In the abyssal and eldritch expanse of the cosmos, there exist concepts which defy human understanding, existing beyond the reaches of our feeble minds. Among these elusive ideas, two distinct branches of thought emerge: Cosmicism and Neocosmicism. It is my solemn duty, as an observer of the arcane and the unknown, to illuminate these of the nascent 20th century doctrines and their significance to the human experience. In this essay, we shall endeavor to dissect each in detail, providing examples to elucidate their nature and juxtapose their characteristics. Thus, the reader may embark on a journey through the abyssal realms of cosmic philosophy, armed with the knowledge and understanding of these esoteric tenets.
Cosmicism, a literary philosophy expounded upon by the likes of Algernon Blackwood and Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft is grounded in the belief that humanity's significance in the grand scheme of the cosmos is negligible, nay, nonexistent. In the vastness of the universe, our species is but an insignificant mote, at the mercy of forces far beyond our comprehension. Cosmicism postulates that our lives and aspirations are inconsequential, dwarfed by the immeasurable vastness of time and space, and that our fates are dictated by indifferent cosmic entities. This sentiment is perhaps most vividly exemplified in Lovecraft's tale, "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928), in which an ancient and malevolent deity slumbers beneath the waves, indifferent to humanity's existence, yet capable of our utter annihilation.
Eldritch scribes in cosmicism undoubtedly behold the advent of the 20th century with a feverish apprehension. In their phantasmal prose, they recount the era as one of tumultuous transformation and inscrutable uncertainty, where the brisk march of technological and societal progress portends a grisly and foreboding future. They lament the gradual decay of moral fortitude and traditional beliefs, giving way to a precipitous decline of humanity's spiritual tether to the natural world and the cosmic order. The sprouting industrialization and urbanization would seem to them as heralds of humanity's growing detachment from the primordial forces that govern existence. Ultimately, Lovecraft's brooding portrayal of the early 20th century is marked by a pervasive sense of doom, suffused with his own deep-seated anxieties about the precarious course of human civilization.
Ultimately, cosmicists brooding portrayal of the early 20th century is marked by a pervasive sense of doom, suffused with their own deep-seated anxieties about the precarious course of human civilization.
Neocosmicism, while sharing certain elements with its predecessor, diverges in its fundamental outlook on humanity's role within the cosmic order. This more optimistic offshoot retains the acknowledgement of humanity's minuscule stature in the vast cosmos, yet posits that we may possess the capacity to comprehend and even influence these unfathomable forces. Neocosmicism suggests that through our innate curiosity and determination, mankind may transcend its insignificant position and forge a meaningful existence amidst the enigmatic and eternal expanse of the universe.
The comparison of these two philosophies reveals a dichotomy between despair and hope. Cosmicism, with its inherent nihilism, paints a bleak picture of humanity's irrelevance in the face of an indifferent cosmos. Conversely, Neocosmicism embraces mankind's potential for growth and understanding, suggesting that we may yet find our place within the uncaring void. While Cosmicism would have us tremble before the ineffable horrors lurking in the shadows, Neocosmicism encourages us to confront and potentially overcome these eldritch abominations.
For those who seek to delve deeper into the dark and tempestuous waters of Cosmicism and Neocosmicism, I recommend the following scholarly resources:
- Joshi, S.T. "A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft." Wildside Press, 1996. ISBN: 978-1-880-44875-5.
- Harman, Graham. "Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy." Zero Books, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-780-99359-5.
- Miéville, China. "At the Mountains of Madness: The Philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft." Routledge, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-138-674
- Schultz, David E. "An Epicure in the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays in Honor of H.P. Lovecraft." Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. ISBN: 978-0-8386-3415-8
These chroniclers of the present age are unleashing a torrent of unsettling and uncanny tales that upend the boundaries of cosmic horror and neocosmicism:
- Anya Ahlborn is an American author of horror and dark fiction, known for her deeply unsettling, character-driven stories that explore the darker aspects of human nature. Her work often delves into themes of family dysfunction, psychological trauma, and the supernatural, and is characterized by a moody, atmospheric tone that evokes a sense of creeping dread.
- Michael Cisco is an American author of weird fiction and horror, known for his dense, lyrical prose and his intricate, labyrinthine narratives that defy easy categorization. His work often explores themes of metaphysical horror, existential angst, and the limits of human comprehension.
