Lovecraft and the Great Outside

Lovecraft and the Great Outside

Time produces itself in a circuit, passing through the virtual interruption of what is to come, in order that the future which arrives is already infected, populated…

—Nick Land, Fanged Noumena

As Eugene Thacker suggests Lovecraft not only sought to break down the barriers between the natural and supernatural, he saw what we’ve mistakenly confused with religious vision (i.e., the supernatural) as that hidden part of the natural (noumenal) that our brains because of some malformed evolutionary design blanked out, filtered out, and left in the dark:

“[Lovecraft] implicitly makes the argument that not only is there no distinction between the natural and supernatural, but that what we sloppily call “supernatural” is simply another kind of nature, but one that lies beyond human comprehension – not in a relative but in an absolute sense. Herein lies the basis of what Lovecraft called “cosmic horror” – the paradoxical realization of the world’s hiddenness as an absolute hiddenness.”1

Our neuroanatomy has disallowed us direct access to the hiddenness of the world. One might with the Speculative Realists say it this way, that the hiddenness of the world is revealed to us indirectly by way of allurement and sincerity (Harman). Levels of abstraction of levels of the Real separate us from direct contact with the actual objects of this dark realm of volcanic energy. What we perceive with the senses is the sensual profiles of this hidden matrix of energetic existence in its flamboyant and extravagant excess. Bataille termed this hidden energetic field “the evil of energy,” the excess and creative powers and dispositions of the unknown as unknown (Land).

Lovecraft in one of his letters tell us:

“Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests are emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form – and the local human passions and conditions and standards – are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. 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…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.” (Dust, p. 80)

What he’s saying here is that the laws humans have contrived in the sciences are of local interest only rather than universalization of some cosmic truth that is fixed and timeless. Secondly is the premise that our little fictions and humanizations are defense systems we’ve built to protect us from the great Outside, and that the universe-without-us is both indifferent to our human feelings and unbounded from our human thoughts, that we exist within the protective or magic circle of a system of scientific and philosophical or religious fictions that protect us from the “hideous unknown – the shadow-haunted Outside”. If we are to ever come into contact with this absolute Outside we must think it against the human; for it is the circle of existence for-us that keeps us from attaining a knowledge of the great Outside without-us.

For Lovecraft humans had been domesticated from the beginnings of our early Agricultural civilization, our severance from the ties to the extravagant and unruly world of un-reason and nature – the thing from the unbounded outside, the ‘delirium without origin’ of Dionysiac madness which is intimately related to the ‘delirium of origins’ that unfounds the security systems of thought. We’ve been taught to forget the madness of Being – the ‘plague’ of madness, the intoxication of the poet, the ‘eruption of the pathological’ that comes from outside, from the same unconscious and impersonal forces as the strewing of the stars, because it brings chaos to human civilization which must be ruled by the iron fist of Reason. So the magic circle or temenos of Reason encircled humanity in logic and its protective protocols against the madness of those creative and unruly forces of the Outside.

For millennia this ‘cut’ this separation and disconnection from the Outside was foisted on the masses by rulers, priests, and warriors; hierarchies of rigid castes and Laws were enacted to curtail the madness, and make of the mass majority of humans slaves and servitors of this force of Reason against the Outside. After millennia and the work of the philosophers, priests, and lawyers humans were molded under the tutelage of this logic of death and protection to the point it was normalized, even ‘hypernormalized’. We forgot the outside, forgot our animality, our origins in the great Outside. Instead we became slaves of rulers who denied us access to our original natures, broke us like wild horses, tamed us to the servitude of work, procreation, and mindless superstition.

Reality was sanitized, made sane for the masses so that the madness of un-reason would be forgotten, anathematized and controlled through ritual, initiation, and Law. The human was a construction project that was millennia in the making, and even now as it is becoming unhinged, losing its hold, as the Outside begins to seep into the magic circle once again and chaos is exposed – the thermospasm of temporal reactivation of the unbounded Outside implodes upon our techno-commercial civilization – we cringed in horror at the collapse of futurial intelligence as it frees us from the great patterns that have codified and locked our lives in a grand fiction for ten thousand years.

