Berys Gaut, "The Paradox of Horror"



         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 (e.g., 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.       For example, Curiosity we feel about what is going to happen

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

                   ii.      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 are pleasant)

                   i.       “The disgust is 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.      Horror fiction is typically too formulaic to engender much curiosity:

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

                   ii.      This argument would not work for example for Shakespearean tragedies

         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.      We desire to experience horror fiction because

         c.      Horror/fiction allow us to relieve ourselves of these negative emotions and 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 lessen our fear

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

                   i.       If what was pleasurable was the dissipation of the emotion as a result of experiencing 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 (negative emotions)

         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–it’s entertainment aimed at producing enjoyment by producing fear and disgust

         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 aims 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 or disgusted

14.    Examples of people enjoying 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 where 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 redirects 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

                   i.       If one person does not enjoy them, it need not be because she can’t adequately control her attention with respect to them

                   ii.      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

                   i.       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 idea that emotions should be characterized in terms of particular feelings/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 necessarily feel bad but because one disvalues (negatively evaluates) the 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 necessarily be negative

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

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

         b.      This shows that it isn’t just a contingent matter that grief (or other negative emotions) are experienced as unpleasant

24.    Negative emotions (because they are negative) are conceptually tied to unpleasant sensations, but only in that they are necessarily TYPICALLY tied with unpleasantness

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

         b.      Negative emotions can be atypically tied to pleasure

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)

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

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



27.    Version of enjoyment theory

28.    While negative emotions like disgust and fear are typically associated with unpleasant feelings, they atypically can be experience as pleasurable

29.    Negative emotions are not intrinsically (necessarily) unpleasant, though they necessarily are typically so


30.    Conclusion p. 327: How Gaut puts it

         a.      Paradox rests on idea negative emotions are intrinsically unpleasant emotions

         b.      Instead of seeing the negativity of emotions as intrinsically unpleasant, their negativity results from fact these emotions incorporate negative evaluations

         c.      But then typically people will find these emotions and objects of emotions unpleasant

                   i.       So not merely continent, non-conceptual matter whether or not people enjoy these emotions or not

                   ii.      For people typically don’t enjoy them

         d.      But this allows room for some individuals on some occasions to enjoy them

Berys Gaut, The Paradox of Horror

1.         *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).

2.         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.

3.         Give an example of making a negative evaluative judgment while this does not involve a an unpleasant feeling.

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

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