Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1051
Clive Barker 1952-
English short story writer, novelist, playwright, and screenwriter.
The following entry presents an overview of Barker's career through 2002. For additional information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 52.
Barker has gained distinction within the horror genre for his sensual, often erotic prose and is highly regarded by fans, critics, and other writers within the field. Called “the future of horror” by novelist Stephen King, Barker's works address a variety of themes, including sexuality, repression, and the homogenization of society. Many reviewers have interpreted these three themes as being closely interlinked, maintaining that sexual imagery contributes to Barker's overall social and political message. Barker's fictional oeuvre does not rely completely on dark and gruesome horror, however, and includes elements from other genres as well; he has also geared several works at a young adult audience. Whether his emphasis is on horror or fantasy, Barker remains a vital creative force within the contemporary horror, science fiction, and fantasy genres.
Barker was born in Liverpool on October 5, 1952. As a child, Barker was influenced by such fantastical and often macabre literature as J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. While in elementary school, Barker began writing stories and producing plays for his friends. While taking courses in English and philosophy at the University of Liverpool, Barker spent his time drawing, painting, and absorbing literary inspiration from such sources as film director Jean Cocteau, author William Blake, and others. During this time Barker made two short films, Salomé (1973) and The Forbidden (1978), which were distributed during the 1990s. After earning a B.A. degree, Barker moved to London and formed a theatrical troupe called The Dog Company, which produced many of his plays, including The History of the Devil (1981). This play, along with two other early dramas, Frankenstein in Love (1982), and Colossus (1983), were later collected and published as Incarnations (1995). In 1984 and 1985 Barker released six volumes of short stories titled Books of Blood. Upon publication, these stories helped launch a career displaying a unique vision of the horror genre. Barker's interest in horror extended to film, prompting him to move to Los Angeles in 1991. Soon afterward, he made his directorial debut with Hellraiser (1987), a screenplay adapted from his novella The Hellbound Heart (1986). Since then, Barker has served as screenwriter, director, or executive producer for numerous horror films. Breaking away from conventional horror cinema, he served as executive producer of the film Gods and Monsters in 1998. Barker has continued to focus on the fantasy/horror genre, as evidenced by such novels as Coldheart Canyon (2001) and Abarat (2002).
Barker first gained recognition with the publication of Books of Blood in 1984. Written while he was known only locally as an obscure dramatist, this collection of stories represented a strong new voice in the horror genre. The graphic imagery and gore featured within these volumes provides an element of sensuousness and a focus upon the human body. One story from Books of Blood, titled “In the Hills, the Cities,” relates the history of two warring towns whose populations merge into two giant bodies and enact an endless battle. Another story, “Rawhead Rex,” depicts a flesh-eating monster that savors the taste of children. The Damnation Game (1985), Barker's first novel, quickly made the New York Times best-seller list. The book's theme of opposing mythical figures engaging in an epic struggle is one Barker has continued to develop throughout his career. Weaveworld, published in 1987, incorporates more elaborate elements of fantasy than his previous works. The plot revolves around an alternate universe contained within the interwoven strands of a magical carpet. Created by a race of ancient magicians, the carpet is the last refuge from impending forces of darkness. Barker combines the horror of his early stories with the nearly romantic fantasy of Weaveworld for The Great and Secret Show (1989). Subtitled The First Book of the Art, this work is the first volume of a planned trilogy. The novel details the quest for a lost form of magic known as the Art. Utilizing more than forty characters and a narrative that shifts between various dimensions of reality, Barker crafts an epic tale of cosmic forces barely concealed beneath a veneer of mundane, American modern life. In 1992 Barker surprised many of his fans by releasing a novel ostensibly for children. The Thief of Always uses familiar aspects of the fairy tale or fable, but features a protagonist in the form of a child who has been turned into a vampire. Everville (1994) is the second part of Barker's Art trilogy. Sacrament (1996) and Galilee (1998) are smaller works, containing naturalistic themes and settings: in Sacrament, a wildlife photographer suffers a polar bear attack and is stranded in northern Canada, and Galilee comprises a steamy romance set in the American South. Barker compiled and published the anthology The Essential Clive Barker in 1999. In 2001 Barker released Coldheart Canyon, fusing his trademark elements of horror with a tale of Hollywood glamour and dissolution. The beginning of his most ambitious project, called Abarat—projected as a series of four books—was published in 2002. Abarat features a group of islands, with each representing an aspect of time. The work is loosely based on C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. Barker's other cinematic work includes directorial and screenwriting credits for Hellraiser, Nightbreed (1990), and Lord of Illusions (1995).
Barker has garnered generally positive reviews from critics for his ability to transcend the niche of popular horror fiction. His penchant for mixing genres in order to create surprising new worlds has also kept him in a favorable position with critics. Though his style is sometimes seen as overly gruesome, he is praised for his attention to detail, and for “the symphonic grace of [his] prose, his loping, muscular imagination, [and] his sharp eye on the human dilemma …,” according to Armistead Maupin in his foreword to The Essential Clive Barker. Critics also admire Barker's ability to transform frightening motifs into a childlike world of fantasy. Robert Ziegler, in his essay on Barker's The Thief of Always, explains this aspect of his work as illustrating the point that “transgression or insanity … are properties of the magic world of literary fantasy.” Although his darker prose may not suit all readers' tastes, the depth of Barker's imaginary world continues to draw attention from both critics and the public.
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Salomé [adaptor; from the play by Oscar Wilde] (screenplay) 1973
Poe (play) 1974
The Forbidden (screenplay) 1978
Dog (play) 1979
Dangerous World (play) 1981
The History of the Devil (play) 1981
Frankenstein in Love (play) 1982
The Secret Life of Cartoons (play) 1982
Colossus (play) 1983
Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume One (short stories) 1984
Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Two (short stories) 1984
Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Three (short stories) 1984
Books of Blood, Volumes 1-3 (short stories) 1985
Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Four (short stories) 1985; also published as The Inhuman Condition: Tales of Terror, 1986
Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Five (short stories) 1985; also published as In the Flesh: Tales of Terror, 1986
Clive Barker's Books of Blood, Volume Six (short stories) 1985
The Damnation Game (novel) 1985
*Underworld [with James Caplin] (screenplay) 1985
Books of Blood, Volumes 4-6 (short stories) 1986
†The Hellbound Heart (novella) 1986
‡Rawhead Rex (screenplay) 1986
§Hellraiser (screenplay) 1987
Weaveworld (novel) 1987
Cabal (novella and short stories) 1988
The Great and Secret Show: The First Book of the Art (novel) 1989
∥Nightbreed (screenplay) 1990
Imajica (novel) 1991
The Thief of Always: A Fable (novel) 1992
Night of the Living Dead: London (Book One: Bloodline) [with Steve Niles] (novella) 1993
Night of the Living Dead: London (Book Two: End of the Line) [with Steve Niles] (novella) 1993
Everville: The Second Book of the Art (novel) 1994
#Incarnations: Three Plays (plays) 1995
**Lord of Illusions (screenplay) 1995
††Forms of Heaven: Three Plays (plays) 1996
Sacrament (novel) 1996
Clive Barker's A-Z of Horror (short fiction) 1997
Galilee: A Romance (novel) 1998
‡‡The Thief of Always [with Bernard Rose] (screenplay) 1998
The Essential Clive Barker: Selected Fictions (short fiction) 1999
§§Clive Barker's Books of Blood (short stories) 2001
Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story (novel) 2001
Abarat (novel) 2002
*This film appeared in America as Transmutations.
†Published within Night Visions 3, edited by George R. R. Martin. Published on its own in 1988.
‡Adapted from Barker's short story of the same name.
§Adapted from Barker's novella The Hellbound Heart.
∥Adapted from Barker's novella Cabal.
#Includes Barker's plays Colossus, Frankenstein in Love, and The History of the Devil.
**Adapted from Barker's short story “The Last Illusion.”
††Includes Barker's plays Crazyface, Paradise Street, and Subtle Bodies.
‡‡Adapted from Barker's novel of the same name.
§§Contains Clive Barker's Books of Blood, volumes 1-6.
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SOURCE: Newman, Kim. “Hellraiser: From Horror Fiction to Horror Movies.” Sight and Sound 56, no. 4 (autumn 1987): 233-34.
[In the following essay, Newman surveys the film Hellraiser and Barker's horror writing.]
In a gutted North London mansion that, conveniently for the publicity people, is supposed to be haunted, Clive Barker was—with apparent ease—making his directorial debut. Best known as a groundbreaking author of short (the Books of Blood) and long (The Damnation Game) horror fiction, Barker turned to direction after a disappointing foray into screenwriting.
Hellraiser resulted from a team-up between Barker and former assistant director Christopher Figg. Figg wanted to produce and Barker to direct and, after discarding several stories from the Books of Blood, they hit on an original idea (‘three people in a house, and things happen’) intended mainly as a showreel. Barker wrote it up into a novella, The Hellbound Heart, for an American anthology, Night Visions 3, which he shares with other leading lights in the current literary horror generation, Lisa Tuttle and Ramsey Campbell. New World stayed with the project after their co-financiers Virgin withdrew. In response to a suggestion that Hellraiser is an American film shot in Britain, Figg claims, ‘It's as American as the Mayflower.’
Although an admirer of the baroque splatter of Dario Argento, Barker says he is not imitating any particular school of film horror. ‘We're telling a strong story and therefore the rococo flourishes which distract are redundant. We're not cheating. We're not putting in point of view shots of creatures which do not exist. There are always payoffs to hints like that. We show the monsters, the horrors. That was always the thing with the short stories. We're giving the audience the goods.’
‘The movie is a perverse love story, and if any element is going to deter people, it'll be the perversity. The line between pleasure and pain, between violence and desire, is so fine, and I find that an interesting ambiguity. I'm not saying this isn't a horror film. Directors will say, “Firestarter isn't a horror film, it's a human drama.” Give me a break. This is a horror film, and unapologetically so. What we were trying to do is collide this very strange, dark, forbidden imagery with really nice pictures.’
Barker hoped that the rock group Coil would score the film (New World overruled him), and gleefully claimed that he had selected them because ‘it's the only music I've heard on disc that I've taken off because it made my bowels churn,’ although his publicist tactfully suggested that cinema managements might prefer it if that last quote read ‘… made my spine chill’.
Having turned down an offer to write Alien 3 and completed a doorstopping fantasy novel, Weaveworld, Barker plans to take a budgetary step up and do a special-effects fantasy for a big studio. ‘If films were my profession, I'd happily climb the ladder rung by rung and make three small pictures. But I'm commissioned to write another novel and I'm doing a children's book and a couple of other projects and I'd like to do some more theatre in the not too distant future. I want to put the complex, metaphysical notions into books where they belong, and I want to do summer pictures, which are a different kind of thing.’
The difference between Barker's fiction and film is the difference between The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser. A minor character in the original has been turned into the second lead in the adaptation and polished up as a more or less conventional heroine. ‘I liked the fact that in the novella the girl was a total loser. You can live with someone like that for the length of a novella. You can't for a movie.’
‘I think New World are hoping Hellraiser will appeal to a few people who wouldn't go to House 2 or Creepshow 2, that word of mouth will attract people to its slight off-centredness. There are lots of monsters. We've got all the weird stuff in there, a lot of action. I believe the thing to do is go out there and scare people. But this isn't one of those pictures where you cast the twelve most good-looking youths in California, and then murder them. We've cast people because they are terrific actors, and then murdered them.’
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SOURCE: Greenland, Colin. “The Figures in the Carpet.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4428 (12-18 February 1988): 172.
[In the following review, Greenland compares Weaveworld to Ramsey Campbell's The Doll Who Ate His Mother, finding Barker's novel lacking in substance.]
These two novels [Weaveworld and The Doll Who Ate His Mother] by horror writers from Liverpool both take that city for background. Each selects a derelict house on the edge of a demolition site as the portal for that intrusion of chaos into the mundane that is the principle of the genre. Ramsey Campbell's chaotic agency is the influence of John Strong, a necromancer twenty years dead, which still radiates from the Amberley Street cellar where he held his peculiar sabbats. Clive Barker's anomaly is fairyland itself, a tract of marvels and monstrosities that has, for nearly a century, been magically parcelled up in a shabby carpet.
Of the two books, The Doll Who Ate His Mother is the less explicitly supernatural. The psychotic killer who haunts the neighbourhood of Amberley Street, taking bites out of all his victims, human and animal, may have been ruined by nothing more occult than the righteous hatred of his grandmother, who is convinced her daughter gave her baby to the Devil. The protagonist of the novel, an unhappy young teacher called Clare Frayn, hardly considers John Strong to have been anything more than a bullying charlatan with grimy fantasies, while the man who leads her in the hunt for the psychopath, Edmund Hall, is only after copy for another in his best-selling series of slick black magic exposes, to be called Satan's Cannibal. Without pretending to any cynical, sensational inversion, Campbell simply presents a vampire hunter who is a less pleasant, less moral person than his prey.
It is Campbell's purpose, and his talent, thus to force the growth of his horror against the grain of the everyday. Normality for him is not inert but turbulent, a welter of inconveniences and dissatisfactions, misunderstandings and moods. Experienced through the clogged emotions of his characters, Liverpool itself wriggles and throbs expressionistically. “Down a side street, a drill chattered harshly in stone; next to her, the plastic cover of a hotdog stall folded open with a thick gasp of onion.” Too much of this is stifling; but Campbell's rhythmic plot and his firm way with characters steer us on through.
Clive Barker's scenery, Liverpudlian or elfin, is less energetic, which is perhaps a pity, since his purpose is to show us worlds within worlds. He has certainly given himself space to do so. After one earlier novel, several plays and plenty of short stories, Weaveworld, at seven hundred-odd pages, is an opus that is decidedly magnum. Barker's publishers have helped by generously insulating each short chapter with a great quantity of white paper (yet without charging any more for the luxury). They have also nominated the book an epic, though it is almost classically a romance, a heraldic adventure in which figures possessed by principles, of love or greed or despair, pursue one another headlong with spells or pistols through a vague locality full of numinous things that begin with capital letters: the Fugue, the Firmament, the Gyre, and so forth. The secret land inside the carpet is threatened by a rough association of villains, all of them, on first introduction, the most promising elements in the book. They are Shadwell, the salesman, inside whose magic jacket is stowed every heart's desire; Hobart, the brutal, crusading police inspector; a loathsome trinity of weird sisters; and a mad djinn that thinks it is the angel Uriel.
On further acquaintance all these characters prove less interesting. In fairyland, Shadwell, for example, becomes a mere demagogue and tyrant. The fairies themselves are rather disappointing, their magic no match for machine-guns, and their much-prized innocence no more than routine mob gullibility. Helped and hindered by them, our heroine and hero (both human) strive, suffer and surmount. Titanic events continually sweep them apart, then together again. The plot reeks with the pathos of loss and reunion, forgetting and remembering. Barker lays on the sentiment with a palette knife, and rounds each chapter with a plangent phrase (“‘Ah, the ladies’, said Shadwell; and Death flew in at the door”). All this, as he knows well, will endear him to the consumers of novels that are thick; but in substance it is thin, compared to the robustness of Ramsey Campbell, let alone the richness of John Crowley's Little, Big or Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood, two rediscoveries of fairyland much more thorough and disconcerting.
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SOURCE: McDonagh, Maitland. “Darklands Here We Come: Future Shockers.” Film Comment 26, no. 1 (January-February 1990): 60-3.
[In the following essay, McDonagh discusses Barker's foray into filmmaking, drawing parallels between Barker's career and that of cyberpunk writer William Gibson.]
The Greenhouse Effect, computer viruses, nuclear winter, bioethics, tabloid television, space debris, AIDS, dying oceans, serial murderers, the Survivalist Right, crack wars, the population bomb, televangelist scandals, biological warfare, the Rapture, genetic patents. … How did real life get to sound like a scary movie, and what are we going to do about it? Well, maybe we aren't going to do anything about it. But Clive Barker and William Gibson, cutting edge writers who've plunged headlong into film, are. The question is, are we ready for what they have in mind?
Once upon a time we dreamed utopian dreams, relentlessly optimistic fantasies predicated on the notion that the imperfection of this world was nothing more than the reflection of man's own arrested spiritual and intellectual development, that to recapture the pre-lapsarian perfection of Eden was not only desirable but eminently possible. Even cautionary tales of future totalitarianism, social chaos and ecological ruin proceeded from the belief that forewarned is forearmed, constructing disastrous scenarios to instruct and warn: James Hilton's Shangri-La and George Orwell's Oceania are polarized sides of the same coin, heaven and hell on earth, and let that be a lesson to you.
These days it's a whole other world, and the naive conventions of simpler times, the last legacy of the industrial age's belief in better living through science, have given way to a notion simultaneously cynical and suffused with a kind of weary wonder: that terminal dystopia is coming—if it isn't here already—and there's no reversing or avoiding it. The only way to deal with it is to kick back and enjoy, to dance the Apocalypso and party like it's 1999.
At least, that's the way it's looking in genre fiction and movies, where the land lies dark and hectic and Barker and Gibson have struck up the band. Bookish bad boys with time on their side—they're a youthful 37 and 41, respectively—Barker and Gibson are the black princes of the future imperfect, with death and night and blood on their brains and butter-wouldn't-melt smiles on their faces.
Their backgrounds are a study in disparity. Barker was born and raised in Liverpool (near Penny Lane, a fact with which he charms interviewers) and later moved to London; Gibson was born in Virginia and relocated to Canada as an adult. But they have sensibility in common. They're twisted contemporary romantics—they believe in grand passions and transcendence, in desire unquenched by the grave and the transfiguration of body and soul. Gibson borrows the language of science fiction and hears lost souls crying out from the corners of vast corporate mainframes; Barker worships the beauty in tattered flesh and the glory of love in ruin. If they aren't high-minded, they're idealists nonetheless, and Gibson, lanky and owlish, with the trace of a Virginia drawl, even has a high-tech label for what he writes: cyberpunk. He thinks it's a silly word and he's right, but it's too cool and evocative to resist.
Fifteen minutes into the future, think about a world caught in a great web of computerized communication links—software plugged right into the soft machine—and call it cyberspace. Imagine a decaying urban sprawl, equal parts Blade Runner's Los Angeles, Manhattan via Frank Miller's The Dark Knight and John Carpenter's Escape from New York, with a lashing of some feverish Tokyo of the mind. Now understand that Gibson doesn't think this is a bad thing at all, and you've got some idea of the landscape of Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive and a host of short stories. Barker's physical locales range from the Yugoslavian countryside to the alleyways of the London underworld, but his agenda is always heavy on the hot—he's out to redefine the term “scared stiff,” and you come away from his work asking such questions as: “Is it still necrophilia if the corpse is reanimated and wants you in the worst possible way?”
Can it be called serendipity that both published their first books in 1984, a sublimely resonant year to go public with dangerous visions of erotic delight, dark wet dreams of death, decay and dissolution? And is it any wonder that, with stunning literary success under their respective belts, both Gibson and Barker are making the move to movies? It is, after all, well and good to write books, but in the information age a picture is truly worth a thousand words.
Clive Barker is up to his ankles in a swirl of sweet-smelling smoke on the set of Nightbreed, his second film in as many years. Midian, his crumbling underground city of the dead and the damned—constructed at Pinewood studios, a stone's throw away from Batman's Gotham City sets—crawls with monsters large and small. Barker, who's got the dichotomy between the nastiness of his fiction and his own sweet-faced good looks down to a science, is a happy man. “Midian is a place of the imagination,” he says, hitting just the right note of winsome disingenuousness. “It's a place of dreams as much as it's a place of nightmares. Everyone thinks of me as exploring this terrifically grim material, but that's just a matter of definition, isn't it? It's the imaginative that's always fascinated me, not just the dark imaginative.”
In Nightbreed, Barker's imagination wraps itself around the relationship between a mad man and a madder one, then takes a flying leap into an underworld where every day is a carnival … real carnival, a no-holds-barred celebration of the grotesque and the inverse. David Cronenberg, purveyor of venereal horror extraordinaire, stars as Dr. Philip Decker, a practitioner of the healing profession with a few … quirks. Barker can't help but chuckle at the perfection of his vision. Hair brushed straight back off his forehead, outfitted with a pair of little wire-rimmed glasses just like the ones Jeremy Irons wore as psychopathic twin gynecologists Elliot and Beverly Mantle in his Dead Ringers, Cronenberg does indeed have a solid, professional gloss. Martin Scorsese pegged him as having the air of a Beverly Hills gynecologist, but Barker moves in for the kill. “I looked at David,” he says, “and thought, ‘Yeah, I can believe this guy could be a psychiatrist.’ But I could also believe that with the moon at its fullest, he might … forsake his healing ways.” Barker laughs.
In five years he's gone from an obscure career in the British theater to acclaim as “the future of horror,” in Stephen King's eminently quotable words. As if the overall high quality of the stories in the three-volume Books of Blood—Barker's debut, a critical and commercial triumph—weren't shock enough, Barker also proved to be incredibly prolific. Within three years he followed up with two more collections of short stories (In the Flesh and The Inhuman Condition) and two screenplays: Underworld (an original script) and Rawhead Rex, adapted from his own short story. Screenwriters are just about always unhappy with the way their work arrives on the screen, and Barker was no exception. But unlike most, he did something about it: he adapted his novella The Hellbound Heart and directed it himself as Hellraiser, in which a puzzle box proves the key to a nether world of bizarre sights and sensations. Those who toy with it—a brutal sensualist and a woman blinded by lust—soon learn they can't peep for free: he's torn limb from limb and then trapped in a fleshy limbo beneath the floorboards and she, years later, is charged with resurrecting him via a bloody ritual that could make strong men weep.
Trapped in the reductive body-count conventions of recent years (“By hook, by pick, by ax, bye-bye”), few horror movies could hope to match the sheer audacity of a picture whose protagonists are steely-eyed adventurers in the velvet underground and sadomasochists from beyond the grave. Hellraiser's creepy cenobites were Barker's greatest creations, demonic angels from sensualists' hell who don't stoop to stalk and slash; they seduce with the promise, “We have such sights to show you,” and practically have to beat off victims with a stick.
What's this? Remember that Tod Browning's Dracula was released on Valentine's Day 1933 and advertised as the “Strangest Love Story Ever Told”; Universal's publicists knew you don't just shiver when you're scared. Barker's contribution to the cinefantastique isn't that he discovered the link between the erotic and the horrific; it's that he's not afraid to go all the way.
Still, conventional wisdom wouldn't have designated a whitefaced ghoul with a spike-studded skull to become Hellraiser's pinup fiend. “I never understood the thing with Pinhead,” Barker demurs. “Truly, from the bottom of my heart, I never expected the stuff on the sneak preview cards: ‘The guy with the pins in his face is real sexy.’ ‘Love the dude with the pins in his face.’ I intended the cenobites to be elegant, strange … but sexy? When was a guy with pins in his face very sexy?” Well, just meditate on this: Robert Mapplethorpe's fetish fantasies may be too outré for Washington, D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery, but Pinhead's porcupine countenance graced America's billboards and bus shelters not once but twice, the second time back by popular demand for Hellbound. Score another point for genre leading the mainstream.
Cyberpunk draws water from a lot of wells, dipping into high and low culture alike: Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by way of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, Mad Max and Max Headroom, William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Nova Express et al., Survival Research Laboratory and punk rock, J. G. Ballard's Crash and Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, postmodern choreographers from Pina Bausch to William Forsythe, Michael Morecock's Jerry Cornelius novels and Max Ernst's Une Semaine De Bonte, Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville, the Comte de Lautreamont's Songs of Maldorer, Alan Moore's graphic novels Watchmen and V for Vendetta, and the works of Gaudi, Michael Graves, H. R. Giger, Hieronymus Bosch and the Marquis de Sade. Gibson's dense, muscular prose conjures up images like some electrochemical jolt to the brain stem: zoned-out housewives plugged right into their favorite soap operas; plastic-surgery junkies with lethal fantasy lives made flesh; crumbling housing projects-cum-war zones; the damp alleys of Chiba City. They're all images to apposite, so immediate you're almost certain you've seen them before.
“It's sort of a genre convention that science fiction is about the future,” Gibson observes, “but it never is; it's always about the period it is written in. You just take all the weirdest things about the present and make them more extreme. I have this fantasy of my more naive readers suddenly waking up in the middle of one of my stories and saying, ‘But that's … that's Manhattan!’”
“Most of my ideas about medical technology come from reading the back pages of Los Angeles Magazine, from the ads for elective surgery. Get your body chopped and channeled … it's incredible. I sometimes see women shopping on Melrose Avenue and catch myself thinking, ‘I remember when they didn't have women like that.’”
Gibson's first movie project was a plum assignment, but a natural: Aliens III. After all, Alien brought together Scott and Giger and put the term biomechanical on everyone's lips. Copies of the first two Alien(s) screenplays and an extended treatment in hand, Gibson dove right in. “I didn't see there was very much that could be done with the alien—the beast, as they call it around the shop—so I tried to open out the background of the first two, exploring things about the human culture you wouldn't have expected but that didn't contradict what you already knew. You discover early on that the universe isn't run exclusively by the Company—there's a hard-bitten, Third World socialist power in space as well, this motley bunch of Latin Americans and East Asians, who are all out there doing their own thing in big space stations painted inside like Mexican revolutionary murals. I was also fascinated by hints that the alien was someone's biological weapon, and I was exploring that.”
“One thing I couldn't do was take it back to earth, which is what science fiction fans always told me they wanted to see. Like, the beast takes Manhattan—it would have to have been the beast takes the Blade Runner set, and that would have been an ＄80 million movie. They were awfully kind about the very first draft I turned in: they said, ‘This is really nice, but we priced it out and it's going to cost ＄70 million,’ and I said, ‘Is that too much?’ So a few space stations and a few hundred thousand aliens were excised in the interests of economy.”
Gibson's Aliens III script eventually fell victim to changing studio personnel and conflicting commitments, but it's not his only iron in the film fire. He's currently working on not one but two other screenplays, both adaptations of short stories from his Burning Chrome collection, despite reservations about translating his material from one medium to the other.
“The things I do novelistically that people think of as being very cinematic aren't appropriate to movies in terms of writing a screenplay,” he points out. “A lot of the things I write about turn out just to be art direction—nobody wants a 180-page screenplay about how frayed the cuffs of the policeman's jacket are.”
First up is New Rose Hotel, to shoot in Tokyo with Ed Pressman producing and Kathryn Bigelow directing. Bigelow's taste for the gritty genres—Near Dark, The Loveless and Blue Steel—and her avowed admiration for noir aesthetics make her a natural to take charge of the Gibson vision. “New Rose Hotel,” says Gibson, “is a weird urban fable that just happens to take place in Tokyo—or in some kind of fantasy in Tokyo—oh, maybe ten years in the future. I hope when it gets made they'll avoid time-casting it; it really takes place in an indeterminate time, in a dark place … like Terry and the Pirates, in a way. It's all about Americans in a mysterious and glamorous place they don't understand, blundering through walls and falling over themselves.”
Gibson is also at work on Burning Chrome for Carolco. “That was the first of the Sprawl pieces,” he says. “It's easier than New Rose Hotel because it's a lot less interior. New Rose Hotel is a doomed, silent monologue that this man is conducting with himself, locked in a coffin hotel outside of a Tokyo airport, while in Burning Chrome people are crashing around, breaking into other people's computers … doing things. The terrible thing about all the characters in my books is that there's this tremendous void inside of them. If they ever blunder out of their computer nets, if their wires are pulled, you discover that they're just lonely characters sitting in crummy little rooms.”
A third story, Johnny Mnemonic, has been optioned by painter Robert Longo's Pressure Pictures, for production in 1990. Longo—who has directed music videos and the short film Arena Brains—and his associate, Victoria Hamburg, are writing the screenplay; Hamburg will produce. “For Robert and me,” Hamburg says, “Johnny Mnemonic was the Rosetta Stone of Gibson's later work. We thought the Nighttown aspect of the story was very easy to translate into something Robert could do on film in an amazing, unique way. Robert has the eyes and William has the words to make an amazing statement.”
Gibson and Longo have already collaborated on Dream Jumbo (title appropriated from the Japanese lottery), which was presented last year at the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts in conjunction with a retrospective of Longo's work. A postmodern mélange of performance elements featuring Gibson's original text, Dream Jumbo takes place, says Longo, “in the zone of confrontation between urban schizophrenia and power and hope.”
It remains to be seen whether the fastidious eroticism that informs Gibson's prose will make it to the screen intact. Hellraiser packed a powerful carnal punch, sufficient to elude the sometimes clunky storytelling. Without the same aggressive visual sensuality, any and all of Gibson's stories could become entangled in their own overwhelming density.
For all their film work, both Barker and Gibson remain writers first and foremost. Says Gibson, “Being a screenwriter was never part of my game plan, and I would never have gone after it; it never occurred to me that it was something people did or that I would be asked to do.”
He is now at work on a collaborative novel with fellow cyberpunk writer Bruce Sterling. “It's set in England in the 1850s, in a world where a lot of the bad 20th-century stuff happens very early on … the techno-Raj. We open in 1851, and they have steam-driven computers and steam-driven television and a fairly advanced Big-Brother system. The technology is making them into us, but it's traumatizing them a lot more. I have trouble imagining it as a movie, though if you could get Ridley Scott and Terry Gilliam to co-direct, you might have the perfect team.”
Though Barker will be involved with Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (in which the cenobites open a brothel and “a good time is had by all”), it will be directed by Peter Atkins, who wrote Hellbound. Barker's upcoming projects include two three-volume series, to be published alternately: The Art, which commenced with the publication of The Great and Secret Show, and a trilogy about the Nightbreed, of which last year's Cabal was the first volume. Epic, a division of Marvel comics, is issuing a series of comic books inspired by Hellraiser (they also published a one-volume adaptation of Gibson's Neuromancer), and comic readers can also check out Eclipse's Tapping the Vein, a series of adaptations of Barker stories.
Onscreen and in print, we'll obviously be seeing more of Barker and Gibson in the coming years. And the future's so dark, we'll have to wear shades.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5237
SOURCE: Tuttle, Lisa. “Every Fear Is a Desire.” In Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden, edited by Stephen Jones, pp. 215-25. Lancaster, Penn.: Underwood-Miller, 1991.
[In the following essay, Tuttle examines the connection between horror and fantasy in Barker's work, relating a conversation she had with the author just prior to the publication of Cabal.]
Common sense tells us that nightmares and pleasant dreams are poles apart. One comes roaring out of the subconscious, a terrifying monster; the other floats tantalizingly above the surface of daily life, a beautiful castle in the air.
Freud rejected this division, arguing that all dreams enacted a wish-fulfillment. Sometimes these wishes are quite obvious: an erotic dream, a dream of success, or love, or fame. But dreams which appear to be quite innocuous, or even actively unpleasant and distressing, may be hiding, behind this manifest content a latent content—which is the wish—which can only be teased into conscious awareness through a process of free-association and analysis. Why the need for such a disguise? Because not all of our wishes—which can be safely fulfilled in dreams—are as socially acceptable as dreams of love, fame or success. Some of our subconscious desires, within us since infancy, are so primitive, so selfish, so untouched by the reality principle, so long and deeply repressed, that the conscious, civilized self is hardly able to recognize them, let alone acknowledge and accept them.
So a disguise is needed. And what could be more impenetrable a disguise than fear? Metaphors, symbols and puns can be interpreted, like puzzles set for the fun of it. The letters fall into a different order, the pieces of the picture come together in another way, and the vaguely shameful wish is revealed: “Ah hah! You want to make love to your best friend's husband!” Well, you might disapprove of that wish, but it's not too hard to admit that it exists, though you'd never ever act on it, except in fantasies, of course! But there are other sorts of desires, buried far more deeply; desires which cannot even be safely fantasized about. And those desires, when they do emerge in dreams, come out sometimes as nightmares.
If you're afraid of something, how can you also want it? Common sense objects. It postulates fear and desire as opposites. But common sense belongs not to the subconscious mind, but to the sane, civilized, rational Self—and it is the very idea, the very existence of that Self which is threatened by the contradictory, self-destructive, primitive, desiring creature that goes on dreaming inside, utterly unaware of any contradiction in wanting death while fearing it.
Most people would rather take a common sense view of reality than to try to recognize—and accept—the fear in desire and the desire in fear. Nightmares are one thing, dreams quite another, and that division goes for popular entertainment, too. Horror and fantasy belong to different realms. Right?
Freud saw it otherwise. So does Clive Barker.
When I read Weaveworld I was immediately struck by what a classic, even archetypal, fantasy it was … and yet it was also recognizably of a piece with Clive's earlier work, all of which had been horror. I next read Cabal, and found it was, in essence, the same story as Weaveworld. What I had thought of as archetypal fantasy, the motivating urge behind the reading (and writing) of fantasy when I found it in Weaveworld, reappeared in Cabal, now in the tropes and trappings of the horror story.
What is this archetypal fantasy? There are probably others, but the one I recognized in Weaveworld is that of the longed-for Other Place. It may be called Faeryland or Narnia or by any number of other names, but it is always somewhere other than here, unseen (and usually unsuspected) by most, yet accessible to those who believe and long to go there. This longing—desire—is the engine which drives fantasy, just as in the horror story the engine is fear. But that desire and fear might be inextricably linked is something not usually commented on or explored by writers in either genre. The two have been kept firmly apart—particularly as publishing categories—although the increasing use of a new term, “dark fantasy” does seem to signal that this is changing. Perhaps now, at the end of the 1980s (as also, perhaps, at the end of the 1880s?) more and more artists are interested in exploring the nexus of fear and desire.
This was the true Midian. Not the empty town on the hill; not even the Necropolis above her: but this network of tunnels and chambers which presumably spread beneath the entire cemetery. Some of the tombs were occupied only by the undisturbed dead; their caskets laid on shelves to molder. Were these the first occupants of the cemetery? laid to rest here before the Nightbreed had taken possession? or were they Breed who had died from their half-life, caught in the sun, perhaps, or withered by longing? Whichever, they were in the minority. Most of the chambers were tenanted by more vital souls, their quarters lit by lamps or candles, or on occasion by the occupant itself: a being that burned with its own light.
Only once did she glimpse such an entity, supine on a mattress in the corner of its boudoir. It was naked, corpulent and sexless, its sagging body a motley of dark oily skin and larval eruptions which seeped phosphorescence, soaking its simple bed. It seemed every other doorway let on to some fragment as mysterious, her response to them problematic as the tableaux that inspired it. Was it simply disgust that made her stomach flip, seeing the stigmatic in full flood, with sharp-toothed adherents sucking noisily at her wounds? or excitement, confronting the legend of the vampire in the flesh? And what was she to make of the man whose body broke into birds when he saw her watching? or the dog-headed painter who turned from his fresco and beckoned her to join his apprentice mixing paint? or the machine beasts running up the walls on caliper legs? After a dozen corridors she no longer knew horror from fascination. Perhaps she'd never known.
(From Cabal, the beginning of the chapter “Tabernacle,” pp. 123-124 in manuscript.)
Whenever Clive and I have met to discuss horror, writing, fantasy, and similar topics—whether on a public platform, or in private—I've always enjoyed it. More than enjoyed it: found it exhilarating. There's an intellectual rapport, so that even though we don't agree about everything, we're on the same wavelength, shortcuts can be taken, intuitive leaps made; we spark responses in each other. I find what he has to say invariably interesting, and often illuminating, not only about his work, but about my own, as well as about art and life in general. So when I was asked to read the new Clive Barker novel, Cabal, and write something about it, I thought this was a good opportunity for another conversation. We met at his flat in London one afternoon in September 1988, some months before the U.K. publication of Cabal, and also before the film, Nightbreed, had gone into production.
Knowing that Cabal was to be a film, I wondered if it had been conceived as one from the start. Although much of the book concerns the highly subjective, internal emotional experiences of the main characters, Lori and Boone—the sort of thing that doesn't translate directly into pictures—it is also, like all of Clive's work, intensely visual; packed with vivid, and surely highly filmable, images. Other filmic conventions were less to my taste, and seemed jarring and hackneyed in a novel which also contained moments of great poetic insight. Cliché and archetype jostled uneasily; the reality against which the fantasy is to be read is too often not the daily world we know, but a film's “reality,” and the plotting has a B-movie's weakness. Having just escaped death at the hands of a madman, what does Lori do but leap into her car and drive for miles to a necropolis where she suspects Boone may still be alive. This she sees as her only option besides going to the police—she wants to warn Boone that Decker is after him—yet it never occurs to her that by running from Decker toward Boone she may be doing exactly what the killer wants. She formulates no plan during the long, lonely drive; not even the glimpse of a following car makes her reconsider. Psychological reasons may be adduced, but it is too obvious to anyone who has ever groaned when the heroine goes back to that dark, spooky place alone, again, that the real reason she goes is because the author wants her to. Because it is the simplest way to make the plot work.
I asked if Cabal had originally been conceived as a screenplay.
“Oh, no, it was a book. I'm nervous of the idea of doing books as first draft screenplays. And it's very rare, maybe only twice in my life have I thought of an idea that seemed to be a movie, not a book. I'm wholly committed to the word, wholly obsessed with the word. And, after all, a movie begins with the word, so it's back to that. Ideas get re-routed to the movies, if you like, but they don't start off that way. It would be very disruptive to the way I write to think that way. Although the stuff is visual, I, like you, write from inside the characters—all the time, I'm in the egotistical sublime, in there with the responses of the characters. In Cabal, Lori and Boone are venturing into new psychic territory, discovering it as they go along, and there is no real cinematic equivalent to that.”
“But there are some things—like, I thought—wait a minute. This woman is going to drive to a graveyard in the middle of nowhere and there's a man with a knife right behind her—now, if this was a film—”
“You'd get away with it?”
“Well, I'd still say, Why are you doing that! But then it would be swept away by the rapidity of events. But in a novel, you expect an explanation; there's room for it.”
“And you didn't think it was there? But I did give the options. She does think about going to the police, but she doesn't want to give Boone away to them. I always try to be honest about the problem a character is presented with, but equally I do feel—especially in a short novel—there comes a point where the audience says, Okay, cut to the chase! We got the point! An audience which is cine-literate knows full well that she's got to go, otherwise there's no plot, so I think—why explain everything, why waste time? She goes!”
This explanation, which seems to assume that the plot pre-exists, somehow, the characters, has never satisfied me, and I said so. “There've been too many movies and books where somebody does something because otherwise the plot doesn't work … maybe the argument that otherwise there's no plot means you need to look at the plot again, maybe on another level.”
“I think one thing that our kind of fiction constantly requires of us is that we put characters into different mental modes. I will very often get characters drunk, or high, or very sorrowful; pushing them into a different mental gear. In Cabal, Lori is wounded, and through blood-loss she sees the world in a different mode. She goes to Midian in the first place because she is grief-stricken. I am constantly trying to find—in a very conscious and even calculating way—means by which I can make the reader accept that A or B are going to do something which the reader knows full well that sane, sober and un-grief-stricken this character would not do. You do it, too, as a writer: your characters are often in extreme emotional conditions, and under such circumstances of grief, separation, isolation, characters make different judgments about reality, and maybe embrace conditions of the flesh which they would not otherwise do.”
Clive is persuasive in argument, and certainly most sensible people would run, in real life, from what the seekers in fantasy embrace. But—
“I can accept someone—Lori, or Boone—seeking out another sort of existence, entering a mausoleum, approaching a figure they can't quite see, not knowing if what they find will be wonderful or horrible. But driving in a car to a cemetery when there's a man with a knife after you is not on the same level—the madman with a knife is from our world; that's not something out of a fairy tale!”
“One of the things I wanted to do with the book was to set up a classic stalk-and-slash psycho, the twentieth-century monster on the loose—Decker—against the historical, mythological and fairy tale version of ‘the monster’ which is what Boone and the Nightbreed are. I have not moral but aesthetic problems with Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees and so on, and the notion that these characters are the stuff of which anti-heroes can be made strikes me as both morally dubious and also not very interesting. I wanted to say, look, this isn't really very attractive. Do we actually like these people—not only Decker, but the ‘normal’ human beings who make up the lynch-mob—do we really prefer these machismo-spouting bastards to the strange and the mysterious and the extraordinary? It's very convenient that, in Aliens, the strange and the mysterious and the extraordinary just happen to be all-devouring and actually very ugly, but—”
“The Nightbreed aren't all so friendly—some of them are killers.”
“Absolutely. And dingoes eat babies. You can't clean up the act of the strange to the point where it becomes bourgeois and domesticated because then it is no longer strange. You know that wonderful line in Narnia about Aslan: ‘Aslan is not a tame lion.’ I wanted to keep the element of risk in those characters, I wanted to say: Yes, they can kill and have killed and will kill again, but they devour food because they have to.”
“And they're not so very different from human beings.”
“No, they're not. They're were-things of various kinds, but they also have children whom they love, and they live, and … In fact, you know, there is a very strong mythological base to this: there is image after image of goddesses who have in their various ways reconstructions of their anatomy. Kali is a terrifying goddess. Yet she can be viewed also as an image of great sensuality and of productivity … but she's still dancing on skulls! To me that is a useful ambiguity. And for the most part, horror movies—and even all too many horror books—are still massively unambiguous.”
“I was struck by the similarities between Weaveworld and Cabal,” I said. “In fact, they're really the same story.”
“Yeah, it's the same story,” he agreed. “That was one of the things I wanted to do. I set out very consciously to write the flip of Weaveworld. In Weaveworld, you enter a world of enchantment and mystery which turns out to have dark elements in it; in this, you enter a Necropolis which turns out to have within it the capacity for transcendence. In both I'm dealing with invented worlds, and in that sense Cabal is closer to fantasy than horror, because it has the structure of a fantasy. It has an element of the morbid which maybe would be missing from the classic fantasy structure, but I think the tone is that of a fantasy, and the investigative quality, and the protectiveness we feel toward the invented worlds once we are there. In a horror novel, classically, that world is shunned. You don't want to go to Dracula's castle. I mean—” he laughed. “You do, really, but …”
“But if you're there, you have to think of yourself as a victim,” I said.
“Whereas, if you want to go to Midian, or to Narnia, or to Never-Never Land, or to the world in the carpet—”
“It's because you want to go there, you really do, and it will change your life in a positive way. Whereas to go to Dracula's castle, or to Decker's room [Decker is the psycho-killer in Cabal] would end your life, and not only end your life, but would end experience. Being in Midian would also end your life, but there it actually multiplies your experiences!”
“But this is something we've spoken of, often. There are more crossovers between the genres than most people concede or are interested to think about. Here is the perfect example: to write a fantasy in a horrific mode, with fundamentally the same story structure as a classic fantasy.”
There are people who won't read horror, and those who will, but who turn their noses up at anything marketed as “Fantasy.” I asked Clive if he thought he was bridging the gap, getting readers from both sides.
