Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures College of Liberal Arts
National Taiwan University Master Thesis
Weird Aesthetics: An Object-Oriented Approach to the Aesthetics in H. P. Lovecraft’s Fictions
吳宛庭 Wan-Ting Wu
指導教授: 廖勇超 博士 Advisor: Yung-Chao Liao, Ph.D.
中華民國 111 年 11 月 November 2022
Weird Aesthetics: An Object-Oriented Approach to the Aesthetics in Lovecraft’s Fictions
本論文係吳宛庭君（r08122017）在國立臺灣大學外國語 文學系學系、所完成之碩士學位論文，於民國 111 年 11 月 15 日承下列考試委員審查通過及口試及格，特此證明
Table of Contents
Acknowledgment ………. ii
Chinese Abstract ……… iv
English Abstract ……….. v
Introduction ………. 1
Chapter One ………... 14
Toward a Lovecraftian Aesthetic Theory of Object-Oriented Ontology Chapter Two ……….. 39
The Weird Aesthetic Ontology of the Lovecraftian Things Chapter Three ………... 59
The Aesthetic Causality of objects in Lovecraft’s Universe Conclusion ………. 73
The primary texts, H. P. Lovecraft’s fictions, in my thesis portray a world where everyone is entangled with weird objects that are beyond human understanding. Those monstrous beings reveal mankind’s insignificance to the world and the fact that nothing is completely independent of other entities. Each person is constantly having interaction with things around us at the ontological level even though it is impossible to have a full understanding of the other. The completion of my arguments still involves something that cannot be solved at short notice. Overall, I would like to show my sincere gratitude to my advisor Professor Yung-Chao Liao. His infinite patience over my obscure ideas and immature writing helps me clarify my ideas in this thesis. I really appreciate his tenderness and the instant emotional support when my mind was beneath the shadows.
Also, I am grateful to my committee members, Professor Nainu Yang and Professor Wan-Hsuan Lin. Professor Yang’s discerning feedback and affirmative encouragement remove my disturbance during my frustration in writing. I also appreciate Professor Lin’s careful reading and sharp questions which lead me to reexamine the essence of my thesis.
Besides, I want to thank all the teachers at NTU. Their inspirations in literary criticism and critical analysis of literary works have broadened my thinking.
Particularly, I want to show my thankfulness to Lecturer Roger Liu. Things I learned from being his teaching assistant for five semesters are the precious experiences that will be beneficial for life long. Also, I appreciate the three-year working experience as a business assistant at Chung-Wai Literary Quarterly. These nourishments help me situate my concerns in literary analysis.
Finally, I dedicate this thesis to my parents. My parents always support my decision to make effort in the literary analysis even if they cannot even read a word in
this thesis. Their love and support best prove the main argument in my thesis that each entity forever withdraws from the other but at the ontological level interaction takes place. Their love for me goes across the boundary of the language barrier. My attachment always makes contact with my family at the ontological level.
本論文旨在從物件導向本體論的角度，探討洛夫克拉夫特作品中的美學。哈 曼的理論著重於探討存在每個物之中的四個象限，並提出不僅僅存在於兩個個體 間，每個物的內部也存在一個根本的斷裂。而隱喻則是唯一可以間接靠近物本體 的管道。然而，哈曼的論述無法充分解釋洛夫克拉夫特的本體論，因為在本體層 次並不存在一個根本的斷裂。洛夫克拉夫特作品中的物確實和其他物產生接觸。
相較於哈曼的框架，夏維羅的思辨美學更重視本體層次的動力學，他認為每個物 的本身會不斷地消滅，因為物的內部會持續地變動，但在本體層面，兩個個體間 的互動仍會產生。夏維爾主張有一種美學能量平等地存在每個物之中，但是洛夫 克拉夫特作品中物的詭異特質，展現的是超越人類理解範疇，屬於物的本體論。
詭異的外型和相互牴觸的特質會在同一個物上顯現，它們怪異的存在形式撼動人 類對外在環境的認知。此外，洛夫克拉夫特的本體論暗示的是一股普遍存在每個 物之中但有特殊先決條件的美學能力。透過特定的中介方式，它們顯示造成因果 關係的先決條件並沒有固定規則的。洛夫克拉夫特的宇宙觀不只揭示夏維爾論述 中，在本體層面，每個物皆持有的美學能量，也補足夏維爾的美學式因果關係論 述之不足。洛夫克拉夫特的本體論與夏維爾的思辨美學兩者間理論的類似性與差 異性，透過洛夫克拉夫特作品中的物明確地顯露出來，其物所透露的互動前的詭 異先決條件，亦增進了洛夫克拉夫特本體論的詭譎性。
This thesis aims to explore the aesthetics in H. P. Lovecraft’s works from the perspective of object-oriented ontology. Harman’s quadruple object emphasizes the four extremes within each object. He argues that there is a fundamental fracture not only between two entities but within each object as well. Metaphor is the only way to indirectly access the reality of the object. However, Harman’s philosophy cannot completely explain Lovecraft’s ontology because there is not a fundamental fracture at the ontological level. In the stories, Lovecraftian things still make contact with other objects. Contrary to Harman’s philosophy, Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics pays more attention to the dynamics of objects at the ontological level. He suggests that objects will perpetually perish because they are constantly changing. At the ontological level, contact between two entities still occurs. Shaviro proposes that there is a democratic aesthetic force that fairly exists in each object. Yet, the weird characteristics of Lovecraftian things show the ontology of objects, which is beyond human knowledge.
They are weird in shape, and paradoxical features will appear on a single entity. Their weird presence challenges the observer’s understanding of the world. Moreover, Lovecraftian things require a specific precondition before contact. Lovecraft’s ontology indicates that there is an aesthetic capacity for each object at the ontological level.
Through a specific mediation, they show an irregular precondition of causality. Objects in Lovecraft’s universe not only demonstrate Shaviro’s suggestion of a democratic force within each object at the ontological level but also supplement Shaviro’s presupposition of aesthetic causality. Lovecraftian things reveal the affinity and difference between Lovecraft’s ontology and Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics. Their precondition before contact enhances the weirdness of Lovecraft’s ontology.
Keywords: H. P. Lovecraft, Steven Shaviro, Object-oriented ontology, Speculative Aesthetics
In the past two decades, scholars paid their attention to Lovecraft’s works again.
