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The Horror of Something: commentaries on the littered universe and the weird
02 Jun 2008
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This is a revised version of the paper I wrote for the Weird symposium at Goldsmiths (December, 2007); the paper was included in the pamphlet Benjamin Noys compiled for the event. Like my contribution for Collapse: Concept-Horror, it deals with the logic of subtraction and ontology, but here the focus shifts from vitalism and decay to the inherent inaccessibility and consequently unintelligibility of objects. The subtractive logic of ontology dictates a universal destiny for objects which becomes the source of ‘weirdness’ for the universe. Ontology in the light of the logic of subtraction renders objects irrevocably weird in that objects perpetually evade us and recede to utter unintelligibility. Robin Mackay hinted at this in the introduction to Collapse iv by drawing a comparison between my work and that of Graham Harman.

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The weird is the destiny of all objects; it bespeaks of the fate of objects in that by conforming to their ontological constitution or immanent intension, objects relay and enforce the intention of that which is radically exterior to them. The weird is universal destiny as twist.

The question of the weird cannot be immediately subsumed under the question of sense or experience; accordingly, it cannot be captured by statements and phrases such as ‘I think this is weird’, ‘feeling weird’, ‘I love weird things’, etc. The weird is not a matter of experience and sensation, for if it were then it would be a mere by-product of the relation of temporality and synchronicity to sense and the conditional; and hence reducible to a status of the monstrous or grotesque whose complete domestication has been afforded from the outset. Now, if the weird is primarily perpetuated exterior to sense and regardless of our access, then, is being inaccessible sufficient for being weird? Is the resistance to sense and experience, or in other words, diachronic disjunction with the synchronicity inherent to the transcendental enough to insinuate the weird? In being – in contrast to temporality – abysmally inaccessible, the object X does indeed confound whatever transcendental apparatus (consciousness, mystical intuition, sense, experience) has been designated to access it. In this case, the weird emerges out of the incompatibility between the futile attempts at access and the immanent inaccessibility or disjunctive resistance of the object X. By attempting to latch on to the inaccessible, the subject of access only becomes allergic to its own existence and the ultimate transcendental task imparted to it. It is in making sense out of X, that sense or consciousness becomes a dead weight, a corpse-like burden pressing on its own chest. Yet if weirdness relies upon the incommensurability between the inaccessibility or the refractory realm of the object and the subject of access, then the weird is indexed by the fatigue of sense, or in other words, it merely articulates a trauma. This incompatibility between inaccessibility of X and the subject or the apparatus of access is inexorable and so is the trauma. However, even if this trauma cannot be undone under any condition – and hence is unconditional and independent of any relation other than the inexistence of the relation as such (i.e. radical incommensurability) – it still feeds upon the subject of the access or sense.

Whether as the image or the subtle register of this incommensurability, the weird only endures as long as sense – involuntarily or not – insists upon its intelligibility, or as long as the subject of access maintains its existence. Once sense separates from its presumed intelligibility, or the subject of access fully deteriorates, then the weird withdraws. Such seizure of intelligibility or determination of access does not need to happen on the basic or elementary material level, for as Houellebecq (The Elementary Particles), Juan Rulfo (Pedro Paramo) and Lovecraft (Cthulhu mythos) have envisioned, the inaccessible, already dead or aimless objects, particles and stars can haunt the space without any correlation, influence, relation, warmth of collectivity, individuation or any consolidating narrative whatsoever. Dead things can indeed roam in the tenebrous vastness of the universe or even lurch on chthonic superficialities of the earth long after the destruction of intelligibility, sense or the subject of access. Yet as Lovecraft insinuates, this vacuous horror does not obstruct the weird; it reinforces it. Even if all apparatuses of access are eradicated and all manifests of intelligibility cease to exist, the weird persists. As long as something (anything) endures and remains by, for or within itself, the weird is perpetuated autonomously and without any objective. This brings us to three speculations:

The blind cosmos grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in the darkness. (The Silver Key)

