The product of these weird expressions of place is not knowledge, as in the case of science or naturalistic writing, but rather attunement, a straining after or intensified awareness of the presence of others that also relate, beyond our perceptions and cognitions, amongst themselves, and so form places.
Raven Symbolism, Raven Meaning, Raven Totem, Raven Dream
We might say that this is an awareness, and not a knowledge, of the weird reality of ecosystems. Yet one of the most salient facts about life in what Paul Crutzen and a growing mass of social scientists, historians, and literary critics call the Anthropocene is precisely our growing awareness of the gap between the cosmos as it appears to us and its depths. We are all—I hope—disturbed by the fact that the juicy red tomato that we buy at the store is actually filled with carcinogenic pesticides. We should not feel that nothing happens to the world when we turn on our cars, though we often do forget that this simple and seemly inconsequential act is responsible for adding invisible CO2 particles into our atmosphere.
These are all, admittedly, gaps that are glimpsed between the Nature of science and the Nature of the lifeworld of ordinary perception, but they do remind us of the horrifying uncanniness of the cosmos, and the complicity of our ordinary ways of perceiving in the perpetuation of our collective ecocide. In sum, the fracturing of our world supports the weird realist speculation that there is more to the world than is dreamt of in our naturalist philosophy.
The latter half of the text, largely in dialogue with VanderMeer, explores more profoundly the interest of weird writing for thinking about and living in the increasingly horrifying and uncanny age that is the Anthropocene. Poe is quite specific about the time and the ambiance, the specifics of his experience. The choice of analogies brings this out, not only because the narrator associates the queer reality of the house with ordinary reality, with what most of us would call the real itself and not the drug-fueled daydream.
The same inversion is suggested by the figure of the veil, a trope that, as Pierre Hadot has explored, was long used in alchemical and other occult circles to refer to the concealed secret orders of the natural world. The reason behind this replacement of the ordinary with the dream world is clarified by a nearly philosophical claim that is introduced in the lines that follow.
Without denying that this line is indeed obscure, let us say that it is clear enough to open up a rather rich field of speculations into the metaphysical notions crucial to thinking about horror and place.
All that appears to us as subjects is a unified object, that is to say, drawing on the Husserlian doctrine of intentionality, a discrete and unified entity as opposed to a bundle of discrete qualities. Objects surround us always, and they compose to a certain extent the most familiar elements of our existence. But though common, objects are obscure and sources of obscurity. Objects do not remain fixed when we encounter them, live with them, or even merely attempt to pick them up.
Objects slip through our fingers in both a literal and theoretical sense, and when they do they reveal more of themselves to us, present us with new depths and concealed aspects, aspects of the object independent from any theoretical or practical grasp that we might have of them, but which might matter with respect to the combinations that they can compose.
Even what seems most present to us, the objects around us, our surroundings, are apt to dupe us, to seem one thing and to actually be another. The chair in the corner of the room might turn out to be a statue made of Styrofoam. The girl staring at me from a window across the street might turn out to be a mannequin or a machine, as in E. No object is ever revealed to us in its totality, each has another perspective from which it might be viewed, or a concealed otherness, and that is only speaking of the object from the viewpoint of a vision without dynamism.
I take this evanescence and lubricity of all objects, which lets them slip through our fingers then when we clutch hardest, to be the most unhandsome part of our condition. Nature does not like to be observed, and likes that we should be her fools and playmates Emerson Following Hume, then, it is a real logical possibility that effects that seem totally fantastic follow from causes that we have a false tendency to consider as logically evident because they are concordant with past experience.
Why, for instance, should one billiard ball necessarily impart its motion to another? May not both these balls remain at absolute rest? May not the first ball return in a straight line, or leap off from the second in any line or direction? All these suppositions are consistent and conceivable Of course we are here speaking about a metaphysical possibility with respect to how we imagine reality, and this in turn yields a point of rupture between two different approaches to the writing of fiction, and indeed, to the reading of Poe.
This would be the tradition described by S. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. Nevertheless, the mind is here introduced in such a way as to render the real all the more horrifying, since the mind is seen as blocking us from seeing what is actually there. In Lovecraft it is never madness that engenders the experience of the real, but rather the encounter with the real that provokes fits of madness.
Madness is thus the testament and seal of having experienced the real. Moreover, as an animate being, the place is unaccountable, granted will, spontaneity, and the capacity to be acknowledged and to demand acknowledgment. Within the context of the tale, it is important to note that we will soon discover that the seeming rats are not quite rats, but rather rat-like beings with human hands for paws, which is to say that our apparent identification of the sounds as rat-sounds is itself undone, itself part of the mechanism of consciousness that we humans rely on, but which can be fallible at any instant.
Meanwhile, quite aside from this description of ambient noise that turns out to be erroneously familiar, part of the description turns on sounds that are inexplicable and hardly to be signified, and also sounds that are only suspected it turns out rightly , but unheard. Considered closely, this description is much weirder than one is prepared for. What, after all, is meant by the outer and inner ends of the north wall? How can a ceiling slant downward in the same direction that a wall slants outward?
