Last month here in the UK, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a feature documentary on the subject of the eerie by ‘New Generation thinker’ Will Abberley and produced by Sarah Cuddon.
Sunday Feature: Into the Eerie
If you can get this, its worth a listen. While not going into or consistently following the deeper conceptual / philosophical relationships and ideas that Mark Fisher wrote in his book the Weird and the Eerie, it does feature excerpts of the audio piece On Vanishing Land (OVL), which Mark wrote with Justin Barton (whose voice is featured in the excerpts used in the programme).
In fact its Justin’s voice (and the consequent part of On Vanishing Land) which opens this programme, layered with Gazelle Twin’s (Elizabeth Bernholz) amazing and soaring sonic contribution to that piece.
Since his passing in 2017, and with his success very much in the ascendant, there is a slightly dissonant sense of the inevitable in Mark’s name and presence residing so hauntologically over his collaborations (and where all the sections of OVL used in the programme were written and read by Justin). However, Will Abberley is right when he says that Mark probably knew the eerie better than anyone of his generation.
I think this is exemplified in the fact that very little of equal or greater intensity and potential seems added to the space or conversation on the eerie during this programme. What it does do however, is glide with effectivenss through the experiences and stories of writers, artists and thinkers whom have an engagement with the land and with its spaces. This includes a helpful summoning of the urban eerie – when we hear Timothy Morton’s recollection of the abandoned battersea power station and the surrounding area – allowed in a time of pre-hyper capitalised land values to be genuinely abandoned and thus uncontrolled, scurf-empty and autonamous. Morton’s description of the location with its transecting urban train tracks suggests a creeping, affective strangeness (“a post-industrial stone henge”). It is an important junction to recognise the potential and possibility of the eerie – as being a perception or encounter (in the context of perception and its edges) which is incursive – as something that comes into and interrupts the continuity of our apparently ‘complete’ and unchallenging personal world of apprehension as to the world at large (the planet).
As much as eerieness signals an apparent disruption to the practical and endemic functioning of a Reality story, it is often understood as being centrally connected with the land and also horror, but these are unnecessary limitations to an idea that agitates to include a beyondness in ontological terms and this sense – that can occur outside where its connection with nature is most unconsciously highlighted (that this phenomenon generally occurs where human material interference and obfuscation are absent or less present).
In this sense, a city, or urban zone, where human activity is most prone to be recurrent and resilient, most ingrained consistent and full – is also the kind of space where the tendency for the presence of others is to be involved in our own reactive and reflective locking down of spatial (and abstract-spatial) ontological possibilities. Here it should be noted, as was pointed out by Justin at a launch event for OVL in 2008 – that an eerie occurrence could take place (for example) on a packed underground train. It is therefore, necessary to continue to bear in mind, that for all its modality as having an intangible or undefinable quality, it is fundamental in this sense of its interruption and insistence. An alignment which while potentially scarce in terms of frequency by which it might be experienced, is almost precisely not something under our control, neither to be understood in any vague or anodyne way as anything other than the potential for a fully invasive encounter with the breakdown of the configuration of our worlds of experiences and the stories which are inculcated as their foundations.
These coordinates are vital to understand affectively as the element of the eerie which connotes a power. But it remains the case that there seems an added sense of accessibilty to the eerie when considered in the context of our dreaming of it within spaces, and specifically where the encrustedness of habituated control management as an expression of human reality have broken or are breaking down. This can most obviously be expressed in the absence of the very presence of most humans, from places where in our experience – such a thing is in and of iteself actually eerie. Such dreamings then can act as summonings for encounters with the affect that carries eerieness as a charge.
This affirmation of the eerie in the urban and more specifically spaces in some way post-human, de-populated – points to a still and emphatic sense of abandon (by people) and return (the forces of nature). It also brings with it an approach towards another idea of Mark’s of human beings in our late capitalist context being haunted by lost futures, something that echoed alongside the idea of our being simply haunted by the future (the subtitle of Justin Barton’s book Hidden Valleys ).
As such, it is also interesting how images of the evacuated urban almost always resonate as stories depicting the futural. Twelve Monkeys and its inspiration, La Jetee, or early delver and one of the originators of this space in film ‘The last man on earth‘ (an adaptation of the book I am Legend by Richard Matheson) with Vincent Price (though remade on a couple of occasions since with Charlton Heston in the Omega Man and latterly Will Smith).
These images and conjurings of evacuated landscapes of the future are a kind of co-progenitor of re-visualisations of the Earth and its human contingent which share some aspects with the impact and effect from that of the zombie genre (this primarily being that they can both be seen as renderings of the planet in relation to a different mode of human ontology). Stories of the zombification of the human race (which Deleuze and Guattari see as being the only true horror mythos to emerge in relation to Capitalism) usually leaves a few spared, unafflicted humans – who are in some key aspect awake and free of the deadened and rapacious zombie mode – struggling for survival while searching for a haven or long term survival strategy.
The key distinction with the evacuated future tale is that the latter is located almost entirely beyond the presence of humans as an ongoing distribution, removing them almost entirely in fact – reverting emphasis to the planet and to place itself as an almost unavoidable consequence of the de-population of these stories.
In his story The Quiet Man, John Foxx uses a de-populated London for a man’s quiet ongoing exploration of the objects, vestements and places of vanished people’s lives and how their presences (and becomings) live on in a kind of accessible dreaming. Foxx issued an audio version of the story (an excerpt of which below) which he employed Justin to read.