The conjecture of the littered universe: The weird diagrammed by Lovecraft is that of a universe which, even though it has been denuded to its bare and unresponsive objects, cannot help but be weird. The universe is – non-metaphorically – a heap of rubbish and garbage whose objects merely remain amid their own detritus and waste, in unintelligible promiscuity with each other. The objects exude weirdness just by remaining so and as such and without any affinity or common border whatsoever with anything outside – that is, they roam aimlessly and litter the universe. If just by remaining so and as such (viz. being something, anything), independent of any correlation or affinity, the weird ensues, then weirdness is immanent to the destiny of all objects, the fate of being something. Given that the weird emanates even when the object is sealed from the outside, then what is this destiny that not only includes all objects but also guarantees the perpetuation of the weird? Such all-inclusive destiny, first and foremost, should be irrespective of the object’s properties, attributes and belongings. For this reason this destiny should be posited under the rubric of subtraction which presupposes the shedding of belongings or points of access in order to bring the possibility of remaining in itself or being something. Remaining-in-itself (being aimless) is only possible by the removal of all properties (aphaeresis) and the mobilization of non-belonging (subtraction). To this extent, the destiny (werde) that simultaneously amounts to or develops into the refractory closure of the objects and their autonomous weirdness is the fate of all objects, the primary and basic prerequisite of being something – that is remaining so and as such. Yet to speak of to remain so and as such is not possible without taking into account the priority and the primacy of subtraction. If, as Lovecraft emphasizes, the weird endures long after the demise of the subject of access, in its own unrecognizable enclosure, then the source of this weirdness has something to do with remaining of the object as such, or more accurately, with remaining as an object or remaining as something. To remain (i.e. the object’s remaining so and as such), however, both implicitly and explicitly suggests subtraction. Explicitly, because an object cannot remain in itself, or more accurately, cannot withdraw from correlation, unless all its belonging and properties by which access or correlation is anticipated are taken away, removed and subtracted. What can be explicated or developed from the object is that which should be subtracted so that the object can remain in itself, uncorrelated and weird. Implicitly, because in order to embody itself as something against the annihilative vector of subtraction (nothing) that removes all properties, the remaining must and is only able to perpetuate itself in remaining less. Therefore, in an ontological twist, in order to remain in themselves, the objects of this littered universe have to presume an internal vector of subtraction by which inaccessibility and non-correlatability (viz. remaining so and as such) is only possible by remaining less. This is the intensive or implicit vector of subtraction which overlaps with the possibility of remaining in itself and is posited as its ontological guarantor.

The intensive vector of subtraction or remaining less – inherent to the aimless or blind universe perforated by objects which resist correlation – attests to the radical subversion embedded in the destiny of all objects. This radical subversion or the source of weirdness can be grasped in terms of ontological intension / intention (the destiny of objects) and the perforation of such intension (subversion of that destiny): The weird or littered universe can only effectuate itself once the object roams aimlessly. This aimless or unresponsive object bespeaks of objects in themselves and is uncorrelatable. Yet, in turn, the weird as autonomous senselessness or resistance to correlation attests to the irreducible destiny of all objects; that they can only be enclosed in themselves by remaining so and as such. But why do we call the intensive idea of ontology that is remaining so and as such, destiny (wyrd)? Because remaining so and as such as the universal destiny of objects and the source of weirdness not only guarantees the inaccessibility of objects (hence making the universe littered with unintelligibility) but also obliges the objects to remain in order to be in themselves and evade access. In other words, the intensive idea of ontology dictates that in order for objects to remain in themselves and defy access, they need to shed their belongings. For objects, the continuation of their survival (as an unintelligible) is only possible by employing the vector of subtraction as an ontological guarantor. To remain is to affirm the possibility of surviving subtraction, whose annihilative power is effectuated by the removal of all belongings and properties, and hence the mobilization of non-belonging or Nothing. For this reason, remaining per se compels the object to be something – as that which remains after subtraction – in order to be in itself and remain non-correlated, namely, unintelligible. The universal destiny of objects entails that in order for the object to litter the world with their unintelligibility or inaccessibility and render the universe weird, they must first be something and mobilize the ontological vector of remaining.

