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Lecture 03 - The Cosmological View


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Third lecture for my students in English 192, "Science Fiction," summer 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.

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Lecture 03 - The Cosmological View

  1. 1. Lecture 3: The Cosmological View English 192 Summer 2013 7 August 2013 “‘No!’ interrupted the doctor. ‘There is no peace and rest in the development of material interests. They have their law and their justice. But it is founded on expedience, and is inhuman; it is without rectitude, without the continuity and the force that can be found only in a moral principle.’" — Joseph Conrad, Nostromo, ch. 11
  2. 2. General announcements ● Please keep an eye on your spam/junk mail folder in your email client. ● If you are trying to crash and have not yet sent me an email, please do so! I just need to know that you're still interested in taking the course. ● Other questions before we get started?
  3. 3. Comprehending the World “[…] it is increasingly difficult to comprehend the world in which we live and of which we are a part. To confront this idea is to confront an absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all – an idea that has been a central motif of the horror genre for some time.” (Thacker 1) “But the world can mean many things, from a subjective experience of living in the world, to the objective scientific study of geological conditions. The world is human and non-human, anthropocentric and non-anthropomorphic, sometimes even misanthropic.” (2)
  4. 4. Limits of Comprehension “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) “In short, when the non-human world manifests itself to us in these ambivalent ways, more often than not our response is to recuperate that non-human world into whatever the dominant, human centric worldview is at the time. After all, being human, how else would we make sense of the world?” (4)
  5. 5. “the world can mean many things” (2) ● “the world-for-us” (or “the World”) is the world as we experience it, the world as a phenomenological construct with which we interact. (4) ● “the world-in-itself” (or “the Earth”) is the world that “‘bites back,’ resists, or ignores our attempts to mold it into the world-for-us.” This is the world as an object of scientific study; it is also an imaginary construct that “constitutes a horizon for thought, always receding just beyond the bounds of intelligibility.” (4-5) ● “the world-without-us” (or “the Planet”) is an unknowable (“spectral and speculative”) construct in which we attempt to subtract human meaning and activity from “the Earth.” (5-6)
  6. 6. Thinking the Unthinkable “To say that the world-without-us is antagonistic to the human is to attempt to put things in human terms, in the terms of the world-for-us. To say that the world- without-us is neutral with respect to the human, is to attempt to put things in terms of the world-in-itself. The word-without us lies somewhere in between, in a nebulous zone that is at once impersonal and horrific. The world-without us is as much a cultural concept as a scientific one, and, as this book attempts to show, it is in the genres of supernatural horror and science fiction that we most frequently find attempts to think about, and to confront the difficult thought of, the world-without-us.” (5-6)
  7. 7. Main take-away points ● Our primary engagements with “the world” are infused with human values and human constructions based on human activities. ● “[T]he world-without-us is not to be found in a ‘great beyond’ that is exterior to the World […] or the Earth […]; rather, it is in the very fissures, lapses, or lacunae in the World and the Earth.” (7- 8) ● “I would propose […] that horror be understood about the the limits of the human as it confronts a world that is not just a World, and not just the Earth, but also a Planet (the world-without-us).” (8)