Reaching Beyond to the Other: On Communal Outside-Worship

H.P. Lovecraft’s short story The Outsider first appeared in the April 1926 issue of pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales. It certainly suits such a publication. A surreal story full of inconsistencies and implausibilities, theories abound as to the scenario it is actually describing.

S.T. Joshi, writing explanatory notes for the story in a Penguin Classics collection of Lovecraft’s tales, wonders if the story is an account of a dream or if the unnamed protagonist is a ghost or immortal being, doomed to haunt the shadowy castle in which they find themselves, with so much time having past that the outsider no longer remembers how they came to be.

There is no final resolution to this endlessly interpretable story. What carries the narrative is not the horror of the unknown outside the castle, but the horror of the outsider’s own interiority and subjectivity — there are no mirrors with which they can see their appearance and they have no recollection of hearing another human voice, “not even my own; for although I had read of speech, I had never thought to try to speak aloud.”

Whilst apparently more at home amongst the skeletal dead than the painted portraits of the “living” that line the castle’s walls, and having little memory of how they came to arrive in their present circumstances, the Outsider is driven by a curiosity to discover the world outside the castle they habitually call home.

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Atomization and Liberation

Modernity can be thought of as a process of atomization, arguably initiated by the Protestant Reformation. Today, atomization is something that almost everyone protests (on the left and right), but protest itself is an atomization dynamic, automatically reproducing the mold of Protestant schismatics. In our sincerely felt repulsion to atomization, we instantiate a distance between ourselves and this supposedly external alienating phenomenon, the cause of which is imputed to something or someone else, somewhere else. This helps to explain other puzzling phenomena such as “community-building” political activists the attitudes and behaviors of whom are maximally inhospitable to most people everywhere. No matter how hard such groups sincerely want and try to connect with “the masses,” they continue to repulse the masses more and more, because their interest in building a commons is predicated on opposition to the only, last thing that humans today generally have in common: atomization.

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