… the ripples that told of the writhing of worms beneath. (What the moon brings)

The conjecture of problematic intension / intention: Prima facie, this being something of the non-correlated object signals the triumph of vitalism over nothing through a subtle trickery – short-circuiting Nothing by becoming nothing outside.[1] However, something, too, can only be something if it remains. To remain and to be something are immanently inseparable. This is where to be something or to remain as the destiny of the object in itself and the guarantee of a littered aimless universe is subverted from within. For remaining at any instance is not possible until the two vectors of Nothing from within and from without are unconditionally affirmed and complied with: (1) the mobilization of non-belonging by which attributes, properties, belongings and nodes of correlation are removed and subtracted (2) the interiorization of Nothing whereby remaining and its perpetuation (remaining in itself) is not possible other than in remaining less or intensive diminution. By approximating the interiorized Nothing, the remaining can continue to remain less, or in other words, remain in itself.

It is through remaining in themselves (or remaining so and as such) that objects can break apart from the correlation or the subject of access and withdraw to their unintelligible enclosure, rendering the universe irrevocably weird: particles, objects and stars roaming aimlessly in an stygian emptiness. It is the weirdness of ‘something’ as an ontological tenacity or a survivalist insistence on remaining that ultimately points to the horror of something: in order to be something, there is no other way than remaining for and within itself, or more accurately, sinking into unintelligibility. The point of being is being unintelligible since remaining as the ontological medium of something is not possible unless belongings and attributes through which access is made possible are shed. To put it differently, if something has to employ remaining as its ontological medium, it must also exteriorize extraneous belongings in order to remain in itself; this is necessitated by the logic of subtraction. Being something is equal to withdrawal from belongings or points of access by which the object can be correlated to its outside and rendered intelligible. More accurately, remaining in being is subtractively correlated to the shedding of belongings. Unintelligibility of objects is immanent to this subtractive correlation. The subtractive logic of ontology requires that objects offer an uncompromising resistance toward access and being is put to the test by its perpetual evasion of intelligibility. For this reason, although it is ontology that renders objects unintelligible, it is the weird that takes the ontological destiny of objects to its cosmic level: to litter the universe with unintelligibility is the very point of ontology. The intimacy of the weird with nihilism is not a straightforward one; it is not a token of mere absurdity of the universe, it is a bond as twist. The entire panorama of the weird infers a twisted intimacy between something and nothing.

Something can endure in nothing only through yielding to the unintelligibility which is entailed by remaining in itself, hence withdrawal from any potential node of correlation or subject of access. Survival is not possible other than by becoming obstinately unintelligible. Therefore, remaining so and as such, with its implicit vitalistic ethos, is the destiny of all objects but at the same time it is also the veneration of unintelligibility on all levels. Vitalism can only bolster the idea of ontology by sundering the correlation of ontology with any ideal whatsoever, be it sense, intelligibility or the Ones already there. This is enough to render the universe littered with objects weird but it is not weird enough; for even the aimless objects in and by themselves are weird because their destiny to be something cannot be established except by the emphatic intervention of Nothing from the inside. To resist correlation – perpetuating itself through subtraction or shedding attributes, properties and belongings – the object must withdraw and remain to and in itself. To remain or survive subtraction is the destiny of all objects but to remain in itself (required for rendering correlation obsolete) is indeed equal to persistence in remaining and insistence on survival. For this reason the weird, as a universe cluttered with enclosed and uncorrelatable objects which only contribute to unintelligibility, is tethered to a seemingly vitalistic intension inherent to remaining per se: remaining by and within itself separated from all that is extraneous (reliquum esse) is impossible other than by persistence in remaining (superesse) i.e. by surviving subtraction. To put it differently, in order to remain in itself and thus resist correlation and contribute to the weirdness immanent to the littered universe, the object has to position itself in respect to subtraction. Only by eventuating itself through subtraction, can the object remain within in itself, separated from all that is extraneous i.e. nodes of correlation and points of access. Only by being subtractively correlated to its belongings, can the object defy access. This extension of the object to nothing constitutes the explicit vector of subtraction as previously elaborated. Subtraction is necessary in order to resist correlation, hence contributing to the unintelligibility of the littered universe or emanating the weird. However, once subjected to subtraction, the object cannot remain enclosed within itself other than by continuing to remain – that is, in insisting upon survival. This ‘continuation in remaining’ or ‘insistence on survival’ is the inevitable ontological intention / intension inherent to the object for emanating the weird by resisting correlation and access. In short, ‘persistence in remaining’ or ‘continuing to remain’ is the ontological intension of ‘remaining by and within itself’ which is the guarantee of uncorrelatablity. To this extent, the weird adds a strong survivalist or immanently ontological dimension to objects.

