Making Sense of “The Weird and the Eerie” By Roger Luckhurst
(…) “You have probably heard of “the weird” by now, but you may not quite know what it is, or why so many genre critics, cultural theorists, and philosophers are keen to engage with it. It might once have been quarantined as a subgenre associated with sullen Goths and all those arrested-adolescent readers of H. P. Lovecraft, but it has long slithered free of those confines, and now leaves a trail not just straight across the internet, but on the page and in mainstream TV shows and movie screens.
Writers of the New Weird in Britain, like M. John Harrison and China Miéville, briefly rallied to this banner in 2003 before morphing into something else (although the critics still lumber around with the term). Philosophers such as Graham Harman and Eugene Thacker have proposed a “weird realism” — a rival term to “object-oriented ontology” — that replaces Husserl or Heidegger with Horror. One of the early signs of this shift was Mark Fisher’s own symposium on Lovecraft and Theory at Goldsmiths College in London in 2007. In film, David Lynch was always “wild at heart and weird on top,” from his early animated short films up to Inland Empire. On TV, True Detective was pretty weird, with its echoes of Robert Chambers’s The King in Yellow and dark nihilistic mutterings lifted from Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of this Planet: The Horror of Philosophy Volume 1. Stranger Things was quite weird, although a little too soft-focused and retro to be fully paid up, but The OA was definitely out-and-out weird. Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy of books (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, all of which appeared in 2014), so far the major achievement of the American translation of the New Weird, will hit mainstream cinemas with Alex Garland’s film adaptation in 2017. Best get weirded up.
Fisher’s guide to this terrain is an excellent place to start your orientation. The book displays his signature knack for reading popular culture (principally music, fiction, and film) in an expressive, demotic way that is still vigorously political and philosophical. Somehow, Fisher magically renders post-Lacanian, post-Žižekian Marxism and the radical anti-subjectivist philosophy of Gilles Deleuze entirely accessible. Only Fisher can enthuse about old Quatermass TV shows in terms of their “cosmic Spinozism” and still (mostly) make sense. With typical disdain for cultural boundaries, Fisher moves crab-wise from Lovecraft and H. G. Wells to the impenetrable mumblings of punk band The Fall; obscure Rainer Werner Fassbinder TV shows from Germany; Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, and Andrei Tarkovsky films; Nigel Kneale TV series from the 1970s; the music of Joy Division; The Shining; the unclassifiable fiction of Alan Garner and Christopher Priest; Jonathan Glazer’s extraordinary avant-garde SF film Under the Skin; and surprising appearances of Margaret Atwood’s early fiction Surfacing and Christopher Nolan’s portentous quantum SF blockbuster Interstellar (which receives a great defense).” (read more here)
The eeriness of the English countryside
(…) “In music, literature, art, film and photography, as well as in new and hybrid forms and media, the English eerie is on the rise. A loose but substantial body of work is emerging that explores the English landscape in terms of its anomalies rather than its continuities, that is sceptical of comfortable notions of “dwelling” and “belonging”, and of the packagings of the past as “heritage”, and that locates itself within a spectred rather than a sceptred isle.
Such concerns are not new, but there is a distinctive intensity and variety to their contemporary address. This eerie counter-culture – this occulture – is drawing in experimental film-makers, folk singers, folklorists, academics, avant-garde antiquaries, landscape historians, utopians, collectives, mainstreamers and Arch-Droods alike, in a magnificent mash-up of hauntology, geological sentience and political activism. The hedgerows, fields, ruins, hills and saltings of England have been set seething.”
“What are those pressing concerns, though, and what are the sources of this unsettlement? Clearly, the recent rise of the eerie coincides with a phase of severe environmental damage. In England, this has not taken the form of sudden catastrophe, but rather a slow grinding away of species and of subtlety. The result, as James Riley notes, is “a landscape constituted more actively by what is missing than by what is present”. This awareness of absence is expressing itself both in terms of a vengeful nature (a return of the repressed) and as delicate catalogues of losses.”
“Digging down to reveal the hidden content of the under-earth is another trope of the eerie: what is discovered is almost always a version of capital. Keiller’s Robinson tracks the buried cables and gas-pipes of Oxfordshire, following them as postmodern leylines, and tracing them outwards to hidden global structures of financial ownership. Wheatley’s deserters rapaciously extract “treasure” from the soil, by means of enslavement and male violence. In his cult novel Cyclonopedia (2008), the Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani figured oil as a sentient entity, developing Marx’s implication that capital possesses emergent and self-willed properties, that it is somehow wild.” / see: 771-robinson-in-ruins-2010
(read more here)
A suitable place for violence? Orford Ness, Suffolk. photograph by Emma Johnson