Cosmic Horror, Personal Reality, and Divine Enlightenment
An interview with me on the 'Against Everyone with Conner Habib' podcast
Dear Living Dark readers,
This week Conner Habib published the first episode in a new series on horror for his popular podcast Against Everyone with Conner Habib. I was his featured interviewee, and our conversation went in directions and touched on topics that will be of interest to members of the Living Dark community.
Here’s the episode at Conner’s Patreon, where you can find links to listen to it at Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Breaker:
A partial list of specific books, movies, people, and topics that we addressed includes:
The Phantasm movies
David Hufford’s The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions
Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! Trilogy and Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy
Algernon Blackwood’s “The Man Who Found Out”
Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan”
Thomas Ligotti’s “The Shadow, The Darkness,” “The Red Tower,” and The Conspiracy against the Human Race
H. P. Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
James Cameron’s Titanic
Science writer John Horgan
Psychedelic research pioneer Dr. James Fadiman
David Lynch and Twin Peaks
Zen meditation and enlightenment
Alan Watts’s Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship
By way of a more detailed description:
The overarching theme of our conversation was the human condition and the horror it can entail. We discussed horror’s many forms and the fact of its intense stigmatization, despite its widespread popularity. We also probed into its spiritual aspects and its capacity to help us confront and overcome evil, as well as the tension between the horrors of the cosmos and those of everyday life.
A major theme was the paradox of horror and individual identity, and the terrifying yet beautiful notion of being a part of something vast and enormous. We discussed the fear of individual identity being eroded, and the anomic horror that occurs when a culture’s “sacred canopy,” its overarching sky of coherent meaning, is ripped open by the intrusion of phenomena that it cannot account for. This led us to consider the theme of forbidden knowledge and the longing to see beyond the veil.
We also discussed experiences of sleep paralysis and the profound sense of horror these can elicit. We traded thoughts on how personal perception changes over time, how horror can offer insights into potential missed spiritual opportunities, and how the complexity of supernatural experiences and the different emotions they evoke can inform us about our own world view.
Our conversation also extended to the role of horror as both an art form and an existential experience, highlighting the role it plays in raising questions about fundamental concepts of reality and evil.
All in all, it was a rich conversation. Conner is an excellent host, and I’m personally looking forward to listening to the rest of the episodes in this series.
A major theme was the anomic horror that occurs when a culture’s “sacred canopy,” its overarching sky of coherent meaning, is ripped open by the intrusion of phenomena that it cannot account for.
To whet your interest further, here are transcriptions of two specific portions of my own side of the interaction that may be especially noteworthy in the context of this newsletter with its dual focus on helping writers learn to connect and collaborate with their inner genius or daemon muse while also leaving room to talk about such things as horror and nonduality.
We have a subjective/objective boundary. You’re born into a world, you have this sense of subjectivity formed, and now, in a real sense, it’s “you against the world.” The world is constantly trying to destabilize and break down the body and the mind and so on. It’s a struggle to achieve individual identity, and you know you’re headed towards death, when that identity will go away. That’s the ultimate fear.
But the very condition of being like this creates the fear. You sense that you’re a finite being, and the thing you long for the most, as well as the thing that most horrifies you, the thing of greatest dread, is this boundary being breached.
That runs through religion as well: Is transcendence fearsome? Or is it fascinating and wonderful? Lately I’ve tended to move toward the idea that it’s fascinating and wonderful. But the horror thing is what hit me for years and years.
In nonduality, the reality of the absolute, the ground of being, whatever you want to call it, seems like nothing, because it’s something that can’t be ever be perceived. It can’t ever be grasped. It can’t ever be known. It is what lies behind all perceptions, all knowledge, all experiences, even behind the attempt to describe it. It always lies behind. And specifically what it lies behind is your eyes, my eyes, your gaze—not literally, physically, but just behind the very fact of your existing as what seems to be a self-aware, separate person. It’s always prior, you know. So it’s invisible, and it seems like nothing. But in fact, it’s the fullness of everything.
But this also means that the idea that you can’t say anything about it is wrong. Actually, you can talk about it to infinitude. You can never exhaust the possible means and metaphors by which you can speak about it. And this also means that the realm of the ten thousand things that we inhabit, the realm of separation, the dream of the world, you know, it may as well actually be. It may as well actually exist. And it really is an infinite number of combinations. It really is an infinitude of possible people, possible things, possible experiences. But none of them are the absolute. Only the absolute is the absolute.
Imagine an infinite movie that can assume any number of configurations and be real to the characters who are living in it. That takes us back to horror. In one sense you go, “Oh, my gosh, that would be a total nightmare,” especially if you’re an anti-natalist. You think the movie is horrible. Why should it exist? Why should there be an infinitude of even notional beings that are going to suffer? But at the same time, from another viewpoint, it’s just a staggering, incomprehensibly overwhelming multiplicity of everything: pleasure, pain, whatever. You know, it’s not just all bad. In fact, in a way the realm of the world is kind of like the absolute, in that it just is, and it just inflects itself in different ways through our experiences at different times.
“This heady second volume of the journals of Cardin, the writer of and expert on weird/cosmic horror fiction, charts two decades of thinking, searching, reading and feeling of matters artistic, theological, and philosophical. . . . A weird fiction authority’s searching, incisive journals of this millennium.” — BookLife by Publishers Weekly
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