Since this piece is technically categorized as a review, let’s get this out of the way first: Mark Fisher’s short critical essay “The Weird and the Eerie” is insightful, unique, and well worth your time. Fisher is (almost) the only writer to attempt a critical analysis of the literary concept of the “weird” (which he considers a “mode” rather than a genre). That alone makes this slim volume (which could be finished in an evening) a worthwhile addition to your library.
With the praise out of the way, the remainder of this essay will be devoted to explaining why Fisher’s definition of the weird doesn’t quite harmonize with way we use the term on this site. Basically, Fisher’s usage is too restrictive for our purposes. Defining the weird, paradoxically, makes it into a rational category, whereas the essence of the weird is its irrationality. Like love or porn, the weird has an “I-know-it-when-I-feel-it” quality; it’s better intuited than analyzed. This observation, I must stress again, is not meant to take anything away from Fisher’s achievement. It’s just that rigid critical analysis, while a fun supplement to your journey into the weird, cannot substitute for that know-it-when-you-feel-it chill in your spine that you get when confronted with an oatmeal-cheeked girl stomping on spermatozoa inside a radiator theater.
Early in this site’s existence, I wrote a series of two articles on various “species” of the weird: the “uncanny” and the “surreal.” (A third planned article, on the “absurd,” remains uncompleted to this day.) So I’m not above bringing analytics into the weird game. But generally, we at 366 Weird Movies prefer the intuitive approach. To this day, the definition of the weird I rely on most is the “grandmother test”: I imagine my conservative grandmother watching a movie, and if she turns to me and mutters, “well, that was weird,” I know I’m onto something.
Still, I admire Fisher for attempting to nail down what, in essence, amounts to nothing more than a vague feeling. I think his test, as we will see, inevitably creates both false positives and false negatives. But the impulse is a noble one.
So how does Fisher define the weird? He gets it out of the way quickly in the introductory chapter, concluding that “the weird is that which does not belong” [emphasis in original]. To elaborate:
The weird brings to the familiar something which ordinarily lies beyond it, and which cannot be reconciled with the “homely”1 (even as its negation). The form that is perhaps most appropriate to the weird is montage—the conjoining of two or more things which do not belong together.
Of course, merely conjoining things that don’t belong together isn’t enough to make something weird. Centaurs, for example, combine men and horses in an impossible, wrong way, but whatever weirdness these beings may have once possessed has faded away through the centuries, as the concept of such fantastic beings has become familiar. The weird requires, in addition to mere incompatibility, a mysterious element, which Fisher describes as “a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition and Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: “THE WEIRD AND THE EERIE”