Recently the Canadian author Simon Strantzas issued his Weird Manifesto, see below, I would like to string a few words together to contribute to the discussion. Some, or all, of these words may be utter baloney and I look forward to hearing why.
I posit that if ‘The Weird’ is indeed a thing which is a part of, but distinguishable within, the wider horror literature it has grown from Nicolay’s ‘Weird Renaissance’ which we have seen unfolding over the last decade or so and that it has emerged as a reaction to the malaise which currently infects the world. The anglophone world at least.
If there is a New Wave of Horror called The Weird then it has emerged from the long in the tooth tradition of Weird Fiction; which dates back over a century to the works of Arthur Machen and Robert W. Chambers and continues on to the modern works of people like W.H. Pugmire, Laird Barron, and Joseph Pulver Sr. What would this New Wave be, where has it come from, and what is it that differentiates it from both Weird Fiction and the wider Horror milieu?
Before I begin this, what is sure to be, rambling and malt fuelled exegesis I should point out that to imply that a work is a part of this New Wave is no judgement of quality of the work nor is a condemnation of work which may not fall within the definition I am about to try and eke out. Texts may fulfill many and varied functions, some of which may place them within The Weird/New Wave and some of which may not.
Sometimes the function of a text may be seemingly contradictory such as the role Homer’s Odyssey plays in both reinforcing the Greek masculine heroic tradition whilst also lampooning it. Or like Spenser’s Fairy Queen which is both an fantastical poem of adventure and an expression of courtly love from Spenser towards Queen Elizabeth I and therefore both an exercise in myth making and a piece of political maneuvering. A story that is New Wave can be both a horror story and something aside from a horror story. It can be this consciously, as in the case of Spenser’s political maneuvering, or perhaps unconsciously, as in Homer’s ridiculing of Athenian machismo.
The Weird/New Wave of Horror(WNW) is a current within the Horror field that flows from the Weird Renaissance and is notable for being socially conscious. By that I don’t necessarily mean that it a social conscience but that it is aware of, and consciously influenced by, social issues. It is concerned not only with telling terrifying tales but with imbuing them with something more. In the same way that New Wave Science Fiction was about more than dazzling space adventures and fantastic technological marvels so WNW is weird fiction plus…
I would like to forward a few points that I think may be able to help identify WNW.
- WNW tends towards literary experimentation and draws influence from across the literary spectrum as well as the other, not literary, arts.
- WNW revels in genre convention as much as it rejects them.
There may be a vampire in this story but it lives in the upper atmosphere and is a comment on PTSD in veterans.
This woman may be fleeing from a terrible sea creature but her struggle also reflects the experiences of survivors, and victims, of domestic violence and abuse.
- WNW is both Modernist and Postmodernist.
- WNW waxes philosophical. It can be metaphysical or phenomenological, nihilistic or antinatal, epistemological and maybe even esthetic.
Of course many texts that were written before this WNW will feature many of these elements but it is the amount of them that are now being released by authors who talk to one another than I feel may make Stantzas claim true.
Why is the Weird Waving Now?
Here I can only speak of the anglophone world as that is the extent of my, albeit limited, knowledge on this subject. I would however be extremely interested in finding out whether anything that I say here rings true elsewhere.
The New Wave of Science Fiction emerged in the 1960s at the height of the long drawn out existential threat that was the Cold War. It was an age of generalised fear but it was also a time of wonder and potential. The space race was in full swing with its attendant technological and engineering wonders, revolutions were erupting across the globe, the civil rights movement was at its peak, new feminisms were emerging. The world was changing amid the threat from the insanity of nuclear war. There was hope as well as fear.
The last fifteen years have been filled with anything but hope. The abject failure of the movement to prevent the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan marks a shift in consciousness for many of the millions involved. If that failed then what can we do? The years since the economic crash of 2008 have been even bleaker as the ongoing assault against our quality of life has been relentless, even when faced with all the resistance people can muster. Suicide rates in the UK are increasing at a terrifying rate amongst those hundreds of thousands forced deeper and deeper into despair as they are forced down in greater and greater poverty. Unemployment is rising as unemployment support is cut to ribbons. Children go to school hungry despite their parents skipping meals in order to feed them. The media is relentless in its demonisation of the poorest in society whilst also equating those poor souls fleeing terror with the very horror from which they run. The far right grows in confidence as the left finds itself unable to become a force of opposition. What left that there is.
Many pin their hopes on the likes of Corbyn or Sanders whilst many more remember the betrayals of supposedly left wing parties. Even those hopeful few must feel the nagging doubt that they are setting themselves up for disappointment. The trade unions are toothless and more concerned with maintaining amicable relationships with the bosses than building a brighter tomorrow for workers.
There is no hope.
Into this malaise, this generalised anxiety, comes The Weird.
Science Fiction, as already mentioned, experienced its New Wave in the 1960s. Horror has never experienced such an event. There was the Horror Boom of the 1980s that saw horror authors such as Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell become household names and there was a surge of interest in the field. There was however no gestalt shift in relation to the social turmoil of the period. From SF we saw Cyberpunk emerge and from horror there was… Splatterpunk. There was, so far as I’m aware, no current, no scene, within horror casting a wry eye over the excesses and catastrophes of the day.
Now though there is most definitely a trend emerging within the Horror, and Weird Fiction, scene that is most certainly conscious of the social context in which it is operating. In his essay, ‘Why Weird, Why Now?: On the Rationale for Weird Fiction’s Resurgence’, Kurt Fawver says that:
[…]the weird has, at least in part, experienced a renaissance in the early 21st Century due to its reflection of globalization’s impact upon cultural interchange and connectedness as well as its ability to play an oppositional role to the Information Age’s deluge of explanations and connectedness.
I would add to this that The Weird is also uniquely able to unpick and interrogate the bleakness that surrounds us on a daily basis. Unlike the SF New Wave however The Weird isn’t born in an age of hope and so it offers no promises of escape. Something that, for all the fantastical and often magical events of the stories, offers something of a weird verisimilitude to the reader.
We know that, as things stand, there is little hope in the world. Perhaps The Weird, by throwing its strange light onto the tribulations of the early 21st Century can help us understand the horrors with which we are presently faced.
Of course, it is also highly likely that Strantzas was taking the piss a bit and I’ve just made myself look like a complete twonk. 😀
As much as I enjoy people commenting on my blog I think that, should people wish to discuss this, it would be great if they did so on the Thinking Horror Facebook group. (LINK) Please feel free to pop on by and find this posted there to tell me how wrong I am. 🙂
Kurt Fawver’s essay appeared in Volume One of Thinking Horror: A Journal of Horror Philosophy available in print and as an ebook from Amazon.