Meeting Phrike: Feminist Theology and the Experience of Horror by Jill Hammer

Myself, I saw the numb pools amidst the shadows; myself, the wan gods and night in very truth.  My frozen blood stood still and clogged my veins.  Forth leaped a savage cohort… Then grim Erinys (Vengeance) shrieked, and blind Furor (Fury), and Horror (Phrike), and all the forms which spawn and lurk amidst the eternal shades.

Seneca, Oedipus (trans. Frank Justus Miller)

Horror is not a cognitive but a physiological or affective extra-discursive state of being. Not unlike the state of, say, feeling nausea, horror is a state of being, whose manifestation, based on the etymologies of the Greek φρiκη [phrike] and the Latin horror, may be described, as Adriana Cavarero writes, as “a state of paralysis, reinforced by the feeling of growing stiff on the part of someone who is freezing,” and further, through her mythological reference to the prototypical figure of horror, Medusa, as a state of “petrification” …

205. Kiarina Kordela, “Monsters of Biopower: Terror(ism) and Horror in the Era of Affect”, Philosophy Today 60(1), 2016, p. 193-205.

Surging anti-Semitism in the United States, as witnessed by many news reports and also anecdotes related by friends and acquaintances, holds a particular horror for Jews of my generation.  Some of us thought that we were relatively safe from that age-old bigotry.  It’s disorienting to be reminded that we are not.  My wife, whose father (alone of all his relatives) survived Auschwitz, has the skin-crawling sense as she reads the news that somehow we have gone back to that time.  Twenty-eight Jewish community centers have been evacuated in the last two weeks because of bomb threats, and a rabbi in the Midwest has received death threats for protesting neo-Nazi activities. A midwife/rabbi friend in Toronto had her house vandalized with swastikas.  A judge of my acquaintance in the New York area saw a statue of Martin Luther King vandalized with Nazi symbols.  Walking down the street in New York City, I myself heard someone exclaim gleefully: “Trump is going to get rid of the Jews!”  

While I hope that is not anywhere near true, the horror evoked by hearing such words is a real entity: a physiological state of being.  The Greeks personified the feeling of horror as a daimona (spirit) or goddess called Phrike.  The word phrike implies shivers, goosebumps: a physicalized emotion. The Romans called her Horror.  There are no stories about her, but the ancient Greeks used the word phrike when speaking about theater, believing that the pity and terror evoked by a play effected a catharsis for the viewers.  Via their beliefs about theater, the Greeks gifted Phrike to the world.  Lately I feel that Phrike is living in my house.   Continue reading “Meeting Phrike: Feminist Theology and the Experience of Horror by Jill Hammer”

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