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The Dark Side of English


Fear for Your Life: Evolution, Cognition, and the Dark Side of Entertainment

Mathias Clasen, Aarhus University

Popular culture brims with creepy monsters and terrifying scenarios—flesh-eating ghouls, rotting zombies, and fearsome behemoths preying on vulnerable protagonists. What is the appeal of stories that feature such creatures and scenarios? Why are people consistently, universally drawn to such depictions? The answer is found in human nature. Humans (and our mammalian ancestors) evolved in dangerous environments. They were preyed on by ferocious predators and hostile conspecifics, and they were vulnerable to contagious disease and venomous animals. This dangerous existence has left deep grooves in our species’ genetic makeup. Even today people are born with a suite of evolved danger-management mechanisms, and those mechanisms are exploited by horror stories featuring creepy monsters and terrifying scenarios. We evolved to pay close attention to the sources of danger in our environment, and even fictional representations of danger catch our attention. What we lack in brute strength (humans are relatively slow and weak), we make up for in our massive powers of imagination. Imagination allows us to simulate lethal scenarios. Such simulation breeds preparedness, and preparedness breeds survival. Horror stories target ancient defense mechanisms in the human central nervous system, and the best ones teach us valuable lessons—about survival, psychology, and existence itself.

“Existence Equals Nightmare”: Cognition and Narration in the Horror Fiction of Thomas Ligotti

Bo Pettersson, University of Helsinki

If you consider Poe grim and Lovecraft macabre, but like them, you may want to look even farther into the abyss. This is what the contemporary American horror fiction author Thomas Ligotti (b. 1953) has done since the 1980s. He is an anti-natalist (against humans being born), who has stated: “No evidence exists, nor ever could exist, to justify our continuation”. Most of his narrator-characters may very well be deranged, that is, readers enter their minds by their first-person confessions. This means that the import of the uncanny events or characters his protagonists encounter is ambiguous or vague. I aim to show that what is weird, ghastly or horrific in some of Ligotti’s most famous stories is due to the fact that the cognitive frames of mind, experiences and pronouncements of the narrators and characters are juxtaposed and possibly unreliable. Still, his readers are finally faced with the question: Are there no redeeming aspects to being alive? I think that like many pessimist philosophers, Ligotti, in part despite himself, shows us that there are some such aspects, however futile they may seem in the larger scheme of things.

English Under the Covers: They VERB togydirs more hotter

Janne Skaffari, University of Tampere

The “dark Middle Ages” is a well-known if not a very accurate concept. The premodern era was not simply ignorance, violence and plague but also culture, learning and love. This paper takes us from the “dark side of English” to “English in the dark”, featuring desire and sex as well as sin and crime in medieval England. The focus is on vocabulary, particularly verbs.

This presentation asks an intriguing question: how were sexual desires and activities discussed in medieval England? As audio recordings are not available and we can only access evidence from surviving manuscripts, answers to this query are sought from written sources with the help of a lexicographical tool, the Middle English Dictionary online, which is expected to show if and how authors, translators and scribes dealt with sexual activities in their texts, and which lexical resources were available to them. After an inventory of sex words is established, other questions that need attention are how these words – pretty or foul – came about, and how they have been described by lexicographers of past decades.

Evaluative NPs in Trial Reports: Rape and Infanticide Cases in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1700–1749

Turo Vartiainen, University of Helsinki

In my talk I discuss how victims of crime were evaluated in rape and infanticide trials as reported in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey in the first half of the eighteenth century. I will focus specifically on how referential NPs are used to express discreet evaluations and attitudes. The reports of rape trials show that adult and child victims were referred to in very different ways: while an adult plaintiff was typically referred to in accordance with the “accessibility hierarchy”, i.e. first with a lexical NP, then with pronouns (see e.g. Ariel 1990), a young victim was very often referred to with a lexical NP, typically “the child”, when a pronoun is expected. I will argue that the persistent use of gender-neutral lexical NPs and the avoidance of gendered pronouns function as a subtle evaluation strategy that foregrounds the plaintiffs’ young age and backgrounds their sexuality. The data from the infanticide trials, on the other hand, suggest that the outcome of the trial may also have affected referential patterns: the infant victim is more often referred to with a lexical NP in the Proceedings when the plaintiff was convicted of the crime than when she was acquitted.

