Philosophy of horror  

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The Miseries and Disasters of War (1633) by Jacques Callot  With the 16th century The Miseries and Disasters of War, French 17th artist Jacques Callot anticipated Goya's Disasters of War, both of them criticizing the horrors of war in their art
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The Miseries and Disasters of War (1633) by Jacques Callot
With the 16th century The Miseries and Disasters of War, French 17th artist Jacques Callot anticipated Goya's Disasters of War, both of them criticizing the horrors of war in their art

Image:Horrors of war by Goya.jpg
Disasters of War (1810s) by Francisco de Goya
With the early 19th century Disasters of War, Goya continued a tradition set in motion by French 17th artist Jacques Callot with his The Miseries and Disasters of War, both of them criticizing the horrors of war in their art

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The first philosopher to answer the question "Why do we enjoy horror?" was Aristotle. So any philosophy of horror needs to start with Aristotle, who said in the Poetics, making a clear distinction between fact and fiction:

“Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity: such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and of dead bodies.”.

The key word is "reproduced," which means rendered in fiction or painting, short for artistic representation.

American writer Poe said in the opening lines of his story "The Premature Burial" that certain subjects are suited to be mentioned in the context of non-fiction but should not be treated in a work of fiction:

"There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction. These the mere romanticist must eschew, if he do not wish to offend or to disgust. They are with propriety handled only when the severity and majesty of Truth sanctify and sustain them. We thrill, for example, with the most intense of "pleasurable pain" over the accounts of the Passage of the Beresina, of the Earthquake at Lisbon, of the Plague at London, of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, or of the stifling of the hundred and twenty-three prisoners in the Black Hole at Calcutta. But in these accounts it is the fact—it is the reality—it is the history which excites. As inventions, we should regard them with simple abhorrence."

Schadenfreude is also one of the aspects which attracts us to the horrific: The pleasure of standing on shore watching a shipwreck, as described by Lucretius:

Pleasant it is, when on the great sea, the winds trouble the waters,
to gaze from shore upon another’s great tribulation:
Not because any man’s troubles are a delectable joy,
but because to perceive what ills you are free from yourself is pleasant.

What frightens us?

One of the first theorists to answer the question "what frightens us?" was Sigmund Freud in his essay "The Uncanny". He said independent body parts which become animate: "dismembered limbs, a severed head, a hand cut off at the wrist, feet which dance by themselves".

See also

horrors of war
see horror, philosophy

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