We are being reprogrammed from the Outside in by a vast assemblage of intelligences from a future that is collapsing upon us even now: immanent reprogrammings of the real are effectuating the dissolution of this Agricultural complex of the ‘human’  that has for far too long entrapped the creature we are in a security system of Laws and Regulations. ‘Positive feedback is a source of instability, leading if unchecked to the destruction of the system itself’ writes one neoWienerean, in strict fidelity to the security cybernetics which continues to propagate an antidelirial technoscience caged within negative feedback, and attuned to the statist paranoia of a senescing industrialism.2

As Thacker maintains, for Lovecraft civilization as bounded by Reason is a magic circle in which the metaphysical principle remains in effect, but the magic circle itself disappears. (Dust, p. 81) We’ve lived within this magic circle of Reason for so long that we’ve come to accept that it is what keeps us sane, keeps us safe, protects us from the madness of the great Outside. Instead many of us are beginning to realize that it is Reason itself that has become our prison keeper, the hidden circumference and horizon of a magic circle of thought beyond which we dare not tread lest we lose our minds to the unknown as unknown. And, yet, it is this very Outside that we need to free ourselves of the magic circle of enslavement to a temporal cave that has locked us in a hideous warzone of aggression, madness, and utter terror for millennia under the tutelage of both religion and philosophy, law and tyranny. Agricultural civilization which has become unhinged in its accelerating industrial invariant is reaching the outer limits of its secure and inhuman magic barriers. What lies outside is slowly seeping into the cracks and gaps, the tears and folds within the broken circle of magic that enslaves us releasing all those aspects of our unnatural being that have been forgotten and outlawed for so long. Thacker will ask what magic is this that has bound us in a mental prison for so long,

It is a kind of non-human, anonymous “magic” without any “circle” to inscribe it. What would this mean? For one, it implies that any magic without a circle is also a magic without human agents to cause, control, or utilize magic. But what would magic without the human mean? What would it mean to have revealed to us the hiddenness of the world without any human to evoke that revelation? (Dust, p. 81)

Indeed, what is the world outside the human prison of this magic circle, what is the world without-us? And, more important, what are we without the imprisoning thought of the ‘human’? For so many millennia we’ve been schooled and trained to believe we are human, that our lives have been humanized by civilization and Reason. If we were to suddenly break free of the magic circle of this thought what then? Would we become un-human, in-human, anti-human?

As Eugene Thacker tells it – in “From Beyond” Lovecraft’s characters are suspended in a strange no-place that is neither the normative, human world of scientific laws and therapeutic religion, nor is it the purely supernatural domain of the heavens or the underworld. Once the device is turned on, they cease to be in the magic circle per se, as it is impossible to distinguish the world outside from the world inside the circle. They seem to almost swim about in a thick, viscous ether of unknown dimensions. In Ito’s Uzumaki the magic circle as a symbol diffuses into the world itself, to the point that it infects both the natural world and the very thoughts of the characters. This strange disappearing act of the circle already gives us a clue to our earlier question of magic without the circle. In particular, what is revealed in such instances is not just the world understood scientifically. What is revealed is a world that is neither quite natural nor supernatural, not quite the normal “here and now” and not quite the unknowable “beyond.” Perhaps, instead of a magic circle, we have something like a magic site. (Dust, pp. 81-82)

Deleuze/Guattari would speak of this as the schizophrenizing process of capitalist civilization as it accelerates beyond the magic limits of its encircling power, a magic site or place where the hiddenness of the world presents itself in its paradoxical way (revealing itself – as hidden). (Dust, p. 82) As Thacker relates it:

The magic site need not be on sacred ground, and it need not have special buildings or temples constructed for it. It can be in the darkest, most obscure, hidden caverns or underground fissures. It may be an accidental or unintentional site – the site of an archaeological dig, the site of a mining operation, the site of a forest or underground subway tunnel. Whereas the magic circle involves an active human governance of the boundary between the apparent world and the hidden world, the magic site is its dark inverse: the anonymous, unhuman intrusion of the hidden world into the apparent world, the enigmatic manifesting of the world-without-us into the world-for-us, the intrusion of the Planet into the World. If the magic circle is the human looking out and confronting the unhuman, anonymous, hidden world, then the magic site is that hidden world looking back at us. (Dust, p. 82)