The strange objects and creatures in Lovecraft’s works are related to the life forms of extraterrestrial beings, which are closely associated with a different set of working systems of objects. The rise of object-oriented ontology1 after the twenty-first century draws our attention back to the perspective of the object, which provides a different angle to discuss those strange beings. In my opinion, the importance of object-oriented ontology lies in its emphasis on the issue of aesthetics. Graham Harman pays attention to the quadruple structure within each object and considers aesthetics to be the only solution to access the forever withdrawn real objects indirectly. Contra Harman, Steven Shaviro presupposes an ontological aesthetic condition in the objects, which he believes to be the cause of the causal relationship of everything.2 From the perspective of object- oriented ontology, I try to elaborate on the ontology of those extraterrestrial beings and decipher the causal relationship of the object from a non-anthropocentric perspective.
To display the aesthetic structure of the Lovecraftian things, Shaviro’s perspective of speculative aesthetics3 provides a different angle to analyze the aesthetic structure of Lovecraft’s works. How does aesthetics work in the Lovecraftian universe? How does aesthetics serve as a solution to the forever withdrawn objects in Harman’s theory? And what’s the difference between Lovecraftian ontology and Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics? This thesis aims to answer the questions stated above from the aspect of object-oriented ontology.
1 I will discuss the development of object-oriented ontology in the methodology section.
2 Harman’s and Shaviro’s theoretical frameworks will be clarified in the literature review section.
3 In The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism, Shaviro first proposed this concept on page 156.
Speculative aesthetics seeks to construct an aesthetic framework in which aesthetic effect is the fundamental condition to all causalities between objects even though the reality of aesthetic feeling itself cannot be exhausted. More details about speculative aesthetics will be discussed in the first chapter.
In tradition, studies concerning Lovecraft have diverged into many fields. This review will briefly introduce the traditional aspects to interpret Lovecraft. Then, I will move on to the new philosophical school to revisit Lovecraft from a new angle.
Traditional studies can be divided into biographical reading, research in terms of time, mathematic language in Lovecraft’s texts, and philosophical reading concerning aesthetics. To start with, S. T. Joshi, an expert on the biographical study of Lovecraft and one of the most famous Lovecraft scholars, publishes several editions of Lovecraft’s productions, letters, and essays. Joshi points out that Lovecraft’s underlying principles of “cosmicism” have already shown up in his famous essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”―“the suggestion of the vast gulfs of space and time and the consequent triviality of the human race” (Joshi 14).4 According to Joshi’s analysis, “the importance of “atmosphere” … [and] the cosmic point of view” (Joshi 15)5 are the basic elements of weird literature in Lovecraft’s perspective, which also become the fundamental features of his works. In addition to the cosmic point of view, Lovecraft holds a negative attitude toward the progress of science. This pessimistic belief turns out to be a significant source for Lovecraft to shape his view of cosmic horror. In “Time, Space, and Natural Law: Science and Pseudo-Science in Lovecraft,” Joshi states that
“it [science] is largely used as a makeshift to enhance the aesthetic plausibility of the scenarios, which remain overwhelmingly supernatural in their overall thrust” (182). The scientific elements in Lovecraft’s early writing emphasize the finitude of human science which cannot exhaust the working system of extraterrestrial beings. Through those scientific settings in the stories, Joshi believes that Lovecraft stressed the concept that
4 Excerpted from Joshi’s introduction to Lovecraft’s The Annotated Supernatural Horror of Literature Revised and Enlarged.
5 Excerpted from Joshi’s introduction to Lovecraft’s The Annotated Supernatural Horror of Literature Revised and Enlarged.
“there are not merely isolated non-human—or not fully human—entities lurking in hidden places, but entire civilizations of which we know nothing” (181).
The scientific investigation in Lovecraft’s works not only highlights the unanalyzable nature of those extraterrestrial creatures but also implies the powerlessness of humans. In “Beyond the Mountains of Madness: Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror and Posthuman Creationism in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012),” David McWilliam points out that “scientific advances do not offer the prospect of a progressive future but risk revealing our insignificance and powerlessness on a cosmic scale” (531). McWilliam believes Ridley Scott’s Prometheus bears several similarities to Lovecraft’s setting in At the Mountains of Madness. The former reveals the insignificance of humans which is “simply unwanted, accidental creations to them [the Engineers]” (532); the latter dethrones humans from the mastery of everything through the discovery of the Old Ones in the Antarctic. In Lovecraft’s works, the encounter with extraterrestrial creatures reveals the deconstruction of the anthropocentric viewpoint.
Compared with other kinds of life forms that might be more powerful and older than humanity, human is trivialized. Moreover, the element of time discloses the inability of humans. Kurt Fawver argues that:
The anthropocentric perception of time in Lovecraft's work, therefore, arises due to humanity’s need to maintain hope and a sense of purpose in a hopeless and purposeless cosmos. Assured safety and peace of mind grows only from a regime of ignorance—in this particular instance, ignorance of time’s ultimate nature (253).
In other words, the existence of time in Lovecraft serves as a defense “that numbs humanity to its inevitable end and makes life bearable” (251) since “both the past and the future is directed toward humanity's assured doom” (250). Fawver suggests that the concept of time is completely human-constructed in Lovecraft’s works. That is to say, in Lovecraft’s philosophy, there are two sets of time concepts. One refers to the human-
constructed concept of time; the other points to “the ultimate nature of time,” which is the natural system of those creatures from space. According to Fawver, the mechanism of the anthropocentric concept of time serves as a defense to protect human rationality since the ultimate nature of time is beyond human understanding. In another essay, “H.
P. Lovecraft: a horror in higher dimensions” Thomas Hull argues that “mathematics helps to shape the mood of “cosmic horror”” (12) in Lovecraft’s texts. As a response to the criticism 6 toward those Cthulhu monsters, Hull mentions that Lovecraft consciously uses mathematical language to describe the non-human geometric system of those extraterrestrial beings. He suggests “no literary critics discuss how such mathematics helps shape the mood of ‘cosmic horror’ for which Lovecraft is famous”
(12). Through utilizing mathematical concepts, Lovecraft gets to describe the non- human geometry that man cannot understand and successfully shapes the sense of cosmic horror.
In addition to the research directions that I have mentioned above, some scholars emphasize the issue of aesthetics. In ““Cosmic Horror” and the Question of the Sublime in Lovecraft,” Ralickas proposes that Lovecraft’s novel reveals “a collapse of signification that amounts to an implicit subversion of the sublime,” (365) which Ralickas contends as “a subjective crisis specific to the modern condition” (366). She defines the cosmic horror in Lovecraft as follow:
—that fear and awe we feel when confronted by phenomena beyond our comprehension, whose scope extends beyond the narrow field of human affairs and boasts of cosmic significance—compels the expansion of the experiencing subject’s imagination (364).
