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The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror

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What is the human body? Both the most familiar and unfamiliar of things, the body is the centre of experience but also the site of a prehistory anterior to any experience. Alien and uncanny, this other side of the body has all too often been overlooked by phenomenology. In confronting this oversight, Dylan Trigg's The Thing redefines phenomenology as a species of realism, What is the human body? Both the most familiar and unfamiliar of things, the body is the centre of experience but also the site of a prehistory anterior to any experience. Alien and uncanny, this other side of the body has all too often been overlooked by phenomenology. In confronting this oversight, Dylan Trigg's The Thing redefines phenomenology as a species of realism, which he terms unhuman phenomenology. Far from being the vehicle of a human voice, this unhuman phenomenology gives expression to the alien materiality at the limit of experience. By fusing the philosophies of Merleau-Ponty, Husserl, and Levinas with the horrors of John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and H.P. Lovecraft, Trigg explores the ways in which an unhuman phenomenology positions the body out of time. At once a challenge to traditional notions of phenomenology, The Thing is also a timely rejoinder to contemporary philosophies of realism. The result is nothing less than a rebirth of phenomenology as redefined through the lens of horror.


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What is the human body? Both the most familiar and unfamiliar of things, the body is the centre of experience but also the site of a prehistory anterior to any experience. Alien and uncanny, this other side of the body has all too often been overlooked by phenomenology. In confronting this oversight, Dylan Trigg's The Thing redefines phenomenology as a species of realism, What is the human body? Both the most familiar and unfamiliar of things, the body is the centre of experience but also the site of a prehistory anterior to any experience. Alien and uncanny, this other side of the body has all too often been overlooked by phenomenology. In confronting this oversight, Dylan Trigg's The Thing redefines phenomenology as a species of realism, which he terms unhuman phenomenology. Far from being the vehicle of a human voice, this unhuman phenomenology gives expression to the alien materiality at the limit of experience. By fusing the philosophies of Merleau-Ponty, Husserl, and Levinas with the horrors of John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and H.P. Lovecraft, Trigg explores the ways in which an unhuman phenomenology positions the body out of time. At once a challenge to traditional notions of phenomenology, The Thing is also a timely rejoinder to contemporary philosophies of realism. The result is nothing less than a rebirth of phenomenology as redefined through the lens of horror.

30 review for The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror

  1. 5 out of 5

    Aksel Dadswell

    I’ll be honest, a lot of this book went right over my head. My having no prior in-depth knowledge of philosophers like Merleau-Ponty, Schelling or Meillassoux can probably be allocated a portion of the blame. As a reading experience I felt myself gripping tightly to the edges of ideas and revelations, before the promise of illumination slipped out of my sweaty grasp and I fell back into the abyss. The Thing is also an incredibly dense book at times, and Trigg has a penchant for stringing a lot of I’ll be honest, a lot of this book went right over my head. My having no prior in-depth knowledge of philosophers like Merleau-Ponty, Schelling or Meillassoux can probably be allocated a portion of the blame. As a reading experience I felt myself gripping tightly to the edges of ideas and revelations, before the promise of illumination slipped out of my sweaty grasp and I fell back into the abyss. The Thing is also an incredibly dense book at times, and Trigg has a penchant for stringing a lot of academic words together to present his ideas. This is fine for people familiar and comfortable with that kind of writing and those sorts of theories. My reading experience often required a scalpel and a magnifying glass, my ham-fisted dissections resulting in as many frustrations and questions as they did understanding. Having said that, Trigg’s work still brims with interesting ideas and theories, and it was captivating enough – especially with its references to films by Cronenberg and Carpenter, and its exploration of the abject – to keep me reading to the end, persevering through the more obscure tracts. I feel like any complaints I have about this book are more concerned with my inability to grasp certain complex subjects than any fault of the author’s. On the other hand, I would have enjoyed more of an examination of horror literature, at least a more in-depth look at Lovecraft’s work, which gets a few pages’ worth of attention and a subsequent scattering of references. Even a wider variety of cosmic horror fiction would have been more than welcome. The again, Trigg’s other major work, The Memory of Place, may provide some deeper exploration of these subjects. Overall, a mostly engaging work that definitely sparked my interest in further avenues of research.

