Awesome vs Amazing: A brief note on phenomenology

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So, I’ve finished my bachelor of arts (humanities) majoring in literary & cultural studies and creative writing. I’ve done three years of semiotics. In that time I had one class that briefly touched on a couple of other methods for approaching literary analysis. One was psychoanalysis (Freud, Lacan, and all of them guys obsessed with seeing phallic symbols and fetishes everywhere), and the other was phenomenology. I didn’t really spend enough time on either subject to properly wrap my head around it (yet I was still required to pull a second year essay/presentation out of my ass on these subjects, but that’s another matter…) but I thought the idea of phenomenology was pretty interesting. Basically, the cultural context means squat to the person in the movie theatre or with the book in their hands. What matters is only how their body responds to the media. People experience things differenty, but the sensations should be something we can all relate to. I think that’s the general gist of it.

It got me thinking about the words I use to represent how I feel towards the things I read and watch, and I think I tend to fall back on two key words that mean something impressed me: ‘Awesome’ and ‘Amazing’.

Both are overwhelmingly positive, yet to me they evoke two completely different responses.

Awesome is what you get when something is high-action and fast paced. It’s a rush. Sometimes it’s a sensory overload. It’s a gut-punch or a “fuck yeah!” It’s something that sucks you right into the moment where the magic happens. When it’s done, you’re left with traces of awesome, but it’s a fleeting feeling. It’s limited. It’s something you’ve got to be there to understand.

Amazing is more of an eternal feeling. It sticks with you. It can be fast paced. It can be awesome. But it can also be a slow-burning feeling. I’ve read books and watched movies and TV shows and finished them and I’ve just felt numb. Like, where do I go next? How is anything going to top that? Those are the things that overwhelm me with the sadness that I’ll never again have the feeling of reading/watching this particular amazing thing for the first time. Its brilliance comes as a surprise at first, and then it lingers. Some books make my skin crawl just thinking about them, that’s how amazing they are.

Now, I don’t agree with everything about this way of reading texts, phenomenology. I think ultimately, my own reading is informed around culture and my understanding of culture, and that factors in to my experience of books and movies and such. But there is that other base level instinct that I think can’t be ignored if you’re mainly looking for entertainment. Certainly the most memorable things are the ones that evoke a response, or evoke a strong response. And there is much entertainment to be had in the fleeting moments of awesome. And the stuff that amazes comes with a familiar feeling of awe, yet it often ventures into the places ‘like nothing I’ve seen/read before’.

I think when I throw words like “awesome” and “amazing” around, at least at some level, my phenomenological experiences are being factored into it, and I’m sure there are plenty of other descriptions I use to summarise the things I watch and read that could be associated to bodily experience. I don’t know why I was thinking about this, as I haven’t actively engaged with phenomenology as a theory for over a year now. But then again, I think that’s how it works. No thinking about how the mind and body are manipulated into different states of feeling. There are only the things that happen, and the body that responds to it. Stop thinking about things so much.

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Review: Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again! By Tony Rauch

Review

You know that brand of horror that is not so much frightening as it is weird?

Think of Goosebumps. Those books are simple, poorly written pulp/trash horror for kids. They’ve got some reasonably good ideas (albeit somewhat cliched) and decent (formulaic) plot twists. Basically, the books are real page-turners for kids.

People have said about the Avengers movie, that it’s got all the action of a Transformers movie, but it’s a well written and well made movie, too. If you replace Transformers with Goosebumps and Avengers with Eyeballs, that’s kind of how I relate to the book.

It’s not really about kids being frightened by the paranormal. I think it’s more the fact that really weird things are happening to normal people (‘normal’ = ‘American middle-class suburbanites’). And sometimes those people are school kids. Like in Goosebumps. And the things that occur to these people have that weird factor that starts as a mild curiosity and transforms throughout the story into a colossal mind-bender.

It’s a cultural horror, a whole other world of quirks that seem dangerous or frightening on the surface, but beneath all that, they’re usually quite harmless. It’s like going to a carnival and wandering down the hall of oddities.

When I started reading this book I read the first couple of short stories, enjoyed them, read them on a surface level, and left it at that. You’ve got everyday people discovering things that shouldn’t belong in the world. Like the jars of pickled fetuses that obviously look fake. A trick of the light. The carnies trying to pull a trick and make a quick buck. The characters Tony Rauch writes about react to their abnormalities in different ways. This is most apparent in the title story, Eyeballs Growing All Over Me… Again!

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when I came back to the collection months later (procrastination getting the better of me) I became like the characters in his stories, and like the people at the carnival. Doing the double-take and having a closer look.

Yes, there is an army of clones growing in that kid’s neighbour’s basement. Yes, that kid has a team of miniature football players that seem to be alive. Yes, there are eyeballs growing all over him… again!

Once I made that double-take, I had to finish the collection. Rauch’s writing is so fluid, he teases the absurd out from the mundane lives of normal people. The stories and characters have a strange fascination that grows on you. He builds dramatic tension so well that once you’re in his world, you’re stuck with the characters to the end. Like the pickled punks in the jars, you need to read everything, study them from every angle, to know whether or not they’re the genuine article.

This short story collection is proof that Tony Rauch is the genuine article.

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This review originally appeared in Surreal Grotesque, issue two. For more weird fiction, check out the free online magazine. It has some of my favourite authors in it, and the first bizarro story I ever read – Candy Coated, by Carlton Mellick III. For more reviews from me, you can subscribe to the manifold, or keep an eye on future volumes of Surreal Grotesque.