6 In one of Lovecraft’s letters in 1932, he clearly stated that due to some mathematical concepts he utilized in the stories, “the concrete and tangible nature of some of my ‘cosmic horrors’” (qtd. Hull 10) is strongly criticized by his contemporaries.
In other words, Lovecraft’s characters are subject to the unknowable cosmic horror;
therefore, they are experiencing the Kantian sublime. In Kant’s philosophy, he values the operation of the faculty of reason. “The feeling of the sublime is…a feeling of displeasure, arising from the inadequacy of imagination” (Kant 88).7 According to Kant, the experience of the sublime always arouses a sense of unpleasantness. The experience of the sublime threatens the subject’s rationality. The faculty of mind serves as the last defense for the subject. However, most of Lovecraft’s characters go beyond the limit. The encounter with cosmic horror defeats their rationality. Thus, most of them end up going crazy or committing suicide. In general, scholars make textual analysis to Lovecraft’s texts and focus on the anthropocentric dimension. Joshi’s biographical research reveals the contemporary events that affect Lovecraft’s attitude toward weird literature. Mc William, Fawver, and Hull point out the trivialized humanity in Lovecraft’s texts. Ralickas analyzes the aesthetic domain from the perspective of Kant.
However, the underlying principle in Lovecraft’s works remains unrevealed until Harman applies a new theory to probe in Lovecraft’s philosophy.
Recently, scholars started to analyze Lovecraft from the perspective of object- oriented ontology. In the 1990s Graham Harman proposed the concept of object- oriented philosophy. The concept of object-oriented ontology (often abbreviated as OOO and pronounced as triple O) originates from Graham Harman’s dissertation Tool- Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects. The movement of object-oriented ontology aims to reject the philosophical movement of correlationism. The OOO scholars value the issue of the ontological status of nonhuman objects. In Tool-Being Harman argues that “Heidegger’s account of equipment gives birth to an ontology of object themselves” (1), which implies a new theory of everything. For OOO, an object
7 Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Translated by James Creed Meredith. Oxford UP, 2007. This book will be cited as CJ in this research.
“cannot be entirely reduced either to the components of which it is made or to the effects that it has on other things” (OOO 43).8 Harman’s philosophy aims to clarify two major claims. First, referred to Heidegger’s tool analysis, the fourfold structure is fundamental to all entities. Second, the rule of causality should be applicable not only to human- object relationships but to the object-object relationships. The quadruple structure within each object includes the four extremes: sensual object, sensual quality, real object, and real quality. Take an apple as an example. An apple as a sensual object means the image of an apple captured in our consciousness. The sensual qualities of an apple refer to the qualities we perceive of an apple, such as redness, and sweetness. The real apple points to what defines an apple as an apple regardless of human perception. Last, the real qualities of an apple are the real properties of an apple which are not relevant to the sensual qualities based on human perception. In The Quadruple Object9 Harman clearly defines the four poles and the interplay of them. Harman believes Husserl’s intentional object10 shows us the gulf “between their accidents and their essential qualities” (21), while Heidegger gives us the real object and its tension with its sensual qualities and real qualities. It must be clarified that the four poles are united within each entity and “both real and sensual objects are polarized with two different kinds of qualities” (48). The sensual objects and sensual qualities only exist in the phenomenal while the real objects and real qualities exist in the real. Furthermore, Harman believes that there is a fundamental gulf between the real object and the sensual object. This intrinsic fracture cannot be conquered by any possibilities. We can only touch the real object indirectly through allusion. Harman states that Heidegger’s fourfold structure
8 Harman, Graham. Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. Penguin, 2018. In the rest of this thesis, this book will be cited as OOO.
9 Harman, Graham. The Quadruple Object. Zero Books, 2011. This book will be cited as QO in the following text.
10 Husserl’s intentional object can briefly refer to all the sensual objects in human consciousness.
talks about “four separate kinds of them [objects]” (QO 91). Yet, his new fourfold shifts its focus to the tension within a single object.
The tensions between the four extremes are time, space, essence, and eidos. Time stands for the “tension between sensual objects and their sensual qualities” (QO 100).
“Space is the tension between concealed real objects and the sensual qualities associated with them” (QO 100). Essence “concerns the real qualities that belong to a real thing”
(OOO 159). Last, eidos, borrowing Plato’s term for his perfect forms, is defined as the
“indispensable real qualities” (OOO 159) of sensual objects.11 The new quadruple structure aims to clarify the interplay of the four poles. Moreover, Harman presumes that there is a fundamental fracture between the sensual realm and the real realm.
Harman argues that:
The gap between the invisible intentional object and its palpable sensual profiles is not the only rift in the world. There is also a gap between intentional objects and real ones, since the target of an intentional act is not itself the object to which it refers. (GM 77)12
The real―neither internal to an object nor external to another entity ―cannot be accessed completely. To conquer this absolute gap, Harman believes a good metaphor helps us to experience an entity without really touching the object itself, which he terms as “vicarious causation” (OOO 151). He defines that “any philosophy that makes an absolute distinction between substances and relations will inevitably become a theory of vicarious causation, since there will be no way for the substances to interact directly with one another” (GM 2). Since no object can fully exhaust the reality of another one, vicarious causation becomes the character of all causation of objects. For Harman, as
11 The interplay of the four poles will be discussed in detail in the first chapter.
12 Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things. Open Court, 2011. This book will be cited as GM in the following paragraph.
long as the gulf within objects remains absolute, aesthetics is the only way to bring a real object into causality. Allure is the term for “the fusion of withdrawn real objects with accessible surface qualities” (QO 104). Allusion is a way of pointing “toward a thing without making it present” (WR 238).13 Due to the intrinsic fracture within each entity, allusion becomes the only measure for us to get a glimpse of the real object while not accessing to its reality.
Under the premise, Harman deciphers Lovecraft’s philosophy from OOO’s perspective of aesthetics. He addresses Lovecraft as a productionist who in his opinion
“find[s] new gaps in the world where there were formerly none” (WR 3). Harman believes that literal translation cannot be the proper way to decode the ontology of an object because “reality is not made of statements” (WR 14). Yet, “the inability to make the things-in-themselves directly present does not forbid us from having indirect access to them … just as Lovecraft can allude to the physical form of Cthulhu even while canceling the literal terms of the description” (WR 17). Harman sees something in Lovecraft that elaborates the dynamics of the fourfold structure OOO proposed.
Lovecraft’s writing style reveals the aesthetic effect of those unknown objects which gradually transforms people and objects on earth into something beyond human recognition. Rather than presenting the monsters in realistic terms, Lovecraft’s equivocal writing creates the horror of the extraterrestrial being. Harman believes that Lovecraft is aware of the limitation of literal description. Therefore, he tries his best to avoid the cliché created by paraphrasing the reality of objects. He is good at “making the unnamable seem horrible by telling us it is even worse than something we already know without fearing in the least” (WR 63).