  2. 5 out of 5

    0

    Dylan Trigg has been one of the few commentators (or the only?) who is committed to finding, amplifying, and extending the moments of alienation, anxiety, and strangeness in Merleau-Ponty's works. That's a welcome endeavor, not least because Trigg keeps returning to the same impulse that got me interested in Merleau-Ponty in the first place--namely, Merleau-Ponty's attempt to surpass the limits of phenomenology from within by catching sight of the unconscious at work in each moment of subjective Dylan Trigg has been one of the few commentators (or the only?) who is committed to finding, amplifying, and extending the moments of alienation, anxiety, and strangeness in Merleau-Ponty's works. That's a welcome endeavor, not least because Trigg keeps returning to the same impulse that got me interested in Merleau-Ponty in the first place--namely, Merleau-Ponty's attempt to surpass the limits of phenomenology from within by catching sight of the unconscious at work in each moment of subjective experience. Phenomenologists might be reticent to use the word "unconscious." They might prefer instead words like "pre-reflective," "pre-personal," "pre-subjective," or "anonymous," because those are descriptive words that can be followed with words like "consciousness" or "experience." This move allows the prospect of something like the unconscious to be brought up so that it can be annexed and incorporated back into conscious experience, which is now delineated into personal and pre-personal consciousness. This is the standard way of reading Merleau-Ponty, and it has a lot of evidence behind it. But there are also moments of rupture, division, disintegration and alienation in Merleau-Ponty that resist being easily mended. In the secondary literature, these are undertheorized, seeing as how the first thirty years or so of Merleau-Ponty scholarship tended to read him as a Kantian who had just discovered his body. What I don't like about this book is that it is merely another entry in a long and mostly unremarkable series of monographs responding to the challenges which "speculative realism" poses to phenomenology by appropriating some "weird" or "dark" aesthetic of cosmic horror or nihilism (It was very trendy in the mid-2010s to do this, I have no idea if anyone is still invested in this aesthetic). So the culture industry cranked out spooky Merleau-Ponty. I really like Trigg's shorter essays. They're concise, they're clear, they're interesting, and they're novel. Reading Merleau-Ponty through David Cronenberg or John Carpenter, really *can* help you to understand the uncanniness of embodiment. But this book is not clear or concise. It seems like Trigg stitched together several of his already-published essays, added some *very* fast and confusing analysis, and sprinkled in as many "spooky" references to ancient meteorites, arthropods, aliens, the void, parasites, ghosts, and Cthulus as he could. Merleau-Ponty does not need to be spooky like that! The only horror in Merleau-Ponty was to be found in the violence of politics, not in his body. He didn't find the unconscious scary, he found it intriguing, mysterious, beautiful, and a bit unsettling. Spooky was trendy in 2014, but Merleau-Ponty has an appeal which is longer-lasting. He took phenomenology further than it wanted to go--away from human consciousness, into the worlds of insects and chimpanzees, the unconscious, and the elemental. What this book could have used was less of John Carpenter's "The Thing" and more of Jacques Lacan's Das Ding. But I will have to wait for that book

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    170517: i discover i have not left a review for this, so by memory: probably works only when you know some phenomenology, some thinkers like husserl, merleau-ponty, have read some lovecraft, have seen at least a few films by carpenter or cronenberg. since i have the needed history, it works for me. i do not know if horror can be fully, rationally, philosophically explained- that it slips out, is hard to grasp, returns despite or because of repression, evades rational thought and appeals to visce 170517: i discover i have not left a review for this, so by memory: probably works only when you know some phenomenology, some thinkers like husserl, merleau-ponty, have read some lovecraft, have seen at least a few films by carpenter or cronenberg. since i have the needed history, it works for me. i do not know if horror can be fully, rationally, philosophically explained- that it slips out, is hard to grasp, returns despite or because of repression, evades rational thought and appeals to visceral emotion. fun way to look at/read old favourites...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Frank Cernik

