Horror Lecture

28Aug15

Radcliffe – Mysteries of Udolpho

Here again she looked round for a seat to sustain her, and perceived only a dark curtain, which, descending from the ceiling to the floor, was drawn along the whole side of the chamber. Ill as she was, the appearance of this curtain struck her, and she paused to gaze upon it, in wonder and apprehension.
It seemed to conceal a recess of the chamber; she wished, yet dreaded, to lift it, and to discover what it veiled: twice she was withheld by a recollection of the terrible spectacle her daring hand had formerly unveiled in an apartment of the castle, till, suddenly conjecturing, that it concealed the body of her murdered aunt, she seized it, in a fit of desperation, and drew it aside. Beyond, appeared a corpse, stretched on a kind of low couch, which was crimsoned with human blood, as was the floor beneath. The features, deformed by death, were ghastly and horrible, and more than one livid wound appeared in the face. Emily, bending over the body, gazed, for a moment, with an eager, frenzied eye; but, in the next, the lamp dropped from her hand, and she fell senseless at the foot of the couch.

Shelly – Frankenstein

The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of
human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole
purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived
myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far
exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the
dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.
Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of
the room and continued a long time traversing my bed-chamber, unable
to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the
tumult I had before endured, and I threw myself on the bed in my
clothes, endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness. But it was
in vain; I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams.

Wilkins – The Shadows on the Wall

Soon the three sisters went to their chambers and the south parlor was deserted. Caroline called to Henry in the study to put out the light before he came upstairs. They had been gone about an hour when he came into the room bringing the lamp which had stood in the study. He set it on the table, and waited a few minutes, pacing up and down. His face was terrible, his fair complexion showed livid, and his blue eyes seemed dark blanks of awful reflections.

Then he took up the lamp and returned to the library. He set the lamp on the center table and the shadow sprang out on the wall. Again he studied the furniture and moved it about, but deliberately, with none of his former frenzy. Nothing affected the shadow. Then he returned to the south room with the lamp and again waited. Again he returned to the study and placed the lamp on the table, and the shadow sprang out upon the wall. It was midnight before he went upstairs. Mrs. Brigham and the other sisters, who could not sleep, heard him.

Atherton – The Striding Place (1896)

The high wild roar of water smote suddenly upon Weigall’s
ear and checked his memories. He left the wood and walked
out on the huge slippery stones which nearly close the River
Wharfe at this point, and watched the waters boil down into
the narrow pass with their furious untiring energy. The black
quiet of the woods rose high on either side. The stars seemed
colder and whiter just above. On either hand the perspective
of the river might have run into a rayless cavern. There was no
lonelier spot in En gland, nor one which had the right to claim
so many ghosts, if ghosts there were.
Weigall was not a coward, but he recalled uncomfortably the
tales of those that had been done to death in the Strid.* Wordsworth’s Boy of Egremond had been disposed of by the practical Whitaker; but countless others, more venturesome than
wise, had gone down into that narrow boiling course, never to
appear in the still pool a few yards beyond. Below the great
rocks which form the walls of the Strid was believed to be a
natural vault, on to whose shelves the dead were drawn. The
spot had an ugly fascination. Weigall stood, visioning skele-
tons, uncof fined and green, the home of the eyeless things
which had devoured all that had covered and filled that rattling
symbol of man’s mortality; then fell to wondering if any one
had attempted to leap the Strid of late. It was covered with
slime; he had never seen it look so treacherous.
He shuddered and turned away, impelled, despite his man-
hood, to flee the spot. As he did so, something tossing in the
foam below the fall— something as white, yet in de pen dent of
it— caught his eye and arrested his step. Then he saw that it
was describing a contrary motion to the rushing water— an up-
ward backward motion. Weigall stood rigid, breathless; he fan-
cied he heard the crackling of his hair. Was that a hand?

