Lovecraft, Cyclonopedia and Materialist Horror

III. Diabolical synthesis

Cosmic horror is not like other horror. It is vast in scope – utterly, crushingly vast – and derives its power principally from its impersonality. Lovecraft sums this up perfectly in Imprisoned with the Pharaohs, in which the narrator, lost in chambers of pitch darkness far beneath surface of hoary Egypt, begins to hear certain noises…

“In their rhythmic piping, droning, rattling and beating I felt an element of terror beyond all the known terrors of earth – a terror peculiarly dissociated from personal fear, and taking the form of a sort of objective pity for our planet, that it should hold within its depths such horrors...”

         Here is a very plain and explicit statement of what could be called the central tenet of cosmic horror: “objective pity for our planet” and our species taking over from mere personal fear, or (from the reader’s point of view) fear for the safety of the character or characters in any one particular situation. This goes some way to explain why characters, as such, are so unimportant for Lovecraft; in most of his stories, there is an educated, cultured New England Anglo-Saxon, typically a university professor, student or academic of some kind, who is more or less interchangeable with the equivalent character in any other of his stories and whose main purpose is to provide fodder for the Old Ones or their avatars or progeny. One does not read Lovecraft for the ‘human interest’ angle – ‘inhuman fascination’ might be more apposite here, with ‘fascination’ taken in the sense of a rabbit transfixed by the gaze of a snake: drawn irresistibly to stare at something terrible despite every instinct to turn away and flee.

         Great emphasis is likewise place by Negarestani on making ‘fodder’, or “a good meal”, of oneself for the delectation of the Outside. It is not through ritual depravity, degradation or intoxication that diabolical communion is achieved, as it is in Western Satanism (Crowley’s drug-fuelled orgies, for example), but through ironically excessive hygiene and purity, or “rigorous Overhealth”. This is how the ancient cult of Akht-Yatu opened themselves to the Outside: they made themselves into “a good meal” for Druj[1], the “Mother of Abominations” or “Dead Mother of Contagions”. And what is Druj, precisely? “[N]ot a deity, [but] a nocturnal tide delineated by its inexhaustible openness to diffuse and pervade everything” – the equivalent role in the Cthulhu mythos is perhaps played by Yog-Sothoth, which is “co-terminus with all time and space”:

“Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth…”[2]

         Neither Druj nor Yog-Sothoth is anything as graspable or anthropomorphic as a deity. You can believe or not believe in a deity as you see fit: the entities conjured by both Negarestani and Lovecraft are that much more horrific for being elemental aspects of existence that one cannot escape from or evade any more than one can escape from space or time. Druj in particular presents a very physical threat to God’s creationist order – while dry dust in Zoroastrianism is an object of cleanliness, as soon as it mixes with moisture (“cosmic wetness”: napht, oil) it becomes Drujestan, the “House of Abomination”. This entropic process of mess-creation is diagrammed by the “Wheel of Pestilence”, which includes the self-devouring serpent Ouroboros and, appropriately, bears a notable resemblance to the modern ‘biohazard’ symbol.

         Houellebeqc’s point that Lovecraft’s stories involve neither sex nor money contrasts interestingly with Cyclonopedia. According to Houellebeqc, all attempts to introduce the erotic into the Cthulhu mythos have been abject failures, but Negarestani weaves sexual themes into a number of Cyclonopedia‘s multifarious threads. In fact this isn’t quite true: the emphasis is not even on sex per se but on love. We are introduced to the “jnun”, or female (d)jinn, which act as gates to the Outside – “vulvo-cosmic singularities”, no less. It is through such entities that Abdul al-Hazred communed with “other worlds and aeons” in Rub-al-Khalie[3] by becoming a “majnun” (madman), a man possessed by jnun in the sense of a delirious, maddening love. Lilith, Adam’s first wife and the prototype ‘succubus’, is described as the mother of the jnun in Arabic folklore; in Persian mythology, they are the daughters of Jeh or Jahi, the ‘first vampire’ and ‘Mother of Harlots’, Ahriman’s demon daughter spawned from his own mutilated body. Footnotes in the text are addressed by the author to his lover, “Sorceress”, to whom the book is dedicated, and speak of love as a terminal disease, a process from which there is no escape and which is characterised by the utter openness of each lover (“infected one”) to the other and the Outside while they at the same time turn their backs on the mundane world. This terminal or pathological love is described in terms of being burnt up, consumed slowly in fire, bodily engulfed in the sticky flames of petroleum products.