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Similar to Peak’s "The Spectacle of the Void," which I think makes a good companion piece to "The Thing," Trigg seems here to be rearticulating philosophy and reality through the lens of horror. Trigg is also deeply influenced by Meillassoux, to the point that he frequently acknowledges The Thing to be an attempt to ‘save’ phenomenology from Meillassoux’s critique by transforming it into a realist ontology. Like "Spectacle," it is also a frustrating book, as it has a lot to say that initially st Similar to Peak’s "The Spectacle of the Void," which I think makes a good companion piece to "The Thing," Trigg seems here to be rearticulating philosophy and reality through the lens of horror. Trigg is also deeply influenced by Meillassoux, to the point that he frequently acknowledges The Thing to be an attempt to ‘save’ phenomenology from Meillassoux’s critique by transforming it into a realist ontology. Like "Spectacle," it is also a frustrating book, as it has a lot to say that initially struck me as nonsense, and also uses masculine-normative language. It ceased to be frustrating as the final chapter came to a close, however, and at that point coalesced to reveal what it had been talking about this whole time. Put simply, Trigg attempts in "The Thing" to unify the tradition of phenomenology with an ontology of thing-ness, which he illustrates at every point with examples from horror films and literature. Trigg is implicitly against Thacker’s ‘world-without-us,’ insofar as that construction implies the continuation of humanity’s ruins, which serve as the departed humanity’s ambassadors. Instead, Trigg uses extant phenomenological texts to investigate the horrific thing-ness of the body and to construct a particularly ‘unhuman’ phenomenology, one which uses the human to understand alterity, especially the alien, anonymous, unconscious, inanimate, and dead. To do so, he steadily displaces humanity from the center of embodiedness. Like "Spectacle," "The Thing" is composed of four parts. The first part uses examples of fossilized bacteria found in meteors to expand human-Earth relationships to accommodate the idea that life as we know it is not fundamentally connected to Earth, in contradistinction to Husserl’s transcendental structures. From there, Trigg turns to Levinas, using his formation of the ‘There is’ to argue for a bodily existence that is anterior to the world; he also uses Levinas’ treatment of insomnia and of ‘the horror of the night’ to push past methodological limits and talk about “an experience that both enables and exceeds subjectivity … [and an] account of the body as constitutive of subjectivity but at the same time a betrayer of subjectivity.” After Levinas, Trigg employs Merleau-Ponty almost to exclusion. In the third section, he explores how the human might share its bodily experience with a prehistoric subject and may yet have a phylogenetic memory in addition to personal memory. Finally, he evokes Merleau-Ponty’s (unfinished?) ontology of ‘flesh’ as what survives after the collapse of conceptual thought, and which is thus a more fundamental basis for phenomenology than consciousness. In conjunction, each of these parts advances the thesis that cosmic horror is essentially body horror, and that, further, all subjectivity is alien subjectivity with anonymous teleology, such that “the origin of the universe is both constitutive of humanity and also against humanity.” In addition to Husserl, Levinas, and Merleau-Ponty, Trigg is also indebted to Schopenhauer and Schelling, along with some psychology, by way of Freud, Lacan, and Kristeva. His examples are generally found in the works of John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and H.P. Lovecraft.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Leftjab

    I would highly advise any reader before starting this to give themselves at least a brief dive into what the philosophical concept of “phenomenology” is before starting the book. I think I read a chapter and was like, maybe I should get some basics so I did a little Wikipedia journey into Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas – after that, the read was much easier and more illuminating (obviously). I was drawn to the exploration of Lovecraft, Carpenter, and Cronenberg – always interested as to why I would highly advise any reader before starting this to give themselves at least a brief dive into what the philosophical concept of “phenomenology” is before starting the book. I think I read a chapter and was like, maybe I should get some basics so I did a little Wikipedia journey into Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Levinas – after that, the read was much easier and more illuminating (obviously). I was drawn to the exploration of Lovecraft, Carpenter, and Cronenberg – always interested as to why early 21st Century theorists are drawn primarily to Lovecraft (and Philip K. Dick as well, though he’s absent from this one). Phenomenology is a slippery branch of philosophical inquiry, and I found it similar to quantum physics in that its largely inexpressible. How do you analyze something that by nature rejects the standard analytical procedure of research? Somewhere I read something about the difference between speaking language (as we communicate in the present tense) and spoken language (language recorded or written down in some way) and phenomenology would prioritize the speaking language over the spoken language. I mean, I am not a philosopher, so I prefer the analysis of movies with which I am intimately familiar. Lovecraft and the Thing introduce truly alien beings into our exploration of reality, and since in written history there is no FIRM record of alien contact, Lovecraft’s descriptions of the non-human lend themselves well to philosophical readings that are attempting to express the non-human. It’s one of those areas where the minute something is thought of or expressed then it immediately becomes within the realms of human consciousness and that if it hadn’t been thought or expressed it exists in this netherworld of the beyond. Lovecraft was describing these god-like creatures whose existence is so horrible that when his narrators come into contact with them, they go insane. And since the philosophers have to keep some sort of grasp of reality in order to explore these gray areas, using the Lovecraft texts as a starting point helps their theorizing (or something like that). Similarly, in The Thing, the crew tries to grasp an alien whose behavior is unlike anything any of the scientists have experienced. The story implies that the alien ship has been buried in ice longer than humans have been on the planet, so Trigg can use this to discuss the nature of the beginning of humanity – where life came from on this planet, and if we manage to send a colony to another planet, how humanity would spread. Fascinating stuff, and Trigg explores these ideas through the lens of phenomenology. One of the other aspects of his “phenomenology of horror” is the body as text, in a way. If phenomenology is by nature concerned with how we experience reality in the present tense, the body can be seen as a reflection of the present tense. I cut my hand, and then have a wound as a cataloguing of my experience, which then may turn into a scar. Trigg uses Cronenberg’s The Fly as the master-text in body horror – the plot is mainly the chronicle of a scientific experiment gone wrong as expressed through the physical and mental decay of the scientist who conducted the experiment. (Similar to both the Quatermass Xperiment and the much cruder Incredible Melting Man (both discussed in the text), and the 50s horror Tarantula (not discussed). Cronenberg’s film is more valuable to Trigg than the original The Fly as Cronenberg (and the screenwriter of Carpenter’s The Thing) attempted to take both of their source material and update them to make them more scientifically sound, as opposed to the originals which played a bit footloose with their science. I did find it interesting that Trigg used two films which were remakes of 50s films as his primary filmic sources – maybe both Carpenter and Cronenberg, in being free of the burden of the broad strokes in the creation of the source material found themselves to be more able to focus on details that had stoked their creative juices as youngsters. I.E. they had decades to think about how they would best the Howard Hawks The Thing and the Kurt Neumann The Fly. Also interesting that both remakes are regarded as two of the most disgusting films in cinematic history – that advances in practical makeup FX (and community standards!) allowed them to explore what would happen if the truly alien infected humans. That both films are pretty bleak and nihilistic (as is Lovecraft) also helps them being fodder for theorists.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Eugene Pustoshkin

