The many faces of “beyond”
Since mankind appeared on Earth and began to create the first settlements, he has always assumed the presence of unknown worlds and peoples. As humans explored and discovered places that seemed unattainable, humanity took the boundary of the imagined unknown further and further, making it richer and richer in images and hypothetical realities that were translated into oral, written and visual narrations.
Over the centuries, legends were born and stories handed down from one generation to the next, which eventually created a pathway between the real and imagined. As an example, crossing the forest in past centuries was a necessity. During the journey, the noises in the thick of the trees, murmuring of mammals, and unusual atmospheric phenomenon gave rise to fantastic tales of magical mythical creatures. Dragons born of the bowels of the earth, spitting fire and devouring failed heroes, both terrorized and protected medieval communities from the unknown monsters that lurked in the forests. More importantly, they provided comfort when their minds were flooded with anxieties over the unknown. Better a dragon caused the fire than something unexplainable.
ACTIVITY – What atmospheric phenomenon do you find most scary and why?
Fear and curiosity
Humans abhor the unknown. It evokes feelings of fear, restlessness, and anxiety. Yet, curious minds find it intriguing. The possibilities fire up their curiosity, launching them into research, creation, and progress. Without the unknown, there would be no stories, no literature, no philosophical musings, no spiritual practices… Without the unknown, the historical and cultural development of humanity would stagnate. We need uncharted territory to spark our evolution. Through imagination and investigation, we have uncovered rational explanations and refined scientific methods. We have brought certainty to the uncertain. Yet, we continue to ponder life’s big questions. Who are we? What is beyond us? What have we yet to learn?
ACTIVITY – What is the first legend you heard? Who told you that the legend? How did you react to the legend? How did it make you feel?
Beyond is closer than you think
Science itself, through the development of psychoanalysis, has expanded the meaning of the concept – “beyond.” Yet, the unknown persists. Indeed, we carry it around inside of us always. Despite two centuries of experiments, theories, and investigation we continue to be baffled by our own minds. Who are we? Our inner self? Our deepest soul?
In our mind, are hidden sensations, thoughts and images so intimate and private that they are out of reach of our own consciousness. It is the place where distant memories nest, where events from our childhood sleep, where our past lingers. Science has taught us that our mind has extraordinary abilities to remember what it wants. We modify the past to suit our present or desired future. Sometimes it is easier to create fantasies than to face painful past realities. Inside our own minds is a rich world worthy of exploration.
ACTIVITY – Work in pairs. Tell your mate a deep sensation about something or someone you experienced in your life.
Scary creatures from the mind to the books
Long before psychoanalysis, literature had already delved into the hidden world of thoughts to create a genre that showed the dark side of the mind. It was a place where the most unspeakable thoughts nested, which had to be kept locked up tightly to keep us safe. Horror was born to frighten us. It has always known how to play with our ancestral fears: the dark, isolation, death, loneliness, and most of all, the unknown. The sensations that horror set in motion are uncontrollable. They sink into our fears as children. The rationale mind is no match for irrational fear.
Horror has given birth to evil, which shows itself in the most varied forms. It can be an invisible presence that is generated in the recesses of the mind and leads to the most gruesome actions. Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first authors who, long before the development of psychoanalysis, fathomed the diabolical inner voices that lead to monstrous actions and unsalvageable damage. In “The Tell-tale Heart”, the protagonist hears the beating of his victim’s heart so loudly within his consciousness that it drives him mad, forcing him to confesses his crimes to escape the punishing guilt of his own insanity. In the tale, “The masque of the Red Death”, Poe tells of evil. It comes in the form of a silent and disturbing masked character, who manages to penetrate a seemingly impregnable castle and kill all the occupants. The paradox is that everyone had hidden in this “perfect” place to escape a pandemic. Here again, the narration touches on our fragility – the fear of suffering, of dying, of not being able to defend ourselves from an unexpected and malignant threat.
ACTIVITY – When you read about horror genre, what is the image you find most fearful?
It: the power of Evil
In the contemporary era, the writer, who has been able to frighten generations of readers by keeping them nailed to their seats with a growing sense of uneasiness, is Stephen King. His masterpiece, It (1986), is about a monstrous figure, who commits a gruesome crime against a two-year-old child in a small American town. His actions condemn its inhabitants, first and foremost the children, to an existence marred with trauma and fear. In the novel, evil hovers like a persistent migraine, tormenting the reader and characters alike. Symbols of childhood joy – a jolly clown or floating balloon – are transformed into diabolical threats. It has only one goal – to destroy. The creature destroys human bodies along with human minds. It is like a bully immune to discipline. It takes the children to bring light and hope back into the community, and the mind of the reader, by outwitting the dubious creature in the end.
“Beyond” becomes a minefield of buried treasure that can only be unearthed through following our dreams and trusting our imaginations. Even a monster has meaning, and can be transformed into a hopeful lesson of humanity’s resilience.
ACTIVITY – Write a tweet with a very short horror story and send it to a friend