PDA

View Full Version : Against the Enlightenment


qcrisp
08-30-2016, 06:08 AM
On HPL's birthday recently, I celebrated by reading 'Hypnos'. I often notice new things each time I re-read a Lovecraft story. I had forgotten, for instance, that this story is set in Kent, where I now live. Lovecraft refers to it as "hoary Kent". I'm not sure what's so hoary about it, but perhaps it was pretty hoary once, back in the day.

But another thing I noticed was this sentence:

But always I shall guard against the mocking and insatiate Hypnos, lord of sleep, against the night sky, and against the mad ambitions of knowledge and philosophy.

This is in a story that early on makes oblique reference to Einstein:

One man with Oriental eyes has said that all time and space are relative, and men have laughed. But even that man with Oriental eyes has done no more than suspect.

Interesting mix of ideas here.

To me, this echoes a theme in Lovecraft's work of science leading to the destruction of the human race. Despite Lovecraft's otherwise scientific and materialist stance, this is, of course, not an optimistic view of the scientific project. It is against what has been called the Enlightenment tendency to think that all our problems will be solved by science/knowledge.

Lovecraft, of course, is not alone in such views in the realm of supernatural fiction. Aickman, in his stirring address at the first World Fantasy Awards, said:

I believe that at the time of the Industrial and French revolutions (I am not commenting upon the American one!) mankind took a wrong turning. The beliefs that one day, by application of reason and the scientific method, everything will be known, and every problem and unhappiness solved, seem to me to have led to a situation where, first, we are in imminent danger of destroying the whole world, either with a loud report or by insatiable overconsumption and overbreeding, and where, second, everyone suffers from an existential angst, previously confined to the very few.

M.R. James, too, is known as someone whose views are pessimistic in relation to the advisability of pursuing knowledge to its end.

There are a number of questions here about the definitions of the terms we use. For instance, does the pursuit of knowledge have to be materialistic? Anyway, I shall lay such questions aside for now, simply for lack of time.

Why I have brought this subject up is that we might have some unlikely-seeming allies, ideologically, on this particular question.

Michel Houellebecq, a well-known Lovecraft fan, has recently declared himself "hostile to Enlightenment philosophy":

http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/01/02/scare-tactics-michel-houellebecq-on-his-new-book/

Is this simply in keeping with his sympathy for Lovecraft? Perhaps so. But the statement is given further interest in the context of his novel, Submission, which is apparently (though not unequivocally and this could also and easily be Houellebecq-trolling) in sympathy with the idea of an Islamic Europe.

But Lovecraft has possibly stranger allies here. The kind of allies, specifically, who might have been among those to call for the removal of his bust as the trophy for the World Fantasy Award:

http://www.newenglishreview.org/Lorna_Salzman/Social_Justice_Warriors'_War_Against_the_Enlighten ment/

Can I make this link more explicit? Yes, I can:

http://jameswhedges.com/litf/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/yogsothothfeministlanguage.jpeg

Yog-sothoth feminism against the Enlightenment!

I am not sure where I stand on all this, partly because I don't think the Enlightenment is one, unambiguous thing (I am very much in sympathy with Aickman's speech, but also, for instance, with Kant's essay 'An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?'). But I am finding this chain of thought interesting, and wondered if others might, too.

Kevin
08-30-2016, 11:58 AM
Lovecraft had allies before he was born as well. Romantics such as A.W.N. Pugin depicted ideal cities with a forest of steeples as the tallest objects, in direct opposition to the smokestacks and office buildings that are the markers on the trail to solving all our materialist woes. The Scientific Method - and its concommitent industrialism - was clearly thought to be a road to ruin. I suspect that there has been pushback to the Enlightenment as long as there has been an Enlightenment.

As someone who is not religious and appreciates the value of antibiotics when I'm ill, I don't have much sympathy with anti-Enlightenmentism. However, I will admit that medieval cities are much more satisfying. Just leave me my air conditioning!

Gnosticangel
08-30-2016, 12:30 PM
Thanks for this intriguing post, Qcrisp! Much to think about. I must find that address of Aickman's at the first World Fantasy Awards!

