The Old Weird
Something weird is going on in contemporary fiction. Something weird: neither extravagantly experimental nor sure-footedly realist, not mesmerizing, and not even that new. Its not-newness, moreover, is precisely the point, consisting of a sideways glance at the gothic residues of nineteenth-century literature or the kitschy horror of the early twentieth-century pulps. A superlative recent example of such a glance appears in Mat Johnson’s 2011 novel Pym; Johnson’s text engages and updates Edgar Allan Poe’s longest and perhaps most notorious work of fiction, his 1838 text The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. What kind of engagement with Poe the novel provides has been a matter of some debate, with labels ranging from satire to provocation to homage.1 This is partly because of the strange relation the narrator himself has to the source text—a bibliophilic former professor of African-American literature (he’s just been denied tenure, in part, he says, because of a principled refusal to sit on the university’s “Diversity Committee,” and in part because of his turn toward Poe and “general” American literature as the subject of his scholarly interests), Chris Jaynes pursues his “passion” for Poe by convening an unlikely crew for a sea voyage to Antarctica in pursuit of the reality he’s convinced lies beneath Poe’s fiction.2
Johnson’s narrator finds himself compelled by Poe for many reasons, all of which gesture toward the category of the weird. Weird here has a broad scope of reference, but points explicitly to the genre of weird fiction codified in the early twentieth-century Weird Tales writings of the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs (of John Carter and Tarzan fame) and H. P. Lovecraft. The narrator locates in Poe a kind of ancient “fossil record” of an American “racial pathology” or its “twisted mythic underpinnings” (Johnson, Pym, 8). [End Page 631] This is a fossil record figuratively doubled, for the frozen remainder of an ancestral alien past also forms the subject of Poe’s text. What happens to these remains in literary history also attracts Jaynes’s attention, and as the ship’s crew descends into Poe’s Antarctic nightmare, the joke is a little too overt; in this version, Poe’s white monsters have the more banal needs for everyday infrastructure, and have even developed an elaborate sewer system which leads Jaynes to speculate, upon using it, about the “Lovecraftian horror within” (167). Johnson traces Poe’s Narrative through a series of “sequels,” and one of the novel’s more intriguing paratexts was a website the author developed providing helpful Project Gutenberg links through a curated literary history, including Jules Verne’s An Antarctic Mystery (1897), which Jaynes sees as a pseudoscientific attempt to contain the ambiguities of Poe’s text through rationality, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851; called “the most famous direct offspring” [emphasis mine]), and also Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (1936), which he claims transforms Poe’s white monster into a penguin, but not just any penguin: “A massive albino penguin, of a breed that was left there by the alien Old Ones, who had also left behind an incomprehensibly hideous tentacle monster. This creature was slimy and, true to Poe’s symbology if not to the setting, completely black” (230).3
Pym’s strategies for cataloging weirdness include this attention to a virulent and obligingly satirizable racism, an affection for the narrative pull of an ancient, alien past, and a fascination with the indifferent neutrality of the nonhuman. These strategies, coupled with the sureness that the techniques of realism are the best way to heighten a sense of unreality, allow Pym’s narrator simultaneously to observe and describe the literary history the novel claims for itself and also to enact what Steven Shaviro calls the “slightly hokey or forced” qualities that constitute weird fiction.4 The weird literary history Johnson constructs exceeds Shaviro’s, for the latter focuses primarily on the invocation of the term in the 1920s to describe the writings of Lovecraft and his contemporaries, and its more overt legacy in contemporary fiction by writers who draw upon the genre directly. Writers of both eras, he says, produce fictions evocative of anxiety and dislocation within a cosmic landscape not only indifferent to the human, but indescribable through forms of human communication: “Weird expression … renders something that cannot be described literally and precisely, but only evoked vaguely and incoherently” (33).
Railsea, China Miéville’s 2012 “for all ages” homage to Moby Dick, offers up and then cannibalizes a landscape whose weirdness in part defines the contemporary genre most explicitly concerned with its claims to the category of weird writing. Its very conceit—what Miéville calls the “salvagepunk” rewriting of Melville’s novel—dramatizes a relationship to a particular American literary imagination. This nineteenth-century literary imagination characterizes both the “New Weird” fiction of the current century, of which Miéville is a standard-bearer, and the novels of writers like Johnson who take up similar interests in more conventional fictional worlds than the alien landscapes conjured by Miéville and his closest contemporaries. Both the New Weird writers as well as the texts included in the form of recent fiction I’m describing as their partners in weirdness share important affiliations with the current cadre of thinkers devoted to [End Page 632] what can broadly be called the nonhuman.5 These theorists of the nonhuman, working in field offices with contested addresses including speculative realism, object-oriented ontology, or the new materialisms, have a tendency to draw on both the New Weird and the long history of American literary weirdness evoked so pointedly in Pym. In his recently released Weird Realism, for example, philosopher and object-oriented ontology proselytizer Graham Harman sets out to read the para-modernist Weird Tales author H. P. Lovecraft as “tacit philosopher” whose fiction yields “a deeper conception of realism” than that usually available to philosophers. In this and other excursions into what he refers to as “object-oriented literary criticism,” Harman often frames his responses to weird fiction using references to Moby Dick.6
This literary landscape looks a little like what happens to the Melvillean ocean in Railsea, which can be seen from the window of a moving train, rather than a ship: “Bushes stubby & black as iron tore past, & bits of real iron jagging from buried antique times did, too. Atangle across the whole vista, to & past the horizon in all directions, were endless, countless rails.”7 This is a landscape that maintains the abstraction of an oceanic mass but realizes it in “strange landforms,” “stubs of antique plastic,” and “arche-salvage,” or, “the most incomprehensible and ancient remains” (5, 35). The landscape is, additionally, a mass whose parts cohere and relate, but in obfuscated ways. The idea of “arche-salvage” or indecipherable alien residue works as Miéville’s playful nod at the Lovecraftian universe of such importance to Harman, but in Railsea, as in Miéville’s larger body of work, this universe is as subject to mining as any other. As Miéville put it in a 2009 discussion of new genres, “If Benjamin warns that history is a buffeted angel staring at a giant pile of debris, Salvagepunk ignores the angel and roots around in the debris looking for a car to hotwire.”8 But it’s the assemblage of a literary past in these two forms of thinking in the present that interests me here and that I will begin to explore in the pages that follow. And I will treat both the theoretical movements gathered by the nonhuman as well as the novels of an expanded “New Weird” fiction with similar regard; I am operating with the conviction that fiction operates as a medium for thought with the capacity to engage critical questions about the nonhuman agencies, sentience, and points of view being presented so urgently in contemporary critical discourse. The legacy of the old weird appears not only in a capacious view of New Weird fiction, but also in the indelibly literary terms and strategies to which theorists of the nonhuman are drawn.