Gillman – The Yellow Wallpaper

I lie here on this great immovable bed —
it is nailed down, I believe — and follow that
pattern about by the hour. It is as good as
gymnastics, I assure you. I start, we’ll say, at the
bottom, down in the corner over there where it
has not been touched, and I determine for the
thousandth time that I will follow that pointless
pattern to some sort of a conclusion.
I know a little of the principle of design, and I know this thing was not arranged on any
laws of radiation, or alternation, or repetition, or
symmetry, or anything else that I ever heard of.
It is repeated, of course, by the breadths,
but not otherwise.
Looked at in one way each breadth
stands alone, the bloated curves and flourishes —
a kind of “debased Romanesque” with delirium
tremens — go waddling up and down in isolated
columns of fatuity.
But, on the other hand, they connect
diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in
great slanting waves of optic horror, like a lot of
wallowing seaweeds in full chase.
Du Maurier – The Birds

His mind was busy again, planning against emergency. They would not have milked, of course, this evening. The cows would be standing by the gate, waiting; the household would be inside, battened behind boards as they were here at the cottage. That is, if they had had time to take precautions.
Softly, stealthily, he opened the back door and looked outside. It was pitch dark. The wind was blowing harder than ever, coming in steady gusts, icy, from the sea. He kicked at the step. It was heaped with birds. These were the suicides, the divers, the ones with broken necks. Where he looked, he saw dead birds. The living had flown seaward with the turn of the tide. The gulls would be riding the seas now, as they had done in the forenoon.
In the far distance on the hill, something was burning. One of the aircraft that had crashed; the fire, fanned by the wind, had set light to a stack. He looked at the bodies of the birds. He had a notion that if he stacked them, one upon the other, on the window sills, they would be added protection
against the next attack. Not much, perhaps, but something. The bodies would have to be clawed
at, pecked, and dragged aside before the living birds gained purchase on the sills and attacked the panes. He set to work in the darkness. It was queer. He hated touching the dead birds, but he went on with his work. He noticed grimly that every window pane was shattered. Only the boards had kept the birds from breaking in.

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence
lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
Dr. John Montague was a doctor of philosophy; he had taken his degree in anthropology, feeling obscurely that in this field he might come closest to his true vocation, the analysis of supernatural manifestations. He was scrupulous about the use of his title because, his investigations being so utterly unscientific, he hoped to borrow an air of respectability, even scholarly authority, from his education. It had cost him a good deal, in money and pride, since he was not a begging man, to rent Hill House for three months, but he expected absolutely to be compensated for his pains by the sensation following
upon the publication of his definitive work on the causes and effects of psychic disturbances in a house
commonly known as “haunted.” He had been looking for an honestly haunted house all his life. When he heard of Hill House he had been at first doubtful, then hopeful, then indefatigable; he was not the man to let go of Hill House once he had found it.

Kathe Koja – Cipher

Behold the Funhole.

“Shit,” Nakota said, as she always did, her prayer of wonder. She knelt, bending low and supporting herself on straight-stiff arms, closer than I ever did, staring at it. Into it. It was as if she could kneel there all day, painful position but you knew she didn’t feel it, looking and looking. I took my spot, a little behind her, to the left, my own prayer silence: what to say before the unspeakable?

Black. Not darkness, not the absence of light but living black. Maybe a foot in diameter, maybe a little more. Pure black and the sense of pulsation, especially when you looked at it too closely, the sense of something not living but alive, not even something but some—process. Rabbithole, some strange motherfucking wonderland, you bet. Get somebody named Alice, tie a string to her. . . . We’d discussed it all, would discuss it again, probably tonight, and Nakota would sit as she always did, straightbacked as a priestess, me getting ripped and ripping into poetry, writing shit that was worse than unreadable in the morning, when I would wake—more properly afternoon, and she long gone, off to her job, unsmiling barmaid at Club 22 and me late again for the video store.

