Dewey, foucault, and the value of horror: Transformative learning through reading horror fiction

Lorraine K C Yeung*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
31 Downloads (Pure)


This article advances an account of the nonhedonic values of horror fiction (including film). It is motivated by cases in which consuming horror fosters what theorists of education call “transformative learning” in adult students, brought to my attention through teaching a course titled “Horror Film and Fiction.” Transformative learning refers to the process by which students’ critical consciousness is activated in a way that they examine, question, and revise certain existing perceptions shaped by their experiences. The process is more a shocking and disturbing experience than pleasurable. In this article, I focus on two cases in which two students underwent such a transformation on studying Roman Polanksi’s Repulsion (1968) and Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932), respectively. In the first case, the student’s experience of madness is modified, while, in the second, the student’s experience of abnormality is disrupted. To give the transformation in question a philosophical underpinning, I draw on Dewey’s concept of “aesthetic experience” in Art as Experience, Foucault’s concept of “experience book,” and O’Leary’s approach to the value of fiction developed in his Foucault and Fiction and contend that the works of horror effectuated what O’Leary calls “transformative experience” in the students. In the second half of the paper, I extend my account beyond the classroom context by offering a close reading of Robert Bloch’s Psycho (1959), with the aim of demonstrating that it has the potential to transform the everyday experience of madness of the American readers in Bloch’s times, and probably the experience of normality of the worldwide readers thereafter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-93
Number of pages19
JournalThe Journal of Aesthetic Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Education
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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