“I think so, but how can you tell? I meet people who come to signings, but that's a very small percentage of the people who will actually read the book. I want to liberate the terminology. I want people to stop thinking of it this way. People going to Peer Gynt or The Tempest don't think: I'm going to see a fantasy. It would never occur to you that a play with magic in it was a ‘fantasy’—or if it did, it would not be in the pejorative sense of the term, meaning escapist, unliterary, non-confrontational, and so on. Part of that is a packaging problem, the problem of where it goes on the shelves, which is a publisher's problem, not ours. The Tin Drum is a fantasy; Borges writes fantasies; Salman Rushdie's books are all fantasies—but they go on the shelf with literature.”
I brought up my feeling about Weaveworld, that it caught and expressed perfectly the reason why people read fantasy, and before I could elaborate, he said it to me:
“The longing for the other place. Yes, obviously that intention was there from the beginning, with the Homer quote: ‘I, for one, know of no sweeter sight for a man's eyes than his own country …’ And Rilke has this line, ‘Where are we going? Home, always home.’ The feeling is that there is a home which is even more fundamental than the home where you were born, that maybe we have, prenatally, an image of Eden, or of a perfect place, or a place where we may be perfectible. Maybe we should view all of fantasy and horror fiction as the same story, as the process or the traveling toward places in which physical and mental conditions—which are arguably about re-organization and potential perfectibility—can be offered up. So that the image of the werewolf, which is classically thought of as a negative image, the image of a ravening beast, is also, arguably, an image of necessary release.”
“Just for the sake of argument, let's say that all the things the vampire does—except suffer—are things that I envy. I'd like to be able to turn to mist, I'd like to be able to fly, I'd like to live forever, I'd like to be sexually irresistible … If you look at the things vampires do (and Anne Rice, in The Vampire Lestat, covers this ground perfectly) they are very attractive options. Now, I didn't go the traditional route and put werewolves and vampires and stuff in Midian, but I can certainly imagine a Midian which was full of classic monsters and still very attractive!”
“You could certainly write a fantasy book which had an island of werewolves, and an island of harpies, and an island of lamia, or whatever, and yet you can see how that would work as fantasy, not horror. Dragons have crossed over from the territory of the horrific now completely into the territory of the fantastic. Once they were monsters, horrendous images, images of fear, whereas now, we look at Anne McCaffrey's dragons and see something very different.”
“Looking at the overview, looking at this whole thing about this longing in fantasy being the longing for the other place: the longing for the other place is a longing for another condition, not for a place, I suspect. And I think that condition is as available—arguably, and in outline, at least—in horror fiction just as much as in fantasy fiction. Certainly in my horror fiction, characters are drawn with the same romantic, passionate devotion to transformation as Cal and Suzanna are in Weaveworld.”
I thought of Hellraiser (the film merging in my memory with its earlier incarnation as The Hellbound Heart) and commented on the Cenobites: “Who could possibly, willingly, want to go into their reality? And yet you've made it clear that there are people who do.”
“Who absolutely do, yes! And in a sense all we're dramatizing there is the process of putting down £2.50 in order to have your socks shocked off! I think as writers we do this over and over again: dramatizing the attraction, and actually defining the processes of the imagination. There is something quite shamanistic about saying: Okay, here are the good gods, and here are the bad gods, and I'm going to mix them all up, and when you put your hand in the bag, you're not going to know what color it is until it comes out!”
“I think that is so much more interesting than the division into the white hats and the blacks, between human and non-human, where anything that is defined as ‘not-human,’ whether it be slug, shark, crab, Woman, is presented as this terrible threat. It's grotesque, and funny, and simple, and what bothers me is its simplicity. I mind it not because it's grotesque, but because it's simple-minded, and that's boring. You know what I mean? If you turn all of nature into something to be repulsed by, you ignore the fact that whatever is read one way as grotesque or frightening can also be read another way, as something beautiful, as a celebration of variegation and paradox.”
“And that celebration of variegation and paradox goes back to fantasy, goes back to those imagined worlds. Goes back to that place where our sexuality becomes somehow fluid … the baby an image of the polymorphous perverse … goes back to an image of our bodies as things whose moment-to-moment rebellion we understand and celebrate rather than live in fear of. This excites me all the time. I want to find new ways of saying it. This fiction is all about desiring other experience. It's all about wanting more than what our bodies apparently limit us to. At this point, fantasy and horror fiction completely overlap. And one day, in my travels through my own personal archipelago, I may go to a Celtic island of lowering clouds and werewolves, and the next to a magical place of orchards and poetry, but they will both be islands on the same trip, and they'll have their own language and style and life, and they'll all be places that I want. I'm rejecting none of them. I'm not rejecting the vampire. I'm not rejecting the werewolf.”
This theme of acceptance, accepting even contradictions, ugliness and pain as part of life, is the most powerful theme in Cabal. Midian is full of monsters, but each monster is monstrous in a different way, and their life, diverse as it is, is shown to be valuable. The danger comes from the merely human who define life too narrowly, who seek a kind of deathly purity by destroying whatever they do not recognize. And acceptance begins with self-acceptance—with forgiveness.
“Forgiving, yes, that's the key thing. The plainest statement I ever made of this was in a story which seemed to irritate a lot of readers, called ‘The Madonna.’ In that story there's an endlessly fecund female creature which lives, surrounded by an entourage of beautiful women, in a disused swimming bath. Two men, both of them morally sleazy, visit and make love to one of these women in front of the Madonna, as a consequence of which they change sex. And one of them commits suicide, and the other, terrified out of his wits, goes back to the swimming pool where the Madonna and her crew are disappearing down the plug-hole. He doesn't know where they're going, but follows, not knowing if he-she will drown, or come out in some other place where this new mythology will be understandable, and the last line is ‘He opened his mouth and shouted into the whirlpool, as the light grew and grew, an anthem in praise of paradox’.”
As I have also written a story about a man who turns into a woman, as well as one in which a woman suspects she is turning into a man, I seized upon the subject and went romping off with it. Other writers and their stories of sexual metamorphosis were floated in the air, until Clive brought us back to the wider issue.
“I wonder how much all this comes down to the sense we have as children, the sense that we lose, of infinite possibilities,” he mused. “As we grow up, these seem to become limited and limited and limited … and when we enter the world of fantasy—and I'm talking now about horror fiction and invented world fiction and science fiction too—are we maybe attempting a return, at least imaginatively, to a time when we could look at our pet dog and almost imagine ourselves inside the dog's head? I speak about dogs particularly because I always had dogs when I was a kid, and I still dream of dogs all the time, always with this terrible sense of loss attached, because in your dream state you understand a secret language of some kind, which is lost when you wake … It's like the dream state which is made reference to time and again in fairy stories, of being in the enchanted wood and finally understanding what the birds are saying.”
“Oh, to be able to speak to animals!”
“Absolutely. That's a fundamental one. Especially when you live with animals, and you communicate, but there is so much you can't say, so much you can't make each other understand … But to get back to the general point, is it not possible that maybe those infinite possibilities—that feeling, when you're a child, that if you try just a little harder you will learn the secret language of animals—that feeling (and it certainly doesn't last very long) that the possibility of being either male or female still remains open to you: that this is what fantastic fiction is speaking to; taking you back to that state of mind.”
“And yet, it's also a fact that much of horror fiction is fascistic. There's a part of us that celebrates difference, but there's a fascistic part of our natures which would actually eradicate all difference, if it could. That's the Nazi dream of creatures who are in no way different from each other, not even by so much as a mole. Fantasy fiction often enters that game, too.”
“Dividing everything into Good or Evil,” I suggested.
“Yes, and setting it up so that good and evil look completely different, too. That evil will always, for some reason, look like a spider, or a crab … There will be a scene in the movie Nightbreed which I don't have in the book where, to articulate some things which can't be articulated any other way, Babette takes Lori through a dream-landscape in which a history of persecution is going on, witches being drowned, and werewolves burned at the stake—everything that is different being destroyed by piously praying Christians. I want it to be very unpleasant. I want the audience to understand who are the villains of the piece, to show them a classic image—the dragon beneath the heels of St. George—and then say: ‘Wait a minute, what's wrong with this picture?’”
“I was describing how I wanted the scene, and one of the guys said: ‘This sounds like you're describing Belsen.’ Now—I would never, ever write about a concentration camp as an entertainment, but in the late twentieth century, how can you not be aware that a working definition of evil is the eradication of anything that is different from you?”
“And yet, the fiction that we love is packed full of images of that very thing. If you look at it from the aliens' point of view, Aliens is a Viet Nam movie! You know, you go into their territory, you try to colonize the fuckers, the damn things fight back … so you wipe them out! Now, I love Aliens, which is a brilliant picture for all kinds of technical reasons, but in our enthusiasm for the imaginative we often forget that the subtext of these pictures is politically reprehensible. There's a movie going around now called The Seventh Seal which I would describe as a fundamentalist horror movie—Jerry Falwell could have put his money into it—and … this is not the sort of thing we should be celebrating. If the fundamentalists got in, we'd be the first to go to the wall. Your sex would be suppressed, all our fiction would go to the wall; bang, bang, bang. It is important to remember what the subtext of these things is.”
“But what do we do about it? Fantasy can be subversive, but a lot of it just reinforces the status quo, tells people what they want to hear … how do we change that?”
“I think we change it by writing a fiction which plays the game and then changes the rules—changes the rules in the very act of playing the game. Both of us are actually writing commercial fiction. It's one of the reasons why I cannot get on with the idea of writing ‘high art’ fiction. We are writing commercial fiction which is being bought in large numbers in paperback from bookstalls in airports and railway stations, by people who want to be entertained. I get a lot of criticism from my intellectual friends who say it's about time I wrote an ‘art’ book. But why? It becomes an act of masturbation, a fruitless thing, if you are preaching to the converted. I believe that the genre we are working in actually can get to people who think they think a different way—who do in fact think in a different way from us. My feeling is that yourself, and myself, and Ramsey Campbell, and Alan Moore in his area, are actually pointing out that this fiction is a fiction of ambiguity and paradox, and that it is truer to be paradoxical than not. It is more true to say that Dracula is both attractive and scary than to reject his attractiveness, just chuck it out—”
“Implying that if you are good, you won't feel any urges in this direction—”
“That you won't feel any urges of any kind whatsoever. So as to what we do: I think we continue to do what we are doing, and we do it with a kind of evangelical zeal.”
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3978
SOURCE: Epel, Naomi. “Clive Barker.” In Writers Dreaming, pp. 31-42. New York: Carol Southern Books, 1993.
[In the following essay, Epel presents Barker's thoughts on dreams and their importance to the artistic process.]
When I asked a friend to characterize the work of Clive Barker he replied, “Sympathy for the devil.” He went on to explain that in Barker's works of “imaginative fiction” it is the monsters who are the good guys and the protagonists who are often dead.
Born in Liverpool, England, in 1952, Clive Barker grew up loving monsters. His initial ambition to be a painter was superseded by an attraction to the theater, where he created plays such as Frankenstein in Love, The History of the Devil and The Secret Life of Cartoons. Eager to portray things that could not be done on a stage, Barker switched to writing fiction. In 1984 he published six volumes of short stories entitled Books of Blood. Among the stories in that collection were “The Midnight Meat Train,” about a moving human abattoir running beneath the city streets; “Rawhead Rex,” about a baby-devouring monster; and “Sons of Celluloid,” the tale of a cancerous growth that spawned ghouls that resembled movie stars.
Barker is not afraid to break taboos. He delights in creating visceral images of sex, death and dismemberment. In his novels—which include The Damnation Game (1985), Weaveworld (1987), Cabal (1988), The Great and Secret Show (1989), Imajica (1991) and The Thief of Always (1992)—he constructs multileveled universes, mixing religious imagery and tales of secret knowledge with horror and humor.
Barker moved to Los Angeles in 1991 to pursue a filmmaking career. He made his directorial debut with Nightbreed and has produced several Hellraiser films.
My whole fiction is a fiction which deals with a kind of borderland between what we'll, for the sake of argument, call the real and the unreal. That is, my fiction both on the stage and later on the screen and in books is about a place where the dream life, that is so much a part of our being, invades the real and actually ends up changing it.
What I am doing in my work is drawing upon my own dream life, both waking and sleeping, as a starting place for the nature of those invasions. And making notes daily, nightly, about what images are coming into my head and how they seem to be rooted, on some occasions, in particular psycho-dramas of my own. And how very often, and these are often exciting times, they take off into territories which I can't find any starting place for in myself.
You know my first ambition was to be a painter and that's a craft or an art I still pursue. Very often dreams will give me an image which will be a starting place for a story or for a vision of some kind or other. And it will take sometimes a long time, in a few cases even years, before the narrative, which will be the best bedrock for that image, appears. But normally it comes along eventually. This isn't to say I don't have a backlog of images. I do. I can think of dozens and dozens of things that I want to write about, images I want to make sense of by putting them in a narrative context which I haven't yet found. But I have a kind of faith that that will eventually come along. I'll give you two separate examples—one a very violent visceral image and the other a kind of fantastical one.
The violent image: I've always had very sexual dreams. I think everybody has very sexual dreams. I did a story called “The Age of Desire,” which is about a man who becomes the guinea pig, the testee, for an aphrodisiac. Aphrodisiacs hitherto have not worked, but this one—this is the first one that actually works. It goes into his system and it goes wild. Not only does it go wild, it regenerates itself. Instead of being evacuated through the system, and weakening and diluting, it becomes stronger and stronger and stronger. And as the story goes on, this man's world becomes more and more sexualized. Everything becomes, somehow or other, a sexual image. And he ends up exhausted and dying of an excess of pleasure.
The idea of this highly sexual world began one midsummer in London, walking through the markets in Soho. There were fruit peddlers going through strawberries which had rotted. They were throwing away the rotted strawberries and keeping the good ones. The stench was overpowering.
That night I dreamt about this.
The whole place was somehow sexualized by the smell and the sight of these strawberries. And the doors and the windows—I needn't go into the Freudian connotations of the whole thing, it's pretty self-evident. The dream started out with almost a complete retread of what had actually happened that day, and then, in the way dreams do, it became an intensification of the experience.
Out of that dream came a kind of visceral dark image. And out of that scene came a story.
I also wrote a book called Weaveworld which is about a world in a carpet. I've often dreamt of puzzles and threads and labyrinths—again a very common image—and in this story I have a world which is literally woven magically into a carpet. Out of that image came, finally, a seven-hundred-page book. Obviously it developed and it developed and it changed but those are two places where images flowered into something.
Something wonderful happens in dreams which I always wished happened in reality more often. I think this is what an artist is trying to do when he or she is writing. You sense the metaphysics, the reasons for being, that underpin something.
In my dream of the rotting strawberries, suddenly what had seemed sensual, but only very, very vaguely sexual when it actually happened, became this extraordinary almost over-powering experience in the dream. And that made great sense to me. I suddenly thought, my God, supposing this were actually to happen! Supposing somebody were to actually be unable to dislocate himself from this intensity of sexual feeling. How scary that would be. How frightening and also how extraordinary.
So the dream becomes the starting place for a narrative and then you backtrack from that. You think, Okay, how can I make that work? You think, Ah yes, I'll make him a guinea pig for an aphrodisiac.
I spend most of my working day in some kind of dream state. That is to say, I get up from my bed, I shower, drink my coffee and go to my desk, which is literally ten yards from my bed. I then start, on a normal day, a process which will maybe take me eight or ten hours, writing about something that my inner eye is seeing. It's not like I'm getting up in the morning, as most people do, and stepping out onto the street and being slapped into the solid problem of how I get the car to start. Or whether the subway is crowded. Or how the boss is going to feel about me that morning. None of those things intrude.
I live alone. I don't have anyone to wake me from the reverie into which I've woken when I open my eyes. I don't get a double waking, I only get a single one. And, if I'm lucky, I plug back into this kind of—I'm not saying somnambulence—but I do think that if somebody were to secretly photograph me while I was writing, I'd probably look like a lunatic.
I know, for instance, I talk aloud, because other people have observed that. I know that my blink rate slows, because I can't wear my contact lenses when I'm writing. My eyes are just bang, wide open, staring at the page. I know that, very often, I look up from writing, and can't believe how much time has passed. I don't think these are particularly unusual things, by the way, I think this is true for a lot of writers. But I've deliberately simplified the act of writing. I don't have a computer, I don't have a typewriter. Everything is handwritten. It is the most primitive, and for me the most direct, association I can make between what's going on in my mind's eye, and what's going to appear on the page.
I think writing about an invented world is a dialogue with that invented world. There are clearly tensions which arise between the requirements of a character in terms of his or her natural propensity to want to go off and do his or her own thing and the requirements of the plot. Now I've read lots of writers talking about characters just taking off and doing their own thing—“The character took control of the book,” I'm sure you've heard that from writers. That never happens to me. Or, ten books on, it hasn't happened so far. That's because the dialogue that I'm having with characters as an ongoing thing is also a dialogue that I'm having with the shape of the plot.
I think that the major character in the books I write is the shape of the plot.
I value story above all else. I'm talking about my written work—in the movies I value the images—but in the books I value the story. A story has its own meaning. A story has its own significance. And sometimes the characters in that story can almost become transparent. This is true in fairy tales, for instance.
In a fairy tale it isn't important to know the precise significance of why the wicked witch is evil or why the evil queen is evil or why so and so is beautiful and good. They simply are. They have the force of archetypes. And what is important is the nature of their clash, not how they came to be who they are.
In the fiction of the fantastic, that can also sometimes be the case. Particularly toward the end of my books and short stories, characters take on an almost archetypal quality, which I seek out. I want characters to become almost purified by the act of fiction.
Dreams are full of these archetypal forms: people who come in cleansed of their ambiguities, coming in as purely sexual beings or as teachers sometimes. I have my dialogues on the page with those archetypal figures.
D. H. Lawrence said he didn't know what he meant until he wrote it down. I watch myself writing—that is I don't watch myself writing, I can only do it retrospectively. I think if you watch yourself writing probably the magic will have disappeared—but I write these things and I look at them and I think, Aha, that's what happened!
Do I believe the kind of thing that's been described in The Great and Secret Show: That our fears can take physical form? I doubt that frankly. At least not in the reality that we're presently occupying. Do I believe however that in certain states of consciousness the body becomes almost redundant and our spirit takes trips, visits states of being which are absolutely as valid as the reality which we are occupying? And that these can be arenas of education and healing? Yes, I absolutely believe that. And do I believe that in such conditions disparate spirits can meet and converge and maybe even learn from each other? Yes, I absolutely believe that.
We are born into this condition, slapped into this condition of the flesh, and it is a very dominant, dominating, domineering condition. It demands attention from us at the time. We get hungry, we have to pass wind, we need to make love, we get headaches and we bruise easily. There are so many facts of the flesh. So many things that the flesh demands of us, demands of our spirits. And, every now and then we are liberated.
Now, we can seek that liberation artificially. I have never been a great advocate of liberation through drugs, feeling perhaps in my own case as though my head was already a balloon on a thin thread and it would be dangerous to set fire to the thread. But I feel there are clearly other ways. Art is one such way. Sex, actually—which begins in the body but ends up in the spirit—can be another way in which we are outside of ourselves. Sleep, under certain conditions, can liberate us into another condition as well. And in those conditions flesh becomes less the fascist that it is. We're not thinking about hunger, and passing wind and the like, we're into a state in which ideas and images and maybe the spiritual presence of others, dead, alive, journeying, are also possibilities, presences.
That combination of images and fellow spirits is something which touches us all at certain times of our lives. And these things have an absolute reality, in the same way that memory has an absolute reality. Not only are they operating, they're actually helping us. Shaping us. Healing us. Making sense of experiences for us. Because experience as we live it moment to moment, day to day, is chaos, is disorder. It's information, most of which is entirely irrelevant to our personal drama, spilling in through our senses. Flooding us. And we have to somehow or other make sense of this.
Now the only way I can make sense of that is to say okay, I'm now going to take from my dreamscape certain images which, I would argue, predate even my birth. Primal things, things which belong to the spirit that I was even before I was even Clive Barker. And take those images and try to find a way that they make sense in this flood of material which is coming at me daily. Trying to find a way that they become islands in this incredible flood.
Writing is actually a means to use this material. I think it's important to say this isn't just crazy stuff which is just going through your head all the time, boiling up. It actually has purpose, it has reason, it has shape. And it's a valid way to understand yourself and the world and your relationship to the world.
I think the fear of insanity touches everybody who works in the imaginative arts, who is really plunging deeply into themselves. We're like people with one foot nailed to the floor. It hurts hugely to pull away from it. And actually, because we're born with a foot nailed to the floor, we're terribly afraid that if we pull too hard we'll either fall over or float away. And who's to say that isn't the case? I think there are dangers involved. Absolutely. Danger that if you pull too hard you will indeed float away and the bedrock of reality, which we have been brought up to believe is the only reality, will no longer be valid, and we'll just be crazies.
There's a balance that has to be absolutely struck, and that's a tough one. I think it's important to confess the fear, confess the anxiety, which I absolutely have—that if I ever let my imagination take over completely I would simply not be a rational individual any longer. That one of the things I value most in all the world, the communication of my vision to other people, would no longer be plausible because I'd be speaking gibberish.
I've never been a big fan of surrealism because the thesis of surrealism is that it should be a naked flowing of the artist's vision onto the canvas, or onto the page, without editorship, without anything coming between the artist and the communicating of that vision. Which seems at first an extremely admirable activity. But in fact what it becomes is an excuse for saying just about anything, painting just about anything. Because the subconscious is also full of a whole bunch of useless stuff. There's a lot of dreck in there which is not useful at all.
There's a lot of flotsam and jetsam floating around in the dream pool and it's a question of actually trying to make and shape the material which is most potent. So what I'm trying to do and which is keeping me—I was going to say sane, and that may not be too far from the truth—is finding the stuff which is genuinely useful to genuinely articulate something. Making sure the shapes that these images take have a narrative function, have a psychological function. And not simply indulging. I've never had a passion for abstract expressionist painting because, well okay so the paint goes all over everything, so what? What's important is that the colors be made to serve the shape and the purpose. Because art is about communication.
The business of art doesn't really begin until the thing is finished. Then the exchange begins. And the exchange is about saying, this is a piece of my mind, this is a part of my dreamscape—does it have any echoes for you, the receiver? Does this make any sense to you? And when, as I do, you take an extremely strange bizarre piece of your personal dreamscape, and put it in front of somebody, and they say, yes, this does make sense, the fear of insanity evaporates immediately. Because then you realize, that in fact this is part of us all. This is not some lonely, terrifying vista. This is part of a panorama that we all wander through. What can be more reassuring than the presence of other people there?
You don't even have to turn dreams into art. For some people the whole idea of turning something into art is going to be a source of anxiety because then you actually have the problem of what art is and whether you can achieve it and so on. But bringing it kicking and squealing into the light and seeing the value of metaphor in your life, talking about the value of metaphor, that's what's important.
So often I think people forget that we live two lives. That we live a physical life—which is about what we have to do during the day—and we live a spiritual life—which can also be very much about the day: the rites of our worship, the rituals of love, our fantasies about love and loss and so on. Those things can very much touch our day but they particularly come to light during the night. What's important is not to deny these things their meaning.
Now, the idea of putting those things into art is an important and interesting issue. But simply to talk about them as things which have meaning, which are intimate self-confessions is, it seems to me, the primary act. The secondary act is the turning it into art. And it may be something that people don't feel predisposed to do. But to simply say I am whispering to myself through the lattice of my consciousness, I am whispering to myself, I am telling myself, What is that thing? What are those many things? And saying, I don't mind what I hear. I don't mind, I forbid myself nothing. I forbid my subconscious and therefore my consciousness, nothing, is the beginning, I think, of great health.
I certainly think you should listen to your dreams, take account of them but don't be bound by “this is the way to interpret or decode your dreams” books. I think there's a whole bunch of books out there teaching people, in almost encyclopedic fashion, the significance of each symbol. I think that's nonsense. Water means a different thing for somebody who doesn't like wine than it does to somebody who almost drowned as a kid. I think you have to look at what it means in your personal scenario.
This is an almost meditative activity, it seems to me. It's a question of sitting quietly with yourself and saying, the only company I have really in all the world is the person I am. And everything else can go away from me, everybody else can go away from me. It is within the bounds of possibility that all the people I love most in the world could be gone tomorrow. I have to be at peace with this myself. And a third of this “myself” is a sleeping self. An important third, perhaps the most important third. So let me be quiet with myself and sit with myself and like myself, and what my subconscious is telling me.
The key thing in my life—and it's taken me a long time to realize this—is that as a child you are given dream time as part of your fictional life. Into your hands go the books of dream travel, Dorothy's dream travel, the Darling family's dream travel in Peter Pan, the children of Narnia. You're given books in which children with whom you identify take journeys which are essentially dream journeys. They are to places in which the fantastical not only happens, but is commonplace. Alice falls down a hole, the Darling children take flight, the tornado picks up Dorothy's house. These children are removed and taken to a place which is essentially a place of dreams.
And then, at the age of five or something like that, they start to teach you the gross national product of Chile. And you're left thinking, Wait! What happened to Oz and Never-Never Land and Narnia? Are they no longer relevant? One of the things you're taught is No! they are no longer relevant. They are, as it were, a sweet introduction to the business of living. And now comes the real stuff—so get on with it.
You're going to be taught to compete, very often for spurious reasons. You are going to be taught that the accrual of facts, however unimportant those facts are, will somehow make you better and more able to deal with the world. You're going to be told that the only way the world works is through the waking life in which you get enough money to get a second Porsche. Or indeed a first.
All those things are lies.
It took me until my mid-twenties 'til I realized that I should not be ashamed that I loved Oz more than I loved the gross national product of Chile. And I realized that in doing that I was setting myself up absolutely as a potential idiot, as a potential fool. I realized absolutely that there were going to be an awful lot of people who were going to look at me and say, this guy's a dreamer.
You know the word dreamer is pejorative in our culture. The word fantasy is pejorative. These are things that we should not be. We should not be dreamers, we should not be fantasists in our culture.
What I realized was that I was not ashamed that I still trip to Never-Never Land. Because I think I come back a better person, a more centered person and a person who could be better in the world. I could be better to my friends; I could be better to my relatives. I could just be a better person.
And so now at dinner parties when people say, “So what's you're favorite part of the world?” and I say, “Never-Never Land” and they choke on their soup, I smile to myself and say, that's cool. I don't mind that. If that's the way it has to be, that's the way it has to be.
Have the confidence of the trip and nobody can ever take it from you. Because it belongs to you from the very word one. It belongs to you.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1009
SOURCE: Zeigler, Robert. “Fantasy's Timeless Humor in Clive Barker's The Thief of Always.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 24, no. 5 (November 1994): 7-9.
[In the following essay, Zeigler contends that The Thief of Always invokes a sense of fantasy and conveys a moral message.]
What to grown-up readers may be evidence of transgression or insanity—the timelessness, indistinction, and auto-eroticism of childhood—are properties of the magic world of literary fantasy. Clive Barker opens to question the intended audience of his The Thief of Always (1992) by calling it a “fable” and thus implying a moral. Appealing to a child with an appetite for make-believe, the text compels the adult to evaluate its message. Consumption of a fiction, as Norman Holland comments, involves the “oral pleasure” of associating “reading with eating” (The Dynamics of Literary Response [NY: Oxford U. P.], 75), and the subsequent detachment of the critic or interpreter who, having assimilated the fantasy, then assesses its significance. Barker thus identifies his fable's contents and reception as the youthful hero enters a baneful fairyland and exits as a reader for whom the enchantment has been broken and who analyzes the process by which he had let himself be mystified.
The regressive dream of incorporation, swallowing, or engulfment, a return to the oral union of nursing infants by their mothers, is a common feature of fantasy, as Rosemary Jackson notes, which, “with its tendency to dissolve structures, moves towards an ideal of undifferentiation” (Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion [London: Methuen, 1981], 72). In the world of undiluted bliss where children dream of living, there is no time that separates desire and fulfillment, and since “only repressed life is in time … unrepressed life would be … in eternity” (Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death [Middleton: Wesleyan U. P., 1959], 93).
The protagonist in Barker's book escapes a mortal temporality (“The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive”) [NY: Harper Collins, 1992], 4), flees a daily tedium in which time is the devourer, and moves into a magic realm where every dinner is Thanksgiving. Revolutions of the earth become rotations on its axis, and as each day starts in springtime, it ripens into summer, as afternoons in tree houses with comic books and lemonade. It decays as dusky autumns with pumpkins, masks, and candy, and dies on Christmas evenings with tinsel, trees, and toys. Yet fairy tales proscribe the deathly dream of pure orality, showing greedy children first enclosed in houses made of gingerbread, then enclosing them again as meals inside the witch's oven. The house in Barker's book becomes a hungry, sentient monster, a vampire with its guilty, repressed secrets in the cellars and its scheming, evil memory inhabiting the attic.
Visitors who stay too long in the house of Mr. Hood phylogenetically devolve into disgusting, mournful fish. The uterine environment, the matrix of all life, becomes the cold, paludal water of a scum-encrusted pond. Beatific children eating a year in one day's pleasure leave the spurious maternalism of the all-providing house and are relegated to the mortuary waters of the swamp. Once containers, child-like fish become the contents of their habitat, “swallowers who are swallowed … by the water that surrounds them” (Gilbert Durand, Les Structures anthropologiques de l'imaginaire [Paris: Bordas, 1959], 243-44), trans. mine). Punished by the realization of their most profound desire, Hood's victims, who aspired to internalize the world, are enveloped and dissolved, restored to a unitive oblivion.
Harvey who, one Halloween, had been changed into a vampire, is an apprentice and a complement to the evil he projects. Spellbound by the cycles of hamburgers and holidays, Harvey begins to feed off his unnourishing illusions. Yet when he flees the house, he learns that a month of meals and gifts of games has aged those in the outside world by thirty-one years. Escaping Hood's Neverland, a deadly temporal asylum, he reexperiences the reality of change. His decision to return to get his stolen years is motivated by the adult need for esthetic retrospection, since “childhood [is] … universally the memory of childhood,” and since “the recollection of childhood is … inherently a work of art” (Durand 467). The old man and his past, the autobiographer and his narrative, are figures for the reader who, on finishing the story, is roused from the enchantment that had brought time to a standstill, and who reviews his interaction with the text that had bewitched him.
As Harvey's fight with Hood becomes a battle with himself, the demolition of the house involves dismantling the mechanisms that incorporated Harvey as the hero of his fiction. Elements of wish fulfillment of which Harvey was unconscious are deliberately exaggerated to the point of self-destruction. The gyre of simultaneity engulfs the recessive dream of timelessness when Harvey commands that Hood call up four seasons all at once. The narcissistic impulse to assimilate the other, obliterating the boundary between the inside and the outside, escalates into a use of confused, “anarchic discourse” (Jackson 84), making Harvey wish for “snail fudge with pig's-foot clusters,” “horse steaks with jelly-bean sauce,” and “pumper-nickel stew” (190).
A projection of Harvey's infantile wish for food and sanctuary, Hood collapses into rotting timbers, shattered slates, and mirror shards, the debris of a lost childhood that becomes the fragments of its memory. Exposed as being nothingness, Hood is sucked into the pond, down the draining omphalos from which the fantasy had issued. Delivered from the mesmerizing paralysis of pleasure, Harvey becomes the reader who was initially absorbed and then dissociated from the book that had transposed Hood's house of dreams.
Both the text and its response involve an emerging self-awareness, a maturation separating the dreamer from his work. Since no one can “talk about the present … but by distancing and fictionalizing” (Louis Renza, “The Veto of the Imagination: A Theory of Autobiography,” New Literary History 9 , 3), the novel as experience is recovered by analysis. Uncounted days and pages pass until consciousness returns them, restoring an appreciation of the ephemeral and precious. Oblivion, the thief of always, exchanges eternity for time, yet when readers reawaken, they regain what gave them pleasure, by stealing back the fiction as their own remembered childhood.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 900
SOURCE: Barker, Clive. “Trance of Innocence.” Sight and Sound n.s. 5, no. 12 (December 1995): 59.
[In the following essay, Barker recalls the feelings of purity with which he created two short films—Salomé and The Forbidden—early in his career.]
Like a psychic's production of automatic writing, the work we create when we are young can be a powerful clue to what obsesses us. In a trance of innocence, without the demands of commerce or self-consciousness, we speak with a purity that is difficult to achieve in later work. Not that purity is necessarily a great artistic virtue—some of the most boring art I know values that quality far too highly—but in the scrawl of an unwitting mind there may be interesting codes to be broken.
I offer this observation in relation to the release on video of two short films I made some 20 years ago, Salomé and The Forbidden. The former was made on eight millimetre, the latter on 16 millimetre; both were shot in black and white (The Forbidden is in negative throughout). Neither have dialogue, but ‘mood music’ has been added for the video release, which effectively supports the hallucinatory atmosphere of the pieces.
In short, they are technically extremely crude and their story-lines obscure: Salomé vaguely follows the biblical tale of lust, dance, martyrdom and murder, but only vaguely; The Forbidden, though derived from the Faust story, is steeped in a delirium all of its own. Notwithstanding, the images still carry a measure of raw power some two decades on, in part perhaps because the context is otherwise so unsophisticated.
One of the inspirations for these pieces was the work of Kenneth Anger, which I first saw in the late 60s. At the time, my hometown of Liverpool boasted a burgeoning art scene, and there were small but overfilled screenings of American underground films every few weeks. Many of these offerings lost me (Chelsea Girls was a fine soporific, for instance), but Anger's films, with their mingling of homosexual signals, impenetrable occult symbolism and sheer cinematic brio mesmerised me. They formed in my mind a bridge between work I might attempt myself (they weren't technically very polished), and the more mainstream films that I had an appetite for: horror, science-fiction, biblical epics and musicals. Here was a cinema of hallucination, lushly stylised and perversely metaphysical. What more could I want by way of a model?
I was surrounded by friends who shared my enthusiasms, among them Doug Bradley, who went on to become Pinhead in the Hellraiser films, and Pete Atkins, who penned the second, third and fourth installments in that series. They were tireless and brave collaborators. Encouraged by the sexual freedom of many of the underground films we saw, we put propriety aside and followed our instincts. Flesh, which is so much a part of the stories I have told in the years since, is given a fine showing in these pieces, particularly in The Forbidden. As are images of anxiety and death. The head of John the Baptist, lopped off and presented to Salomé for kissing; the body of Faust, laid out on a table by angelic presences and elegantly skinned, a man dressed as a demon moving through a negated landscape; another demon, naked and blank-faced whirling in a dervish frenzy.
Some of the images—a board of geometrically arranged nails, a figure out of Vesalius, skinless but perfectly calm—find new forms in later films. In this sense these brief works are sketches for far more elaborate renderings, and both films might be mined for such prefigurings. But they would not, I think, do them great service. Yes, they are certainly scrawls—unkempt and unproficient—but there is a hermetic quality in them both that I almost envy. Although the genre in which I now work cinematically offers more opportunities for a kind of narrative dislocation than, for instance, the domestic drama (horror movies remain a refuge for the surreal) they are more and more confined by the literalism of an audience that no longer cares to be challenged or disturbed. I could not make a commercial film that does what The Forbidden does: folding explicit sexual images and unexplained symbols into a journey towards death. There is no significant market for such dream films, unless they pretend to be something else, something simpler, with a beginning, middle and end.
In the world of painting, the ambition to make a work of art as a child might make it—innocent of aesthetics—is perfectly commendable. In literature, to write from the unedited unconsciousness is a valid goal. In film, however, the raw no longer has a significant place. Filmmakers who want to deal in visions rather than some stale notion of cinematic reality have to bury their intentions under a heap of generic demands. We are the poorer for the absence of this experimentation.
Until some genius creates a film stock on which we simply imprint our dreams, we will remain prisoners of the commercial imperative. I only hope that the horror film-makers who are coming up do not have their eyes so fixed on producing the next Hellraiser or Nightmare on Elm Street that they miss the pleasures of letting their obsessions run wild. The psychics' scrawl may seem incomprehensible to the rational mind, but the images and ideas which fuel the great fantastiques are, thank God, strangers to sweet reason.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3115
SOURCE: Barker, Clive. “The Painter, the Creature, and the Father of Lies: An Introduction.” In Incarnations: Three Plays, pp. ix-xvi. New York: HarperPrism, 1995.
[In the following essay, Barker outlines the three plays—Colossus, Frankenstein in Love, and The History of the Devil—which comprise Incarnations.]
The dictionary defines incarnation variously as the action of being made flesh, the assumption of a bodily form (particularly of Christ, or of God in Christ) and as the creation of new flesh upon or in a wound or sore: thus, a healing. I cannot imagine an apter title for this collection of plays. Story-telling has always been for me a process of putting on skins; of living lives and dying deaths that belong to somebody else. And the more unlike me I look with these borrowed faces the more interested I am to see the world through their eyes. The thrill of living for a little time as a visionary painter like Goya, or as the Devil, or—as in Frankenstein in Love—a murdered fan-dancer blithely awaiting the end of the world, brings me back to my desk in the certain knowledge that I am venturing where my daily life would never take me. I am, if you will, addicted to incarnation.
Let me say here and now that reading these plays does not require a degree in theatre arts or a burning ambition to tread the boards. The words are laid out a little differently from a novel or a short story, but the three tales that unfold in the pages that follow are fueled by many of the same passions that shaped Imajica, or The Damnation Game or The Books of Blood. More of that later. First, I would like to offer a brief history of how these dramas, and this edition, came into existence.
The earliest of the plays, The History of the Devil, was written in 1980, for a theatre troupe I had co-formed along with a group of friends in London: The Dog Company. Frankenstein in Love was written two years later, and performed by the same company in both Britain and Europe. Colossus has different origins. It was commissioned in 1983, and became a project for a large and eclectic group of young people brought together to create an original theatre work. It has been my intention to set about collating versions and editing all three texts for several years, but somehow the time has never been there to do so. With hindsight, I think this wasn't simply a question of opportunity. There was in me a certain reluctance to go back and examine work I'd done before the publication of the books—pieces I'd been proud of at the time—in case I discovered I hated them.
My anxieties misled me. The experience has not only been pleasurable but positively enlightening. It's aroused memories not only of the first productions of the plays but of my earliest encounter with the theatre, which was that most English of entertainments: the pantomime. For those of you not familiar with this extraordinary ritual, let me offer you a thumb-nail sketch. Panto is a Christmas entertainment, usually based on some bastardized fairy-tale, in which the ugly old woman, the Dame, is traditionally played by a man (often a well-known comedian) and the hero is played by a long-legged, thigh-slapping girl. Add a few music numbers, a couple of specialty acts, some smutty double-entendre for the adults and a singalong (complete with song-sheet) for the kids, and you have the mix. It is not, needless to say, the most coherent form of entertainment, but to a child born and raised in drab, post-war Liverpool as I was, Panto offered a glimpse of magic and spectacle that would fuel my dreams for weeks before and after my visit. And in truth there is much in the form I admire. Its artlessness, for one; its riotous indifference to any rules of drama but its own; its guileless desire to delight. And of course beneath all its tartish ways there is buried a story of primal simplicity: good against evil, love triumphing over hate and envy.
This was one of the two formative theatrical experiences of my childhood. The other—and in some senses more influential experience—was that of the puppet theatre. Like so many imaginative kids whose lives would take them into the theatre, my first taste of working behind the footlights was as a puppeteer. I made a cast of hand, rod and marionette puppets, and then proceeded to write elaborate vehicles for them. My father, who is a fine carpenter, built a stage and painted a variety of backdrops. One I remember with special clarity: a quay-side, with tall ships at anchor, sails unfurled or unfurling in preparation for a voyage.
And voyages I took. My cast was fairly generic, if memory serves. A sword-wielding hero, a princess, a skeleton, a Devil, a hag-witch, a dragon. But they were all I needed to create exotic tales of midnight crimes and magic rituals, of horrendous jeopardies and last-minute escapes. There was a good deal of cruelty in the stories I created. This isn't so surprising, given that my earliest exposure to the world of puppets was Punch and Judy shows: short, brutal tales of how the devious and unrepentant Mister Punch kills his own child, beats his wife to death and then inexorably murders the rest of the cast (one at a time; the Punch and Judy man only has two hands) with his truncheon. My puppet tales also contained a measure of supernatural stuff, the appetite for which I trace to my paternal grandmother, who had a healthy nineteenth century appetite for the macabre.
This was, please remember, at a time and place when only a few of the neighbors owned television sets (we didn't) and comics were rare treasures. It isn't so surprising then that I found an audience of local kids for my entertainments. They would gather in the alley behind our house to watch my one-man epics, and though I'm sure time has improved the reviews, the shows seemed to find favor.
So, the years passed. I got myself an education, and courtesy of one great English teacher in particular, Norman Russell, was exposed to real drama. Conventional wisdom holds that force-feeding children Shakespeare, Webster and Moliere does both young minds and the classics a disservice, but I question this. First, it assumes that if kids weren't obliged to read The Tempest at school they'd discover it as adults and fall upon it with far greater appetite. This I doubt. It further assumes that putting these complex dramas into minds that are not experienced enough to fully understand them is an error. Again, I beg to differ. I didn't grasp more than a quarter of what I was being taught but by God that quarter made me ache to understand all that escaped me. Not because of the poetry or the aesthetics, but because of the raw human stuff that I knew was bedded in the fine language.
At University, drowning in words and theory, I almost lost sight of that root stuff. No great surprise. I was taught Poe by a man who scrupulously avoided Edgar's interest in bodily corruption and Whitman by a fellow who would not tolerate talk of Walt's queerness. I escaped to London, and to a self-created world, where I painted and wrote a number of experimental pieces for the theatre. They were mime-pieces to begin with (three years of English and Philosophy had silenced me), and then, once my faith in language had returned, plays.
The first substantial piece was called Dog, from which our company took its name: a highly stylized tale of sex, transformation and apocalypse which drew on Commedia dell 'Arte (one of the sources of Punch and Judy), pantomime, personal psychosis, the Bible and werewolf movies. It was not a success. But its fantastical nature, its philosophical pretensions and its use of effects, violence and low comedy began to define my approach to theatre work.