13 Harman, Graham. Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. Zero Books, 2012. This book will be cited as WR in the rest of this thesis.
Generally, traditional Lovecraftian studies focus on textual analysis. These traditional interpretations of Cthulhu monsters are trapped in an anthropocentric perspective, which is the opposite of Lovecraft’s purpose ― the insignificance of humans in the universe. Yet, the emergence of Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy provides a different angle to analyze Lovecraft’s philosophy. Harman emphasizes decoding the dynamics of the four poles within each entity and the aesthetic effect the quadruple structure creates. But Harman’s presupposition of the absolute gulf restricts the possibility of discussing the interplay in the real realm which makes his discussion simply focus on the aesthetic effects in the sensual realm. The dynamics in the real realm remain untouched. In Harman’s philosophy, there is a fundamental fracture within each object, which can only be indirectly accessed by metaphor.
However, in Lovecraft’s stories, the causal relationship between earthly objects and Lovecraftian things still occurs. There is not a fundamental fracture that prevents the causal relationship from happening. As a result, this thesis tries to investigate the dynamics at the ontological level through Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics. Steven Shaviro holds a different attitude on the issue of aesthetics in OOO. In The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism,14 he presumes an ontological aesthetic force in the object which seduces the other object to take in the sensual existence of itself and thus implants itself into another being. Shaviro’s ontology inherits Whitehead’s philosophical thinking. He values Whitehead’s viewpoint to treat “the universe as a finely articulated plenum” (UT 39). According to Shaviro, Whitehead’s concept of
“perpetually perish” meets with Harman’s presupposition that objects will forever withdraw. Since the object will perish, the object in the next second is not the same one.
Therefore, “no entity can prehend another entity in its fullness” (UT 36). Moreover,
14 Shaviro, Steven. The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism. Minnesota UP, 2014. This book will be cited as UT in this thesis.
Shaviro suggests that Whitehead’s philosophy values “both internal decision and external relation” (UT 40), which departs from Harman’s belief of the absolute gulf in the object. The interplay within each entity and the interaction between different objects are both important in Shaviro’s ontology. Furthermore, Shaviro argues that aesthetics is the presumption of everything: “aesthetics involves feeling an object for its own sake, beyond those aspects of it that can be understood or used” (UT 53). As Shaviro suggests,
“perception, feeling and aesthetics are universal structure, not specifically human ones”
since aesthetics is “a mode of contact” (UT 61). In Shaviro’s philosophy, both human and nonhuman entities can feel other entities. He emphasizes that each entity has its own perspective of the world. However, objects are constantly changing in themselves, which makes it impossible to be completely exhausted. Even though we cannot decipher the reality of feeling itself, the experience simply is. Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics focuses on the issue of aesthetics which is “the realm of immanent, noncognitive contact” (UT 148). First, in Shaviro’s definition, aesthetic causality refers to the effect of allusion, just as Harman argued. Second, this vicarious15 interaction takes place regardless of human perception and involves the mechanism of real force.
That is to say, causality is triggered by the real force within objects. Therefore, he considers aesthetics to be the solution to the problem of the absolute gap.
There is an interesting relationship between ontology and aesthetics. In Harman’s argument, there is not only a discrepancy between our understanding of the object and the reality of the object but there is a fundamental fracture even between objects themselves. Even though Harman argues that all causalities take place in the sensual realm, the ontological realm of objects remains a myth. This gulf can only be partially accessed by metaphor. Contra Harman, Shaviro states that aesthetics is the
15 In The Universe of Things, Shaviro used vicarious and aesthetic interchangeably.
presupposition of causalities. Shaviro agrees with Harman that allusion somehow helps to get a glimpse of thing-in-itself, and yet “it can never actually attain the inner being of those other entities” (UT 91). In Shaviro’s framework, there is an aesthetic dimension at the ontological level of every entity. Since Shaviro upholds Whitehead’s philosophical view of being, he emphasizes the dynamic process of how each entity remains the same despite the incidents that bump into it. Even though it looks the same, the internal composition of the object keeps changing. In total, Harman and Shaviro both agree that there is a black hole within each object which cannot be fully accessed by any measure. Harman suggests allure is the only way to access the real object indirectly while Shaviro presupposes an aesthetic ontological lure in each entity. Even though it is impossible to decipher thing-in-itself, it does not matter for experience to take place. Shaviro’s suggestion on the ontological perspective of aesthetics implies more possibilities to analyze the aesthetics of Lovecraft. Rather than proposing a vacuum ontological status in an object like Harman, Shaviro chooses to embrace our limitations in recognizing the reality of things and emphasizes an immanent aesthetic effect.
This thesis explores Lovecraft’s novellas from the perspective of object-oriented ontology. Lovecraft’s ontology shows a universe of objects which demonstrates the weird working system of objects. Even though objects in Lovecraft’s writing indicate an ontology that is beyond human understanding, the causal relationship still takes place.
Therefore, Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics, which explores the dynamics of objects at the ontological level, will be suitable to analyze Lovecraft’s ontology. In this thesis, I will investigate the similarities between Lovecraft’s ontology and Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics. The difference in the dynamical structure of Lovecraft’s ontology will also be clarified in this thesis. The first chapter “Toward a Lovecraftian Aesthetic Theory of Object-Oriented Ontology” will deal with the theoretical framework for this thesis.
I will trace the history of aesthetics back to western tradition and explore the aesthetics in OOO and the divergent issues OOO scholars try to discuss. Harman’s aesthetic framework of OOO and Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics will serve as the basic structure in my discussion of those unnamable objects in Lovecraft’s texts. In the second chapter
“The Weird Aesthetic Ontology of the Lovecraftian Things,” I will try to decipher the weird ontology of Lovecraftian things. I will focus on analyzing the ontology of those artistic objects, such as the Cthulhu idol in The Call of Cthulhu, the cyclopean city in At the Mountains of Madness, the tiara in The Shadow over Innsmouth, etc.
