By Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
My theory is that the weird fiction critic is a zealot. Speak the phrase ‘bad numinous’ or merely mouth choice words such as ‘eldritch’ ‘awesome’ or ‘uncanny’ and he will appear in a flash of lightning and a whiff of brimstone, his obsidian wings curled around his emaciated body in delicious anticipation.
My theory is that weird fiction is an oblation, an invocation. It is a ritual in which moments of unease are summoned. Discomfort and dismay at the scale of reality, the shapelessness of it, the formlessness of fate and the implacability of doom.
My theory is that the weird is simply reality with blinkers removed. The weird can also be the wonderful; there is no reason to exclude the miraculous, save for a matter of taste and weird fiction’s origins in the underworld of pulp horror.
Thus: the airy, well-peopled fictions of Jonathan Carroll partake as fully of the weird as the stark, inimical cosmos evoked by Ligotti or the cryptic, secretive universe of Aickman.
My theory is that the weird is a thing, it is a phenomenon that lurks in every corner, that hides in every heart. There are many roads to the weird, in life and in death.
But the optimal vector of the weird is fiction. The lie that implies a greater truth. Lulled by the knowledge that this is ‘only a dream’, the reader relaxes her mental barriers and a seed of unrest, of anamnesis may be sown.
Thus, scriptures, myths and legends, anything intended to be construed as veracious, none of these are weird. Insofar as they claim to tell the truth, they may be debunked and dismissed. That man never lived, those battles never happened, that drop of semen never fell on that leaf and floated down that river.
But in the midst of lies, truth can shelter, unmolested. You, the weird fiction reader, will become an acolyte, an addict to that indescribable frisson only a really good weird tale can give you. Slowly you will discard genre trappings, hunting in books by decadents, romantics, modernists, post-modernists, Oulipoists and magic realists for that elusive rush. You will look at paintings and sculptures and artifacts.
Some of you will even read poetry.
And a strange and wondrous and terrible thing will happen. You will start to see the weird around you and within yourself. As time goes by, fact and fiction will become a seamless continuum and you will be unable to distinguish your life from the tales you once sought out.
And yet, nothing will have changed except your own perspective.
My theory is that the weird fiction critic is the unhappiest of creatures. He strives to construct theories that are never conclusive. They help others, currently stumbling in the foothills, catch a glimpse of the path to the heights they crave, but leave the critic lost in his own revisions and elaborations. He is trapped in the role of Charon to the votaries of the weird, forever ferrying them across to strangeness’ demesne with the hints dropped in his essays and reviews, yet unable to make the crossing himself because there is always that niggling doubt, that last inconsistency I cannot resolve.
His labours are essential; they offer signposts and directions that may guide others as the begin their own wanderings. His labours are fruitless, for there is no final grand unified theory of anything: reality, humanity and least of all the weird.
My theory is that something inside me is being suffocated by the very writing of this essay. Can you feel it seize upon you, too, feel it stifle your breathing, constrict your throat and sap your vitality? It is the loss of the weird you feel encroaching upon you. I implore you, cease reading my words before this doom falls over you as well…
Note: I fear the author of this piece has allowed his own prolixity to lead him into falsehood. Analysis is not always demystification, an unwoven rainbow is still a thing of wonder, theory is not meant to be a final conclusion but a framework for further exploration, and even rationality can arrive at the weird. I would enjoin him to reconsider some of his more questionable conclusions, but he was found slumped over this MS, his face chewed away and tiny human-like footprints dotted all over the dust that had gathered on his writing desk in the three weeks before the constabulary finally broke into his garret room. – JP