While Lovecraft maintained a writer's literary position about the role of science in humanity's journey to its destiny or doom, it appears that he - and numerous others - were literal prophets as well . Numerous contemporary sources - including the level of social discourse - suggest that we're spiraling downward rather swiftly, as a culture or even a species, with the idea of Enlightenment increasingly an illusion of the past. Given the pace of decline, sometimes the best that one can do in these times, it seems, is to reflect and bear witness.

I often wonder what these authors' insights may suggest about the reflective or foreshadowing nature of the imagination? Is there, as some say, an "imaginal organ" or extra sense? If so, are these writers merely more creative in expressing what many other people feel and see?

I suspect it is indeed so, and may account for part of the appeal of Lovecraft, Aickman and others. They put into words what others only feel about our times, about our vaunted sciences, and about our increasingly fragmented selves.

And I too, am a fan of "Hypnos."

Hidden X
08-31-2016, 04:10 AM
Yeah, I was pretty disappointed in the state and tone of this forum as well when I first posted here some weeks ago.

Forum (at least outwardly) dedicated so someone like Ligotti ought be the last place where you would expect to find usual conservative and religious crowd, let alone one where worth is given to words of intellectually degenerate (yet inexplicably popular) individuals like Houellebecq.
Though, if your claims about bannings are true, that would at least partially explain why discussion tends to be so one sided.

qcrisp
08-31-2016, 04:53 AM
Sighs. Try reading the original post. Thanks, gentlemen.

qcrisp
08-31-2016, 05:17 AM
A quick response.

An Enlightenment attack! thread.

No, it's not. I've defended Enlightenment values before on this site, as those who have had the patience to read my ramblings will know. If it were an attack it wouldn't present a plurality of views in the OP. There are plenty more views on the subject than those adverted to, and I was interested to hear them. I'm not going to quote the OP to demonstrate all this, as it's right there for anyone to read.

I think the most outspoken proponents of the Enlightenment have been banned, and the board is strangely weighted down with vocal traditionalists/ loudmouth cretins. For that reason, I wouldn't hold your breath for a serious debate.

This is serious debate? Very well, please continue.

The demure atheists on this board don't count for much. Add to that the fact that this thread will probably be censored and ultimately deleted anyway, so what's the point?

Demure atheists who call those who they think disagree with them cretins, for instance?

But I'll add one, and only one, post to get things going.

Some ideas are not even worth engaging in.

Serious debate, remember?

Most religious ideas immediately spring to mind. I have read comments along the lines that certain atheist authors do not having a 'sophisticated' understanding of theology. lol. No ####. That is because the ideas that most religions subscribe to are contemptible absurdities that are not worth wasting your time on.

QED?

Their ideas fly in the face of reality and should not be taken seriously. 'Transcendent', 'nuanced', 'sophisticated', etc. What do these adjectives mean when they precede the word 'nonsense' ?

The anti-Enlightenment argument is like trying to make a case for arrested intellectual development.

It might be. Kant, who I mentioned with approval in the OP, said the motto of the Enlightenment should be 'Dare to be wise.' Please develop your argument.

Hopefully this is just a case of a finally mature humanity having a nostalgic moment. But it's a moment that will not last long. Fortunately, the most brilliant minds on the planet are going forward with the Enlightenment. Pray away all you want, but it can't be stopped.

And I'm afraid the mentally infirm Houellebecq

Ad hominem.

will be disappointed to learn that an Islamic Europe isn't going to happen.

Did you even read the OP? Do you know anything about Houellebecq?

I doubt if an Islamic Middle East is even sustainable. The West's patience with these Bronze Age primitives will last only so long. While it is not debatable, the West will drone on and on about it until nothing is left standing. And unless their pray rugs suddenly turn into magic carpets, I can't foresee much of a future for Islam against swarms of fully autonomous killer drones.

Are these swarms of killer drones the Enlightenment you're defending, or are they something else? Please elucidate.

But it does seem, as some philosophers have put forth, that every human birth is another dumb animal brought into the world.

I can see we're getting to the really enlightened stuff now.


And most never mature, and some even go backwards, as the OP indicates. But I don't subscribe to some of their defeatist outcomes. Scientists need merely to find a way to tweak the brains of large swathes of humanity. If that doesn't work, then sharply curtail human procreation. Still nothing? Then there are a few other solutions that I can think of.

Yes, I'd be interested to know what those other solutions are, considering you warm up with brain surgery on those who disagree with you.