While weird fiction has become well known as the pulpy underside of literary modernism, driving its more necrotic longings and speculative or cosmic perspectival reaches, it is also important to recognize just how modernist the temporal moves of the present weird turn in literature and theory can be. It is no accident, I am suggesting, that Miéville turns to Benjamin to mine a source-figure for contemporary weird aesthetics, for there is certainly something weird about the resuscitation of remains that guides even the most iconic modernist thinking about time and history, from Yeats and Eliot’s mythic pasts and graveyard obsessions to the archeological mysticism haunting Willa Cather’s desert plains. [End Page 633]
Even a brief survey of the literary affiliations of the weird—modernist and contemporary—requires a more specific account of the nineteenth-century literary imagination that subtends the imagined worlds of the New Weird and the nonhuman theories that share many of its interests. A standard genealogy of the weird might move from Melville to Miéville, as I have, by way of the Weird Tales writers of the 1920s and 1930s. However, I would also like to shift the focus of such affiliations to a much overlooked resource of literary weirdness, the novels and stories of late nineteenth-century American realism and naturalism and their generic afterlives in the present. Accordingly, the literary scope of this essay will move instead from Cormac McCarthy’s relatively recent Blood Meridian back to two paradigmatic texts of the era, Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” and Frank Norris’s McTeague. In offering this alternative genealogy, I will present a taxonomy of both the old and the New weird and argue that many of the interests guiding nonhuman theories in current critical debates—interests including the modalities of indifference, the cosmic, and external or object agencies—lie in the questions asked in these texts. By doing so, I hope to reframe the modernist history of weird writing to allow for the inclusion of its naturalist strains—strains recognized, for example, in histories of the period’s morbid fascinations with pathological and non-social, or inhuman conditions as narrated by Georg Lukács and his contemporary interlocutor Fredric Jameson.9 An expanded sense of what might constitute weird writing beyond the Weird Tales writers or the boundaries of the New Weird offers in turn an expanded set of literary resources through which to think the nonhuman and to think beyond some of the paradoxes that thought presents.
Weird New and Old
Weird fiction works as primary material in two recent philosophical engagements with nonhuman thinking by Eugene Thacker, including his 2010 volume After Life, and especially the more experimental 2011 In the Dust of this Planet: Horror of Philosophy. In After Life, Thacker frames discussions of Aristotle and vitalism with the Weird Tales writers of the early twentieth century. He includes not just Lovecraft, but also a larger archive of writers from the period who are more invisible to literary historians because of their genre status.
In the Dust of This Planet can, from this perspective, be thought of as a larger meditation on genre. Genre is an important aspect of this volume’s text selection—from the Weird Tales to black metal to found poetry, all of which form its primary texts. And it is their status as primary texts in a philosophy volume that raises the stakes here—Thacker is willing to take not only fiction seriously as a form of thought, but also its more maligned or fringe genres, including them fully in his genealogy of what he calls, echoing Lovecraft’s “cosmic indifferentism,” “Cosmic Pessimism.”10 The genres themselves take over the method of the book, which builds to a final section reminiscent of the metafictional glee of Nabokov’s Pale Fire (1962) or its B-horror version—the chapter titled “The Subharmonic Murmur of Black Tentacular Voids” provides an unattributed [End Page 634] poetic text and commentary (at one point, a “Commentary on Nothing”), which allows the text to perform the kind of work it has been describing (151). Here is Thacker on the book’s method:
Certainly a short story about an amorphous, quasi-sentient, mass of crude oil taking over the planet will not contain the type of logical rigor that one finds in the philosophy of Aristotle or Kant. But in a different way, what genre horror does do is it takes aim at the presuppositions of philosophical inquiry—that the world is always the world-for-us—and makes of those blind spots its central concern, expressing them not in abstract concepts but in a whole bestiary of impossible life forms—mists, ooze, blobs, slime, clouds, and muck. Or as Plato once put it, “hair, mud, and dirt.”(9)
In other words, these generic objects will function as ways of thinking that he finds missing in the philosophical territory of abstract concept. In fact, it’s the territory that matters, for his examples, not coincidentally caught up in the sliding between world and planet that interests him, provide objects that capture a kind of oblique territory between what Thacker calls “the abstract symbol and the concrete manifestation” (79).
The toggling that happens in these interestingly and insistently literary moments, while always pointing to the threat or possibility of formlessness, consistently hinges on rhetorical form, something so horrifyingly captured by the book’s blobs and mists. These near formless forms present the paradoxes of the possibility of nonhuman thinking that so interest Thacker—not only do we have the necessity of thinking unthinkable thoughts, but we also have formlessness attached to form. Analyzing an oil fiction by Fritz Lieber, for example, Thacker notes that the story’s gelatinous monsters are disturbingly formless but discrete: “One can point to them, isolate them, and even firebomb them,” he says. “Thus their formlessness—their ‘ooziness’—is still constrained by the outline of their form” (93).
Many of the forms invoked in his analyses take on the qualities of discrete yet formless monsters, as do the conglomerations of examples through which he moves. I’m referring here to what Thacker calls the “mode best suited” to what he calls a demon that can stand in for the perspective of the nonhuman: “something LIKE metonymy” or the “as if” of earlier nonhuman figurations. This is a text obsessed with failed personifications, the problems of analogy that move between literary representations and the political theology of Carl Schmitt, with the categorization of motifs, themes of occult philosophy, and the giving way of allegorical readings to what he calls in the case of the 1968 novel Black Easter “a reading of the novel that is metaphysical” (68).
The most persuasive individual reading, however, lies in a brief, focused discussion of J. G. Ballard. Thacker reads Ballard’s first novel, The Wind from Nowhere, published in 1961: like many of Ballard’s early works of science fiction, this novel helps to show the uncanniness of the real that pervades many of his more recent and well known works. Thacker identifies the medium—wind—that Ballard uses to bring out “the correlation between internal states and external states, between the inner turbulence of modern, alienated subjectivity, and the outer turbulence of an equally unbalanced atmosphere” (87–88). He shows how the novel posits this correlation, but also rejects [End Page 635] it—demonstrating that there is no place from which to view the hidden world that manifests and obscures itself through a whirling cyclone. All you can know is that you know that you don’t know it, and that this somehow relates to an unknowable thing at the heart of what novel readers might often think of as “interiority.”
