The Nightmare of History

The Great Transition:

Breakthrough or Breakdown?

I think one of my fascinations with horror is that we are in the midst of a great transition, a crisis in human history the likes of which has not been faced before. I think a lot of this is a reflection on our current world view, the crisis of the whole World System of Enlightenment: Progress (i.e., human perfectibility), Humanism (i.e., Man as the Center and Circumference of meaning, etc.), and our Scientific-Technological paradigm under the thumb of the Market is breaking down or breaking through the ideological edifice that has ruled Nationalism, Politics, and the Socio-Cultural spectrum since the Enlightenment. All of this has failed, and people are grasping at anything to hold onto that will give their lives meaning, even if it is pure and unadulterated Weird and Eerie inventions out of the Impossible. Irrationalism is everywhere, while extreme modes of hyper-rationalism as in Reza Negarestani’s Spirit and Intelligence are pushing the inhumanism of another sort. It’s a tale as old as humans… just played out with a different set of props on a new stage awaiting its final telling…

Ever since Nietzsche formulated the notion of nihilism (which had been there before him, he just crystalized it), thinkers, artists, philosophers, writers… all have grappled with this non-meaning and valueless indifference and impersonalism of the universe without the old myths of God(s). We’re alone, without recourse in a realm that knows us not, and could care less one way or the other. Scientists have followed this trail into both the most distant macro-vision and the closest micro-vision of the empirical universe till our instruments fail. Philsophers pushed both the Continental and Analytical streams of linguistic, structural, post-structural modes of thought to their anti-realist implosion. Now we seem to exist on the edge of a Post-Kantian world-view that has yet to establish a language: a theory of meaning. So that we have entered what my friend the skeptic R. Scott Bakker terms a “crash space” in which there is a mere cacophony of competing voices vying in the black hole of non-meaning (nihilism). Knowledge has failed in a world that has accumulated more of it than at any other time in history.

Modernism was the last gasp of the dying regime as T.S. Eliot bequeathed: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins…” (The Wasteland). This sense of desperation in all those artists who sought to hold fast to what remained of the humanistic heritage, plug up the holes in leaky system that was plunging into ruins and chaos. Yet, if failed, and the deluge of post-modernity (so-called) swept away the failures and produced a successive set of destructive-deconstructive demolitions that would wipe out all trace of going back, returning to the worlds of humanistic intent and security. Instead satire, cynicism, despair, and pessimism began their long descent into closure to the point that the last great voice of that era, Samuel Beckett would opine: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” A sort of courage of our hopelessness…

We seek a way out, and find none. We ponder the realization of human defeat by its own hand as the Anthropcene enters the great Sixth Extinction that scientists say is now happening. We have climate degradation, and a multitude of othere natural and man-made disasters that seem always just at the edge of our awareness. All of this makes reality itself in our time the greatest horror story ever told. It’s like James Joyce once said:

‘History…  is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’

Many will till their dying breath seek to discover a way forward, a way to survive the depredations ahead of us. Many will struggle and many will die. The earth has been around a long time and was here before us, and will be here after us. We as humans are truly at the point that we must decide how to proceed. The Left nor Right hold the answers to our dilemma. There is no political fix for our present predicament. What we face is truly the unknown as unknown. We must move toward this new world with our eyes open, shedding all the self-deceptions and biases that have brought us to the point of self-annihilation. Without a clearing of the house of knowledge and thought we will be left in a civil-war across our planet. This is a time for renewal, a time to awaken those deep forces of emergent thought that can meet the unknown without grasping for our old failed ways. It’s up to us, no one else can do it for us. There is no would-be savior going to arise in our midst and show us the light. The only light left to us is the nihil light of emptiness and the void.

Two tendencies in critical horror…


Matt Cardin in his essay on Ligotti makes mention of the diametric appraisal of H.P. Lovecraft’s early and late work, Ligotti favoring the early unreal and more fantastic tales while Joshi favors the documentary realism of the later Chthulu and other tales:

“The upshot of the matter, generally speaking, is that Ligotti thinks Lovecraft was at his worst in the very stories where Joshi thinks he was at his best.”
– The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets: The Influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Thomas Ligotti

As much as I admire S.T. Joshi for his years of dedication in reviving interest in Lovecraft, and critical/biographical studies on other major horror writers, there’s always seemed a pervasive adherence in his work to a strict secular and atheistic aesthetic; an almost dogmatic, vision and judgment concerning various authors in some hierarchy and ranking system that just doesn’t seem part of the traditional literature of criticism from Dr. Johnson to Harold Bloom. His economical expression and the overarching need to filter the more unreal and fantastical elements through his Enlightenment gaze seems to have left certain aspects of this tradition in a state of invisibility. I’ll have to say I agree with Ligotti that it is in the early tales that Lovecraft’s work shines, allows the drifts from the Outside to seep in unhinged by any filters of Reason and strict economy of ethical evaluation. But as in all things maybe the divine Oscar Wilde in his usual witty tone is correct:

“Two men look out a window. One sees mud, the other sees the stars.” ~ Oscar Wilde