Is this not somehow a confounding of the vertical and the horizontal? What is going on here? It seems that we are encountering things that shatter all knowable categories. Yet at the same time, these texts are peppered with references to Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, and Riemann. Alongside these names we find references to non-Euclidean geometry and space-time, weird theories explaining.
When we look at diagrams attempting to render non-Euclidean or Reimanian space visible, we recognize that it is exactly these weird dimensions of the real that Lovecraft has in mind in his contorted phrases. For Lovecraft, weird fiction must always go beyond the logical and the known, and that is to say beyond mathematics and science. He is arguably at his best when he veers close to what might seem to be apparently normal eco-mimetic writing, namely his weird regionalist evocations of the Miskatonic region, a place that in many ways seems like his native New England, and which within his fictions is precisely located in an indefinite proximity to Boston and other known locales.
The ground gets higher, and the brier-bordered stone walls press closer and closer against the ruts of the dusty, curving road. The trees of the frequent forest belts seem too large, and the wild weeds, brambles, and grasses attain a luxuriance not often found in settled regions. But if they do not exist, they could, or even could have, since the names used come from real places in Old England, and thus seem familiar even in their distance from the actual and known New England.
Here what is stretched is not so much language—it is possible to imagine mountains as rounded—but precisely our pretension to know the world. Rather than trying to describe a real that does not fit within our ordinary faculties of representation and perception, Lovecraft here presents us with a real that is, as it were, too rational. It is as if he is suggesting that the very idea of circumscribing the real with the rational is bound to fail, since the very representation of the real when it is presented as geometrically rational is absurd, as absurd as would be a field of quintessentially identical dandelions, perfectly similar maple leaves, or ontologically indifferent cattle.
Therein is expressed one of the terrors of our current situation, our deep awareness of the looming environmental crisis coupled with our awareness of the ways in which the limits of our minds hinder our every attempt to master or rationally model the world around us. Rather than becoming masters and possessors of nature, we slowly realize that we are possessed by nature, and that nature, for want to a better word, is possessed, ready to annihilate us for the unthinking ways in which we have tried to impose our mark upon the real.
A Curious Presence: The Metaphysical Connection
Some types of omissions made my mind itch as much as more explicit offerings. One journal, half-destroyed by the damp, focused solely on the qualities of a kind of thistle with a lavender blossom that grew in the hinterlands between forest and swamp. Page after page described encountering first one specimen of this thistle and then another, along with minute details about the insects and other creatures that occupied that microhabitat. In no instance did the observer stray more than a foot or two from a particular plant, and at no point, either, did the observer pull back to provide a glimpse of base camp or their own life.
After a while, a kind of unease came over me as I began to perceive a terrible presence hovering in the background of these entries. I saw the Crawler or some surrogate approaching in that space just beyond the thistle, and the single focus of the journal keeper a way of coping with that horror. An absence is not a presence, but still with each new depiction of a thistle, a shiver worked deeper and deeper into my spine.
VanderMeer b, The narrator of the text is a biologist and many of her place descriptions are dotted not only with descriptions of particular flora and fauna, but also with extensive discussions of ecosystems, habitats, and taxonomy. As in the text above, he seems to look too closely at things, to discover their weirdness and terror, not their familiarity and presence. The objects and places of St.
Marks, as filtered through the writing, thus evoke to us an alien landscape that persists behind the visible and familiar South Florida scenery.
Every word presents us with a shadow, a dark presence that hangs behind it. The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats. Beyond the marsh flats and the natural canals lies the ocean and, a little farther down the coast, a derelict lighthouse.
They describe a landscape, a black pine forest, a swamp, reeds and trees. We feel not only as if we are viewing a panorama of this landscape, but also as if we are reading a map, receiving indications that could potentially help us find ourselves in this place.
Spinoza’s Modal Metaphysics
But then there is the strange dissonance in the part about the tower. Later we are given a partial clarification—the tower is not on the map that the explorers were given when they were briefed on the expedition. But this absence of the tower from the map does not annul the mystery of the object, but rather heightens it, prompting us to wonder why and how the tower was not included on maps beforehand. Of course that is not the only thing that the line introduces in terms of cognitive dissonance.
The tower would thus seem to be inverted, indeed to be something other than a tower, perhaps to be a tunnel, which is indeed what some of the other characters in the story do call it, albeit not the narrator. The effect of this cumulative confusion is to suggest that whatever it is does not fit with any of our names or descriptions, that it is a thing with no proper analogue in our language and no proper precursor in our past perceptions. Instead they render the entire place a zone of disorientation, though this disorientation might be said to spring not from an absence of reality, but from an excess of the real.
It does not mean that we are not aware of it, only that our versions of it are somehow pale reflections of its reality.
In Annihilation , we almost constantly seem to encounter words that describe objects that do not quite fit with these words, weird or strained analogies that leave us with the general impression that they emerge not so much from a failure of descriptions to match what is seen but from a failure of the categories that structure and order our perceptions to bring the objects into full phenomenal presence.
In this quick precision we immediately feel at ease, for the clarifying and orienting powers of science are at hand. But then the writing becomes weirder, and in a certain sense more realist, grasping not at the analogue of this thing and other things categorized in the past, but for this thing in its pure presence.
Related A Curious Presence: The Metaphysical Connection
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