Given that Old Nick, the Father of Lies, had been a member of my stock puppet company, it was not perhaps so strange that the next substantial piece I penned was The History of the Devil. The trial format allowed for a range of short, sharp episodes, some of them serious, some comedic, each allowing the Devil—who has the best collection of personae of any character in Western culture—to try on another skin. (Until, finally, he loses them all.) It was written with the limitations of our production budget in mind, relying on verbal description to create scenes, and on the skill of the performers to evoke period detail rather than fine costumes and expensive props. It is story-telling theatre (this should be a tautology; regrettably, it's not) and was originally played, though this is too tight for comfort, by a company of six. They fell in and out of character at the drop of an accent, one moment portraying an officer of the court, the next a character in one of the Devil's tales, the speed of the changes keeping the audience in a state of dizzied admiration even when the drama faltered. The metaphysics of the piece is not particularly original, but the characters are lively, I think, and what the play lacks in profundity it makes up for in audacity. One of the critics, reviewing the first production, described it as: “… a mixture of Decline and Fall, Paradise Lost, Perry Mason and Flash Gordon.”
Lord, I loved that description! Why? Because it evokes a stew of high art and low, of intellect and spectacle, pretension and fun. None of these plays are nouvelle cuisine: two warmed over subjects aesthetically arranged on a perfectly proportioned, but otherwise vacant, plate. They are pots full to brimming with plots and possibilities, and unapologetic about it. Devil [The History of the Devil] is perhaps more plainly a stew than the other two, but history's like that, isn't it?
On, then, to the creature.
Studying Frankenstein in Love with fresh eyes, I was taken aback by how unrelentingly grim it is. There are some dark journeys taken in The Books of Blood, to be sure, but I can't think of a tale even there that so obsessively circles on images of death and taboo. I don't remember my state of mind when I wrote the play (perhaps that's for the best) but plainly I was in pursuit of an experience that would push the audience to its limits.
I have very seldom used other creators' mythologies for inspiration—“New Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a homage to Poe's detective tale is a rare example—but there are certain ideas that exercise such fascination that I want to put my own spin on them. The Faust story, for instance, which I have explored several times (The Damnation Game, Hellraiser, “The Last Illusion”) and of course Mary Shelley's extraordinary creation, which is the starting place for Frankenstein in Love. In his extremely thorough study of how the Frankenstein story has been interpreted for the stage, Hideous Progenies, Steven Earl Forry describes the play thus:
Clive Barker's Frankenstein In Love is arguably the most challenging adaptation ever written. The play, set in a banana republic undergoing a state of siege, captures the plight of humankind caught is a dystopic, godless universe … Driven by such diverse forces as the Grand Guignol, the theatre of Artaud and of the Absurd, Jacobean masques and Welles' The Island of Dr. Moreau, Barker's play is unrelenting in its pessimistic view of the sordid acts to which humans somehow aspire.
I quote at length because Mr Forry's observations seem to me so acute, both in terms of my influences and the intentions of the play. In fact as far as the last part of his description is concerned, it seems to me the play is a virtual catalogue of atrocities (though I don't recall consciously constructing it as such). Cannibalism, necrophilia, vivisection, human experiment, torture, violent murder—the piece is as exhaustive as a report from a war-zone.
I don't believe such excesses need defending or explaining. It's what I chose to write, and there it is. I will, however, remark upon the dramatic consequences of these excesses. Plainly, when a piece of drama is too extreme there are certain safety-valves which an audience seeks (and will find, whether they are supplied or not), the most obvious being laughter.
It is a commonplace that the horror-response (gasps, screams, and tears) is close in nature to the comedy-response (giggles, laughter, and tears), and that one can very easily slide into the other. In Frankenstein in Love I tried to sew the triggers for these disparate responses together, so that the audience is never quite sure which is appropriate. Everything is pressed to a state of decadence—the violence, the gallows humor, the perversity of the romantic elements, the bitter poetry—none of it offering any relief from the general miasma of the piece. The humor doesn't lance the boil of our anxiety because its imagery is rooted in the very source of that anxiety. The romance doesn't offer any salve because it is tied to the horrific elements. In short, we are prisoners of the play's despair, stuck with its heat, its bloat and its decay.
Surprisingly perhaps, there proved to be a sizable audience for the experience. While I certainly met people who, having seen the play, considered me a minor felon, I've also encountered audience members who years later still called it the single most intense experience they've ever had in the theatre. It's a hot-house bloom, to be sure, but for those who have a taste for such specialized forms it remains, I think, a potent example of a relatively rare species.
Finally, to Colossus. Unlike the other two, it has at its heart an historical figure: that of Francisco Jose Goya y Lucientes, the supreme genius of Spanish painting. His work is an extraordinary interweaving of almost documentary realism—Yo Lo Vi, he titles one of his prints: I Saw This—with a visionary imagination that is in my opinion without parallel. There are of course countless books and essays devoted to his life and works, many of them revelatory, but however copiously a critic sweats to attach readily summarized meanings to Goya's images they constantly outwit interpretation. This is most particularly true of the so called Black Paintings, the troubled works of his last years, which more closely approximate the vast distressing landscapes of nightmare than any art I know.
In writing the play my central challenge was how to create a portrait of Goya and his world without falling prey to the clichés of biographical fiction: scenes of famous folks meeting more famous folks at historically significant events. The solution, I decided, was to create a drama in which Goya was effectively invisible much of the time, a situation which would allow me to explore the idea of the painter as a witness to events he could do little or nothing to influence.
The play begins with the destruction of a country house a short distance from Madrid. Goya has been painting a portrait in one of its rooms until moments before the play begins, when a barrage of French cannon fire reduces the house to rubble. It is in the midst of this chaos that the action of the play takes place: a succession of tragedies and unexpected epiphanies that spring from the characters' response to this disaster. Plainly, revolution is in the air, represented metaphorically by the image of this treasure-house blown open from attic to cellar, “its hierarchies a continuum of heaped rubble … unexplored and unpredictable.” As the ruling classes steadily restore order, all manner of betrayals, seductions, caprices, discoveries, griefs, and revelations occur, many of them presented in fragments—pieces of storylines emerging for a brief time then disappearing again to be resolved later in the play. And watching these dramas, unseen because he is assumed dead, is the stone-deaf genius himself, sketch-book in hand. He has plenty to draw. Many of the tableaux in the play are inspired by Goya's paintings and prints: a case of art imitating life in order to evoke a life that inspired art.
The play was written for a large cast and needs numbers to make it work. This is not a piece that can be mounted by a cast of ten, however hard-working. But for the right ensemble, driven by the desire to create an ambitious piece of environmental theatre, and immerse themselves in Goya along the way, the piece is quite an adventure.
These are all plays that deal in some fashion with apocalyptic events: with order overturned and reason gone to hell, leaving the incarnations of our darker selves to stalk the shambles. And yet am I utterly self-deluding if I see optimism in these stories? It is not, to be sure, the kind of optimism a studio executive here in my adopted city would recognize (though come to think of it all three plays finish with lovers re-united). Perhaps it is the unruly abundance of characters and ideas in the texts that gives them a hopeful feeling; an abundance which ends with the hope of continuance. At the close of The History of the Devil and Colossus the world is returned—in all its frailty—into human care. And at the end of Frankenstein in Love, the wandering fan-dancer Maria, free of her responsibilities now that she's told her story, is embraced by a loving Death, leaving the monsters to court, dance and prepare for a new and better world. None of these, I think, are grim conclusions.
Some final thoughts. While I have gone back to the original texts and filled out the stage directions somewhat in order to make the plays more accessible to the casual reader, I have deliberately not tried to turn them into pseudo novels. They remain dramatic pieces; practical (and, I hope tempting) blueprints for producers, directors, actors, and designers to use to mount productions of their own. That said I trust that readers of my other fiction will also find interesting material here, and that the plays will reward the challenge of an unfamiliar format.
Speak these stories aloud, by all means; read them with friends, play out scenes for the simple pleasure of inhabiting other skins. If the origins of theatre lie, as some claim, in religious ritual, then these incarnations are visits with household gods. Inhabit them freely: see how they feel. That's what skins, and divinities, are for.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 472
SOURCE: Harley, Kevin. “Carry On Screaming.” New Statesman and Society 9, no. 395 (22 March 1996): 38.
[In the following review, Harley characterizes Incarnations as “hasty sketches … for completists only.”]
Clive Barker is an erratic talent. He has produced work that has redefined the horror genre (Books of Blood, Hellraiser) but also some of fantasy's most ponderous turkeys. For the most part, Incarnations veers towards the latter. These three plays were written before the Books of Blood: the earliest, History of the Devil, puts an unrepentant Lucifer on trial. This Devil is a construction, with no substance other than what history has projected on to him. He's an actor doing as directed, in keeping with Barker's declared theme: incarnation, or “being made flesh”.
Barker is interested both in the skins people put on and in stripping them—and their situations—of those skins. Colossus is set in a huge house stripped bare by cannon fire, leaving its inhabitants at their most emotionally exposed.
Incarnations also amasses Barker's usual collection of skinned people engaged in lusty sexual contracts. Frankenstein in Love uses such bodies to explore the functioning of power in relationships and in state oppression. It includes a gay version of the sexual contract between Julia and the skinless Frank in Hellraiser; interesting that the later work should “straighten” out the anarchic queerness of these plays.
None of these plays adequately conveys Barker's intentions. He is convinced of their power to disturb, but his characters' casual atrocities are too superficial to shock. It doesn't help that moments of horror—one character sucking his own brains out, another worried that a cannibal president-elect will eat the members of the UN—are also often delivered by Barker's clumsily explicatory dialogue.
The typical effect of such horrors is unintentional hilarity. Barker claims that, for Frankenstein in Love, he tried to “sew the triggers for these disparate responses together” so that audiences would worry about whether to laugh or flinch in terror. The sex, horror and humour are pitched at such a Carry On level that the obvious reaction is to cringe.
The most shocking—but endearing—aspect of these plays is their vaulting ambition. It's no surprise that Barker's key influence is the Faust myth. He wears the legendary overreacher's skin whenever he writes. Colossus is a play so filled with rubble from a dead house that there can't be a stage sturdy enough to take the weight. History of the Devil is so full of leaps from one historical set-piece to another that it's difficult to imagine any actor pulling it off. Barker claims it can be done, but I'd like to see someone try.
Incarnations is best described by Colossus' Castropol, responding tetchily to Goya's portrait of him: “I have no substance. It's just an outline.” These are hasty sketches, amusingly grandiose but otherwise material for completists only.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 14966
SOURCE: Badley, Linda. “Clive Barker Writing (from) the Body.” In Writing Horror and the Body: The Fiction of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Anne Rice, pp. 73-104. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.
[In the following essay, Badley analyzes Barker's Books of Blood, his films, and his other literary work.]
With Books of Blood, an obscure playwright and illustrator named Clive Barker launched the “post-King era of horror fiction,” as William Gibson has called it (“Introduction” xv). “You read him with book in one hand and an airsick bag in the other,” King joked in 1986, adding “That man is not fooling around” (qtd. in Kanfer 83). Perhaps more importantly, Barker was as intellectual and politically subversive as King was not.
Barker challenged the modern horror genre as King had exemplified and defined it. “A lot of horror is written to reassure people the values they bring to the book are … correct,” Barker said in 1990, with King in mind, adding, “I'm not writing horror to reassure people” (Booe). King's “white soul” domesticated and mainstreamed horror; Barker privileged the different or marginal. His protagonists were people on the fringes: actors, gays, prostitutes, small-time crooks, women, and often the monsters themselves. King's horror stories were the product of a brilliant stereotypography and overstatement in which clichés are lived out fully. Barker claimed to “deromanticize” and “renew” the genre, “stripping” it of “knee-jerk conventions” (Strauss 92). Beyond that, “I like to think there's a kind of ‘celebration of perversity’ in Books of Blood,” he said in 1986, “that's a response, simply, to normality” (Wiater, “Catching” 46).
Douglas Winter's term “anti-horror” points out this subversive element in Barker's work. Anti-horror inverts “the typical horror story … on itself,” asking the reader to “view the traditional images in a new way” (Nutman, “Douglas E. Winter”). As King had reinvented the horror novel, Barker revitalized the tale of terror, relocating it in the iconic, the grotesque, and the ironic. For he also made it a vehicle for ideas, forcing a “reactionary” genre to take on taboos and open up to controversial issues: the politics of gender, feminism, male violence against women, homosexuality, AIDS, urban blight, Marxism, violence in the media, pornography, and censorship. Using a title that promised blood to attract hard-core fans to a form they did not usually read, Barker turned “splatter” into an iconography of confrontation and paradox. He enhanced horror's capacity to disturb with techniques adapted from theatre, literature, and visual arts. Like King, Barker realized that horror could reach a mass audience with ideas they might not otherwise entertain. “I'm trying my damnedest,” Barker has explained, to address “quite complex and elaborate ideas,” and if “you give people a chance, if they want it, they'll get it” (qtd. in Burke 72).
Barker's early literary career as a playwright explains a great deal. He was the center of The Dog Company, a marginal theater group that specialized in mime, improvisation, anti-theatre, and Grand Guignol. Their sketches often depicted the miscegenation of fantasy and reality, of image and word. The plays, most of which Barker wrote and directed, provide glimpses of the later writer. Poe, an early one-act mime play, presented the author's dream life in a series of images and vignettes. Dangerous World (1981), which (according to the program notes) followed poet/painter William Blake from his deathbed into the “garden of his imagination,” presented such delights as “the blood-sipping Ghost of a Flea,” “the epic allegorical figure of London,” and the marriage of Heaven and Hell (Dangerous World program notes). Colossus was an improvisational piece about Barker's favorite artist, Goya. Books of Blood would extend this cross-referencing of visual and literary arts. In The Secret Life of Cartoons (1983), an anarchic comic strip rabbit entered the lives of real people.
It was The Dog Company, with its roots in the absurd and various theatres of cruelty, that seems to have inspired much of Barker's anti-horror.1 He carried over the same perverse anti-theatricality, spectacle, shock, and emotional ambivalence. He mixed comedy, the erotic, the disgusting, and the pathetic, maintaining an exhilarating tension in the modulation from one emotion into the next.
But before he was a playwright or student, Barker was an illustrator, and probably the most obvious characteristic of his early work was his visual imagination. For Barker, writing seems to be another kind of iconography, and he refuses to make distinctions between painters like Goya and Bosch and “visionary” writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges. Two heroes are William Blake and Jean Cocteau, for whom any genre was subordinate to “inner vision” (Burke 19-20). Barker envisions his concepts, often sketching them first and only later articulating them as words. Visiting his studio in 1989, Stanley Wiater found drawings scattered over the floor, “Midnight sketches, done feverishly,” which became “a starting place for something” the next morning (“Clive Barker” 11). Everything he does is by hand to maintain the connection of hand, eye, and word.
As “powerfully visionary” in the larger sense “as he is gruesome” according to Ramsey Campbell (xi), he practices a politics of subversion that originated in the act of reading and writing from the body. A collection of his drawings entitled Clive Barker, Illustrator (1990), and ranging from early expressionistic brushwork pieces to elaborate color illustrations for Books of Blood, reveals the extent to which his iconography is based in the human figure. Because writing is imaging, Barker feels an almost moral imperative to show precisely what others think should in all decency be covered. He says he owes as much to Mapplethorpe as to Poe:
The kind of horror fiction I write is primarily interested in tearing away the veil. Confrontation with the image, seen clearly. I'm trying to see what the wound means. And the only way … is to look at the wound.
(qtd. in Gracey-Whitman and Melia 418)
Monique Wittig has written that the “fascination for writing what was never previously written and the fascination for the unattained body proceed from the same desire” (10). Barker uses the metaphor of the literalized body to express in flesh and blood that which Freud, Lacan, Barthes, Kristeva, and Foucault have merely discoursed of. The Books of Blood were a perverse “recitation” of the body as a text—a dissection, an “exploratory probe,” as William Gibson says. Each “reading” presumes the metaphor in which the literal body stands for the real and transgresses the law of the symbolic order. In this metaphor, “opening” the body means reading our deepest (pre-Oedipal) selves. Biological images are metaphors for ideas. Flesh becomes word, text becomes wound, part becomes whole, and cliché is embodied, often painfully. The titles alone are multivalenced with word play: paradoxes (“The Life of Death”), puns (“In the Flesh,” “The Skins of the Father”), metonymies (“The Body Politic”), oxymorons (“The Confessions of a Pornographer's Shroud”), inversions (“The Inhuman Condition”), allegories (“The Age of Desire”), allusions (“Son of Celluloid”), and ironically twisted clichés (“Human Remains”).
READING THE BODY POLITIC
In Barker's ink brush piece entitled Minds at War (in Burke 3), two male figures in profile square off belligerently, reenacting some archaic antagonism, as from their heads jut the smoking ruins of ancient cities. “In the Hills, the Cities” (in Books of Blood, Volume I) works with a similar visual concept of power and conflict: the people of the Yugoslavian city Popolac join together in a network of straps and harnesses to construct a colossus and march out to perform ritual battle with their twin city Podujevo. The colossus is “the body of the state,” explains Vaslav. “It is the shape of our lives” (“In the Hills” [“In the Hills, the Cities”] 201). As a citizen, he has watched it form, “a living proverb,” “a spectacular reality” beyond ideology. It is “the head [literally] in the clouds.” From the perspective of two English tourists, however, it is a terrifying negation of the human subject, its legs taking “strides half a mile long,” each man, woman, and child “sightless” and (they thought) “deathless, in their lumbering, relentless strength” (197).
Popolac is a revision of the science fiction cliché of society as machine by way of Michel Foucault's vision of power embodied and harnessed through a network of forces and relations, economic, social, and political. The description of Popolac, recalling Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), suggests
a masterpiece of human engineering: a man made entirely of men. Or, rather, a sexless giant, made of men and women and children. All the citizens of Popolac writhed and strained in the body of this flesh-knitted giant, their muscles stretched to the breaking point, their bones close to snapping.
(“In the Hills” 206)
Terror leads to horror with the breakdown of structure: someone “buried in the weak flank” of Podujevo dies of the strain, beginning “a chain of decay in the system. One man loosed his neighbor and that neighbor loosed his, spreading a cancer of chaos through the city” (187-88). When Podujevo falls, creating a river of blood clogged with human corpses, Popolac goes mad with confusion.
“In the Hills, the Cities” is also a study in structural contrasts: between order and chaos, between the collective and the individual, the citizens that are the city and the English tourists who are threatened by its fall. Mick, a shallow clothes designer, and Judd, a political journalist, are a homosexual couple touring Yugoslavia who have discovered that they are temperamentally and politically incompatible. When making love, however, they are a miracle of movement: “They locked together, limb around limb, tongue around tongue, in a knot only orgasm could untie, their backs alternately scorched and scratched as they rolled around exchanging blows and kisses” (177). Like the people in the city they are choreographed into a thing of grotesque beauty. Realizing the meaninglessness of their relationship and his life up to glimpsing this miracle, Mick catches on to the giant's foot as it leaves the ground and is swept up, the earth “gone from beneath him … a hitchhiker with a god” (209).
Barker has explained that the colossal image was directly inspired by two paintings by Goya (The Colossus and Saturn Devouring His Children) and more generally the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which defamiliarize common concepts by literalizing them in marvelous images and events. The grotesque elements of the scene are matched by terror and moments of revulsion by the awe that terror generates; what political position or which set of emotions prevails is left up to the reader. The story is typical only in demonstrating Barker's ambivalence—his qualification of one issue with another one that bears on it, and a complementary technique of reversing emotions midway through a story and putting a spin on the conclusion.
“In the Hills, the Cities” is a metonymy, a literalization of the idea of the state by way of a Foucauldian metaphor of bio-power. “The Body Politic” from The Inhuman Condition (1986, originally Books of Blood, Volume IV) depicts a paradigm shift in which the stable ego and centered identity, the self enthroned in the head and defined by the parameters and functions of “its” body, is overthrown by a revolt of hands. The right hand, a synecdoche and a Messiah, a temporary protagonist, severs the left from the wrist of Charlie George, a packager whose hands ordinarily work for him all day long. The freed limb, dragging a hatchet, liberates other hands and limbs, leading to a bloody revolution of the body from “the body.”
As we have seen, part of the fun in “The Body Politic” comes from witnessing a Dionysian dismemberment of the Freudian ego. Charlie's psychoanalyst Dr. Jeudwinde is discredited early on, when he attempts to interpret Charlie's dreams: “Usually the penis predominated in his patients' dreams, he explained, to which Charlie replied that hands had always seemed more important than private parts. After all, they could change the world, couldn't they?” (65). Dr. Jeudwinde's faith in the Freudian ego breaks down under overwhelming evidence of “Charlie,” a body with several minds of its own. He wonders whether attempting to be rational about the human mind is a contradiction in terms (86). “Mind” as the self's center or unity is negated and revealed as a construct of language. As Charlie tries to put his thoughts into words, he finds metaphors insufficient:
The hands were everywhere, hundreds of them, chattering away like a manual parliament as they debated their tactics. All shades and shapes, scampering up and down the swaying branches. Seeing them gathered like this the metaphors collapsed. They were what they were: human hands. That was the horror.
Language betrays us in the most common figures of speech, as Barker's sight gags demonstrate: “her nails, her pride and joy, found her eyes, and the miracle of sight became muck on her cheek” (149). Charlie learns that the unity he has considered himself is a figure of speech. After a struggle in which he uses the (attached) Left to lure the Right, he is followed by its mob of revolutionaries up a fire escape. As he jumps to their collective death, the revolution of hands is defeated. But Charlie's martyrdom is ambivalent, ending in his euphoric contemplation of the koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” (88).
Barker has in mind several schools of postmodern psychology that view the individual as changeable and multiple rather than stable and singular. “The Body Politic” ends with the meditations of a doubtful identity named Boswell, who has spent his life “going wherever his legs would take him” (89). After colliding with a train, he wakes in intensive care and encounters his amputated legs, tagged for the incinerator but livelier for the separation. “Having made their presence known to him they left him where he lay, content to be free” (102).
And did his eyes envy their liberty, … was his tongue eager to be out of his mouth and away, and was every part of him, … preparing to forsake them? He was an alliance … held together by the most tenuous of truces. … [H]ow long before the next uprising? Minutes? Years? He waited, heart in mouth, for the fall of Empire.
The Marxist themes of “The Body Politic” are real enough, as in “In the Hills”: the story is set in the drab, aimless oppression of the working classes of the Thatcher era, and the hands seek and find masses of homeless brothers, beginning with the YMCA on Monmouth Street. But the Marxism comes by way of Deleuze and Guattari's schizoanalysis, which opposes psychoanalysis with ego breakdowns and “breakthroughs.” Against the “oedipalized territorialities (Family, Church, School, Nation, Party), and especially the territoriality of the individual, Anti-Oedipus seeks to discover the ‘deterritorialized’ flows of desire” and to escape the established codes, celebrating the dissolution of the self (Seem, Introduction xvii). In “The Body Politic,” Barker's stroke of genius is to take the Freudian Body literally and depict its trauma in graphic terms. Even more to the point is “The Age of Desire,” from the same volume, which uses schizoanalysis against phallocentrism. Jerome Tredgold, a test subject at the [David] Hume Institute, succumbs to a “chemically induced state of compulsive sexuality” (Meyer and Van Hise 116). The experiment is part of Dr. Welles's plan to initiate an “Age of Desire”: “the Dream of Casanova,” of “Sex without end, without compromise or apology.” “The World had seen so many Ages: the Age of Enlightenment; of Reformation; of Reason. Now, at last, the Age of Desire. And after this, an end to Ages, perhaps to everything” (“Age” [“The Age of Desire”] 200). Like the citizens of Popolac and Podujevo, Jerome is the ordinary man “deployed” as bio-power.
At first, his erotically enhanced vision merely shows him that as Deleuze and Guattari explain, “sexuality is everywhere” and that capitalism is an economy of desire (293) dominated by a specular-phallic economy of signs: “on advertising billboards and cinema marquees, … the body as merchandise. Where flesh was not being used to market artifacts of steel and stone, those artifacts were taking on its properties. … [B]uildings beleaguered him with sexual puns” (“Age” 201). Jerome is eventually consumed by a fire somehow fueled by the “beady eye at his groin” (“Age” 200), the phallic gaze. He becomes
just a plinth for that singular monument, his prick. Head was nothing; mind was nothing. His arms were simply made to bring love close, his legs to carry the demanding rod any place where it might find satisfaction. He pictured himself as a walking erection, the world gaping on every side. Flesh, brick, steel, he didn't care—he would ravish it all.
Thus the gaze is linked with sexual violence. (The experiment is coyly named Project Blind Boy in honor of Eros and his misplaced arrows.) Jerome visualizes clichés from romantic songs—metaphors of “paradise, of hearts on fire; of birds, bells, journeys, sunsets; of passion as lunacy, as flight, as unimaginable treasure” (186), and his lust culminates in grotesque literalizations of romance. “Give me your heart,” he croons to Officer Boyle (191) before tearing out and physically possessing that organ. In this phallic-specular economy, Jerome fetishizes whatever he sees and is compelled to pry open and make visible, to possess and “feminize” whatever is “hidden.”
But Jerome's phallocentrism is transcended in an important shift of emphasis. He becomes an embodiment of Deleuze and Guattari's desiring machine, which calls into question the established order of the society that creates it. From a more Foucauldian perspective one might say that an “implantation of perversions” in Jerome confuses his sexuality. Rather than opening, penetrating, and possessing, he begins filling holes—any holes—figuratively healing wounds and intermingling with the natural world. The serial rapist becomes polymorphously perverse and at one point has sex with a wall: “The sun had fallen full upon it, and it was warm; the bricks smelled ambrosial. He laid kisses on their gritty faces, his hands exploring every nook and cranny. Murmuring sweet nothings, he … found an accommodating niche, and filled it” (194). As his body changes, Jerome regresses to pre-Oedipal empathy with the world and comes “alive to the flux and flow of the world around him”—the paving stones seem to catch fire from him and then burn with their own flames. The world thus fantastically eroticized, his mind is “running with liquid pictures: mingled anatomies, male and female in one indistinguishable congress,” a “marriage of his seed with the paving stone” (194-95). In the final scenes, he merges with “all the suffering world” (215), and in an affirmation of life, revolts, like Sisyphus, against all death. He confronts his creator Dr. Welles, who is burning records and killing monkeys, and pleads for their lives.
“The Age of Desire” concludes in one of Barker's perversely “happy” endings. Engineered in every sense of the term by the Hume Institute, the metabolic chaos that Jerome becomes is perversely liberating, and like Frankenstein's creature or Robocop, the monster as victim, Jerome has a radical innocence that destroys his makers. He becomes the revolutionary “desire machine” that wreaks havoc within the System, the machine of coercion. Most of his victims are associated with the Hume Institute or the law, and the majority of them are men. Jerome comes to represent, in addition to compulsory sexuality under late capitalism or a Freudian dream of castration denial, the transcendence of the body through the body. He experiences a terror and ecstasy that transcends conventional pleasure and unitary standards of value.
The story of Jerome transgresses liberal-Marxist political correctness also, however, and manages to please no one completely. It disturbs idea mongers with its sexual violence and it disturbs gore hounds with its radical sexual openness. Barker frequently refers to his breaking the taboo in which horror's sexual subtext must remain hidden to “work” and says that he consciously brings “that subtext into the more prominent position of text” (Strauss 92). He refers to a need to address not only “the issue of sexuality in horror” but also “the issue of many kinds of sexuality in horror.”2 In his fiction, there are sex scenes of every sort, between men, between women, “there are orgies, there are people fucking walls—there is just a sense that we are sexual beings and that … horror fiction is about the body—which over and over again it is” (qtd. in Hughes 391). It is therefore not surprising when Barker's comments on fantasy refer to postmodern psychology and social theory. In addition to Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault, and Lacan, his ideas draw heavily on feminist psychoanalysts (such as Cixous and Kristeva) and object relations psychologists (Chodorow) who emphasize the pre-Oedipal relationship with the Mother. Collectively, Barker's comments cohere as a theory of fantasy as a subversive art. Like Rosemary Jackson, Barker thinks that fantasy subverts the norm by presenting alternative realities. The fantastic provides a vicarious regression to unstructured pre-Oedipal experience in which possibilities seem infinite, where the world is “full of tactile and potential sensual experiences, which are at root sexual, but also about pleasure in all its diversities. … Then … we get educated out of that. … We get told we have to be this way or that and preferably this!” (Barker, qtd. in Dair 393). Fantasy constructs scenarios in which “those barriers are broken down again. So many of the monsters … are about appetite and the fears of appetite” and the need to “tame” appetite. “And yet it stays with us as a possibility” (Barker, qtd. in Dair 393-94). For Barker horror or abjection, as in Kristeva, is the darker aspect of our recognition of what we desire, the experience of the “bisexual” Mother. By awakening the powers of horror, the fantastic brings us back to an infant's openness to possibility, in which life and death are relative states of metamorphosis, of changing shape at will, talking with the animals. There, like the transforming Jerome, we encounter our fears and desires as potentialities and are open to new experience.
The fantastic therefore becomes “usefully dangerous” in providing images for “socially subversive” ideas, says Barker (Gracey-Whitman and Melia 404). These images enter the dream lives of readers, making them receptive to change:
Our fears and hopes for our bodies, our ongoing anxiety about the decay that begins at eighteen. Our sense of ourselves as sexually whole; the part of us that remains polymorphously perverse. … [P]eople will accept those kinds of images and ideas in a fiction in a way that they … [wouldn't in a] psychoanalytic treatise. Or … through their analyst.
(qtd. in Gracey-Whitman and Melia 406)
Dark fantasy reconnects readers to the body experienced in childhood as a radical openness to experience, and so becomes politically subversive. In a similar way, Barthes, Kristeva, and Cixous intend to subvert the symbolic order by “writing” from the body.
BOOKS OF BLOOD AND ÉCRITURE FéMININE
Working in the genre that (outside of pornography) is most readily equated with misogyny, especially in film, Barker walks a fine line. On the one hand, he condemns the mass media's exploitation of women (Dair 394), indicting horror film as “the last refuge of the chauvinist” (Women of Horror). At the same time, Books of Blood advertised itself as the equivalent of splatter film in prose and courted hard-core horror fans. Barker's “tear[ing] away the veil” is problematic when the very act of looking at the body as an object, according to some feminist theory, means dehumanizing the subject.
French feminist Monique Wittig ran into a similar problem in Le corps lesbien, which subverts language as part of her effort to reclaim the female body for women. Her preface foregrounds the issue. There she stresses that she is violating not the female body but the symbolic order's construction of it as an object of male desire. It is the logos that she disrupts, voicing the unvoiced, unpreferred parts and celebrating natural processes. Violating taboos rather than bodies, Wittig nevertheless produces a physically disturbing text.
Barker, who often announces his intention to disrupt, works similarly. He foregrounds his text in semiotics and French feminist psychoanalysis. He cultivates ambivalence and openly “celebrates” perversity. From the start, in the outrageous (but semiotically accurate) title, Books of Blood, he employs “anti-horror” against conventional horror's misogyny. Taking on biological taboos “with a directness worthy of … David Cronenberg” (Campbell xii), Barker makes the wound his text's central metaphor and, through puns and ambiguities, its central issue. The issue becomes more problematic the longer we study it. Horror's victimization of women, epitomized in Alice Cooper's “Only Women Bleed,” is revised by Barker in the Books [Books of Blood] epigraph to “Everybody is a book of blood” [my italics]. According to the pun in the last line, reading (and writing) the body (as horror fiction does) means wounding (opening) it, just as wounding it inscribes it; “Wherever we're opened, we're red” (Books 1: ix). By bringing horror's psychoanalytic subtext (the female “wound”) into the prominent position of text and the body, Barker changes the violent act of reading and writing the (female) body into the central problem of the series. Barker advertises the sadism of the text at the same time as he stresses its diagnostic necessity. Thus he makes his fictions “usefully dangerous” and useful for women. In their diagnosis of gender distress as well as their radical sexual openness, Barker's Books of Blood had less in common with Stephen King or splatter film than with contemporary Female Gothic writers who used the popular Gothic as a mode for expressing, in slightly disguised form, subversive ideas.
From 1982 through 1984, when he was writing the first three volumes of Books of Blood, slasher film violence against women was a primary issue in mass media and sexual politics. Barker kept the issue at the center of Books of Blood as he used the metaphor of the body as text to explore technologies of gender and desire. Barker's stories often position the reader as a woman; imagine female subjectivity with remarkable, if varying, degrees of success; and attempt to overturn misogynistic horror clichés, especially the “woman in peril” motif. His women are neither “mouthpieces for outraged feminism or cowering pretty things,” Craig Burns remarks. They are, for example, “chubby cynics who work in rundown movie theaters trying (and failing) to imagine a better life” (101). In Books of Blood, Carrie, with her female power in the blood, grows up.
Burns describes Birdy, the protagonist of “Son of Celluloid” (Books of Blood, Volume III, 1984), a haunted theater story that satirizes horror and Hollywood film stereotypes. Birdy is a savvy version of Moers's persecuted victim-heroine who in facing down the monster, the male gaze, confronts her own fear of self. This fear is grounded in her ambivalent relationship with female body images. Like most of Barker's protagonists, Birdy is unconventional to begin with: she is intellectual but also resourceful; she is strong and overweight and agile.
Literally a tumor, the “Son of Celluloid” feeds on emotions invested in movies and seduces its victims by impersonating dead movie stars and clichés. To Lindi Lee, whom the Son assesses as “easy meat,” it assumes the sentimental form of a Disney rabbit. The Son is also brilliant as John Wayne (male violence) and quickly dispatches Lindi's boyfriend Dean. But for the pseudo-intellectual, bisexual theater manager Ricky, who knows Wayne to be a “handful of lethal lies—about the glory of America's frontier origins, the morality of swift justice, the tenderness in the heart of brutes” (16), it must provide more potent seductions. As Marilyn Monroe the monster can tap directly into the male gaze. “I want you,” she says, “I need your loving looks. I can't live without them” (26). Ricky is seduced by the scene from The Seven-Year Itch, in which Marilyn's dress billows up above her waist. He looks at “the dream of millions,” at “the part of Marilyn he had never seen. … There was blood there. … As her muscles moved the bloody eyes she'd buried in her body shifted, and came to rest on him” (27). His glimpse of “monstrous” female subjectivity breaks the spell and almost saves him. But as a “pill-freak” and film buff, Ricky prefers the deadly, virtual Marilyn over real women, allowing the tumor to invade his body.
“Son of Celluloid” is like Videodrome in its attacks against the same visual pleasure that it exploits: the male gaze whose projection represents an elision of the female body. Assuming the form of a “single vast eye” that fills the doorway, or the male gaze and projection in one metaphor, the Son attempts to rape Birdy. Blinking “huge and wet and lazy, scanning the doll in front of it with the insolence of the One True God, the maker of celluloid Earth and celluloid Heaven” it jeers, “Here's looking at you, kid” (“Son” [“Son of Celluloid”] 30). Birdy weighs 225 pounds, and when it assaults her, she rolls over on it. Real flesh, unpreferred parts, and “good weight” triumph over body image, the literal and the feminine over the male symbolic.
Barker draws on his fringe theater experience here, interjecting farce—a bad fat-lady joke—into the scene in which Birdy rolls on the Son of Celluloid. The scene's ambivalence is strategic. The joke is positioned in a crucial way: while it stands on its own as a joke, on the one hand, it also is shown from Birdy's perspective as a heroic act (however mediated by her strong sense of irony). It is her joke rather than a joke on her. (In an earlier moment, her only weak one, Birdy relaxes her defenses in self-pity when images of Disney's Dumbo remind her of a cruel nickname from childhood.) Ultimately the Son forces her to confront her image of herself as abject, a “filthy thing, a tumor grown fat on wasted passion,” bringing to mind “something aborted, a bucket case” (“Son” 35). In looking directly at the body, however, she recovers her own strength.
Instead of her prized weapon, a pipe wrench she calls Motherfucker, Birdy recovers the power of her body, reclaiming it from negative inscription. In the final section, titled “Censored Scenes,” Birdy completes this process by tracking down Lindi Lee. Lindi is perhaps the ultimate literalization of the concept of the mass media stereotype—in her the Son of Celluloid has been born again, the celluloid Word Made Bimbo. The real tumor is the false ideal of female beauty projected by the heterosexual male gaze. In a parodic reversal of the Phantom of the Opera, Birdy pours acid on “tumor and human limb alike” (38). In this act, by creating a gap that the stereotype Lindi Lee once filled, Birdy also creates a space for herself. Her job done, she steps out into the street, confident in her “planning to live long after the credits for this particular comedy had rolled” (38).
The gaze and its images, hallucinations that we project or consent to, are the issues of “The Son of Celluloid,” and the particular targets are mass media images of women. Birdy is in the female Gothic tradition of the persecuted victim who becomes a heroine by using her intelligence and sense of reality to hold her ground.
The protagonist of “Revelations” (Volume V, The Inhuman Condition), Virginia Gyer, is not only a persecuted victim-heroine but also the Female Gothic madwoman. From the beginning, however, the narrator shares Virginia's vision of ghosts in her room in the Cottonwood Motel, presenting that vision, together with the ghosts' point of view, in a broadly humorous deadpan. Clearly in Barker's world the psychics, psychotics, and women (including the ghost Sadie, electrocuted for killing her oafishly philandering husband Buck) are sane. Barker juxtaposes this perspective against the horrifically fantastic prophecies of the Book of Revelations, which Virginia's evangelist husband John (like Carrie White's mother) declaims every night in a frenzied and oppressive ritual: “he rose on a spiral of ever more awesome metaphor: from angels to dragons and thence to Babylon, the Mother of Harlots, sitting upon a scarlet-colored beast” (118). As Sadie first tells Virginia, these are “comic book terrors, fit to scare children with.” The word of God is in turn “revealed” to be a misogynistic fantasy of doomsday violence. Sadie becomes Virginia's demonic advisor, assuming also the role of the perverse double. The ghost and the world of comic violence Sadie brings with her provide a sort of Bertha Mason to Virginia's Jane Eyre. Sadie speaks directly for Virginia's buried rage; moreover, her life's definitive act of shooting her husband (and remaining glad she did it) prefigures Virginia's final act. Reverend Gyer, who stands for patriarchy and logos, falls “like a toppled statue” (156). The story ends in high humor as Sadie counsels Virginia to plead insanity, counseling that “‘you'll be notorious. That's worth living for, isn't it?’ Virginia hadn't thought of that. The ghost of a smile illuminated her face” (156). Later, gazing at the moon, which represents the feminine as well as madness, and “putting on the craziest smile she could muster,” Virginia tells the assembled crowd, “The Devil made me do it” (157).
The sensitive and muted “Coming to Grief,” a story collected in Douglas Winter's anthology Prime Evil (1988),3 focuses on the central issue of the modern Female Gothic, the female body as maternal legacy. Barker's protagonist, Miriam Blessed, married and with a daughter, long ago disconnected herself from her mother in what seems to have been an act of disavowal. Miriam has been desperate not to be like her innocuous mother. Returning at her mother's death, Miriam must separate from the mother's body and experience the primary loss that is a biological and psychic necessity (Kristeva, Black Sun 79). In Kristeva's scenario, this means “coming to grief” in the sense of assuming the daughter's inheritance.
Miriam performs her funeral duties and feels very little: she returns to her mother's house, sorts through her things, views the body, reunites with a female friend, and visits the “Bogey Walk,” the site of her childhood fear centering on a huge quarry haunted by a Bogeyman. And in one sense there is a real Bogeyman. A vine covered wall conceals a gap where the bricks are crumbling and which, at her weakest point, after the funeral, draws Miriam forward and invites her to stop to look down among the shadows.
Barker has made several statements about his refusal to exploit the “woman in peril” scenario. The Bogey, Miriam realizes, is no man. It is rather the absence of anything so patriarchal or simple: no “hook-handed men and secret lovers slaughtered in the act of love” (83), no hell, no heaven, no haunting. In his/its place Miriam finds her mother's ordinary face in death. The Bogey is the daughter's matricidal rage both projected and internalized. It has been displaced onto a mythical “man” and also swallowed, preserved within herself as anger against herself and as self-devouring inner emptiness: “Stone. Cold stone. Thinking about absence, about the disguise required by a thing that wished not to be seen, she turned into her mother's road” (85).
In the end, the death-bearing, devouring mother has an other side in “Judy's voice, Judy's hands” (104). Judy, her childhood friend, finds her, calls her back, and heals her with her presence. Having survived more drastic separations—the death of her father, a divorce, and a choice of lesbianism—Judy comforts Miriam through the night, and the next day Miriam returns to her husband and daughter.
“Coming to Grief” is a sign of Barker's considerable range. More characteristically, however, Barker's texts expose the wound, confronting readers with its potency, analyzing it as an unstable sign, and transposing it into a sign of female power. Thus he asks readers to reconstruct their perceptions of the monstrous feminine. “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament,” “The Madonna,” and The Hellbound Heart reconfigure the fatal woman archetype. In “Jacqueline Ess” [“Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament”] (Books of Blood, Volume II), the lawyer and archetypal lover Oliver Vassi provides a testimony as a third of the text: “She was no lamia, no succubus. … She didn't bewitch me; that's a romantic lie to excuse rape. She was a sea: and I had to swim in her. … I'd lived my life on the shore, in the solid world of Law, and I was tired of it” (“Ess” [“Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament”] 87).
Barker is drawing on the French feminist program that advocates a kind of feminist terrorism: the hysteric fully possesses her body and attains the power of the sorceress, Goddess, or Amazon. He uses the metaphor of the literal body to “realize” the feminine within the text as “absence” violently “striving to become a presence” (Gilbert, “Introduction” xviii). Cixous tells women they should write in literal milk or blood. Cixous, Wittig, and Du Plessis write marginal, polymorphous forms: prose poems, crosses between novel and essay, lyric and epic. In this way they reverse the equation in which the male word is made female flesh and so transcend the linear and inscribed to achieve a “no where into which we can fly in a tarantella of rage and desire … where the part of ourselves that longs to be free … can dream, can invent new worlds” (Gilbert, “Introduction” xviii). Subverting logos, French feminists celebrate the body perverse, the body as a book of blood.
Anne Sexton's poem “Consorting with Angels” comes close to projecting such a semiotic utopia. Tired of being a woman, the speaker has an ecstatic vision of transcending gender through a grotesque transformation—of being opened, made “all one skin, like a fish” (1. 39)—rendered in the cadences of the Song of Solomon. Barker's women often triumph through similar transformations of the flesh, reinventing themselves. They are also the powerful agents of male transformation. Jacqueline Ess, who finds herself powerless in the patriarchal world of Law, lacking access to the Word, reconfigures the male body in a quest for female power and identity. The text “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament,” is a study of repressed anger and sexual power politics. It begins in the Cixousian myth of the hysteric who discovers the transforming rage of the sorceress within her body. Like Virginia Gyer (and Anne Sexton), Jacqueline is at first a mad housewife. Oppressed by “the boredom, the drudgery, the frustration” (75) of living as a woman, she attempts to succeed and fails. But precisely then, “from the deep trenches of her nature, faculties she had never known existed” swim up to the surface of her mind “like fish” up to the light.
