14.    Examples of people enjoying (so-called) negative emotions

         a.      Mountaineer and roller coaster rider take pleasure in being scared

                   i.       Does one enjoy the queasiness or just the “novel way of moving through space” or overall thrill of the ride?

         b.      Enjoy anger: Irascible people sometimes seek out situations there they can get angry (and they enjoy this feeling of anger)

         c.      Enjoy sadness

         d.      One can enjoy disgusting stories (disgust movies)


15.    How is the enjoyment of negative emotions possible?

16.    Control thesis

         a.      Enjoy negative emotions when in control of the situation that produces the emotion

                   i.       E.g., Mountaineer enjoys daring climbs because she knows she is skillful enough to avoid harm

         b.      With fiction, it is easy to control the emotion

                   i.       As it has no practical consequences for the audience

                   ii.      One easily directs one’s attention and thoughts

         c.      If lose control because depicted violence and suffering is so graphic that one’s negative emotions becomes too strong, then one will not enjoy the emotion

17.    Gaut’s criticism of control thesis

         a.      False that the enjoyment of these negative emotions linked with one’s ability to control them

         b.      **People vary greatly and unpredictably as to whether or not enjoy horror films

         c.      People can control horror emotions and not like them: If one person does not enjoy them, it need not be because she can’t adequately control her attention with respect to them

                   i.       Her reason for not enjoying them is that “when she does direct here attention to the bloody corpse, she does not like what she experiences” (and she is quite capable of directing her attention elsewhere)

         d.      People can be unable to control horror emotions and like them: Person who enjoys horror may think that “the height of enjoyable fear is when his gaze is riveted to the gruesome spectacle and can’t take his eyes off the unfolding carnage”



19.    Rejects the traditional view that emotions involve a certain kind of feeling/sensation

         a.      Emotions are not (phenomenologically) characterized by feelings (they do not necessarily feel a certain way)

20.    Emotions may be associated with different sensations in different people

         a.      So disgust or terror might be associated with pleasure in one person and unpleasantness in another

21.    Accepts emotions as cognitive (more intellectual than feeling) and essentially incorporating evaluations

         a.      Examples

                   i.       To fear is evaluate something as threatening

                   ii.      To be angry with someone is to evaluate her actions as wrong

22.    **Negative emotions are negative not because feel bad but because one disvalues objects of those emotions

         a.      “The negativity of the emotion can be explained in terms of the object of the emotion being negatively evaluated, rather than the emotion itself being unpleasant”

         b.      Example: Sadness about the death of a dog

                   i.       What is negative is our evaluation of the dog’s death (we make a value judgment that this is bad)

                   ii.      The experience of the emotion itself may not be negative


23.    Gaut nevertheless wants a conceptual, non-contingent connection between negative emotions and negative feelings (unpleasantess)

         a.      Tribe example: If they feel pleasure in response to death of a loved we would conclude they must not be experiencing grief (as grief a negative emotion)

24.    Negative emotions (because they are negative) are conceptually (necessarily) tied to unpleasant sensations, but only in that they are necessarily typically tied with unpleasantness (can be atypically tied to pleasure)

         a.      This allows for the atypical case of enjoying negative emotions (as with those who like horror or dangerous mountain climbing)

25.    So atypical people in atypical situations can enjoy negative emotions, even though there is a conceptual connection between the emotion and unpleasantness (in that typically they go together).

26.    Atypical cases are only possible against background where people do not enjoy these negative emotions

27.    This implies that people who enjoy negative emotions (like enjoying being terrified or being disgusted) are unusual, atypical


Berys Gaut, The Paradox of Horror

28.       *What is the paradox of horror/tragedy? How does Gaut respond to the paradox? Is it a version of the “enjoyment theory” (describe this theory).

29.       Explain and give examples of “negative emotions.” For Gaut, what makes a negative emotion negative? Hint: It is not that it feels bad to have it.

30.       *Describe some of the other solutions to paradox of horror that Gaut considers (e.g., Carroll’s positive outweighs negative solution, the expressivist/catharsis solution, the control thesis). Explain one of Gaut’s objections to each of these theories.

31.       Does Gaut think people who enjoy horror are in the majority or minority? How does his theory require a specific answer to this question?