Fearousal

During a recent Scrabble game, my available letters & those already on the board suggested to me the portmanteau word "fearousal." While I went on to lose that scrabble game by over 100 points, the coinage has stuck with me.

The mix of mortal fear with arousal-- be the latter explicitly sexual or simply a marked subtilising of sensory experience-- seems characteristic of the sensuality and morbidity I associate with New Orleans. Think of gnats with 18-hour lifespans, mating in the air: it's the nearness of death that intensifies the pleasure drive.

Let us say a person is walking over the bridge between the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards at night, admittedly a stupid thing to do. In the lightless & still largely empty neighborhoods at the base of the bridge's immense stairways are concrete archways set into the bridge's upsweep, cupola-shaped niches, shrine-like recesses maybe five feet deep. In these spaces people congregate at night and will perchance hail the lone passer-by.

When the passer-by regards the archway's gathering of shirtless adolescents and smells the high-grade marijuana they are smoking, the passer-by will tend to experience a complex mix of desire and self-concern. The passer-by will want to be in among those gleaming mesomorphic torsos smoking that very good pot, but in spite of the hospitable, apparently friendly nature of the hailing will also feel anxiety over the intentions of strangers met in such a desolate area. This constitutes fearousal.

The young men coo like birds, which is bizarre and ambiguous. Is this about to be gunplay, or something thrillingly positive and even... dirty? The passer-by may feel on the cusp of a situation entailing loss of individual authority over outcome, a.k.a. loss of control, and yet the very fluidity and volatility of the interaction, the fear itself, renders it intensely exciting. There may in fact exist within the passer-by a compulsion towards pleasure-- to go nestle in among these young men and get high with them-- that is only abetted by the real possibility of danger.

Fearousal. The algebra for this is something along the lines of

Fearousal = Heightened Sensation √ Proximity to Death + Sensuality 

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