Sunday, February 14, 2010

When Nature Attacks

I think over the past year or so what has fascinated me most about the object-oriented project is its reliance upon the uncanny. However, this reliance is also what is most unnerving for me at the same time, since the uncanny has become a tool seemingly not worth studying for the object-oriented philosopher. In other words, the uncanny is simply invoked, mentioned, or even alluded to with little to no discussion about it as an object – even if it is an object of study.

Yet, in a recent post by Levi over at Larval Subjects he uses alien invasion science fiction films to discuss the ontological de-centering that takes place in such films. At one point, though, he makes the following point:

Rather, what interests me is the effect of the uncanny that this quintessentially anti-humanist cinema seems to produce in the viewer (at least, to produce in this viewer). One reels before the jaw-dropping flatness of such a universe, where humans are treated as one other being among others, rather than a privileged center to which all other entities must necessarily address themselves. Who knows, perhaps there's even the possibility of renewing the genre of horror through the exploration of the flat and a-human, where humans are caught up in events beyond themselves but are not at the center.

So given this (rare) opportunity to discuss the uncanny in and of itself, I would like to expand Levi's argument that at the heart of horror films is the invocation of the uncanny.

A while back I argued that the object-oriented philosopher would have to take on the zombie as an ontological problem, for the zombie represents our fear of humans-as-objects, but also our desire to overcome nature, to live beyond death. And for this last reason (but not this reason alone) the zombie becomes the perfect manifestation of this aforementioned uncanniness. Unlike Levi, though, I find the most horribly uncanny movies to be ones where humans are de-centered not by some invading alien race, but the films where humans become de-centered by way of the everyday. In other words, the most unsettling films are those that place the human "in-the-world" and alongside other objects.

At one point in my academic career, I argued that the best example of these types of films were the "nature-run-amok" films. Not unique to a single time period, these types of films often use animals to turn the ontological tables on the humans in the films. So, for example, in Cujo (1983) a familiar domesticated family dog becomes a ruthless killer. The reason why Cujo is so horribly unsettling is that unlike the alien invaders, or even some extinct creature of the past (the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, for example), is that most if not all of us had a dog at one time in our lives. Therefore, the familiar non-human becomes a moment of the uncanny, of confronting the everyday presentation of humanity as over and above nature.

What I hope to do in some later posts is to discuss this uncanniness in terms of Heidegger's "everydayness". But, as for now, I wish only to point out that what is great about the uncanniness of horror films is that they are not dependent upon an Other world – for our world can be just as uncanny.