THE (Times Higher Education) - - BOOK OF THE WEEK -

Dar­ryl Jones, dean of the Fac­ulty of Arts, Hu­man­i­ties and So­cial Sci­ences at Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin, was born and raised in the Rhondda Val­ley in South Wales. He grew up in the 1970s, “a pro­pi­tious time for any­body in­ter­ested in hor­ror”, “watch­ing great, scary tele­vi­sion” from Dr Who and M. R. James’ Ghost Sto­ries for Christ­mas to Ham­mer House of Hor­ror, and later Sat­ur­day-night dou­ble bills of clas­sic hor­ror films.

He stud­ied at the Uni­ver­sity of York, stay­ing on to do a PhD on the nov­els of Jane Austen. “English at York at the time was still heav­ily un­der the in­flu­ence of F. R. Leavis, [which] gave me a very solid ground­ing in the lit­er­ary canon.”

In his re­search ca­reer, he has ranged be­yond canon­i­cal bound­aries, unit­ing such seem­ingly di­verse fig­ures as Austen and H. P. Love­craft. What, then, are the cen­tral con­cerns of his work? “If only I knew the an­swer to that ques­tion!” he replies.

“Per­haps the ma­jor ar­gu­ment I try to make for hor­ror in Sleep­ing with the Lights On is that it is cen­tral to the his­tory of hu­man cul­ture…also, it is a form of avant-garde art, and like all avant-garde art its real func­tion is to test the lim­its of our tol­er­ance – in­clud­ing our tol­er­ance for what is and is not art.”

How would he go about per­suad­ing some­one who has never both­ered with hor­ror fic­tion that they are miss­ing out on some­thing in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant? “I would also say that, at its best, hor­ror is a cul­tural form that poses se­ri­ous ques­tions – about the state of your soul, the na­ture of evil, the re­al­ity of per­cep­tion, the mis­ery and con­se­quences of marginal­i­sa­tion and in­equal­ity, ex­treme psy­cho­log­i­cal states, the ethics of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the lim­its of tol­er­ance, our at­ti­tudes to our bod­ies, how to live to­gether in so­ci­ety, and much else be­sides.

“And even when it isn’t do­ing that for you, it can make you want to scream, or laugh, or puke. What’s not to like?”

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