What is looking back at us, knower and known – is the very truth of our own inhuman, unnatural excess: the being of our Being as monstrous Other, as the Outside from which we’ve been barred for far too long. As Thacker puts it: “It is not surprising, then, that whereas the magic circle evokes vaguely anthropoid creatures (demons, ghosts, the dead), the magic site creeps forth with entities that are neither animate nor inanimate, neither organic nor inorganic, neither material nor ideal.” (Dust, p. 82)

For Deleuze and Guattari this magic site is what they’d term the ‘Mechanosphere’:

What we call the mechanosphere is the set of all abstract machines and machinic assemblages outside the strata, on the strata, or between strata. … The plane of consistency is the intersection of all concrete forms. Therefore all becomings are written like sorcerers’ drawings on this plane of consistency, which is the ultimate Door providing a way out for them. This is the only criterion to prevent them from bogging down, or veering into the void. The only question is: Does a given becoming reach that point? Can a given multiplicity flatten and conserve all its dimensions in this way, like a pressed flower that remains just as alive dry? Lawrence, in his becoming-tortoise, moves from the most obstinate animal dynamism to the abstract, pure geometry of scales and “cleavages of division,” without, however, losing any of the dynamism: he pushes becoming-tortoise all the way to the plane of consistency. Everything becomes imperceptible, everything is becoming-imperceptible on the plane of consistency, which is nevertheless precisely where the imperceptible is seen and heard. It is the Planomenon, or the Rhizosphere, the Criterium (and still other names, as the number of dimensions increases). At n dimensions, it is called the Hypersphere, the Mechanosphere. It is the abstract Figure, or rather, since it has no form itself, the abstract Machine of which each concrete assemblage is a multiplicity, a becoming, a segment, a vibration. And the abstract machine is the intersection of them all.3

It’s in this sense that we’ve been locked into a sub-dimensional basement or prison torture chamber, that the ‘human’ – and, with it human civilization has all along been a magic circle of Time that has kept us safely separated from the vast unknown of the Mechanosphere. For what reason? Under whose governance? Why did we enter into this realm of black magic to begin with, lock ourselves away in a cage of Time like rats in a sewer? Bounded by a rhizospheric circle with no means of escape since all paths led back into the magic circle rather than to the Outside. A vast labyrinth of Time in which we’ve played at what Game – whose rules? As Deleuze/Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus surmise,

This is Cosmos philosophy, after the manner of Nietzsche. The molecular material has even become so deterritorialized that we can no longer even speak of matters of expression, as we did in romantic territoriality. Matters of expression are superseded by a material of capture. The forces to be captured are no longer those of the earth, which still constitute a great expressive Form, but the forces of an immaterial, nonformal, and energetic Cosmos.

They’ll continue…

The problem is no longer that of the beginning, any more than it is that of a foundation-ground. It is now a problem of consistency or consolidation: how to consolidate the material, make it consistent, so that it can harness unthinkable, invisible, nonsonorous forces. Debussy … Music molecu-larizes sound matter and in so doing becomes capable of harnessing nonsonorous forces such as Duration and Intensity. Render Duration sonorous. Let us recall Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return as a little ditty, a refrain, but which captures the mute and unthinkable forces of the Cosmos. We thus leave behind the assemblages to enter the age of the Machine, the immense mechanosphere, the plane of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed.

They will speak of a building an apparatus, a musical synthesizer that will replace the old philosophical distinctions of figure/ground with a musical variant, an energetic sound-machine that will open us to the great Outside:

By assembling modules, source elements, and elements for treating sound (oscillators, generators, and transformers), by arranging microintervals, the synthesizer makes audible the sound process itself, the production of that process, and puts us in contact with still other elements beyond sound matter. It unites disparate elements in the material, and transposes the parameters from one formula to another. The synthesizer, with its operation of consistency, has taken the place of the ground in a priori synthetic judgment: its synthesis is of the molecular and the cosmic, material and force, not form and matter, Grund and territory. Philosophy is no longer synthetic judgment; it is like a thought synthesizer functioning to make thought travel, make it mobile, make it a force of the Cosmos (in the same way as one makes sound travel). (KL 7173)

Or as Land a student of Deleuze/Guattari puts it: Since confluent zero consummates fiction, reprogramming arrival from the terminus, everything that has happened escapes its sediment of human interpretation, disorganizationally integrating historical patterns as the embryogenesis of an alien hyperintelligence… Humanity is a compositional function of the post-human, and the occult motor of the process is that which only comes together at the end:

Singularity draws nigh!


