It’s perfectly natural. Trying to make sense of things, I mean. It’s been a little difficult in America for the past three years or so, given that nothing seems to add up beyond greed and narcissism supported by a senate majority. Still, as I retreat into my horror films I realize that there’s a logic to it. Over the past several months I’ve been attempting to articulate it. You see, I have a couple of presentations to give on Holy Horror in October and one of the questions likely to arise is why. Why bring together the sacred and the scary? Those who’ve studied religion formally—and many who’ve not—are aware of Rudolf Otto’s classic The Idea of the Holy. It’s outdated and I’ve been waiting for someone to write its replacement, but we’re past the era when one scholar corners the market. Has nothing new emerged this past century? Nevertheless, Otto’s main ideas still make sense, before he lapses into a Christocentric view.
Mysterium tremendum et fascinans isn’t an incantation, but with a little imagination the Latin makes sense. The holy, according to Otto is a mystery that is both terrifying (tremendum) and fascinating. To the laity in the pews this may be strange, but chances are pretty good that your minister has read this book. In the monotheistic west, the divine is terrifying. It’s not splitting hairs to suggest terror and horror differ, nor is it unreasonable to suggest they have much in common. Horror seems more embodied—a working-class variety of terror. Still, both have that element of fascinans. We fear but we can’t look away. I don’t have the time to sit and ponder that a Gilded Age academic had. Otto didn’t have to keep up with Facebook and Twitter.
Although academia required far more than eight hour days, the time during those days wasn’t spent “on the clock.” As one intellectual I admire once quipped, staring out the window is work. Not as far as HR is concerned, however. Productivity in an industry under stress is its own kind of mysterium tremendum, I guess. It doesn’t really allow for unstructured hours to read, take notes, close your eyes, and read some more. Work measures inspiration in terms of currency, which is one of the problems that stretches past beyond these last three years. Struggling hard with an idea is like wrestling an angel until dawn. You can’t win, and you can’t lose. But when the sun clears the horizon it will be time to be at your desk and ideas will have to wait another day.