Basically, I will focus on the three significant characteristics of Lovecraftian things—
weird shapes, paradoxical features, and their weird presence. Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics will be adopted to discuss the ontological structure of Lovecraftian things. In the third chapter “The Aesthetic Causality of objects in Lovecraft’s Universe,” I will compare Lovecraft’s ontology to Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics. I will closely analyze the scenes of mirage in At the Mountains of Madness and the color that comes with the meteorite in The Colour out of Space to explicate the causal relationship of the Cthulhu objects. Moreover, I will explore the issue of miscegenation and degeneration in Lovecraft’s writing because the two issues concern the ontological movement within them. By employing Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics, I would like to point out the affinities and differences between Lovecraft’s ontology and Shaviro’s framework. Even though aesthetic causality exists in Lovecraftian things, they have the ability to make a response to causality in a way that is completely unpredictable, regardless of human will. Through analyzing Lovecraft’s ontology, I try to clarify the ontological aesthetic working system of Lovecraftian things and figure out the similarities and discrepancies between Shaviro’s framework and Lovecraft’s philosophy. In object-oriented philosophy, aesthetics is the fundamental element that gives rise to causality. This thesis will start with a brief review of the history of aesthetics and will move on to analyze
the theoretical framework, Harman’s quadruple objects, and Shaviro’s speculative aesthetics. Lovecraft’s weird aesthetic will be explored in the next chapter.
Toward a Lovecraftian Aesthetic Theory of Object-Oriented Ontology
In its long history, the issue of aesthetics has made its figure since ancient Greece.
Western philosophers explore the history and development of aesthetics from various angles. In this chapter, I will discuss the various theories of aesthetics from the western tradition, especially Plato’s and Aristotle’s framework, to the modern viewpoint, such as Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of the sublime.16 Lovecraft’s attitude toward aesthetics will be clarified from the letters and other significant essays Lovecraft published. His philosophy of cosmicism definitely concerns a different mode of the aesthetic system which not only inspires several significant writers in modern times but also affects how the theorists construct their view of the world. Among the divergent schools of literary critics, object-oriented ontology (often abbreviated as OOO, pronounced as triple O) is strongly associated with the interplay of the four poles within each entity, and in OOO scholars’ perspective the aesthetic approach serves as a crucial means to generate the causal relationship between everything. Therefore, the aesthetic frameworks OOO scholars proposed will serve as an important viewpoint to analyze Lovecraft’s works.
Moreover, a comparison of the two sets of aesthetics will be made in the last section of this chapter. Through the comparative analysis, the connection between Lovecraft and OOO will be clarified and strengthened.
16 This thesis focuses on the dynamics of aesthetics at the ontological level. Philosophers, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, whose theories concern the ontology of the object, will be included in the literature review. I will briefly review the history of the ontology of aesthetics from ancient Greece to modern times. The theoretical framework, object-oriented ontology, originates from Graham Harman whose framework makes a difference in the definition of the ontology of objects. His theory inspires several philosophers whose theories explore the dynamics of aesthetics at the ontological level. Their frameworks of ontological aesthetics serve as an important angle to examine H. P. Lovecraft’s stories in this research.
Basically, the research of aesthetics is either form-oriented or matter-oriented. In Aesthetics, Nicolai Hartmann argues that “the unity and wholeness of a work, its uniqueness and its self-containment depend entirely on form” (13). Plato’s theory of mimesis is one of the examples which emphasizes the form of the object. Contra? Plato, Aristotle’s hylomorphism explores both form and matter of the object. In his hylomorphism, “objects are compound consisting of matter and form” (Paramatzis 12).17 The existence of form is not independent of the object. As for the issue of the matter, Hartmann defines matter in a broad sense as “everything that is indeterminate and undifferentiated in itself, so far as it is capable of receiving from form—all the way down to the bare dimensions of space and time” (14). According to Hartmann, the connection between form and matter shapes different kinds of art forms. The fundamental issue concerning the inquiry of art depends on the observer “since the beautiful is essentially directed toward a beholding subject” (9). That is, in addition to the art form itself, the observer plays a significant role in aesthetic analysis because the judgment of beauty counts on subjective determination which is a fact that cannot be denied. Theories that concern ontological communication refer to matter-oriented aesthetics, such as the theories of North Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze, and Steven Shaviro.
Inspired by Whitehead’s philosophy, Steven Shaviro’s proposes the concept of speculative aesthetics. He emphasizes the ontological changes of each entity. For him, causalities happen at the ontological level before it is recognized by another entity.18
To begin with, in The Republic Book X, Plato’s theory of mimesis expresses his perspective on the issue of art. He takes the bed as an example:
17 Paramaztis, Michail. “Aristotle’s Hylomorphism: The Causal-Explanatory Model.” Metaphysics, vol. 1, no. 1, 2018, pp. 12-32.
18 More details about the dynamics of speculative aesthetics will be explained in the latter section in this chapter.
We have these three sorts of couch. There’s the one which exists in the natural order of things. This one, I imagine we’d say, was the work of a god … Then there’s one made by the carpenter … And then the one made by the painter … Painter, carpenter, god, then. Three agents responsible for three kinds of couch.
According to Plato’s example, there are three kinds of forms of the bed. The genuine form of the bed only exists in the natural order which is the real form created by god.
The one made by the craftsman is “something like the real thing, but not itself the real thing” (315). Last, the one made by the painter is merely an imitator. In other words, Plato’s aesthetic framework explores three kinds of forms of the same object. The genuine form can only be created by god which has “an essential unique nature” (316) and will not change in any situation. The form made by the craftsman is something that looks like genuine form but is absolutely not what it truly is. The form made by the painter is simply an imitator of the carpenter’s bed. Plato strongly criticizes the form created by the painter. He describes it as looking at the mirror and then you can easily create what you have seen. Based on Plato’s description, every single entity has three kinds of forms and has different layers within itself. The genuine form refers to what defines the object as what it is. The two forms made by the carpenter and the painter are simply the two removed from the real form. It is obvious that Plato finds fault with the two forms that concern the sensual perception of human consciousness. Yet, the real form of the object remains the same all the time and can only be created by god.
As for Aristotle’s framework, he holds a different perspective on the meaning of imitation. In Poetics, Aristotle defines tragedy as “an imitation of the complete, i.e.
whole, action, possessing a certain magnitude” (13). He emphasizes the issue of
“magnitude” which he believes to be the standard of beauty. Aristotle argues that no organism can be beautiful because “any beautiful object, whether a living organism or any other entity composed of parts, must not only possess those parts in proper order,
but its magnitude also should not be arbitrary; beauty consists in magnitude as well as order” (14). That is to say, the part-whole relationship is important from Aristotle’s point of view. Besides, a beautiful object should have a certain size that can be perceived by the observer, which cannot be too complicated or too simple to be understood by the observer. In other words, Aristotle pays attention to the balance of all the elements in each tragedy. They should follow a certain rule and most important of all, they must be intertwined with each other. To create a good tragedy, the imitation of the characters or events must be unified. The plots should be well-organized, the removal of any single plot would change the whole story. In short, Plato’s and Aristotle’s frameworks focus on the human perception of the environment. Plato’s theory of mimesis investigates the issue of forms including the underlying inaccessible form and the sensual forms perceived by the carpenter or the painter. Aristotle focuses on the inner harmony of an object. Both of their theories take human consciousness as the presumption. Contra Plato, Aristotle holds a different attitude toward the issue of form. Plato suggests there is a perfect form that exists outside time and space. It is unchangeable and cannot be created by mankind. However, Aristotle argues that form cannot exist without objects. In Aristotle’s philosophy, “objects are characterisable in terms of matter and form; or analysable into matter and form; or understood on the basis of matter and form” (Paramatzis 12).
