The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016
L'appel Du Vide
Walking along a high cliff path, you are gripped by a terrifying urge to leap. As an express train hurtles into view, you itch to fling yourself in front of it. People talk of a fear of heights, but in truth anxieties about precipices are often less to do with falling than the horrifying compulsion to jump.… In Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), what paralyzes James Stewart as he chases the suicidal Kim Novak up those rickety stairs of the bell tower is not dizziness. Hitchcock’s clever camera trick, which makes the bottom of the stairwell swim into the foreground, also makes its vanishing point alluring. Stewart is terrified he might just give in.
The French have a name for this unnerving impulse: l’appel du vide, “the call of the void.” Perhaps it is a kind of terrifying game the mind plays, a test serving to remind us how close danger is. But most of all, as Jean-Paul Sartre recognized, l’appel du vide creates an unnerving, shaky sensation of not being able to trust one’s own instincts. And the fear that our emotions, with their impish irrational impulses, might be capable of leading us very far astray.
See also: PERVERSITY; ILINX; TERROR.