Monday, October 06, 2003


Recently I have become fascinated by the nature of fear, as opposed to my youth when I was fearful of natural fascination. Actually, I spent the whole of one summer feared, naturally, by a chap named Random Fascine (but that is a subject for his letters, not mine). By fear I mean any of the various combinations of horror, terror, frison, fright, unsettlement, troubletation, and botherism--to limit my definitions to a strictly observed caste of negatively connotated human flight responses would be a frightful (oh dear) oversight on my part.

If we are to use horror fiction, whether books, movies, freelance live-action park performances or state-funded FEAR installations (held over for three weeks due to suspected pornographic imagery in a series of diagrams from Foxe's Book of Martyrs) as any indication, people are most frightened of scary things. Conventional wisdom supports this thesis, and I am loathe to disagree, given the definitions of the words in the press release sent to me last week from L'Academe du Peur. (They have an entire department devoted to the role conventional wisdom in the statement of fact, "insofar as the human mind might comprehend.")

Personally, though, the scariest things to me are not necessarily "scary." Sometimes I find myself unable to sleep simply because I think I might not be alone in my room. The spectral inhabitants of my various armoirs and wardrobes assure me they are in fact "so not here, you can't even not see us or hear us for that matter." For some reason, their promises only make me suspicious.

"If something were hiding in my closet, isn't that what it would say." According to the things, no.

I asked around a bit, attempting to access some of this conventional wisdom and observed a remarkable phenomenon--people are afraid to talk about being afraid. I was told, on more than one occasion, "I am not scared of anything, really, and if I was, I wouldn't be afraid of that either." People, on the whole seem frightened of those things that frighten all living things--threats to safety. Everybody is afraid of damage. Well, everyone, that is , who doesn't start the afternoon with a bit of the old Thorazine.

Performing a completely non-robotic system scan on all my *.fear files, I find that I am spookified by things that I can't explain. Not inexplicable in the classic sense, but truly beyond my understanding. I would rather be chased by some Lovecraftian horror into its unspeakably dark, vile, and unforgiving lair than feel like someone is in the room with me when I clearly see that I am alone. When you are fighting something dangerous, at least you are fighting. You have a plan.

"If that thing gets closer, Scoob, you and Shaggy pull the rug, and the rest of us will beat it senseless with this assortment of leaden weather-vanes."

It's a lot more difficult to call your friend and say, "Hey, can you come over here? Something's wrong in the kitchen. I don't know exactly. The dishes, well one of the dishes, seems No, I'm serious. Wait....just a ...." and then the dial tone. Regardless of how terrifying the robin's egg blue of that serving platter might seem to me, I can't expect another person to REALLY understand the sort of latent menace I detect. Maybe that sort of fear is a completely personal exercise. I wonder if any research has been done into a paralyzing fear of things being kind-of spooky.

Approxiphobia: a keen or otherwise acute sortaphobic response.