But if you are not ready to put away childish things, by all means raise a glass, or a grail, or if you really want to be silly, a horn, and toast to entrenched ignorance. It won't much matter.

Thank you. I look forward to being enlightened by you further in the near future.

Yeah, I was pretty disappointed in the state and tone of this forum as well when I first posted here some weeks ago.

I remember that disappointment. So kind of you to condescend to grace us with your continued presence.

Forum (at least outwardly) dedicated so someone like Ligotti ought be the last place where you would expect to find usual conservative and religious crowd, let alone one where worth is given to words of intellectually degenerate (yet inexplicably popular) individuals like Houellebecq.

Yes, who'd have thought we'd be discussing authors on a site dedicated to an author? Utterly degenerate.

Though, if your claims about bannings are true, that would at least partially explain why discussion tends to be so one sided.

From the person whose opening post on this site was to urge us to boycott a writer.

Evans
08-31-2016, 06:10 AM
I doubt if an Islamic Middle East is even sustainable. The West's patience with these Bronze Age primitives will last only so long. While it is not debatable, the West will drone on and on about it until nothing is left standing. And unless their pray rugs suddenly turn into magic carpets, I can't foresee much of a future for Islam against swarms of fully autonomous killer drones.

I thought that kind of Neoconry had died out post-Bush?

James
08-31-2016, 01:23 PM
It seems to prop up any time Islam is mentioned on here.

As for this thread and its backlash, I think it's worth approaching anything with a critical view, even if I believe society to be immeasurably better for having the Enlightenment. Calling Quentin a cretin, despite being a potentially good rap battle lyric, was unnecessarily belligerent.

Evans
08-31-2016, 05:37 PM
As for this thread and its backlash, I think it's worth approaching anything with a critical view, even if I believe society to be immeasurably better for having the Enlightenment. Calling Quentin a cretin, despite being a potentially good rap battle lyric, was unnecessarily belligerent.

The problem is that the term Enlightenment values can mean anything from Absolutist Monarchy to Anarcho-naturism (I was tempted to give a longer post about this at the beginning but decided to hold off until the inevitable troll bellowing was over). If you mean something like Paine's Rights of Man, the American Constitution or the ethics of Kant I would agree, albeit with qualifications.

R.P.Dwyer
08-31-2016, 10:24 PM
I take the Enlightenment outlook as:

1. The belief that reason and science should be our guide and can solve problems.

2. A belief in the material betterment of the general population.

3. The spread of knowledge and education throughout the population.

4. Support for individual freedom. I was going to say that meant support for representative government, but then I remembered the concept of Enlightened absolutism: Enlightened absolutism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlightened_absolutism). Others might give the example of the British rule of Hong Kong--called "benign neglect"-- as congruent with the Enlightenment. Basically let the people go about their lives in peace and freedom.

Romanticism is seen as a reaction to the Enlightenment. While the Enlightenment stresses the universal, Romanticism stresses the particular. While I place myself in the Enlightenment camp (though I enjoy reading supernatural/weird fiction!), I have been thinking lately that there is some measure of truth in Romanticism. I see part of Romanticism as stressing the importance of religion, the nation, the ethnic group, and one's kin. I've come to the conclusion that these resonate with humans on a psychological and even biological level. The main controversies today deal with the nation state, with immigration, with religion, with culture. I think now that the Enlightenment had somewhat a blind spot in regard to this.

qcrisp
09-01-2016, 12:29 PM
I take the Enlightenment outlook as:

1. The belief that reason and science should be our guide and can solve problems.

2. A belief in the material betterment of the general population.

3. The spread of knowledge and education throughout the population.

4. Support for individual freedom. I was going to say that meant support for representative government, but then I remembered the concept of Enlightened absolutism: Enlightened absolutism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlightened_absolutism). Others might give the example of the British rule of Hong Kong--called "benign neglect"-- as congruent with the Enlightenment. Basically let the people go about their lives in peace and freedom.

Romanticism is seen as a reaction to the Enlightenment. While the Enlightenment stresses the universal, Romanticism stresses the particular. While I place myself in the Enlightenment camp (though I enjoy reading supernatural/weird fiction!), I have been thinking lately that there is some measure of truth in Romanticism. I see part of Romanticism as stressing the importance of religion, the nation, the ethnic group, and one's kin. I've come to the conclusion that these resonate with humans on a psychological and even biological level. The main controversies today deal with the nation state, with immigration, with religion, with culture. I think now that the Enlightenment had somewhat a blind spot in regard to this.

