“… the true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain – a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assault of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”
– H. P. Lovecraft (Supernatural Horror in Literature, 1927)
Tales of supernatural horror – weird tales – have a long and rich history in American literature. Starting with Charles Brockden Brown’s novel Wieland (1798), the American literary tradition is filled with authors, such as Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, who turned their pens to dark tales of supernatural and preternatural dread. Featuring castles, dark subterranean passages, secret societies, madmen, graveyards, hidden manuscripts, and ghosts, these tales were largely explorations of how humans are torn between good and evil – between God and the Devil – and how frequently they choose the latter.
These tales do much more than simply entertain. They induce a chill and connect with primal emotions at the very core of human nature. Fear of the unknown is genetically hardwired into every human being. Even if the conscious mind were purged of all sources of wonder, the instinctual, genetic drives written into our nervous systems would still compel us to shiver with dread at the dark and shadowy mysteries at the heart of all weird tales.
Weird tales also serve as a reminder that our knowledge of the world in we live is incomplete. There are wonders of the cosmos that exist outside of our comprehension, and horror fiction forces us to confront what lies beyond and within. Thus, the weird tale is often a symbolic form in which the human condition is revealed to be precarious at best. The narrowness of our understanding of things gives us a false sense of security. Ignorance is our only true comfort, for when the veil is dropped and the universe is revealed to us, we are forced to come to terms with our insignificance. The decorum of modern civilization provides only a thin barrier against the cosmos and ever-present pressures ensuring our eventual destruction. The ‘monsters’ in supernatural horror literature are symbolic renderings of these unseen and unknown threats that violate the manners and values of normative society.
The above discussion then serves as a useful entry into Ceara Lynch’s own works of fiction … her video clips. Like Poe and Lovecraft, Ceara does not locate the center of her fiction in gruesome images of monstrosities, but in the atmosphere she creates – in other words, the effect the video clip has on the viewer. Her aim is to bring viewers gradually and carefully to the realization that the world that surrounds us may not be the full portion of the real. The one true test of the really weird is whether or not there is excited in the viewer a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers, a subtle attitude of “awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.” Dread – that strange mixture of terror, horror, and mystery – is the purest response one can feel at the full recognition of our own inconsequence and the marginal meaningfulness of our lives. And it is with an anticipatory dread that we watch her clips.
Ceara recognized that there is a tension at the core of every thinking person. We are on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of the black seas of infinity. It is not meant that we should voyage far, but we are driven into unknown territories by our desires. Through her video clips, Ceara Lynch drives us willingly further and deeper into those dark and unknown places. Dreading that what we may discover, in those places deep within our psyche, monsters waiting to devour us.
And the genius of Ceara is that we willfully embrace that same dread, not knowing if the monsters that lie within will treat us as mere annoyances or playthings if we’re lucky, or food if we’re not.