Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
On David Marshall's Integral Archipelago forum, a member there named Shashank recently posted a blog (and initiated a discussion) on the relationship between horror and
fantasy literature and spirituality that I am quite enjoying. I invite
you to read it, if you're interested. Here, I wanted to open a related
discussion, based on some of my comments to Shashank, particularly if
any of you enjoy the horror or fantasy genres. (I wish I had time to
compose something nice, but I don't, so here are a few jotted notes).
I no longer read fantasy or horror, but I used to read and write quite a lot of both, and I still enjoy an occasional horror or fantasy film. In my conversation with Shashank, we were discussing the respective approaches of Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft. I was noting that Barker tends to see "order" behind the terror and horror, and redemptive or transformative potential in the encounter with darkness and evil, whereas Lovecraft attempts to present a vision of reality as ultimately alien, containing dimensions which are wholly other -- realms and beings that are wholly unassimilable, human contact with which can only result in madness or destruction. In other words, absolute limit conditions.
In my reading, Lovecraft's Otherness is an Otherness that must remain Other for the human center to hold, and for our higher ideals to flourish (though those who encounter it now come to see those ideals largely as flimsy defenses in the face of a vast, menacing, terrifyingly alien realm). If I had to place Lovecraft along the values line, I'd say he was a Modernist -- writing for a genteel Modern audience, many of whom were likely in hard flight from "animal nature." This is revealed, I think, in his preference for pre-human, visceral images to represent the Other: slime, gelatinous substances, crustacean or invertebrate anatomy, etc.
But while Lovecraft is primarily a modernist (as opposed to Barker's more postmodern approach, where otherness is a functional limit condition of particular stages of development or perspectival frames rather than a concretely identified, metaphysical "thing" or "realm"), I still find his work offers something interesting to consider, particularly in the context of Integral spirituality: he presents a powerful challenge to complacency and a "comfortable" anthropocentric view of the universe, a view that honestly I sometimes feel marks much New Age and even Integral discourse and thought. I don't think Lovecraft is an Integral thinker (as I said, I view him as essentially a Modernist, though some post-metaphysical materialist writers find kinship with him as well), but I think he makes a kind of move -- a firm presentation of That which intractably challenges and disturbs present boundaries and narratives -- that we could use more of in Integral circles, in my opinion. With talk about "making sense of everything" in Integral marketing, and even in the popularized use of phrases like "swallowing the whole universe in one gulp" (assimilating it in its entirety to the "known"?), I feel there is a move towards what we might call the suburbanization (or urbanization) of the Kosmos. No spooky corners left, no pesky unknowns, no threatening or destabilizing shadows. (This is why King, Barker, Lovecraft, etc, are so powerful: they bring the 'unknown,' the terrifyingly alien and powerfully Other, back into our comfortable suburban back yards).
So, I guess what I'm groping toward is the question, What is an Integral nightmare? What, in its appearance or irruption, would deeply disturb, even terrify, Integral consciousness? What are the boundaries of our (often comfortable, suburban) narratives, and what has the potential to shred them?
I enjoy and appreciate this topic because I think wrestling with, encountering this sort of "dark" or Otherness, is both humbling and chastening (something Lovecraft cultivates through his shocking, chthonic vistas) and potentially transformative (a la Barker). I am thinking here of several things: Rilke's terrible angels, which perhaps show up in modern popular form in something like Strieber's Communion series (where the Other is a vastly more evolved and powerful entity, an entity that has a disturbing, inscrutable agenda for us); and which showed up for me, in a wilderness visionary experience many years ago, as powerfully disturbing -- even terrifying -- entities who I associated with Krishnamurti and who put me through a mind-blowing (and humbling) ordeal. And I think also of the "darker" aspects of Tibetan practice, which I explored when studying with Dzogchen teachers: practicing ch'od, for instance, or purposefully going to graveyards or other frightening places in order to practice. But even doing that, I also was aware of bumping up against worldview differences: not all of the images cultivated in traditional Tibetan practice were really terribly disturbing for me, and I recall wondering at the time what a modern equivalent could be -- how could the practices be made more challenging and relevant for our time?