Kelly Link – The Specialist’s Hat

The babysitter gives Samantha and Claire a look, as if she is measuring them: how old; how smart; how brave; how tall. Then she nods. The wind is in the flue, and in the dim nursery light they can see the little strands of fog seeping out of the fireplace. “Go stand in the chimney,” she instructs them. “Stick your hand as far up as you can, and there is a little hole on the left side, with a key in it.”

Samantha looks at Claire, who says, “Go ahead.” Claire is fifteen minutes and some few uncounted seconds older than Samantha, and therefore gets to tell Samantha what to do. Samantha remembers the muttering voices, and then reminds herself that she is Dead. She goes over to the fireplace and ducks inside.

When Samantha stands up in the chimney, she can only see the very edge of the room. She can see the fringe of the mothy blue rug, and one bed leg, and beside it, Claire’s foot, swinging back and forth like a metronome. Claire’s shoelace has come undone, and there is a Band-Aid on her ankle. It all looks very pleasant and peaceful from inside the chimney, like a dream, and for a moment, she almost wishes she didn’t have to be Dead. But it’s safer, really. She sticks her left hand up as far as she can reach, trailing it along the crumbly wall, until she feels an indentation. She thinks about spiders and severed fingers, and rusty razorblades, and then she reaches inside. She keeps her eyes lowered, focused on the corner of the room, and Claire’s twitchy foot.


484a26cf511b86e7e5df57cd631b6204

The initial chatter around Pete Wolfendale’s book generally seemed to fall into two camps. The first being that the text was merely a massive pile of vitriol directed towards OOOers with the second being the question ‘Why would Pete devote so much of his time to a provocation that may well go unanswered?’ Wolfendale addresses the second question first in the preface (ix) while the issue of reception is more indirectly approached in the introduction (7) but these concerns feed into one another. Those defensive of Harman, and/or the Object-Oriented approach generally, could take the book’s rigor (and length) as a sign of Wolfendale’s rancor for OOO/OOP whereas those sympathetic to the critique could merely take solace in the polemical moments of the text thereby eliding the painstaking vivisection performed throughout. But leaning too hard either way reinforces the starting point of both sides and little else. Rigor and a polemical tone are of course not contradictory (I suspect one would have a much harder time finding examples that are not both rather than the other way around) but work to make the text alluring to critics and sympathizers. Switching between a rather straight-forward analytic style and a polemical one makes the text surprising for those that would only expect only vitriol or only analysis, it brings along readers from both sides of the debate who could claim to have ‘heard it all before.’

Wolfendale is explicit about his positions and even the points where he agrees with Harman though they are few and far between (35) which, at times, and as Dominic Fox points out, leaves the impression that Harman and Wolfendale are like ships passing in the night: their views of philosophy in general are too different. On the other hand, given philosophy’s universal address, to my mind philosophy needs to, at the very least, adequately provide a structure to translate between its own fields and it would appear that without epistemology, which Wolfendale so greatly champions, this is awfully difficult. This apparent failure to communicate, as well as the responses to the text already mentioned, indirectly point to a strange assumption in academia and one that I’ve seen in philosophy and theory. There is often an assumption that the theorists or philosophers one chooses reflects one’s personality and conduct in academic and extra-academic affairs. To put it somewhat jokingly, the assumption being something like Hegelians are tyrannical jerks, Derrideans are all friendly animal lovers, and Deleuzians are open-minded sex-weirdos. While this will (hopefully) invoke laughter, it is incredible how the attitude of a philosophy’s utilizers are always-already behaviourally coded and, how this cuts down the kinds of arguments one makes from the get go. I would hope that a text like Wolfendale’s demonstrates how this doesn’t hold up at all. This is particularly evident in his extensive footnote on the analytic continental divide (404-405).

Since Fox has already done a great review of the text (linked above) this allows me to focus less on the specific critiques of OOO and more on how the text expands beyond being a specific critique of Harman. The book is to be praised for the depth of its historical conceptualization and the breadth of its contemporary conceptualization in that Wolfendale demonstrates how OOO falls in regards to the development of post-Kantian thought (with particular regard to the noumena-phenomena relation in Kant and Husserl and the consequences it has for Heidegger) as well as how OOO is part of a broader trend of ontological liberalism (209-299). This is, I hope, far less egregious then it sounds given the fact that nearly a quarter of the book is dedicated to this problem.