         Economics, too, plays a part in Cyclonopedia, albeit in a rather indirect and very abstract way. Wahabbist jihadis are described as “Meccanomists”, constructing their own economic networks and systems in defiance of so-called “solar capitalism”. Ecology is linked to economics, in particular with respect to the “policy of underdevelopment and deliberate impoverishment bound to the exhaustibility of oil fields”, as Negarestani controversially describes fuel conservation measures justified by the so-called “myth of fossil fuels” (Gold’s ‘Deep Hot Biosphere’ again). From the same section – the list of oil’s “avatars” – a supposed anonymous contributor declares:

“Petroleum poisons Capitalism with absolute madness…capitalism is not a human symptom but rather a planetary inevitability. In other words, Capitalism was here even before human existence, waiting for a host.”

         So not only do oil – the unholy lifeblood of the Middle East, and cosmic dust particles – sporulated crypto-demons, come ultimately from the Outside; so too does the economic ideology of the very Western warmachines that are embroiled in unwinnable wars against the “Tiamaterialists” and “Meccanomists”! Well, maybe – the section in question is presented as highly speculative, even within Cyclonopedia‘s fictional framework. Negarestani elsewhere synthesises his thoughts on economics, alchemy and the environment:

“Whereas Venice and its aquatic capitalism are asymptotically converging upon an indifferent nature which is a pit of slime and mold; its dry middle-eastern twin Dubai and its oily capitalism are plunged into the madness of petroleum brewed up by the deep chthonic earth.”[4]

Really, the ‘sexual’ and ‘economic’ aspects of Negarestani’s philosophy-fiction are so abstracted that they don’t, in any substantial way, contravene Lovecraft’s injunction for the horror writer to avoid realism at all costs. Rather, they refer to cosmic principles, in keeping with the overall theme of objectivity and anti-anthropocentrism.

         The blurb for Cyclonopedia describes it as “a middle-eastern Odyssey, populated by archeologists, jihadis, oil smugglers, Delta Force officers, heresiarchs, corpses of ancient gods and other puppets.” The key word here is the last one. Lovecraft’s hapless humans are likewise puppets – controlled, manipulated and ultimately destroyed by forces they cannot hope to comprehend, let alone resist. For both the paranoiac from Providence and the Iranian polymath, the universe at large is alien, inscrutable and hostile. The best we can hope for is to blinker ourselves and get on with our lives, and not think too hard about the encroaching night.

1 From an Avestan root meaning “to blacken”; as a noun it means “lie”, “deceit”, “betrayal”.

2 The Dunwich Horror

3 The ‘Empty Quarter’ in the southern Arabian desert, location of the semi-legendary lost city of ‘Irem of the Pillars’ (evidence for which has recently been discovered) and of the world’s second-biggest proven oil reserves.

4 Solar Inferno and the Earthbound Abyss

Further reading:

R. Tomens, ‘Avant-garde is French for bullshit’ – a good discussion of how deliberately obtuse artistic/intellectual works like Cyclonopedia can be worth grappling with even if you don’t take them entirely “seriously” or wholly “get” them.

J. McCalmont,Cyclonopedia – Madness/Theory/Truth/Nonsense’ – an in-depth analysis of the ultra-theoretical style of Continental philosophy exemplified by Negarestani, the reaction to this from Sokal, Bricmont etc. and a discussion of how something doesn’t have to be ‘true’ to be ‘real’, with reference to Lovecraft’s fictional ‘Necronomicon’.

Wikipedia, ‘Cosmicism’ – Lovecraft’s own term for his philosophy of fiction, drawing on themes such as nihilism, atheism, human insignificance and the human inability to comprehend the cosmos.

N. Masciandaro, ‘Gourmandized in the Abattoir of Openness’ – highly theoretical discussion of Cyclonopedia with respect to ‘theory vs. fiction’.

The Lovecraft Archive – (most of) H. P. L.’s collected works available online, free of charge.

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One Response to “Lovecraft, Cyclonopedia and Materialist Horror”

  1. More Open Lovecraft | TENTACLII :: H.P. Lovecraft blog Says:

    […] Anon (2011), “Lovecraft, Cyclonopedia and Materialist Horror” part one and part two and postscript. (See also the book of Cyclonopedia responses, Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia […]

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