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

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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)

 

 

 

 

Surrealism and H.P. Lovecraft

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In my readings of the underbelly of 19th and 20th Century literature of late from the decadents to the surrealists, gothic to punk I came across an interesting little history of Surrealism by Patrick Lepetit The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism: Origins, Magic, and Secret Societies which mentions the exile period during WWII when many of the French Surrealists moved to America during that dark time. He speaks of their involvement in many various materialist rituals and practices both playful and serious within their tight knit community. Surrealists were interested in materialist and atheistic forms of the sacred and visionary, incorporating much of the darker elements of the ancient occult lore and hermetic alchemical traditions. They frowned on spiritualism and were adamant about a materialist form of ritual and practice. Officially the surrealist movement continued up to 1969. But even now many of its base notions have been incorporated by various artists and it continues to transform itself even in our era.

My interest in all of this has been to discover certain radical materialist discourses that used the various occultation material for its programs as well as experimental and heretical investigations into drugs, altered states of consciousness, arcane ritual and magical practices all based upon an atheistic challenge to monotheistic religious morality and official social norms. For Breton and his followers there was always a sense of revolutionary spirit underlying the transforming powers of consciousness and its use in art and materialist practices. History of the Surrealist Movement by French philosopher and art critic Gerard Durozoi is still the standard work of reference. But this one by Lepetit gives a nice overview of the magical elements within that history. It offers specific anecdotes, memoirs, fragments from journals, etc. Interesting.

At one point many of them came across the work of H.P. Lovecraft (himself a rationalist) and Lepetit shows how his new mythos impacted many of the surrealists of the age:

Inasmuch as we find ourselves among more or less malevolent powers, let’s add that the path of the surrealists during their American exile even crossed that of the Great Old Ones, Cthulhu, Dagon— the monstrous half-man, half-fish hybrid that makes a brief appearance in the Bible— Nyarlathotep, or Yog Sothoh, who had been awakened by the son of an Egyptian Rite Mason, Howard Phillips (H. P.) Lovecraft. Lovecraft, who was highly versed in the field of fantasy literature, as shown by his book Supernatural Horror in Literature, was the author of texts he called “Gothic horrors,” which possess elements reminiscent of Lautréamont, namely through their “horrifying reversal of the Christian thematic.”  Robert Allerton Parker was the first to devote a text to the author of “The Dunwich Horror,” with “Such Pulp as Dreams Are Made On” (which also examined the work of Lovecraft’s friend Clark Ashton Smith, whose name had already appeared in “First Papers of Surrealism” in issue 2– 3 of VVV in March 1943). Franklin Rosemont of the Chicago group and even Gérard Legrand in France were quick to follow suit; an article by Legrand, “H. P. L. and the Black Moon,” appeared in the first issue of Médium. In it Legrand writes, “Lovecraft’s grandeur resides in nothing less than the creation of a personal mythology that makes modern history look ridiculous. Scattered in pulp magazines until his death, this mythology is evidence of authentic occult knowledge treated with total freedom.” He then concludes this article, “Rarely has so much rigor been used to evoke abysses.” Robert Benayoun, in a brief item titled “Babel Revisited,” appearing in the fourth issue of Médium, sharply attacks the translator of an unnamed work by the “hermit of Providence,” but which could easily be The Color Out of Space, an ad for which appeared at the back of this same issue. Benayoun described the American’s “book . . . as spun from shadow” and saw in it “the greatest endeavor of collective panic of the half-century, the sure progression through the awareness of an anxiety drawn from the source of the ages.” He also took the trouble to praise the author’s “imperturbable, anachronistic, and solemn style.”

Legrand returned to this subject in La Brèche, n ° 8 (November 1965), adding, “Religious historians generally contain theosophists who don’t know it— those who Lovecraft criticized (not without naïveté) for their ‘blissful optimism.’” Remedios Varo, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and the future leader of the Phases group, Edouard Jaguer— contrary to Breton— also greatly esteemed the American, according to the testimony left by Jaguer personally in his book Le Surréalisme face à la littérature (Surrealism at the Hands of Literature),  as did Yves Elléouët. While deploring Lovecraft’s rudimentary style, Julien Gracq, who seems to have particularly liked “Dagon,” also felt Lovecraft was participating in the renewal of the novel by the efforts of imagination his books presume,  whereas Mandiargues reports in Le Cadran lunaire  on “the success of Lovecraft’s once scorned writings and of the audience granted to the people of his school.” Finally, Sarane Alexandrian, in his Histoire de la philosophie occulte (History of Occult Philosophy), makes this observation, whose full importance we shall see later: “A book on twentieth-century gnosis should also include the fantasy novelist H. P. Lovecraft, who was inspired by the Syriac text by Teodor bar Konaï on manicheism.” Konaï was the eighth-century author of a Liber Scholiorum, which “stands out,” Jean Doresse tells us, “by the strange nature of certain heresies it helped save from oblivion.”1


  1. Lepetit, Patrick (2014-04-24). The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism: Origins, Magic, and Secret Societies (pp. 114-115). Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.

H.P. Lovecraft: Aesthete of Cosmic Fear

“The exemplary figure of Evil are today not ordinary consumers who pollute the environment and live in a violent world of disintegrating social links, but those (top managers, etc.) who, while fully engaged in creating conditions for such universal devastation and pollution, exempt themselves from the results of their own activity, living in gated communities, eating organic food, taking holidays in wild preserves… ”
– Slavoj Zizek, on M Night Shyamalan’s Village

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”
– J. G. Ballard

H.P. Lovecraft once said that tradition was the only defense humans had against a sense of cosmic loneliness and an even deeper “devastating sense of “lostness” in endless time & space.” He was a Lover of the strange and fantastic; abstract truth and scientific logic; and, all that was ancient and permanent within human culture and tradition. He despised the Moderns and strove to create within his own life and writings an aesthetic of non-supernatural cosmic art.