Funnily enough, I hadn't been thinking of Romanticism, but it is, of course, highly relevant.

I can also link this back to the opening post by linking here to an older interview with Houellebecq in which he talks about Romanticism:

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6040/the-art-of-fiction-no-206-michel-houellebecq

It's quite long, so some may wish to skip to the end, from the question, "What do you think is the appeal of your work, in spite of its brutality?"

qcrisp
09-02-2016, 08:57 AM
Seems relevant:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/28/ideology-liberal-democracy-technology-bioscience-yuval-harari-artificial-intelligence?CMP=share_btn_fb

The answer, he argues, was in a new kind of religion: humanism – a belief system that “sanctifies the life, happiness and power of Homo sapiens”. So the deal that defined modern society was a covenant between humanism and science in which the latter provided the means for achieving the ends specified by the former.

And our looming existential crisis, as Harari sees it, comes from the fact that this covenant is destined to fall apart in this century. For one of the inescapable implications of bioscience and information technology (he argues) is that they will undermine and ultimately destroy the foundations on which humanism is built. And since liberal democracy is constructed on the worship of humanist goals (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” by citizens who are “created equal”, as the American founders put it), then our new powers are going to tear liberal democracy apart.

Ibrahim
09-03-2016, 07:43 PM
Weird fiction & Enlightenment/humanism: i recently read 'Ghosts' by John Banville, and there are many dark & even Ligottian elements to it, not the least of which is the suggestion that the whole tale itself is a solipsistic vision of the narrator in which he himself may turn out to be no less ghostly and, in the end, nonexistent than the other characters. What separates a work such as this from a lot of other Weird fiction that does get categorized as such, is the fact that here the writing seems more carefully modulated to encompass many states of mind & ways of seeing/experiencing things. While certainly elegiac in tone, 'Ghosts' seems less attached or tied to that tone; where it is dark, it is gently so; where it is misanthropic, it is polite enough to know that thereby it devalues its own judgement. As in all good Gothic novels, the landscape is merely a function of the narrator's mental state, but as these states change, so does the writing accomodate such shifts. What i'm getting at is that, paradoxically, it is often the work that starts from a perceived centrality or importance of the human predicament, that will sometimes offer the broader vista & as such will be more Cosmic in scope, while the Cosmic horrors of the current school of weird fiction by comparison seem to descend in ever narrowing patterns into a gnostic solipsism that is not Cosmic at all but exactly the size of a human mind shrunken to a prison by its all too human frailty and fears.

Just a thought.

qcrisp
09-04-2016, 05:13 AM
By the way, I thought it might be worth emphasising what the Guardian article I posted throws into the mix: The idea that it might be precisely science (or a certain consequence of our understanding and use of it) that is the greatest enemy of the Enlightenment (or of all that is humanistic in it).

Malone
09-04-2016, 06:35 AM
Ibrahim, shrewd and insightful comments about Ghosts, a novel I loved when I first read it 22 years ago. Thanks for sharing them. As I'm sure you know, it's a sequel of sorts to The Book of Evidence, a novel of more outright despair and nihilism.

Banville, though, has no time for weird fiction/horror etc and has expressed his contempt for Poe and others, and would be aghast to be categorised as such. Sadly, ever since TBOE and Ghosts, which were his highpoint in my opinion, his writing has become more safe and domestic.

Ibrahim
09-04-2016, 11:00 AM
My copy of Ghosts is the omnibus edition that has Ghosts wedged between the book of evidence and Athena ( which to my mind is the darkest of this trilogy).

Banville also writes crime books under the Benjamin Black moniker as you undoubtedly know, Malone, and has oddly made several deprecating comments about the genre, which further points to LitFic's obsession with class.

Ibrahim
09-04-2016, 11:06 AM
And re:Enlightenment/Science &pc.
The need to describe all human experience in terms specific to only one area of human endeavour seems foolish when one thinks about it. It is as useless to make art according to religious precepts as it is trying to engage in philosophy on the basis and with the language of scientific materialism, & vice versa, yet here we are in the 21st century where it is all but demanded of us that we see and read the world in scientific terms only.