This question of interiority seems to open up an aspect of Thacker’s call for an alternative way to read fiction as well as aiding in understanding the paradoxical figure of the nonhuman. For paradoxes of perspective, and how they challenge conceptions of personhood, are something novels understand particularly well. When Thacker describes the trope of the magic site, he calls it “the place where the hiddenness of the world presents itself in its paradoxical way (revealing itself—as hidden)”; this is an aspect of fictionalized interiority that often goes unacknowledged by literary scholars, and the archive of fictions that might give access to this question may be much bigger than the weird archive to which Thacker turns (82).
To understand how that archive might be expanded requires a clearer sense of weird writing’s current metonymies. The “New Weird” is a genre category that has been adopted by a group of writers of post-cyberpunk speculative fiction and what they call “[t]ransgressive horror.”11 It has been the subject of anthologies, library and art gallery shows, and a fairly large amount of mainstream fiction journalism. Miéville is the best known author of this group, largely for his bestseller Perdido Street Station (2000). The most widely circulated anthology is the 2008 volume, simply titled The New Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, themselves self-declared practitioners of the genre. Jeff VanderMeer’s introduction to the volume lays out some of the genre’s history and presumptions. He calls the New Weird a “visceral, contemporary take on the kind of visionary horror” that is exemplified in the work of Lovecraft and the other writers affiliated with the Weird Tales magazine and those like it that were circulating in the background of modernism (x).12 The identifying characteristics of the genre in this account are decidedly slippery, including the “surrender to the weird” as a way of describing a resistance to ironic distance, an undefined yet insistent relationship to the “real” or “modern” world which is then reimagined in a constructed place that contains some elements of science fiction or fantasy, and a simultaneous adherence to techniques affiliated with nineteenth-century realism (VanderMeer, The New Weird, xi, ix).
More instructive in this description of the New Weird is the embedded ambivalence towards its literary precursors. While claiming writers such as Lovecraft as the genre’s literary inheritance, VanderMeer wants to place the New Weird as a kind of rejection of what often remains unknown or unsaid in the older weird tales. Thus when he refers to an old weird, “old” is in scare quotes, a sense repeated in a recent discussion on the New York Public Library’s electronic forum, in which the author suggests that “by necessity there must’ve been an Old Weird as well,” and also mentions the Weird Tales writers as “a launching pad for any standard of ‘weirdness’ to be possible in our day.”13 And although some gatekeepers of weird fiction dedicate themselves with ever-renewed vigor to “moving past Lovecraft,” for others he begins to stand in for old weirdness.14 A rival volume to The New Weird is the recently released New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, which in its title claims Lovecraft even more explicitly [End Page 636] as the progenitor of weird fiction, and internally refers to the genre’s authors as the “New Lovecraftians.”15 What the anthology isolates as key influences from Lovecraft’s legacy, including his cosmicism—defined as an indifferent universe containing humans as meaningless nonentities—in part explains the appeal to recent thinkers working on the possibilities for nonhuman thought. But, as his readers will know, Lovecraft himself drew on a long history of American weirdness (and from its beginnings American literature is profoundly weird) and was especially interested in the well-known tales of our Hawthornes and Poes, as well as his closer near contemporaries like Ambrose Bierce. But, despite the recent resurgence of interest in Lovecraft’s tales, they are not the only source for locating an American old weird, especially as it might provide access to ways of considering nonhuman agency or thought.
It might be worth exploring here what version of the nineteenth-century old weird accompanies the invocation of Lovecraft. The best place to turn, in my view, is to another theorist of the American weird, Greil Marcus. For although his book The Old, Weird America is ostensibly a cultural history of the folk and other impulses behind Bob Dylan’s basement tapes, it also works as a kind of atlas to the old, weird, American fiction. After releasing the book with another title, Marcus eventually renamed it after the middle chapter on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music (1952), in which he describes something he calls Smithville. “Here is a mystical body of the republic,” he says, “a kind of public secret: a declaration of a weird but clearly recognizable America.”16 Throughout this discussion of the old, weird America found in Smith’s text, Marcus invokes “an occult document disguised as an academic treatise on stylistic shifts within an archaic musicology,” and finds within it artists he describes as appearing “like visitors from another world, like passengers on a ship that had drifted into the sea of the unwritten” (94, 92). The old, weird America is an inheritance, but one its recipients “might prefer to claim had reached them by mistake” (87). In order to capture the reach of such an inheritance, Marcus considers not only “the Gothic-romantic traverse of American self-regard,” but also “the forest primeval of nineteenth century letters,” a location he solidifies by referring, by way of a more recent novel by Mark Merlis, American Studies, to a fictionalization of the great midcentury scholar of the American Renaissance, F. O. Matthiessen (xix, 89).
The Old, Weird America captures a sense of the weird persistent in the Matthiessen’s own accounts of nineteenth-century American fiction. Something of Matthiessen’s “alien” Melville and indifference-confronting Hawthorne appears here, and is ground zero of the genealogy with which I opened this account. And certainly there is a richer story to trace into these and earlier American literary contexts. But an important line of American weirdness is often overlooked in the frequent reach back from depression-era folk poetries and “weird tales” to their more overt nineteenth-century inspirations. This omission demands instead an account of the gritty, material, and in critical discussions often un-weird worlds of the late nineteenth-century realists and naturalists, especially when they evoke the sentient landscapes of what would otherwise be known as horror fiction. Attending to these moments of strange sentience brings the novels of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American realism and naturalism much closer [End Page 637] to the world evoked in the New Weird fiction, as well as to the novels of recent decades whose narrative experiments put them in conversation equally with both naturalism and the New Weird. To read them together is to enact the kind of methodology performed by Miéville’s Railsea: a salvage operation that assembles with oblique regard to origin or respect for context. It is also to acknowledge, as Joel Burges does in an engaging love letter to Miéville’s sentences, that reading Miéville along with such writers as Cormac McCarthy and William Faulkner, for example, mapping their paratactic dislocations and “unnaturally passive sound,” can be a more critically rewarding endeavor than to confine them to their genre-fiction lineages.17
