Thursday, September 1, 2011

Intrusiology; The Rise of Alien Milieus

“One Gate there only was, and that look’d East / On th’ other side: which when th’ arch-fellon saw / Due entrance he disdaind, and in contempt, / At one slight bound high over leap’d all bound / Of Hill or highest Wall, and sheer within / Lights on his feet.” (Paradise Lost IV, ll. 178-183)
Concomitant with the erection of walls, the establishment of relatively self-contained spaces, is the possibility for threats of invasion and/or destabilization from outside. In the first scenario, what has been kept out breaches the structure by some surface feature, whether legitimate (doors), marginal (windows, pipes, ventilation ducts), or improvised (fissures, ruptures, rents). This uninvited occupation must be accounted for in terms of degree, or more specifically, the speed at which the invading agent manifests itself and executes its agenda. Methods of invasion from without may warrant their own area of inquiry: intrusiology, the study of nefarious trespass. Security-systems analysts, crime-scene investigators, border-control agents, parasitologists, architects, moles, military tacticians and other practically or conceptually similar occupations all have something to offer to intrusiology, as do authors/connoisseurs of locked-room mysteries, spy thrillers, and weird tales, deconstructionists or other thinkers who seek to unfound thought-systems from within, theoreticians in contemporary philosophy engaged with questions of limits, thresholds, and modes of openness to the outside, and, of course, criminal agents of trespass (hackers, burglars, safecrackers).
In the second scenario, an adversarial force from outside threatens to topple the structure entirely, an action that reincorporates the closed space into the milieu of exteriority. A house burglarized by an intruder is disrupted in terms of content (items removed), non-integral structure (window broken, furniture upended/disheveled), sanctity (in this case, “homey-ness,” domestic complacency of occupants as enduring in guarded, private space), etc., but the overall building is not compromised and thus, its interior milieu remains consistent. However, if a hurricane rips through the town and shreds the roof, and flooding erodes the foundation and makes a soggy jumble of its supports, we can say that the house has been assimilated into an exterior milieu (in this case, the geoterritorial patch it had previously reterritorialized as an ordered place). Rats may bore among it, felines nestle under damp boards, standing water and insects accumulate; solid debris trucked away, wind and weeds subtly retake their domain. It is no secret that human dwellings are pinpricks of light in a black infinity—Marduk dismembering Tiamat, formless chaos subjected to (hu)manly ordering.

To the man who pays heed to that voice within him which warns him that twilight and danger are settling over his soul, terror is apt to appear an absolute thing, against which his heart must be safeguarded in a twink unless there is to take place an alteration in the whole range and scale of his nature. Onions, "The Beckoning Fair One"

In my view horror literature, especially that of a cosmic bent, defines itself as a genre by articulating this ordering process in reverse. Beyond merely seeking to frighten the reader, such narratives offer rituals of encounter with deeply antagonistic forces which threaten to radically disrupt or depose existing milieus and, by consequence, to reterritorialize them under an alternate order (or lack thereof). When such intrusions are vanquished, we find a reassertion of the human and a validation of the holding power of its milieu, having sprung back from a critical limit of disorganization (e.g. Beowulf.); when they succeed in overcoming, a depotentiation or negation is effected, and the regulatory principles of the alternate (exterior or alien) order are imposed.

In some cases the horrific agency may only suggest itself, scratch the walls, tap the windows, but largely remain a lurker at the threshold. In others, such as in many ghost stories, it may intrude and recede by turns, neither conquering nor vanquished but persisting in perpetual recurrence, a disorderly presence nested within the organized milieu. Here, terror is achieved by cycles of emergence and withdrawal, hydrae bobbing and swaying like tracers in obsidian gloom; the threat of depotentiation is sufficient for conjuring deep-running dread.


Human depotentiation in the rise of alien milieus always gives way either to horror or ecstasy: mysterium tremendum or mysterium fascinosum. Horror as a genre cultivates its unique sublime where it offers a merger with or subsumption into a radical alterity---an exterior agency that conducts the subject toward a threshold of becoming—namely, of becoming it. We need not fear the contorted, worm-riddled visage in the windowpane if it turns out to be our own; we need not tremble at the vampire’s fangs when our own incisors bulge in their sockets. Tales offering such comforts allow a temporary reprieve from the elusive terrors of the dark by suggesting the possibility of safety-by-submission, a disintegration of the ever-tenuous boundaries of the self and its re-emergence (reterritorialization) within a primary (because more powerful or encompassing) milieu.


I slip into the welcoming flank of the sea and allow the current to tug my shell out and down into the abyssal night. It isn’t really as cold as I feared. Thoughts are fleeting as the bubbles and the light. The shell begins to flake, to peel, the crumble, and soon I will wriggle free of this fragile vessel.
Barron, “Shiva, Open Your Eye”


I’ve initiated this blog as a structured forum for my own conceptualization of horror media, and related/contingent topics: boundaries, limits, thresholds (of beings, of perception, of thought-systems, etc.) and their violation or transgression; materiality, the visceral and the organic; mutations, transformations, becoming-other or becoming-one-with; monstrosities, numinous forces, radical alterities; dionysian poetics; ecstatic and orgiastic intensities; heresy, subversion, blasphemy and profanation; modes of configuring the human with relation to the other (a matter of representation), or more broadly, negotiating the discontinuities (compare Morgan quote below) between interior and exterior milieus; literary/film analysis in general. I hope also to engage a growing interest in materialist/process philosophies. This post introduces my fundamental thinking about such issues, but it is yet only one blood-slaked fingernail trail across the coffin face; there is much more clawing to be done.

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