Saturday, May 05, 2007

Weird Realism Re-visited

Just a note to the effect that Mark Fisher has posted some astute observations and reflections on the the notion of the 'weird' as well as commenting on the recent Weird Realism conference at his k-punk blog.

As Mark notes, the conference remained largely focused on its stated aim (although admittedly my paper strayed somewhat from this), but did not satisfactorily resolve the 'problem' of 'the weird' in definitional terms (not that such a thing should be expected from a one-day conference!). China Mieville summed up the problematics of the weird when he made a statement along the lines of 'I can't define the weird but I know it when I see it', which leaves me wondering whether an attempt to conceptually 'fix' the weird might ultimately fall into the trap of overdetermining the concept (thus divesting it of its power)? This is why, in my mind, occultural appropriations and explorations of Lovecraft's universe often fail: they tend to frame Lovecraft's Old Ones - a la Derleth - within the safe and meaningful intersubjectivity of an anthropocentric worldview, or otherwise try to fix Lovecraft's cosmicism within the familiarity of established esoteric structures of thought(attempts by Kenneth Grant and Alan Moore to subsume Lovecraft's creations into the kaballah for example). However, as Mark notes, this is the very reason why many of Lovecraft's tales are written from a first-person perspective: the very 'weirdness' of the 'weird' is produced by intrusions 'from beyond' upon the normative expectations and contraints produced by an all-too human subjectivity. The problem with the occultural use of Lovecraft - and perhaps a consequence of subjecting the weird to too strenuous an analysis - is it so often takes the weird and makes it familiar. Even when Lovecraft does this (describing the Elder Things of Antarctica as 'men') he then presents us with a kind of recursive horror(to paraphrase Fritz Leiber, Lovecraft intimates that there is something that even the monsters are afraid of).

Also, I wonder if it is useful to delineate a clear conceptual boundary between the 'weird' and 'the fantastic': Hodgson's 'Night Land' seems to straddle both the weird and the fantastic; the same could also be said of M. John Harrison's 'Viriconium' tales and indeed Mieville's Bas-Lag novels. There are even (albeit brief) intimations of intrusions of 'outsideness' in Tolkien, although I certainly wouldn't consider his writing to be of 'the weird'.

I guess I'm wondering here at the embodied, affective and experiential dimensions of reading Lovecraft that are perhaps not easily fixed or reducible (and that coming from a reductionist materialist!)...

None of this is, of course, meant to suggest that Lovecraft should not be theorised - as modernity's key 'mythographer' he more than any other modern writer is in desparate need of a sustained theoretical investigation.

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