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  • Writer's pictureRowan Fortune

A Horror Manifesto

This is part of a #FridayFlashback series of rereleased essays. In reviewing George Daniel Lea's Strange Playgrounds, I explore the possibility that it contains a manifesto for a utopian horror. First Published on Medium, September 6, 2019, and also published on

Today there was love in the world, and songs echoing through the storm.

To go beyond reproduction every author dissects and remakes their genre. For George Daniel Lea’s Strange Playgrounds, horror is opposed to the delineation of the sensible, ‘the lines blur, parameters dissolve’, and presumed categories like interiority and exteriority becomes meaningless, so that one character reflects how ‘even his thoughts were audible’. It’s an ecstatic vision, a style more than a means to preclude or incite expectations about content. It pushes against the limits of its vehicle, of the prose, ‘Language was a lame mule, a leper with no arms or legs.’ And the point is not to elicit a designated response, but spur transformation.

These interwoven shorts, microfictions and prose poems are a working out of horror itself. And despite superficial trappings, none are pessimistic stories in the end; their message is one of profound hope. Indeed, Lea eschews what Rancière calls, ‘the logic of stories, which is always the logic of deals and lies.’ Rather, these happenings, sensory moments, impressions (Lea channels Montaigne in choosing ‘attempts’) are varyingly unstructured sensual creation-myths for a world sick with irony and detachment, lacking a sense of the ground because of a deficit of metaphysics. They grow from a soil made fertile by Poe’s Romanticism, the modernism of Lovecraft and Clive Baker’s postmodernism, with a primordial, archetypal root in the task of the Mabinogi, Gilgamesh, Fornaldarsagas, etc. Spiders, of the kind Ovid depicted in his Arachne, serve as a unifying-metaphor for motifs of violence and eroticism, excess and salvation.

It is important to make an observation about the species of Lea’s writing; while some of Strange Playgrounds are perhaps macabre fairytales, these are foremost myths. And whereas fairytales impart how one best lives, myths are an uncovering of the world in which we live; they are primary — primordial, ‘where every imagining was a return to the place before light and breath…’ And what world is shown by Lea’s prose? One of metamorphic monism, a psychogeography ‘where thought was paint’ and in which matter unmasks in Heraclitean, flux, God at work in the world.’

There’s no essential modification to reality, only a breaking from illusion, a seeing, ‘Not another world; just different feet.’ And in rejecting some Other, Lea puts the lie to Gnosticism; his characters cannot appeal to something higher for succour, salvation is here and earthly-fat, ‘Alex didn’t feel anything. How could he, deprived of the flesh that was the source of emotion.’ Lea’s stories, for all their flights into poetic myth, are essentially materialist.

No artist is impartial and it is clear the side Lea takes; his are utopias of freaks. This is Lea’s emancipation, but into Blake’s marriage of the abyss and heavens, a writhing space of unsettled bodies rather than Plato’s ethereal realm of immortal Forms. In showing us this populated playground Lea agrees with Kafka, ‘A book must be the axe which smashes the frozen sea within us.’ And it consequently reads like a Promethean manifesto, ‘This was the dream we murdered the world for; this chance; a renaissance that would put all prior rebirths and revolutions to shame.’


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