‘A Singularity without an Event Horizon’:The Cosmic Sublime and Deconstruction of Empirical Boundaries

Dodd, Kerry (2018) ‘A Singularity without an Event Horizon’:The Cosmic Sublime and Deconstruction of Empirical Boundaries. In: Sublime Cognition, 2018-09-132018-09-14, Birkbeck University.

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Cosmic Horror tales frequently underscore the redundancy and insignificance of humanity through the presentation of entities and phenomena far beyond our understanding, reinforcing our infinitesimal size on this unimaginable scale. Yet while concerned with epistemological limits, these tales (typified by the work of H. P. Lovecraft) often present this through teratological horrors – entities or existences whose mere sight drives the human subject insane. Such a proposition arguably cannot think beyond the traditional monster format of abject horrors and narrative mythos, destined to be transformed and then culturally appropriated. In this paper I will instead examine the cosmic sublime of M. John Harrison’s Kefahuchi Tract trilogy, outlining how the representation of quantum destabilisation offers a more compelling and faithful cosmic horror. Orientated around the Kefahuchi Tract, described as a singularity without an event horizon, this seething and oppressive cosmological presence defies discrete representation and is frequently framed in spectral terms. Harrison’s trilogy is steadfast in eliding any definitive explanation of how the quantum mechanics of interstellar travel functions; the proposition that ‘you could travel between the stars, it began to seem, by assuming anything’ (Light, 139-140) destabilising the certainty of rational thought. The juxtaposition of dense technological futurism and spectral hauntings thus proposes a confluence of the Gothic and Science Fiction that challenges anthropocentric paradigms towards the non-human. The frequent allusion to the ruination of multiple civilizations enraptured by the tract underscores an excavational curiosity with no empirical answers – one which perhaps can only be understood in phantasmal awe. Focusing on the eeriness of such figures as the Shrander and doppelganger artefacts in conjunction with a Speculative Materialist approach, I argue that Harrison’s trilogy proposes a transition from teratological horrors to quantum terrors as a reconfiguration of cosmic wonder that challenges the delineation of ontological boundaries.

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Sublime Cognition
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12 Nov 2018 10:08
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22 Nov 2022 14:31