Cormac McCarthy’s weird westerns—exemplified by his 1985 novel Blood Meridian—have their own claims on the category of the New Weird. In this novel, set in the mid-nineteenth century border country of the southwest United States and Mexico, both cowboys and aliens abound. They include what might be called the novel’s protagonist, a runaway called “the kid” who joins a group of scalp hunters operating in the US-Mexico borderlands, and Judge Holden, the outsized and otherworldly figure who becomes the kid’s pursuer and devourer. They also include a landscape that ominously withdraws from its inhabitants, so that at “night as they lay in that ground each heard, all heard, the dull boom of rock falling somewhere far below them in the awful darkness inside the world.”18
The distinction “alien” is an equal-opportunity one: besieged members of a wagon train sleep “with their alien hearts beating in the sand like pilgrims exhausted upon the face of the planet Anareta, clutched to a namelessness wheeling in the night” (46). Tribal warriors move “like creatures driven to alien forms of locomotion” or possess “alien and barbarous head[s]” (56, 159). Horses which look “alien to any [the protagonist had] ever seen” trudge “sullenly the alien ground,” and at times we observe the eyes of characters as they take “in the alien stones” (232, 247, 65). Speech can be “both alien and extinct,” and, late in the novel, we watch as “[o]ut on the prairie to the north a train of yoked wagons was passing and the oxen were pale and silent in the starlight and the wagons creaked faintly in the distance and a lantern with a red glass followed them out like an alien eye” (290, 322). Alien in these passages can be a relative term—it describes something outside of the perspective held by the narrative at that time, a perspective that in McCarthy’s novels has the capacity to travel. But “alienness” can be experienced within, and in part describes how his characters experience or encounter themselves specifically as narrative subjects. This emerges in a description of a group of Delawares who have been accompanying the marauding band of the novel’s protagonist, as they search for a lost comrade:
If much in the world were a mystery the limits of that world were not, for it was without measure or bound and there were contained within it creatures more horrible yet and men of other colors and beings which no man has looked upon and yet not alien none of [End Page 638] it more than were their own hearts alien in them, whatever wilderness contained there and whatever beasts.(138)
In this passage, the narrative agency remains decidedly unclear, occupying simultaneously a knowledge both available and forbidden to the persons it follows and locating in them both world and wilderness. We encounter a paradox, for the limits of the world are utterly known because they do not exist. And while what is not known sounds as though it is not alien, this is not altogether true. For it turns out that the unknown or the outside is only not alien because it is no more alien than “were their own hearts alien in them, whatever wilderness contained there and whatever beasts.” Part of the strangeness of what might be thought of as persons populating the text is enacted through impossible focalizations; the narrative is guided by the consciousness of persons who are so exteriorized that they have access to the non-knowledge that they don’t have.
The novel’s infamous judge describes this technique when he explains:
The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man’s mind can compass, that mind itself being a fact among others.(245)
The Judge is himself one of the novel’s aforementioned aliens, and here he gets at a problem that has been occupying thinkers who have been trying to imagine something like a “flat” or an “object-oriented” ontology, who have a more novelistic way of thinking than they tend to acknowledge; that problem, for the Judge, is the fundamental alienation of world and thought. In After Life, Thacker puts this another way when he speaks of events “beyond human comprehension.” “Life,” he claims, “is human-centered and yet unhuman- oriented.”19 Thinking outside of this human orientation, moreover, becomes a fixation for Quentin Meillassoux in After Finitude, which locates a critique of the transcendental subject in the also surprisingly novelistic use of the concept of point of view. “Let us suppose,” he says, “a subject without any point of view on the world—such a subject would have access to the world as totality, without anything escaping from its instantaneous inspection of objective reality.”20 While point of view as a philosophical concept has a longer history than its literary one, Meillassoux, whose recent work has been more overtly concerned with literary modes, seems here to have a double sense of its meaning. Point of view in Meillassoux’s text, I would argue, might also be understood in relation to fictional experiments with similar questions. There may be something here that novels have known for quite a while.
The interest in nonhuman objects, or what Rey Chow calls “the elusive material,” also appears in recent works of political theory and philosophy (and, ostensibly, media theory and literary criticism) by Jane Bennett, Ray Brassier, Levi Bryant, Timothy Morton, and Ian Bogost.21 Regardless of discipline, these scholars share an aspiration to philosophy resulting in hybrid theoretical works that, while providing important [End Page 639] alternatives to anthropocentric thinking, do not always leave room for a serious consideration of the literary forms and narratives that are their constant rhetorical partners. Bogost and Harman, following Latour, consider “characters” to be objects that can exist in assemblages with other objects as diverse as light bulbs and mushrooms, but leave an important and open question: what does that look like when “character” itself is taken seriously as a fictional concept and construction?22 This is a serious disciplinary question for literary scholars interested in what kinds of criticism object-oriented and speculative materialist approaches to nonhuman theory make possible, but also surfaces as a possibility in many discussions attending to the paradox of humans thinking about nonhuman thought. According to Bogost, “[a]s philosophers, our job is to amplify the black noise of objects to make the resonant frequencies of the stuffs inside them hum in credibly satisfying ways. Our job is to write the speculative fictions of their processes” (Alien Phenomenology, 34). And philosopher Paul Humphreys, in an essay on “thinking outside the brain,” puts similar pressure on the creation of imaginative, speculative, or fictional worlds when he asks “whether, by extending our conceptual resources, we can … gain access to realms of reality unimaginable by humans.”23
Both Bogost and Humphreys look to Thomas Nagel’s famous 1974 article, “What Is it Like to Be a Bat?,” which deals with some of the problems attending human attempts to think from a nonhuman perspective. Humphreys muses that “with the help of imagination—sometimes a little, sometimes a great deal—humans can come to understand alien modes of thought” (561). The “speculative fictions” and imaginative excurses forming objects of fantasy here, that is, might already be fictions. Alternatively, when Bryant reads flat and object-oriented ontology in relation to the systems theory of Niklas Luhmann, he claims that to avoid an anthropocentric reduction of objects, “we should engage in reflexive second-order observations of our own distinctions and how they organize our experience of the world. Yet having made this concession, we must also redraw our distinctions in such a way as to make room for nonhuman objects” (Democracy of Objects, 283). What better tool to observe and redraw distinctions—between humans, objects, or concepts—than the novel?
