When Steven Bruhm discusses horror, it’s more than a passing Halloween fascination.
As managing editor of Horror Studies – an international peer-reviewed academic journal devoted to the study of the artistic merits of horror – the English professor eagerly anticipates the publication’s next issue, a special edition on horror fiction titled Decomposing Fiction.
“The journal had been attracting mostly articles on film, so we wanted to do something to broaden the base because it is an interdisciplinary journal that talks about horror in all types of mediums,” Bruhm says.
Bruhm got involved in the 2-year-old journal through an acquaintance he met at a conference France. He was asked to serve as the publication’s Canadian presence.
“It’s like vampires, you go out looking for fresh blood, and they got me,” Bruhm laughs.
He also chose to be involved because of the journal’s interdisciplinary commitment, covering everything from film and literature to music and dance to fine art, photography and beyond. As well, he feels there’s an untapped horror presence at Western.
“Since moving to Western three years ago (from Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax), I’ve met a lot of students here who are interested in questions of gothic and horror. I know there are a lot of faculty members here, in various departments, who have published on film, in psychology, who are very interested in the phenomena of horror,” he says. “There is a huge interest among the faculty at Western, I think. But like with so many of these things, particularly at a large institution, there’s nothing that kind of brings it all together, which is why I do this.”
The upcoming issue features two Western authors: recent English graduate Cristina Ionica on Ian McEwan’s early fiction and English research fellow Peter Schwenger on abstract comics.
Bruhm admits studying this sort of material in North America didn’t have much cache when he was a graduate student in the early 1990s. At the time, it was hard to be taken seriously if you were working on this sort of thing. “Perhaps if you were going back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein you’d be okay,” he says. “But Stephen King?”
But times have changed.
“With shifts in the field of English, we started to talk to more people in other disciplines and the whole idea as to what became respectable or important changed; we started to think in different ways about culture,” he says. “As opposed to just literature as a piece of artwork, horror became something you could talk about theoretically and that you really could research.”
In addition to Horror Studies, Bruhm sits on the editorial board of Gothic Studies, an 11-year-old journal.
“Not everything that is gothic is horror, and not everything horror is gothic,” he says. “One of the things we wanted to do from the beginning is to say that horror and the gothic are certainly related, but they’re different and can belong to different worlds.
“Gothic belongs to the certain world of vampires and ghosts and has a certain list of conventions – the old castle, haunted houses. Often there are scenes of horror in them, but I think you can find horror in places you wouldn’t necessarily call gothic.”
While definitely a lot of work on top of his already busy academic schedule, Bruhm admits he’s having fun being part of the journal.
“So much of the life of a scholar, at least in English, is you keep plugging away, keep reading, keep learning. With this, there are deadlines and you can check it off your list,” he says. “What (the journal) opens up for me intellectually is interesting. I’m learning arguments, new theories. I like the fact I am making contact with all of these people internationally that otherwise I never would have talked to.”