What would scare the bejeesus out of the Integral community? :-)
Sounds like a good quote for certain forms of "object oriented ontology" that eschew anthropomorphism. I'll have to check out that Lovecraft doc above, Balder.
Re: Lovecraft's quote about human systems being native to the universe, I'm reminded of my examination of math as one such supposed nativity. And its related basis for objective and universal structures (Platonic even) of said universe in this thread. Frightening indeed. Horrific even. Welcome to the machine.
See the related horror story in footnote 26 of Excerpt A. A frightening snippet:
"Are there any forms that were laid down as 'memory' in the involutionary sequence and which therefore show up as timelessly given forms that are present at the very start of evolution itself and operative at every point of evolution’s unfolding? As involutionary givens, we have already postulated Eros/Agape and the morphogenetic tilt of manifestation. Are there any others? (That is, are there any a priori forms that are a priori to evolution’s a priori forms?)
"Whitehead believed so: eternal objects, for example (these are things that you have to have before you can have anything else, such as shape, color, etc.). Sheldrake implicitly has a set of involutionary givens. For Sheldrake, there are no archetypal constants or pregiven forms, but in fact he introduces several universal, pregiven constants in order to explain morphic resonance a nd its formative causation. By Sheldrake’s own theory, there are certain categories that must always be the case in order for this theory of morphic resonance and formative causation to be true, and those a priori categories are in fact timeless (or archetypal in that sense). For example, Sheldrake sees the world as composed of energy and form; he sees energy causing energy and form causing form; he sees development occurring; and he sees creativity as essential. All of those—energy, form, causation, development, creativity—are seen to be present everywhere, timelessly, from the start—they do not themselves develop or evolve. They are therefore archetypal by his own standards, at least for this universe.
"Most physicists today believe that when the Big Bang occurred, it seemed to be following certain physical laws described by mathematics. These mathematical matrices therefore must have been present at or before the Big Bang (i.e., as involutionary givens), and not something that came into being after the Big Bang and were then inherited by the future (which would be an evolutionary a priori for subsequent moments, and which do indeed exist; but these mathematical forms appear to be involutionary a priori —not anything created in the past but present all along)" (125-26).
For a more 'grounded' version of virtuality and potentiality (aka the withdrawn) see our prior discussion of involutionary givens. Not quite as scary.
Speaking of Whithead's eternal objects, recall this post:
"Eternal objects thus take on something of the role that universals...Platonic forms and ideas played in older metaphysical systems. But we have already seen that, for Whitehead, 'concrete particular fact' cannot simply 'be built up out of universals'; it is more the other way around. Universals...can and must be abstracted from 'things which are temporal.' But they cannot be conceived by themselves, in the absence of the empirical, temporal entities that they inform. Eternal objects, therefore, are neither a priori logical structures, nor Platonic essences, nor constitutive rational ideas" (18).
Also recall this short thread discussing a paper where Bonnie uses Hartshorne for similar comments.
And you too. Looking at the last post above, before yours, it reminded me of a more recent discussion of r and a terms in this post and several following. This is very scary stuff for a metaphysical absolutist, akin to the Christ and Buddha blasphemies above.
Amazon recommended this book to me today: The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror. Looks interesting...
Eugene Thacker has an interesting-looking series of books exploring the relationship of philosophy and horror:
"The world is increasingly unthinkable, a world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, and the looming threat of extinction. In this book Eugene Thacker suggests that we look to the genre of horror as offering a way of thinking about the unthinkable world. To confront this idea is to confront the limit of our ability to understand the world in which we live - a central motif of the horror genre. In the Dust of This Planet explores these relationships between philosophy and horror. In Thacker's hands, philosophy is not academic logic-chopping; instead, it is the thought of the limit of all thought, especially as it dovetails into occultism, demonology, and mysticism. Likewise, Thacker takes horror to mean something beyond the focus on gore and scare tactics, but as the under-appreciated genre of supernatural horror in fiction, film, comics, and music."
In the Dust of this Planet: Horror of Philosophy volume 1