After Plato and Aristotle, western philosophers raise several theories to discuss the issue of aesthetics. Plato’s idealism points to the objective form of objects while Kant’s aesthetic focuses on subjective judgment. In Kant’s philosophy, the world is divided into two levels—one can be observed and perceived by human consciousness; the other is completely out of human recognition. Moreover, the operation of the faculty of reason is the foundation of aesthetic judgment. How to classify the difference between beauty and the sublime is strongly associated with the faculty of the mind. In Critique of
Judgment,19 Kant discusses the aesthetic issue in depth. Aesthetic judgment, according to Kant’s argument, is strongly associated with the feeling of pleasure. Paul Guyer summarizes that the beautiful, in Kant’s perspective, comes from “a free play of imagination and understanding rather than from the application of a determinate concept to the object, and that is why there is no precise rules for our judgment of taste:
rules presuppose determinate concepts” (315).20 That is to say, the experience of the beautiful involves the feeling of pleasure. Kant argues that judgment of beauty is “one whose determining ground cannot be other than subjective” (CJ 37). The judgment of the beautiful does not presuppose determinate concepts but follows four general principles. According to The Kant Dictionary,21 the first principle requires the object to be disinterested. That is “the distinction between being beautiful and being useful”
(33). For example, the landscape is beautiful not because this landscape is useful for me. “The pleasure being disinterested is that one does not care about the existence of the object” (KD 34). In other words, the preference of a person does not serve as the standard of aesthetic judgment. The second and the third principles refer to the universality and necessity of the judgment of beauty. Aesthetic judgment “must involve a claim to validity for everyone, and must do so apart from a universality directed to objects” (CJ 43). In other words, the judgment of the beautiful expects the same response from everyone. “The pleasure felt by us is expected from everyone else as necessary” (CJ 49). Aesthetic judgment is a universal faculty. When people encounter other entities, they are capable of judging and always will judge. The universality and necessity of aesthetic judgment are “two features of any a priori judgment” (KD 37) that come from the human mind. Last, “the consciousness of mere formal purposiveness
19 Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Translated by James Creed Meredith. Oxford UP, 2007.
20 Guyer, Paul. Kant. Routledge, 2006.
21 Thorpe, Lucas. The Kant Dictionary. Bloomsbury, 2015. This publication will be quoted as KD.
in the play of the cognitive faculties of the subject attending a representation whereby an object is given, is the pleasure itself” (CJ 53). That is to say, aesthetic judgment has no telos but merely a feeling that affects us. “We judge the object to be purposive without purpose” (KD 36). For Kant, the four principles of aesthetic judgment reveal the importance of the operation of the faculty of reason. Even though the judgment of beauty does not come from determinate concepts, the faculty of reason works to remind the subject of the harmonious pleasure that comes from aesthetic judgment.
Besides, Kant proposes the concept of the sublime to explain other functions of the rational faculty. He defines the sublime as:
A feeling of displeasure, arising from the inadequacy of imagination in the aesthetic estimation of magnitude to attain to its estimation by reason, and a simultaneously awakened pleasure, arising from this very judgement of the inadequacy of the greatest faculty of sense being in accord with ideas of reason, so far as the effort to attain to these is for us a law. (CJ 88)
According to Kant, beauty is “a presentation of an indeterminate concept of the understanding” while the sublime refers to “a presentation of an indeterminate concept of reason” (CJ 75). The concept of natural beauty is associated with the limited form of understandable objects whereas the sublime makes the faculty of reason cease to work completely. There are two kinds of the sublime: the mathematical sublime and the dynamical sublime. The mathematical sublime is a “recognition of the incapacity of imagination gives us the feeling that there is more than the world of sense, for in a way such experiences transport us, at least in terms of feeling, into the intelligible realm”
(KD 63). The infinite serves as a good example. The inadequacy of our imagination to estimate something absolutely great will lead to the mathematically sublime. The absolutely great is beyond human understanding; however, the faculty of reason reminds the subject of his own inadequacy to apprehend the noumena at the threshold
of the sublime. The dynamical sublime refers to an experience of “the power and terrifying force of nature, while recognizing that this power has no dominion over us”
(KD 63). Nature serves as the best example to illustrate the sublime of this kind. The dynamical sublime makes us experience the fear of our insufficiency to confront nature but ends up knowing that it does no harm to us. The rational faculty works to prevent us from going across the gap which leads to the realm beyond human understanding.
Based on the systematical division of the concepts of the beautiful and the sublime, it is obvious that Kant emphasizes the ability of logical thinking in human consciousness.
The operation of human faculty is the core of aesthetic judgment. Besides, the dynamics of the sublime also expresses the importance of the operation of human faculty. Barbara Freeman argues that Kant’s theory of the sublime is “a system of encasement, injunction, and imperatives that function to protect the sublime from the monstrous inherent potential in it” (22).22 The faculty of reason serves as the last defense to protect the precarious mind at the edge of the sublime. It reminds the subject of his insignificance.
“The sublime becomes what it is only by virtue of being distinguished from what it is not” (Freeman 22). Therefore, even though the noumena is completely negated in Kant’s philosophy, the faculty of reason still occupies a significant role during the experience of the sublime. The Kantian subject is entirely anchored in the phenomenal world. Yet, the interplay of things or the existence of objects in the noumena remains a myth in Kant’s framework.
Contra Kant, H. P. Lovecraft establishes a completely different framework concerning aesthetics. The aesthetic theories of the western tradition highly focus on the reality in human consciousness. Basically, the world is divided into two parts. The sensual realm can be perceived and interferes with man’s will. In this domain animals
22 Freeman, Barbara. “Frankenstein with Kant: A Theory of Monstrosity, or the Monstrosity of Theory.”
Substance, vol. 16, no. 1, 1987.
and other nonhuman objects are deprived of the ability to perceive and interact with other entities. Most of the time a human is the only actor who constructs and shapes the phenomenal world through our knowledge of the other entities around us. Another realm that accommodates the genuine reality of things—such as Plato’s genuine form, Kant’s noumenal—refers to an inaccessible domain that humans cannot easily approach.