However, this ontological intention – explicable in terms of persistence in remaining or survival – cannot establish itself other than by submitting to the intention of that which is radically exterior to it. Surviving subtraction or remaining is only possible by interiorizing another vector of subtraction or Nothing whereby to continue to remain (survive) is equal to remaining less (i.e. approximating Nothing).[2] Thus in a weird twist, as the ontological intension inherent to ‘the object remaining within itself’, survival or ‘persistence in remaining’ cannot maintain itself unless it unconditionally conforms to the intention of Nothing. In other words, the object emanates the weird by remaining in itself, that is to say, persists in remaining under the explicit vector of subtraction; but by doing so, it becomes the puppet of that which is radically exterior to its intention i.e. Nothing. Thus the weird is propagated from within and without the object, in a chain of unintelligible puppetry in which no intention and hence no puppet or puppeteer can be established unless by channeling the intension of nothing. To this extent, the weird is not the cancellation of puppetry in its explicit hierarchy and implicit chaos, for puppetry in all its forms is the cosmic consequence of nothing in acting upon itself in order to bring about the possibility of something, and in the survival of something which channels the intention of nothing. Puppetry is the realization of the ethics of the weird: in conformity to my intention, I enforce the radically exterior intention of nothing.

In conformity to its own intension, something can only be something if it simultaneously prioritizes and interiorizes the intention of Nothing – that is, the implicit vector of subtraction. The basic intention of something is remaining in itself. Yet remaining as the ontological intention of something is always remaining less as the result of its subtractive correlation with belongings. Remaining less, that is to say, remaining per se cannot be guaranteed and maintained unless the priority of nothing is affirmed. Because the continuity of remaining which is eventuated as lessening or diminution can only perpetuate and rectify itself according to nothing or an exterior zero – that is Nothing as that to which nothing can belong or as the indubitable limit of lessening. ‘Something in itself’ litters the empty blackness with objects which are something qua unintelligibility and thereby emanates the weird as a cosmic reality. Yet nothing, seeping through the intension of something, renders the weird – intrinsically and necessarily – problematic. For this reason, radicality of the weird is manifested in its problematic intension: something can only litter the emptiness without succumbing to correlation and intelligibility – that is, the weird can only be emanated by some thing, if that thing remains by and within itself. Only through an utter compliance to nothing – both implicitly and explicitly – can something remain in itself, or more accurately, remain less. The remainder at any instance must correspond to another vector of subtraction whose direction coincides with the direction of remaining. Here the weird as the destiny of all objects falls back upon another destiny (werde) – the problematic intension.