Continue reading ‘Ontological Methadone: A Review of Peter Wolfendale’s Object-Oriented Philosophy’


Despite the fact that Schelling is a German Idealist or, more broadly, a post-Kantian thinker, there is not (to my knowledge) anything resembling a consensus regarding Schelling’s relation to Kant. Iain Grant sets up the relation as an overtly hostile one (akin to what the Furies do to Orestes) while thinkers such as Arran Garre balk at such an assertion.

From Schelling’s writings it is clear he has immense respect for Kant, calling him the Aristotle of Germany (as he puts it in The Grounding of Positive Philosophy) and that he nearly perfected negative philosophy through the Critiques. By negative philosophy Schelling means a pure rationalism that addresses the conceptual specifically or, in other words, the negative philosophy determines what is real but not reality (GPP, 131). By no means does Schelling assert or infer that the negative philosophy is unnecessary only that, by its own definition, it can have have no content other then what is determined according to its own ground such that as soon as reason determines something as real the reality of that conceptual content dissipates.

In texts prior to The Grounding (namely the Freedom Essay and The History of Modern Philosophy) Schelling attacks Kant from another position as well in claiming that Kant’s notion of the in-itself not only sabotages the First Critique in epistemological terms (in that the CPR assumes that the a priori of reason is the a priori for reason) (GPP, 127) but also does injustice to nature in that in assuming the a priori is for reason its is denied a properly dynamic character. Or, in other words, the a priori, as Kant defines it, is for reason in that it is empty of content except as a content that grants reason its reach, its momentum. Yet how is it that it grants this capability alone and that this capability is that of and for reason only?

Continue reading ‘Schelling and Kant (pt 1)’


Some recent publications:

An essay on Tombs and Design appeared in the journal Design Ecologies with a preface by science fiction author Peter Watts. Details here.

An essay based on a talk on parasitism and Schelling is in the Weaponsing Speculations collection. Details here.

My essay version of a talk done in London on Schelling and Ecological aesthetics is in Speculative Aesthetics released by Urbanomic. Available here.

I wrote the entry on ‘Transcendental Materialism’ for the just released The Meillassoux Dictionary.

I wrote a short piece about a modern Ariadne for a short film available here.

Upcoming Events:

February: I will be in Australia doing a masterclass on the work of Reza Negarestani in Sydney (as a lead up to Aesthetics after Finitude), a workshop on creation and the concept of worlds in Melbourne, and possible another event to be confirmed.

From February 26-March 1st I’ll be in Amsterdam speaking at The Geological Imaginary conference. Website here.

Beyond that I’ll be in France for some months planning an event on Geopolitics and Geophilosophy at PAF for the Summer.


akira-2

The massiveness of the nuclear is ‘lightened’ only by a catastrophe. The Earth is geophilosophically and geopolitically frustrating because it’s an ongoing nuclear disaster (a great heat engine as James Hutton understood it) but one that is metastable while proving itself the ground of all production whether noetic or material. Whether the collecting of ferrite for magnetic strips on subway cards or providing the iron source of painting, the Earth is a geo-chemical and geo-physical graveyard of potency.

Part of this frustration is due to the fact that the fact of this complicity or continuity is difficult to represent given its absurd spatio-temporal stretch. This is a fairly wide spread notion these days in part functioning as a conceptual sidekick to the anthropocene. One can look at the Smithsonian project above or the various works of Kate Paterson. Paterson has recently coupled with numerous authors (including most recently Margaret Atwood) in planting a forest for a library to be produced in 100 years. Prior to this Paterson had attempted to represent deep time through her fossil necklace in which each bead represented a different epoch.

