Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

Quote notes (#99)

In Chapter 70 of Moby Dick, Ahab addresses the severed head of a whale:

“Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which though ungarnished with beard, yet here and there look hoary with mosses, speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid the world’s foundation. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. …”

(No reason for this beyond indulgence.)

July 31, 2014admin 15 Comments »


They had buried him deep, shuddering all the while, scattering their incantations of protection on the accursed grave, as if to entomb their memories there, interring everything they had known in the infinitely forgiving clay. What they begged silently to forget, most of all, was the prophecy that when the stars were right he — it — would return for some hideous completion. Time passed, in the exact measure that had always been necessary, until the moonless night came, unheralded, and unstirred by the slightest breeze, when the stars were — in icy, twinkling fact — perfectly and pitilessly right

April 22, 2014admin 8 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Cosmos , Horror


There’s a post on H. P. Lovecraft’s extreme racism on the way, and given the abundance of stimulating material on the topic, a small taster is irresistible. This highly representative essay by Nicole Cushing serves as an occasion. She writes:

Broaching this subject is also difficult because it has to be handled with some nuance (which is difficult to achieve in a discussion of a topic as justifiably emotionally-charged as American racism). It would be too easy to point to Lovecraft’s racism (and some of his other failings as an author), and dismiss him as an undistinguished crackpot who deserved nothing better than publication in the pulps. I’m not going to do that here. My stance is that Lovecraft made an important contribution to horror and science fiction by focusing (in a persistent and compellingly imaginative way) on the terror induced by the revelation of human non-significance in the cosmos. […] Lovecraft has had a meaningful influence over horror fiction (in particular) for many years, an influence that transcends his racism. … All of this is just a long-winded way of explaining that Lovecraft’s racism doesn’t negate his accomplishments.

But his accomplishments don’t negate his racism. (Enter, cognitive dissonance).

Among the most fascinating aspects of this commentary is its blatant misdirection, since — of course — the phenomenon indicated has nothing whatsoever to do with cognitive dissonance. There is an encounter here with an abnormal species of literary genius, associated with profound metaphysical truth, which at the same time — and for inextricably tangled reasons — triggers a reaction of moral panic, tilting over into deep somatic revulsion. In other words, and perhaps even quite simply, what is being related by Nicole Cushing is — horror.

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January 9, 2014admin 48 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Discriminations , Horror
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An Enduring Faith

Nathaniel Hawthorne knew his Puritans (from The House of the Seven Gables):

“It appears to me,” said the daguerreotypist, smiling, “that Uncle Venner has the principles of Fourier at the bottom of his wisdom; only they have not quite so much distinctness, in his mind, as in that of the systematizing Frenchman.”

November 26, 2013admin 6 Comments »

Abstract Horror (Part 1)

When conceived rigorously as a literary and cinematic craft, horror is indistinguishable from a singular task: to make an object of the unknown, as the unknown. Only in these terms can its essential accomplishments be estimated.

To isolate the abstract purpose of horror, therefore, does not require a supplementary philosophical operation. Horror defines itself through a pact with abstraction, of such primordial compulsion that disciplined metaphysics can only struggle, belatedly, to recapture it. Some sublime ‘thing’ — abstracted radically from what it is for us — belongs to horror long before reason sets out on its pursuit. Horror first encounters ‘that’ which philosophy eventually seeks to know.

High modernism in literature has been far less enthralled by the project of abstraction than its contemporary developments in the visual arts, or even in music. Reciprocally, abstraction in literature, as exemplified most markedly by the extremities of Miltonic darkness – whilst arguably ‘modern’ — is desynchronized by centuries from the climax of modernist experimentation. Abstraction in literary horror has coincided with, and even anticipated, philosophical explorations which the modernist aesthetic canon has been able to presuppose. Horror – under other names – has exceeded the modernist zenith in advance, and with an inverted historical orientation that reaches back to the “Old Night” of Greek mystery religion, into abysmal antiquity (and archaic abysses). Its abstraction is an excavation that progresses relentlessly into the deep past.

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August 21, 2013admin 22 Comments »

Antechamber to Horror II

Some scene-setting extracts from H.P. Lovecraft’s review essay Supernatural Horror in Literature:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form.


The appeal of the spectrally macabre is generally narrow because it demands from the reader a certain degree of imagination and a capacity for detachment from every-day life. Relatively few are free enough from the spell of the daily routine to respond to rappings from outside …

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August 13, 2013admin 22 Comments »