14 December 2015

Review: In The Dust of This Planet by Eugene Thacker

Over at Unreality SF, join me in celebrating 200 Doctor Who audio dramas by Big Finish with the release of the strangely-titled "Locum Doctors" trilogy.

Acquired December 2014
Read December 2015
In The Dust of This Planet [Horror of Philosophy, vol 1]
by Eugene Thacker

This book came to my attention after it was featured on a strong pair of linked episodes of two excellent WNYC podcasts I listen to, Radiolab and On the Media. (It also inspired True Detective, a show I have never seen.) Eugene Thacker's monograph explores the way horror fiction confronts the unknowable as a source of terror, taking in texts that include black metal, James Blish's The Devil's Day, M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud, an episode of The Outer Limits, and an anonymous Internet poem.

Thacker writes in an accessible style for a philosopher, and the best part of the book is definitely the introduction, that lays out the difference between what Thacker calls the World (the world-for-us, that which we experience as human beings), the Earth (the world-in-itself, what we do not know but are constantly seeking, especially through science), and the Planet (the world-without-us, the impersonal and horrific part of the universe that we cannot access, that which is not defined by human experience). In The Dust of This Planet essentially traces various manifestations of the Planet/world-without-us across these various texts, arguing that they reveal "the horror of philosophy: the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility - the thought of the unthinkable that philosophy cannot pronounce but via a non-philosophical language" (2).

The introduction, alas, is the best part of the book. The rest consists of twenty mini-essays on various topics and texts; with seven pages per essay (and many essays covering multiple texts), I found that Thacker could not probe very deeply into any one subject, and that it felt like he was mostly identify engagements with the idea of the world-without-us in horror fiction again and again, without clearly articulating what each new idea brought to the concept. I guess I expected more from this based on what I had read/heard about it beforehand, but little about the book surprised or excited me. Still, if I bump into the other two volumes of the trilogy, I'll probably pick them up and give them a read.

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