The Uncanny Guest

The pessimist’s credo, or one of them, is that nonexistence never hurt anyone and existence hurts everyone. Although our selves may be illusory creations of consciousness, our pain is nonetheless real.

—Thomas Ligotti

Susan Lepselter speaking of the American Weird says: “The content of these stories varies, but their themes keep circling back to a sense that life in America is shaped by some ineffable, enormous power, a power that can be seen only in the patterns of its effects.”

If there were a central theme running through the gamut of the modern weird it would be this sense of a disturbing force, an uncanny intelligence just outside our awareness which has designs upon us and our lives. A force not of some older religious notions of gods or Gods, but of something felt but not seen, a malevolence at the heart of things, a vibrant and uncanny life just below the threshold of consciousness that seems to filter in from elsewhere not like some older theological creature so codified by the order of various traditional religions, but rather of some darker and unknown – or, even, yet to be known forces, a power that cannot be named so much as felt in the shadows of our haunted dreams and lives.

Freud would plunder the work of Schopenhauer and other Nineteenth Century thinkers, poets, philosophers and construct a theory around this uncanny guest: the death drive, a dark and ever apparent force shaping our lives through subtle transactions of repetitive and uncanny motions leading us through various decisions, indecisions, anxieties, love, hate, dread, fear, and many other affective relations toward that as Shakespeare would call it in a beautiful metaphor – the “unknown country” of death.

I’ve always been fascinated by the term Supernatural Horror ever since I read H.P. Lovecraft’s book of that name, and its history of authors who were for the most part non-believers and atheists who used the supernatural not as a belief system but rather as a unconcept or negative hole in aesthetics to define the Unknown beyond which we cannot think much less reason. And, yet, we’re driven to know what it is that affects us from this uncanny region of the Unknown. Why? Most atheists try to tell us that death is it, that once you die you just fall back into the rotting entropy of universal decay that is our Universe. And, yet, even those who proclaim being atheists at times turn skeptic and wonder about it, try to escape it, try to reason it out and shed light on it to assuage the rest of the vast majority who seem caught up in the irrational superstitions of our moment.

I think of all those strange television programs and books from popular culture dealing with Ghosts, UFO’s, Ancient Aliens, Conspiracy, etc. as if these people who hunt such things down using the latest technological toys were actually uncovering the dark Unknown in our midst. Obviously these programs are money makers and draw vast crowds to watch them, go to conventions, etc.. Why are people in an age that was supposed to have alleviated the anxieties of the old religions given over to so much irrationalism? For two hundred years philosophers, poets, thinkers, and literary types of every stripe have offered various thoughts, stories, etc. upon this very thing. And, yet, it seems to continue unabated, migrating into new and stranger territory. Why?

Of late been collecting works on just that and realizing no matter how we try to define this liminal zone of the uncanny, marvelous, fantastic, Supernatural, etc. it is still with us and not going away anytime soon. Book after book deal with it from various aesthetic to scientific angles. Amazing academic works that seem to churn out theory after theory which only complicate the problem rather than solving it. Even stranger is that in a time such as ours as the political and social and economic systems seem to be decaying into ruins around us this other realm of the uncanny seems to have shifted into high gear, producing in the vast majority of non-readers a sense of cultural anxiety and fear of the Unknown which is gathering every sort of irrational notion into the mix. What does it all mean?

I’ve always been fascinated by this strange world and its attraction on us. More from someone who long ago overcame my own religious heritage and its irrational baggage which seemed more about social control and fear than about its purported offerings of salvation and redemption. As the thinkers of the Nineteenth Century knew we seem to be in love with our chains, and freedom from those illusions and delusions, deceptions and cultural lies are the last thing that most humans are seeking. Freedom entails a lonely world leading only toward the Unknown without anything to anchor one’s beliefs or thoughts. Few will ever be free..

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