It was Kant who presented us with the subjective sublime. The basic idea that experience of the sublime is a result of a subjective encounter with something which is absolutely great or absolutely menacing. He believed that the terrifying sublime is sometimes accompanied with a certain dread or melancholy; both adventurous and grotesque. For Kant the feeling of the sublime is experienced when our imagination fails to comprehend the vastness of the infinite and we become aware of the ideas of reason and their representation of the boundless totality of the universe, as well as those powers that operate in the universe which we do not grasp and are beyond our control.

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Erdenstein: At the Mountains of Madness – Music Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft

Sometimes it seems as if there was nothing new left to discover in the music scene. But then again, one comes across exciting projects like those of the Hamburg-based band Erdenstern. The three musicians exchanged the sound of electric guitars and drums for that of strings and kettledrums and the simple structure of rock songs for complex symphonic composition and arrangement.

The musical universe of Erdenstern can best be described as a crossover of classical and medieval-folkloristic elements on the level of contemporary movie soundtracks. Their musical approach is in the narrative tradition of many classical composers — atmospheres and images are created and the listener is taken onto a fantastic and adventurous journey.

Their latest album, At the Mountains of Madness, flows with an eeire atonal music full of dark mellifluous undertones and percussive beats that portend lonely seas and a secret voyage into the blackest recesses of the void. Disembodied voices – sirens from a distant realm, float among the broken chorals like dreams of a nebulous and infernal realm of being where only the mad find comfort. A melancology bent on total annihilation twists each silken thread of this hyperchaotic stream of musical dissonance into an adventure of the mind and imagination: an extreme and terrible beauty, that guides the listener deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of magic, science and speculative realism that Lovecraft has come to be known for.  One begins to follow each adventure of this magical tale of grotesque splendour into that snowbound world where the City of the Old Ones still exists in all its supernal majesty; with each song one imagines a new fragment of this vast underrealm of being and chaos will rise up from the bones and ashes of its former kingdom, and like a deadly virus it will awaken within your mind a terrible truth which will forever haunt you and bring you to that no-place of the unreal where all things dwell in utter solitude and abysmal rapture. The ritual drums of those tribes that have always watched over humanity from afar will escape from their cold and vital existence and once again become the great lords over our insiduous thoughts.

H.P. Lovecraft: The Spectral Art

“Atmosphere, not action, is the great desideratum of weird fiction.”
– H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft broke the modern Weird Tale into four distinctive types: (1) the Mood Tale, (2) the Pictorial Tale, (3) the General Tale, and, (4) the Dramatic tableau. He affirmed the idea that the Weird Tale fit two basic categories: “those in which the marvel or horror concerns some condition or phenomenon, and those in which it concerns some action of persons in connexion with a bizarre condition or phenomenon.”[1]

He also discovered five distinct elements within all weird tales:

a) some basic, underlying horror or abnormality;
b) the general effects or bearings of the horror;
c) the mode of manifestation – object embodying the horror and phenomenon observed;
d) the types of fear – reaction to the horror;
e) the specific effects of the horror in relation to the given set of conditions.

The most important thing for him was  “mood” and “atmosphere”:

“One cannot, except in immature pulp charlatan-fiction, present an account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions. Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to over come, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel.”

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Epicure of Pessimism: The Horror of Thomas Ligotti – Part II

“We are only passers by in this jungle of mutations and mistakes. The natural world existed when we did not, and it will continue to exist long after we are gone. The supernatural crept into life only when the door of consciousness was opened in our heads: the moment we stepped through that door, we walked out on nature.”
– Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

Matt Cardin in his recent essay, The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets, measuring the influence of H.P. Lovecraft’s life and writings upon Thomas Ligotti shows forth a distinct, if not core, leitmotif that has circulated in and out his horror fiction, interviews, and philosophical musings:

“I aspired toward nothing less than a pure style without style, a style having nothing whatsoever to do with the normal or abnormal, a style magic, timeless, and profound . . . and one of great horror, the horror of a god” (SOADD, p. 112). In other words, he was trying to burst the bonds of the written word… by writing a horror story that presented pure horror, the pristine experience in and of itself, on a veritably cosmic-divine level, and that would therefore be able to invade the reader’s experience and become, instead of just a story on a page, his or her existential reality. The attempt failed, of course, because it was necessarily founded upon the very unreality (of the world of fiction) that it was attempting to overcome. That is, the whole idea was a categorical impossibility. But the passion behind it was and is real in the minds of both the narrator and Ligotti himself…”

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Dark Vitalism and Lovecraft’s Philosophy of Nature

“In the beginning was nature. The background from which and against which our ideas of God were formed, nature remains the supreme moral problem.”
         – Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

 

H.P. Lovecraft, his materialism, and how it relates to certain problems within the new philosophical project of speculative realism was the central leitmotif within the discussions held at the Real Horror Symposium. As it states in the blurb the “symposium extends Graham Harman’s reading of cult gothic novelist H.P. Lovecraft in his essay “On the Horror of Phenomenology” and brings into question the relation between reality and horror. The proposition is that both horror and reality share a common ground and that horrific relations occur within the realm of realism.”

One paper caught my eye right off the bat by Ben Woodard: A Nature to Pulp the Stoutest Philosopher: Towards a Lovecraftian Philosophy of Nature. The formal drift of the essay as he relates it “sets out to propose a philosophy of nature in which the formal isolation of rationality is undone by the processes of an acidic materialism…”. Heady stuff indeed.

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