By remaining in itself, enclosed from nodes of access or abiding to its own intention, the littering object emanates the weird. Yet this intension cannot be established other than by approximating nothing or interiorizing the vector of subtraction whereby ‘remaining in itself’ (as the intention of something) is ‘remaining less’ (the intention of nothing). Therefore, the intention (intension) of the weird becomes entirely problematic by channeling the intension of nothing. Once again, the radicality of the weird is guaranteed by the sheer problematic-ness of the intention inherent to its source of emanation – the aimless, enclosed, inaccessible object. Ultimately, the weird feeds on the power of the insolubly problematic. The persisting vitalist destiny of the weird is undermined by the intervention of nothing that is required for such a destiny to establish itself. Correspondingly, the weird is delivered to the problematic that perforates something on behalf of nothing as well as establishing something to convey nothing. The ontological intension of something is alive and vigorous only in so far as it animates the problematic that bores through it. Neither the weird nor the destiny of all objects can be invested outside the radically problematic. It is in fact the weird that is nourished by this problematic-ness; exposing the twist between the ontological intention and the intention of nothing (as radical exteriority) to its fullest extent.

To this extent, the weird can be addressed as two overlapping destinies, counted as two weirds:

1. The weird emanated by the littered universe: uncorrelatable and inaccessible objects cluttering the emptiness so aimlessly that they cannot be recognized as anything other than holes, bugs and shifting porosities in the blackness of the universe. This is the weird entailed by the objects remaining in themselves; acceding to a causality whereby the withdrawal of objects to themselves exudes the weird. Through this weirdness necessitated by such causation, everything inconsistently happens for whatever reason and nothing can consistently ever happen. For, breaking apart from the correlation and resisting access – hence constituting such causality – objects must remain by, for and within themselves. Once every object remains in itself or withdraws to something qua and as unintelligibility, then the universe and whatever happens in it (or even if nothing ever happens in it) is rendered weird. This is the weird connected to the destiny of objects (weird as werde). According to this weird, ex nihilo infers the vacuity of ontology in an absurd competition with the superficial nothingness of the universe.

2. The weird of the pre-emptive problematic: in order to conform to their destiny and basic requisition, and in order to render the correlation obsolete or to be radically unsympathetic toward access, objects must withdraw to and remain in themselves. Even if ‘the object remaining within itself’ is effectuated as nothing outside, it indeed denotes surviving a subtraction whereby nodes of access and correlation are removed and taken away (extension to nothing). However, this survival from the subtracting vector is only attainable by interiorizing another vector of subtraction. This means that in order to withdraw to and remain in itself, the object must abide by its ontological intension which is remaining so and as such. We already noted that on the one hand, remaining so and as such corresponds to the continuation of subtraction as what guarantees the cancelation of all nodes of correlation or access. On the other hand, remaining so and as such as the ontological intension of something cannot invest itself outside of remaining less or intensive diminution. In short, remaining is always remaining less. The remainder cannot continue to remain in itself unless it approximates nothing by which it can remain less, thus reinforcing the subtraction. For this reason, the ontological intention of objects in themselves cannot be enacted other than by the emphatic intervention of Nothing. This is another way to say that by abiding to their intention for remaining in themselves, the objects are puppetized by the intention of nothing. Nothing vermicularly looms out of the intended and makes it problematic. The universe is infinitely weirder when we know, that even the gimmick of ex nihilo is the perforation of something with nothing, not the other way around.

In this regard, the second weird is the subversion of the destiny of all objects: in abiding by their own inaccessible fate that is remaining so and as such, the objects bring about the intervention of nothing – that is, the destiny necessitated by radical exteriority. The weird as the destiny of objects displays its problematic constitution and thereby bolsters its irreconcilable disjunction with the grotesque, fantastic or even uncanny. The second weird is the weird as the porous, the perforation caused by the worms which squirm and thus enforce the logic of the void within something. The perforation, the weirdness, depends less on the resistance of something than the wiggling of the worms. Or more precisely, the problematic intention is more on the side of the inevitable intrusion of nothing rather than the resistance of something.