Brassier’s Nihil Unbound (2007) and his earlier work Alien Theory (2001) both contain discussions that at times read like prefaces to Blood Meridian. For example, Brassier elaborates what he calls a “conviction that there is a mind-independent reality, which, despite the presumptions of human narcissism, is indifferent to our existence.” “Nature,” he continues, “is not our or anyone’s ‘home,’ nor a particularly beneficent progenitor.”24 Blood Meridian works in these terms as a possible environment for thinking about materiality that has a kind of narrative agency, an agency consistent with what Latour has identified as the future of sympathy between objects in a world of proliferating agencies, for “animals, plants, soils, and chemicals,” he says in his recent “Compositionist Manifesto,” “are indeed acknowledged to have their friends and their enemies.”25 This is a line of thought that gestures to post-Kittlerian media studies, for as John Durham Peters points out in his introduction to Friedrich Kittler’s collection Optical Media, his is a media studies without regard for either experience or the human, or, in Peters’s words, “[h]e gives us a media studies without people.”26 So perhaps [End Page 640] when Bennett claims at the beginning of Vibrant Matter that she must develop “a vocabulary and syntax for … the active powers issuing from nonsubjects” which would then highlight “the material agency or effectivity of nonhuman or not-quite- human things,” she is offering a corresponding, if sunnier, material studies without people.27 McCarthy’s novel, as I have begun to show, takes material studies without people to its narrative ends. My favorite little piece of writing about Blood Meridian is from a recently translated preface written by Roberto Bolaño for its Spanish language edition. Bolaño calls the novel, predictably enough, “a Western, a cowboy novel by a writer who seems to specialize in the genre,” but, he says, it is something else as well. Blood Meridian, he goes on to claim,
“is also a novel about place, about the landscape of Texas and Chihuahua and Sonora; a kind of anti-pastoral novel in which the landscape looms in its leading role, imposingly—truly the new world, silent and paradigmatic and hideous, with room for everything except human beings. It could be said that the landscape of Blood Meridian is a landscape out of de Sade, a thirsty and indifferent landscape ruled by strange laws involving pain and anesthesia, the laws by which time often manifests itself.”28
What’s so fascinating about this preface is the way it thinks about an “indifferent landscape” as the novel’s “leading role.” Bolaño acknowledges the possibility that the landscape itself, his near-protagonist, might be the closest thing to a narrative entity that we have. This is a landscape that McCarthy describes as having a “neuter austerity” and governed by an “optical democracy” whereby “all preference is made whimsical and a man and a rock become endowed with unguessed kinships” (Blood Meridian, 247).29 What Bolaño calls the indifference of this narrator is its flatness, its lack of distinction between objects, a category it extends to humans. Within the world set up by the novel it’s remarkably unsurprising that something like a horizontal, indifferent materiality could be the thing telling the story.
The sense that something other than a person could stand in for a kind of narrative consciousness is pointed to, but of course not fully explained, by Bolaño’s gesture. But it’s the gesture itself that interests me here. It imagines the possibility of conjuring a world without the aid of a psychically or cognitively constituted consciousness, at least in the sense that is usually attached to such things. And in the double move of making person and rock equivalent, and then receiving that equivalence through not a narrative consciousness but the non-perception of the earth itself, the novel provides at least one possible experiment in thinking from a nonhuman perspective, or encodes the desire to do so.30
On the one hand, the landscape in Blood Meridian becomes a “scapeland,” the “glimpse of the inhuman” and “vanishing of a standpoint” described in Jean-François Lyotard’s The Inhuman, or an outpost of what Joyelle McSweeney calls the necropastoral.31 On the other hand, this landscape also reveals what might be considered the flat, ontological nature of the concept of landscape itself, which does not distinguish between the natural and human-made features comprising its touchable surfaces. What it shows, instead of a casual and anthropomorphizing shift of point of view, is [End Page 641] closer to the “diffuse” forms of sentience that Steven Shaviro reads as object-oriented ontology avant la lettre in the work of Alfred North Whitehead. In Without Criteria, Shaviro describes Whitehead’s techniques for avoiding anthropomorphic notions of sentience: “It is not the case that we human beings have some special essence of ‘mentality,’ whereas trees and rocks and electrons don’t. But neither is our sentience just an illusion. The difference is rather one of degree.”32 The landscape of Blood Meridian, I am suggesting, points to a diffuse narrative sentience whose development and destiny can be traced through an expanded field of weird fiction.
The Really Real
In works of the older weird, including Crane’s story “The Open Boat” (1897) and Norris’s novel McTeague (1899), two of the key perspectival forms central to the arguments linking the new weird to the Weird Tales writers and their nineteenth-century proclivities, namely the indifferent and the cosmic, appear in ways that are instructive for understanding their current manifestations. Indifference has informed much of the critical discussion of Crane’s story. It is often the aspect of the story that has to be dismissed in these critical treatments, because of this history; so, for example, when Bill Brown introduces his reading of the story’s game worlds, he begins by asking “Who, reading about four men laboring for their lives against an ‘indifferent, flatly indifferent’ natural world,” would see the story’s eponymous vehicle as “an object to be played with,” a perspective he attributes to the narrator.33 Earlier critics often saw this narrative perspective, which has the capacity to perceive the story’s humans, but only as “insignificant” beings “adrift in a universe that is wholly indifferent” to them, as opposed to another view from a more collective humanity bound against this indifference.34 Or, they focused on indifference as a sign of something closer to a surrealism underpinning Crane’s naturalism, in which “nothing human matters.”35 The pull of the indifferent has also led narrative theorists like David Herman to suggest that it implies within the story “speculation about some nonexistent focalizor” appearing in narrative hypotheticals, which for Brown “animate a host of nonhuman agencies” (The Material Unconscious, 124).36 Significantly, when the narrator speculates about strange viewpoints, the weird emerges directly, as in the passage early in the story that metafictionally claims, “Viewed from a balcony, the whole thing would doubtlessly have been weirdly picturesque.”37
But indifference itself, as a kind of point of view invoked in the story, remains tied to the humans about whom it does not care. The story begins with an image of a shipwrecked and injured captain lying in the small boat, who “was at the time buried in that profound dejection and indifference which comes … when the ship goes down” (Crane, “The Open Boat,” 165). And, towards the end of the story, another of the boat’s humans perceives, or at least we are to believe he is persuaded that he perceives, the indifference with which he is regarded by larger forces. “When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and that she feels she would not maim the [End Page 642] universe by disposing of him,” the narrator begins, “he feels, perhaps, the desire to confront a personification” (180). This is the precise movement—the desire to personify the indifferent nonhuman spectator—that makes the confrontation with indifference in this story so interesting as an explicitly narrative problem, for it is tied to the story’s infamously destabilized perspectival moves.
This narrative encounter with indifference emerges, too, at the end of Norris’s McTeague, after the title character has returned to the Sierra mining country of his youth with gold he has stolen from his murdered wife. McTeague’s narrator understands the desire for personification, a desire which here identifies the absence of persons, explaining that “In some places east of the Mississippi nature is cosey, intimate, small, and homelike, like a good-natured housewife. In Placer County, California, she is a vast, unconquered brute of the Pliocene epoch, savage, sullen, and magnificently indifferent to man.”38 When the New Weird writers turn to Lovecraft, rather than his nineteenth-century precursors, they often focus on his self-identification as an “indifferentist” or a practitioner of “cosmic indifferentism,” a method of dismissing the human to access what he calls “real externality.”39 This is an orientation echoed in Meillassoux’s spatial desire for an outside of the transcendental subject in After Finitude, Brassier’s ongoing critiques of not just anthropocentric but “neurocentric” perspectives in philosophy, or Bogost’s frustration that even an animal studies orientation has too much of what he calls a “focus on creatures from the vantage point of human intersubjectivity, rather than the weird, murky mists of the really real” (Alien Phenomenology, 8).
