On horror

Fear is of danger; terror is of violence, of the violence I might do or that might be done to me. I can be terrified of thunder, but not horrified by it. And isn’t it the case that not the human horrifies me, but the inhuman, the monstrous? Very well. But only what is human can be inhuman. Can only the human be monstrous? If something is monstrous, and we do not believe that there are monsters, then only the human is a candidate for the monstrous.

If only humans feel horror (if the capacity to feel horror is a development of the specifically human biological inheritance), then maybe it is a response specifically to being human. To what, specifically, about being human? Horror is the title I am giving to the perception of the precariousness of human identity, to the perception that it may be lost or invaded, that we may be, or may become something other than we are, or take ourselves for; that our origins as human beings need accounting for, and are unaccountable.

Stanley Cavell, The Claim of Reason, p 418-9

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