- Brian Evenson is an American author of literary horror and speculative fiction, known for his explorations of the boundaries of language, consciousness, and identity. His work often blurs the line between reality and fantasy, and frequently employs elements of surrealism and absurdism to unsettling effect.
- M. John Harrison is a British author of science fiction and weird fiction, known for his experimental approach to storytelling and his richly detailed, multi-layered worlds. His work often delves into themes of urban decay, alienation, and the fragility of human consciousness.
- Caitlin Kiernan is an American author of dark fantasy, horror, and science fiction, known for her poetic prose style and evocative descriptions of the macabre and otherworldly. Her work often delves into themes of mental illness, gender identity, and the nature of reality, and is characterized by a vivid, dreamlike quality.
- T. Kingfisher is the pen name of Ursula Vernon, an American author of fantasy and horror, known for her wry, irreverent style and her ability to blend humor and horror in unexpected ways. Her work often draws on folklore and myth, and is characterized by a quirky, idiosyncratic voice.
- John Langan is an American author of horror and dark fantasy, known for his character-driven stories that combine elements of cosmic horror and psychological terror. His work often explores themes of family trauma, grief, and the human condition, and is marked by a powerful, emotionally resonant prose style.
- Nick Mamatas is an American author of horror, science fiction, and weird fiction, known for his irreverent, subversive takes on genre conventions and his sharp, incisive social commentary. His work often explores themes of political and cultural upheaval, and is marked by a dark, absurdist humor.
- Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Mexican-Canadian author of speculative fiction and horror, known for her vivid, atmospheric writing style and her inventive, genre-bending storytelling. Her work often explores themes of cultural identity, myth and legend, and the supernatural, and is marked by a deep sense of empathy for her characters.
- Paul Tremblay is an American author of horror and suspense fiction, known for his gripping, psychologically complex stories that explore the darker aspects of human nature. His work often delves into themes of trauma, identity, and the supernatural, and is characterized by a sharp, incisive style.
They have taken up the mantle of their predecessors and ventured forth into the uncharted depths of the unknown, plumbing the mysteries of the cosmos and exposing the fragility of human understanding. With every stroke of their pens, they push the boundaries of these genres and illuminate new and chilling facets of the vast and unknowable universe.
Predecessors in Cosmicism
- Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft (1890-1937): Lovecraft is considered to be the father of cosmic horror. His stories are often characterized by their focus on the vastness and indifference of the universe, and their exploration of the themes of fear, alienation, and cosmic insignificance.
- August Derleth (1909-1971): Derleth was a friend and disciple of Lovecraft. He was instrumental in popularizing Lovecraft's work, and he also wrote his own stories in the cosmic horror genre.
- Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961): Smith was a contemporary of Lovecraft and Derleth. His stories are often characterized by their vivid imagery and their use of mythology and folklore.
- Robert E. Howard (1906-1936): Howard is best known for his sword and sorcery stories, but he also wrote some cosmic horror stories. His stories are often characterized by their violence and their focus on the primal forces of nature.
Predecessors in Neocosmicism
- Brian Lumley (born 1937): Lumley is a British writer who is best known for his Necroscope series. His stories are often characterized by their mix of cosmic horror and science fiction. He is currently 85 years old, living and still writing, in Torquay, Devon, England.
- Thomas Ligotti (born 1953): Ligotti is an American writer who is considered to be one of the leading lights of modern cosmic horror. His stories are often characterized by their use of dream logic and their focus on the themes of madness and despair. He is currently 69 years old, living and still writing, in Detroit, Michigan, USA.
- Laird Barron (born 1970): Barron is an American writer who is known for his short stories and novellas. His stories are often characterized by his use of Lovecraftian imagery and their focus on the themes of fear and alienation. He is currently 52 years old, living and still writing, in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
- China Miéville (born 1972): Miéville is a British writer who is known for his work in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. His stories are often characterized by their use of surrealism and their focus on the themes of politics and social justice. He is currently 50 years old, living and still writing, in London, England.
These are just a few of the influential figures in cosmicism and neocosmicism. Writers continue to contribute to these genres, and the field is still growing and evolving today.
* Author ages are as of 2023.