She recovers these “faculties” through Medusan rage. Like the speaker in Adrienne Rich's “Phenomenology of Anger” (1968), who trains her hysteria into an image of pure “white acetylene” (57, line 59), Jacqueline first turns her hatred on her supercilious psychoanalyst Dr. Blandish, who refers to her “woman's problems” like an “All-knowing, all-seeing Father” (77). Feminism notwithstanding, Barker's special effects are derived from Brian De Palma (Carrie, The Fury) and Cronenberg (Scanners) as Jacqueline discovers her power to transform men's bodies. “Be a woman,” she thinks, willing “his manly chest into making breasts” until the skin bursts and his pelvis expands until it fractures at the center (78). Dry mouthed with shock, Dr. Blandish loses the power to speak except from the body: “it was from between his legs that all the noise was coming; the splashing of his blood … on the carpet” (78).
Jacqueline next trains her mind on that relation between speech, power, and violence, specifically her husband's speeches that turn into justifications that become accusations, “assaults on her character,” speeches that steal her space to be. Once again, she literalizes what we discover to be a violent metaphor. “Shut up,” she thinks, telescoping him “into smaller and smaller space” until, when he is “shut up into a space the size of one of his fine leather suitcases,” she thinks, “My God … this can't be my husband. He's never been as tidy as that” (81).
Jacqueline hopes to find freedom from male domination, female identity, and a voice in her newly born power. To learn mastery, she apprentices herself to Titus Pettifer, a crime boss, but discovers that such power can be another form of slavery. When Pettifer, who can neither live with her nor without her, begs her to kill him, calling her monster to inspire her rage, she turns him into a beast of “indeterminate species. Perhaps a crab, perhaps a dog, perhaps even a man. Whatever it was it had no power over itself” (109), not even the power to die. She moves from destroying men who pain her to using them as instruments for pleasure, but is unable to satisfy or even define her desire. “She'd gone through her life, it seemed, looking for a sign of herself, only able to define her nature by the look in others' eyes. Now she wanted an end to that” (98).
Jacqueline turns to several feminist fables of identity with ambivalent results. She writes her memoirs, but leaves off when she reaches her ninth year, “with the first realization of on-coming puberty” (103). But something shifts when she turns from the man and embraces her own monstrosity (“Monster he calls me: monster I am” ) by “writing” from her body. She finds that she can “will her body to ripple like the surface of a lake.” Without sex, her body becomes “a mystery to her again,” and she realizes the lesson of Our Bodies, Ourselves, “that physical love had been an exploration of that most intimate, and yet most unknown region of her being: her flesh” (102).
Then, however, Jacqueline finds that she must recover herself in relation to the Other. In Nancy Chodorow and Jessica Benjamin, women experience ego boundaries as fluid, in what Benjamin calls an “intersubjective space” (92). And so Jacqueline “understood herself best by embracing someone else; seen her own substance clearly only when another's lips were laid on it, adoring and gentle” (102). Conversely, in the language of power, destroying the Other means destroying herself.
By this time, engorged with power, Jacqueline concludes that she will be completely herself only when she destroys all witnesses to her power and becomes a whore who annihilates her clients. When Vassi, her one lover, comes to her in the conclusion, the story ends turning on a terrible paradox of human sexual dependence: Hell is Other People, especially people of the other sex; I am incomplete without the Other, and yet when completed in the Other, I am dead.
Jacqueline Ess's “Will and Testament” is a disturbing legacy. Its pessimism turns on problems raised in earlier Female Gothic narratives, many of which ended in death (George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss, Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and the lives of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton). Barker's narrative ends in a fiery lovedeath in which the masculine and feminine powers cancel each other out. At the same time, because it is composed of two texts, Jacqueline's story and Vassi's “Testimony,” it is an ongoing dialogue, an open text.
If Books of Blood demonstrate and even celebrate body as a source of female subjectivity and power, they also, like Cronenberg's films, depict men encountering the feminine. Barker's texts similarly “instruct” male readers in the pleasure and pain of embodiment, regendering them. Vassi sees himself as a man speaking (testifying) to men about the truth of female power. “We cannot believe, we men, that power will ever reside happily in the body of a woman, unless that power is a male child. … The power must be in male hands, god-given. That's what our fathers tell us, idiots that they are” (87). In “The Madonna,” from Volume V of Books of Blood, entitled In the Flesh (1986), two men witness the power of parthenogenesis and undergo a literal sexual metamorphosis. Jerry Coloqhoun, a small-time grifter (who turns out to be the protagonist), interests an investor, Ezra Garvey, in renovating an abandoned bath-house. The obscure structure mystifies them both and they become separated in its darkness. In separate instances Jerry and Garvey, who has always been afraid of water and feels more comfortable within walls of institutions, are lured into the center of the pool complex by a naked girl. She teaches them a hard lesson: “The body does not need the mind. It has procedures aplenty, lungs to be filled and emptied, blood to be pumped and food profited from—none of which require the authority of thought.” After fainting, Jerry becomes “aware of his body” as never before: “Its fragility was a trap; its shape, its size, its very gender was a trap. And there was no flying out of it; he was shackled to, or in, this wretchedness” (“Madonna” 167).
But Jerry's horror is just the beginning. As in “Jacqueline Ess,” “Skins of the Fathers,” and “Rawhead Rex,” men who encounter the Anima or Mother undergo a sea-change in which they are released from the false consciousness of gender. Garvey and Jerry (subjectivized by the narrator's increasing use of his androgynous first name) have very different perceptions of the experience, both of which the reader is asked to consider. When Garvey finds himself changing, he blames Jerry and persecutes him in a display of retaliatory bravado. We follow his transformation through a subplot bearing on conflicts that develop between him and his lover Carole. In the beginning, mystified by the pools' architecture, Jerry shows a map to Carole, who sees that they are constructed on the principle of a labyrinth or spiral, which represents the intricate irrationalities of the feminine as perceived by the “linear” masculine mind. Then Jerry and Carole argue hotly over the merits of a French film that seems to Jerry “completely lacking in plot … a series of dialogues between characters discussing their traumas and their aspirations. … It left him feeling torpid” (150). When Jerry later finds his apartment vandalized by Garvey's thugs, he feels that his body has been invaded. To escape feelings of vulnerability, he forces himself on Carole and subsequently experiences paroxysms of guilt.
Barker makes the test of character a radical openness to the experience of the body, and in this story, that experience means literally turning into a woman. Garvey is horrified at the monstrosities he sees sprouting above and below his waist: “the bitches had worked this rapture upon him,” he thinks as he slashes hysterically at the offending parts. Jerry is neither afraid nor “jubilant” but he learns to enjoy being a girl. He turns “his hands over to admire their newfound fineness, running his palms across his breasts.” This biological transformation brings with it a spiritual one; Jerry is born again into pre-Oedipal innocence (and politically correct polymorphous perversity), accepting “this fait accompli as a baby accepts its condition” (178). In contrast to Garvey, Jerry experiences the revelations of the body fantastic: “There were miracles in the world! Forces that could turn flesh inside out without drawing blood; that could topple the tyranny of the real and make play in its rubble” (178).
The reader's experience, like Jerry's, involves a gradual (spiral-like) acceptance of the Madonna as Garvey, and even Carole (who is disgusted by the new Jerry), fall away, victims to their gendered preconceptions. Barker describes the Madonna at first in terms of her beautiful, naked “daughters,” who at first seem to be conventional bathing beauties, then mermaids, and finally take on attributes of lamias, nursing strange, tentacled children—representing the prospect, under a matriarchy, of asexual reproduction. The Madonna herself, or the “eternal feminine,” when finally revealed and demystified, is a vast fleshy mountain, a womb turned inside out. The narrator's description runs up and down the evolutionary ladder:
As the ripples of luminescence moved through the creature's physique, it revealed with every fresh pulsation some new and phenomenal configuration. … Mother? Jerry mouthed. … [S]wollen flesh was opening; liquid light gushing. … The slit spasmed and delivered the child—something between a squid and a shorn lamb—onto the tiles.
This fleshy revelation leaves Garvey paranoid and sick with confusion. But by the end of the story, the narrator has transposed the terms and the emotions associated with the abject mother into an evocation of the sublime. As the whirlpool catches him, and like Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych (at the moment of his death) or John Barth's spermatozoan on his erotic “Night-Sea Journey,” Jerry swims toward the light at the end of the tunnel. From this new inner space, a womb's eye view,
Death was no more certain than the dream of masculinity he'd lived these years. Terms of description fit only to be turned up and over and inside out. The earth was bright, wasn't it, and probably full of stars. He opened his mouth and shouted into the whirlpool, as the light grew and grew, an anthem in praise of paradox.
The worship of the Madonna means not matriarchy but a “utopian dream of a monstrous world without gender,” such as Donna Haraway recommends (223), a world open to change. Like Vassi (“Jacqueline Ess”), Jerry, having lived his life on shore, in “the solid world,” is tired of it. The Madonna is “a sea” and he must learn to swim in her element. Also similar is the way “The Madonna” ends in one of Barker's reversals of the emotional dominant, which is usually horror, into its opposite.
In all the stories previously mentioned, Barker offers a happy ending that is also profoundly disturbing, or he establishes a tone of optimism in the presence of uncertainty. Such shifts deny conventional pleasure and conventional pain and are consequently provocative. As in absurdist theater, the point is to disrupt our normal categories for processing experience. Barker contrasts his position on physicality with David Cronenberg's: “There is an argument that he's being repulsed by the flesh he's writing [sic] about, whereas I tend to be having a good time with it. ‘Long Live the New Flesh’ would be a cry that would come from both our lips” (Barker, “Tearing” [“Tearing Your Soul Apart”] 269). “Having a good time with it” means using fantasy to shift aesthetic, moral, and political values lent to body images and so changing the way we construct ourselves. The stories also destabilize conventional emotional resonances and move the reader to experience gender in different terms.
In the several stories that explore the conflict of male and female principles, the spectrum of issues and dialogue of perspectives invites the reader to participate. The titillation and semantic play lead to a more serious form of play in which images of gender are transposed and reconstructed. Barker often exposes orthodox belief systems, the church, the law, and psychology in particular for handing down misogynistic mythologies of the body. “Rawhead Rex” (Books of Blood, Volume III), is a splatter-movie version of the walking erection in “The Age of Desire” and another deconstruction of Lacan's Phallus, the Law of the Father. Rex is a monstrous materialization of the phallus running rampant, making its bloody way through the Welsh town of Zeal. The battle of Good and Evil as configured between Christ and the Anti-Christ is referred back to a much older allegorical struggle of masculine and feminine principles.
In the religious allegory, Rawhead Rex is the last of a race of child-devouring Titans that owned the land “Before Christ. Before civilization” (57) and that is uncovered from centuries of sleep by a farmer removing a huge stone in a field. Rex recalls perhaps the “rough beast” or Anti-Christ Yeats predicted in “The Second Coming.” The spineless verger at the local Anglican church plays his John the Baptist, bowing to a “Lord of the Hardon” whose demands would be “plain, and real.” “Raw Head. The name was an imperative. It evoked a skinned head. Its defenses peeled back, a thing close to bursting, no telling if it was pain or pleasure” (6). Rex acknowledges the verger's apostleship by urinating copiously on him. Orthodox zealots, Barker thereby suggests, are really motivated by the physiology of sex, and most especially pleasure in the hydraulics of ejaculation.
The most striking reversal is of the symbolism of blood, associated in the Church with the crucifixion and the power of resurrection into spiritual life. Like Anne Rice, Barker deconstructs the Judeo-Christian myths of blood, recovering its origins in more ancient fertility rites, cannibalism, and menstruation taboos. In the latter, the woman who was “born to bleed” but did not die was both abject victim and immortal monster. The Christian totem of the cross has suppressed the pagan taboo (and the taboo has elided female power) to the extent that the subject of menstruation was rarely broached in horror or any literature until Anne Sexton's “Menstruation at Forty.”
In “Rawhead Rex,” one of Barker's most violent stories, images associated traditionally with the female “abject” are reconfigured as symbols of life. Rather than eliding or exploiting the taboo, as Hanson has accused Stephen King of doing in Carrie, Barker allegorizes the issue. At first, Gwen's period comes on as a biological defense reflex: she “didn't see the giant, but her innards churned. Damn periods, she thought, rubbing her lower belly in a slow circle. … This month she'd come on a day early” (49). The body language comes from Rex's perspective as well: there was
no way [Rex] could bring himself to touch this woman; not today. She had the blood cycle on her, he could taste its tang, and it sickened him. It was taboo, that blood, and he had never taken a woman poisoned by its presence.
Barker describes menstruation as a horror specifically to the monster Rex, thus foregrounding the issue in the primitive literalism of his perception. He is, after all, an embodiment of the phallus. Our reading of rape is also foregrounded when Rex remembers the good old days when he and his brothers had
taken women into the woods, spread them out, spiked and loosed them again, bleeding but fertile. They would die having the children of those rapes. … That was the only revenge … on the big bellied sex.
Rex's hypermasculinity masks a terrified womb envy. What finally defeats him is the sign of the taboo raised on high as a totem, a stone icon of Venus, sign of the “bleeding woman, her gaping hole eating seed and spitting children. It was life, that hole, that woman, it was endless fecundity.” It is the power Hélène Cixous has described as the laugh of the Medusa. When neither the police nor the crucifix (the sign of the bleeding man) daunts him, the woman “terrifie[s] him” into submission (87), and he is forced back into the hole from which he last emerged.
“Rawhead Rex” begins as what seems to be a celebration of male sexual violence. But hard-ons don't last. At least half of the story is described through Rex's perspective, to the extent that much of the pleasure of reading it is designed with male action-movie lovers in mind. The narrator delights with Rex in phallic power as he devours the entrails of babies and urinates on the alternatingly groveling and ecstatic verger. But the story increasingly reveals the limitations of this Law of the Father—that he is the last of his breed, dooming his offspring (who kill their mothers as they are born). In Barker's characteristic turn, we learn that Rex has “never been a great thinker,” that he lives in the eternal present of the instinctual (49-50). In the last third of the story, the archeologist Ron Milton loses his son to the phallic principle and becomes a hero when he screams: “The scream had always belonged to the other sex, until that instant. Then, watching the monster stand up and close its jaws around his son's head, there was no sound appropriate but a scream” (78). “Dead sons,” he discovers, “were the crux of the Church after all” (50). Thus “Rawhead Rex” turns the mythology of the Church into myths of gender and images of the body fantastic.
“In none of my fiction,” Barker has said, “will you find any religious solution to a problem. Nobody ever whips out a crucifix and expects to keep a monster at bay with it. Those are old solutions. We have to find new solutions” (qtd. in Castaneda 59). In moving toward new solutions we should recover the artifacts buried under the altars, whose iconography is based in monstrous images of the body. Learning to see into these images, however, is merely the beginning. The goal is to re-imagine them and thereby re-invent ourselves.
Inevitably Barker's fiction returns to the idea of embracing the monstrous feminine in order to be fully human. And because the feminine is the marginal “sex which is not one” (Irigaray), it includes or implies androgyny. Barker's dialogues of gender suggest that within conventional constrictions, we are all misshapen fragments of whole people, or at best halves searching for the missing or possible Other. We are all seeking to re-imagine our present selves. Sexual metamorphosis is often positively self-transcending.
Barker's lively, myth-transforming “splatter prose” should be considered in a context that includes feminist artists Judy Chicago and Robert Mapplethorpe, who (while obviously quite different) have designed images of the body that make space for sexual difference. I am thinking of Chicago's The Dinner Party, a series of dinner plates designed to suggest the female genitalia in metamorphosis or flight and Mapplethorpe's reconstructions of the phallus. “The Madonna” and “Rawhead Rex” venture into revisionist mythmaking.
Feminist subtexts inform the discourses of the body that comprise Barker's six volumes. Books of Blood are fantastic voyages through the gendered body, with the male and female principles represented in images of its inner spaces. They show the extent to which psychoanalysis shifted its base in the mid-1980s, from the subject's mind-centered emphasis on consciousness to the bodymind or the body fantastic. Books of Blood are also dialogues in which gender may be transposed or transformed; they are re-genderings of the body.
In “Rawhead Rex,” the perspective shifts from a randy phallocentrism toward gynocentrism, and turns from a splatter film into a dialogic text. “Jacqueline Ess” moves from female powerlessness to the monstrous feminine to the paradox of human sexual dependence. This paradox is embodied in a text in which Jacqueline's fatal and female “Will and Testament,” unwritten except in a fragment of a diary and the misshapen fragments of male flesh, is co-authored and made possible by Vassi, whose “Testimony” also represents a significantly revised version of the patriarchal law. Jacqueline's story proper provides a satirical mirror of the Word, and Vassi's passionate lyricism responds to and deflects Jacqueline's rage. Neither text would be complete without the other. The story, like the Books as a whole, becomes a collaborative text, a dialogue of positions, and a problem thrust on the reader.
As his move toward fantasy indicates, Barker's interest in essentialist concepts, including archetypal and psychoanalytic analysis, is superseded by what must be called his “faith” in change and his war against Blakean “mind-forged manacles.” Barker attacks Freud, for example, in “The Body Politic,” for fitting the mind in “neat classical compartments,” and suggests that his own viewpoint is more Jungian. At the same time, Barker exposes the stereotyping tendencies of archetypal approaches, celebrating variegation.
In presenting a spectrum, Books of Blood are subversive in form as well as content: each story is composed of several counterpointing characters or voices, each volume consists of four to six such tales, each playing off the others, the dialogic play destabilizing the whole, reversing and revising stereotypes. Instead of closure, Barker offers heteroglossia and transformation, which make for humorously black, weirdly optimistic, or triumphantly paradoxical endings. The six volumes provide a Bakhtinian Carnival in which normally suppressed voices are heard “in the flesh” as transformation and intertextuality triumph over patriarchy and logos. At the same time, as violent texts, Books of Blood subvert political correctness itself, sliding into ambivalence.
“CELEBRATIONS OF PERVERSITY”: BARKER'S FILMS
Transformation is the essential element in Barker's visual style, whatever the medium. This theme is perhaps most obvious in his films and screenplays. A case in point is Hellraiser, his enormously successful 1987 directorial debut, and an all-out, perversely dislocating splatter movie.4 The film's focus is the deconstruction and gradual reconstruction of Frank Cotton from a bit of slime and ganglia on up.
Based on his novella The Hellbound Heart (1986), Hellraiser cross references Faust, Frankenstein, and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and may draw on Barker's early Grand Guignol plays. Frank Cotton wishes to “redefine the parameters of sensation” and to release himself from “the dull round of desire, seduction and disappointment that ha[s] dogged him from late adolescence” (Hellbound Heart 187). By manipulating an exotic puzzle box, Frank summons the Cenobites, described in The Hellbound Heart as “theologians of the Order of the Gash” (187), masters of pleasure and pain and providers of private hells, imagined as a fleshy limbo. In the film these demons are visual puns, metaphors of sadomasochism—a head scored into perfect squares and studded with pins; a face trapped in a prison of flesh that covers all but the mouth and a set of chattering teeth. As Frank discovers, the Cenobites offer jouissance through ultimate sensational experience and physical transformation in exchange for his self. A flood, a “cacophony” of sensations is unleashed and “written on his cortex,” until he feels “close to exploding” (Hellbound Heart 193), as indeed he is. In the film his body is ripped apart in a literalization of deconstruction. However, eternal jouissance is paradoxically a type of entrapment. There is no exit.5 Julia, Frank's sister-in-law and lover, feels trapped in a conventional marriage and equally fractured into roles. Divining her lover's presence in the family house, she agrees to resurrect and literally raise him through a bloody ritual in which she seduces, bludgeons, and feeds a series of men to Frank's voracious remains.
In Hellraiser, the central image is Frank's radical dismemberment in the prologue and gradual reconstruction throughout the film in spectacular effects sequences. These reverse the traditional horror movie structure in which the monster is deconstructed and expelled at the end of the movie. The opening sequence concludes as fragments of the organs of his senses are displayed on hooks in artful tableaus in the style of Grand Guignol and Hieronymous Bosch. The reconstruction involves eight stages of clinically detailed effects that suggest the layered transparencies of a medical textbook.
In the transformation of Frank, Barker attempts to recreate the effect of the “very beautiful” sixteenth-century medical illustrations of the anatomist Andreas Vesallius, who portrayed “flayed men and women standing in classical poses or leaning against pillars. The whole atmosphere of these images is cool and elegant. …” With these etchings in mind, Barker and effects designer Bob Keene made Frank and the Cenobites “beautiful and repulsive simultaneously” (Barker, qtd. in Floyd, “Clive Barker” 313).
The resulting film is subversive, as Barker and Bob Keene, the effects technician, intended. Like Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, the effects reverse splatter film violence against the female and (perversely) flay, open up, and “feminize” the male. This skinless and continually “new” Frank is a walking wound, his anatomy his visible destiny. An excruciating reminder of our physiological limits, and thus Frankenstein's monster, Frank is alternately the body in pieces and the body in flux: “the map of his arteries and veins still being drawn anew,” “puls[ing] with stolen life” (Hellbound Heart 238).
Hellraiser is erotic in sexually dislocating ways. At his most rapacious Frank is portrayed as a growing fetus nourished in the chamber of Julia's desire. Like Rawhead Rex, he is a penis—rising from the floorboards with the gasp/roar/cry of a beast/child/orgasm, the mise-en-scène bringing the sights and sounds of birth, predatory violence, and sex into disturbing juxtaposition. In an oddly painful and compelling scene, Frank, newly born from the pool of slime that he was, has a cigarette as he chats with his mistress. Conventional horror “portrays women as more squeamish than men” (Women in Horror), Barker has complained, and he plays against stereotype, generating perverse overtones. As Julia bathes in the blood of her victims and mates with the slime of Frank on the floor of the womblike room—as she embraces villainy and abjection—she becomes paradoxically more beautiful. (In the novella The Hellbound Heart, she also becomes perversely maternal: “she [f]orsak[es] the dregs of her distaste,” touching the hair—“silken, like a baby's—and the shell of his skull beneath” ).
Equally dislocating is the film's “relativized morality,” which Nigel Floyd calls a “cruel parody of the old liberal maxim, ‘Everyone has their reasons’” (“Clive Barker” 313). Julia is no “fatal woman” stereotype, and she is especially sympathetic from a Female Gothic point of view. Seduced by Frank before her wedding to the kind but dull Rory, she nurses Frank back to life to give her pleasure. Like Jacqueline Ess, she chooses “masculine” knowledge, power, and creativity over traditional female roles and changes from a neurotic housewife to a woman possessed by desire. “She had made this man, or remade him, used her wit … to give him substance. The thrill she felt, touching this too vulnerable body, was the thrill of ownership,” the novella tells us (Hellbound Heart 240). Julia relishes the Female Gothic experience of “unnatural” authorship (surrogate motherhood) to Shelleyian “hideous progeny.” But as Nigel Floyd explains, viewers are torn between their sympathy for Frank and Julia and their “disorientation at being encouraged to identify with the forces of evil. Refused any single organizing moral point of view, the viewer is kept continually off-balance” (Floyd 318).
Hellraiser subverts the kind of certainty found in bourgeois horror films rooted in the nuclear family, whose purpose is to expel the monstrous. The film additionally tests the limits of the genre, using its conventions to unsettle viewers. Such reversals and paradoxes of Hellraiser defamiliarize splatter conventions and make viewers newly and uncomfortably conscious of the body as a process, as incessant transformation. Barker has explained that such “rearrangements of the flesh,” as he calls them, only show what takes place “on a moment-to-moment basis,” a process that he says is “kind of celebrated” in his fiction. In an interview with Morgan Gerard, Barker describes it in terms of “sitting together, growing old; our flesh minutely changing outside our control; our bodies responding to the alcohol we're taking in; our organs, for all we know, growing tumorous. The flesh can decide to get sick, to get upset, to make us desire” (qtd. in Gerard). Barker's images are confrontations with the wound that reveals change at the heart of things. This recognition Barker celebrates, paradoxically, because it requires (and also can free) us to re-imagine the world. The flux that is the body is ultimately a source of power.
Barker's drawings therefore portray characters who actively recreate themselves. Barker explains that they are “only just holding onto their coherence” (Burke 52), “exploding out of their condition into something else. Becoming” (Burke 38). We are “programmed socially, economically, emotionally, religiously,” but the possibility of “throwing over … self-restrictions” taught by “priests, parents, and psychologists” is always present. “Can we not erupt?” he asks rhetorically. “We re-invent ourselves anyway, day-to-day, friend-to-friend, moment-to-moment—it's just that we don't really perceive that” (qtd. in Burke 44).
This concept of the self in flux Barker expressed early in “The Skins of the Fathers” (Books of Blood II), which re-dressed H. P. Lovecraft's “The Dunwich Horror” in a radical imagery derived from the fantastic painters. In the “cosmic horror” of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, the demons are oozy, huge, and malign. Like many of Poe's horrors, they are “unnameable” and refer to a feminine monstrosity. Barker turns Lovecraft's coding wrong side out by making his equally marginal demons the heroes, the “true” fathers of the human species. When the patriarchs of Welcome, Nebraska, first encounter the demons, they see only a procession of apparent celebrants, a “gorgeous array” of shapes, colors, sizes, wearing “headdresses and masks that [totter] well above human height,” reeling “like drunkards, loping one moment, leaping the next, squirming, some of them, on the ground” (118-19). But these are not costumes, and the demons have reemerged, after several millennia, the last of their species, to celebrate the birth of their changeling son Aaron. Their “extraordinary anatomies, the dreaming spires of heads, the scales, the skirts” (153) and their empathic language (or is it song?) defy the townspeople's categories for body and gender types. (The denizens of Welcome call them “[d]irty, stinking, faceless fuckers” .) The demons dismantle biological norms and the larger natural order. When Aaron blossoms into the “soup of shapes” (154) of his/her truer form, an epic battle between authentic and false fathers and a grand apocalypse of a landslide ensues.
Barker explains that the “representatives of society, who, in most horror films, are figures of order and stability,” are in his works “models of moral depravity.” The fathers of Welcome are characterized as “fat white fists hot with guns” (147), and Aaron's human father abuses him for being a “sissy.” In a reversal that few male writers in any genre would attempt, modern patriarchy is portrayed as a violent moment following a golden prehistory in which women had always existed as a “species to themselves,” with the demons. “But they had wanted playmates: and together they had made men. What … a cataclysmic miscalculation. Within mere eons … the women were made slaves, the demons killed or driven underground” (147). The imagery links women further with the demons, associating them together with life-affirming plenitude, freakish diversity, and the Dionysian or Bakhtinian carnival. In the utopia Barker imagines, both “species” are sexually whole and embody a prehistoric version of pre-Oedipal polymorphous perversity. “Skins of the Fathers”: sins, foreskins, forefathers. The demons are all of these. “‘See, them black-eyed sons of bitches don't have no fucking heads,’ Eugene was screaming” (151). Their association with foreskins, reinforced by their appearances and their bisexual apparatus, is Barker's reconstruction of Judeo-Christian law in which the foreskin is considered unclean, tainted with the archaic Mother, and is removed from the son's penis. Aaron, the changeling son, looks like an ordinary boy—slender like the rod that prefigures him—until his real nature erupts in a manner that suggests both an erection and a polymorphous blossoming. In the typology of the symbolic, these skins more properly belong to “stinking, faceless mothers,” to This Sex Which Is Not One, or “male and female in one indistinguishable congress.”
Barker has described the natural world as “relentlessly beautiful, relentlessly inventive, relentlessly complex. And [in this respect] it celebrates the marginal in a way that human structure doesn't. … The Third Reich is the ultimate non-celebration of the marginal” (qtd. in Gracey-Whitman and Melia 412). “The Skins of the Fathers” displaces the phallic signifier here as part of the program to privilege the marginal as consistent with the variegation and transformation in nature. Although several stories tall, the demons cradle and croon to Aaron telepathically, surrounding him with a womb of sound and sensation. Alternately whimsical, exotic, awe inspiring, grotesque, and charming, “The Skins of the Fathers” is a hymn to diversity, asking readers to think about a world uninscribed by gender, culture, or species, and in which the human is disseminated rather than prefigured. As sands cover the demons and the Welcomers alike, the demons' song lingers over the “text” provided by the remnants of the Law: a head, a torso, a nose, and a mouth emerging from the sand. The story ends with a nod to Lovecraftian “cosmic” horror and awe as from the long perspective we view these “trivial forms,” these “[l]ittle dots and commas of human pain” (122).
It is not surprising that Barker was quickly taken up by the adult comic book industry. Epic Comics illustrator McLaurin, who draws the Hellraiser and Nightbreed series, explains: the Hellraiser series is not the kind of horror “you'd expect from an EC comic, where a twist ending bundles up the plot in one bloody package.” Unlike King, who deals in “everyday” horror, “Barker is set apart by his ability to create an entirely believable mythological universe, populating it with a menagerie of the monstrous” (Labbe 41).
After Books of Blood, The Damnation Game (1986), and The Hellbound Heart (in Night Visions series, No. 3, 1986), Barker moved away from splatter fiction and the iconographic toward the fantastique. This mode increasingly emphasizes variegation or creative diversification. Transformation becomes the subversive use of fantasy to re-imagine the self and the world, especially in Weaveworld, his “anti-fantasy” or meta-fantasy of 1988.
In emphasizing the social function of transformation and metamorphosis, Barker is in line not only with feminist revisionists but also with “magic realists” Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Louis Borges, and Italo Calvino. Like these writers, Barker believes that the cultural attitudes toward the flesh, toward difference, and toward other species need to change. Like them he celebrates the marginal.
Barker's Bakhtinian vision is overtly presented in his 1989 film Nightbreed, based on his novella Cabal (1988). In its world, as described by Maitland McDonagh, “every day is a carnival … real carnival, a no-holds-barred celebration of the grotesque and the inverse” (60). Nightbreed is not a successful film. It is a nearly incoherent film unless it is viewed in part as meta-film, “read against” horror conventions. The videotape, however, begins with a helpful prologue. Barker is shown sitting dressed in black on a dark sound stage and surrounded by the masks of the Nightbreed monsters. The faces, including Barker's, are bathed in an eerie glow. “I've always loved monsters,” he announces. “A dark corner in all of us … envies their powers, … would love to … fly, or change shape at will.” Monsters are our transgressive desires. Therefore Barker has created Midian, an underground city “peopled with creatures of our darkest fantasies” and where, consequently, “we can feel strangely at home.” He invites “you” to join in “flipping all the conventions of the horror movies, plunging you to a world of insanity and miracles, where dead men can be heroes, monsters beautiful, and the only place of refuge is the most forbidding place on earth.”
Like Hellraiser, Nightbreed undermines the categorical thinking behind concepts like sadism, masochism, and necrophilia, and “embraces the monstrous,” but by means of plotting, characterization, and conventions more properly associated with the fantastique. Midian is threatened by the forces of order represented in Eigermann the fascist sheriff, Ashbery the masochistic priest, Decker the sadistic psychoanalyst, and even the hero-enlightener Aaron Boone. The film begins with the twist that would have provided the clincher for the conventional horror movie, one that foregrounds the character of Decker and his cohorts. Dr. Decker has convinced Boone, his patient and scapegoat, that he is a serial murderer, having programmed Boone with his own psychopathic memories. Decker is a type, Barker's satire on psychologists as terrorists of the imagination, so that his hollowness as a character, his lack of authenticity, history, or motivation, is the point. He is also characterized externally through casting and visual metaphor. In the crucial role is horror film director David Cronenberg, directly imported from the fantastic clinicism of Dead Ringers (1989).
Performed with the chilly detachment of one of Cronenberg's doctors, Cronenberg-as-Decker also represents Dead Ringers's theme of “male horror and envy of female reproductive process” (Showalter 242), symbolized in “the breed” and their unruly proliferation of the fantastic. Cronenberg's presence at the extra-diagetic level interacts with the visual metaphor of Decker's alter ego, “The Mask” (as Decker addresses it in the novella), under whose authority he acts as a grim reaper. The Mask links Decker the psychologist unsettlingly with the icon for the teenage slasher movie, Jason's hockey mask. Decker's Mask is the cloth face of a sewing-box doll—“zipper for mouth, buttons for eyes, all sewn on white linen and tied around” With “the teeth … gleaming knives, their blades fine as grass blades” (Cabal 88). With these he accomplishes his mission of “sewing/sowing” culture. The construction of reality means the death of imagination, as represented in Barker's Carnival of shape shifters, freaks, and dark dreamers—the “children of the Moon.”
As a visual metaphor, and as a sign of genre, Decker's mask presents the antithesis to the protagonists, who are fantasy images, grotesques inspired by Goya and Bosch. In an interview with Nigel Floyd, Barker explains that the film contains a “generic collision” between the world “of the fabulist and the world of iconographic images” and representing the larger one between the world of Midian and the world of Law. The latter is represented iconographically by Cronenberg/as Decker/as psychologist/as slasher/as mask and is equated with the modern horror movie at its most conventional. Decker is a “reductionist, cold-hearted and soulless thing” (Floyd, “Frights” 345). Decker portrays the modern horror tradition as being “about throwing the monster out, about the rejection of the marginal” says Barker. Within his metaphorical worlds, however, “it's not possible to throw the monster out and assume that one's house has been purged … because the monster is part of our internal workings” (Floyd, “Clive Barker: Hellraiser” 312).
In the Nightbreed characters, the grotesque is a sign of Dionysian energy, to Barker the equivalent of soul. More specifically, the grotesque represents the self with potential for transformation. The Nightbreed are, as opposed to any one image or type, shape shifters. The visual metaphor of the mask gives the concept of transformation psychological and physiological force. Narcisse, the protagonist's sidekick, is an icon of the “authentic” man-without-a-face. In the beginning, as one of Decker's patients, he is a madman tormented by dreams of utopia (Midian). As a way of seeking admission to the city of his dreams, Narcisse suicidally strips the skin from half of his face, rendering it a mask, thus transforming himself into a dualism and a paradox, a freak “worthy” of such a utopia. Like R. D. Laing and Michel Foucault, Barker sees madness as the name given to those whose vision might subvert the symbolic order. In contrast to Narcisse and thus portraying a different kind of madness, the hero Aaron Boone erupts, smoke pouring from all orifices, and transforms his human face (or public mask) into the powerfully beastlike Cabal, the savior-priest who is also Midian's “undoing.” It is through the same deconstructive logic that Boone can fulfill his destiny only by dying and becoming a “beast,” by losing his heroic name (to the signification “Cabal,” from cabala and signifying magic) and by becoming Midian's unmaking. By causing the destruction of this refuge for Otherness, and however unwittingly, Boone forces Carnival back into the world where it can remain vitally subversive.
As Lisa Tuttle points out, Cabal/Nightbreed is Weaveworld, which she reads as a classic, “even archetypal, fantasy,” in reverse. By “archetypal fantasy” she means
the longed-for Other Place. … This longing—desire—is the engine which drives fantasy, just as in the horror story the engine is fear. But that desire and fear might be inextricably linked is something not usually commented on or explored by writers in either genre. … Perhaps now … artists are interested in exploring the nexus of fear and desire.
The shape-shifting Children of the Moon, together with Baphomet, their “god and goddess in one body” (Cabal 207), embody that nexus. They represent the possibility inherent in unconstructed—quilled, tentacled, multi-textured, and rainbow-colored—life. In the novella, confronted with the “true Midian” for the first time, the heroine Lori feels a mixture of horror and fascination:
Was it simply disgust that made her stomach flip, seeing the stigmatic in full flood, with sharp-toothed adherents sucking noisily at her wounds? Or excitement, confronting the legend of the vampire in the flesh? And what was she to make of the man whose body broke into birds when he saw her watching? Or the dog-headed painter who turned from his fresco and beckoned her to join his apprentice mixing paint?
The Nightbreed are Jungian masks or faces of the unconstructed self, grotesques, and they stand for Barker's concept of transformation. “You call us monsters but when you dream you dream of flying, changing,” one of the Children of the Moon explains to Lori. They also incarnate the modern view of life and death as relative conditions: some are predators (while others are not); some are alive and some are technically dead but “living” in the liminal state that Midian's underground space, otherwise signified as carnival, represents. Allusions to the classic film statements on carnival, to Tod Browning's Freaks and Fellini Satyricon, abound. Barker has explained the film as a hymn to variegation and in the fantastique tradition, including the paintings of Bosch, Goya, Blake, and Fuseli. The “generation of fresh imagery” is its purpose (Barker, qtd. in Floyd, “Frights” 343).
In Clive Barker's films, as in his fiction, the imagery of violence and the experience of pain are aspects of his metaphorics of transformation. Like Mapplethorpe's photography or Wittig's writing, his texts do violence to the body, opening it into a text, in order to shift the emphasis we call gender and articulate difference. Stephen King has said that horror “arises from a pervasive sense of disestablishment, that things are in the unmaking” (Introd. 22). But when Barker's anti-horror fantasy unmakes the world, he does so in part to open spaces, to appeal to the reader's or viewer's desire to recreate the world. People should “leave the moviehouse or put down the book knowing that they can begin to reinvent this,” he says, tapping an empirical table, “and our relationship to this,” he emphasized recently. “Works of the imagination are finally tools for change” (Strauss, “New King” 94).
See Rockett on horror as Theater of Cruelty.
Asked in an interview with G. Dair if he were confident in his own sexuality, Barker answered discreetly: “I'm confident in my own complexity and that really interests me, because of the ambiguities of sexuality, the ambiguities of metaphysics, and the metaphysics of sexuality are things which hugely influence what I write” (393). Unlike Stephen King (who maintains the image of a family man who can make his private life common knowledge and would publish his laundry list if he thought it would sell) or Anne Rice (who has a listed phone number and publishes her sexual fantasies for all the world to see), Barker has until very recently steered clear of the subject of his private life, intellectualizing the issue or referring back to his work. But this past year, after the manuscript of this book was complete, Barker spoke “as an openly gay man for the first time” in Out magazine (“The 1995 Out 100,” Out Dec.-Jan. 1996: 90). Featured in Genre's “Men We Love” section (Dec.-Jan. 1996), he says he is “first and foremost a gay man who imagines. How important the gay part is depends on the medium, but I can't imagine making art without some form of sexual content” (50).
“Coming to Grief” was also published in Good Housekeeping (Oct. 1988) in the United Kingdom.
Hellraiser won the Grand Prix De La Section Peur at the 16th Annual Avoriaz Fantasy Film Festival in France in 1989 and was the number one box-office hit in Europe in 1988.
Lord of Illusions, Barker's 1995 film, was released in October 1995, after I completed the manuscript for this book.
Badley, Linda. Film, Horror, and the Body Fantastic. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Barker, Clive. “The Age of Desire.” Barker, Inhuman Condition 194-220.
———. “Big Chills.” Jones 263-69.
———. “The Body Politic.” Barker, Inhuman Condition 57-102.
———. “The Book of Blood.” Barker, Books of Blood I 1-16.
———. Books of Blood Volume I. 1984. New York: Berkeley, 1986.
———. Books of Blood Volume II. 1984. New York: Berkeley, 1986.
———. Books of Blood Volume III. 1984. New York: Berkeley, 1986.
———. Cabal. Rpt. in Cabal (including Books of Blood Volume VI.) New York: Simon & Schuster-Pocket, 1988. 1-218.
———. “Coming to Grief.” Winter, Prime Evil 83-105.
———. The Damnation Game. 1985. New York: Putnam, 1987.
———. “The Forbidden.” Barker, In the Flesh 75-127.
———. The Hellbound Heart. Night Visions: The Hellbound Heart. Ed. George R. R. Martin. 1986. New York: Berkeley, 1988. 183-278.
———. Imagica. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
———. The Inhuman Condition: Tales of Terror. Vol. 4 of Books of Blood. 6 vols. 1986. New York: Simon & Schuster-Poseidon, 1986.
———. In the Flesh: Tales of Terror. Vol. 5 of Books of Blood. 6 vols. 1986. New York: Simon & Schuster-Poseidon, 1986.
———. “In the Hills, the Cities.” Barker, Books I 172-210.
———. “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament.” Barker, Books II 75-116.
———. “The Life of Death.” Barker, Books VI, Cabal 219-61.
———. “The Madonna.” Barker, In the Flesh 129-81.
———. “The Midnight Meat Train.” Barker, Books I 17-52.
———. “New Fiction by Clive Barker: Animal Life.” USA Weekend 24-26 June 1994: 4-7.
———. “Rawhead Rex.” Barker, Books III 39-88.
———. “Revelations.” Barker, Inhuman Condition 104-57.
———. “The Skins of the Fathers.” Barker, Books II 117-57.
———. “Son of Celluloid.” Barker, Books III 1-38.
———. “Stephen King: Surviving the Ride.” Underwood & Miller, Kingdom of Fear 55-63.
———. “Tearing Your Soul Apart.” Your Worst Fears Confirmed. Nov. 1988. Jones 269.
———. Weaveworld: A Novel. New York: Poseidon, 1987.
Barth, John. Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice. 1968. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Benjamin, Jessica. The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination. New York: Pantheon, 1988.
Booe, Martin. “Deliciously Terrifying.” Interview with Clive Barker. USA Weekend 26-28 Jan. 1990: 8.
Burke, Fred. Clive Barker: Illustrator. Ed. Steve Niles. Introd. Stephen R. Bissette. Forrestville, CA: Arcane-Eclipse, 1990.
Burns, Craig William. “It's That Time of the Month: Representations of the Goddess in the Work of Clive Barker.” Journal of Popular Culture 27.3 (Winter 1993): 35-40.
Campbell, Ramsey. “Introduction.” Barker, Books I xi-xiii.
Castaneda, Laura. “Britain's Clive Barker: Future King of Horror.” The Tennessean Showcase [Nashville] 24 Aug. 1986: 58-59.
Cixous, Hélène. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen. Signs 1 (Summer 1976). Rpt. New French Feminisms. Eds. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron. New York: Schhocken, 1981. 245-64.
Dair, G. “Eroticizing the World.” Cut Oct. 1987. Rpt. in Jones 393-95.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983.
Floyd, Nigel. “Clive Barker: Hellraiser.” 20/20 May 1989. Rpt. in Jones 309-317.
———. “Frights of Fancy.” Jones 341-46.
Foucault, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Trans. A. M. Sheridan-Smith. New York: Vintage-Random House, 1975.
———. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage-Random House, 1979.
———. A History of Sexuality. Volume I: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage-Random House, 1990.
———. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Pantheon, 1964.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). Freud, Standard Edition 18: 1-64.
———. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. James Strachey. 24 vols. London: Hogarth, 1964.
———. Totem and Taboo (1913). Freud, Standard Edition 13: vii-162.
