Joanna Parypinski is a college English instructor by day and a writer of the dark and strange by night. Her work has appeared in publications such as Black Static, Nightmare Magazine, Nightscript, and Haunted Nights (ed. Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton). Her forthcoming novel, Dark Carnival, will be released by Independent Legions in 2019. Living in the shadow of an old church that sits atop a hilly cemetery north of Los Angeles, she writes, grades essays, and plays her cello surrounded by the sounds of screaming neighbor children.
1) what is horror?
I’m teaching an introductory literature class this semester about gothic horror, and I’m planning on asking my students this very question!
Horror, as a genre, is defined for me by a sense of dread, and I see two clear pathways this dread can take, leading to different types of horror. Down one path, the dread leads to a cathartic release of tension; this could be because the monster has finally been revealed (and so the dread of the unknown dissipates), or because the protagonists have faced down the terror head-on, which also minimizes or shatters the sense of dread. Down the other path, the dread lingers and never leaves; instead of using dread as the pathway to a release valve, the dread itself is the pathway, and the culmination is not release but a deeper and more abiding sense of horror. Both pathways are valuable and valid, but for me horror ultimately comes down to dread, and where it leads.
2) why horror?
Having recently read Why Horror Seduces by Mathias Clasen, I’m inclined toward his evolutionary theory of horror. Biologically speaking, human beings are wired to tell tales of terror as learning methods so that we are better prepared to confront danger when it arrives. Though we have evolved away from the imminent danger of bear attacks and the things outside the bonfire, those stories seem to be an essential part of our DNA. So, why horror? Because it is deeply ingrained in us, in our history, in our bones.
As for the more personal side—why horror, for me? For that, I have no concrete answer. Why are we drawn to the things we are? What is it about that lingering dread that draws me in? And for goodness’ sake, why should a person already beset by anxiety gravitate toward secondhand anxiety from stories of dread? Perhaps I ought to unpack that…
3) where do you see horror going?
In ever more diverse directions, hopefully. Historically, horror as a genre has not exactly been known for its inclusivity; however, a great variety of people have been taking up the mantle and gaining well-deserved recognition for the stories that people who are not white men have to tell (nothing against the white men telling their stories, of course, but it’s nice to hear from everyone else, too!). This diversity gives us such a wonderful breadth of culture, folklore, and experiences to explore. I also see the stigma of horror gradually peeling away. When entering my MFA program years ago, I remember feeling compelled to rationalize, somehow, my interest in a genre that was not viewed as “literary.” But just as science fiction and fantasy have found strong footholds in that liminal space between genre and literary, so too is horror, and I think we’ll continue to see more great works of literary horror in the future.