    Сама идея описания и разработки феноменологии ужаса на основе культовых хорроров 1970–1980-х интересна, однако исполнение где-то начиная с половины книги излишне уж специфическое и нормальным человеком не читабельное. Довольно ознакомиться с аннотацией, первой третью книги и, далее, с заключительной частью о фильме «Нечто». Или же просто можно ограничиться аннотацией. (В процессе чтения у меня возникли мысли о теме, над которой несколько лет уже размышляю: об идее неантропоморфности человеческог Сама идея описания и разработки феноменологии ужаса на основе культовых хорроров 1970–1980-х интересна, однако исполнение где-то начиная с половины книги излишне уж специфическое и нормальным человеком не читабельное. Довольно ознакомиться с аннотацией, первой третью книги и, далее, с заключительной частью о фильме «Нечто». Или же просто можно ограничиться аннотацией. (В процессе чтения у меня возникли мысли о теме, над которой несколько лет уже размышляю: об идее неантропоморфности человеческого сознавания, — но об этом как-нибудь в другой раз.)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Calliden Hunter

    I kept wanting to talk about Merleau-Ponty in my (Lovecraftian Horror / Theatre / Ecology) dissertation & this helped me connect the dots as to exactly why. It was a difficult read & I'll definitely have to go over it again, when I have the time. I kept wanting to talk about Merleau-Ponty in my (Lovecraftian Horror / Theatre / Ecology) dissertation & this helped me connect the dots as to exactly why. It was a difficult read & I'll definitely have to go over it again, when I have the time.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    A good book with clear writing, but not for persons without a background in phenomenological studies. While the author brings up a number of interesting a relatively new perspectives, I found that they ignored the possible weak points of their arguments and did not fully expand upon the consequences of their interpretations.

  9. 4 out of 5

    booklover

    Original, captivating, esoteric thought creatively interspersed with literary and cinematic references.

  10. 5 out of 5

    B Sonenreich

  11. 5 out of 5

    Hans Staats

  12. 5 out of 5

    John Magill

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dewey

  14. 4 out of 5

    Max Coombes

  15. 5 out of 5

    M.J. White

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Fellows

  17. 4 out of 5

    R Montague

  18. 5 out of 5

    Edward

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

  20. 5 out of 5

    -

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rodney

  22. 4 out of 5

    Horacio Muñoz

  23. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Devin

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ezequiel

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amina Ali

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lucienne

  27. 5 out of 5

    Avgrma

  28. 4 out of 5

    tiger 🪐

  29. 4 out of 5

    Greenlee Brown

  30. 4 out of 5

    Victor

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