View Full Version : In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy vol. 1

Steve Dekorte
10-20-2014, 08:55 PM
In the Dust of This Planet || Zero Books || Book Info (http://www.zero-books.net/books/in-the-dust-of-this-planet)

10-21-2014, 10:13 AM
Eugene Thacker's and others - THE NIGHTMARE NETWORK (http://www.ligotti.net/showthread.php?t=7623&highlight=eugene+thacker)

07-18-2015, 01:05 PM
Has anyone had a chance to read volumes 2 and 3 yet? I've only read volume 1 and haven't heard anyone who has read 2 and 3. Sounded really interesting though, one volume is reading philosophy as horror literature and the other is reading horror literature as philosophy.

Dead as Dreams
07-19-2015, 07:13 PM

Funny you should ask. I finished the third volume, Tentacles Longer than Night, just this afternoon.

After spending a deal of time with the books in this series, I’ve come to realize that what I appreciate most about them is the stunning breadth of knowledge on display. Sure, the way Thacker skillfully dissects knotty philosophical structures out of horror texts--and, conversely, coaxes the occulted horror out of disciplinary philosophy--is impressive, but more so by far, to me, is the staggering amount of territory he manages to cover across three volumes. I don’t want to drone on about this, but he’s a generalist in the best possible sense of the term, with an encyclopedic knowledge of horror that cuts across pretty much all subgenres and media forms. I hope that somewhere down the line, some solid publishing house collects all three volumes in one hardbound edition. Last thing I’ll say to sing his praises: Thacker’s interpretations read as incisive and inviting at the same time. As systematic and thorough as he can be in the expression of an argument, his readings tend to unfurl openings that always leave more to be said--one can never say enough, or rather much of anything, really, about the anomalous, the metaphysical, and the nonexistent--and so the books strike a wonderful balance between exegesis and provocation. As they should, since these volumes have Thacker writing in capacity of a public intellectual addressing an audience of professional scholars and fans of the genre alike, as opposed to the more academic treatment of works such as AfterLife.

Since we’re on the Nightmare Network, I’ll start with “Meditations on the Weird” in volume 3. To be perfectly honest, I found this section underwhelming, owing to the fact that it is basically an extended riff on the work in the first volume, In the Dust of this Planet. Consequently, there wasn’t much to surprise or shock me here—in essence, I felt like I was being treated to a more polished recapitulation of arguments from the opening book. Thacker even circles back to the spirals (no pun intended) of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki , and takes another interpretive stab at Lovecraft’s formless shoggoths, both of which seem like redundant gestures after the first volume. The section really gets interesting, however, when Thacker discusses Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” and The Man Whom the Trees Loved in relation to the Naturphilosophie of F.W.J. Schelling. This, to me, is a sound and insightful interpretative move, because we know from Blackwood’s autobiography that he had German, as well as a desire to read the post-Kantian Idealists, especially Hegel. Moreover, at the very least, Blackwood would have imbibed Schelling indirectly by way of his serious study of Gustav Fechner, who based his mind/nature identity philosophy (“The Day and Night View”) on Schelling’s transcendental system. Anyhow, I wish Thacker would have developed this interesting subsection further, and explored more literary works, films, and philosophy that might fit into the rubric of so-called “Naturhorror.”

I think you’ll be pleased to discover that Thacker devotes a sizeable portion of “Meditations on the Weird” to a discussion of Ligotti’s fiction and essays. For the hardcore reader of this website, there probably won’t be too much in the subsection that will appeal as new, but that said, it’s a beautifully written tribute to Ligotti and an invaluable introduction for new readers that builds to the following clouded gem of an insight into pessimism’s vicious hermeneutic circle: “Conspiracy is a symptom of the pessimist’s dilemma: that the worthlessness of life and its philosophical realization tends to become worthwhile (a “no” becomes a “yes”). And in this, Conspiracy might be characterized as a form of ecstatic pessimism, a pessimism that is resolutely misanthropic and without redemption, but that also must constantly bear witness to the failure of thought that constitutes it.” Thacker’s discovery of a “perverse humanism” at work in Ligotti’s oeuvre is also to be commended; although we human puppets lack the authentic selves that would seem to be the existential prerequisite for thought, feeling, and experience, we are nevertheless still preyed upon by pain, fear, and insanity as we pirouette, brain-haunted, through the shadows of the unreal, dancing and convulsing along the marionette strings of our own nerves.

