The Folds of Horror: Notes on Ligotti, Lovecraft, and Philosophy

Unimaginable-Surreal-Artworks

I began this set of notes to bring in a specific philosophical concept (“Fold”) that struck me as pertinent in my recent reading of Thomas Ligotti’s book The Conspiracy against the Human Race. Thomas Ligotti in a side note speaking of Lovecraft’s model of the supernatural horror tale, which he portrayed in its archetypal form in the short story, “The Music of Erich Zann”, commented:

In composing the … work, Lovecraft came up with a model supernatural horror tale, one in which a subjective mind and an objective monstrosity shade into each other, the one projecting itself outward and the other reflecting back so that together they form the perfect couple dancing to the uncanny music of being.1 [italics mine]

When I read this passage I was struck by it’s uncanny resemblance to two notions of import I’ve read in the past few years. One referencing Deleuze’s notions surrounding the concept of the “Fold” in his work on Leibniz and the Baroque; and, the other concerning the notions of how objects relate to one another in Graham Harman’s Weird Realism. If in the passage above by Ligotti we replace “shade into each other” with “fold into each other” we begin to connect both Deleuze’s notion of fold with Harman’s notion of the objects relating through a third object of which they form and fold into one another. I’ll address a couple quotes from Harman, then move on to Deleuze’s work. Admittedly for Harman it’s about ontology in the real as it folds things into itself or is folded into the other; and, for Deleuze the fold is about the sensual epistemic and pervasive folds as the eye follows the surfaces through their becomings.

Graham Harman in Guerrilla Metaphysics tells us that the theory of objects “exists not just at some ultimate pampered layer, but all the way up and down the ladder of the cosmos, so that all realities gain the dignity of objects”. He continues, saying,

Objects have surprises in store as well: lemon meringue, popsicles, Ajax Amsterdam, reggae bands, grains of sand. Each of these things remains a unitary substance beyond its impact on others—and obviously, none of them is an ultimate tiny particle of matter from which all else is built. They are not ultimate materials, but autonomous forms, forms somehow coiled up or folded in the crevices of the world and exerting their power on all that approaches them. This is my definition of substance, a term well worth salvaging: an object or substance is a real thing considered apart from any of its relations with other such things.2 Commenting on Merleau Ponty he’ll also mention that to “have a body is already to be folded into the things rather than to stand at a distance from them: “the thickness of the body . . . [is] the sole means I have to go unto the heart of the things, by making myself a world and by making them flesh.” (GM, 53) [my italics]

I’ll leave this here and move on to Deleuze’s work.

From the Translator’s forward to Gilles Deleuze’s Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque we learn:

Focillon notes that the Romanesque and Gothic, two dominant and contrastive styles, often inflect each other. They crisscross and sometimes fold vastly different sensibilities into each other. The historian is obliged to investigate how the two worlds work through each other at different speeds and. in tum. how they chart various trajectories on the surface of the European continent. … The experience of the Baroque entails that of the fold. Leibniz is the first great philosopher and mathematician of the pleat, of curves and twisting surfaces. He rethinks the phenomenon of “point of view,” of perspective, of conic sections. and of things. folded are draperies. tresses. tesselated fabrics, ornate costumes: dermal surfaces of the body that unfold in the embryo and crease themselves at death; domestic architecture that bends upper and lower levels together while floating in the cosmos; novels narratives or develop infinite possibilities of serial form; harmonics that orchestrate vastly different rhythms and tempos; philosophies that resolve Cartesian distinctions of mind and body through physical means – without recourse to occasionalism or parallelismgrasped as foldings; styles and iconographies of painting that hide shapely figures in ruffles and billows of fabric. or that lead the eye to confuse different orders of space and surface.

 The key here strangely is not just the concept of the fold but rather the notion of causality as referenced in “without recourse to occasionalism and parallelism”. I’ll deal with this later. I still need to reread this work by Deleuze again and take notes…

Before I go any further I want to reference a post by Levi R. Bryant of Larval Subjects whose work of recent has taken him away from Object-Oriented philosophy and towards the notion of the “fold” as well. In a post in which he describes to his Barber the notion of the fold he has a discussion about bricks, saying,

Me:  A brick is a form of origami, like a crumpled piece of paper.

B:  Say what?

Me:  It folds the forces of the cosmos into it, invaginates them.  It folds the pressure of the other bricks about it into it, if it has lots of iron it folds the oxygen into it giving it that red color, it folds gravity and temperature in it, becoming brittle when it’s cold and molten when very hot.  Sound, light, pressures, air, all of these things are folded into it and it unfolds these things in the unique event that it is according to the structure that it has.  This conversation that we’re having, see those bricks over there on the wall?  The timber of the sound of our voices, the acoustics of this room, is an origami of our voices and those bricks.  Our voices have folded the bricks into themselves and unfolded it in a new vibration of sound.  Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.

It might be better– I haven’t decided yet –to say that everything is a wave.  A wave is continuous with the water in which it occurs, yet distinct.  It both folds the currents of wind and water into itself and unfolds them in a rolling pattern across a plane.  It both arises from that plane but is distinct from it and changes it.  The dreams you told me about earlier are now a wave in me, folded into me, becoming something other yet remaining those dreams.

