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Surviving the Cthulhuscene: Activism, Horror, and the Politics of Survival

Fri, September 1, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton Union Square, Nob Hill 4 & 5


Within the social and geologic sciences scholars are discussing a new epoch, the Anthropocene, an era defined by the global impact of human action. While the term is currently up for debate and scholars are currently coming up with different terms to describe this era, I argue that we need to view this new period as the Cthuhluscene. In using this term, I look to the pessimistic and dark cosmic horror work of H.P. Lovecraft and argue that we are facing an era defined, not by human action, but by the limitations of human action in the face of an indifferent and powerful nature. In this article, I am expanding upon this idea and exploring what the work in cosmic horror tells us about political action, agency, and activism during an era when hope is all but dead and all we have to hope for is survival.

The mantra during the alterglobalization movement, coming from the Zapatista’s in Mexico, was that “other worlds are possible. The current work coming out the climate sciences have questioned the validity of being to hopeful and many, like Roy Scranton, have argued that we need to “learn to die.” To put it bluntly, in the past activism was about creating a new, better world, while today the limit of our imagination is focused on mere survival. This profoundly changes what it means to engage political in the world and theorists and political thinkers have not adequately addressed this drastic change. In this article we address this by looking to the protagonists in Lovecraft stories—most notably Randolph Carter, who appears in multiple Lovecraft stories, Dr. Armitage from “the Dunwhich horror,” and William Dyer, the narrator of The Mountains of Madness¬—so that we can gain insight into what agency means in relation to a politics of survival. In these stories, the main characters have to overcome and defeat cosmic horrors that are significantly more powerful then them. In addition, to surviving the horror that each character confronts the characters all work to warn others of the coming doom. These characters use their intellectual prowess and open minds to both understand the monsters they face and they also become oracles, warning everyone else of the unspeakable horrors that await us. By critically engaging with the work of H.P. Lovecraft and putting into dialogue with writers like Rebecca Solnit, Marc Abls, William Connoly, and Stacey Alaimo, a powerful and provocative understanding of radical politics can emerge. One that does not ignore the doom awaiting us but that opens up space for a radical reimagination of what the future can entail.