Lovecraft’s “real externality” in weird fiction and the “weird” and “really real” vantage points sought by the theorists I have been mentioning raise the question of what might be the really real of the weird. I have already suggested that it might have other homes than either the New Weird’s old weird in the early twentieth century or that old weird’s old weird in Poe and other nineteenth-century writers and that there are other weird interruptions that realign the status of the aesthetic weird. And in describing these possible temporal disalignments, I have not yet considered its frankly weird etymology. For although our dominant contemporary senses of weirdness—discomfort, alienation, the strange—capture part of the appeal that drives these affiliations, the Old English sense of the word persisted at least through the beginning of the twentieth century. The “old” definitions of weird include “the principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined” or “[t]hat which is destined or fated to happen to a particular person.”40 This is, of course, a kind of weirdness permeating 1890s fiction, for instance, and one that is gaining renewed currency on the permeable borders of the contemporary realist novel.41 It gains a kind of body at the end of McTeague, as he is pulled into the depths of Death Valley, when “[o]nce more the rowel was in his flanks, once more an unseen hand reined him toward the east” (289).
It’s in this vast desert that McTeague finally encounters what the narrator describes as “a thing of terror.” And terror here, located in the heat of Death Valley, redefines the indifference earlier witnessed, for “the great mountains of Placer County had been merely indifferent to man, but this awful sink of alkali was openly and unreservedly iniquitous and malignant” (291). This transformation of indifference, from its neutrality [End Page 643] to negativity, is another plotline to consider among the strains of the nonhuman to which I’ve been referring throughout this essay. It’s a story that troubles the contemporary writer Maggie Nelson in the discussion of Antonin Artaud that frames her 2012 The Art of Cruelty, in which she calls any such transformation a problematic, “regrettable” error of lexical judgment:
Artaud wanted his cruelty to speak, as it were, for itself. “The person who has an idea of what this language is will be able to understand us,” he wrote. “We write only for him.” But the concept doesn’t speak for itself. In fact, the very use of the word “cruelty” in relation to the kind of life force venerated by Artaud can at times seem a regrettable lexical error, perhaps of the Western, or Manichean variety—a distortion akin to the histrionic skewing of shunyata, the Buddhist concept of emptiness, entertainingly accomplished by philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer, who spun the notion out of fundamental neutrality and into negativity and nihilism. Artaud was looking to give a name to the “living whirlwind that devours the darkness … the pain apart from whose ineluctable necessity life could not continue.” He had already renamed God, shit; he called this whirlwind, cruelty. “And I claim, in doing this, the right to break with the usual sense of language, to crack the armature once and for all, to get the iron collar off its neck.” In short, cruelty meant whatever Artaud wanted it to mean. This makes the term, as passed down through him, somewhat difficult to work with.42
The difficulty to which Nelson refers perhaps requires neutrality to mean whatever she wants it to mean, rather than the “many indifferences” that constitute, for example, the neutral as it appears in Roland Barthes’s reading of Maurice Blanchot, a neutral that “does not necessarily correspond to the flat, utterly deprecated image that the doxa assumes but could constitute a strong, active value.”43 It certainly raises the question of whether “distortion”—from neutral to nihil—describes the character of indifference as it appears in varieties of speculative and nonhuman thought.
What enables this transformation in Norris’s novel—the rendering of “mere indifference”—can also be understood as a weird perspective. For in one of the novel’s most remarkable, and rarely remarked on passages, McTeague achieves a visionary status. Rather than a dream, the “awful sink of alkali” gives him a vision somewhere “between waking and sleeping” (292). In this vision,
There was something behind him; something was following him. He looked, as it were, over the shoulder of this other McTeague, and saw down there, in the half light of the cañon, something dark crawling upon the ground, an indistinct gray figure, man or brute, he did not know. Then he saw another, and another; then another. A score of black, crawling objects were following him, crawling from bush to bush, converging upon him. “They” were after him, were closing in upon him, were within a touch of his hand, were at his feet—were at his throat.(293)
The appearance of “They” so dramatically (emphasis not mine) prefigures the B-horror feel and obsessions of the Lovecraft strain of contemporary nonhumanist thinking. When McTeague is granted extra-human perception by the desert, he observes from what seems here to be a perspective that is inclined to view the person as a self-consuming [End Page 644] insectoid encrustation of an almost alien terrain. Norris, who himself dabbled in horror fiction, propels McTeague into a landscape recognizable from popular stories such as “The Dead Valley” by Ralph Adams Cram (who would be featured on the cover of Time in 1926 for his work as a Gothic Revival architect). The focal point of Cram’s story, published in 1895 and praised by the likes of Lovecraft, is its eponymous valley which, unlike the Californian desert depths of McTeague, appears mysteriously in the Swedish hills. The dead valley is “a great oval basin, almost as smooth and regular as though made by man” and contains “[n]othing. Bare, brown, hard earth, glittering with grains of alkali.”44 This gesture in McTeague also recalls the many moves to witnessless vision in Blood Meridian, such as when the marauding band sees “Goldseekers” that become, in the next sentence, “[i]tinerant degenerates bleeding westward like some heliotropic plague” (78).
A determinist weird can also act as a verb; so, “to weird” is to determine or to enact a proleptic movement into a predestined future. As far back at least as Macbeth’s “Weird Sisters,” the weird also implies something unearthly. In good naturalist fashion, McTeague makes the earth in “unearthly” a little bit too literal. In the early stages of McTeague’s ill-fated marriage to Trina, he unknowingly weirds his own plot. Although a significant portion of the novel’s San Francisco is seen in these sections through his parlor windows, there is another way of seeing implied, for “[s]ometimes,” we learn, McTeague and Trina would instead “look at Mars or the moon through the street telescopes” (136). By weirding these texts, I’m hoping to discover whether what they see is also looking back.