———. “The ‘Uncanny’” (1919). Freud, Standard Edition 17: 219-52.
Gerard, Morgan. “Clive Barker The Horror!” Graffiti Jan. 1988. Rpt. (as excerpt) in Jones 157.
Gibson, William. “Foreword: Strange Attractors.” Alien Sex: 19 Tales by the Masters of Science Fiction and Dark Fantasy. Ed. Ellen Datlow. New York: Dutton, 1990. xv-xvi.
Gilbert, Sandra M. “Introduction: A Tarantella of Theory.” The Newly Born Woman. By Katherine Clement and Hélène Cixous. Trans. Betsy Wing. Theory and History of Literature #24. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986. ix-xviii.
Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1979.
Gracey-Whitman, Lionel, and Don Melia. “Beneath the Blanket of Banality.” Heartbreak Hotel July-Aug. 1988. Rpt. Jones 403-23.
Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Hughes, Dave. “Clive Barker in the Flesh.” Skeleton Crew 3-4 (1988). Rpt. in Jones 391.
Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which Is Not One. Trans. Catherine Porter. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1985.
Jones, Stephen, ed. Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden. Lancaster, PA: Underwood-Miller, 1991.
Kanfer, Stefan. “King of Horror.” Cover story. Time 6 Oct. 1986: 74-78, 80, 83.
Kristeva, Julia. “Approaching Abjection.” Trans. John Lechte. Oxford Literary Review 5.1-2 (1982): 125-49.
———. Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. European Perspectives. New York: Columbia UP, 1989.
———. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. European Perspectives. New York: Columbia UP, 1982.
McDonagh, Maitland. “Future Shock: Clive Barker and William Gibson.” Film Comment Jan-Feb. 1990: 60-63.
Nutman, Philip. “Douglas E. Winter on Splatterpunk and ‘Anti-Horror’.” The Twilight Zone Magazine Oct. 1988: 85.
Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. James A. Harrison. Virginia Ed. 17 vols. New York: AMS, 1965.
———. “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” Poe, Complete Works, 6: 154-66.
———. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Poe, Complete Works, 3: 273-97.
———. “The Philosophy of Composition.” Poe, Complete Works, 14: 193-208.
Rich, Adrienne. Adrienne Rich's Poetry and Prose: Poems, Prose, Reviews and Criticism. Ed. Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi. New York: Norton, 1993.
Seem, Mark. Introduction. Deleuze and Guattari xv-xxiv.
Sexton, Anne. “Consorting with Angels.” The Complete Poems. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1981. 111-12.
Showalter, Elaine. “Bloodsell.” The Times Literary Supplement 8 January 1993: 14.
———. The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980. 1985. London: Penguin-Viking, 1989.
———. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. New York and London: Viking Penguin, 1990.
———. Sister's Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women's Writing. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991.
Strauss, Bob. “Flickering Frights.” Van Hise 129-46.
———. “The New King.” Van Hise 91-94.
Tuttle, Lisa. “Every Fear Is a Desire.” Jones 215-25.
Van Hise, James. Stephen King and Clive Barker: The Illustrated Masters of the Macabre. Las Vegas: Pioneer Books, 1990.
Wiater, Stanley. “Anne Rice.” Interview. Writer's Digest Nov. 1988: 40-44.
———. “Catching Up with Clive Barker, Part Two.” Fangoria July 1986: 46-49.
———. “Clive Barker.” Dark Dreamers: Conversations with the Masters of Horror. New York: Avon, 1990. 9-17.
———. “Horror in Print: Clive Barker.” Fangoria July 1986. Jones 191-97.
———, and Roger Anker. “Horror in Print: Anne Rice.” Fangoria Jan. 1988: 14-16, 66.
Winter, Douglas. Introd. Prime Evil: New Stories by the Masters of Modern Horror. New York: New American Library, 1988. 1-9.
———. “Less Than Zombie.” Sammon 84-98.
———. “Raising Hell with Clive Barker.” Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine Dec. 1987. Rpt. Jones 195-97.
———. Stephen King: The Art of Darkness. Rev. Ed. New York: New American Library, 1986.
———. “Talking Terror with Clive Barker.” Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine June 1987. Rpt. Jones 209-14.
Wittig, Monique. The Lesbian Body. Trans. David Le Vay. Introd. Margaret Crosland. Boston: Beacon, 1975.
Carrie. Dir. Brian De Palma. 1976. Based on the novel by Stephen King.
Dead Ringers. Dir. David Cronenberg. 1988.
The Fury. Dir. Brian De Palma. 1978.
Hellbound: Hellraiser 2. Dir. Tony Randel. 1989.
Hellraiser. Dir. Clive Barker. 1988. Based on the novella The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker.
Lord of Illusions. Dir. Clive Barker. 1995.
Nightbreed. Dir. Clive Barker. 1989. Based on the novella Cabal, by Clive Barker.
Scanners. Dir. David Cronenberg. 1981.
Videodrome. Dir. David Cronenberg. 1983.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1965
SOURCE: Dziemianowicz, Stefan. “Contemporary Horror Fiction, 1950-1998.” In Fantasy and Horror: A Critical and Historical Guide to Literature, Illustration, Film, TV, Radio, and the Internet, edited by Neil Barron, pp. 199-344. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1999.
[In the following excerpt, Dziemianowicz treats Barker's Books of Blood as a forerunner of the splatterpunk horror fiction movement in the late 1980s.]
CLIVE BARKER, SPLATTERPUNK, AND THE NEW DECADENCE
What's going to come out of those people who think that Night of the Living Dead isn't enough?
—Robert Bloch, Faces of Fear
In the 1970s and '80s, horror fiction flourished in an environment of permissiveness it had never known. The maturation of popular fiction content in general in the postwar years, coupled with the unofficial sanction of frank descriptions of adult situations and physical horror in the fiction of Stephen King, freed writers from the inhibitions that had limited creative expression even in the crudest pulp fiction. Horror fiction's sharpening focus on human vulnerabilities led many writers to explore the full gamut of weaknesses of the flesh.
The publications of Clive Barker's six Books of Blood in 1984 and 1985 marks a turning point in contemporary horror, as a phenomenon if not as fiction. The stories in these collections offer gruesome, gory, and graphic treatments of mostly familiar horror themes: monsters in the subway (“The Midnight Meat Train”), avenging ghosts (“Confessions of a [Pornographer's] Shroud”), Frankenstein's monster (“The Age of Desire”), the native curse (“When Spoilers Bleed”), the animated disembodied hand (“The Body Politic”), the unnatural survival of the past into the present (“Rawhead Rex”). However, their variations are inventive and ironic, reflecting a literary sensibility that is both self-conscious of horror's literary tradition and determined to subvert or transcend it.
Barker's horrors are decidedly physical—they include a variety of imaginative eviscerations, mutilations, and translations of flesh, blood, and bone—but the physical serves a specific aesthetic function in his fiction. As the interface between the ordinary world and the phantasmagorical worlds of monsters and menaces that abut it, it is the most conspicuous of many different boundaries that his stories explore: between the flesh and spirit, life and death, human and inhuman, pain and ecstasy, sex and romance, delight and dread. Violations of these boundaries are often remarkably repulsive, and their spectacular display, although never gratuitous, can be excessive. But in many of Barker's tales characters who submit to them, or take control of them, achieve a kind of liberation. “In story after story,” Michael Morrison writes,
Barker transfigures, re-sexes, de-evolves, or reintegrates the corporeal form into bizarre, post-human configurations that are often barely recognizable as once having been man or woman. Character after character willingly—sometimes jubilantly—sheds the familiar contours of the human for the shapes of nightmare and so gains entry to a new life and, perhaps, a new community.1
It is partly because Barker uses the tropes of horror to envision a realm beyond them that his fiction cannot be read like the stories of Stephen King or Dean R. Koontz, which attempt to make sense of extraordinary horrors in the context of the everyday. Barker's narratives often have the tone of fables or parables in which symbolic pageants are taking place. Indeed, after one of his finest evocations of the otherworldly, The Hellbound Heart in Night Visions 3, Barker turned almost entirely to the fantastique, a unique distillation of horror, magic realism, and mythic fantasy into mainstream narrative.
Barker's fiction helped to demolish the few remaining constraints on horror's content, and horror in the 1980s and '90s is characterized by increasing explicitness, as writers in the competitive trade market determined to bring a fresh approach to themes began levering out the sexual subtexts of their fiction and exploring taboos ranging from cannibalism to pedophilia. A number of writers proclaimed this the true terrain of the horror story, none more loudly than the splatterpunks. Promoted as the cutting edge of horror fiction, splatterpunk fiction—which purported to fuse the graphic violence of splatter films and the nihilistic attitude of punk rock music—was the product of the first generation of writers nurtured on horror fiction of the Stephen King era. Its level of hardcore gore had been anticipated in the work of Guy N. Smith, Shaun Hutson, and even James Herbert, whose pulpy tales of rampaging mutant vermin and insatiably bloodthirsty supernatural monsters had been pilloried in England as “nasties.” It arose in direct response to the quiet horror of dark fantasy, whose subtle merging with the mainstream some writers deemed a betrayal of horror's unique attributes, and its totem was the flesh-eating zombie of George Romero's cult film Night of the Living Dead, adopted as a symbol of the brutality and moral anarchy of modern life. Splatterpunk was not necessarily more violent than other types of horror, but its willingness to show what more-traditional horror fiction left to the imagination and the creativity its writers lavished on their descriptions of physical horrors produced some of the most vivid fiction of the era.
In the hands of its ablest practitioners, splatterpunk fiction achieved stylishness, if not virtuosity. David J. Schow's application of hip, contemporary, hard-boiled narrative to the concerns of the urban horror story yielded some of the most provocative, hard-edged horror fiction of the 1980s, much of it collected in Red Shift and Lost Angels. John Skipp and Craig Spector's cinematic vision brought unity if not coherence to the ungainly meld of horror, science fiction, and doom-metal lyricism in their splatter-rock epic, The Scream. Yet much of the audacity of splatterpunk fiction was in its style, rather than its substance. The majority of writers who attempted it did not share its much-vaunted cynical worldview, and their fiction, some of which can be sampled in Skipp and Spector's Book of the Dead anthologies, attempts to make up for its failed radical conception with exuberantly disgusting imagery.
Splatterpunk was loud, confrontational, and for a brief period of time as controversial in horror circles as its counterpart, cyberpunk, was in science fiction. But though it became a label applied (and often misapplied) to the work of a number of writers whose fiction featured extreme situations—Schow, Skipp, Spector, Richard Christian Matheson, Philip Nutman, Ray Garton, Joe R. Lansdale—it never achieved the cohesiveness of a movement, and its aesthetic of flamboyant grue proved self-limited. It did call attention, however, to the interrelationship of horror fiction and horror film. The popularity and marketability of contemporary horror fiction is due in no small part to successful screen adaptations of its iconic works, among them Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and Carrie, all of which cultivated a mass audience that helped to put horror—Stephen King in particular—on the national bestseller lists. In turn, film aesthetics have infiltrated the work of several writers, most notably Richard Christian Matheson, whose terse, gnomic short stories (Scars) are redolent with techniques of cinematic cutting and pasting, and Kim Newman, whose short fiction (The Original Dr. Shade and Other Stories, Famous Monsters) and novels (Anno Dracula, Bad Dreams) freely incorporate film heroes, heroines, and villains into the fictional reality of their worlds.
While splatterpunk helped to jolt horror out of the stasis that had set in with the proliferation of formulaic fiction for mass market horror lines and the increasingly unoriginal hybridization of genre themes in novels aimed at the trade bestseller lists, it also legitimized the use of shock tactics to assault rather than disturb readers. The rising levels of violence, visceral displays of misanthropy and sociopathy, and exploitation of child abuse, domestic violence, and other sensitive themes in much horror fiction of the 1990s is the unavoidable trickle-down from the floodgates splatterpunk briefly opened—likewise, the preoccupation with and explicitness of sexual themes and situations. The late 1980s and 1990s are the era in which erotic horror became a popular subgenre, and while a few markets for such fiction, such as Ellen Datlow's Alien Sex and Lethal Kisses anthologies, gathered stories that attempt to work sexual anxieties in the age of AIDS into provocative horror fiction, others, notably the Hot Blood anthologies (1989-) and offerings from publishers devoted to pornographic and semipornographic horror (Masquerade, Rhinoceros, Richard Kasak, and a number of fledgling specialty press publishers) published stories that merely titillate or offend, reinforcing the very taboos they purport to break. Although some writers, including Kathe Koja, Poppy Z. Brite, and Lucy Taylor, have confronted the challenges that frank themes pose and turned them into powerful, if sometimes off-putting, undercurrents in their tales of transgressive lifestyles shaped by the culture of horror, many others have made sexual explicitness the foundation of a neo-decadent horror subliterature.
Barker, Clive. Books of Blood. 6 vols. Sphere, 1984-85. Vols. 1-3 reprinted with corrections and some rewriting as a boxed set by Scream/Press, 1985. Retitled U.S. reprints by Poseidon include In the Flesh (vol. 4, 1986), The Inhuman Condition (vol. 5, 1986), and Cabal (1988), which reprints vol. 6 with a short novel, Cabal, published separately in the UK.
Before the publication of these groundbreaking collections, Barker was known in England primarily as an avant garde playwright, some of whose theatrical pieces have since been collected in Incarnations (1995) and Forms of Heaven (1996). These 29 novellas and short stories embrace some of the Grand Guignol excesses that distinguish his dramas. In an informal nod to Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, Barker loosely frames the stories as narratives written by the dead on the skin of a boy as punishment for his spurious claim of psychic rapport. The stories vary widely in theme and tone, and are united only by their uninhibited blending of comedy, fantasy and horror and their shrewd use of physical and sexual vulnerability as channels for supernatural horrors.
Overtones of classic horror fiction echo through “Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud,” which revisits M. R. James's “‘Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad,’” and “New Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a reworking of Poe. “The Yattering and Jack,” in which a man is pestered by an annoying demon, and “Son of Celluloid,” which features a movie house infested by a cancer that brings cinematic characters to life, are slapstick comedies with a grotesque edge. By contrast “Rawhead Rex,” in which an excavation accidentally exhumes a ravenous monster of English legend, and “The Inhuman Condition,” which chronicles the fate of several juvenile delinquents who discover that the derelict they have abused and robbed is a being from another dimension with uncanny powers, are hardcore horror stories whose visceral imagery anticipates the splatterpunk movement of the late 1980s. Some of the gorier stories are leavened with insightful social criticism. “The Forbidden,” set in a crimeridden housing project stalked by a serial murderer who calls himself the Candyman, and “The Midnight Meat Train,” which transports a Manhattan subway rider to an underworld governed by supernatural beings, feature monsters that are physical embodiments of urban decay and violent crime. “Twilight at the Towers,” in which werewolves have the requisite split personalities to serve as double agents in the Cold War, is an astute political satire. Other stories are allegories that straddle the boundary between fantasy and horror. In “The Body Politic,” hands suddenly develop a collective consciousness and decide to liberate themselves from the bodies to which they are enslaved. “In the Hills, the Cities” features two gargantuan simulacra formed from the bodies of people who have sacrificed their individuality to be incorporated into larger, nationalistic entities. Some of the stories are plotless excursions in gore that show the weaknesses of Barker's discursive, sometimes over-long novels. However, most combine sensitive characterization with inventive horrors to evoke a sense of worlds of terror and ecstasy from which human beings are separated only by the boundary of the flesh. Compare the short fiction of David J. Schow and the novels of John Skipp and Craig Spector.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1132
SOURCE: Barker, Clive, and Christopher Landon. “The Many Lives of Clive.” Advocate, nos. 802-803 (18 January 2000): 105-07.
[In the following interview, Barker discusses The Book of Hours (which was published as Abarat), his prior work, and his private life.]
Winding up the sinuous streets of Beverly Hills, one wonders what awaits at the lair of Clive Barker. Severed heads impaled on iron stakes? Disemboweled corpses rotting before the massive doors of a gothic Tudor mansion?
Well, not exactly.
However, the gardens look lovely. Apparently the man who gave us Hellraiser loves flowers. In fact, Barker's dwelling, which he shares with his photographer husband, David Armstrong, brims with color and light.
What's more, the maestro of horror has long since extended his creative horizons. Barker's evolution as an artist is like one of those time-lapse movies where a day shoots by in seconds. Try as you might, you can't keep up. Born in Liverpool, England, in 1952, son of an Italian mother and Irish father, Barker is not just a best-selling author (Everville, Galilee) but also a film producer (Gods and Monsters; the upcoming gay and lesbian anthology Love and Taboo), a screenwriter-director (Lord of Illusions, Hellraiser), a playwright, and a painter. At mid career he's already produced a massive, almost unbelievably eclectic body of work. If you don't believe it, check out The Essential Clive Barker, the classy new anthology due in stores this month.
But visit Barker's home, and he'll show you something newer. Inside his studio, covering almost every inch of space, is Barker's next project—The Book of Hours. Right now the Hours [The Book of Hours] consists of hundreds of paintings that will eventually be married to text for the finished story. It's a whimsical world of imagination intended, believe it or not, for children, young and old.
Barker joins me to discuss this work in progress, the year in review, and how his past has created an entirely unexpected future.
[Landon]: It's been quite a year for you. As a producer of the film Gods and Monsters, you must be very proud of the project's critical success [it won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay] and the accolades that followed its release.
[Barker]: It feels great. There are very few experiences in my life as fulfilling as sitting in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and looking at Bill Condon proudly clutching that statuette for our little movie.
Your publishers sent me a very heavy book titled The Essential Clive Barker. How does it feel to see all that work compiled in one book?
It gives you that thing that all artists need at some point, a sense of achievement. The book had been proposed at HarperCollins a while ago, and I had thought it would be simple to put together …
[Laughs] In January I took all the books, just David and myself, to Kauai. And I went through it all to try and see what was essential. Of course, in your natural arrogance, you believe everything is essential. But when you look at it, you see there are a lot of themes you return to because they answer some deep psychological need. So I was able to see thematic material.
In your introduction to the Books of Blood anthologies, you mention that the Clive Barker who spun tales of blood and gore is dead and buried.
I think that it is very important that we as artists accept that your voice changes. What I've learned at the age of 47 is that many of the things I did not like about the work from an earlier time … I look back and think, Jeez, I fucked up that one, didn't I? But sometimes it's really just about putting it out there. I think it's important to be at peace with that. So when I look at The Essential Clive Barker, I look at a lot of work that is very remote from who I am now but also feels, in the nicest way, like a sort of memory of some other fellow I knew once and liked in some ways and disliked in other ways.
Do you miss him?
No. And one reason I don't is because he wrote those stories and served his purpose. Part of what allows me to move on is to look back and say, “I enjoyed that, but I don't want to do that anymore.” I'm infinitely happier than that dark, brooding, and sometimes lonely fellow.
There has always been this wonderful gray area in your work. Nothing is ever black and white. In some cases you've managed to transcend things like gender through your characters.
Gender ambiguity fascinates me. Any kind of sexual ambiguity fascinates me. The ambiguities of desire are infinitely more interesting than nice, moral passages.
It seems you've always thrived on the taboo and on challenging the finger shakers who say “Don't.”
A lot of gay people have faced that their entire lives—people telling them, “You can't do that.” Once you survive the experience of being told no or being told that what comes naturally to you is, by their definition, unnatural—something happens in you that is wonderful. It forces you to work on a new definition for what is natural. And when you start to reassess yourself, you begin to reassess those who tell you “Thou shalt not.” And when you do that, you start to reassess the whole fucking culture. And that's a wonderful place to be. William Blake said, “Make your own laws, or be a slave to another man's.”
Homophobia is not going anywhere. It might go underground, but it isn't going to disappear. It is in our nature to hate otherness. The question is, Are we made stronger by being other, or are we weakened as individuals by being other? My argument is that if we can stand up for the right to be other—and maybe that means being excluded from a party that isn't very much fun anyway—then we are strong.
You rock [Barker laughs]. So now the obligatory “juicy” question: Where did you meet your husband, David?
At the Faultline [bar in Los Angeles]. I stole his parking place [smiles brightly].
You're so happy. You make me sick. How did the whole idea of getting married come about?
I discovered that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with David. Knowing that we couldn't do things legally, we exchanged rings and private vows. It's really between David, myself, and God. I don't want to be a copy of any heterosexual model. On the other hand, I want to be able to say I am devoted to this person, David, and will make as strong a sign of that as possible under the law. I think that's fair and right.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1021
SOURCE: Gates, Rob. “A Bloody Sham.” Lambda Book Report 8, no. 8 (March 2000): 14-15.
[In the following review, Gates praises The Essential Clive Barker and details the history of Barker's novels and short fiction.]
Clive Barker is a sham, a charlatan, and a thief. There, I've said it. What do I mean by this? How can I say such things? I sit here surrounded by the works of Clive Barker, books strewn around me on the floor. In my hands is a copy of the author's own guided tour of his work, The Essential Clive Barker. I've read over two thousand pages of Barker in preparation for this, and there's no other way to start.
Sham: a thing made to seem other than it is.
He has been heralded as “the future of horror” by Stephen King, and “the undisputed prince of creepy-crawly” by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Many of his fans expect and see nothing else. In a signing for the book Sacrament in Washington, DC, I watched as one fan asked Clive to sign not a book, but his body. But Clive Barker is not a horror writer; instead he is a writer of children's books (The Thief of Always), fantasies (Weaveworld), romance (Galilee), and more. He's a screenplay writer, a director, a producer, and a visual artist. Though he often touches on the forbidden, the taboo, the physically disturbing in his work, it is rarely merely to scare. Clive Barker the horror writer is a marketing sham. He is much more than that.
Charlatan: one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability.
Reading Barker's work, one can't help being overwhelmed by the onslaught of images, colors, sensations. His worlds are rich and sumptuous, his characters, human and alien in form and desire. Yet through it all, he makes one feel that these are not merely imaginings, but real places that one can visit if one dares. The landscapes are described like photographs from a travel brochure, the characters like friends, neighbors, or exotic natives in these far off lands. Clive Barker is undoubtedly a charlatan—more tour guide than writer.
Thief: one who takes something that belongs to another.
Yes, he's stolen many hours from his readers, but truly that was a fair exchange because he gave something back. No, what Barker is truly a thief of is complacency. He's always looking to push the boundaries, bring the forbidden into the light, expose just one more truth/taboo. One cannot read Clive Barker and come away without feeling changed. Clive Barker is a thief, of our most precious assumptions.
So who is this Clive Barker that draws people, like moths to a flame? He is a man who reinvents himself so quickly that the world is often left to catch up. Originally a London playwright, Barker's first major publications were his Books of Blood in the mid 1980s. These collections of short stories were filled with gruesome horrors, heady scares, and powerful images that took the Stephen King-drenched world of dark fiction by storm. He moved quickly from short stories to novels with The Damnation Game and the fantastical Weaveworld. By this time, he was moving away from horror as it was generally perceived, and moving towards something less definable. Fantasies of the purest sort, yet still containing the darkness that had imbued his early horror works. With The Hellbound Heart in 1987, Barker created the work that would later spawn his first film, Hellraiser. Wandering the murky land between fantasy and horror, he continued his epic world-building with Cabal and The Great and Secret Show. His erotically charged Imajica again expanded the boundaries of what could be expected from Clive Barker. By this time he had a growing movie career underway, and he again took a left turn, writing a children's fairy tale novel, The Thief of Always. He followed that with Everville (his first sequel novel) and then moved on to the shamanic Sacrament and the elusively romantic Galilee. But he still wasn't finished surprising us. While Barker is well-known as a horror film director and producer, no one would have suspected that he would produce an Oscar worthy and winning film, Gods and Monsters. And despite peopling his works with gay, lesbian, and bisexual heroes and villains for years—his agent was concerned that one of his first short stories, “In the Hills, the Cities,” was too blatantly homosexual—Clive again startled many, even in the queer community, by coming out of the closet in the early '90s.
So how do you categorize, define, and understand an artist like Barker? The Essential Clive Barker is a good place to start. In it you'll find Barker's own guiding hand, a roadmap with legends and keys, and resting points to catch your breath. Dipping into various genres and subgenres of his work, Barker has tied together bits and pieces under the umbrella of particular themes. And as all good guidebooks do, it tells us where to slow down and pay particular attention and where to beware of dangers. The themes he covers alone are a perfect example of how much more likely it is that Clive Barker is a mythmaker, a storyteller, a shaman of the modern world, than merely a writer of gruesome horrors. We find “Doorways and Journeys,” “Love and Terrors,” “Memory and Art,” and so much more. Barker begins each section with a short introduction, musings on his works, and insightful analyses of how they fit together. And within each thematic section, snippets, or in some cases complete stories, light our way from end to end.
I thought I knew his work before reading The Essential Clive Barker, but images, passages, and stories leapt out, illuminated in new ways by the collection. Right from the start, before a single word of fiction had been reached, I was whisked away into Barkeresque visions of bird men falling from the skies of Britain, and youthful introductions to the surreal landscapes of Cocteau. It's a strange and wonderful journey he's taken us on so far, and we can only dream of the places he has yet to take us.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1268
SOURCE: Barker, Clive, and Michael Rowe. “Horrors, It's Hollywood!” Advocate, no. 852 (4 December 2001): 69-72.
[In the following interview, Barker discusses Coldheart Canyon, Hollywood, and his personal life.]
Clive Barker, ruggedly handsome at 49 and looking vaguely piratical in a black shirt and gold earring, sits at a wooden refectory table in one of the three houses that form his residential compound high in the canyon country above Beverly Hills.
In front of Barker sits his most recent novel, Coldheart Canyon, the story of a narcissistic, washed-up action star named Todd Pickett in flight from the media while he recovers from plastic surgery. A blistering satire of modern Hollywood, the novel is also a full-on ghost story: Pickett selects as his hiding place the remote estate of a once-famous silent film actress with a taste for sexual sadism (among other things), and it turns out she's still haunting the place along with a cabal of the ghosts of old movie stars. In spite of its innately camp premise, the novel is as dark, violent, and hypersexual as Barker's best-known work.
Ironically, it was a series of delightful parties that got his imagination going. “I was lucky enough, seven years ago, to be drawn into Roddy McDowall's circle,” Barker says. “Roddy had Friday night dinner parties regularly throughout the year”—in the company of such luminaries as Elizabeth Taylor, Gore Vidal, and Maureen O'Sullivan.
“What do you say when you have that degree of history and intelligence and storytelling?” Barker asks rhetorically. “You shut the fuck up, and you listen. The only time I raised my voice at one of those dinner parties was when Gore Vidal opined that there was no such thing as homosexual literature, which I think is nonsense.”
As the stream of dinner party anecdotes took root in his imagination, Barker realized that there was a story growing. “Talk about six degrees of separation,” he says wryly. “In Hollywood it's three degrees. Everyone has known—or slept with—everyone else.”
At the time, he had a friend who worked at a face-lift clinic catering to a privileged Hollywood clientele for whom discretion was essential. The author wanted details. “I said, ‘Fill me in!’ and he said, ‘I can't! I can't!’” But eventually the friend caved in. “He smuggled out these big books which had these horrendous photographs of what happens when really simple things go wrong,” Barker says delightedly. He realized that he had the beginning of his story.
His Beverly Hills home also provided inspiration. “Here I am,” he remembers telling himself, “living in a nameless canyon in a house that was built back in the 1920s by Ronald Colman, who, according to those who know the history of this town, had quite an orgiastic time of it.”
The more he researched, says Barker, “the more I realized that I had a deep-seated hatred for these [Hollywood] people. The rage I felt surprised me.”
Barker says his anger dates back to the process of getting the 1998 film Gods and Monsters made. The film, adapted from Christopher Bram's novel Father of Frankenstein, was executive-produced by Barker and won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay for Bill Condon, who also directed.
“I don't know if I would have felt the same previous to the experience of going around Hollywood with Bill Condon and Ian McKellen trying to get Gods and Monsters set up,” Barker muses. “That really changed my idea of what this town was. Bill is an extraordinary talent, and we had Ian and this wonderful book. I was angered by the hypocrisy of the people who you knew were gay but wouldn't say it or who would say it but wouldn't support us.” That hypocrisy jibed, in Barker's mind, with Hollywood's obsession with appearance. “All of these things were factored in,” he reveals. “The story began to tell itself.”
Although he's not downplaying Coldheart Canyon's supernatural themes, he concedes that they frame other motifs befitting a writer of his maturity—the cost of fame, the relationship of a superstar to his fans, and the corroding effects of narcissism. Not that he doesn't sometimes get a kick out of those things.
“This culture, the Southern California culture, is a body culture,” Barker observes. “It's in love with surface, and I'm not about to condemn that. I take great pleasure in seeing beautiful men, and it would be deeply hypocritical of me to say, ‘Oh, who cares about that?’ I care a lot about it. The question is, what is beauty? Is it determined by going to the gym or medical interfering? This book hopefully deals with some of my confusion about this, which on one hand I think is ludicrous. Still, I want my heroes on the screen to be beautiful.”
When The Books of Blood was published in 1984 and he began to appear in the media, Barker was just such a hero. His fans had a dewy, wholesome face to attach to the prose that once moved Stephen King to declare him the future of horror. In those days, Barker muses, there was a thrill in a smile of recognition or an autograph request. “They said, ‘You're the guy who wrote this stuff? We thought you were really old and twisted!’ I'd say, ‘I really am twisted; it just doesn't show.’”
Today, the Hollywood element often overrides the sweetness of past encounters. “I get into limos,” Barker says ruefully, “and the driver will give me a smile that I instantly know means trouble. He'll say, ‘Mr. Barker, I really loved’—fill in the blank—‘and my entire family are actors. Here are our résumés and pictures.’ Or worse, ‘Here's my idea for a script. If you write it, I'll share the profits with you 50-50.’ Some variation on that theme happens every third time you get into a car, and it gets very old. But I can't bring myself to be mean to them, because what they have is your attention for a few minutes, and getting anyone's attention in this town is bloody difficult. I've had times when I've needed somebody's attention! But what it gets to is the desperation that this town engenders.”
Personally, Barker seems to be holding his own against Hollywood's obsessions with image and youth. “I don't go to the parties,” he says. “I don't go anywhere I think I would feel that pressure. When I do go to the Faultline [a Los Angeles leather bar], I feel nothing of that pressure. I go to the gym, I look after my body to a not obsessive degree, and the only person I care about making a judgment on me sexually is my husband.”
He and photographer David Armstrong have been a couple for six years; they've had not one but two marriage ceremonies. Barker says his relationship with Armstrong is the place from which he launches himself into his frenetic life, and their family life together with their daughter, Nicole, is where he returns at night to draw strength.
“Relationships provide armor against anxiety, against depression, against the world's woes,” Barker says. “It's great to roll over on the bed and find somebody's head on the pillow beside you. If that person is somebody you've known a long time, as I've known David, it is hugely more comforting to me personally.”
“I adore the simple pleasures,” he says. “We have dogs; we have our daughter to look after.” He laughs, perhaps imagining how it must sound coming from a hell-raiser like him. “Doing homework with the daughter? Whoever knew? But my life has always been filled with paradoxes like that.”
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6393
SOURCE: Winter, Douglas E. “Nowhere Land: The Damnation Game (1985).” In Clive Barker: The Dark Fantastic. 2001. Reprint, pp. 172-87. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.
[In the following essay, Winter analyzes the Faustian influence in Barker's first novel, The Damnation Game.]
Now Faustus must thou needs be damned, And canst thou not be saved. What boots it then to think on God or heaven?
—Christopher Marlowe, The Tragicall Historie of Doctor Faustus
Soon after his first meeting with Barbara Boote and Nan du Sautoy, Clive Barker realized how ‘inappropriate it was to write short stories’. Given commercial publishing's disfavour for anthologies and story collections, it is rare for writers of any stature to see a book of stories in print, and virtually miraculous for a writer's first book to take this form; certainly it was a publishing first for a writer's initial three books, all story collections, to be issued simultaneously. Boote told Barker, in her typically soft-spoken but direct style: ‘Now do something sensible and write a novel. Do yourself a favour and write something we can really sell.’
The prospect was daunting, but another new challenge that Clive embraced with characteristic enthusiasm: ‘In a certain sense I was granted a little license to step back in time and do what people used to do in the forties—to publish short stories in Weird Tales or wherever, and to hone something about the way you think or what you believe or what you want to write about, and then actually get on to a novel.’ When he started writing his first novel, the Books of Blood had been published, but the groundswell of excitement that would make him one of today's most visible writers was only beginning.
Since reading Arabian Sands (1949) by Sir Wilfred Thesiger, the first outsider to cross Rub' al Khali, the great south desert of Arabia known as the Empty Quarter, Clive had been fascinated by the idea of a journey into a landscape of nothingness, its mythology and metaphysics. He prepared an eight- or ten-page synopsis, which Vernon Conway offered to Sphere, of a novel in which an explorer discovers the ruins of Eden—and a lone angel—in the Empty Quarter. Returning home to England, the explorer unwittingly looses an apparently demonic, but in truth angelic, force. Sphere rejected the proposal—titled Out of the Empty Quarter—principally because it seemed like a fantasy novel. Readers of the Books of Blood, Boote and du Sautoy argued, would want and expect a horror novel.
‘We weren't very keen on it,’ Barbara Boote says. ‘It was set in a desert, outside of Britain; it didn't seem to have a proper setting. It was more fantastical, and fantasy wasn't really what we were looking for. Horror is what we thought we should have, because his books of short stories are very much horror. We weren't going to say no to him, but we felt he could come up with another idea; and that's what we said to him: Leave this on the back burner for a while, and come up with something else.’
‘What publishers don't like,’ Nan du Sautoy notes, ‘is somebody switching genres after they've been semi-established in one area.’ Clive politely differed with the very idea that there was a distinction between ‘fantasy’ and ‘horror’; it was the first of many battles to be joined over questions of genre and expectation, and one of the few in which he relented.1 He soon offered Boote and du Sautoy a new proposal for Mamoulian's Game, a Faustian tale ‘intended to be a very on-the-nose piece of horror’. After reviewing a detailed synopsis, Sphere contracted with Barker to write the book for an advance of £2,000. It was published in 1985 as The Damnation Game.2
Although this was Clive's first real attempt to write a novel, the transition seemed natural: ‘I think of myself, despite the scale of my books, as being a rather economical writer. Even in Imajica; I feel like a short story writer even when I'm writing an 800-page book. It's dense with texture and ideas, and I'm trying always to press the largest amount of information into the smallest amount of space. And that comes with the experience of writing short stories first. It also comes from the experience of writing plays and seeing the live experience of the theatre scene, how readily people will become bored if you don't continue to stimulate them. So when I turned to the novel, it was a question of making sure that I kept the excitement that I have writing short stories alive in the larger form.’
But his work on the novel was soon complicated by the text—and competing demands on his time. Director George Pavlou called in November 1984 to tell him that their dream of collaborating on a horror film had been realized, and that Barker's script for Underworld was needed in a matter of weeks. Then Barker's agent, Vernon Conway, reported that The Secret Life of Cartoons was going into production with the West End as its goal, but that revisions of the play were required. And, as the Books of Blood garnered increasing acclaim and sales, Sphere urged Barker to prepare three more volumes—and to do so quickly in order to take advantage of an obvious window of opportunity. ‘We were all editorially keen on Clive,’ du Sautoy says. ‘He wasn't somebody to whom we were going to say, All right, we've given you a chance, and we're not going to follow it up.’
Clive's discipline was extraordinary under circumstances that were nothing less than punishing. His father's work ethic echoed in him as he toiled seven days a week, with a daily goal of a set number of pages, often writing from morning long into the night. His personal life no longer existed; he was locked into creation at a pace that was both exhausting and exhilarating.
With so much work demanding his attention in so little time, it is not surprising that the first draft of The Damnation Game did not meet with Barbara Boote's desires; but she was one of an increasingly rare breed in commercial publishing: an editor who cared enough not to treat books simply as commodities to be plugged into slots in a publication schedule. She saw the tremendous potential of the novel—and of Clive Barker—and she worked hard to bring out the best in him. ‘He did masses of revisions,’ she notes. ‘His first draft was very much a first draft, a first novel type thing. And I think that was another reason why we wanted some more short stories. We didn't want too much of a gap. And we thought that the first novel wouldn't be ready in time … It was quite flawed, and he and I did quite a lot of work on it. We probably could have done a little bit more. He wasn't the easiest person to edit. Every comma we had a discussion about, which is fine, but I think it could have done with a little bit more of it. It could have been a better first novel.’ She pauses, then adds with a smile: ‘But he learned.’
Hell is reimagined by each generation. Its terrain is surveyed for absurdities and remade in a fresher mould; its terrors are scrutinized and, if necessary, reinvented to suit the current climate of atrocity; its architecture is redesigned to appal the eye of the modern damned.
Despite their crimson glory, the Books of Blood were distinctive for a more subtle and subversive reason: their insistent metaphysics. The putative genre of ‘horror’ was decidedly Christian, schooled by the rigid, if not rigorous, thinking of Catholicism and fundamentalism. Given birth by two Catholic novels and films—Rosemary's Baby (1967, 1968) and The Exorcist (1971, 1973)—and embracing a rich history of crucifixes and holy water, the horror fiction that emerged in the 1970s was powered by the unease of a generation faced with the downfall of organized religion as a social, political, educational and moral force. Even fiction that rejected (and, on occasion, desecrated) the formalities of religion depicted the underlying struggle as Manichaean: good versus evil, light against darkness.
Along with its sensational imagery, Barker's early fiction was insistently subversive, seeking to explore and explode the mythologies of genre—and Western religion. Stories like ‘Rawhead Rex’ and ‘The Skins of the Fathers’ turn common religious precepts upside-down, summoning up awkward questions in the minds of those who read with something more than their eyes. Ironically, by turning the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian texts on their head, Barker has proved not only provocative but also among the more spiritual fictioneers of this generation.
When he turned to writing The Damnation Game, these metaphysical concerns were brought forward (and, in time, preoccupied his novels). He decided to retell a classic story: ‘It is not that the old stories are necessarily the best stories; rather that the old stories are the only stories. There are no new tales, only new ways to tell.’3
The Damnation Game celebrates the timeless fable of Faust, which Barker has called ‘the best horror story’: the ambitious man and his pact with hellish divinities; the pride, curiosity, or other appetite that is intrinsic to his nature; and the inevitable fall, succumbing to the very forces that he dared hope to control. With source material as diverse as folk tales and Goethe, Barker's direct inspiration came from his favourite rendition of the story, and the first that he encountered: Christopher Marlowe's feverish play The Tragicall Historie of Doctor Faustus (circa 1588).4
In Marlowe's version of the drama, Faustus, an ambitious scholar, sells his soul in pursuit of the magical arts. ‘This is a man,’ Barker notes, ‘who has studied until study can reward him no longer. A man to whom science has become a cul-de-sac, philosophy a dead library, and who wants to drag the walls and the words down and see the world for himself.’5 As the time of reckoning approaches, Faustus regrets the barter and seeks liberation from its terms. While Goethe spares his Faust, Marlowe allows no escape; in the final act, a bell tolls toward midnight as Faustus pleads for the mercy of God, but to no avail. A group of scholars enters to find ‘Faustus' limbs / All torn asunder by the hand of death!’—and the Chorus intones its summation:
Faustus is gone: regard his hellish fall, Whose fiendful fortune may exhort the wise Only to wonder at unlawful things Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits To practise more than heavenly power permits.
Although ostensibly an exhortation to standards of traditional Christian behaviour, the late R. M. Dawkins noted cogently that Marlowe's tragedy is ‘the story of a Renaissance man who had to pay the medieval price for being one.’6
‘At its centre,’ Barker notes, ‘is a notion essential to the horror genre and its relations: that of a trip taken into forbidden territory at the risk of insanity and death. With the gods in retreat, and the idea of purgatorial judgments less acceptable to the modern mind than new adventures after death as dust and spirit, all imaginative accounts of that journey become essential reading. In their diversity lies testament to the richness of our literature's heritage. In their experiencing, a sense of how the human perspective changes. And in their wisdom—who knows?—a guide to how we, adventurers in the forbidden magic of our genre, may behave when the last Act is upon us.’7
In The Damnation Game and its successors—‘The Last Illusion’ (1985) and The Hellbound Heart (1986), and their motion picture adaptations, Hellraiser (1987) and Lord of Illusions (1995)—Barker consciously sought to reinvent the Faustian drama and to make sense of it for a contemporary audience. He reminds us of a painful truth: that, lost in the new religion of materialism, we, like Faust, are slaves of appetite and hubris who believe that something singular in our humanity will exempt us from the price that must be paid for our sins.
Written, like its inspiration, in five-act form, The Damnation Game opens in the ravaged landscape of ‘Terra Incognito’—Warsaw in the final days of the Second World War, a Hell on Earth whose desolate splendour is the encampment of a carnival of carnage: sport with the severed heads of babies, traffic in human flesh, perverse pleasures untold. ‘[T]his was what the end of the world would be like’: a place of moral, sexual, and spiritual abjection whose only resource is waste—and from which even death may offer no escape.
Two men meet in this purgatory: a nameless thief whose one indulgence is to gamble, and the legendary card-player Mamoulian, who never cheats but never loses. ‘To him … winning is beauty. It is like life itself.’ Their encounter is presaged by a manic street performance of Faust: ‘the pact with Mephisto, the debates, the conjuring tricks, and then, as the promised damnation approached, despair and terrors.’ A game that will span decades—the Damnation Game—begins.
Fast-forward to the present and a prison cell at Wandsworth, England, where Marty Strauss, a gambler driven to theft to pay his debts, waits out his sentence for armed robbery. At his annual parole interview, Strauss is greeted by an outsider, William Toy, envoy of reclusive Joseph Whitehead—an aged imperialist patriarch (as his name implies) and owner of a vast pharmaceutical empire. Whitehead seeks a new bodyguard among prisoners eligible for parole. When Strauss is selected for the job, his warder muses: ‘I wonder if you understand just what kind of freedom you've chosen—’.
Strauss learns that there is no such thing as freedom; the world outside is simply a different kind of prison. Whitehead's Sanctuary is both refuge and madhouse, a cloistered estate in Oxford from which he never ventures. The industrialist is a self-made man whose uncanny instinct and willingness to risk everything on a single throw of the dice have brought him fame and fortune; but nothing can forestall the curse of age, harbinger of some inevitable but inexplicable damnation. Now he waits, prisoner of his prestige and power, surrounded by alarms, fences, guard dogs, eroding in the thrall of a long-forgotten fear:
There was a time when he'd been a fox: thin and sharp; a night wanderer. But things had changed. Providence had been bountiful, dreams had come true; and the fox, always a shape-changer, had grown fat and easy. The world had changed too: it had become a geography of profit and loss. Distances had shrunk to the length of his command. He had forgotten, with time, his previous life.
