A philosophy treatise that examines how climate change and other environmental catastrophes change the way people look at the world would not usually expect a vast audience. Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of This Planet (subtitle: Horror of Philosophy, Volume 1) has proved the exception.
Since it was published three years ago, Thacker’s book has seeped into popular culture. It’s referenced in Jay-Z videos, clothing lines and even the television series True Detective.
Above: Blink and you'll miss it
The book also recently caught the imagination of US television demagogue Glenn Beck, who used the book to demonstrate his belief that liberals are much more effective at cultural politics than conservatives.
While Thacker’s book may owe some success in music videos and fashion to a striking cover image, the book itself has much to say on climate change and society. Thacker is keen to impress that the secularised, scientific outlook on the world is not one that can provide much comfort.
‘On the one hand, we are increasingly more and more aware of the world in which we live as a non-human world, a world outside, one that is manifest in the effects of global climate change, natural disasters, the energy crisis, and the progressive extinction of species world-wide,’ he writes.
Previous generations could fall back on a more secure vision, based in religion, which gave human beings a central role in the universe. Thacker relates this new situation to strands in horror fiction, modern mysticism and catastrophe films to explain how the new perspective offered by science can make the world seem disorientating, frightening and horrific.
‘…[T]he core problematic in the climate change discourse is the extent to which human beings are at issue at all. On the one hand we as human beings are the problem; on the other hand at the planetary level of the Earth’s deep time, nothing could be more insignificant than the human,’ he writes.
For Thacker, the new awareness that human beings are merely a small part in vast geological processes – only poorly understood – provides material for horror and catastrophic imagination.
Thacker’s view is perhaps best summed when he quotes H P Lovecraft, the early 20th century horror writer: ‘We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.’
And there’s still volume two to come.