B:  [The scissors pause, stunned silence]  That’s so cool, man!  [He looks at his scissors and about the room]  It’s like everything is digesting everything else.  These walls have the past, music history [they’re covered with music posters], all these conversations and happenings folded into them.  That’s so cool, man.  Wow.

When the Barber said, it’s “like everything is digesting everything else” I almost croaked: this very notion that the universe is itself nothing but appetite, a great machinic feeding and ingesting machine, churning, grinding, folding, eating, regurgitating, etc. seemed more like one of Jonathan Swift’s satires; and, yet, much of the cosmic horror is of just that sense of a Darwinian blood and claw, predatorial universe of pure appetitive energy – and endless festival of death, the grotesque, and the macabre. Along with the notion or concept of fold one should bring in the sense of absorption, too.

In his work on Kabbalah, Absorbing Perfections, Moshe Idel in relating how texts and objects absorb each other we discover the absorbing quality of Shakespeare or of Joyce. Strong authors, like sacred texts, can be defined as those with the capacity to absorb us. To “absorb,” in American English, means several related processes: to take something in as through the pores, or to engross one’s full interest or attention, or to assimilate fully. Idel defines his use of “absorbing” as follows:

I use this term in order to convey the expanding comprehensiveness of the concept of the text of kabbalah or torah which, moving to the center of the Jewish society, also integrated attributes reminiscent of wider entities like the world or God. This expansion facilitated the attribution of more dynamic qualities to the text conceived of as capable of allowing various types of influences on processes taking place in the world, in God, and in the human psyche.3

In this he is conceiving his text as influencing what takes place in the world and in the human psyche (i.e., extrinsic and intrinsic relations), and even in God, if there is God. Shakespeare, like the Bible or Dante or the Zohar, absorbs us even as we absorb him, or them. Historicizing Hamlet or Lear breaks down very quickly: they themselves are the perfections that absorb us all.

This notion of being absorbed even as we absorb is a different twist on the old Gnostic notion or insight of knowing even as we are known which entails not a mental but appetitive act of intellect that both projects and introjects without dissolving the other, but rather as in digesting, mulching, thinking through and absorbing the sparks or vagrant fugitive thoughts – as substantive rather than immaterial – of the other, and making them part of one’s physical as well as mental being. One can imagine how this might play out in a supernatural horror scenario. One can as well think of the origins of life, cellular life of the membrane: the early introjection/projection of substance interactions that shaped the autonomy of a form necessary to both absorb and be absorbed; absorbing sustenance and nutrients, as well as expulsing them as byproducts to be absorbed by another substance. An endless mulching and scatological defecation is life at its raw minimal. One thinks of books like Nick Lane. The Vital Question: Why Is Life the Way It Is?; or, Johnjoe McFadden. Life on the Edge; or, David Toomey,  Weird Life: The Search for Life That Is Very, Very Different from Our Own… and many others.

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Such notions of absorption and folding make me think of a film from my childhood, The Blob, with Steve McQueen. The plot of this film depicts a growing corrosive alien amoeba that crashes from outer space in a meteorite and engulfs, absorbs, and folds in, and dissolves citizens in the small community of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. But before I get away with myself let’s hone back in on Levi’s post: the key here is when Levi says: “Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.” That brings me by circuitous route back to Ligotti’s statement on Lovecraft’s model of supernatural horror as the shading or folding into each other producing this coupling of both in a dance of being; yet, not dissolving or fusing them together where their unique and unitary forms or substance is compromised beyond repair, but rather as a dark gnosis in which they both form a relation to each other that is itself a new (non?)knowledge of things and each other; or, a folding or absorbing or non-knowing even as folded, absorbed, non-known (i.e., think of Bataille’s System of Non-Knowledge rather than Laurelle’s concept), etc.. This sense of horror as the overcoming of fear through ecstatic enmeshing and folding between the known (subject) and the unknown (object); or, even object to object relations, is the central motif of Lovecraftian model of horror: or, as I want to term it after Eugene Thacker, model of abstract horror – a horror of ideas/concepts beyond the emotive drag of terror and fear; or, rather the end point or telos of which fear is the active defense measure of the body’s protective systems, and the abstract as thought’s resistance to the force or drag of the body’s own counter-measures – a way of overcoming the basic reactions of flight or death.

I’ll stop for now… I need to begin a new research project to trace this down, dig deeper into the notion of the fold, and develop this connection or disconnection between the various philosophies and notions of how it applies to the model of horror – or, even to philosophy as horror (Thacker/Land).

Things to research:

  1. The theme of fold itself across various philosophers, histories, usage, domains, etc.
  2. Absorption and its history and uses in various critical and scientific forms, etc.
  3. The notions of causality: fold vs. occasionalism/parallelism
  4. Further research on the model of horror (reread Lovecraft’s works and his book length Supernatural Horror), and Ligotti’s texts, Deleuze’s The Fold, and works of other philosophers…

  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 210). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things (p. 19). Open Court. Kindle Edition.
  3. Professor Moshe Idel. Absorbing Perfections: Kabbalah and Interpretation (pp. xiii-xiv). Yale University Press (June 10, 2002)

 

 

 

 

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