When the veil lifts between the dead and the living

If you’re wondering why my posts have been so morbid lately, the short explanation is that I’m working on a BA dissertation on Gothic fiction and the grotesque and the abject are on top of my mind as a result of academic specialisation. There is also a longer, more thorough explanation that I should probably discuss with a psychotherapist rather than on a public blog. Let’s just say that I’m compelled to talk and write about morbid things because I’m having a hard time actually accepting the fact of mortality.

Approaching the topic through studying fiction is probably the worst way to go about solving this problem. An interest in Gothic or horror fiction doesn’t mean that you understand or like the idea of people dying. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: the sensation of pleasure one derives from watching a horror film with a lot of gory murder has nothing to do with the visual observation of the murder, but the realisation that the death was fictional and that the viewer is alive and safe while watching it. If you get a kick from those cinematographically ingenious “true death” scenes in True Blood, you don’t actually enjoy the gore as much as the immediately following realisation that your own body is still intact. The sublimity experienced through seeing death in fiction doesn’t really prepare you for the finality of death in real life.

(© HBO)

Reverend J. John claims in an article in The Mirror that celebrating Halloween is “far from harmless,” “celebrates evil” and that we should stop celebrating the holiday altogether. I might have missed something, but since when was commemorating the dead evil? Unless by “evil” the Reverend is referring to the corporations that make lots of money by selling ugly plastic decorations and costumes, in which case I agree with him fully. Yes, what was once a harvest celebration and a day to remember the deceased has turned to another consumerist festival of plastic crap and an opportunity to go out dressed slutty. However, a holiday that acknowledges the dark, scary side of life is vital for a post-Enlightenment and furthermore, a post-modern society. Illness, death and the abject were a perfectly normal part of life before eveything was shut away in institutions. Growing up in a world where you don’t come across death on a regular basis, a holiday that shoves the idea of death in your face is a great way to approach mortality on a more profound level than horror fiction is adequate for.

One thing I do accept is that I probably won’t accept the reality of death until someone close to me does actually pass away. It will be a shock and I will probably get stuck in the denial phase for quite a long time but will eventually be able to move on with my life and enjoy it on a new level, one of my biggest fears finally diminished to a significant extent. There is little I can do to prepare in advance. It will be comforting, however, to believe that for one day in the year the veil between the dead and the living is slightly thinner and the spirits of late loved ones will be just a little bit closer.


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