My husband, Anthony, and I are both horror fans.
He typically prefers psychological horror, while I favor supernatural horror–you know, the kind of horror that human beings can’t work on one another.
We did find some horror overlap thanks to zombies. Anthony inspired that in me by loaning me his copy of World War Z, which excellent novel paved the way for Anthony and I to date over … zombie movies.
For a few months now, I haven’t been in the mood for much horror. There’s enough to amp up my anxiety in the real world without adding to it with fantasy.
But then …
Someone shared a link to Jordan Peele’s new Lovecraft Country, a bit of horror in which Anthony and I instantly shared great interest.
Late one evening, we got to talking about what Anthony described as “Lovecraftian” or “existential horror.” I hadn’t heard the phrase before. Anthony described it as “the horror that’s really weird, and too big to describe.”
He pointed to 14 and The Fold by Peter Clines, books we both enjoyed and in which there’s more than one paltry back-water monster with which protagonists must contend. Rather, once a protagonist has witnessed this kind of horror, it’s no longer a question of anomalous monsters:
the whole universe is different by far than anything any of its protagonists could possibly have fathomed before.
Something about how my husband described this reminded me of a few other books I’ve read: Jeff VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach trilogy, beginning with Annihilation.
I told Anthony that these books were the first fiction books on which I almost broke out my highlighters. Where Neil Postman, on whose works I’ve reflected here many times, wrote non-fiction about the ways human language and perception fool us into seeing fixedness where there are, indeed, endless sets of converging processes, VandeerMeer writes fiction that calls into question human ideas of biologies, environs, planets as fixed.
All these things are forever changing. It’s our very human ways of perceiving that lead us not to understand change is happening in front of our eyes, slowly, all the time.
Where Postman and VanderMeer diverge for me is that Postman makes me laugh, while VanderMeer’s words once inspired me to shiver and wonder,
What else are my perceptual limitations causing me to miss here?
Right now, there’s very little I want to read. That doesn’t mean I’m not reading; a few pages at a time, I’m reading books on global health, with special fondness for all words Paul Farmer. Even with Farmer, though, I can only manage a few pages at a time.
This is for reasons I described in a March post: “’All these books describe the world that was,’ I told [Anthony]. ‘They don’t inform me about the world yet to come, which my heart tells me can not be at all like what came before.’”
At that point, Anthony and I hadn’t yet discussed existential horror, so I couldn’t have possibly then explained what profound comfort I’d find
picking up Annihilation this week and remembering that even the world I believed existed before wasn’t the one that actually did.
The world was always in (com)motion, always busier and bigger than I was able to see.
Today, it soothes my heart to see that affirmed in print. To step into a world of what felt to me, a couple years ago, like something my husband would later call “existential horror,”
only to find relief to be reminded the world was always exactly what it is now:
change masquerading as fixedness or, for me, today:
something a lot less like existential horror and
a lot more like existential relief.
What comes next?
Who knows. It’s already part the way here;
and what it will begin as, and continue to be as it evolves,
will shape us even as
we shape it.