Historically, common belief and opinion have not been overly receptive to the tenets of philosophical pessimism. Ideas such as ‘Progress is illusory’, ‘The world is malignantly useless’, and ‘Life itself is perhaps little more than a constant dying’ simply rub most people the wrong way – and understandably so. According to the philosophical pessimist Peter Zapffe, when confronted by pessimistic ideas and argumentation most people have recourse to four ingrained, anti-pessimistic strategies: distraction, isolation, anchoring, and sublimation. Collectively, these strategies constitute a group of rhetorical liabilities that go a long way in explaining pessimism’s ongoing rhetorical inefficacy. Responding to that impasse, this article attempts to vindicate pessimism of its apparent rhetorical failing, arguing that pessimism can achieve rhetorical viability by foregoing traditional models of argumentation and opting instead for a less straightforwardly rational mode of argument. Such a mode, we claim, is exemplified by a particular strand of supernatural horror literature, namely, weird fiction. Through an examination of several representative weird tales, we show how weird fiction, by creating a sense of uncanny fear, functions rhetorically to undermine readers’ adherence to anti-pessimistic biases. In so doing, weird fiction fosters the creeping sense that all might not be right with the world.
- Weird fiction