Dust and Guts

The world is increasingly unthinkable — a world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, tectonic shifts, strange weather, oil-drenched seascapes, and the furtive, always-looming threat of extinction.
~ Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of this Planet: Horror of Philosophy Vol. 1

Thacker begins In the Dust of this Planet with the words, “The world is increasingly unthinkable,” and I’m caught by the very first three letters, “t,” “h,” and “e,” particularly his choice to use the word “the” and not “a” as a first encounter with the premise for his book. This distinction between the world and a world is explored subtly throughout the rest of this prologue, but it’s his choice here, at the very opening, that fascinates me. A world is an indeterminate place, one particular but undefined locale amongst many possible locales, an oasis of sand in a much larger desert of sand. The world is an altogether more determined and definite sort of place, one locale amongst a dearth of other possible locales, just sand, a lone puddle. While a world is terrifying for all it might allude to, the world is altogether more terrifying for all it excludes. I find myself wondering if his first word is a declarative “the” or a worried and threatened “the,” and I think (and hope) the latter.

And the subsequent word, “world,” is notable for the way it forces my lips and teeth to grapple with it even as my brain fails to. My mind spins listlessly in a failed attempt to unearth exactly what the word itself contains, as my lips pucker, part, slowly wrap around a drawn out “r,” tongue dancing with a barely annunciated “l,” before my teeth close upon the word’s tail end. What’s most beautiful, though, about the word as I say it, is the way it pops open my lips and teeth after it’s been uttered, leaving me eager, at the ready for what follows.

Two words, and I begin wondering what this book, In the Dust of this Planet, will be about, not it’s topic, but what it will uncover. Reading through the rest of the prologue, I hazard several guesses:

The Fifth word, “unthinkable,” suggests that it will be about thought and failures of thought. As distinct from feeling, which is not mentioned and barely alluded to throughout the prologue. The book will be about what can’t be reasoned, what can’t be believed, what can’t be morally reconciled.

At the end of paragraph four, Thacker writes, “we cannot help but to think of the world as a human world, by virtue of the fact that it is we human beings that think it” (2). I notice more emphasis on thinking here and this word, “human,” and another word, “we,” suggesting the book will be about humans, what is beyond human, and about the author himself as part of what is meant by human.

On pp. 4-6, Thacker makes a distinction between “the world-for-us,” “the world-in-itself,” and “the world-without-us.” Presumably, the book will be less about the unmentioned world-inside-us. Unless its being unmentioned is exactly what makes it the subject of this book.

On p. 7, Thacker does refer to the oft-mentioned (by me) statistic that “approximately ninety percent of the cells in the human body belong to non-human organisms” and then adds that “thought is not human,” which he italicizes, perhaps to suggest that (and draw attention to) the fact that this will be the guiding question (or hypothesis) of the remainder of his book.

On p. 8, Thacker suggests that horror must (or “deserves to”) “be considered as more than the sum of its formal properties” (8), and I find myself immediately worried that he might miss part of the point of horror, its insistence on affect, often attained through the meticulous modulation of formal properties. He argues that “horror is not simply about fear, but instead about the enigmatic thought of the unknown” (8-9). Yes, this has been argued elsewhere by Noel Carroll in The Philosophy of Horror, which Thacker’s title alludes to; however, the last words of Thacker’s prologue suggest that his work will turn this somewhat tiresome argument on its head, moving it in a materialist direction, in which thought becomes matter, wild, amorphous matter: “mists, ooze, blobs, slime, clouds, and muck. Or, as Plato once put it, ‘hair, mud, and dirt'” (9), all words which make me want even less thought, even more guts.

Mouth slightly open, at the ready…

Jesse Stommel

Jesse Stommel

Jesse Stommel is faculty at University of Denver and founder of Hybrid Pedagogy. He teaches pedagogy, digital studies, and composition. He spends most of his time with his badass daughter, Hazel.

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