In some cases, such as Kant’s noumenal, man has no chance to reach this realm. It is a field beyond human comprehension. Against the division between the phenomenal and the noumenal, Lovecraft provides a different angle to see the world. His contribution comes from his presupposition of an extraterrestrial system that is beyond human knowledge. He creates lots of creatures that come from “the Outside”23 and demonstrates features that have never been known to mankind. However, being beyond human recognition does not entail that it is inferior and without discipline. Instead, things from the Outside show more potential to interact with other entities.
While Lovecraft was preparing for his celebrated treaty ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature,” he gradually clarified the definition of Lovecraftian weird tales, which also included the fundamental elements of cosmicism. Primarily, Lovecraft’s weird stories deal with haunting encounters with beings from the Outside. What’s more, he makes lots of efforts to describe the surroundings in a realistic style. According to Lovecraft:
To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown—
23 In Lovecraft’s stories, the strange things and different life forms that are beyond human knowledge come from the universe. Therefore, in this research, I will use the term “the Outside” to refer to the fictional creatures in Lovecraft’s writing.
the shadow-haunted Outside—we must remember to leave our humanity—and terrestrialism at the threshold. (SLII 150)24
That is to say, those realistic descriptions are created by Lovecraft on purpose. The dichotomy in Lovecraft’s philosophy refers to the terrestrial and the unknown Outside.
The description concerning human scenes must be realistic because in Lovecraft’s perspective the phenomenal world is completely constructed within human experience.
As a result, science becomes a perfect tool for him to set up the limited human understanding of the world. By making use of the deficiency in scientific knowledge and a realistic writing style, Lovecraft criticizes the finiteness of human knowledge and the dependence upon the anthropocentric viewpoint. The scientific elements reflect how humans decipher physical objects into parts; the realistic writing style shows the sensual recognition of the environment. Not only the human-centered viewpoint but the finiteness of the anthropocentric angle is included in Lovecraft’s realistic descriptions.
Moreover, Lovecraft never misses his intention to shape his Cthulhu mythos in an anti-anthropocentric way. In one of his letters, he states it clearly that “a work of art must be true to human feeling, but it need not be at all ‘true’ to actual objective fact”
(SLIII 22).25 In other words, the judgment of artwork is a matter of human sensual determination. Art is a kind of transformation of human emotion, but it does not entail the reality of an object. Furthermore, the meaning of “true” is simply “the emotional demands of the average sense-gland-nerve system of average people — and these demands have no relation to the absolute facts of the universe” (SLIII 22). The interpretation of an artwork has to do with human emotion, whose act is never relevant to the reality of the object itself. The novella At the Mountains of Madness serves as the
24 This paragraph was excerpted from Lovecraft, Howard Phillips. Selected Letters 1925–1929. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, Arkham House, 1968. This publication will be quoted as SLII in the rest of this thesis.
25 Lovecraft, Howard Phillips. Selected Letters 1929–1931. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, Arkham House, 1971. This publication will be cited as SLIII in this research.
best example to reflect Lovecraft’s attitude toward aesthetic judgment and his insistent on realistic description. When the scientists enter the cyclopean city, they are astonished to witness an unknown ancient civilization that is out of human history. The mural of the city “seems” to demonstrate the rise and fall of the Old Ones—a mighty ancient species from space. Based on the mural, the protagonists interpret their history from the human perspective. However, their interpretation simply makes sense to the human beings because they view the mural as an artwork. From the Old Ones’ perspective, the mural may not play the same role as mankind has imagined. Lovecraft shapes his universe on the basis of his own weird aesthetics.
Another significant feature in Lovecraft’s philosophy is the trivialization of mankind. This topic constantly shows up in Lovecraft’s stories. Lovecraft shows his preference for fantasy—especially for Poe—since childhood. “The world and all its inhabitants impress me as immeasurable insignificant, so that I always crave imitations of larger and subtler symmetries these which concern mankind” (SLII 160). Lovecraft’s personal preference for fantasy in one sense explains why his characters are prone to encountering things from the Outside. In another sense, Lovecraft is deeply influenced by contemporary scientific discoveries. According to Lovecraft’s letters, Joshi suggests
“an awareness of the many sciences—physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, geology, paleontology—that could conceivably be drawn upon for the new kind of horror tale he [Lovecraft] was writing” (172).26 As a result, Lovecraft’s writing style is strongly influenced by the scientific knowledge he received in his youth:
It was exactly because the world revealed by science was, potentially, a world of mystery and even terror that he became enraptured with the sciences. Science was, certainly, a way of penetrating those mysteries, but there would always be further
26 Joshi, S. T. “Time, Space, and Natural Law: Science and Pseudo-Science in Lovecraft.” Lovecraft Annual, no. 4, 2010, pp. 171-201.
mysteries to be explored, and perhaps many that could never be fully explicated.
In other words, Lovecraft’s monsters will not be deciphered by scientific investigation because science cannot reveal something outside human knowledge. His “monsters are the most purely nonhuman of any entity” (Joshi 27).28 “Mankind is merely one type of matter among many, and no more to be loved or respected … than any other type of matter” (SLII 165). For Lovecraft, mankind and all other kinds of matter stand on equal footing. “Why men are any more essentially offensive … than trees, is something I can’t possibly see” (SLII 165-166), which suggests that nonhuman entities share the same rule with mankind from his perspective. This attitude can be shown in the example in The Colour out of Space. In the story, the color that comes with the meteorite demonstrates a kind of life form that is out of human understanding. It has no physical form and will gradually “transform” things it contacts. In this case, the natural law from a human’s perspective does not work anymore. This color from the Outside follows another general law that man cannot understand. Scientists can only examine what kinds of chemical reaction this meteorite will have with the materials from the earth.
Another important feature that this mysterious thing revealed is that the things from the Outside do not remain the same all the time. Contra Plato’s genuine form, which cannot be changed by any means, the thing that comes with the meteorite shows its flexibility toward different entities. From this case, it is clear that the inaccessible objects will change but follow a rule that mankind cannot comprehend.
To sum up, there are three fundamental principles in Lovecraft’s philosophy. First, concerning the scenes of man, they must be described in a realistic style. This kind of
27 Joshi, S. T. “Time, Space, and Natural Law: Science and Pseudo-Science in Lovecraft.” Lovecraft Annual, no. 4, 2010, pp. 171-201.
