Tuesday, 13 December 2011


From a online dictionary of Graham Harman concepts:
Harman is a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s science fiction novels. Harman argues that “science fiction is not only in ‘science fiction’ but in great literature of any sort” – the key criteria being the weirdness and strangeness of its idiosyncrasies (HOP, p.244). “For nothing resembles science fiction more than philosophy does – unless it be science itself” (HOP, p.333). “Few will object to the term ‘weird realism’ as a description of Lovecraft’s outlook” (HOP, p.348). “In Lovecraft, the relation between a thing and its surface is perturbed by irregularities that resist immediate comprehension, as if the object suffered from a strange disease of the nervous system” (HOP, p.356). Lovecraft’s materialism gives him a “philosophy rooted in the surface, but one in which the relation between objects and their crusts is rendered problematic”. Horror comes “from the declared insufficiency of the description, combined with a literary world in which the monster is a genuine player rather than a mere image” (HOP, p.357). Horror also “comes not from some transcendent force lying outside the bounds of human finitude, but in a twisting or torsion of that finitude itself” (HOP, p.360).
'HOP' is Harman's 'On the Horror of Phenomenology: Lovecraft and Husserl'. The 'genuine player' line is a good one (not a million miles away from Tolkien's reading of the dragon in Beowulf), and important; although I'm tempted to suggest not that 'thing and its surface is perturbed by irregularities that resist immediate comprehension', but rather that irregularities that resist immediate comprehension constitute the main focus of the Lovecraftian text.

To constellate this with a passage from Harman's Guerille Objects:
In addition to being charmed by objects, we ourselves want to emulate them, and wish to charm the world. It is simply not the case that our fundamental wish is to be viewed as dignified free subjects with a chance to speak at the microphone of the universal assembly…. The kind of recognition we would prefer is always far more specific, since we often feel ourselves to be so painfully mutable that any specific role will do…. The one book that all of us would approach with greatest interest, that no human in history would be able to resist opening, would be a book of anecdotes about ourselves as told by other people. The appeal of such a book would not lie in some sort of grotesque human vanity, but in our wish to be something definite, a desire at least as great as our desire to be free. There is a profound need to escape the apparently infinite flexible subjectivity within, which feels far more amorphous to us than to anyone else.

Contrary to the usual view, what we really want is to be objects.
This may indeed be part of SF's core appeal: that it enables us to identify, to empathise and subsume ourselves into, technological object-ness. We become the robot; we sing along with McCaffrey's ship.

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