But of late he remembered it more and more.
As Whitehead recalls that prior existence, Marty ponders the provenance of his new master's wealth: ‘[W]as he also a thief? And if not that, what was his crime?’ There were many crimes, but as Whitehead's fate encroaches, he rationalizes himself into an Everyman:
But then, damn it, who would not have crimes to confess, when the time came? Who would not have acted out of greed, and envy; or grappled for station, and having gained it, been absolute in their authority rather than relinquish it? He couldn't be held responsible for everything the Corporation had done. If, once in a decade, a medical preparation that deformed foetuses had slipped on to the market, was he to blame because there'd been profit made? That kind of moral accounting was for the writers of revenge fiction: it didn't belong in the real world, where most crimes went punished only with wealth and influence; where the worm seldom turned, and when it did was immediately crushed; where the best a man could hope was that having risen to his ambition's height by wit, stealth or violence there was some smidgen of pleasure in the view.
Locked inside the Sanctuary like a fairytale princess is Whitehead's daughter, Carys, a sad-eyed enigma whom Whitehead, ferociously possessive, has addicted to heroin in order to hold her close. Carys is psychic—a sensitive, able to feel what others think—and she welcomes the drug to numb her strange talent.
Inevitably Marty Strauss will become her knight-errant. The bodyguard is desperately alone—his wife and his outside life have deserted him, and servitude to Whitehead is his sole defining grace. He is one of Clive Barker's few true ‘action heroes’, a one-world but two-fisted man, solid and sombre, the working-class warrior whose dirty feet trod dirty places.8 But when Marty, whose true prison is class, tells Carys, ‘You could go anywhere’, she confirms that the haunts of the rich are no different from those of the poor: ‘That's as good as nowhere.’
Marty and Carys are prisoners of their society and their flesh; each lacks what, for Barker, is the singular means of transcendence—some kind of belief: ‘Maybe that was part of the problem between him and the girl: they neither of them believed a damn thing. There was nothing to say, no issues to debate.’ Carys, hostage to her father and the needle, has lost the will to believe in anything but the next fix, while Marty believes openly in accident, that messiah of the mechanistic: ‘everything's chance’.
When a stranger breaches the defences of the Sanctuary to deliver a succinct message—‘Tell him that I was here’—Marty learns that the forces threatening Whitehead are magical. Whitehead was the thief who played cards with Mamoulian in Warsaw. It was a seduction; Mamoulian let him win, giving Whitehead money, power and industry in order to use him as a puppet. Now Mamoulian, who fancies himself the Last European, seeks to collect on their bargain.9 At his side is a memorable villain: Anthony Breer, the Razor-Eater, a self-mutilating child-murderer whose suicide Mamoulian rewards with life anew.10
Mamoulian is a melancholy Mephistopheles, for whom trust—and its utter absence among his mendicants—has caused such heartbreak and pain that he yearns for the quietude of death:
The cruelty of other people—their callous usage of him—never failed to wound him, and though he had extended his charitable hand to all manner of crippled psyches, such ingratitude was unforgiveable. Perhaps, he mused, when this end-game was all over and done with—when he'd collected his debts in blood, dread and night—then maybe he'd lose the terrible itch that tormented him day and night, that drove him on without hope of peace to new ambitions and new betrayals. Maybe when all this was over he would be able to lie down and die.
Despite his magic, Mamoulian lives in terror of the flesh: ‘He loathed the body; its functions disgusted him. But he couldn't be free of it, or its appetites. That was a torment to him.’ Whitehead, the greedy gambler, offered salvation; through him, Mamoulian could experience pleasures untold by proxy. Together the gambler and the thief accumulated wealth, power and women; but when Whitehead fell in love and married, he rebelled and cast out his mentor. ‘The singularity of their mutual hatred had the purity of love.’ When Mamoulian, weary of life, came to Whitehead to be killed, his vengeful partner denied him. Betrayed, Mamoulian murdered Whitehead's wife, and now he seeks to collect his due: ‘Your death. Your soul, for want of a better word.’
Despite all appearances, the Last European is not the Devil: ‘What I am is a mystery … even to myself.’ Guided by his eloquent, if nihilistic, syllogism—‘Nothing is essential’—Mamoulian's true face lurks somewhere deep beneath the skin: ‘Half a hundred faces, each stranger than the one before, regressing towards some state that was older than Bethlehem.’ Pale and sickly, terrified of sex—and indeed, all matters of the flesh—Mamoulian's decadence and air of lost aristocracy invoke a monstrous presence, a conjurer and illusionist full of bluff and bluster. His very proximity wipes everything clean.
He steals Carys and locks her in an empty house. ‘It would take another Dante to describe its depths and heights: dead children, Razor-Eaters, addicts, mad-men and all. Surely the stars that hung at its zenith squirmed in their settings; in the earth beneath it, the magma curdled.’ With Carys his captive, addled with drugs and intimidated by his conjurations, the Last European increases the torment, urging Whitehead on towards death.
When Marty learns the awful truth, he dreams of escape—to America, a fantasyland where his final destination echoes The Wizard of Oz: ‘In Kansas, there would be a new story: a story that he could not know the end of. And wasn't that a working definition of freedom, unspoiled by European hand, European certainty?’ But suddenly Whitehead is dead, a victim of heart failure; at the funeral, Mamoulian arrives with Carys on his arm. He has been denied his one desire: to goad Whitehead to come willingly into the void. Marty follows Mamoulian to Caliban Street, and rescues Carys; but not until he dares a look into Mamoulian's room. ‘Welcome to Wonderland,’ he speaks aloud, but it is nothing like Kansas—or Oz: ‘There was nothing to see, not even walls … Nothing to be frightened of … Nothing here at all.’
It is the emptiest of all possible worlds, an ‘unbearable zero’: nowhere land.
[H]ere, meaning was dead. Future and past were dead. Love and life were dead. Even death was dead, because anything that excited emotion was unwelcome here. Only nothing: once and for all, nothing.
‘Help me,’ he said, like a lost child.
Go to Hell, the room respectfully replied; and for the first time in his life, he knew exactly what that meant.11
To defeat the European, Marty realizes, they must know his secret life. ‘There was no closing your eyes and turning your back on the European. The only way to be free of him was to know him; to look at him for as long as courage allowed and see him in every ghastly particular.’ Carys is the means, and her mind reaches out to Mamoulian and finds, at last, an answer: she falls into a moment out of time, October 1811, to find a prisoner-of-war named Mamoulian, a card-playing sergeant of the 3rd Fusiliers who is rescued from execution by an ageless monk: ‘You were chosen.’ Gifted with ancient wisdom, Mamoulian kills his tutor before realizing a sombre truth: ‘I was just his tool. He wanted to die.’
Don't you see how terrible it is to live when everything around you perishes? And the more the years pass the more the thought of death freezes your bowels, because the longer you avoid it the worse you imagine it to be? And you start to long—oh how you long—for someone to take pity on you, someone to embrace you and share your terrors. And, at the end, someone to go into the dark with you.
Mamoulian chose Whitehead as his assassin—by chance, as he was chosen by the monk. But Whitehead has cheated him, squandering his teachings for the life of the body, for appetite, and now Mamoulian will show him Hell:
Marty could hear, in this litany, the voice of the puritan—a monk's voice, perhaps?—the rage of a creature who wanted a world purer than it was and lived in torment because it saw only filth and flesh sweating to make more flesh, more filth. What hope of sanity in such a place? Except to find a soul to share the torment, a lover to hate the world with.
Whitehead had been such a partner. And now Mamoulian was being true to his lover's soul: wanting, at the end, to go into death with the only other creature he had ever trusted.
There is no Devil at their backs: ‘Just old humanity, cheated of love, and ready to pull down the world on its head.’ As Barker notes: ‘The idea being that the worst thing in the world is not this idea of the Devil, which is a Catholic convenience, but the idea of a human being who is loveless and angry about it.’ Indeed, The Damnation Game is Faust without Lucifer: ‘Every man is his own Mephistopheles, don't you think?’ Mamoulian tells Whitehead. ‘If I hadn't come along you'd have made a bargain with some other power.’
Thus Barker's intent is made clear: to de-sanctify and humanize a story that classically has deeply religious implications. At issue is not the divine, but the metaphysics of petty magicians. If one rejects a first cause—the precondition of religious belief—then what happens to the rest of knowledge? This is the underlying question of The Damnation Game. If the heavens involve more than the tedium of mechanics, then Marty's stargazing, like Faustus's knowledge of astronomy, leads back to the fundamental question: who made the world? Denied the answer to that question, the trap of flesh—inevitable death—closes in on Whitehead and the European.
Whitehead, of course, has faked his death: ‘Great men didn't just lie down and die off-stage. They bided their time through the middle acts—revered, mourned and vilified—before appearing to play some final scene or other.’ The two men meet for a last game of cards, their story turned full circle, from wasteland to wasteland, the ruins of Warsaw to the burned-out husk of the abandoned and aptly named Pandemonium Hotel.12 ‘You never cared to make sense of it all?’ Mamoulian asks; and Whitehead replies: ‘Sense? There's no sense to be made. You told me that: the first lesson. It's all chance.’
The game turns from cards to combat, and both players are mortally wounded, with Breer killing his master, patiently chopping the body into ever-smaller pieces. When Marty returns to the hotel, ‘an appalling possibility crept into his head and sat there, whispering obscenities’. The room is an abattoir in which the European's flesh crawls, sluglike: ‘in a thousand senseless pieces, but alive’. Sickened but resolute, Marty grinds the pieces beneath his feet, squashing out their stolen life: ‘All the power and wisdom of the European had come to this muck, and he—Marty Strauss—had been elected to play the God-game, and wipe it away. He had gained, at the last, a terrible authority.’
As the wasteland is committed to flame, Marty realizes the bitter truth of Mamoulian's homily: ‘[N]othing was the essence of his fear.’ Even a Devil is preferable to absence; and yet the wordplay is obvious. In fearing nothing, we should have nothing to fear—except, in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous dictum, fear itself.
Carys leads Marty from the killing ground, and he looks toward distant stars: ‘There were no revelations to be had there. Just pinpricks of light in a plain heaven. But he saw for the first time how fine that was. That in a world too full of loss and rage, they be remote: the minimum of glory. As she led him across the lightless ground, time and again he could not prevent his gaze from straying skyward.’
Sphere's expectations for Clive Barker's first novel were as limited as its expectations for the Books of Blood; as Barbara Boote notes: ‘When we first bought The Damnation Game, we weren't expecting to do very much again—hoping to do 20,000 copies in paperback.’ Sphere purchased world volume rights to the book. Because it did not publish hardback, du Sautoy licensed the hardcover rights to editor Victoria Petrie-Hay at London's prestigious Weidenfeld & Nicolson: ‘She then assumed she had discovered Clive.’ Petrie-Hay saw The Damnation Game as another Empire of the Sun (1984)—a book by a putative genre author that could achieve mainstream critical acclaim and, perhaps, the prestigious Booker Prize, awarded annually to a British writer for achievement in the novel form. (Indeed, it was widely reported in the American press that The Damnation Game was nominated for the Booker Prize, but that was wishful thinking.)
Weidenfeld & Nicolson issued The Damnation Game in hardback in 1985; six months later, the Sphere paperback edition was published, backed with a £32,000 promotional budget. With a first printing in paperback of 90,000 copies, the novel had more commercial potential—and success—than the Books of Blood, but it was viewed by Sphere as a traditional ‘middle’ book. ‘We saw it as a sort of low lead,’ Boote recalls, ‘and we put some advertising behind it, plus Clive doing PR. And we were hoping for film rights to be sold, of course.’
The Damnation Game did well in paperback, but like the Books of Blood, its initial success was critical rather than commercial. It was a profound debut novel, and remains the Clive Barker novel treasured by many fans and critics, particularly those who prefer conventional horror fiction. Only three years after its publication, British writer Adrian Cole selected The Damnation Game as his entry for Horror: 100 Best Books (1988). ‘In The Damnation Game,’ Cole wrote, ‘[Barker] is uncompromising and ruthless in his examination of the human condition, and the result is at once electrifying, horrifying and compelling … Like Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, The Damnation Game faces us with truths we may not wish to know. It is not a book to be taken lightly.’
Barker's own assessment, many years and novels later, is less enthusiastic: ‘I thought it was a very direct novel. Now that I read it again, I think it's not so direct. It's rather disgusting, bleak, but it doesn't move as fast as I thought it did when I was writing it. I thought I was writing a real page-turner, and I don't think I was.’
‘It seems to work for me, in two particular places. I think it works very well in terms of invoking a certain grimy element of Britain. Obviously Ramsey [Campbell] has cornered the market on urban decay, but there are other things: those weird things that rich folks do—the sealed estates and the staying up all night and going to casinos, and the barely disguised decadence which hangs around certain of the excesses of the rich.’
‘I find the unhappiness of the rich very fascinating. I think that's actually a common feeling. It's why we watch “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, because we're hoping that they're all going to be terribly, terribly unhappy. So I liked the idea of the working-class guy, Marty Strauss, who's really seen everything—you know, the wrong side of the tracks since birth—being introduced into this world of the heroin-addicted daughter of the multi-millionaire who's terrified of his own shadow.’
‘The sense that the rich men of the world are often corrupt men—that interests me, too. It's very seldom clean money, if there is such a thing as clean money. I think if you trace any money back far enough, you get to slaves or terrible industrial stuff with dynamite or piracy or whatever; or more recently, to drugs.’
Some critics, particularly in the mainstream, were less receptive to its imagery; one reviewer called it ‘spiritually bankrupt’. These responses did not trouble Barker; indeed, he gloried in them—‘What you can't do to most of the images in my books is ignore them’—and he found a special joy in his favourite review, which described the novel as ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters written by Graham Greene’.13
Working for the first time at novel length, Clive Barker created a memorable debut that, over the next few years, would find explication in a series of stories, novels and motion pictures that pursued his fascination with the tale of Faustus, the problem of evil, and the trap of the flesh.
Its Faustus, Whitehead, chooses Strauss as heir apparent; both men are imprisoned—not only by walls of stone, but also by a mechanistic worldview in which ‘all is chance’. Whitehead's delusionary belief in materialism—and, thus, the illusion of control in a world of chaos—succumbs to the sordid reality of damnation. Like Faustus, Whitehead squanders his gifts in pursuit of worldly appetites, rather than seeking a transcendental truth, or simple happiness. The vindictive Mamoulian represents the prison of the flesh—his hatred for the weakness of the skin is the insistent reminder that all flesh must fail. Confronted by the inevitability of death, Whitehead follows the insatiable gluttony of his materialism to its bitter finale; while Marty, his perspective shifted skyward by the dreaming Carys, finds hope—and survives. In Barker's words:
‘I think the dream of a new world is a hollow hope. I'm a lover of the idea of the Millennium because I think we have to totally reassess what our idea of culture is. Because clearly the values which we were breast-fed on, the whole idea that you could accrue and acquire, and the more you accrued and acquired, the happier you would be—the stuff that fuelled our parents' ambitions for themselves, and perhaps more particularly their ambitions for us—are phony. They don't work. They're not comforts. Two televisions will not get you through the night. Indeed, while we've been seeking these things to acquire, we've been distracted from any other conception of what cultural living or being should be about.’
‘We have lost, in that moment of distraction, our grip on the real things which can comfort us in moments of anxiety and duress. And I am talking, obviously, of spiritual values and the idea that the world can be made to make sense from the inside out. You start with the business of the soul; you start with the business of interior investigation. And then you say: What does the world mean in terms of the internal life, the mythological life? This is what I believe every writer working in the fantastique is scratching at, this itch to know. Because over and over again, those fictions are about the eruption of higher meaning into a world without meaning, or relatively little meaning.’
‘This was back in '85,’ Clive notes, ‘and while those walls are not rubble by any means, there are certainly substantial holes between the genre now, and you can pass to and fro without so much editorial questioning. I like to think I'm to some extent responsible for voicing the opinion that these things are interconnected and perhaps even interdependent.’
‘Even relatively benign fantasies—CS Lewis, Tolkien—have large horrific elements in them; and horror, by and large, has some fantastical conceit wrapped up somewhere, unless you're talking about the psycho-on-the-loose kind of horror. The Red Death does come to Prince Prospero's castle. The dead do rise. Those are fantastical conceits, and I have tried to voice the opinion that these generic divisions are artificial and actually stultifying—convenient for publishers and inconvenient for readers and writers.’
‘I was not in a place at that time to voice that opinion; I don't think anyone could have formulated it. So I simply backed down.’
Clive Barker, The Damnation Game. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1985. The novel was not published in the United States until 1987, when Putnam/Ace released its hardcover edition. All quotations are taken from the first edition.
Clive Barker, ‘The Tragical History of Dr Faustus’, Horror: 100 Best Books. Ed. Stephen Jones and Kim Newman. London: Xanadu, 1988.
The earliest printed edition of the play is The Tragicall History of D Faustus, which was published in 1604, eleven years after Marlowe was stabbed to death in a tavern quarrel. A different text, The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, was published in 1611. Most modern editions are based upon the latter text but include passages from the 1604 edition that were censored from the 1611 version as blasphemous.
Clive Barker, ‘The Tragical History of Dr Faustus’.
Quoted in the ‘Introduction’ to the Sylvan Barnet edition, Doctor Faustus. New York: Signet, 1969.
Clive Barker, ‘The Tragical History of Dr Faustus’.
Indeed, the rough-and-ready, yet curiously fragile, Strauss is a wounded everyman who echoes the heroes of the novels of James Herbert. Barker's decision to use such a protagonist seems a clear concession to Sphere's insistence that his first novel fulfil audience preconceptions of horror.
‘After the war, when they started rebuilding Europe, he used to say there were no real Europeans left—they'd all been wiped out by one holocaust or another—and he was the last of the line … Was that what made him European? To want to have his story told once more, passed down the line to another eager listener who would, in his time, disregard its lesson and repeat his own suffering? Ah, how he loved tradition.’
There is black comedy in the depiction of Breer as a zombie who does not realize his nature; but there is also exquisite tragedy: ‘You cut up a thing that's alive and beautiful to find out how it's alive and why it's beautiful and before you know it, it's neither of those things, and you're standing there with blood on your faces and tears in your sight and only the terrible ache of guilt to show for it.’
Hell, as Carys senses—and Barker stresses constantly in his fiction—is a void: ‘It was a legendary Nowhere, beside which every other dark was blindingly bright, every other despair she had endured a mere flirtation with the pit, not the pit itself.’ Here, in the antithesis of creation, is the true meaning of damnation: ‘He had felt, perhaps for the first time in his life, that his soul—a notion he had hitherto rejected as Christian flim-flam—had been threatened. What he meant by the word he wasn't certain; not, he suspected, what the Pope meant. But some part of him more essential than limb or life had almost been eclipsed, and Mamoulian had been responsible.’
‘In an earlier age Pandemonium—the first city of Hell—stood on a laval mountain while lightning tore the clouds above it and beacons burned on its walls to summon the fallen angels. Now, such spectacle belongs to Hollywood. Hell stands transposed. No lightning, no pits of fire.’
‘In a wasteland a few hundred yards from a motorway fly-over it finds a new incarnation: shabby, degenerate, forsaken. But here, where fumes thicken the atmosphere, minor terrors take on a new brutality. Heaven, by night, would have all the configurations of Hell. No less the Orpheus—hereafter called Pandemonium—Hotel.’
Zombie Flesh Eaters, known in the United States as Zombie, is the British title for Zombi 2 (1980), Lucio Fulci's deliriously violent, unauthorized sequel to George A Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1979).
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8530
SOURCE: Joshi, S. T. “The Persistence of Supernaturalism.” In The Modern Weird Tale, pp. 50-132. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2001.
[In the following excerpt, Joshi contends there are conceptual flaws in Barker's short stories and novels.]
CLIVE BARKER: SEX, DEATH, AND FANTASY
When Clive Barker's Books of Blood were published by Sphere Books in London in 1984-85, the world took notice. Hitherto known only as a dramatist whose plays had been performed but not published, Barker (b. 1952) accomplished a feat almost unheard of in publishing by having not one but six paperback volumes of his short stories issued by a major firm. At a time when even established authors in the field had difficulty in publishing collections of short fiction, Barker's achievement was more than unusual. Barker has now issued a novel, The Damnation Game (1985), a novella, The Hellbound Heart (1986), and three more novels, Weaveworld (1987), The Great and Secret Show (1989), and Imajica (1991), along with a short novel, Cabal (1988), a young adult novel, The Thief of Always (1992), and random other short stories. The Great and Secret Show, subtitled The First Book of The Art, was the first in a projected series of four or five novels. Barker has also attempted to write and direct films, with middling success, and has allowed his work to be adapted into comic books (or “graphic novels,” as they are pretentiously called), although he himself has had little to do with their conception or execution.
Early in his career Barker was lauded by Stephen King with the now famous tag, “I have seen the future of horror … and it is named Clive Barker.” In consequence, not only has Barker received generally more favorable reviews in the mainstream press, but higher expectations have been generated for his work than for popular bestseller material such as King's. And it is reasonable to demand greater literary substance from Barker, especially as he himself is not shy about claiming such substance for himself. But whether he belongs in the class of Blackwood, Dunsany, and Lovecraft (or of Shirley Jackson and Ramsey Campbell) is far from clear.
The keynote of Barker's early work is a frenetic mix of gruesome physical horror, rather conventional supernaturalism, and explicit sex. It would be untrue to say that Barker is aiming purely at shock value in all this, but it is also untrue to believe that he has the literary skill to raise this subject matter very much above the level of sensationalism. Barker is a writer of considerable imagination but extraordinarily slipshod style, conception, and execution. Like many writers, he has already written (or published) too much. It would not be an exaggeration to say that, of his voluminous work, perhaps only five or six stories from the Books of Blood and The Damnation Game are all that are worth reading.
What I find most interesting about Barker is his place in the history of weird fiction. He is in many ways a herald of the complete and possibly irremediable decadence of the field. He is the prototypical example of the tendency I have noted in my introduction: the failure to give a plausible account of supernatural phenomena. Everything in Barker is directed toward the level of pure sensation.
Let us consider “Sex, Death and Starshine.” Here we are asked to believe that ghosts of old actors are presiding over the final performance of a Shakespeare play at an old theatre about to be demolished. But Barker provides no rationale (not even one acceptable on supernatural grounds) for how the bodies of those old actors, and the living actors whom they kill, simply come back to life for this final curtain call. Consider the resurrection of Tallulah, an aged employee who has been at the theatre since its heyday 50 years before. She is killed by Lichfield, the leader of the band of deceased actors, but this is of no consequence: “She'd cool easily in the chill of the room, and be up and about again by the time the audience arrived” (BB[Books of Blood]1, 156). This single sentence encapsulates what might be called the fossilization of weird fiction: its transformation from an outgrowth of a philosophical position to a conventionalized genre in which certain events have become standardized because they have been used so often. Barker has no doubt encountered so many instances of the resurrection of the dead (in stories, novels, movies, and comic books) that he no longer feels the need to explain it—it simply provides an excuse for a certain type of frisson that is to be experienced as such without any thought of its plausibility or its philosophical or aesthetic purpose. In this case, we are evidently to be entertained at the prospect of witnessing a dead actress giving a still living director a blow job (he is amazed that she does not breathe during the process). It never seems to occur to Barker to wonder, if these particular corpses can be reanimated so effortlessly, why all corpses do not behave this way.
This identical problem mars another, later work, Cabal, and in such a way as to suggest that the absence of a rationale for the supernatural is not merely a technical failing on Barker's part but something that he feels is simply not necessary in a tale of this sort. Cabal rests upon the presupposition that there exists a place called Midian where only “monsters” (i.e., those who have apparently committed heinous crimes) are welcome. In fact, these monsters are simply the resurrected dead. How did this happen? A desperate man who thinks he has committed a series of murders seeks out Midian. Although he discovers that it is not on any map (C [Cabal] 32), he and other characters end up finding it relatively easily in the north of Canada. He is eventually gunned down by a pursuing posse of police but calmly walks out of the morgue for further adventures. Only toward the end of the novel do we get a faint rationale for how this could have occurred: he was previously bitten by one of the undead and was therefore “infected” (C 154). But this only pushes the question back one step further: how did the undead become “infected”? Is there something about criminals that causes them to come back from the dead? It is all entirely unaccounted for, and this short novel simply collapses from its own absurdity.
Other stories in the Books of Blood also suffer from serious conceptual difficulties. “The Midnight Meat Train” is riddled with implausibilities of plot. Although Barker now spends much of his time in New York, it is painfully obvious that he had not been there at the time he wrote this story, since its account of horrors on the subway is full of transparent mistakes (there is no “Avenue of the Americas” line; one cannot hear conversation from one subway car to the next). These implausibilities, however, could have been acceptable if Barker had restricted the story to one of suspense in which a man going home late at night on the subway is attempting to escape a serial killer in the next car. But the story rapidly becomes preposterous when we are asked, with apparent seriousness, to believe that the serial killer is really feeding the bodies he kills to the “City fathers” (BB1, 47) who live in the bowels of the subway. Here again we are presented with the ludicrous proposition that these City fathers must eat human flesh to remain alive (BB1, 46)—why should this be the case?
The height of absurdity is reached when, at what is presumably meant to be the grand horrific climax, we encounter “the original American” (BB1, 48) who rules this band of cannibals. “It was a giant. Without head or limb. Without a feature that was analogous to human, without an organ that made sense, or senses. If it was like anything, it was like a shoal of fish. A thousand snouts all moving in unison, budding, blossoming and withering rhythmically. It was iridescent, like mother of pearl, but it was sometimes deeper than any color Kaufman knew, or could put a name to” (BB1, 49). But Barker has failed to think out this conception adequately. What significance, political or otherwise, is intended here? Evidently the only object of this “original American” is to inspire physical disgust at its repulsive appearance. Barker is saying nothing of importance about the horror and decadence of the city, or of their causes.
Even some of Barker's better tales have flaws in conception, especially on the key issue of where and how the supernatural enters into the matter. “Son of Celluloid” is a powerful tale of a criminal who dies behind the screen of an old movie theatre and in some fashion causes the revival of the famous actors and actresses who enlivened that screen, but again the critical issue of how this is actually accomplished is not carefully worked out. Here is Barker's account:
The space however, like the air itself, had lived a life of its own in that fifty years. Like a reservoir, it had received the electric stares of thousands of eyes, of tens of thousands of eyes. Half a century of movie goers had lived vicariously through the screen of the Movie Palace, pressing their sympathies and their passions on to the flickering illusion, the energy of their emotions gathering strength like a neglected cognac in that hidden passage of air. Sooner or later, it must discharge itself. All it lacked was a catalyst.
Until Barberio's cancer.
Cancer, I suppose, is one of the great horrors of our time, but that it makes the resurrection of Marilyn Monroe possible might strain anyone's credulity. The imagery and atmosphere of the story are highly effective, but, like so much of Barker, the tale is crippled by its ludicrous premise.
“Rawhead Rex” is the moderately entertaining story of a huge, nine-foot-tall creature who crawls out from under a rock in a field and rampages through the countryside; but the only account we get of the entity is from a human who has fallen under its influence: “‘There were things that owned this land. Before Christ. Before civilization. Most of them didn't survive the destruction of their natural habitat: too primitive I suppose. But strong. Not like us; not human. Something else altogether’” (BB3, 57). Barker evidently feels that this half-baked anthropology is sufficient. It is clear that the true aim of the story is simply to inspire disgust at the creature on account of its penchant for munching on innocent children:
It was half past eleven at night. Rawhead Rex lay under the moon in one of the harvested fields to the southwest of the Nicholson Farm. The stubble was darkening now, and there was a tantalizing smell of rotting vegetable matter off the earth. Beside him lay his dinner, Ian Ronald Milton, face up on the field, his midriff torn open. Occasionally the beast would lean up on one elbow and paddle its fingers in the cooling soup of the boy child's body, fishing for a delicacy.
Here, under the full moon, bathing in silver, stretching his limbs and eating the flesh of human kind, he felt irresistible. His fingers drew a kidney off the plate beside him and he swallowed it whole.
One winces at this—not at what is being described but at Barker's fatuity in believing that such ham-fisted sadism can genuinely affect an adult reader.
It is already evident that much of Barker's work contains an element of political or social criticism, but it is equally evident that much of this is superficial in the extreme. “In the Hills, the Cities” contains, as Ramsey Campbell states in his introduction to the Books of Blood (BB1, xii), one of the more original monsters in horror fiction: a huge figure made up of thousands of human beings who practice for years to perfect the motions suitable for their respective places in the entity's anatomy. But the whole conception becomes trivialized by being used as a facile satire on the collectivist state: we are behind the Iron Curtain, where the “illusion of petty individuality was swept away in an irresistible tide of collective feeling” (BB1, 197). As if this passage, and others like it, were not enough, Barker feels the need to editorialize bluntly in order to convey his message to even the least astute reader: “Locked in their positions, strapped, roped and harnessed to each other in a living system that allowed for no single voice to be louder than any other, nor any back to labor less than its neighbor's, they let an insane consensus replace the tranquil voice of reason. They were convulsed into one mind, one thought, one ambition. They became, in the space of a few moments, the single-minded giant whose image they had so brilliantly recreated” (BB1, 196-97).
“Babel's Children” is an exercise in cheap political satire. It is a tale of a young woman traveling on an island off the coast of Greece and stumbling upon a group of aged individuals who are actually governing the world because elected heads of state are too stupid to do so. “‘We run the world. It wasn't meant to be that way, but as I said, systems decay. As time went by the potentates—knowing they had us to make critical decisions for them—concerned themselves more and more with the pleasures of high office and less and less with thinking. Within five years we were no longer advisors, but surrogate overlords, juggling nations’” (BB5, 89). After a time these people no longer rule the world by reason but merely by playing games of chance to determine the resolution of events. And when all but one of them die in an escape attempt, the woman is forced to take over their position. All this is presented in a somewhat lighthearted manner, but it cannot conceal the poverty of genuine and penetrating political insight that a story like this must offer.
“The Forbidden” is the one story in Barker's work that seems to promise a somewhat more interesting and subtle social commentary. Here a middle-class woman working on a thesis on graffiti enters a ghetto seeking source material. Instead, she encounters vague rumors of a horrible murder that took place there recently. She has trouble verifying the account, and her friends scoff at her and think she has been taken in by a hoax or fabrication. But as the woman becomes more and more acclimated to her ghetto surroundings, she comes to find her friends effete and smart-alecky. She has undergone a slow cultural transformation. “Nor was it simply the presence of so many people that reassured her; she was, she conceded to herself, happy to be back here in Spector Street. The quadrangles, with their stunted saplings and their grey grass, were more real to her than the carpeted corridors she was used to walking; the anonymous faces on the balconies and streets meant more than her colleagues at the University. In a word, she felt home” (BB5, 29). She meets the Candyman, a figure who embodies the rumors that come out of the ghetto. Eventually she succumbs, in a scene that poignantly combines horror, pathos, and bitter cynicism:
Perhaps they would remember her, as he had said they might, finding her cracked skull in tomorrow's ashes. Perhaps she might become, in time, a story with which to frighten children. She had lied, saying she preferred death to such questionable fame; she did not. As to her seducer, he laughed as the conflagration sniffed them out. There was no permanence for him in this night's death. His deeds were on a hundred walls and ten thousand lips, and should he be doubted again his congregation could summon him with sweetness. He had reason to laugh.
The story continually wavers between mundane fear (fear of rape or murder) and metaphysical fear. It is one of Barker's few early successes.
From a slightly different perspective, sociopolitical considerations enter indirectly through the dismal, grim, and generally lower-class settings and characters of the majority of his tales. Is Barker saying that horror only affects such areas and such figures? This presupposition is very strong. As he writes in The Damnation Game:
Hell is reimagined by each generation. Its terrain is surveyed for absurdities and remade in a fresher mold; its terrors are scrutinized and, if necessary, reinvented to suit the current climate of atrocity; its architecture is redesigned to appall the eye of the modern damned. In an earlier age Pandemonium—the first city of Hell—stood on a lava mountain while lightning tore the clouds above it and beacons burned on its walls to summon the fallen angels. Now, such spectacle belongs to Hollywood. Hell stands transposed. No lightning, no pits of fire.
In a wasteland a few hundred yards from a highway overpass it finds a new incarnation: shabby, degenerate, forsaken. But here, where fumes thicken the atmosphere, minor terrors take on a new brutality. Heaven, by night, would have all the configurations of Hell.
[DG [The Damnation Game] 327]
Accordingly, Barker's settings include prisons (“Pig Blood Blues,” “In the Flesh,” “The Body Politic” in part), seedy hotels (“Revelations”), and the ghetto (“The Forbidden”). Among his characters are sadists (“Dread”), ignorant and uncouth townspeople (“The Skins of the Fathers”), criminals (“Son of Celluloid”), pornographers (“Confession of a (Pornographer's) Shroud”) prostitutes both female (“Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament”) and male (“Human Remains”), young thugs (“The Inhuman Condition”), oily fundamentalist preachers (“Revelations”), and the like.
But it would be too comforting to imagine that horror never strays beyond the prison or the ghetto, and some of Barker's most powerful tales are those in which middle-class characters are drawn inexorably into what Bruce Springsteen has called the “darkness on the edge of town.” We have already seen this mingling of class in “The Forbidden.” “Confession of a (Pornographer's) Shroud” also effects this union, involving an accountant who unwittingly works for a group of pornographers and loses his wife, children, and ultimately his life as a result. This is, however, not the end but the beginning of the story: in some unexplained fashion the accountant's spirit remains alive (Barker's offhand comment that “There was still a will to revenge in him” [BB3, 99] is wholly useless as a plausible rationale) and actually animates his shroud into a human form. The influence of M. R. James's “‘Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad’” is very obvious, and Barker makes no secret of it: his remark that “He'd seen what freak creases could do, making faces appear in a crumpled pillow” (BB3, 104), precisely echoes James's climactic statement whereby the invisible entity in his story reveals a “face of crumpled linen.”1 Nevertheless, the story, although merely a tale of revenge, is effectively grim. We will see later, in The Damnation Game, that even the wealthiest of us are not immune from the intrusion of horror emerging from the depths of history and of the underclass.
As it is, one of the most interesting features of Barker's work is a powerful mix of sex and death in such a way that the one leads to the other, and vice versa. In Barker there is an intimate connection between sex, violence, and death. As he wrote with some pungency in The Damnation Game: “It wasn't difficult to smudge sexuality into violence, turn sighs into screams, thrusts into convulsions. The grammar was the same; only the punctuation differed” (DG 153). It is interesting that one of the most wholesome sexual passages in all his work occurs toward the opening of “In the Hills, the Cities,” in which we are given a lengthy, explicit, and powerful vignette of homosexual love between two male companions. The heterosexuals in Barker's tales rarely act with such honesty and purity.
“The Age of Desire” is perhaps Barker's most powerful story. Here a man is given a drug that so stimulates his sexual desire that everything becomes seductive:
Aroused beyond control, he turned to the wall he had been leaning against. The sun had fallen upon it, and it was warm: the bricks smelt ambrosial. He laid kisses on their gritty faces, his hands exploring every nook and cranny. Murmuring sweet nothings, he unzipped himself, found an accommodating niche, and filled it. His mind was running with liquid pictures: mingled anatomies, female and male in one undistinguishable congress. Above him, even the clouds had caught fire; enthralled by their burning heads he felt the moment rise in his gristle. Breath was short now. But the ecstasy?; surely that would go on forever.
The sociological message here is clear—a commentary on the complete sexualization of our minds and our age. As one character remarks, “‘All our so-called higher concerns become secondary to the pursuit [of sex]. For a short time sex makes us obsessive; we can perform, or at least we think we can perform, what with hindsight may seem extraordinary feats’” (BB5, 136). Later it is said of the drugged patient: “His back ached, his balls ached: but what was his body now?; just a plinth for that singular monument, his prick. Head was nothing; mind was nothing” (BB5, 140-41). It is clear what we have become: “The world had seen so many Ages. The Age of Enlightenment; of Reformation; of Reason. Now, at last, the Age of Desire. And after this, an end to Ages; an end, perhaps, to everything. For the fires that were being stoked now were fiercer than the innocent world suspected. They were terrible fires, fires without end, which would illuminate the world in one last, fierce light” (BB5, 136).
Other stories on this theme are rather less successful. Two are feminist in their suggestion that men are useless encumbrances in the entire process of birth, life, and death. In “The Skins of the Fathers” we encounter bizarre monsters who have impregnated a woman in a small desert community. The intimation is that these creatures have created all earth life: “The creatures who were his fathers were also men's fathers; and the marriage of semen in Lucy's body was the same mix that made the first males. Women had always existed: they had lived, a species to themselves, with the demons. But they had wanted playmates: and together they had made men” (BB2, 147). But this transparent reversal of the myth of Eve's creation from Adam is presented too bluntly to be effective, and the story rapidly devolves into an exercise in bloodletting. Somewhat better is “The Madonna,” in which a loathsome monster called the Madonna, the “Virgin Mother” (BB5, 66), is shown to give birth without the need of men. A male character who has had intercourse with her wakes up one day to find that he has become a woman. But what is the true point of the story? It is never made clear. “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament” (BB2) may be mentioned in this connection, as it deals with a woman who, purely through the power of her will, is capable of physically destroying human beings, usually men. If anything, the story hints at the superior strength of women, but beyond this it seems to lack direction and focus.
“Dread” is less obviously sexual, but, as Barker's most effective non-supernatural story, it carries a clear message about men's habitual abuse of women. A philosophy professor decides to carry out an experiment on a bright young female student whom he perhaps considers too challenging to his intellectual supremacy: he subjects her to hideous torture whereby she, a vegetarian, is locked in a room with a gradually rotting piece of meat as her only means of sustenance. She eventually succumbs and eats the rancid flesh. Powerful as this conte cruel is, it is ultimately no more than a tale of vengeance, as a man on whom the professor attempts a similar torture comes back to kill him. The story aims at profundity by means of pseudophilosophical discussions on the nature of fear, but these in the end don't amount to much.
The Hellbound Heart also attempts a union of sex and death, but the result is clumsy and superficial. Frank, a jaded and unruly wastrel, stumbles upon a curious box (“How had he first heard about Lemarchand's box? He couldn't remember. In a bar maybe, or a gutter, from the lips of a fellow derelict” [NV (Night Visions) 218]). This box summons up mysterious creatures called Cenobites who promise him unheard-of pleasures. But Frank, in his limited way, conceives of these pleasures purely sexually. He pays for his misconception, suffering a nameless fate that nearly obliterates his body. He survives, after a fashion, only because he spilled his semen in the room he was occupying: “Dead sperm was a meager keepsake of his essential self, but enough” (NV 220). When Julia, married to Frank's brother Rory but secretly in love with Frank, moves into the house Frank occupied, she eventually detects his presence. She finds that he requires copious amounts of blood to reanimate himself, and promptly poses as a prostitute to lure unwitting Johns into her house so that she can kill them and feed their blood to Frank, who gradually dons bone, flesh, and skin once more. All this is an entertaining mix of sex and death (rather more effective in the film version directed by Barker, Hellraiser, with its fine special effects), but ultimately no broader conclusions are drawn. Is sex our destroyer or our salvation? What significance does Julia's pseudoprostitution have? Once again the tale lapses into a story of adventure and revenge, as the Cenobites exact punishment-upon Frank for trying to escape their clutches.
A serious deficiency in Barker's work is a very naive good versus evil morality that renders many of his characters one-dimensional. He makes many pretensions toward mainstream writing by elaborate character portrayal, and this occurs even in his Books of Blood: most of these tales are not so much short stories as novellas, which might, at least in theory, allow for such characterization. But both his heroes and villains are flat and wooden. He has a penchant for depicting vengeful small-town policemen (“The Skins of the Fathers,” Cabal), amoral criminals (“Cleve knew in his heart he was a leopard born and bred. Crime was easy, work was not”—“In the Flesh” [BB5, 104]), and diseased psychopaths (“The Life of Death”). And those evil Europeans who have come to disturb the peace-loving natives in the Amazon in “How Spoilers Breed” are marked for destruction from the beginning. Les Daniels has rightly referred to this sort of scenario not as tragedy but as melodrama:2 this is not what adults want to read. In other cases, Barker's attempts at fleshing out his characters in a short story or novelette seriously disfigure the unity of the work: the meandering interludes depicting the sorry state of Jerry Coloqhoun's love life in “The Madonna” are entirely irrelevant to the central plot of the story.
Miraculously, however, all this changes in The Damnation Game. In some fashion or other, Barker has here produced a sparklingly flawless weird novel that redeems all the absurdities of his earlier Books of Blood and all the verbosity of his later novels. What is more, it fulfills the conditions of an actual weird novel, or at least avoids Thomas Ligotti's criticism of the average weird novel as merely a mystery or suspense tale with horrific or supernatural interludes. The Damnation Game has indeed been conceived as a weird novel, and the supernatural manifestations are of such a sort as to require novel length for their proper realization.
The first thing that strikes us about this work is the pervasiveness of the game motif. We have already seen indications of its fascination for Barker in The Inhuman Condition (the knots whose resolution releases the horror), and we shall see it later in The Hellbound Heart with its mysterious box that must be decoded to unleash the Cenobites. Here, however, it structures the entire novel. Joseph Whitehead, a petty thief and gambler preying upon the ruins of postwar Warsaw, hears of a mysterious figure, Mamoulian, who has never lost at cards. Moreover, those who play against him and lose often meet hideous deaths. Whitehead, his curiosity piqued (and also perhaps offended by this challenge to his own prowess at games of chance), seeks out Mamoulian (or is perhaps led to him), challenges him to a game of cards, and wins (or is perhaps allowed to win). Years pass, and Whitehead returns to England. It transpires that, as a result of his victory over Mamoulian, he has gained spectacular wealth, power, and prestige. But now he increasingly senses that Mamoulian is after him in order to exact some sort of revenge, the purpose of which Whitehead cannot clearly ascertain.
The crucial point in the novel is the exact nature of the “game” that Whitehead “won” from Mamoulian. Marty Strauss—who, although merely an ex-convict hired by Whitehead to be his bodyguard, becomes the focal character of the novel—is made aware of the means by which Whitehead accumulated his fortune:
Life was a random business. Whitehead had learned that lesson years ago, at the hands of a master, and he had never forgotten it. Whether you were rewarded for your good works or skinned alive, it was all down to chance. No use to cleave to some system of numbers or divinities; they all crumbled in the end. Fortune belonged to the man who was willing to risk everything on a single throw.