These brief examples highlight one way that the weird signals the emergence of a set of techniques that allows for some of the most interesting and, in my view, important contemporary novels to question the assumptions lying behind narrative interiority from within. These techniques surround the narrative foci, and points of view, of a range of recent novels—characters, persons even, who are something close to but other than human. The characters populating this other branch of what might be called weird fiction, such as the narrator of Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles (1998), are often not revealed to be anything other than of the human species until the end of the narrative, yet an uncanniness attends their voices throughout the text. This remarkably frequent phenomenon appearing in novels published in the decades surrounding Blood Meridian (novels ranging in contemporary fiction, I would argue, from Marilynne Robinson’s 1980 Housekeeping to Michael Cunningham’s 2005 Specimen Days to Colson Whitehead’s 2012 Zone One) also points to an alienation always present in the transfer of interiorities presumed by the genre of fiction and to how the categories of personhood have been breaking down in various forms throughout the long history of the novel in ways that these contemporary crises make visible. At stake in this constellation of texts is the presumed link between modern conceptions of person and point of view—a link to which several of the so-called perceiving entities in these texts remain resolutely unaccountable. For someone like Miéville, the anxiety attending the nonhumanity of the weird should also be understood as an aesthetic response to material economic conditions—if the persons and universes constructed in [End Page 645] his fiction seem inhuman and incoherent, he says, take a look at the current economic and political situation—and this is precisely why other practitioners of the New Weird are uncomfortable with his status among them (while appreciating the popular and fiscal rewards of his affiliation with the movement).45 This is also why a closer look at how the weirdness of his fiction might inform readings not only of a larger range of contemporary fiction, but also the strands of nonhuman theory most interested in coopting the category of the weird seems particularly urgent.
Novels such as Blood Meridian work as ripostes to what Humphreys calls “the anthropocentric predicament” because they illustrate what an alternate perspective might look like (“Thinking Outside the Brain,” 549). But they also, deliberately I think, fail to do so at the same time—a remainder of personhood abides amid the gestures towards its foreclosure. “A touch of anthropomorphism,” says Bennett, “can catalyze a sensibility that finds a world filled not with ontologically distinct categories of beings (subjects and objects) but with variously composed materialities that form confederations” (Vibrant Matter, 99). These novels are far less interested in deconstructing subjects than thinking otherwise from the beginning, and the narrative experiments cascading through them reveal something about the persons, objects, and landscapes found in many of the texts inhabiting the already strange universe of an older weird. The universe described by the fiction of the weird is instructive not only for this longer literary tradition, but also for the kinds of contemporary thinking that explore its premises, and both are beginning to demand a new narrative vocabulary.
Kate Marshall is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, where she also serves on the faculty of the History and Philosophy of Science departments. She is the author of Corridor: Media Architectures in American Fiction (2013) and co-editor of the Post45 book series at Stanford University Press.
1. See, for example, Poe scholar Richard Kopley’s review of the novel: “The Quest for Tsalal: Mat Johnson’s Pym: A Novel,” The Edgar Allan Poe Review 13, no. 1 (2012), 41–45.
2. “Over the years since my original hire I pushed away from that [African American literature] and insisted on teaching American literature in general, following a path toward my passion, toward Edgar Allan Poe” (Mat Johnson, Pym: A Novel [New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2011], 7).
4. Steven Shaviro, Post-Cinematic Affect (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2010), 33. Thanks to Joseph Jeon for directing me to this reading.
5. The most comprehensive and persuasive account, in my view, of the range of nonhuman thinking can be found in Levi R. Bryant’s The Democracy of Objects. Among the “heroes” of object-oriented philosophy, he lists such varied names as Graham Harman, Bruno Latour, Isabelle Stengers, Timothy Morton, Ian Bogost, Jane Bennett, Niklas Luhmann, Marshall McLuhan, Manuel DeLanda, Friedrich Kittler, Alfred North Whitehead, and N. Katherine Hayles. “The thread that runs throughout the work of these thinkers,” he says, “is a profound decentering of the human and the subject that nonetheless makes room for the human, representation, and content, and an accompanying attentiveness to all sorts of nonhuman objects or actors coupled with a refusal to reduce these agencies to vehicles of content and signs” (Levi R. Bryant, The Democracy of Objects [Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2011], 27). Bryant’s attention to the conceptual overlay between autopoetic systems theory and object-oriented philosophy is particularly instructive for scholars of reflexive literary forms.
6. Graham Harman, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2012), 3, 51. Harman’s “object-oriented literary criticism” is quite different to that I am beginning to outline in these pages and would involve modifying the texts themselves, including, of course, Melville’s: “Instead of just writing about Moby-Dick, why not try shortening it to various degrees in order to discover [End Page 646] the point at which it ceases to sound like Moby-Dick? Why not imagine it lengthened even further, or told by a third-person narrator rather than by Ishmael, or involving a cruise in the opposite direction around the globe?” (Graham Harman, “The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-Oriented Literary Criticism,” New Literary History 43, no. 2 : 183–203, 202).
7. China Miéville, Railsea (London: Macmillan, 2012), 8–9.
8. China Miéville, “Neither a Contract nor a Promise: Five Moments to Watch Out For,” Omnivoracious: The Amazon Book Review (blog), June 17, 2009, omnivoracious.com/2009/06/neither-a-contract-nor-a-promise-five-movements-to-watch-out-for.html.
9. I am grateful to a reviewer of this special issue for pointing me to Lukács’s “The Ideology of Modernism” for a useful background to the modernist weird.
10. Eugene Thacker, Horror of Philosophy, vol. 1, In the Dust of This Planet (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2011), 17.
11. Jeff VanderMeer, “Introduction,” in The New Weird, ed. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (London: Tachyon, 2008), ix–xvii, x.
12. For a discussion of Weird Tales in relation to modernist artistic production, see Leif Sorensen, “A Weird Modernist Archive: Pulp Fiction, Pseudobiblia, H. P. Lovecraft,” Modernism/modernity 17, no. 3 (2010): 501–22. See also Mark McGurl’s discussion of H. P. Lovecraft’s “Weird University” in “The Posthuman Comedy,” Critical Inquiry 38, no. 3 (2012): 533–53. For McGurl, the horror genres of American literature, including the old weird tales of both Lovecraft and Poe, are both “the most responsive to the hard fact of deep time,” as described by Wai Chee Dimock, and correctives to “the optimistic account that Dimock builds upon the foundations of nineteenth-century American literature” (542).
14. See Jeff VanderMeer’s “Moving Past Lovecraft,” Weird Fiction Review, September 1, 2012, weirdfictionreview.com/2012/09/moving-past-lovecraft/.
15. Paula Guran, “Introduction,” in New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird (London: Prime Books, 2011), 14.