  1. Thacker, Eugene. In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1. John Hunt Publishing (August 26, 2011) (p. 80).
  2. Land, Nick. Robin Mackay/Ray Brassier (eds.) Fanged Noumena: Collected Essays 1987-2007. Urbanomic/Sequence Press (July 1, 2013) (Page 298).
  3. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus (Kindle Locations 5254-5263). A&C Black. Kindle Edition.

7 thoughts on “Lovecraft and the Great Outside

  1. There’s a good deal of Hobbesian mistakenness in the Lovecraftian Outside (to the extent that it’s dealing with the pre-civilised, pre-agricultural world). Whatever the harsh realities of life close to nature, we know now that Hobbes’ view of the human state of nature as being ‘solitary’ is absurd. That going out the window, it takes with it a significant chunk of his view of it being a state of ‘war of all against all’. The more thorough the anthropology you read, the more it looks like Hobbes was projecting apparent and nascent (capitalist) tendencies from his own time, a time of the acceleration of modern psychic and social atomisation. I wonder if there’s an element of this projection in Lovecraft? The projection of ‘nascent tendencies’ being Land’s ‘virtual interruption’ from the future, and the archaic past being a screen for these displaced, acute perceptions of present and future insanity. Hobbes thought that without ‘law’, a naively extreme image of ‘lawlessness’ prevailed – which simply revealed his civilised attachment to law. So Lovecraft’s visions of Outside madness are to a significant extent a part of (because a reaction against) Reason.

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    • It is true that in one of his letters Lovecraft admits his pedigree: “I can be regarded as a product of the old line of sceptics beginning with the Greek atomists and Epicureans and linked to the present by such figures as Hobbes, Voltaire, Diderot, Hume, and the later groups centering in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Huxley and Haeckel. (SL 2.335)”1

      The concept of the Outside is a limit concept (i.e., it is the limit or horizon of thought itself, or the ratio of Reason beyond which nothing can be thought, etc.). For Lovecraft the Outside fits into that debate over Kant’s notion of the human world “for-us” as against the noumenal or non-human and unthinkable “world-in-itself”:

      “Reason as we may, we cannot destroy a normal perception of the highly limited and fragmentary nature of our visible world of perception and experience as scaled against the outside abyss of unthinkable galaxies and unplumbed dimensions—an abyss wherein our solar system is the merest dot (by the same local principle that makes a sand-grain a dot as compared with the whole planet earth) no matter what relativistic system we may use in conceiving the cosmos as a whole… “(SL 3.294)

      Obviously your attack on Hobbes and Lovecraft comes from your own presumed defense of other lines of thought as if yours was the truth and they are in error, etc. That kind of debate will go on and on for humans, and I’ll not argue with you over whose right, etc. No one is right or wrong since most of our so to speak philosophical speculations, and even scientific axioms are not universal and are open to revision rather than being eternal truths. So no one has the corner on truth and error. You can defend your position to doomsday but it only tells me that yours is just as absurd as the absurdity you impugn onto Hobbes and Lovecraft.

      Lovecraft is fairly explicit on his notions as in this definitive statement:

      “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 me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form—and the local human passions and conditions and standards—are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. 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)

      The passage above disputes your notion that Lovecraft is projecting his own human notions onto the Outside, since this is the very thing he attacks in others: their anthropomorphic stance to which “we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold”.

      This so called notion of “Law” is itself succinctly the age old notion of the ground or “sufficient reason” – that everything that exists has a reason for existing, etc. Of recent Quentin Meillassoux among others have attacked this old notion in such thinkers as Hume. It all comes down to the fact that the universe is not reasonable, and reason is itself a imposition from our local human forms of thought bound to our terrestrial perspective which we’d love to believe are universal and exist everywhere in the Universe at large. Yet, many like Meillassoux would argue for contingency rather than reason and law. Again, this is a debate that could go on forever like all philosophical thought. The sciences have no universal truths, only theory and praxis open to revision and further testing, etc. Philosophy on the other hand is a human praxis open to error in every age.