The conjecture of the horror that cannot be culminated: If the weird is the destiny of objects and objects only need to remain by and within themselves to emanate the weird, then what genre of horror can effectively channel the weird? By genre, we mean the causalities or the ways – transcendental or immanent – through which horror unfolds itself or is unfolded. In this sense, we can temporarily ignore the definition of horror. Regardless of the medium (fiction, cinema, videogames, …), there are four modi operandi whereby the horror is exposed or imposed. These four alternatives – albeit reductively and fuzzily connected to each other – can be enumerated as follows:

(1) The apotheosis of revelation as related to an intelligible truth, that is to say, the exposition of the truth associated to an intelligible force or entity. We call this the horror of intelligibility: Lord works in mysterious ways.

(2) The revelation of unintelligible nothing, or in other words, the blind void which will be exposed as the autophagic truth underlying everything. This is the horror of unintelligibility whose imposition is the exposition of the first one’s fatuity and annulment: Rabid Nihilism

(3) The impossibility of revelation or the impossibility of any truth at all – be it unintelligible void or intelligible something. Revelation in itself is indeterminable because neither the imposition of nothing nor the exposition of something can be determined – the horror of indeterminability (sequelism and video games)

(4) The imposition or exposition of something (anything) – be it a truth or not, temporarily or abysmally – is only possible by the intervention of something radically exterior to it. Solely by abiding to its ontological intention (remaining so and as such), something passes on the intension of nothing in the form of the problematic. This is the horror that seeps through only by remaining so and such, because to survive or to be is to remain problematic. We call this the horror of problematic intension which, with utter subtlety, blurs the boundaries between the first, the second and the third horror genres.

As argued previously, the fourth genre or the horror of the problematic intension is the genre of horror that transmits the weird. In this genre, nothing needs to be exposed or imposed because that which endures or remains is by itself weird. The horror of problematic intension essentially cannot be brought to any culmination but it does not entail the interruption of the ongoing climax either. In this sense, the survival horror genre conveys such a horror associated with the weird: in the lexicon of the videogame, the horror is neither the anticipation of the ‘boss’ at the end of the game, nor of his absence; nor is it the supernatural, or the growing hordes of undead armies; nor the uncanny ambience; it is the very definition of survival that is pregnant with the problematic from the beginning.[3]

Endnotes

[1] This ontological circumvention can be explained in terms of subtraction / negation: Ontology evades nothing by utilizing it in the form of the negative which is required for the operation of subtraction; since subtraction, at least explicitly, is able to employ nothing as an ontological resource in that subtraction is the mobilization of the negative along two vectors in order to simultaneously implicate both the removal of belongings and conservation of a remainder. The extensive vector of subtraction negates or takes away belongings to bring about the possibility of preservation and conservation i.e. remaining. This way subtraction customizes nothing as an opportunity by which the intensive idea of ontology (viz. remaining as such) can be correlated with the inevitable shedding of belongings or mobilization of nothing.

[2] To provide a further clarification on how the continuation of the remaining or remaining in itself is only possible in remaining less – subtractive extension and diminutive intention – subtraction can be mathematically albeit schematically demonstrated. Assuming there are two geometrical magnitudes of A and B where A > B as the ideal ground of the procedure and a guarantee for its continuation (iterative subtraction). The procedure starts by subtracting the greatest multiple of the smaller magnitude B (henceforth mB) from the greater multiples of the greater magnitude A: AmB = R. The result of the subtraction as hitherto a conserved part is the remainder R which is less than the smaller magnitude B (R < B). Since the remainder R is less than the smaller magnitude B, the procedure is continued by subtracting the greatest multiple of the remainder R (henceforth nR) from the smaller magnitude B: BnR = r’. The result of the subtraction is again a remainder but it is less than the previous remainder (r’ < R). Therefore, persistence or continuation in remaining viz. to remain can only be perpetuated through rs smaller than R. Even if r does not become equal to zero, in order to remain less and continue to remain, it must conform to the priority of zero or no-thing as that which is already there.

[3] In the lexicon of the video game, the AI-based entity (the enemy) which the player has to defeat or be defeated by in order to progress in the game or finish the game is called boss. Therefore, boss in video games is usually equal to the points required for changing the level of the game or concluding it.

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