Lovecraft’s early work— up to 1926— is entirely routine and conventional, utilising supernatural or macabre elements with occasional competence but without transcendent brilliance. Nothing— not even “The Rats in the Walls” (1923), a model short story but really nothing more than a supremely able manipulation of Poe-like elements— could have prepared us for the quantum leap in power and range revealed suddenly in “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926). All Lovecraft critics are right to see in this tale the commencement of Lovecraft’s strongest and most typical vein of writing; but they may be right for the wrong reasons. Yes, of course, this is where we are first given a glimpse of Lovecraft’s ever-evolving myth-cycle; but, more important, it is his first truly “cosmic” work and one in which many of his principal concerns— our position in the cosmos; the state of civilisation; the role of history in human and cosmic affairs— are adumbrated.
—S. T. Joshi, The Weird Tale
On Lovecraft’s cosmic indifferentism:
Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. . . . To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown— the shadow-haunted Outside— we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold. (SL 2.150)
…there is another phase of cosmic phantasy (which may or may not include frank Yog-Sothothery) whose foundations appear to me as better grounded than those of ordinary oneiroscopy; personal limitation regarding the sense of outsideness. I refer to the aesthetic crystallisation of that burning & inextinguishable feeling of mixed wonder & oppression which the sensitive imagination experiences upon scaling itself & its restrictions against the vast & provocative abyss of the unknown. … The time has come when the normal revolt against time, space, & matter must assume a form not overtly incompatible with what is known of reality— when it must be gratified by images forming supplements rather than contradictions of the visible & mensurable universe. And what, if not a form of non-supernatural cosmic art, is to pacify this sense of revolt— as well as gratify the cognate sense of curiosity? (SL 3.294– 96)
As Joshi would say: “What this means is that natural law is a mental construct based upon current scientific knowledge; any defiance or suspension of it is only a defiance of our (incomplete and limited) conceptions of what is or is not possible in the universe.”1 Many in the scientific community have sought to pin the donkey’s tale onto a fixed and final theory of the universe, which in the end is just as banal and human as the superstitious musings of those Medieval scholastics that sought to discover how many angels could be fitted on the head of a needle. Humans would rather live in a security blanket of the known and safe, rather than risk living in a universe of complete hazard and the unknown. The cosmic indifferentist will instead suspend this blanket belief system of the human, chance the open and incomplete universe outside our constructed truths and axioms and seek out the extremities of the Unknown as the Unknown.
As Eugene Thacker in his In the Dust of This Planet puts it in the context of philosophy, the central question today is whether thought is always determined within the framework of the human point of view. What other alternatives lay open to us? One approach is to cease searching for some imaginary locus of the non-human “out there” in the world, and to refuse the well-worn dichotomy between self and world, subject and object. This is, of course, much easier said than done. In addition to the interpretive frameworks of the mythological (classical-Greek), the theological (Medieval-Christian), and the existential (modern-European), would it be possible to shift our framework to something we can only call cosmological? Could such a cosmological view be understood not simply as the view from inter-stellar space, but as the view of the world-without-us, the Planetary view?2
This sense of displacing the human, of decentering the modes of philosophical reflection from the human to the non-human, of gazing at the planetary system from the Outside in. This non-human turn toward the objects themselves, letting the non-human and inhuman gaze suspend our human thought and explore through a science-fictionalization of philosophical reflection the planet without-us rather than for-us. Would this not be to push past the anthropomorphisms and humanist forms of thought into a realm or dimension of thought that allows for a non-axiomatic post-phenomenological framework?
As Thacker suggests: “Horror is about the paradoxical thought of the unthinkable. In so far as it deals with this limit of thought, encapsulated in the phrase of the world-without-us, horror is “philosophical.””
- Joshi, S. T.. The Weird Tale: Arthur Machen/Lord Dunsany/Algernon Blackwood/M. R. James/Ambrose Bierce/H. P. Lovecraft Kindle Edition.
- Thacker, Eugene. In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1 (p. 7). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.