      1. Joshi, S. T.. H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West (Kindle Locations 311-314). Wildside Press LLC. Kindle Edition.

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      • I wasn’t claiming any direct influence, but not surprising that Hobbes is there in his list, since he was so influential.

        I’m not steeped in the philosophical history of ‘Outside’, but certainly my attack here was limited (‘to the extent that it’s dealing with the pre-civilised, pre-agricultural world’ – human world I might have added). My point says nothing about cosmological knowledge, or about aspects of the world occluded by our nervous systems – just about the extent to which ‘Reason’ is figured as an artefact of civilisation, and thus a kind of ‘madness’ is attributed to pre-civilised cultures. It becomes a different debate when we get to the aspects of ‘Outside’ which are to do with leaving humanity and terrestriality behind, as well as civilisation – but I thought enough was made in your post of the civilised aspect of ‘Inside’ for the Hobbes angle to be worth mentioning. There’s a 190,000 year gap between ‘civilisation’ and our pre-human ancestors.

        Obviously your attack on Hobbes and Lovecraft comes from your own presumed defense of other lines of thought as if yours was the truth and they are in error, etc.

        Not quite sure where this came from! It’s not the way I think at all. I thought I put all the right caveats and qualifying phrases in to be clear, but hey ho.

        I thought it might open up a productive line of thought, since hunter-gatherer ontologies are genuinely different to agricultural ones – it’s just that our perception of the difference is encrusted with a lot of prejudices, borne of the cycle of demonisation and romanticisation (I think they come into being together) and of the relatively recent arrival of anthropology that gets past this cycle to some extent. Certainly their conceptions of humanness and otherness can only enrich our ideas of the Outside, and perhaps highlight here and there where we’ve projected. I would have thought a tough, thorough approach to weeding out projections (or at least highlighting danger areas in this respect) would be central to any attempt to approach the Outside, since almost by definition it’s the most perfect possible screen for projection. No argument from me against the idea that this is an ongoing project 😉

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      • Actually the Outside is just another of those terms (more explicit) from a materialist position (not reductionary or physicalist but energetic: base materialism) replacing terms as Absolute, etc. I’ll agree that we’re all blind to our own inner processes (neuroprocessual), as well as to the Other of cultures – primitive, etc. This is one of the arguments of Eduardo Viveiros in his Cannibal Metaphysics. in which he argues that our false Universalization of thought is a thing of the past, the Enlightenment, and that the new mission of philosophy or anthropology or any other thought-form is the theory/ practice of the permanent decolonization of thought.

        “To see the others from within their perspective, as the shamans of old did.” This sense that we are locked up in false thought-worlds that have up to now given us mastery over ourselves and the world, but in our time have become sources and causes of problems rather than solutions. Reason itself being one of the main problems we must address: its instrumental mastery is becoming destructive rather than creative in its overreach and excessive acceleration into optimized intelligence leading to an Automatic Society that has no need of humans. Automation, Superintelligence, Robotics, Nanotech, Biotech, ICT’s … any number of convergence technologies is leading us into a world without us. The death of the human is on the horizon. Yet, that’s only a tendency, not some final determinism as some might suggest (as you used telos above). A disposition, tendency, etc. are not iron clad deterministic telos base systems, but rather the pattern and potential that could if allowed to continue in its direction unfold. Think of Deleuze’s book The Fold on Leibniz.

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      • I’ve not read Viveiros de Castro yet, though I sort of followed his exchanges with David Graeber. I think this perspectivism was something I held to when I was much younger, and completely outside the academic frame. Funnily enough, now academia is getting more serious about it, I’m at a stage where I’m questioning its naivety. I have a lot of time for Graeber’s objections, and found this piece by Rane Willerslev crucial for qualifying our serious respect for indigenous beliefs: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/36/61261/laughing-at-the-spirits-in-north-siberia-is-animism-being-taken-too-seriously/

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