PacificRime5ogAmA

Previously I was critiqued for utilizing pop culture references to discuss the geophilosophical. A defense I had not considered at the time was not only that science fiction does a particularly interesting job of representing the geological, but simply that film is especially adept at representing informational microcosms of deep time and the strangeness of life emerging from the Earth. For instance, it’s not surprising we are seeing a resurgence of monster films – these creatures index their own history (as coming out of mid-twentieth century nuclear traumas) which in turn make them ideal for embodying climatological disaster. The question remains however as to whether it is better to represent the disasters of the anthropocene in a series of cuts of its production by us.

A chemical explosion, to a flying particle, to a chain reaction, to a devastation. A scalar madness is etched in the brain and repeated by the creatures awakened. This is the indecision between continuity and complicity, in how much we take blame for ‘awakening’ the monsters but often seem forced to utilize the same technology, or other disastrous technologies, to combat them. Complicity is investigated by being scaled up and down. The scalar madness is folded outwards: we construct monsters to fight monsters. Nuclear solution twice over – reliable tech and nuking the breach in Del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

The recent rebirth of Godzilla takes this logic to a certain absurdity.

In the film nuclear testing awakened, tried to destroy, and then is utilized once more to try to destroy Godzilla and other creatures. It is quite telling that the devastation of Godzilla and his opponents (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms or MUTOs) receive more attention of the camera than the battles between the creatures. More directly, the film references the connection between climate disaster and nuclear disaster through a nuclear meltdown in Japan as well as a visit to Yucca Mountain. Deep waste repositories such as Yucca mountain (which I’ve written about here) are the real-world and slowed down version of Godzilla and his fellow MUTOs. The sites bear the remnants of nuclear devastation whether or not that devastation occurred in its’ intended’ fashion ie whether or not weapons were used. Deep repositories are the ‘slow violence’ version of nuclear disaster propelled speculatively (and monstrously) into the future.

One serious limitation (of which there are many) is that the imaginary scaling up of the nuclear (which might be better represented as a intensification or contraction of deep time into a disastrous space) is that these disasters-as-monsters necessarily go tromping through cities and other populated spaces. Nuclear waste, and many other environmental disasters, of course happen in more isolated locations. This isolation is of course not only geophysical/geographical but also geopolitical. There is an interesting asymmetry between the geopolitical forgetting of environmental disaster in the global south in relation to the geophysical entombment of the nuclear in the north.

The strangest aspect of Godzilla is the sense that Godzilla represents god-as-nature, as a monstrous force which is capable of putting things ‘back into balance.’ What exactly the relation between devastation and balance is, how the contracted time scale into the space of disaster can be subsequently unfolded seems to be the interesting question.


One of the core concepts of the neo-rationalist (and more broadly pragmatist) camp is that of boot-strapping – that certain capacities or processes, are capable of self-augmentation. While less colloquially discussed in terms of recursion (invoking a functionalist or mathematical context) boot-strapping indexes the material consequence of such activity or, in a related fashion, that a process can be recursively defined given it’s self-evident productivity. One instance would be discussing thought as a process of thinking which produces thoughts wouldn’t seem to get us too far except that we that this process engenders a massively complex chain of consequences for everything including itself.

Where boot-strapping indicates a metal act informing a self affecting physical act, a recursive definition seems to operate in one abstract realm yet, if this were the case, then recursion would be the same as circularity. But even in this abstract sense circularity can be avoided in terms of adding values and rules. Vicious circularity, or ill-defined self-recursion, can contain these elements but only produce nested recursion as in the case of a famous line by Hofstadter:

“This sentence contains ten words, eighteen syllables, and sixty-four letters”

Continue reading ‘Loops and Augmentation: Pragmatism, Accelerationism, and Navigation’


Post-Lisbon/PAF

04Sep14

Being back stateside I finally have some time to reflect on some recent events in Europe. I already reported on the Berlin Summer school here but, following that, I was in Lisbon for one week for a great event organized by Margarida Mendes. The week-long summer school focused on geo-philosophy and mattering which addressed issues of climate change, design, architecture, physics in a broad sense. More specifically, aerosal distribution, geo-politics, non-scientific evidence, dark matter, and nuclear proliferation were topics covered. The event wrestled quite interestingly with the relations between the anthropocene, climate change, geopolitics, and philosophy in such a way that put emphasis on very particular issues which redraw what it means to engage with these massive complex problems without merely stepping back and calling them complex.