The best part of Tentacles Longer than Night, for me, was Thacker’s “Meditations on the Gothic.” This section pivots on an extended reading of the Comte de Lautréamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror, and dialogues with landmark studies on the poem by Gaston Bachelard and Maurice Blanchot. Although I previously praised the accessibility of Thacker’s work, the pleasures that this section holds are decidedly more esoteric and academic in nature. There’s a lot happening in this essay, but the take-home for me--and this admittedly may be just as much a reflection of my own obsessions and scholarly pursuits--is that critical animal studies should take into account the cryptic processes of production, reproduction, metamorphosis, and decomposition, processes which for Thacker animate Lautréamont’s text and therefore constitute its proper, chimeric animality. Again, I think that what is being unfolded here is essentially an academic debate: that critical animal studies would do well to go beyond its prejudices for whole-organism thinking by considering the sub- and super-individual levels, aspects, and processes of biological being; that when animal studies does so, something comes into focus that we might term the “Eco-Gothic”: a strange, living-dead world of cellular automata, viruses, parasites, and germs that are the microscopic operators of bare vitality and death, and growth, change, and diminution in time. This section, with its close-readings of excerpts describing the absolutely ghastly, hybrid anatomies of Maldoror, had a special way of reminding me of the work Thacker did on Nicholas of Cusa and the micro-/macrocosm in the very worthwhile AfterLife.

To wrap this up, another reason why I enjoyed the “Meditations on the Gothic” so much is that it showcases Thacker’s strengths as a critic of film and a media theorist. For instance, he manages to make interesting a section on the very played-out trope of long hair in horror movies. This, to be sure, is a historically significant, psychologically charged leitmotif in supernatural cinema, but these days it’s become so culturally commonplace and parodied as to elicit groans and laughter. Thacker’s explication recovers the eeriness and strangeness due to this motif, and largely does so through a reading of Antonio Margheriti’s under-appreciated The Long Hair of Death, before continuing along, more predictably, to Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan and its vignette of “The Black Hair.” Much of the fun in this section comes from being introduced by Thacker to obscure Gialli, J-horror films, and B-movie masterpieces. We get readings of Albert Band’s I Bury the Living; Roger Corman’s Premature Burial; Aldo Lado’s The Short Night of Glass Dolls; and Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: The Season of the Witch—truly a “killer B” if there ever was one. In all of these engagements with cinema, there’s a conversation occurring, by turns explicit and subterranean, with Georges Bataille and his Theory of Religion, which locates the divine in zones of indeterminacy between the living and the dead. Weirdly, I think, Thacker’s engagements with cinema have a way of implicitly as well as most effectively positing his major philosophical concern: following in the footsteps of his master Bataille by taking Hegel, kicking and screaming, down to the Black Mass. But what happens to the unemployed negativity? What happens when we free it from the slave labor of the dialectic and attempt to think it on its own terms, as negativity qua negativity, without the redemptive good work of synthesis and the grace that it interposes? We get a thinking that turns on limitations, suspension, and the horrifying, Medusan fascination of thought collapsing into itself. By the time I finished up with this section, I was gripped by the desire to watch The Demon Seed and Xtro back-to-back--something to do tonight!

One last thing: above, I alluded to Thacker as a media theorist. Throughout “Meditations on the Gothic,” he demonstrates a perceptive eye for uncovering convergences between narrative and media forms. Here, I’m not just talking about those moments--all too familiar to academicians and stressed-out undergrads slogging through term papers--wherein a text self-reflexively considers its own linguistic materiality and conditions of production; it’s more like Thacker pushes the thought of self-reference to its outermost limit, bringing into relief moments in a text that illuminate the central problematic of Gothic materialism. In other words, we’re made to see the media forms themselves asserting their autonomy, becoming alien and unhuman matter by way of how they themselves appear to write and over-determine their texts, over and against narrator, author, or director. My case in point: here is Thacker reading Stan Brakhage’s Delicacies: “But it is also a film about composition and decomposition, building-up and breaking-down, and the inevitable disintegration of all that exists, the almost metaphysical corrosion that is at the core of being. It is even inaccurate to say that Delicacies is ‘about’ these things. It is them.”

I’ll refrain for now from commenting on volume 2, Starry Speculative Corpse, which I’ve only read desultorily, and which some friends tell me is far and away their favorite of the series.

07-21-2015, 03:20 AM

Funny you should ask. I finished the third volume, Tentacles Longer than Night, just this afternoon...I’ll refrain for now from commenting on volume 2, Starry Speculative Corpse, which I’ve only read desultorily, and which some friends tell me is far and away their favorite of the series.
Wow, I were about to buy Starry Speculative Corpse and now I'll have to reconsider my choice. Thanks for the thorough commentary. :rolleyes:

07-21-2015, 04:55 PM
Thank you so much for the in-depth commentary. I REALLY appreciate it.