The Philosophy of the Weird and the Eerie

Right now I'm reading more books at once than should be healthy for me. Two of them are Mark Fishers posthumously published The Weird and the Eerie and the first Volume of Eugene Thackers In the Dust of This Planet (Horror of Philosophy) – not only because I'm interested in the Horror-Genre for as long as I can think – literally: One of my first remembrances as a child is a Nightmare about a Witch. You're welcome to play Therapist. –, but also because I sense that while we are exploring the vast Digital Spaces which provide any thinkable human expression of any kind, we are also more and more exploring vast Digital Spaces which provide unthinkable human expression of any kind („Can't be unseen“) or in other words: The unknown Unknowns.

I'm very aware that it's, let's say, „unconventional“ to think Horror and Digital Theory together, yet here we are: Here's Eugene Thacker reviewing Mark Fishers The Weird and the Eerie.

You can see while reading this review, where these themes of uncanniness and weirdness and Horror align with new ways of thinking about Digital Realms. Take for example this quote from the book: „a weird entity or object is so strange that it makes us feel that it should not exist, or at least that it should not exist here. Yet if the entity or object is here, then the categories which we have up until now used to the make sense of the world cannot be valid. The weird thing is not wrong, after all: it is our conceptions that must be inadequate.“ This is exactly what happened, when Trump was elected and this is, on a microscale, exactly what happens, when a Troll shows up in your timeline with a weird, aggressive comment out of nowhere. The Horror of the Digital is the unexpected yet inevitable disturbance by „the other“.

The piece is interesting throughout (tho I don't like Thackers Nihilism tbh), especially if you are familiar with the Genre and Lovecraft --> Boundary2: Eugene Thacker – Weird, Eerie, and Monstrous: A Review of “The Weird and the Eerie” by Mark Fisher (via John Coulthart)

Fisher’s interest in Lovecraft stems from this shift in perspective from the human-centric to the nonhuman-oriented – not simply a psychology of “fear,” but the unnerving, impersonal calm of the weird and eerie. As scholars of the horror genre frequently note, Lovecraft’s tales are distinct from genre fantasy, in that they rarely posit an other world beyond, beneath, or parallel to this one. And yet, anomalous and strange events do take place within this world. Furthermore, they seem to take place according to some logic that remains utterly alien to the human world of moral codes, natural law, and cosmic order. If such anomalies could simply be dismissed as anomalies, as errors or aberrations in nature, then the natural order of the world would remain intact. But they cannot be so easily dismissed, and neither can they simply be incorporated into the existing order without undermining it entirely.

This dilemma (which literary critic Tzvetan Todorov called “the fantastic”) is presented in unique ways by authors of the weird tale and cosmic horror. Such authors refuse to identify the weird with the supernatural, and often refuse the distinction between the natural and supernatural entirely. They do so not via mythology or religion, but via science – or at least a peculiar take on science. In cosmic horror, the strange reality described by science is often far more unreal than any vampire, werewolf, or zombie. Fisher highlights this: “In many ways, a natural phenomenon such as a black hole is more weird than a vampire.” Why? Because the existence of the vampire, anomalous and transgressive as it may seem, actually reinforces the boundary between the natural order “in here” and a transcendent, supernatural order “out there.” “Compare this to a black hole,” Fisher continues, “the bizarre ways in which it bends space and time are completely outside our common experience, and yet a black hole belongs to the natural-material cosmos – a cosmos which must therefore be much stranger than our ordinary experience can comprehend.” Science, for all its explanatory power, inadvertently reveals the hubris of the explanatory impulse of all human knowledge, not just science.

Authors such as Lovecraft were well aware of this shift in their approach to the horror genre. An oft-cited passage from one of Lovecraft’s letters reads: “…all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large.” To write the truly weird tale, Lovecraft notes, “one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all.” So much for humanism, then. But Fisher is also right to note that Lovecraft’s tales are not simply horror tales. As Lovecraft himself repeatedly noted, the affects of fear, terror, and horror are merely consequences of human being confronting an impersonal and indifferent non-human world – what Lovecraft once called “indifferentism” (which, as he jibes, wonders “whether the cosmos gives a damn one way or the other”). There is an allure to the unhuman that is, at the same time, opaque and obscure. As Fisher writes, “it is not horror but fascination – albeit a fascination usually mixed with a certain trepidation – that is integral to Lovecraft’s rendition of the weird…the weird cannot only repel, it must also compel our attention.” […]

This reaches a pitch in Fisher’s writing on author Nigel Kneale and his series of Quatermass films and TV shows. The Quatermass and the Pit series, for instance, opens with the shocking discovery of an alien spaceship buried within the bowels of a London tube station (which station I will not say). The strange, quasi-insect remains inside the ship point to another, very different form of life than that of terrestrial life. But the science tells them that the alien spaceship is actually a relic from the distant past. It seems that not only geology and cosmology, but human history will have to be rethought. Gradually, the scientists learn that the alien relics are millions of years old, and in fact a distant, early progenitor of human beings. We, in turns, out, are they – or vice-versa. The Quatermass series not only demonstrates the efficacy of scientific inquiry, it puts forth a further proposition: that science works too well. “Kneale shows that an enquiry into the nature of what the world is like is also inevitably an unraveling of what human beings had taken themselves to be…if human beings fully belong to the so-called natural world, then on what grounds can a special case be made for them?” Reality turns out to be weirder and more eerie than any fantastical world or alien civilization. This is what Fisher calls “Radical Enlightenment,” a kind of physics that goes all the way, a materialism to the nth degree, even at the cost of disassembling the self-aware and self-privileging human brain that conceives of it. Reversals and inversions abound. What if humanity itself is not the cause of world history but the effect of material and physical laws that we can only dimly intuit?