He'd done that. Not once, but many times at the beginning of his career, when he was laying the foundations of his empire. And thanks to that extraordinary sixth sense he possessed, the ability to preempt the roll of the dice, the risks had almost always paid off. … When it came to knowing the moment, for sensing the collision of time and opportunity that made a good decision into a great one, a commonplace takeover into a coup, nobody was Old Man Whitehead's superior. …
This is not mere rhetorical praise for a business genius; it is all meant literally, as Strauss begins to sense. “Suppose Whitehead could put his finger on the wheel anytime he wanted to, so that even the petty chance of a fox running to the right or left was available to him? Could he know the future before it happened—was that why the chips tingled, and fingers too?—or was he shaping it?” (DG 141). The game Whitehead “won” from Mamoulian was the control of chance. As Mamoulian once told Whitehead, “‘All life is chance. … The trick is learning how to use it’” (DG 230).
But how did Mamoulian himself gain this quality? He is merely a human being, albeit with superhuman powers. He scoffs at Whitehead's query toward the end as to whether he is the Devil: “‘You know I'm not. … Every man is his own Mephistopheles’” (DG 348). We finally learn of Mamoulian's past through Whitehead's daughter Carys, a “sensitive” who can probe people's minds. She ultimately summons up the courage to enter Mamoulian's mind and finds that, as a sergeant in the army, he was nearly executed before a firing squad when “‘Chance stepped in on your behalf’” (DG 309), as a monk who rescues him remarks. This monk teaches Mamoulian all he knows: how to resurrect the dead, how to “‘take life from other people, and have it for yourself’” (DG 309), and how to control chance. Mamoulian kills the monk, so that this knowledge is his alone, but later he realizes that the monk really wanted to die once he had passed on his information (the influence of Melmoth the Wanderer is very obvious here). And what does Mamoulian himself want if not the same thing? “‘Don't you see how terrible it is to live when everything around you perishes? And the more the years pass the more the thought of death freezes your bowels, because the longer you avoid it the worse you imagine it must be? And you start to long—oh, how you long—for someone to take pity on you, someone to embrace you and share your terrors. And, at the end, someone to go into the dark with you’” (DG 311). Whitehead is that person whom Mamoulian wants to accompany him in death, but Whitehead has cheated him.
“He squandered all my teachings, all my knowledge, threw it away for greed's sake, for power's sake, for the life of the body. Appetite! All gone for appetite. All my precious love, wasted!” Marty could hear, in his litany, the voice of the puritan—a monk's voice, perhaps?—the rage of a creature who wanted the world purer than it was and lived in torment because it saw only filth and flesh sweating to make more flesh, more filth. What hope of sanity in such a place? Except to find a soul to share the torment, a lover to hate the world with. Whitehead had been such a partner. And now Mamoulian was being true to his lover's soul: wanting, at the end, to go into death with the only other creature he had ever trusted. “We'll go to nothing …” he breathed, and the breath was a promise. “All of us, go to nothing. Down! Down!”.
The portrait of Mamoulian is extraordinarily complex, inspiring at once horror, pathos, and awe. For the one and only time in his writing Barker has abandoned his good versus evil dichotomy to present a rich and intricate conflict of wills. There is no flaw in The Damnation Game: its structure is perfect, its characters substantial and fully developed, its style pure and clean (he must have had a good copy editor), and its denouement powerful and satisfying. Although it is part horror story, part historical novel, part mainstream novel, and part detective story, the supernatural premise structures the entire work.
With Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show, and Imajica Barker is attempting to do something very different. Perhaps irked by the charge that he writes only about gruesome physical horror, Barker in these novels seeks a union between imaginary-world fantasy and supernatural horror. The union is reasonably successful in Weaveworld; much less so in The Great and Secret Show and Imajica. What is still more curious is that the fundamental theme of the first two works is really very much the same, and one wonders why Barker needs two very hefty novels (and the prospect of at least three more sequels to The Great and Secret Show) to expound a theme that is not intrinsically interesting—or, at any rate, one that Barker does not treat in a very interesting manner.
This theme is the power of art and the imagination: this is all that both these novels are about. In Weaveworld we encounter an elaborately woven carpet endowed with magical powers: it contains an entire realm of entity within its substance. It quickly becomes clear that the Weaveworld is nothing but a symbol for art. “Every inch of the carpet was worked with motifs. Even the border brimmed with designs, each subtly different from its neighbor. The effect was not overbusy; every detail was clear to Cal's feasting eyes. In one place a dozen motifs congregated as if banded together; in another, they stood apart like rival siblings. Some kept their station along the border; others spilled into the main field, as if eager to join the teeming throng there” (W [Weaveworld] 32). And the Weaveworld itself, full of wondrous landscapes and bizarre but enchanting creatures, is also a transparent symbol for the power of the imagination to transform the ordinary into the magical. As is stated toward the end, “Magic might be bestowed upon the physical, but it didn't reside there. It resided in the word, which was the mind spoken” (W 428).
Once this symbolism is established, however, nothing in particular is done with it. Instead, we lapse again into a good versus evil paradigm where some cardboard villains—the oily salesman Shadwell, the evil policeman Inspector Hobart—attempt to gain control of the carpet either for personal gain or in order to rule the Weaveworld. Two young people, Cal and Suzanna, with assistance from various cute denizens of the Weaveworld, come to the carpet's rescue and save it from desecration. Indeed, the last two-thirds of the novel are nothing more than an adventure story relating the battle for the possession of the carpet. All symbolism pertaining to the Weaveworld and its appurtenances is ignored.
The remark in Weaveworld that the basic “story” of the weave is “‘about being born, and being afraid of dying, and how love saves us’” (W 348), however platitudinous it may be, seems to be the fundamental message of The Great and Secret Show, subtitled The First Book of The Art. Here we are involved with a mysterious “dream-sea” called Quiddity, which appears to us at three critical junctures of our lives: “‘It's a dream of what it means to be born, and fall in love, and die. A dream that explains what being is for’” (GSS [The Great and Secret Show] 211). The whole of this interminable and tiresome novel involves the attempts by various good or evil persons to gain control of Quiddity, which again is nothing more than a symbol for our imaginations.
He no longer cared what words were most appropriate for this reality [Quiddity]: whether it was another dimension or a state of mind was not relevant. They were probably one and the same anyhow. What did matter was the holiness of this place. He didn't doubt for a moment that all that he'd gleaned about Quiddity and the Ephemeris was true. This was the place in which all his species knew of glory got their glimpses. A constant place; a place of comfort, where the body was forgotten (except for trespassers like himself) and the dreaming soul knew flight, and mystery.
And when we put together statements like this with other remarks such as “‘The real mystery—the only mystery—is inside our heads’” (GSS 211) and with the assertion that one of the villains wants to “‘own the dreamlife of the world’” (GSS 344), there is little doubt as to the nature of Quiddity. But the brutal truth is that Barker has not made this conception interesting enough to sustain a novel of such enormous length, much less the three or four projected sequels he has in mind. If he really carries through his threat of writing four books the size of this one on a theme he presents with such a poverty of interest and complexity, then he may have made the greatest mistake of his career.
Perhaps affected by the poor response to The Great and Secret Show, Barker has temporarily (and one hopes permanently) abandoned the continuation of The Art and written another imaginary-world fantasy. Imajica, however, is as beset with conceptual difficulties as its predecessor. And its gargantuan length (it is by far the longest of his novels) painfully emphasizes its diffuseness and lack of focus and makes one wonder whether, in discarding supernatural horror for pure fantasy, he has not made a disastrous aesthetic decision.
It would be tedious and unprofitable to examine the plot of this shambling behemoth of a novel. Suffice it to say that we are dealing with one John Furie Zacharias, a womanizer and painter of forgeries who proves to be the hand-picked “Reconciler” of the Five Dominions. The Fifth Dominion is the Earth, and the other four exist in some wholly undefined relation to it. Opposing him is an ancient society called the Tabula Rasa, which wishes to maintain the barriers between this Dominion and the others, but is wiped out with surprising ease by the Autarch Sartori, the ruler of the Second Dominion who comes to Earth to establish his dictatorship here.
Barker's supporters (like those of Stephen King) are fond of referring to the “epic” imaginative sweep of this novel, as if mere bulk is sufficient to give a work an “epic” quality. The fact is, Barker's imagination (or sense of logic) fails at key points: in defining the relationship between the Dominions; in distinguishing one Dominion from another; in depicting a plausible means of traveling between Dominions (one character, evidently speaking for Barker, announces, “‘I don't fully understand the mechanisms that carry us over. … I'm not sure anybody does completely’” [I (Imajica) 333-34]); and, most significantly, in specifying what a “Reconciliation” of the Dominions will actually mean. This last failure is critical: with readers kept utterly in the dark about the nature, purpose, and effect of Zacharias's quest, the novel cannot even gain any sense of dramatic tension as to whether the reconciliation will or should come about.
There is some suggestion of a conflict between reason (now preeminent in the Fifth Dominion) and magic. In referring to the attempt by one minor character, Chant, to cross Dominions, the narrator remarks, “… the power to do so, which was usually—and contemptuously—referred to as magic, had been waning in the Fifth since Chant had first arrived. He'd seen the walls of reason built against it, brick by brick” (I 24). But beyond such fleeting mentions, very little is made of this. One wonders, in any event, what purpose will be served by the Reconciliation, since—aside from sundry odd-looking animals and quasi-human beings—the other Dominions seem just as mundane as our own. “A sizeable part of him wanted to exit this Dominion once and for all. Take himself off to Yzordderex and set up business with Peccable; marry Hoi-Polloi despite her crossed eyes; have a litter of kids and retire to the Hills of the Conscious Cloud, in the Third, and raise parrots” (I 74). This passage also reveals Barker's uncanny knack of creating the most ungainly imaginary names I have lately run across in fantasy fiction.
Along the way various other themes and motifs are thrown out, but in such a haphazard and confused way that they fail (if I may say so) to be reconciled into a unified whole. There are innumerable archly pretentious descriptions of sex (between man and woman, man and man, woman and woman, and man and some third gender from one of the Dominions) with the suggestion that sex has some transcendent power or function associated with the Reconciliation, but one never knows what it is. There is a half-baked parody of feminism in the notion that the goddesses of the other Dominions are imprisoned or killed by the “God of Gods” (I 294), Hapexamendios; there are suggestions that the spirits of all the dead people in the world will somehow return once the Reconciliation takes place. And on and on and on. Once again Barker has bitten off more than he can chew: he does not have either the philosophic vision or the narrative skill to unify these diverse threads, and the novel peters out ridiculously at the end. One can only hope that he does not intend a sequel to this ambling leviathan.
A curious aspect of Barker's supernatural work is that the horror revolves wholly around the physical harm that may come to human beings. There is no sign of Lovecraft's “cosmic” vision, whereby human events are seen against the vast backdrop of the uncaring universe, nor even much of an indication that harm to the physical body may not be the apex of horror. No doubt Barker, by consciously tailoring his work to “mainstream” criteria regarding the importance of human relationships, imagines that this limiting of perspective might render his work more acceptable to the general literary community, but the end result is simply a narrowness of vision and conception. Even his most “cosmic” monster—the huge entities in “In the Hills, the Cities”—is made up of human beings. And even this impressive spectacle suffers from a bathetic anticlimax as Barker remarks at a key point in the narrative, “Was there ever a sight in Europe the equal of it?” (BB1, 207). “Rawhead Rex,” although not human, is simply a giant somewhat larger and stronger than a human being; even in The Damnation Game all the characters are simply human or (as with Anthony Breer, a loathsome individual resurrected from the dead by Mamoulian) perversions of the human. In Barker's later work it is certainly suggested that the mind controls the body and that therefore the horrors of the mind surpass those of the body. But, firstly, we are still dealing with a human perspective and, secondly, there is still vastly more harm done to the characters' bodies than to their minds or spirits or imaginations.
And yet, Barker reveals himself (in the many interviews he has given and in the critical essays and introductions he has written) to be a surprisingly articulate and stimulating spokesman for weird fiction in general and for his brand of weird fiction (explicit, physically extreme horror) in particular. Even here, however, I have some problems. He speaks repeatedly of the need for weird fiction to be grounded in “metaphysics.” We live, Barker feels (surely correctly), in a world where the “banal” reigns supreme—in television, in newspapers, in most of our daily lives. Accordingly, weird fiction must be “confrontational” and “subversive,” waking us up from our listlessness and lethargy (SE [Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden] 202-3). I believe he is on firm ground here, but I am not convinced that his own fiction actually embodies these principles. (This is what used to be called the gap between intention and achievement, before intention was banished from critical theory.) Barker criticizes Stephen King for his all too frequent good-versus-evil scenarios wherein the monster is portrayed as a “pure other” that must be extirpated for the good of the world (SE 74-75), but we have already seen that Barker has himself fallen into a very similar pattern in some of his own work, notably Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show. Perhaps Barker expressed his views most clearly and succinctly in a 1988 interview:
I'm not just writing to horrify, I'm writing to disturb, excite and subvert. Those functions are best served by the clearest possible views of the imagined scenes. I never cut to shadows—never cut away the moment of maximum revelation. What is revealed can be a moment of transcendence or disgust or self-comprehension or all three. It can be erotic, it can be funny, it can be foul. Those ambiguities and paradoxes are best arrived at if you show all there is to see.
This sounds good in theory, but in practice I fear that repeated doses of mere physical horror do not excite terror or disgust as much as … boredom. Barker says in a cocksure fashion that “What you can't do to most of the images in my books is ignore them” (SE 202). Well, yes you can, since after a while they all start sounding the same. The only solution for someone in Barker's position is either to increase the dosage (as in The Damnation Game and his films) or to opt for a different mode of writing altogether (as in Weaveworld and its successors). In a sense I can understand and even sympathize with Barker's impatience with the subtlety, indirection, and suggestiveness of much traditional weird fiction, which can on occasion lead to excessive obscurity (Robert Aickman) or tameness (some of M. R. James and most of his disciples). But Barker's own frenetic pyrotechnics have drawbacks of their own. I defy anyone to read his “The Midnight Meat Train” and then T. E. D. Klein's “Children of the Kingdom,” and not come away with a vastly greater impression of the horrors that may dwell on the underside of New York City from Klein's tale than from Barker's. Klein cannot possibly be accused of pulling any punches—his denouement is as horrifying as anything I have read in modern literature. It is simply that his tale is written with an elegance, meticulousness, and atmospheric tensity that Barker can only dream of. Indeed, Barker at times disingenuously makes a virtue of his carelessness in conception and style, as if such a thing is somehow inextricable from in the message he is trying to convey:
I'm an inclusionist. … Whatever is going through my head at a given time goes into the mix. … I don't think of myself as a slick artist. I think I'm kind of clunky in lots of ways. I don't actually mind the clunkiness. It's part of what I am. … I think everything I've done is rough-hewn. If it were not rough-hewn, I'd actually be simplifying it, I'd often be taking out paradoxes, I'd often be taking out contradictions, I'd often be taking out a kind of richness. Which would be highly regrettable.3
Barker may not be “slick,” but this is just about the slickest defense of clumsy, ill-conceived writing I can think of.
What, in the end, is the verdict on Clive Barker? The honest truth is that, with the sole exceptions of The Damnation Game and a handful of stories, the entirety of his work is marred by poor conception and construction, slipshod writing, excessive violence that serves no aesthetic purpose, and, in general, simply a lack of depth and substance. His later novels make vast pretensions to profundity but fail utterly to deliver on the promise. If Weaveworld effects a fairly convincing union of horror and fantasy, then he has seriously erred in embarking on what appears to be an interminable multinovel series with The Great and Secret Show, which exhibits a complete lack of focus, direction, or purpose. If Barker truly is, as Stephen King claimed, the “future” of horror, then the field is in deep trouble.
Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James (London: Edward Arnold, 1931), p. 148.
See note 9 [in The Weird Modern Tale].
Stephen Haff, “Clive Barker: Spokesman for the Strange,” Other Dimensions No. 1 (Summer 1993): 3.
Books of Blood, Volume 1. London: Sphere, 1984. New York: Berkley, 1986. [BB1]
Books of Blood, Volume 2. London: Sphere, 1984. New York: Berkley, 1986. [BB2]
Books of Blood, Volume 3. London: Sphere, 1984. New York: Berkley, 1986. [BB3]
Books of Blood, Volume 4. London: Sphere, 1985. New York: Poseidon Press, 1986 (as The Inhuman Condition). [BB4]
Books of Blood, Volume 5. London: Sphere, 1985. New York: Poseidon Press, 1987 (as In the Flesh). [BB5]
Books of Blood, Volume 6. London: Sphere, 1985. [BB6]
Cabal. London: Collins, 1988. New York: Poseidon Press, 1988 (with Books of Blood, Volume 6). [C]
The Damnation Game. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1985. New York: Ace/Putnam, 1987. [DG]
The Great and Secret Show. London: Collins, 1989. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. [GSS]
“The Hellbound Heart.” In Night Visions 3 (with Lisa Tuttle and Ramsey Campbell). Arlington Heights, IL: Dark Harvest, 1986. New York: Berkley, 1988 (as Night Visions: The Hellbound Heart). [NV] Separate publication New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1991.
Imajica. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. [I]
The Thief of Always. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Weaveworld. London: Collins, 1987. New York: Poseidon Press, 1987. [W]
Brown, Michael, ed. Pandemonium: Further Explorations into the Worlds of Clive Barker. Forestville, CA: Eclipse, 1991.
Haff, Stephen. “Clive Barker: Spokesman for the Strange” [interview]. Other Dimensions No. 1 (Summer 1993): 2-8.
Jones, Stephen, ed. Clive Barker’s Shadows in Eden. Lancaster, PA: Underwood-Miller, 1991. [SE]
Winter, Douglas E. “Clive Barker.” In Faces of Fear. New York: Berkley, 1985, pp. 207-20.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4091
SOURCE: Barker, Clive, and Paul Wells. “On the Side of the Demons: Clive Barker's Pleasures and Pains.” In British Horror Cinema, edited by Steve Chibnall and Julian Petley, pp. 172-82. London: Routledge, 2002.
[In the following excerpt, Wells presents highlights from his conversations with Barker in which the author summarizes his literary preoccupations.]
Clive Barker, novelist, artist, writer and director, has already achieved considerable success in two major aspects of the horror genre. First, he has resurrected a notion of ‘British horror’; previously mainly understood as a phenomenon of Hammer Films (see Hutchings 1993), the maverick talent Michael Reeves (see Pirie 1973) or exploitation auteurs like Pete Walker (see Chibnall 1998). Barker, with his self-conscious re-working and re-configuration of the British horror tradition, has simultaneously progressed the tradition but also called attention to its neglected backwaters, and re-engaged with the centrality of ‘Englishness’ at the core of the genre.
Second, Barker has added a significant myth to the canon of horror monsters with the invention of Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and the Cenobites in the Hellraiser series—Hellraiser (1987); Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988); Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992); Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1995); and in the variety of monsters in Nightbreed (1990). In Hellraiser Barker uses the theme of sado-masochism not merely to draw together the issues of eroticism and brutality, but to emphasize the protean nature of the body and identity. Barker's sense of the mutability of the flesh, and the combinative sense of organs and tissue, is played out through characters with ambivalent sexual orientations, and the problematics of bodily need. Barker's bodies are concerned with perspectives outside social orthodoxy, and ‘horror’ comes out of the fear of a perverse yet partially desired experience of a marginalized or unknown ‘otherness’. Arguably, this is an insightful address of the quintessentially ‘English’ attitudes towards the body. On the one hand, the English are perceived as physically inhibited, private, controlled and remote; on the other, they may be viewed as physically (if secretively) indulgent, brutal and impassioned when given an appropriate cause to be so. This is the tension Barker implicitly explores, critically engaging with the complexities of sexuality and gender in relation to particular forms of controlled violence.
Taking up the work of Georges Bataille, Joel Black suggests that:
Killing and coitus are pre-eminently private acts, intensely personal experiences … because they impart a wordless kind of knowledge mediated by the body. The carnal knowledge shared by lovers, of by murderer and his victim or witness, does not involve the communication of discursive meaning between two discrete individuals, but a communion at the instant of death between bodies that are no longer distinct from each other.
Barker's work seeks to explore and illustrate the intensity of this ‘communion’ and the private discourses that underpin it. Barker thus significantly differs from David Cronenberg, for example, in not merely seeing the body in its own self-determined flux, but in addressing issues of restraint, repression and release, and the aesthetic that may emerge from excessive acts of ‘change’ upon the body. This aestheticization of bodily violence may range from self-mutilation to unknowable assault.
Sexuality is intrinsically entwined with the pleasures and pains of violent imposition. As Doug Bradley has noted about the design of his character, Pinhead, in the interview included later in this chapter, the grid-iron pattern of nails in Pinhead's skull is an act of controlled brutality that results in an aesthetically pleasing yet perverse beauty. Barker's work becomes especially important in this respect, in the sense that he effectively contemporizes the sexuality of the horror film through this aesthetic. Rather than defining ‘pain’ as the consequence of punishment or attack, the aesthetic embraces it as a model which makes the implied discourse of the Gothic—the attractiveness of the perverse and the transgressive—both a literal and symbolic set of events. Interestingly, this is also given an intrinsically ‘English’ veneer of almost aristocratic superiority by its containment within an apparently distanciative ‘wit’—an image of the villain especially appealing to American audiences, who likewise engaged with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector in Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs (1991).
Like many of the key artistic achievements in recent horror texts, however, Hellraiser has been significantly diminished by the rise of the franchised sequel. Clive Barker's response to this has been to try to participate as much as possible in the progress of the Hellraiser series in an executive producer role, but more importantly, to continue his work as a novelist and screenwriter in a spirit of continually testing the parameters of the genre. This has resulted in the emergence of another significant monster in the genre in the figure of the ‘Candyman’, an urban legend, in Candyman (1992) and Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh (1995). This black, hook-armed demon, played by Tony Todd, is an ideologically charged ‘monster’, clearly playing out narratives of racial vengeance and redemption in modern America. Summoned by calling his name in front of a mirror, the Candyman—in Barker's vision, a revisionist version of the ‘noble savage’—effectively reminds contemporary culture of its collective sins, most particularly in regard to the treatment of non-white communities and civil liberties. The ‘Candyman’ in this respect represents the core problem of American society, and merely enhances the sense of urban brutality, moral decay and social instability already evidenced in the corrupt material world to which he returns. Though Barker did not direct the ‘Candyman’ films, his vision of the ‘horror’ at the heart of an increasingly arbitrary and de-historicized social sensibility is clear. Lord of Illusions (1996), based on his short story, ‘The Last Illusion’ from the Books of Blood, maintains this theme by addressing once more how the sins of the past will inevitably revisit those who committed them.
The following ‘discussion’ is compiled from a series of interviews and informal exchanges that have taken place between the author and Clive Barker over ten years (1989-99), and serves to summarize some of the chief ideas, issues and concerns of Barker's highly influential and distinctive work. …
[Wells]: When people think of the British horror film, they invariably think of Hammer. What did you think of the Hammer movies?
[Barker]: I didn't really see the Hammer pictures until I was eighteen, but I saw the posters, and the posters were more of a major influence on me than the movies. Somebody told me that, in some cases, they actually designed the posters before they made the movies! I think Corman did the same thing—it's a great marketing and continuity ploy, and the posters certainly attracted my attention. I remember the poster for Frankenstein Created Woman, which had this girl in a weird kind of green test tube with these little bands covering her pubic area and breasts. That was a terrible turn-on when I was fourteen! I was a little disappointed when I actually saw some of the movies—I saw them in the wrong order. I didn't see the original Dracula or Curse of Frankenstein, and only caught the later sequels which were much inferior. Those originals stand up really well. In fact, the original Hammer Dracula is certainly one of my top ten horror movies, partly because it works as an adventure as well as a horror movie. It is actually low on the gore factor, even though at the time it caused a major outrage. I saw Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and Frankenstein Created Woman before I saw Curse of Frankenstein, and I felt sorry for Christopher Lee, because some thirty years after the Universal pictures, he was still following in the steps of Karloff and Lugosi, and it was as if he could be nothing but inferior. I think Lee and Cushing did well though, and their performances were distinctive.
It seems to me that they were central to the ways in which Hammer movies took hold in the public imagination.
Yes, and the colour. Those were classic stories re-told for a new audience. They were very romantic movies. Cushing's Baron Frankenstein is a classic Byronic romantic hero; he's a dashing and attractive character. Christopher Lee's Dracula has a great sexual frisson, which is completely lacking in Lugosi's somewhat lumpen broken English version. I always understood why Karloff was effective, but I never understood why people found Lugosi persuasive. This may be heretical, of course! In Hammer's re-telling, the colour, the slickness, the panache, moves the horror movie on, and I believe they are best viewed as Gothic adventures.
How far do you embrace the ‘Gothic’ in your own fiction, and outlook?
I don't think you can ever avoid the long shadow of the Gothic, but I think one of the distressing elements of the influence of the Gothic is that it brings with it a whole theological machinery which in my view is redundant. When the first Dracula was made, I wonder how many people who were actually watching the picture believed in the power of the crucifix. I would imagine, even then, comparatively few. The modern audience can only take that kind of narrative machinery if the tongue is reasonably firmly in the cheek. The value system which underpins theological metaphors is deteriorating. But what I believe is still intact—for me anyway—is the kind of imaginative scope of those novels; there was a real sense that they wanted to take in heaven, hell and earth between, and to the extent that that is also my ambition, then they are a key influence. Trying to read The Castle of Otranto or The Monk was sometimes like scaling Everest with one ice-pick and half a shoe. They are very wordy, and when they get excited, passages turn purple, and the prose goes the same way. I think in a way it was Edgar Allan Poe that really gave me the taste of the Gothic, because they were short, sharp, dark fictions, usually over in twenty pages. They were an intensification of the Gothic impulse. There is something very Gothic too, about The Fall of the House of Usher. Poe compressed great Gothic novels into twenty pages and really succeeded in creating burgeoning decadent prose.
How does your own work fundamentally differ from the established traditions of British horror fiction and film?
The basis of the horror movie is horror fiction, and the major novels of the genre are British. Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and then there is a whole slew of science-fictional horror—H. G. Wells, and so on. So, I can draw from this rich context if I want to. I can draw from the Gothic novels, if I want to, but I want to do something particular. One of the things I don't like about modern fantasy fiction is the fact that it is either so epic in scope that the world described is beyond my power to identify with it—a sub-Tolkeinian invented world, if you like—or else, so small-scale, so domestic—Poltergeist, or something like that—that the fantastical elements are reduced by association. I think there is a middle area in there which I find intriguing in which you begin with the domestic and then open out the vistas. Then maybe you expand to take in another cosmos!
Is that what you felt that you were doing with the first Hellraiser movie?
Firstly, I wanted to make a movie that flew in the face of what I viewed as the increasing trivialization of horror movies. I think that there are too many ‘ironic’ horror movies that don't have any effect. I don't believe the basic function of horror fiction is to give people cheap chuckles. For one thing, it is an easy gag. It is like having a fat opera singer falling flat on his face, because ‘opera’ is a high cultural form, and that status is undermined. Horror fiction is reaching for high cultural status in the scale of its potential content. You are talking about death, obsession, insanity—the conventional subjects of horror fiction; these are not and should not be light subjects. It is unfortunately very easy when you are using this rich visual material and very rich sub-text to make a laugh out of it. I'm not terribly interested in going the easy way; I want to create a kind of undertow in a movie that may never leave your mind. Hellraiser is basically about a man who does a deal with the forces of darkness in pursuit of the ultimate physical, sensual experience, and gets torn apart for his troubles. The Cenobites are experts in ‘pain and pleasure indivisible’! They have made an aesthetic, a kind of lifestyle out of corrupting their own bodies, tearing them apart and putting them back together with hooks and skinning devices. This is difficult material if you consider that there is beauty and elegance in the image at the same time as complete repulsion in the subject matter. I like that tension and paradox.
Those contradictions seem to be at the heart of all your work. I've seen some of your paintings, and of course, I've read the Books of Blood and your subsequent novels. There is a very definite sense of authorial distinctiveness, but at the same time, a respect for the broader traditions in ‘fantasy’ art.
I've painted and done illustrations since I was a kid. I enjoy drawing and painting—it's an immediate release of all those subconscious thoughts and emotions. I try not to inhibit myself. It can be a very physical experience; very different from the stillness of writing, even though I write long-hand. There is such a rich history of ‘fantastic art’—Bosch, Goya, Blake—it is complex, and important because it is the tradition which precedes fantasy art makers today. Their work is a reflection of the ‘dream-lives’ that went before us. It seems to me that this kind of art, or horror fiction, or horror films, is, at its best, giving us material to go into our dreams with. It is going to throw up images which are going to represent the ways in which we contextualize our daily experience. Many of those are going to be confrontations with things that we forbid ourselves—forbidden sexual ideas or fantasies, fears about death, or anxieties that we just cannot, or will not articulate. It's not the kind of thing we're going to talk about over a dinner party. Those fears can only be addressed in the language of the dream. And horror fiction, whether it be on the screen or on the page, gives our conscious minds a vocabulary by which we can confront those fears, and hopefully, shape our world view with the understanding that they are part of us, and have to be embraced. Take someone like Stephen King. He constantly cleanses the house, but you cannot lock all the dark doors and windows. Something is going to get in again!
I remember that you once wrote about King's work. What impresses you about his horror fiction?
Accessibility. I think if you pick up a King book and get ten pages into it you immediately encounter characters that you recognize, if not as people, then as archetypes. There's a Norman Rockwell accessibility. He spends a lot of time setting those people up, making you feel their reality, and he surrounds them with ‘brand’ names. People don't drink bourbon; they drink a specific bourbon. You know what his characters eat and drink. He seals the moment. It's like a time-capsule of consumerism. Then he introduces the darkness—a possessed car, a rabid dog, vampires, whatever; in many cases very conventional images of horror, but they become as real as the breakfast that the character ate before he got killed! Horror fiction is basically metaphor. You are creating images and ideas that represent other things. Horror writers represent and illustrate the fears and desires which are actually part and parcel of their characters' lives, and show how individuals can destroy themselves; how families get pulled apart; how a whole social order might be subverted. The interesting thing with King is that in many ways his fiction reinforces the bourgeois status quo and becomes a celebration of the values which are put under threat in the first place. I would align it with Spielberg. But it is not the vision of Edgar Allan Poe—he spends most of his time in the minds of the distressed or the obsessive or the marginalized—or even a lot of contemporary British writers, like Ramsay Campbell, and it is certainly different from my own! I don't want to buy into what I see as ‘escapist’ fiction and the myth of bourgeois perfection. There is only the ‘itch of the irrational’ in this kind of horror. That somehow this ordered, reasonably well-off, two-car, multi-television, computer game world is going [to] be spoiled. Suddenly, from somewhere, comes this damn thing to spoil it all! It is simply an anxiety that nothing can quite be ‘fixed’ or perfect. It is very modern in some ways, but I prefer the celebration of the monstrous, and that can definitely be traced in the British ‘Gothic’ sensibility. There is a romantic element in those monsters; a moral ambiguity that is very attractive. There are no simple dichotomies between good and evil—that plays too much into the hands of the fundamentalists—there is only contradiction. Our notions of good and evil are very complex, very ambiguous; it is far more interesting to look at minds and bodies that are somehow ‘out of kilter’; which for some reason are flying in the face of the moral majority. It is great to try to understand ‘monsters’ and celebrate their perversities. That is what I enjoy dealing with.
Certainly a great deal of American horror has been directed at that kind of reactionary social model, with all of its seemingly in-built complacencies and assumptions. In many ways, British horror has always been a little more psychotic and brutal, but very few have acknowledged the importance of that, and the ways that it tells us so much about the things the British—though this has always been the English really—have repressed or denied.
The interesting thing is that it's devils and demons and blood-letting, but it is moral; still the issues are about some notion of ‘good’ somehow triumphing over an increasingly ambiguous notion of ‘evil’. But in British horror, it is about control, too. An audience can liberate themselves for the couple of hours of the movie, but they realize if they dabble in some of this stuff, there are going to be terrible consequences. You are dealing with primal imagery from folk-lore, the aural tradition of ghost stories, ancient story-telling devices—fears long held, but you can release them through language, or through the visceral impact on screen—the stuff you cannot do on the page. The sheer physical appearance of the monstrous and its ambiguity. Hellraiser tried to achieve images with a visual undertow where things could be beautiful and repulsive simultaneously; images that could fascinate and disgust in equal measure. The best horror does that. There is a strange, and, to my mind, very fascinating glamour associated with the monstrous.
Obviously you have been involved with the Hellraiser sequels, as a producer and so forth, but the next film you actually directed was Nightbreed. What did you want to achieve in that?
I was trying to take the idea of the glamour in the monstrous to its logical extreme. I had a hero who is a monster, and behaves in some senses like a traditional movie hero, and a heroine who ends up a monster. I had sixty other monsters! All had different designs. It was great fun creating each monster—partly referring back to my own paintings, partly back to Bosch, partly to other movie monsters. But the real villains of the piece are the human characters—the cops, the priests, the psychoanalysts. David Cronenberg plays a psychoanalyst who is in fact a serial killer, and I tried to stress that the truly horrific elements resided in the human sensibility. I was trying to invert the conventional morality of horror movies; again making the monstrous persuasive and romantic, while making the forces of law and order, which in a conventional horror narrative, are also the forces for ‘good’, the subject of unacceptable villainy and troubling morality. All the figures of authority are the bad guys, and it was a challenge to make them so in a plausible way, while retaining the complex ideas which frighten people in the ‘monster’ figures. In my mid-teens, when I first read ghost stories and fairytales with dark and horrific elements, I found that I was always on the side of the demons. Nightbreed is my attempt at making a fairytale which is completely on the side of the demons.
One of your many achievements, in many senses, is to have brought the horror genre home. Is that a fair comment?
Horror movies have become pretty insular. I think that by merely rejecting the wielded crucifix, the holy water gag, and nowadays, the funny-guy monster, or ‘get-the-reference’ horror movie—basically, getting rid of redundant iconography—and trying to add to the canon of monsters and their meanings, I hope I have made a contribution. Lord of Illusions, the last movie I directed, opens things up a little, makes things a bit more open-ended and spectacular, but no less frightening for being up front. Chinatown meets The Exorcist, that sort of thing. The dread here is the idea of terrible secrets revealed, something really scary. Lord of Illusions looks at magic and illusion, but goes back to theatre and the idea of spectacular tricks, like staging your own death! Basically, the movie is about that feeling that the audience gets when they might be witnessing the trick going wrong—the fear that this lady who has just been sawn in half won't fit back together. She really has been sawn in half! The trick has gone horribly wrong. Actually, the guys who see this in the movie were all horror fans—they were at some convention, and came along dressed up, and had a cool time as extras in a huge shot outside the Pantages Theatre.
A lot of contemporary movies are very slick, but don't seem to be addressing any psychological and emotional issues. They are recycled ‘boo’ movies. They don't seem to strike any chords. Lord of Illusions seems to be trying to do something different.
There is a psychological depth to the story, which I think is missing from a lot of horror movies, because Swann, the magician, has killed his own mentor, Nix, who has taught him all this genuine magic stuff, and who he fears is not really dead. He is not really an illusionist; he is a guy with real power—Swann gets overtaken by the whole thing. The narrative doesn't cheat on that—it shows the consequences of that supernatural element as the story goes along. The scare stuff, the violence, is part of the psychological structure. Scott Bakula makes it work because he's a regular guy in the middle of this world, a mature guy, not one of the ‘slasher movie’ kids, who audiences can identify with but don't care about. He says in the movie, ‘I've signed on for all the Gods in my time. You cannot have too many saviours.’ He's been around, so the horror is much more intense because it is not a teen-scream thing. He's just covering his bases in these atheistic, secular times.
You've been in the horror business a considerable time now. Does it still give you the same sense of engagement and fascination?
All horror comes from lived experience. A lot of what is human is terrifying—the vulnerability of our bodies; the fact that people can be very cruel; stuff about insanity, betrayal—it is all pretty tough. It is obvious that we know how to push our own self-destruct buttons. It is funny, actually, because it is my optimism and my old-fashioned belief in ‘love’ that makes me see this dark stuff so clearly! I can look at it; in fact, I can't look away.
Black, J. (1991) The Aesthetics of Murder, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Chibnall, S. (1998) Making Mischief: The Cult Films of Pete Walker, Guildford: FAB Press.
Hutchings, P. (1993) Hammer and Beyond: The British Horror Film, Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press.
Pirie, D. (1973) A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema 1946-1972, London: Gordon Fraser.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8352
SOURCE: McRoy, Jay. “There Are No Limits: Splatterpunk, Clive Barker, and the Body in-extremis.” Paradoxa, no. 17 (2002): 130-50.
[In the following essay, McRoy categorizes Barker's The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser, and Nightbreed as examples of the splatterpunk sub-genre.]
In his introduction to the 1990 horror anthology, Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror, Paul M. Sammon locates the authors that comprise his collection as “outlaws” in the tradition of the Marquis de Sade and William S. Burroughs. They are writers, he states, that know “no restraints” and recognize “no boundaries” (xv - xvi).1 Although ultimately slipping into a discourse of transcendence and “sick”ness, recuperating what he sees as the “essential contradictions of human nature” (emphasis mine), Sammon's positioning of splatterpunk as a genre concerned with disrupting traditional expectations of the human body presents a useful point from which to launch an investigation of three texts by Clive Barker, one of splatterpunk's best known practitioners.
Composed during the mid 1980's—a time, not coincidently, of “voodoo economics” and cultural excess—Barker's novel, The Hellbound Heart, and films, Hellraiser and Nightbreed, are particularly representative of splatterpunk in their union of graphic violence and sexuality. Furthermore, as this essay will demonstrate, the monstrous, posthuman bodies in Barker's fictions confound, with lesser or greater degrees of success, traditional ideologies predicated upon binary logics of sex, gender, race and class. However, rather than simply demonstrating how Barker positions these monstrous bodies as sites that defy simple categorization, this essay understands Barker's posthuman creations as revealing an alternative economy of identity predicated upon a thematics of multiplicity, hybridity, and alterity. Lastly, although Barker's The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser characterize certain identities as monstrous and ultimately suture as much as they rend by reinscribing many of the societal constructions they gesture towards exploding, I will contend that in Nightbreed, Barker has constructed a horror text that, unlike many representatives of the genre, ultimately provides an avenue for imagining social resistance. Indeed, the creation of a horror narrative in which the posthuman title characters both maintain their radical variability (their “monstrosity”) and emerge heroic against the forces of a normalizing culture reveal monstrosity's oppositional potential.
II. SPLATTERPUNKS AND LITERARY OUTLAWS
Although its stylistic and thematic precursors can be traced back to the gore films of directors like Herschel Gordon Lewis (1963), George Romero (1968) and Dario Argento (1970)2, splatterpunk3, a sub-genre of horror fiction marked by “the explicit depiction of horrific acts, including murder and every sort of mutilation of the body” (Tucker, 33), gained prominence in the mid 1980's. Like the sub-genre of science fiction known as cyberpunk, splatterpunk explores postmodern conceptions of the body4 In late capitalist culture. However, unlike cyberpunk, which has been steadily assimilated into academic discourse5, splatterpunk has remained a marginalized genre; readings of splatterpunk texts rarely appear within the pages of scholarly journals, and splatterpunk fictions seldom appear on the syllabi of university courses. In fact, few critical engagements with splatterpunk as a literary genre exist, and those that do exist are either written by splatterpunk authors in an attempt to defend their works against morally outraged critics, or function as primers for the uninitiated.
An example of the latter is Ken Tucker's 1991 essay, “The Splatterpunk Trend, And Welcome to It,” which appeared in The New York Times Book Review. Tucker equates the relationship of splatterpunk to mainstream horror fiction (by authors like Dean Koontz and Stephen King) with the relationship of punk rock to rock and roll, and suggests that splatterpunk texts “bespeak a profound uneasiness about this world” (14).6 In particular, Tucker understands splatterpunk as “an aggressively grubby underground movement,” a mode of discourse that is defined by an “intense alienation from the body” (13).
Tucker's comparison of splatterpunk with punk rock is a good one, in that both the literary and musical sub-genres have an influence on mainstream fiction and rock and roll music, respectively. As Tucker correctly asserts, “splatterpunk does not have mass appeal, but it does inevitably influence other, more mainstream writers, who respond to its sheer gall, its refusal to be commercial even as it aspires to commercial success” (13). In addition, as the suffix “punk” suggests, splatterpunk shares many of the musical genre's more distinctive features. Similar to punk rock's often adversarial association with commercial rock music, splatterpunk disrupts generic expectations by failing to conform with the structure and content of financially successful horror texts. In addition, like punk rock, which freely intersects with various forms of musical expression (ska, country and western, jazz, rap and hip hop, etc.), splatterpunk's resistance to easy categorization allows for a multiplicity of approaches and artistic visions.
Ultimately, however, Tucker's analysis of splatterpunk as both a reaction to the “traditional, meekly suggestive horror story” and as a literature that expresses a “profound uneasiness about this world” is superficial at best. Specifically, it fails to address with any detail the genre's potential for social or cultural critique. Although he claims that splatterpunk is defined by an “intense alienation from the body” (13), he never explains how he arrives at this conclusion or what such a relationship implies. Tucker is correct in positioning corporeality as a central theme in splatterpunk texts—after all, the spectacular and graphic deconstruction/transformation of the “human” form is the genre's most conspicuous motif. Still, without a consideration of splatterpunk as a genre with the potential for advancing an oppositional politics of identity, his investigation of the genre is ultimately too cursory and reductive. In fact, through his failure to interrogate more fully the genre's potential for social critique or intervention, Tucker's text ultimately positions splatterpunk as a genre that merely shakes its literary fists at established textual and cultural representations without offering (as I will soon argue) alternatives that challenge traditional notions of identity.
In their essay, “On Going Too Far, or Flesh-Eating Fiction: New Hope for The Future,” John Skipp and Craig Spector comprehend splatterpunk as a subversive response to operative social and economic structures. Like Paul M. Sammon, whose description of the splatterpunk author as “literary outlaw” introduces this essay, Skipp and Spector characterize the splatterpunk author as “a pioneer” (10) in an age of reactionary politics and conservative ideologies. In particular, they share Sammon's contention that splatterpunk challenges both a “horror establishment” that is “basically conservative” (“Outlaws”, 285) and the “mindless, monstrous conformity of the Nixon/Reagan decades” (280). In contrast to the “ostrich with its head in the sand” (10) approach that they perceive as characterizing the “less is more” school of horror writing and the repressive politics of ideologues like Tipper Gore, splatterpunk advocates a kind of hyper-realism when it comes to depictions of the splattering or splattered body. Indeed, splatterpunk presents unflinching and uncompromising observations of abject physicality as a means of disrupting dominant conceptions of what it means to be a good and complacent citizen in “a period of social repression, specifically, the vicious conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher” (“Outlaws,” 291). Splatterpunk texts “go too far,” and going too far, as Skipp and Spector claim, “is to come that much closer to having it all; and in dangerous times like these, we need it all if we are to survive” (10-11).
