Thursday, 28 January 2016

Illness and Ghost Stories

Funny things happen to your consciousness when you're not very well. As the gabble and rush of everyday life fades, and your mind is quieter, ordinary consciousness frays, creating doorways to other places.

Gradually, the lights go down and your consciousness retreats into the dark. And however unlikely the supernatural might seem in the Apollonian daylight, it seems far closer to reality in illness.

Having been ill -- again -- over the last week, and stuck inside, I've been in the mood for ghost stories. I've been poring over a couple of albums of Simon Marsden, photographs of spooky mansions, always Gothically inspiring.

And unlike the Romantics, I haven't needed to stuff myself with meat just before bedtime to have weird dreams. The weather has helped: a grey, gloomy, if unnaturally warm January, and when I popped my head out, briefly, there was a storm of rooks above me. It almost felt like a portent.

 I'm also halfway through a very 21st century satire/horror novel, Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, set in an Ikea knockoff called Orsk ("If you're not sure, just Orsk"). It's hard to decide what's more horrific; the ghost story elements of the tale, or the totalitarian nature of total immersion retail.

The protagonist, Amy, an Orsk 'partner,' works around the clock, is (thankfully) deeply uncommitted to the Orsk ideology, and is living hand to mouth. The Orsk store is a huge retail box, including a showroom presenting probably unattainable ideals in home furnishing. There's also something going wrong. A lift doesn't work, people are receiving odd texts at work, there's some rather strange graffiti in the toilets, and a nasty smell on one of the showroom sofas.

Then her least favorite manager asks her and a colleague to do an extra night shift, to find out exactly what been going wrong, and of course, all hell breaks loose.

The reason I like reading books like this is because the supernatural is presented as a disruptive force that upsets ordinary, rationalized, routine, deadening, suburban life. Stephen King has commented that this is a basic horror trope. This disruption is normally dealt with, fairly brutally; King also notes that the morality in horror is essentially conservative (See his Danse Macabre)

I don't know, through: maybe I'm on the side of the spooks. Maybe we need our routine lives disrupting from time to time. I think that we pay a price for order. Everyday life is often maintained by a kind of passive violence that seems to me to drive people nuts at times, perhaps in part because it excludes the wondrous, the numinous and the sublime.

But people cannot live on elaborate and mostly beige home furnishings alone. and the price for doing so might be worse than the most horrific supernatural manifestation you can imagine.

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