28 Joshi, S. T., Sharrett, Cristopher. “Lovecraft Today: An Interview with Joshi.” Cinéaste, vol. 41, no.
1, 2015. In one of the interviews, Joshi somehow revealed the nature of Lovecraft’s writing.
description represents the finiteness of human understanding of the world. The seemingly omniscient perception of the environment will meet its flaw when the characters encounter the unknowable being from the Outside, in other words, things concerning extraterrestrial beings. They can only be described in tattered language or even cannot be accessed by any means. Second, there are different sets of reality in Lovecraft’s writing—human-centered reality and reality in things. The anthropocentric reality deals with the human sensual construction of the phenomenal world. It is completely anthropocentric and limited to man’s viewpoint. Contra the human-centered world, things from the Outside demonstrate enigmatic features that violate the natural law on earth. These monstrous encounters with the unnamable objects challenge the faculty of reason in the characters’ minds. Even though they can describe those unknown objects in a seemingly realistic way, for example, the description of the gigantic fossil in At the Mountains of Madness, they are meaningless narratives because they simply catch the vague adumbrations of the unknown. The reality of those strange things remains a mystery. Third, nonhuman entities are viewed as equal actors to mankind from Lovecraft’s perspective. The things from the Outside reveal a different set of existence that man cannot decipher. This kind of life form is not limited to physical creatures. The sensual perception such as color can be a kind of life form in Lovecraft’s universe. Furthermore, these unknown creatures show that humanity is not omnipotent and omniscient as we have imagined. In Lovecraft’s philosophy, the world is a plenum. Even sensual perception can be a kind of life form that affects other entities.
The aesthetic framework in Lovecraft’s philosophy demonstrates the diversification of different entities, including the nonhuman objects, and the interplay between them. In
one sense, things from the Outside can be described by the double negative29 in Lovecraft’s stories. But they can only vaguely portray the physical shape because the reality of the object itself cannot be accessed by any means. In another sense, these strange objects do not remain static. They will gradually penetrate things or even life around them. There are two levels of cosmic horror in Lovecraft’s writing. One refers to the way of describing the horror of those strange objects through the aesthetics of language, such as the double negative or the oxymoron. The other one points to the inaccessible horror from the ontological weirdness that Lovecraft’s monsters revealed.30 The boundary between two levels of the world, one the human world and the other that of the unknown that belongs to the monsters, is blurred in Lovecraft’s stories. This is an irreversible change regardless of the subject’s or the monster’s will.
When the characters encounter things from the Outside, the transformation occurs both in the characters and in the weird things. Above all, things beyond human understanding reveal another set of “natural laws.” However, their operating system can only be accessed partially by mankind, which is the only measure to overcome the fundamental deficiency in humanity. Therefore, Lovecraft chose to employ the realistic but oxymoron style to describe things concerning the Outside.
Lovecraft’s philosophy inspires several contemporary significant horror fiction writers, but his mode of the aesthetic framework is slightly valued. Yet, a contemporary school of literary critics resumes Lovecraft’s argument concerning aesthetics. Object- oriented ontology (OOO) is a school of literary critics that values the interplay between/within objects. The autonomy of objects is the basic recognition for OOO
29 The double negative refers to the strategy of literary writing. In “The Call of Cthulhu,” the narrator’s words that he “shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing” serves as a good example to illustrate the strategy of the double negative in Lovecraft’s stories.
30 The weirdness from the ontological level does not entail a sense of ontological horror which tends to refer to the anthropocentric definition of horror. The ontological weirdness in Lovecraft’s writing points to the weirdness within Lovecraftian things, which is grotesque and out of human logic.
scholars. As a leading figure in OOO, Graham Harman makes lots of efforts to explain the fourfold structure within objects, referring to Heidegger’s tool analysis. The fundamental quadruple structure within each entity refers to the sensual object (SO), sensual qualities (SQ), real object (RO), and real qualities (RQ). The four poles are polarized into two realms—the sensual realm and the real realm. Take an apple as an example. The sensual object of an apple refers to the image of an apple captured in human consciousness. The sensual qualities of an apple point to the sensual perception of it such as the redness of an apple, the sweetness of an apple, etc. Regardless of man’s will, the real object of an apple involves what defines an apple as an apple. The essential features such as the chemical compositions of an apple belong to the real qualities of an apple, which will not vary with human consciousness. The four extremes generate the causal effect between everything. One of Harman’s significant arguments is the fundamental fracture between the sensual realm and the real realm. Due to this intrinsic gulf, Harman devoted lots of effort to solve the problem concerning the interplay between the four poles. Furthermore, there is an absolute gap between each entity in Harman’s philosophy. In other words, nothing can touch another entity “directly” in his framework. Therefore, the four tensions between the four extremes give an account of how the four poles interact within/between different entities.
Harman’s philosophy values one simple rule: that is the withdrawn real object cannot be accessed by any means. Due to this principle, all contacts in Harman’s framework are asymmetrical. In other words, contact between two independent entities is not commutative but partial. “There is always just one real object involved in any interaction” (QO 75) because the withdrawn object cannot touch another real object either. For Harman, the tensions between objects and their qualities reveal the dynamics of the object itself. Through fission and fusion, the object itself will experience a series of internal changes. However, both SQ and RQ are not connected to either SO or RO.
Harman values the possible mobility between the object and its qualities, which is one of the reasons that Harman believes Lovecraft’s writing illustrated his framework of the object. The sum total of the qualities is not equal to the reality of the object.31 In At the Mountains of Madness the description of the Antarctic Cyclopean city shows that the object “is something over and above the total abundance of features” (WR 165). The city unfolds “a total effect not reducible to a sum total of architectural sub-unit” (WR 166). The city expresses something more than the sum total of its parts, which is different from Aristotle’s theory, which highlights the consistency between the sum total of its sensual qualities and its ideal form. In Lovecraft’s story, the description of the Cthulhu idol explores the same issue. “I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing…but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful” (WR qtd. 57). The ambiguous reference to the Cthulhu idol reveals that the reality of the idol is not equal to the literal description. The reality of the idol cannot be mentioned completely. The “spirit of the thing” points to the real object while “the general outline of the whole” points to the real qualities. Since the real objects are always absent from the sensual realm where the sensual qualities exist, the withdrawn real objects can only allude to the accessible sensual qualities. It is clear that the double negative reveals not only the unnamable nature of those strange objects but also the literary aesthetics in Lovecraft’s writing. For Harman, the only real object involved in this process is the perceiving human subject who replaced the missing real object of the Cthulhu idol and then embraced its sensual qualities. Therefore, the process of metaphor is a process of replacement to put us, the perceiving human subject, into this core of orbit. According to Harman’s presupposition, the forever withdrawn object can only be accessed metaphorically. In Object-Oriented Ontology, he explains the process of how
31 More details of the applications of Harman’s theory to Lovecraft’s stories will be discussed in the following two chapters.