Disregarding the habitual mode of understanding time as linear and chronic (‘time is a prison of human construction’ William Burroughs) and drawing on this aspect of the work of both Mark Fisher and Justin Barton, it is possible to understand these scenarios as continguous with the idea of the future as the experience of life at a greater (or higher) degree of intensity. Which understanding in respect of some of these stories, invariably depicts human beings as having been absented from, leaving it (the future in this alterior sense) devoid, seemingly empty, but also a most haunting and inviting presence at our margins, necessarily eerie with the vibrance of otherly potentials. That perception and arrival will transform through the openness that it possesses as a space and the connection that it intrudes to demonstrate with (with what we understand as nature). This is where most people may, but fot whatever reason do not or cannot…
In the sense here that we are encountering the space, the affect, a fictional reality of the future as a zone of human quiessence and predominant absence (as human beings have been systematically removed from the intensity of the future) now mostly occupied by zombie architectural shells and machines, whose presence and meaning are already becoming forgotten or as a shade of an affective past – already alien, trans-liminal, while still being resonant as frames for a re-dreaming of the world partly as this dreamed entity. But also crucially, as a way of understanding and reaching less obviously occupied places of being and meaning (‘we need dreamers of a wider reality’ Ursula Le Guin). De-habitated on an ecological level from the result of human positioning with the production and modes of subjectification and associated abstract formations of the body (as a multiplicity) in the age of civilisation and of modernity (and their requisite systems of contrivance on the part of human being).
When speaking at the launch event for On Vanishing Land both Mark and Justin emphasised that though the experience of the eerie could occur with a sense of empty landscape or space, it was not a pre-condition. I recall Mark saying in fact, it might be more accurate to think that it was the persons themselves that needed in some way to be empty.
Nevertheless, it is the idea of the eerie as this harbinger or resonator with the idea of the evacuated future, that I think is also powerful here. This mode that also brings closer to us (in our experiences of encountering it) an evacuated present, apparent in two ways. The first being as the gap, or space which is precluded by our endless predisposal to being distracted and blocked by ephemera and as such – a form of low level, or non-engagement with the intensity and reality of our existence and life. The second as posing this form of absence as being a necessary pre-cursor for significant ‘new’ or different forms of engagement that might themselves be engaged knowingly or effectively beyond what is confined as known within the ordinary (or that which is becoming-known but has been and might remain of an ongoing anomalous form or nature or mode).
It seems like there’s an unchallenged and accepted blanketting (the relative of a kind of self-satisfaction) that takes place and which forms the backdrop to the confidence of our consciousness. The confidence to so blithely ignore an ongoing beyond to our fields of recurrent consideration (themselves prematurely edged and bordered territories of habituated, recursive self-regard). As such, it is precisely the short-circuiting of this full and completeness (the absence of absence) which needs to avail in order for us to experience different kinds or orders of nature and meaning in occurrence and engagement.
In those depictions and their makers, ambassadors for the arrival of the unknown and out there then it behoves us to also consider the preeminent Russian film maker Andre Tarkovsky. I recall this event where a number of different papers were being given on science fiction as philosopy in film. One speaker noted no one had brought Tarkovsky, aired with a whiff of triumph as of a deposed and exposed or exploded fad. Yet, there consistently emerge with and through Stalker and Solaris (as well as Mirror and Nostalgia and his other discretions) image-worlds and stories that are a transformation in speed and timing to our propulsive eye and its student aesthetic. It felt more accurately as if a retcon was being worked, reconfiguring on the level of abstract perception and how the corresponding intensities (the Andre Tarkosky abstract machine) are broadly defined and libidinalised (or not). A stratic separation through a boundary of selective impression. Leaving a charged gap around these helpful and sometimes catalysing worlds of story, vehicles of reality, irrespective of their actual engagements with spaces of life and its material/abstractions, forces and occurrences. The outside world of our predisposed limitations to the bounds of possibility as stories we tell ourselves.
In a way it reaffirmed just what forces are in Tarkovsky films (as the sonar-echoes of a living ocean planet consciousness or the reality of a space on Earth where the laws of nature are no longer the same and only anomalous navigation can function). This also befits knowing when such a thing might make a space in one’s being which is as effective across the borders of the known as are these entities and spaces termed here as fictions.
One of the powerful things about the 1985 New Zealnd film, The Quiet Earth is that along the way of central character Zac Hobson’s journey, it also explodes the ego and its provenances in a gesture towards its (the ego’s) tendency toward an inherent lack of balance as a pathological reality. As a handy side effect, this also answers one suspects any putative attack that this kind of work or story (/dreaming) is primarily or fundmentally of the ego in the first place.
In this scene, Hobson orates to the crowd in his garden, as a figure made lucid towards the part which the power of his science has played towards ‘evil’ and corrupt ends (with the associated spoils of status, wealth and power).
He is a curious figure at this point, with a becoming-woman partly enraptured to an unhinged trajectory of power-poisoned subjectivity; the indulgent acknowledgement that his corruption makes him suitable to rule the world. Coincidentally the moment when the electricity grid finally goes offline.
In the longer term, the reality of the presence of others in this post-human world is what most wakes Hobson, while this film back-wakes the quiet world (of dreaming or of realisation) as a river of abstraction running towards the re-emergent forest (re-emergent because we have been habitually unable to see it) growing even through the conurbation – in which it is possible to swim and to alight elsewhere entirely, in the realm of possible and consistent experiences and bringing to the present, a possibility of returning future.
* * *