Unfortunately, while Sammon, Skipp and Spector are correct in acknowledging splatterpunk's subversive potential, they ultimately advance a narrative of transcendence. In their attempt to explain the importance of this vital sub-genre of horror, they present splatterpunks as “edge walkers” (“Introduction,” xv), “trail-blazers” (“Outlaws,” 274), and “pioneers” that open up “new vistas” (12). Described as mappers of new terrain, splatterpunk artists are envisioned by Sammon, Skipp and Spector as constantly “probing … boundaries, penetrating the unknown, making sense of the nonsensical and the abhorrent” (13). Rather than illustrating how splatterpunk texts explode the very idea of boundaries and the paradigms that maintain them, however, Sammon, Skipp, and Spector's discourse of boundaries and the importance of crossing them suggests that there are in fact limits that splatterpunk enables us to exceed. Through a close reading of three texts by splatterpunk author/director/illustrator Clive Barker, the remainder of this essay explores this very feature of splatterpunk by interrogating the sub-genre's potential, or lack thereof, for re-imagining monstrous (splattered/splattering) embodiments as oppositional and/or liberatory figures that, through their hybridity, challenge western capitalist master-narratives of sex, gender, race and class by revealing a multiplicity of alternate subject positions.
III. “WE HAVE SUCH SIGHTS TO SHOW YOU”: CLIVE BARKER'S THE HELLBOUND HEART, HELLRAISER AND THE BODY WITHOUT LIMITS
Clive Barker is perhaps splatterpunk's most celebrated practitioner. Described by fellow fantasist Harlan Ellison as “one of those rare creatures, a Renaissance man” (“Can We Talk”, 6), Barker has achieved financial and popular success as an author, producer, director, playwright, and illustrator. Few scholars, however, have viewed his works as objects for critical inquiry. Most critics focus primarily on his position within the larger pantheon of horror writers, filmmakers, and illustrators. Noel Carroll, for example, reads Barker as one of a small but proud group of “horror artists” that exemplify “contemporary variations” of the genre by consistently presenting “descriptions and depictions of gore that go far beyond what one finds in the tradition” (The Philosophy …, 211). Carroll doesn't label this non-traditional sub-genre of horror, although the features he describes in the above quote support readings of Barker as a prototypical splatterpunk author. In addition, although such an exploration easily could have been undertaken without once referring directly to any of Barker's works, Carroll fails to elaborate upon the implications (generic, thematic, political, etc.) of a mode of literary and cinematic representation that takes as its central metaphor splattered/splattering embodiments and spectacular displays of gore.
Craig William Burns is one of the only scholars to dedicate an entire article to a critical engagement with some of Barker's better-known texts. In his essay, “It's that Time of the Month: Representations of the Goddess in the Work of Clive Barker,” Burns positions Clive Barker's fictions as texts that reconcile “inbred fears of the goddess tradition” (39) by exploring the “covert sexism stemming … from this ancient tradition of animosity” (36) between women and the sexist men who fear their “mysterious internal powers” (36). Though Burns is correct in recognizing the existence of gender issues within Barker's works, his focus on “inbred fears of the goddess tradition” (emphasis mine) assumes a naturalization of behavior that precludes an analysis of their social construction. Likewise, his emphasis upon the conflict between “sexist men” and the women they fear excludes the existence of a multiplicity of gender positions. As we shall soon discover, Barker's horror texts position monstrous embodiments, not as reconciliatory agents, but as indeterminate figures that disassemble modernist notions of sex, gender, race, and class.
Similar to the fictions of H. P. Lovecraft, Barker's works are often populated with grotesque, hybrid entities (from other dimensions, worlds, “regions of experience,” etc.) that can be summoned if one possesses, or even accidently stumbles upon, the knowledge. However, despite some important similarities, the works of H. P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker differ in some very fundamental ways. For instance, by positing an ambivalent, alienating, and frightening cosmos in which humans may not be anywhere near as high on the food chain or evolutionary scale as previously imagined, Lovecraft problematizes American society's general adherence to certain theological and sociocultural master-narratives (creationism, Darwinian evolution, etc.), while simultaneously exploiting a societal dread of apocalypse that developed, at least in part, with both the increase of immigration within the nation's industrial centers and the impact of the first world war upon the cultural imagination. Barker, however, does not adopt Lovecraft's racist and orientalist conceptualizations of cultural hybridity as an undisciplined social body linked with chaos and monstrous/demonic physiognomies that inevitably leads to death and ruination. Rather, Barker's texts revel in hybridity and, at times, embrace the corporeal and ideological indeterminacy that monstrous embodiments engender. Finally, unlike Lovecraft's prose, in which the descriptions of corporeal horror and violence are often under-described or not described at all, the moments of bodily horror in Barker's texts are frequently, to echo Carroll's earlier assertion, described to excess.
This is certainly the case in Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart and its film translation, Hellraiser. The plot of these texts is a familiar one, with obvious echoes of Goethe's Faust: a person seeking knowledge makes a deal with an “evil” force and gets more than he bargained for. The Faustian character in these narratives is a hedonist named Frank Cotton, who, while searching for newer and more intense sources of physical pleasure, comes across a puzzle cube called Lemarchand's box, a device rumored to open doors to new experiences and pleasures. Sequestered in his late mother's house, he opens the box and calls forth the Cenobites (also referred to in the novel as “The Theologians of the Gash”), demons from another dimension that introduce him to the “higher reaches of pleasure.” Frank's body is torn apart, and he is taken into the Cenobite's realm, an other-worldly and labyrinthian territory in which pain and pleasure are indivisible.
Years later, Frank's brother, Rory, and Rory's discontented wife, Julia (Lauri in the film version), move into the late mother's house and attempt to set up a home. Julia, bored with her marriage and spiteful towards Rory's daughter, Kirsty, discovers Frank's fleshless presence in the house when blood from a cut on her husband's hand enables Frank to escape briefly from the Cenobites. Filled with a mixture of lust (Julia had once had an affair with Frank) and a burgeoning emotion not unlike “the thrill of ownership” (98), Julia lures a series of men to the house and murders them so that Frank can use their flesh and blood to regain a corporeal existence. Finally, needing a skin to make his re-humanization complete, Frank and Julia murder Rory.
As these activities are taking place, Kirsty discovers Julia and Frank's plan. Finding the puzzle box, Kirsty accidently calls forth the Cenobites and, afraid for her life, proposes a deal that will allow her the possibility of avoiding their pleasures if she can get Frank to confess his crimes. The Cenobites agree, and Kirsty rushes back to the house to warn her father of his brother's return. She is met, instead, by Julia and Frank, the latter of whom is now dressed in her dead father's skin. Frank pretends to be Rory until Kirsty discovers his charade and runs to the room where Frank first called forth the Cenobites. She finds her father's skinless corpse on the floor, and Frank, no longer pretending to be Rory, menacingly confesses his deeds. The Cenobites then reappear and reclaim their absconded plaything.
The novel and film version of Barker's Faustian nightmare present a collision of sensuality and death in which the continuous visual and literary juxtapositionings of “pleasure” and “pain,” and “life” and “death,” ultimately reveal these socially manufactured binaries as not only subjective, but as merely two possibilities among multiple combinations and re-combinations of possibilities. In the “higher reaches of pleasure” that the Cenobites provide, pain and pleasure are, at times, “indivisible,” and to “taste” some pleasures is to die. Sex and seduction can lead to death, death can be a seducer, murder can bring life, and death, as Frank Cotton's return reminds us, is not necessarily the end. Consider, for instance, the scene from Hellraiser in which Frank, a blood spattered suit coat hanging on his skinless, undead frame, slowly fillets a dead rat above Rory and Lauri's (Julia's) listlessly rutting bodies. In Barker's texts, and in the texts of many splatterpunk authors, sex is violence, violence is life, life is death, death is pleasure, pleasure is pain. Or, violence is pleasure, pleasure is life, life is pain, pain is sex. The possible combinations and recombinations are many. Taken alone, none of these thematic equations are particularly original; the western literary tradition, from Shakespeare to snuff films, is filled with works in which a careful reader can discern a challenge to at least one of these binaries. Where splatterpunk texts like The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser differ, however, is in the sheer volume of semiological and ideological reconsiderations brought about by the texts' accentuation of corporeal variability and, as we shall soon discover, the numerous potential identities that such physiognomies occasion.
The ironic fulfillment of Frank Cotton's desires also illustrates the text's privileging of an indeterminacy that, although depicted through the form and desire of “monsters,” presents an alternative model for configuring identity. Searching for “pleasures which would redefine the parameters of sensation” and “release him from the dull round of desire, seduction and disappointment that had dogged him since late adolescence” (5), Frank calls forth the Cenobites in the hopes that they can provide the new experiences for which he thirsts. These “new experiences” he craves do, however, have very specific parameters; their boundaries are defined by both his heterosexuality (only women populate his fantasies) and his sexist/patriarchal ideology (“come to daddy” is Frank's salacious phrase of choice). In fact, Frank's imagined redefinition of sexual pleasure resembles nothing if not a scene out of a pornographic movie or a 1980's heavy metal rock video:
He had thought they [the Cenobites] would come with women, at least; oiled women, milked women; women shaved and muscled for the act of love; their lips perfumed, their thighs trembling to spread, their buttocks weighty, the way he liked them. He had expected sighs, and languid bodies spread on the floor underfoot like a living carpet; he had expected virgin whores whose every crevice was his for the asking and whose skills would press him—upward, upward—to undreamed of ecstasies. …
What Frank receives, instead, is an experience that challenges the very idea of “limits” and “pleasure.” He discovers, at the hands of the Cenobites, the euphoria “of nerve endings” and the rapture of the human body violently pulled apart and reconfigured. He experiences a redefinition of eroticism that confounds his familiar notions of physical pleasure and explores the potentialities of the body in-extremis—an infinitely fluid, infinitely penetrating and penetratable body that, while collapsing the distinctions between “pleasure” and “pain,” offers radical alternatives to the familiar binaries of male and female, straight and gay. Tasting the pleasures of the Cenobites entails not only a rupturing and reconfiguration of the physical body, but a reconsideration of the rigid social systems that compartmentalize sexuality and desire into recognizable flows and patterns. Once the “doors to the pleasures of heaven and hell” are opened,7 previously conceived notions of gender and sexuality are splattered, their intendant flows and couplings perpetually re-channeled and re-imagined to reveal the potential for a multiplicity of new identities that muddle dominant ideological categories. Pleasure for the Cenobites, in other words, is still all about the flesh, but it is, to borrow a term from David Cronenberg, about a “new flesh,” a ceaselessly ambiguous, agitated, and splattered flesh. Like Cronenberg, Barker is “a literalist of the body” (Shaviro, 128), and as is frequently the case with the numerous transforming physiognomies that populate Cronenberg's films, “the flesh,” for Barker's demons, is revealed as “less rigidly determined, more fluid and open to metamorphosis, than we generally like to think” (128)8. Pleasure, for the Cenobites, is about the euphoria of the body made flexible and indiscrete, the ecstasy of the human form ripped to shreds and disassembled. For the Cenobites, every bloody chunk of flesh is an erogenous zone; every exposed nerve ending is an opportunity to “know” the flesh of another being throughout “eternity.”
Thus, like many of the bodies in Cronenberg's films, Barker's Cenobites can be understood as “‘revolting’ in both senses of the word—disgusting and rebellious” (Kaufman 115). In particular, the Cenobites dismantle notions of human identity as fixed or natural. Also known as the “Theologians of the Gash,” a moniker that precipitates connections to religious (“Theologians”), violent (“Gash” as wound) and carnal (“Gash” as genitalia) images, the Cenobites in The Hellbound Heart are described as “sexless things” with “corrugated flesh” (9), a depiction that illustrates the multiplicity of potential identities suggested by their indeterminate physiologies. They are variable and androgynous entities, their bodies immediately identifiable as neither male nor female and marked by “queer deformities” (8), skin that glows with a “fitful phosphorescence,” and clothing “sewn to and through” flesh. This description is, in fact, part of a larger motif that situates identity as something that can be literally and figuratively sutured onto one's body. Bodies throughout these texts are “ripped apart and sewn together again” (49) or reduced to bloody “scraps” (94); doctors are derogatorily described as performing “patchwork” surgeries (136); Frank wears Rory's skin in an attempt to escape from the Cenobites until, in one of the texts' final scenes, he is suspended in midair by hooks and chains that pull slowly at his stolen flesh until he becomes “unsewn”9 (160). Similar to the identity-as-performance argument put forth by Judith Butler in her book, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, the bodies of the Cenobites frustrate understandings of a “pre-existing identity by which an act or attribute might be measured” (141). The cenobite body is neither male nor female, neither a priestly figure nor a creature of conventional eroticism. It is an indeterminate body, a new imagining with a logics of identity that both explode and exceed those privileged by the dominant culture. Their sexuality, then, is not one predicated upon traditional economies of carnal desire, with their various anatomical and gendered couplings, but rather it is a splattered and splattering sexuality that takes as its object the human body pulled beyond its extremes, disintegrated, and then re-imagined in the chaotic non-space that is the “hell”ish realm of the Cenobites.
In addition, the Cenobites' bodies are also described as “cosmetically punctured and sliced and infibulated” (7). Although each of their physiques exhibit some degree of customization, it is perhaps the character of Pinhead (a name derived from the “intricate grid” of pins driven through his head and face) that best represents this aspect of their appearance. In fact, throughout the course of Hellraiser's many sequels, Pinhead has ascended to the status of “poster boy,” his visage occupying the same place in the cultural imagination as the hockey-masked Jason of the Friday the 13th series, the razor-gloved Freddie of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and the chainsaw wielding Leatherface of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. Like the forms of postmodern body modification discussed by critics like Marianna Torgovnick, the Cenobites' elaborate piercings and scarifications erode “the boundary between body and thing” and the “crossing between mineral and flesh, the concentration of both on the same plane of being, with equal valuation” (Torgovnick, 208-9). Coupled with their attire (in the film version, their black leather vestments evoke images of both priests and dominatrixes), the Cenobites' variably pierced and scarred countenances also suggest “alternative” formulations of pleasure, most notably sadomasochistic sexual practices. However, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Cenobite sexuality is ultimately a sexuality for a new kind of body, a “new flesh”; the Cenobites' attire, as well as the chains and hooks they use to bind and pierce the flesh of those they choose to “know,” is merely a means to a bloodier, more splattered and ambiguating end. Cenobite sexuality re-imagines the human body and its “limits,” containing and eclipsing traditional “human” modes of intercourse by providing multiple, albeit grizzly, alternatives to conventional notions of gendered and sexual identity.
Of course, this aspect of the Cenobites' appearance has not gone unnoticed by film critics. In particular, Christopher Sharrett, in his essay, “The Horror Film in Neoconservative Culture,” reads the Cenobite body as both a “dread” inducing “spectacle of excess” and a “condemnation of transgressive sexuality” that advances the “scapegoating politics of the age of AIDS” (261-2). While it is true that the Cenobites are intended to elicit fear, they are, however, no less menacing and, in fact, far less villainous than the murderous Frank and Julia. In addition, Sharrett's targeting of the Cenobites as scapegoats for a heterosexist political agenda is too reductive. Rather than exclusively recuperating the ideology of a normalizing and homogenizing culture, a culture that is exposed throughout the course of Barker's texts as dysfunctional, misogynist, corrupt and destructive, the Cenobites, although frightening, offer a plurality of economies of identity and desire. This is not to say that the posthuman bodies that populate The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser fail to recuperate dominant ideologies in any way. While they may be, in their own words, “demons to some … angels to others,” the fear that they evoke from the audience never fully erodes as the film progresses. They assume, at best, a secondary position within the hierarchy of horrific entities in these texts; ultimately, the most dreaded figure is Frank. In the film's final scenes, it is the Cenobites, their thirst for pleasure apparently only whetted by Frank's tortured soul, that pursue Kirsty through her father's collapsing house. Where moments earlier the audience breathes a sigh of relief as Frank is torn apart by the Cenobites' bloody hooks and chains, we now fear for the fleeing Kirsty's life, hoping that she will somehow escape the clutches of the very demons who, moments earlier, saved her from her father's killer. Thus, although they provide for the realization of alternative gendered and sexual identities, the Cenobites remain, in the end, more “demons” than “angels,” a distinction that undermines some of the liberatory potential that their monstrous indeterminacy may allow.
IV. IN MIDIAN, WHERE THE MONSTERS GO: BEAUTIFUL ABOMINATIONS IN CLIVE BARKER'S NIGHTBREED
Clive Barker's Nightbreed also presents posthuman bodies as entities that repudiate traditional narratives of social and physical cohesion by revealing a multiplicity of alternative and variable identities. However, unlike The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser, Nightbreed does not finally disavow these identities or attempt to reterritorialize them within a Western capitalist masternarrative that robs them of their oppositional thrust. The denizens of Midian are splattered and splattering figures. They are monsters doing monstrous things, and many audiences may be glad for the options that the Nightbreed's contingent physiognomies allow.
Based upon his novel Cabal, Clive Barker's Nightbreed tells the story of a young man named Boone who is troubled by disturbing nightmares about belonging to a race of creatures that dwell in a mysterious place called Midian (“… where the monsters go”). While undergoing a steady diet of hallucinogenic drugs and psychoanalysis administered by his psychiatrist, Dr. Decker (portrayed with obvious enjoyment by fellow director David Cronenberg), Boone is convinced that he is guilty of a series of gruesome murders that were actually committed by a grotesquely masked Dr. Decker. Framed for these murders, Boone escapes into the Canadian wilderness, where he discovers “Midian,” an old gothic graveyard filled with elaborate crypts and mausoleums. Wandering amid the marble structures after nightfall, he is confronted by two monstrous entities that first reject him and then physically attack him because he is a “natural” and stinks of “meat.” Boone escapes from the graveyard, only to be met by a small army of police officers and Dr. Decker, whose fallacious claim that Boone is armed precipitates Boone's death in a cloud of gunfire. Boone's body is taken to the morgue, where shortly afterwards he rises from the dead, walks out of the hospital, and returns to Midian. Once again among the crypts and mausoleums, Boone is accepted as Nightbreed, one of the “last survivors of the great tribes” of “shapeshifters” and “freaks” that Western cultures have “nearly driven to extinction.”
Soon after Boone's body is reported missing, Boone's lover, Lori, drives to Midian to search for answers to the many questions she has regarding Boone's last hours and the subsequent disappearance of his corpse. Unknown to her, she is followed by the murderous Dr. Decker, who we learn hates the Nightbreed and wishes to destroy them. While wandering among the marble graves, she saves a child of the Nightbreed that was trapped out in the sun and, upon returning it to its mother, discovers that Boone is, in fact, a member of that ancient race. Rejected by the Nightbreed and frightened by the various macabre images she encounters in the labyrinthian tunnels beneath the graveyard, Lori flees into daylight, only to be attacked by a masked Dr. Decker. Against the advice of Lylesburg, one of the elders of Midian, Boone returns to the surface and saves Lori. Dr. Decker is driven away, only to return to Midian in the film's final scenes, accompanied by a fascistic local police chief named Eigerman, an alcoholic priest named Reverend Ashburn, and a collection of rowdy, right wing locals. A gory battle takes place between the Nightbreed and the hastily formed militia, and although the Nightbreed prevail, the ancient race, led by Boone (now a messianic figure named “Cabal”), leave Midian to find a new location to “rebuild” what has been “destroyed.”
Like the Cenobites, the numerous posthuman bodies that constitute the Nightbreed frustrate narratives of physical and social cohesion. Sporting a variety of “non-human” features, from poisonous quills and razor sharp fangs to twisted horns and tails, these entities obscure the boundaries between “human” and “animal.” They are bodies in perpetual transformation, shape-shifters frequently adorned with intricate scarifications, piercings and other forms of postmodern body modification that further denote their corporeal and cultural difference. Additionally, like the Cenobites, the Nightbreed confound the distinctions between the living and the dead, as well as the cultural significance attached to these categories. For the Nightbreed, death isn't an ending, but the joyously welcomed beginning of a new form of corporeality. In this context, where notions of origins and culminations are nebulous at best, “dead people” such as Boone, to quote Clive Barker in his introduction to the home video release of Nightbreed, “can be heroes.” As Fred Burke states in his introduction to Clive Barker: Illustrator, works like Nightbreed, along with The Hellbound Heart/Hellraiser, represent the “carving out” of a “subversive mythology” in which “traditional … concepts of heroes and monsters do not carry much weight” (iv).
Furthermore, the bodies of the Nightbreed are flexible spaces upon which the signifiers of multiple cultures and identities exist simultaneously. Although the main parallel that the film articulates is between the Nightbreed and Jewish culture (allusions to the Kabbalah and the “great tribes” abound; Stars of David and chaim decorate the walls of Midian's subterranean corridors; flashbacks link the Nightbreed and their Moses-like leader and lawgiver with the sufferers of bloody inquisitions and crusades), the Nightbreed also invoke a multiplicity of other identities. Some Nightbreed are black, while others are white; some have traditionally feminine physiques, and others appear male. Some, as Harry M. Benshoff points out in Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality in the Horror Film, are marked by specific cultural signifiers like “… leather, tattoos, body-piercings, shaved heads and/or pony-tails, Doc Marten boots, vests upon bare chests” that encode them as queer.10 And yet they also possess the ability to morph, mutate, and transform into vapor. In short, the Nightbreed are bodies that emerge at the intersection of a plurality of cultural codings. They resemble without ever firmly representing a specific culture or group of cultures. Their collective and individual variability frustrates attempts at privileging one identity over another, thus allowing for the realization of new identities and alternative understandings of what it means to be “human.”
As Nightbreed positions these resistant yet inclusive bodies in conflict with “traditional” representatives of morality (religion), order (the mental health professional) and power (law enforcement), the film also functions as a critique of these institutions, exposing them as the repressive apparatuses of a heterosexist, racist, and normalizing culture. For example, Reverend Ashburn, an individual whose very name suggests torture by immolation, is not a pious man, nor is he the benevolent, demon-exorcizing warrior of possession narratives like The Exorcist. Rather, he is an angry and bitter alcoholic that, armed with “crosses, prayer books and bibles” intended to ensure that the ironic forces of “good” have “God on [their] side,” reads Boone's difference as an “abomination” that has to be cleansed from the earth no matter what the cost. Likewise, Barker's depiction of the psychiatrist, Dr. Decker, dismantles traditional cultural, literary and cinematic representations (Spellbound, Halloween, etc.) of the mental health professional as healer and reason-bearer. In contrast, Dr. Decker is a manipulative and psychotic individual who speaks of “private mythologies,” dons a frightening leather mask with button-eyes and a zipper mouth, and murders entire families (“breeders … filth making filth making filth”) with an array of glistening, razor sharp knives. Lastly, Sheriff Eigerman, the primary law officer of the small town of Shear Neck (a violent town name if ever there was one), is a militant fascist. Commanding a small army of right-wing vigilantes, his battle cry—“Whether it's commies, freaks, or third world y-chromosome mutants, we are there … the sons of the free!”—epitomizes his role as a suppressive force determined to eliminate identities that threaten the status quo and the Western capitalist master-narratives it sustains. Even the decor of Eigerman's office, with its issues of Gun Digest and framed portraits of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Adolf Hitler and Margaret Thatcher (Nutman, 158-9), positions the Shear Neck sheriff as a representative of a conservative, repressive and conformist ideology.11
Taken together, then, the characterizations of Reverend Ashburn, Dr. Decker and Sheriff Eigerman, much like the character of Frank Cotton in The Hellbound Heart/Hellraiser, reveal “the patriarchal order … to be the ‘real’ villains” (Benshoff 206). Of course, morally questionable priests, twisted psychiatrists, and over-zealous cops are not uncommon within the horror genre; even the most casual fan can name at least one or two films in which one of these character types appear. Nonetheless, by having the Nightbreed face off against a small but intolerant army led by representatives of three of the more recognizable social forces dedicated to maintaining the illusion of cultural and ontological stability, Barker locates the denizens of Midian as positive alternatives to the repressive ideological and state apparatuses at work in late capitalist culture.
Thus, unlike horror films in which monsters, with their disordered and disordering physiognomies, are either ultimately depicted as destructive, or in which their perceived threat to the status quo is nullified—if only temporarily—by the forces of constancy and discipline, Nightbreed does not allow for a last minute disavowal or repudiation of monstrosity. Rather, audience sympathy is aligned against the momentum of a conservative (in)humanity. Indeed, viewers are encouraged to cheer for Boone, Lori, and the shape-shifting Nightbreed as they dispatch the agents of prejudice, law, and order during the film's climactic battle. This observation, however, is not intended to impose a binary where none exists. Indeed, the Nightbreed function as progressive entities in that they are both resistant and inclusive. Embracing multiplicity, the Nightbreed, with their varied physicalities, posit a myriad of alternatives to those identities prescribed by conventional society without ever discounting the “conventional” as a viable subject position. After all, Boone's girlfriend, Lori, is “human,” yet her allegiance to Boone and the Nightbreed position her as a body to be destroyed by the unwholesome marriage of church and state aligned against them. Her identity is merely one among the many potential identities represented by the Nightbreed's collection of posthuman bodies.
In the companion book to his BBC television series, Clive Barker's A-Z of Horror, Clive Barker writes that “for some of us, monsters are welcome opportunities to be different, to act in anti-normal ways, hideous and beautiful at the same time” (198). This understanding of his own work certainly holds true in splatterpunk texts like The Hellbound Heart/Hellraiser and Nightbreed. The “cosmetically sliced and infibulated” bodies of the Cenobites, and the variety of inconstant configurations that make up the Nightbreed, are “monstrous” and repellant (at least initially) in that they disrupt modernist conceptions of disciplined behavior and physical cohesion. At the same time, however, Barker's posthuman entities are perpetually splattered and splattering formations that rupture and re-integrate bodies in ways that provide, to a lesser or greater extent, new avenues for oppositional thinking. As Michael Morrison insightfully observes, “the journey to ‘a new kind of life,’ with death or reconfiguration of the body as a common rite of passage, ends in post-human states of being that are clearly preferable to the desolate banality of twentieth-century middle class society” (Barker, Clive Barker's A-Z … [Clive Barker's A-Z of Horror], 205-6). In the Cenobites' and the Nightbreed's indeterminacy and alterity resides an appeal that has been both commercially successful and, if audience response is any indicator, seductive. Pinhead (and the Cenobites in general) has become “something of a sex symbol, at least according to the audience response cards that Barker reviewed” (Benshoff, 261).12 It would seem that even though Barker's creations may be frightening, there are those who find these splattered/splattering embodiments appealing or are at least glad that the options they reveal exist.
Moreover, in a late capitalist culture composed—as economic theorists like David Harvey, Arif Dirlik and Arjun Appadurai have argued—of fluid economies and multinational corporations that blur national boundaries while maintaining repressive ideologies consistent with Fordist and pre-Fordist modes of capitalist social production, there is something recognizable about bodies in a state of transformation. As concepts like flux and change become increasingly common features of late capitalist culture, do popular notions of what constitutes monstrosity alter, transform, mutate? After all, as David Harvey has shown us, although it sustains the inherent contradictions and threats of crises that plagued Fordist and pre-Fordist modes of capitalist social organization, late capitalist culture is an endlessly transforming entity (Harvey, 188). As a result, while Barker's Cenobites may reflect a postmodern malleability that, at times, can be understood as potentially providing the basis for an oppositional politics, the narrative of The Hellbound Heart, as well as that of Hellraiser, ultimately disavows the Cenobite's oppositional thrust, maintaining the status quo through an act of ideological recuperation.
It is for this reason, then, that a film like Clive Barker's Nightbreed is such a crucial addition to the horror genre in general and splatterpunk in particular. By failing to embrace a narrative of capitulation that re-inscribes conventional notions of gender, race and class, Nightbreed demonstrates how a “monstrous,” splattered/splattering body can, like Deleuze and Guattari's Body without Organs, expose the concept of an ultimately unified, monolithic, disciplined body as a construction of Western capitalist ideology and, simultaneously, provide a model for social resistance.
V. THE BODY WITHOUT ORGANS
The horror genre is itself a body undergoing continual mutation, a modulating entity that, more often than not, falls back upon traditional narrative and ideological terrains. Films like Scream (1996), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), and Urban Legend (1998) participate in a nostalgic—and often self-reflexive—recycling of the (somewhat)13 ideologically recuperative films of the stalker cycle (Halloween , Friday the 13th , etc.); likewise, even the recent blockbuster The Blair Witch Project (1999)—a film that is recognized almost as much for its allegedly innovative approach to the genre as it is for its low production budget and aggressive advertising campaign—re-inscribes conventional horror movie gender roles through its depiction of the doomed filmmakers. Nevertheless, as my analysis of Clive Barker's Nightbreed demonstrates, horror texts have the potential to advance an oppositional politics that allows for the realization of alternative economies of identity that both contain and exceed those designated as acceptable by a conservative and normalizing late capitalist culture. If one understands splattered and/or splattering bodies as flexible arrangements that embrace multiplicity and indeterminancy, then it is possible to envision horror texts, particularly those that take as their focus “monstrous” bodies that problematize and explode the discursive and corporeal integrity of the “human form,” as representing a genre that may provide a plurality of options to individuals striving to reject the reductive inertia of capitalist and disciplinary power in Western modernity. Further critical engagements with such texts (especially interrogations similar to the ones undertaken in the preceding chapters) will not only contribute to the current assemblage of cultural, literary, and film criticism on the topic, but also provide valuable insights into a genre that has yet to receive the extensive scholarly attention that its focus on contingent embodiments requires.
The splattered body is, after all, an intensive and heterogenous body, a perpetually contemporary and malleable physicality in the process of continual self-construction. It is a body that, more often than not, elicits fear, but it is also a body that holds tremendous promise for those wishing to escape stifling cultural paradigms. It is, in other words, the Body without Organs as described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Contrary to the bounded, disciplined body of Western modernity, the splattered body, like Deleuze and Guattari's Body without Organs, is a body that “has had enough of organs and wants to slough them off” (150); it is a body that rejects the idea of “organism,” fixed borders, and totalizing systems, embracing instead its own “monstrous” becoming, its own flexible multiplicity. And it is in this multiplicity, this discursive many-ness and the plurality of possible identities it allows, that the potentially liberating aspect of monstrosity becomes most apparent.
Thus, the truly progressive horror text is not the nostalgic, albeit self-aware, teen-star laden slasher pic, nor is it the traditional “lost in the dark and scary woods” story shot in bouncing 8mm. Rather, it is the tale in which the monster survives at the end, and in which its continued existence is not a cause for nearly universal dread, but rather a democratizing gesture. It is the film in which monstrous, splattered embodiment remains, as the closing credits role, both horrific and sympathetic without being ultimately “humanized” like King Kong or banished to the frozen wastes like Victor Frankenstein's creation.
Sammon fails to explicate his comparison of splatterpunk with the writing of the Marquis de Sade and William S. Burroughs. In fact, his linking of the 18th century Marquis' writings with Burroughs' postmodern collages seems based on little more than a vague understanding of the ways in which the authors' works have been accepted/rejected by readers throughout the years.
Although I position gore films by Lewis, Romero, and Argento as “precursors” of the splatterpunk genre, it is important to note that these are artists with, at times, vastly dissimilar ideological visions and cinematic techniques. Nevertheless, these directors play important roles in the history of body horror, as their depictions of the human form pushed beyond conventional limits illustrates how contemporary horror films, to quote Philip Brophy's “Horrality—The Textuality of Contemporary Horror Films,” have a propensity to “play not so much on the broad fear of Death, but more precisely on the fear of one's own body, of how one controls and relates to it” (280).
According to Paul M. Sammon, “the term splatterpunk was invented by writer David J. Schow during a party in 1986, after Schow … and a number of other authors had participated in a panel discussion on ‘quiet vs. explicit’ horror at the World Fantasy Convention in Providence, Rhode Island” (“Outlaws”, 282).
One metaphor common to both cyberpunk and splatterpunk texts is that of the body as “meat.” In William Gibson's Neuromancer, for example, Case and other characters use the word “meat” pejoratively when referring to the human form free of technological enhancements and interfacings. In The Hellbound Heart, Frank Cotton's victims are described as “the meat” (68), the rooms in which people have perished are depicted as smelling of “soured milk and fresh meat” (119), and even Frank, dressed in Rory's skin, stinks “of meat” (155). In both of these texts, and in many works of their respective sub-genres, designating the body as “meat” deprivileges and denaturalizes the human form, exposing its tentative epistemological position within a postindustrial and late capitalist culture.
Cyberpunk fictions, particularly those of William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neil Stephenson, have become “canonized” within anthologies of 20th century literature and are frequently the objects of study in college courses, academic journals, and dissertations.
Tucker's comparison of splatterpunk with punk rock is a good one, in that both the literary and musical sub-genres have had an influence on mainstream fiction and rock and roll music, respectively. As Tucker correctly asserts, “splatterpunk does not have mass appeal, but it does inevitably influence other, more mainstream writers, who respond to its sheer gall, its refusal to be commercial even as it inspires to commercial success” (13).
Even Lemarchand's Box, the puzzle cube through which the Cenobites are summoned, is an inconstant configuration, as it fails to conform with established models of order and reason. Described as “a means to break the surface of the real” (134), it is an object that, rather than conforming to conventional systems of logic and reason, operates under “a perverse logic” (2), its polished exterior distorting and fragmenting reflections of our world.
Like many literary and cinematic artists frequently labeled as “splatterpunks,” Cronenberg's aesthetic and political notions of corporeality challenge humanist, organicist notions of physical and ontological cohesion. As Steven Shaviro notes in The Cinematic Body, Cronenberg's films recognize that to “foreground the monstrosity of the body is to refuse the pacifying lures of specular idealization” (132). To this extent, Cronenberg shares with Barker (and other splatterpunks) a vision of biological immanence that can be understood as progressive in its positioning of the body as both “a site of physical conflict” and as a “limit point at which ideological oppositions collapse” (134).
Yet another particularly graphic instance from Hellraiser that links identity with performance occurs immediately following Frank's abduction by the Cenobites. The camera pans across a darkened hardwood floor until it stops above scrambled pieces of Frank's freshly flayed face. Moments later, hands, presumably those of a Cenobite, enter the frame and re-arrange the chunks of flesh, as if manipulating pieces of a puzzle, until Frank's shattered visage is, at least momentarily, reconstructed.
Acknowledging that a “queer activist fashion sense permeates Barker's work as a whole, especially in the Hellraiser films” (260-1), Benshoff points out that Nightbreed, in particular, “dramatizes a coming out narrative … [Boone] learns that he is actually one of them, i.e. not a normal heterosexual human being but a normal monster queer” (263-4). Nightbreed, for Benshoff, “is a barely veiled metaphor of the need for queer people to come out and fight back against the forces of a society who would define difference as monstrous” (264).
In an interview with Fangoria magazine, Charles Haid, the actor who portrayed Eigerman in Nightbreed, acknowledges the sheriff's fascistic traits and describes how he arrived at an understanding of the character: “If you stop to think about my character's name … it's very emblematic. It means, literally, ‘man of rock.’ A very interesting aside to this, which should give you some idea of how I've found a way to make Eigerman come to life, is a quote I read from Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. He said, ‘I am a son of the Eiger. I live in its shadow.’ That gave me a focus, tied in to the fascist elements being used as background detail” (Nutman, 157).
While attending horror and science fiction conventions like Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors and ICON, it is not unusual to encounter men and women dressed as either Cenobites or Nightbreed. In fact, Cenobite-esque fashion, with its emphasis on ambiguity and postmodern body modification, has become commonplace in underground clubs like the Torture Garden. For an expansive “photographic archive” of the Torture Garden club scene, see David Wood's Torture Garden: From Bodyshocks to Cybersex 1996.
I use the parenthetical “somewhat” here to acknowledge that, despite the narrative trajectory of many horror films, one can comprehend monstrosity as a discursive structure that ultimately resists total containment. As Douglas Kellner reminds us in his discussion of slasher films, even the most conservative horror narratives “put on display hopes and fears that contest dominant hegemonic and hierarchical relations of power … [They] put on display both the significant dreams and nightmares of a culture and the ways that the culture is attempting to channel them to maintain its present relations of power and domination” (111).
Barker, Clive. The Hellbound Heart. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1986.
Hellraiser. Clive Barker, 1988. 94 min.
Nightbreed. Clive Barker, 1990. 102 min.
Barker, Clive and Jones, Stephen. Clive Barker's A-Z of Horror. Compiled by Stephen Jones. Harper Prism, 1998.
Benshoff, Harry M. Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1997.
Brophy, Philip. “Horrality—The Textuality of Contemporary Horror Films.” The Horror Reader. Ed. Ken Gelder. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.
Burke, Fred. Introduction. Clive Barker: Illustrator. Ed. Clive Barker and Fred Burke. Forestville, California: Eclipse Books, 1990.
Burns, Craig William. “It's That Time of the Month: Representations of the Goddess in the Work of Clive Barker.” Journal of Popular Culture. Bowling Green, OH. 27:3, 1993 Winter: 35-40.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.
Carroll, Noel. The Philosophy of Horror: or Paradoxes of the Heart. New York & London: Routledge, 1990.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1983.
———. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
Ellison, Harlan. “Can We Talk?” Midnight Graffiti. No. 1 (1984), pp. 6-25.
Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, Ltd., 1990.
Kauffman, Linda S. Bad Girls and Sick Boys. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, Ltd., 1998.
Kellner, Douglas. Media Culture. London: Routledge, 1995.
Modleski, Tania. “The Terror of Pleasure: The Contemporary Horror Film and Postmodern Theory.” Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture. Ed. Tania Modleski. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
Nutman, Phillip. “Birth of the Nightbreed.” Fangoria Masters of the Dark. Ed. Anthony Timpone. New York: Harper Prism, 1997.
Sammon, Paul M. Introduction. Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror. Ed. Paul M. Sammon. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.
———. “Outlaws.” Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror. Ed. Paul M. Sammon. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.
Sharrett, Christopher. “The Horror Film in Neoconservative Culture.” The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996: 253-276.
Shaviro, Steven. The Cinematic Body. Minneapolis, MN: The University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
Skipp, John and Spector, Craig. “On Going Too Far, or Flesh-Eating Fiction: New Hope for the Future.” Book of the Dead. Ed. John Skipp and Craig Spector. New York: Bantam Books, 1989.
Tucker, Ken. “The Splatterpunk Trend, And Welcome To It.” New York Times Book Review. 1991 March 24, 13-14.
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Barker, Clive, and Robert Starner. “Imagining New Worlds.” Lambda Book Report 10, no. 3 (October 2001): 9-11.
Barker discusses his literary influences, upcoming projects, and his novel Coldheart Canyon.
Barron, Neil. “Contemporary Horror Fiction.” In Horror Literature: A Reader's Guide, edited by Neil Barron, pp. 220-22. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990.
Provides a critical overview of Books of Blood, Cabal, The Damnation Game, and Weaveworld.
Campbell, Ramsey. Introduction to The Books of Blood, pp. 9-10. New York: Ace/Putnam, 1988.
Describes the Books of Blood as “the most exciting début in horror fiction for many years.”
Gilmore, Mikal. “Hellraisers.” Rolling Stone, no. 519 (11 February 1988): 103-09.
Praises the horror work of Barker and Alan Moore.
Gracey-Whitman, Lionel, and Don Melia. “Beneath the Blanket of Banality.” In Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden, edited by Stephen Jones, pp. 403-21. Lancaster, Penn.: Underwood-Miller, 1991.
Interview with Barker.
Hoppenstand, Gary. “From Here to Quiddity: Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show.” In Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden, edited by Stephen Jones, pp. 227-60. Lancaster, Penn.: Underwood-Miller, 1991.
Discusses the idea of imagination in The Great and Secret Show.
———. “Text and Subtext: Clive Barker and the State of Horror.” In Clive Barker's Short Stories: Imagination as Metaphor in The Books of Blood and Other Works, pp. 9-44. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 1994.
Evaluates the “literate horror story” of Barker.
Jensen, Jeff. “Stroke of Genius?” Entertainment Weekly, nos. 675-676 (4 October 2002): 21.
Views Barker's Abarat as children's literature.
Jones, Stephen. “Clive Barker: Anarchic Prince of Horror.” In Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden, edited by Stephen Jones, pp. 9-22. Lancaster, Penn.: Underwood-Miller, 1991.
Interview discussing Barker's work and background.
Kermode, Mark. “Terror Master.” Sight and Sound 3, no. 6 (June 1993): 6-13.
Regards Barker among other contemporary artists.
King, Stephen. “Introduction: You Are Here Because You Want the Real Thing.” In Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden, edited by Stephen Jones, i-xv. Lancaster, Penn.: Underwood-Miller, 1991.
Portrays Barker's Books of Blood as “horror fiction at its best.”
Maupin, Armistead. “Foreword.” In The Essential Clive Barker: Selected Fiction. 1999. Reprint, pp. xii-xiv. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.
Maupin states that Barker's work surpasses mere “genre” writing and is a timeless combination of horror and humanity.
Morrison, Michael A. “The Delights of Dread: Clive Barker's First Three Books of Blood.” In Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden, edited by Stephen Jones, pp. 157-69. Lancaster, Penn.: Underwood-Miller, 1991.
Describes Barker's stories as “inventive variations on traditional themes.”
———. “Monsters, Miracles, and Revelations: Clive Barker's Tales of Transformation (The Second Three Books of Blood).” In Clive Barker's Shadows in Eden, edited by Stephen Jones, pp. 173-84. Lancaster, Penn.: Underwood-Miller, 1991.
Details the latter Books of Blood.
Van Hise, James. Stephen King and Clive Barker: Masters of the Macabre II. Las Vegas: Pioneer Books, 1992, 146 p.
Book-length study presenting reviews and commentary on Barker.
Williams, Albert. “Fleshing Out Clive Barker.” American Theatre 10, nos. 5-6 (May-June 1993): 6-7.
Reviews a production of In the Flesh, an adaptation of Barker's story of the same name.
Winter, Douglas E. “Clive Barker.” In Faces of Fear: Encounters with the Creators of Modern Horror, pp. 207-20. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 1985.
Interview with Barker.
Additional coverage of Barker's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vols. 10, 54; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 1; Bestsellers, Vol. 90:3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 121, 129; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 71, 111, 133; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 52; Contemporary Popular Writers; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 261; DISCovering Authors 3.0; DISCovering Authors Modules: Popular Fiction and Genre Authors; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 53; St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers; and Supernatural Fiction Writers, Ed. 2.
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