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Renaissance man Grady Hendrix talks about his new novel

Acclaimed novelist Grady Hendrix has offered an intriguing perspective on fiction writing for Lassonde students as he publishes his new book “HORRORSTÖR”.

Hendrix, a true Renaissance man himself, will hopefully be visiting Lassonde very soon to give students his take on creativity as part of the Renaissance Engineering experience we offer at our School.

We’re not your typical engineering school, and that goes for our guest speaker line-up as well.

Life at Lassonde isn’t just about technical depth, it’s about gaining perspectives and exploring passions in all aspects of life. While innovation and creativity happens in the lab, it also happens in art, film and literature, and places we might least expect it.

Be on the look out for news on Grady’s forthcoming visit to Lassonde….

Writing a novel about a haunted Ikea is like assembling flatpack furniture: a lot of tiny things have to come together in exactly the right way for it to work. For years, I had a job at a non-profit society in New York that researched the paranormal. It was mostly administrative work, but I also had access to their archives which contained thousands of accounts from across hundreds of years of hauntings in every possible location, from haunted novelty supply warehouses to haunted barns.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, feeling their presence is a relatively common human experience, the nature of which hasn’t changed since we first started bumping into them back in our caves. Even more interesting to me were the accounts of supposedly haunted buildings. Why do certain locations attract reports of hauntings? Confirmation bias probably plays a part in that, but some researchers believe that geologic and electromagnetic anomalies might be another reason. There’s some evidence that physical phenomena like weak EM fields and infrasound may produce haunting-like experiences in some individuals. 

But there are also “haunted” places that are built that way. There’s a long history of architecture designed to produce a psychological effect, from religious awe to physical calm. But while we ask our churches, prisons, and public buildings to produce an intentional emotional effect, there also seems to be a brand of accidental architecture that inspires a feeling of spookiness, for lack of a better word. At Knox College, Francis McAndrew and Sara Koehnke have been doing research on “creepiness” and what it actually implies when used in relation to people. They’re hoping to expand their research into what constitutes a “creepy” location.

Fiction might help. From Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel, to Shirley Jackson’s Hil House, to the “non-Euclidean” angles and “cyclopean buildings” of H.P. Lovecraft, haunted architecture in books has had one thing in common: a feeling of disorientation, or of being lost. Think of how horrifying haunted houses at carnivals are, not because you’re scared of some bad actor in a rubber mask, but because you don’t know what’s around the next corner. This kind of disorientation is something we also build, in its most blatant incarnation, as a labyrinth.

A maze is a puzzle full of dead ends, but a labyrinth is a single winding path designed to confuse us, disorient us, and deliver us into its center where we’re expected to have a moment of insight (or get eaten by a minotaur). But its key element is that it spins you around and around until you can no longer orient yourself and give up trying to navigate, resigning yourself to following its path. Just like Ikea.

Specifically designed to induce “scripted disorientation,” Ikea makes sure the path through its showroom floor is intentionally confusing so as to induce an effect that retail psychologists call the Gruen Transfer. This occurs when someone loses familiar reference points and begins to walk slower, pay more attention to what’s around them, and forgets their original intentions. The Gruen Transfer is why casinos don’t have clocks or windows, and why their carpets are intricately patterned. And it’s why, in an Ikea, their aisles have more twists than a snake with a broken back.

The key difference between an Ikea and a labyrinth is that a labyrinth is designed to lead you to a moment of reflection in its center, whereas an Ikea is designed to lead you to a new set of Börje chairs. And that’s chilling enough, even without adding any ghosts. 

Hendrix is also one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival and you can read a profile of him in the New Yorker.


Category: News