Exposing the Private Parts: the Macabre Embodiment of Dylan Thomas’s “My Hero Bares his Nerves”

Anne Päivärinta, University of Tampere

Though Dylan Thomas (1914–1953) can be characterised as a Modernist writer, some critics have deemed his writing far too “anti-intellectual” to really fit in the literary historical context of early 20th-century British poetry. More specifically, the distinct bodily quality of Thomas’s poems was found objectionable by many contemporaries and is still a much debated issue among Thomas scholars. In my talk I shed some light on Thomas’s unarguably grim yet fascinatingly complex body metaphors. I employ the concept of embodiment, as defined in cognitive linguistics, in analysing the poem “My hero bares his nerves”. The subject matter of the poem – masturbation – has been a source of some controversy, even leading to dismissals of the poem’s artistic merit. I aim to show that the poem is not a mere description of a private physical act, but a carefully structured invitation to reflect on the distinctions between body and world as well as experience and word.

The Dark Side Of Meaning in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot

Hanne Juntunen, University of Tampere

Samuel Beckett's fiction is very minimal, and he is famously quoted having sought to “write without style”. It could be argued that the leading idea behind his idiosyncratic style and poetics is the destruction of the signification of his language. Indeed, for Samuel Beckett, the dark side of English was not meaninglessness, it was the unavoidability of meaning in a work from which it was to be purged. For Beckett, the dark side of English was the fact that as the lack of meaning is sought, its unavoidability asserts itself ever more forcefully, as there can never be a text completely without meaning. This leads to a paradox of meaning and meaninglessness.

My argument is that the paradox of meaning and meaninglessness in Beckett's Waiting for Godot unravels into the grotesque. The grotesque is characterised by the simultaneous presence of mutually incompatible phenomena, and the dark side of language is transformed into the concrete terms and forms of the grotesque, such as physical deformities, mental anomalies, monsters, death, and decay. Waiting for Godot is an exceptional example of the grotesque that emerges from Beckett's works specifically as it superficially seems to be the antithesis of the grotesque.

Title TBA

Yilei Gu, University of Tampere

Ghosts, monsters and supernatural beings alike tend to produce horror probably because of their rarity and abnormality as well as man’s fear of abnormality. Thus they are depicted often on purpose by man as something ugly and dark liable to damage or even destroy men in order to spread fear and terror. On the other hand, in some way the so-called abnormality actually comes from man’s twisted and damaged spiritual world wounded by a cruel or pathetic reality.

The talk is focused on the relationship between this abnormality, man’s crooked psychology and the background related to their occurrence in some famous literary works. Simply put, the unusual or abnormal appearance and psychology of the supernatural or foul beings reflect man’s psychological distortion which also reflects the cruelness and indifference of reality. With works such as The Signal Man or Frankenstein can these “reflections” be found.

Concept of Morality in Horus Rising: The seeds of heresy are sown and the real-life event of the Mỹ Lai Massacre

Quentin Davis, University of Tampere

It is important to explore the concept of morality in Horus Rising because it is a text which contains numerous, challenging moral dilemmas. The comparisons made between events in the text and real life examples are intended to enable the reader to apply the arguments raised in this presentation to current topical events, thereby encouraging them to re-evaluate their understanding of morality. In order to successfully accomplish this task we must first determine our own perception of morality. For the purpose of this presentation, morality will be defined as a set of principles that discern between the perception of right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.

Most people have an intrinsic sense of what is right and what is wrong. However, when humans are placed in stressful circumstances, these intrinsic values can easily slip away. I will use a New Historicist approach to compare the concept of morality in Horus Rising and the real-life events of the Mỹ Lai massacre. Using a passage from Horus Rising and a court transcript of William Calley (a US serviceman on trial for his involvement in the massacre) and the jury on February 23, 1971, the presentation will explore the concepts of individual vs organisational responsibility, moral accountability and the extent of their impacts on our moral decision-making abilities.

Mindless Subjects

Marjut Puhakka, University of Oulu

In my doctoral dissertation, I analyse Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend (1954) and the three film adaptations based on the book: The Last Man on Earth (1964), Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007). Matheson’s novel tells a story of the last man on earth, Neville, who is living in a post-apocalyptic world where everybody else have turned into zombielike vampires. The book started the zombie-apocalypse phenomenon which has endured to this day and still seems to inspire new storytellers to make books, movies and games.

The main concept in my analysis is the subject. The subject as a word has many meanings, but I refer to an agent, someone (or something) that does something (intentionally). I think that the subject has been a bit neglected in the field of horror studies while the Other has been a focal point. I’m interested in looking at the subject as an individual phenomenon (through psychoanalytical theory) and also as something that is affected by society and culture.  As theoretical background I use the writings of Slavoj Žižek, Alain Badiou and Julia Kristeva.

Zombies have no doubt taken their place in horror fiction, but what is it that is so fascinating about their rotten bodies? One aspect appealing to audiences in post-apocalyptic scenarios must be their fascination with a survival story. Zombies as monsters are not complete humans, but there is still enough humanity to them to make them mindless body-subjects, agents with no other intention than just to exist.


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Muutettu: 4.12.2015 15.35 Muokkaa

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