Ghost stories – kitsch or not?

Baby hair with a woman’s eyes
I can feel you watching in the night
All alone with me and we’re waiting for the sunlight
When I feel cold, you warm me
And when I feel I can’t go on, you come and hold me
It’s you… And me forever

—Hall & Oates

Halloween is just around the corner, and I believe in inspecting every little observance I enjoyed as a child, call it some sort of psychoanalysis if you will. (since I can’t afford therapy)

We as species are bizarre, to say the least. For instance, we are remarkably prone to the belief in the supernatural, more precisely, invisible agents. Faith in the existence of such ‘opaque’ entities is ubiquitous.
What I mean by that is, it’s prevalent in all cultures, not just the primitive ones. Illness and calamities are supposedly caused and alleviated by a variety of agents outside our realm of perception: spirits. Ghosts, saints, devils, demons, cherubim or Jesus, devils and gods.

I have this small ritual that I perform before I dissect anything, I ask myself: “what would Arthur Schopenhauer do?” or “How would Schopenhauer react to this?”
I do this not because I hold his opinions on everything in high regard(I do, to some extent) I just find the concept exceptionally hilarious. For example, in this instance, Schopenhauer at his most irascible saturnine would have none of this crap about the existence of the supernatural. I guess you could counter, if a theoretical argument ever ensues, that in this dungheap of a world with suffering and its pabulum there may exist something beautiful with higher entities, to that he would scoff and say ‘is the world, then, a peep-show?’ and so on.

This row could go on forever, and despite all resources suggesting that the supernatural may not exist, I can’t help but wonder—as the theory of direct realism suggests—how can we infer something that doesn’t even exist, something to exist must be first, perceived.
That being said, I won’t be ignorant enough to suggest that I can prove this hypothesis to be true.
My first experience with the otherworldly was when I went through sleep paralysis around 4th or 5th grade. I now realise that it’s not a unique experience, and it’s positively terrifying: trapped in your paralysed body, sensing the presence of a malevolent intruding in your room, with a life-threatening pressure on your chest, squeezing the breath out of your lungs. I won’t wish it on my worst enemy (or maybe I will) Hallucinations can rattle the sense: ominous voices, strange lights, the feeling of being dragged (to hell), its a helpless ordeal. Maybe shared experiences like this are at the heart of the conception of an urban/folk legend.

While we are at the topic of legends, if you don’t live under a rock and like me while away your time at random online forums, you must’ve come across something called as ‘Creepypastas’, or at least heard of it. I had unwittingly stumbled into the world of creepypasta, you could look at it as a leaderless and a widely distributed effort to make and share scary stories; in effect, folk literature of the web, if you will.
At the expense of sounding like a boomer, the Creepypasta community are—instead of gathering around campfires with smores—huddled around the flickering light of their computers like moths. Such is the internet’s or rather the long-lived human craving for a good scare that the stock of ‘authentic’ urban legends have been exhausted quite a while ago and now must be manufactured in bulk to effectively scare our preoccupied continuously minds. And this is a crowdsourced venture.

Creepypasta’s objective is of being an urban legend: dark social memes with just enough relaxed casualness to give an inkling of an awful possibility, and what’s scarier than that.
Why would I call it a meme, you might ask; if you inspect the literary ‘value’ of creepypasta entries, brevity is nearly always a virtue — as a form of a meme, it lives and dies, by being read, shared. Like memes, these fast-acting stories have an obvious advantage. Like pornography, it’s persistent in its pursuit of a particular response.
My personal favourite out of these come from the animated sub-category, for example, the ‘lost’ Mickey Mouse clip that goes by the name’ Suicide Mouse’ which shows a weirdly despondent version of Mickey, which later degenerates into white noise and screaming; allegedly the last 30 seconds were disturbing enough to cause a Disney executive to shoot himself. If you know me, you won’t find it surprising that this Dadaist blur of absurdity appealed to me. None of these is real, but variations and re-tellings of these stories exist in truly bewildering numbers.

Whatever your choice of devil’s cup maybe, it’s crucial to be frightened. I, for one, come across ghosts every day. Sometimes these are unwanted Facebook memories that make my hair curl at 2am as I drift off to the land of self-deprecation, sometimes it’s in my message box, dressed like a former acquaintance reaching out from the grave of our friendship, attempting to channel our dead selves, sometimes it’s just the buzzing of my phone asking me to fall asleep which is oddly reminiscent to a whisper. Every day, the ghost is no ghost at all but rather a metaphor, a memory between my current world and the one that no longer exists anymore.
To fear is to reaffirm essential mortality. It’s the reminder of the very realness and the consciousness of our beating hearts, it’s the adrenaline rush that grounds us to realise that we’re flesh, blood and brain. You don’t have to believe in legends to enjoy creepypastas that are so antithetical to our enlightened present. When death becomes digital, and when life comes to full circle around new technologies, something about outside life can feel like a distant dream. So we read a scary story and dive under the covers, human once more, until dawn and the metronome speeds up again.

The most fascinating reason for our obsession with urban legends comes from the explanation of Japanese legends and its conception. Japan has seen a host of disasters and a lot of their ghost stories stem from ‘survivor’s guilt’. As sufferers encounter, probably for the first time, the problem of their own existence. They don’t know why they’re still alive or why they were born in the first place. This fundamental existential angst serves as an appetite for ghost stories. The bad ones are so commonplace that one might lose their sense of reality and the good ones point towards the justified anxiety about the stability of one’s own existence. It tries to indicate the fragile or insubstantial nature of existence.

I have come to enjoy Halloween again after some angsty avoidance, I understand that we are all in this shared existence, haunted by the dead who may or may not still be a part of our lives. Freud gets it. In ‘hardly any other sphere, has our thinking and feeling changed so little since primitive times or the old been so well preserved, under a thin veneer, as in our relation to death.’ he writes in The Uncanny (1919). Recognising the fact of being alive and the sense of our own mortality is so deeply strange and unbearable.

Halloween can be seen as an attempt to return where we began, we wish the dead a peaceful rest within the living community because—selfishly enough— we need them even after their deaths. To be human is to care for irrational rituals in an attempt to understand and soothe the existential anxiety, we wish the dead well to maintain the gulf between our world and theirs.

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