In the Uncertain Realms of the Fantastic…

Opening the world to the worlds… as I retrace the heritage from Jan Potoki, E.T.A. Hoffmann on through the worlds of Victor Hugo and his combination of the romantic and grotesque, the Gothic and Macabre spun out of Edgar Poe, Baudelaire, Thomas de Quincey, Nerval, the Symbolists and Decadents, the Aesthetes, Cubism, Dada, Surrealism… Jorge-Luis Borges on through our time… we discover a speculative realism that harbors aspects of our current return to various forms of the Strange, Uncanny, and Fantastic… the weird realism of spectral materialism, objects that seem to withdraw into their own interiors, or the strange entities that return from the noumenal or a dark phenomenological worlds in H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Aston Smith, Arthur Machen, etc., all layering their visions in art, poetry, tales, and philosophy. From the Enlightenment till now its as if there is this dark undertow, a secret brotherhood and sisterhood of visionaries, eccentrics, madmen, wanderers, artists and shamans of the luminous abyss.

It’s as if when Kant had set the limits to Reason, demarcated the realms into phenomenal and noumenon, and forbidden passage into the noumenal realms that certain renegades had said “No, we will not allow your limits to keep us from the dark abyss of time.” So rejected by the normal, rejected by work and utility, commerce and the bright lights of reasonable society these mavericks of the abyss worked in the night, in the deadly alleys of the blackest cosmos seeking the midnight sun, the luminous black wings of the forbidden knowledge outside the limits of culture and sanity. Slowly but surely in tentative steps here and there these indefatigable explorers of the impossible would begin mapping the outer realms of this non-knowledge, this realm of the impossible. What did they discover? What hides in this tradition of revolutionary fantastic? For years I’ve explored the outer fringes of its mappings, explored the art and legacy of the many who returned from the abyss, some mad and insane beyond return, some babbling of wonders and dark mysteries, of strange hinterlands of futurial gleaming’s or the retroactive visions of a scorched earth. Each with his/her own tale to tale…

Been wandering back through a couple of works that are both infectious, unique, and liberating. Both bring to us that revitalization of the transrealism which may be seen as a slight variation on surrealism, with the difference being that the work becomes a part of the artist’s life, a movement within his/her unraveling of our world revealing in the ruins other realms that surround us in the folds of the universe.

In The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr Spencer Black by E. B. Hudspeth, an adventure in archeo-fantastic in which we time-travel into Philadelphia, where it is the late 1870s. A city of gas lamps, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages—and home to the controversial surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a grave robber, young Dr. Black studies at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts—mermaids, minotaurs, and satyrs—were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind?

In the Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini we discover a world that has yet to be deciphered, rather what we have is a group of strange and wondrous paintings supplemented by a textual commentary in an unknown language that could be from another world, or our own in another time or universe.  Italo Calvino in a short essay published in his last book of essays, Collection of Sand, tell us of this work:

“In the universe that Luigi Serafini inhabits and describes, I believe that the images were preceded by the written word, by those minute, agile and (we have to admit it) very clear italics of his which we always feel we are just an inch away from being able to read and yet which elude us in every word and letter. The anguish that this Other Universe conveys to us does not stem so much from its difference to our world as from its similarity: similarly the writing could easily have been developed in a linguistic area that is foreign to us but not unknowable.”

Works like John Crowley’s Little Big or his later Secret History of the World or Aegypt Cycle tetralogy seem to move in this same realm of the fantastic, situated between the marvelous and uncanny in a realm of pure uncertainty and doubt in which nothing can be known or decided and everything is open to endless interpretive strategies. The objects we observe can withdraw into their own energetic universe of forces, and yet still interact with us in indirect ways, mediated by our powers and capacities to create and invent the very relations that can lure these hidden realms our of their long lost mazes.

More and more I’m going to be following this new trail that has been with me for a long time… so many of my studies and journeys both in inner and outer spaces of the imaginal have led me to once again take up this uncertain fold of the fantastic real, the power and capacity of the marvelous and uncanny to touch us from the middle-path of the timeless realm of the fantastic where nothing is for sure, nothing decidable yet everything is real, more than real, – transreal…

8 thoughts on “In the Uncertain Realms of the Fantastic…

      • That’s actually one of the underpinning’s of my thought… the point of my research into this whole gamut of the fantastic, marvelous, uncanny, grotesque, macabre, horror, weird, bazzaro, et. al.. is that people have allowed themselves to be lured into a trap… Nietzsche diagnosed it, Bataille expanded on it, Land defined it… Baudrillard codified it… J.G. Ballard fictionalized it… we are victims of our immersion in artificial worlds. We’ve constructed these Human Security Systems to hide from reality, to defend ourselves from the natural world, the indifferent and impersonal cosmos… and it has proved our undoing, our entry into a full-blown civilization of sociopathic schizoids with tendencies to murderous or suicidal impacts.

        I sometimes think people assume I affirm the things I write about… that I’m actually for this whole tradition of the fantastic… actually it’s just the opposite… it’s this immersive idealism that has itself spawned our fractured and apathetic civilization we see around us that has entered what Nietzsche termed the stage of the Last Man, the passive and conformist world of the non-human that has merged with his technologies to the point that nothing else matters outside of this little screen. That is completed nihilism… Nietzsche said it was coming… it just came a little sooner than he expected. The cure: he went mad before he finished that part… we’ll have to figure that out on our own. 🙂

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      • that’s helpful thanks, my sense is more Heideggerian (minus the Romantic sense of golden past or poetic salvation) than Freudian in that this is the manifestations of our human-nature and not repression of something else that we interact with, in some sense register, and than seek to avoid/repress, so interesting to get another view of it.
        “we are victims of our immersion in artificial worlds. We’ve constructed these Human Security Systems to hide from reality, to defend ourselves from the natural world, the indifferent and impersonal cosmos”


      • I see no salvation, no romantic redemption… not sure where you find that in what I say? For the most part I see nothing more than a terminal end ahead, a collapse of the Human Security System.

        Nietzsche once diagnosed modern humanity saying it is like a gigantic heap of backyard compost waste, a pile that creaks and moans under the weight of its own decay. Motley, reactive, exhausted, used up, no longer good for anything purposeful…

        In diagnosing the modern age as suffering from rot, Nietzsche is indicating that one of its constitutive drives has gotten out of control and is threatening to convulse the body of modernity and choke it to death. That is why décadence is a diagnosis with a terminal prognosis. The reactivity of decomposing matter—its subjection to its own internal dissolution as its driving force—is an exhaustion that inevitably culminates in its own extinction.

        Ours is a Necrophiliac culture, we feed off the living dead, we are all apathetic Zombies, a herd culture, conforming, homogenized, caged in, bound to the Reality TV syndrome of a visual matrix of image ideologies dumbed down to the nil. Even watching the UK and US election cycles shows just how stupid we’ve all become. We’re far past redemption… we’re in collapse mode of a final corruption and decadence. The outer form of climate collapse is just an affirmation of the collapse that has already taken place within civilization itself. We’re doomed to our own self-loathing, and defeatism… marketed to our own narcissistic self-modulated screen life, we’ve become the avatars of destruction rather than construction, death not life enfolds us in its declining embrace…


      • the redemption/Romance was in Heidegger tho the idea that we are past redemption seems to suggest there might have been some point where we could have been otherwise, either way I think we both end up with a species who has developed the techno-powers that are doing it in and taking all too many other critters down with us.

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