My talk focused on how Schelling’s naturphilosophie addresses the nature/culture split and how it applies to art and the concept of nature. More specifically, I talked about Smithson’s obsession with entropy and life as a consequence of the inorganic and how the notion of unity is not naive but neither is it all-explanatory. The central Schelling quote for the talk was the following:

“[I]n all cases of the artistic impulse a certain identity between the products and the producing agent. The bee produces the material of its edifice from within itself; the spider and the silk- worm draw the threads of their webs from within themselves. Indeed, if we go even deeper, the artistic impulse merges completely with anorganic external deposits that remain in cohesion with the producing agent or animal. Such are the products of the polyps inhabiting coral, the shells of mollusks and oysters, indeed even the stonelike and hard coverings of some insects as well as of crabs, which therefore lack the artistic instinct, which in their case is lost completely in the production of that covering […] we can view these productions as the externally reverted skeleton of the lower animal forms. Only at the higher levels of organization does nature succeed in coercing this anorganic mass back toward the inside and subjecting it to the laws of the organism.”

In Schelling’s account humans reinvade nature with inorganic constructions because of our lack of automatic relation to it because of our species form. This account has interesting consequences for Schelling’s account of the potenz as self-augmenting processes in nature that operate through us more than are operated on by us.

After Lisbon I headed to France to participate in the PAF Summer University and the philosophy week organized by Diana Khamis, Katrina Burch, and Amy Ireland. “Get Reassembled: Time, Intelligence, Acceleration” focused on the legacy of the CCRU, the difference between Nick Land’s past and current work, the thought of Reza Negarestani, and, more generally, the relation between other contemporary strands of thought particularly out side of the context of purely academic philosophy. The whole week was a great experience and there was too much material too go over. Pete Wolfendale’s lectures are available online here as is his discussion after the event here.

Like the Berlin Summer School (but in a quite different sense) the university struggled with the borders of rationalism particularly vis a vis art, politics, and the very nature of intelligence. These debates between the participants were reflected through the historical trajectory in terms of tracking the CCRU’s trajectory. Basically what does it mean to go from Sadie Plant and Nick Land of the mid 90s to new rationalism, transmodernism, and the various splinters from the splitting of the always-already split edifice of Speculative Realism.

In reference to SR what’s been interesting is these events have reaffirmed what labels mean as placeholders in a minimal sense but also as tools. It is strange to see SR talked about as if the term is self-explanatory when, for many, it was something between an escape hatch and a convenient way to label a broad set of concerns. It seems to be the case, and I wonder if this was always true, that labels are more for critics than their adherents. SR as a label was mostly so many of us could find each other…it was a signal flare not a structure…necessary to set us, however provincially, apart from other labels that had grown too fat (continental philosophy, materialism, etc). PAF, as space, indexes the importance of this well…it’s a organization but only as much as it needs to be to host interesting things not defined beyond that. There’s a passage in Schelling’s Clara that weirdly describes PAF that I’ll end with:

“Of the significance that these institutions once held, they have perhaps kept only the picturesque. However, one will find it easier and more agreeable to close down the institutions altogether than to restore them in accordance with their original aim in a way that would be appropriate for our times. When I see such a quiet cloister down below in the valley, or go past one on a hill from which it looks down, I have often thought to myself: if one day the time should come for all these monuments of a bygone time, please let at least one of our princes think to preserve one or two of these sanctuaries, to keep the buildings and their goods together, and to endow them to the arts and sciences.”

 




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