The title of this course alludes to a book by Adriana Cavarero entitled, Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence. With this term, she proposes to name “the substance of an epoch that has managed to write the most extensive and anomalous, if not the most repugnant, chapter in the human history of destruction.” The violence that is horrorist in character is a violence that strikes the innocent and the helpless, the most vulnerable, attempting to wound or destroy the very singularity of the human animal. Whereas the aim of terror, as the etymology of the word itself suggest, aims to induce fear and trembling, to cause fright and flight, driving the body into motion, horror causes numbness, shock and awe. Deriving from the Latin verb “horreo,” which suggests the phenomena of goose bumps, horror connotes paralysis and petrification. Although horror is often associated with being petrified with fear, frozen stiff, magnified by being unable to flee or escape, Cavarero suggests that horror must be thought more in the direction of the repugnant or the disgusting. What above all evokes disgust is the “the spectacle of disfigurement,” disintegration, dismemberment. Horrorism for Cavarero concerns the loss of one’s “ontological dignity,” a violence directed at the very notion of the singularity of one’s identity embodied in the integrity of one’s body. “What is at stake [in horrorism] is not the end of a human life,” Caverero writes, “but the human condition itself, as incarnated in the singularity of vulnerable bodies.” In short, horrorism is the attempt to put an end to the human condition itself. To think horror is to think the human stripped of its humanity.
Taking this notion as starting point, in this seminar we will traverse a series of what could be termed primal scenes through which we shall attempt to think horror and its “ism,” and the specificity of the violence that engenders it. Beginning with Cavarero’s book, her interest in the gaze of Medusa, the tragic figure of Medea, and what she calls with reference to Primo Levi’s account of the figure of the Muselmann in the Nazi Lager, “ontological crime,” we shall have occasion to consider Jean Genet’s play The Blacks: A Clown Show, Franz Fanon’s account of the “lived experience of the black man,” the historical legacy of transatlantic slavery treated by Saidiya Hartman, and Orlando Patterson’s conception of “social death.”