16. Greil Marcus, The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes (New York: Macmillan, 2011), 121.
17. Joel Burges, “Loving Miéville’s Sentences,” Post45, February 12, 2012, post45.research.yale. edu/2012/02/loving-mievilles-sentences. Burges shows how Miéville’s changing experiments with perspective, specifically in the Bas-Lag trilogy, chart an evolving relationship to McCarthy’s prose. For Burges, this is a process of “modernization” in which style “contemporizes in moving from omniscience to free indirection.” While I find this description useful, I would also argue that the distinction Burges draws, between “a general point of view detached from any specific human perspective, a view from nowhere,” and “a free indirect style that feels markedly modern, even contemporary” obscures an interesting move in the passive voice he attributes to McCarthy and sees mobilized by Miéville. This move takes the “view from nowhere” and expresses it in the free indirect, refusing contemporaneity in these terms.
18. Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 111.
19. Eugene Thacker, After Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), ix.
20. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008), 24.
21. See Rey Chow, “The Elusive Material: What the Dog Doesn’t Understand,” in New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, ed. Diana Coole and Samantha Frost (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 221–33.
22. See Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology, or, What It’s Like to Be a Thing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), and Graham Harman, Towards Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2010).
23. Paul Humphreys, “Thinking Outside the Brain,” in Collapse: Philosophical Research and Development, vol. 5, ed. Damian Veal (Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic, 2009), 549–70, 556. [End Page 647]
24. Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), xi.
25. Bruno Latour, “An Attempt at a Compositionist Manifesto,” New Literary History 41, no. 3 (2010): 471–90, 483.
26. John Durham Peters, introduction to Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media: Berlin Lectures 1999, trans. Anthony Enns (London: Polity Press, 2010), 1–17, 5.
27. Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), ix. Bennett’s text works with something like the glee found in Kittler’s pages, but without its constitutively apocalyptic affiliations.
28. Roberto Bolaño, Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998–2003, trans. Natasha Wimmer, ed. Ignacio Echevarría (New York: New Directions, 2011), 201.
29. See also Ramón Saldívar’s fascinating reading of this passage as an index to the capacity of Blood Meridian to operate as an historical novel: “Not content with simply capturing the contradictions and fractures of its historical sources, in Blood Meridian McCarthy veers toward the neutered austerity of national narratives forged in sublime brutality” (“The American Borderlands Novel,” in The Cambridge History of the American Novel, ed. Leonard Cassuto, Clare Virginia Eby, and Benjamin Reiss [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011], 1031–45, 1038).
30. The capacity to narrate outside of the boundaries of perceiving psychic consciousness, and to locate this narration in the landscape, is the also the aspiration of the narrator of Tom McCarthy’s 2006 novel Remainder. Remainder’s narrator aspires to be the landscape, even if the idea of landscape in the novel has all of Cormac McCarthy’s “neuter austerity” and “indifference” but perhaps very few of its rocks. Remainder’s narrator is explicitly worried about his relationship to landscape, a very specific term here. Early in the novel, he worries about his exteriority and exclusion and watches the city close ranks against him. “The landscape I was looking at seemed lost, dead, a dead landscape,” he says. Although his non-consciousness is considerably less baroque than the observer of Blood Meridian, he too requires a material environment that includes him in all of its exteriority (Tom McCarthy, Remainder [New York: Vintage Books, 2007], 51).
31. Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 187. According to McSweeney, the necropastoral is “the manifestation of the infectiousness, anxiety, and contagion occultly present in the hygienic borders of the classical pastoral. For all the pastoral’s shoring up of separations, and despite the cordon sanitaire it purports to erect between unhealthy urban strife and wholesome rural peace, we must remember that the premier celebrity resident of Arcadia is Death” (Joyelle McSweeney, The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults [Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2015], 3).
32. Steven Shaviro, Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 27.
33. Bill Brown, The Material Unconscious: American Amusement, Stephen Crane, and the Economics of Play (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 103.
34. Gregory A. Schirmer, “Becoming Interpreters: The Importance of Tone in Crane’s ‘The Open Boat,’” American Literary Realism 15, no. 2 (1982): 221–31, 222.
35. Sydney J. Krause, “The Surrealism of Crane’s Naturalism in Maggie,” American Literary Realism 16, no. 2 (1983): 253–61, 259.
36. David Herman, “Hypothetical Focalization,” Narrative 2, no. 3 (1994): 230–53, 236.
37. Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat,” in The Open Boat and Other Stories (New York: Dover, 1993), 166.
38. Frank Norris, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (New York: Dover, 2004), 260.
39. H. P. Lovecraft, quoted in S. T. Joshi, “H. P. Lovecraft: The Fiction of Materialism,” in American Supernatural Fiction: From Edith Wharton to the Weird Tales Writers, ed. Douglas Robillard (New York: Garland, 1996), 141–66, 147, 141. It is worth pointing out here the array of connotations that “indifference” captures, especially given its prominence as an index of mass violence in the twentieth century (expressed by Elie Wiesel in his famous 1999 speech on “The Perils of Indifference” that warns, “indifference reduces the other to an abstraction”). This is certainly a notorious problem for [End Page 648] Lovecraft, but raises a larger question about the effects of flatness as either a narrative strategy or reading method. While it is important to attend to the consequences of what could begin to emerge as an “indifferent ontology,” I am also persuaded by the arguments put forward against anthropocentric thought by Cary Wolfe, for example, in What Is Posthumanism?, in which he claims that the anthropocentric frameworks of humanism often despite their intentions “reproduce the very kind of normative subjectivity—a specific concept of the human—that grounds discrimination against nonhuman animals and the disabled in the first place.” The significance of the more nonhumanist approach to studying animals, he says, “is that it poses fundamental challenges … to a model of subjectivity and experience drawn from the liberal justice tradition and its central concept of rights, in which ethical standing and civic inclusion are predicated on rationality, autonomy, and agency” (Cary Wolfe, What Is Posthumanism? [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010], xvii, 127).
40. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., “weird, n.”
41. As in, for example, the novels cited above by both Cormac McCarthy and Tom McCarthy.
42. Maggie Nelson, The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2011), 16–17.
43. Roland Barthes, The Neutral: Lecture Course at the Collège de France (1977–1978) (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 211.
44. Ralph Adams Cram, “The Dead Valley,” in American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to Pulp (New York: Library of America, 2009), 210–18, 216.
45. For a New Weird critique of the political aspects of Miéville’s writing, see VanderMeer, The New Weird. Steven Shaviro’s discussion of weird fiction in Post-Cinematic Affect touches on Miéville’s most direct statements linking the history of weird fiction with economic history: “Miéville associates the Weird of the early twentieth century with ‘the crisis tendencies of capitalism [that] would ultimately lead to World War I (to the representation of which traditional bogeys were quite inadequate).’ … He suggests that the New Weird of our present moment responds to ‘the advent of the neoliberal There Is No Alternative,’ for which ‘the universe [i]s an ineluctable, inhuman, implacable, Weird, place’” (33). [End Page 649]