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  • Dark Correlationism:Mysticism, Magic, and the New Realisms
  • Rebekah Sheldon (bio)

...a strange but perhaps enchanting abyss at the core of thought itself.

—Eugene Thacker (2015b, 120)

They serve Miskatonic beer on tap at Cantina 1910, an upscale Mexican restaurant in the Andersonville section of Chicago. The label features a woman in silhouette, trimmed umbrella in hand. Look closely and you might be able to spot the train of Cthulhu tentacles dragging delicately behind her fancy Victorian gown. At Gather, a crafts boutique in downtown Bloomington Indiana, Cathulhu decorative throw pillows sit next to French soaps and delicate glass charms, sweet feline head atop slimy Cthulhu body. The Elder God is also available from craftspeople all over the world in the form of winter wear (beard cover, ski mask, or beanie), knitted holiday sweaters, Christmas tree ornaments, glow-in-the-dark bracelets, packs of playing cards, painted triptychs, 4-foot wall decals, and shiny black lacquer thrones. Cloyingly cute, knowing allusive, or fannishly serious, as a beverage, household bauble, or body art, Cthulhu is everywhere.

Nor is the popularity of H.P. Lovecraft’s monster strictly a matter of popular culture, or restricted to Lovecraft. Donna Haraway has recently used the term Chthulucene to describe “diverse earth-wide tentacular powers and forces” (2015, 160). She shifts the spelling to distinguish her coinage from its original, but this act of refusal merely underscore that something in the chthonic nightmare still compels and demands our attention. After all, what is such a figure doing in a work of feminist new materialism? Cthulhu or Chthulu (or Cathulhu), the tentacular allures. It gives shape and form to the amorphous unshaping of the Earth that China Miéville names “the katacanny…the rebuke to our complacent ground-walking swagger” (2012, 386). Haraway is not alone; Cthulhu has appeared in diverse precincts of the new realism as a metonymic figure for the speculative, metaphysical, and [End Page 137] theological.1 This essay looks at three such precincts (darkness mysticism in object oriented ontology, vibrational ontologies in new materialist philosophy, and hyperstition in the Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit) to see the ways they configure the relationship between the work of scholarship and the constitution of the real. Each opens the hermetic from the hermeneutic in a strikingly divergent way. That they do so at all and that they all do so suggests that they diverge only insofar as they also meet on some shared terrain. The name of that terrain, I contend, is the occult.

To speculate—beyond the human; to take up the nonhuman world without regard for theories of mediation and their restriction to human knowledge systems; to shuck off finitude and break out of the circle of culture and its constructions; to reject the aggrieved humanism of poststructuralism and vanquish correlationism2: these are the promises that made object oriented ontology revolutionary. For object oriented ontology as for speculative realism more generally,3 the trouble with most twentieth-century schools of philosophy is that they lose the world of things-in-themselves by tithing too many and too valuable resources to examining the conditions by which we know those things. We have been too seduced by the power we have given to epistemology, they argue, and it has kept us from seeing the richness of the in-itself that beckons beyond the human. Or as Timothy Morton put it recently in the Los Angeles Review of Books: “To speak only about human meaning is to have ceded a gigantic area of reality—let’s call it the whole universe” (2015).

Object oriented ontology, in other words, is paradigmatically ontological. It styles itself as the premiere ontological turn, the Robin Hood come to decommission the turnkey of epistemology and release us from the prison of language, meaning, discourse, and power. Ontology is even in the name! This is why it comes as such a shock to realize that epistemology—and, crucially, the limit point of knowledge—in fact governs much of object oriented ontology. This role is not ancillary, in other words, not a small error that can be combed out with future study, but a loadbearing feature of its conceptual architecture. Against all expectation...


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pp. 137-153
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