Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia
H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. He who worries away at the impenetrable connections of alienated elements lays himself open to knowledge which no individual human mind can bear—knowledge too far beyond all the ideas of man to be believed except in the silent damnable small hours of the morning when one cannot sleep—those tormented hours, drawn out without prospect of end or dawn, in the vain effort to forget time’s empty passing.
In the ticking of the cheap mantel-clock, whose sound has come to seem like a thunder of artillery, I hear the mockery of light-years for the span of my existence. The hours that are past as seconds before the inner sense has registered them, and sweep it away in their cataract, proclaim that like all memory, our inner experience is doomed to oblivion in cosmic night.
It is only with vast hesitancy and repugnance that I am forced into speech—forced, because men of science have refused to follow my advice without knowing why. Having mistakenly attempted to bring my studies in line with official scientific principles, I soon came to realize that those with whom this path associated me would stop at nothing to insidiously attack and despoil the last retreats of resistance to their timorous and conformist probings. The type of culture I brought with me appeared to them to be unjustified arrogance. My reason rebelled at the flimsy logic with which they tried to gild their domineering competence with a sacredness stripped from the idols they had discarded. In turn, my nebulous and abstruse scribblings were attacked for their ‘factual errors’ and ‘colored opinions’, slandered as irresponsible and barbaric. And yet, if there is an unbarbaric side of philosophy, it is its tacit awareness of the element of irresponsibility, of blitheness springing from the volatility of thought, which forever escapes what it judges. Such license is resented by the zealous positivistic spirit and put down to mental disorder.
It was this misalliance, and the sneering empiricist sabotage loosed on me by those bearing the distasteful title of ‘colleagues’, that led to my being ejected from the Institute and landing in a low-rent bungalow in a small university town in the West, destitute of all influence and with scarcely enough resources to continue with my life-work. But this reduced condition is of no matter to me. He who offers for sale something unique that no-one wants to buy, represents, even against his will, freedom from exchange. My existence can only be justified by upholding the constant responsibility of writing, which has become my last refuge against the brooding, festering horror to which my morbid interests have laid me prone. The necessity to counter any slackening of intellectual tension with the utmost alertness, and to eliminate anything that has begun to encrust the work or to drift along idly—here is the only surety against creeping intoxication. There is no remedy but steadfast diagnosis of oneself; the attempt, through awareness, if not to escape this stark, morbid hatefulness exceeding the foulest nightmares, at least to rob it of its dreadful violence, that of blindness.
Possibly I ought not to have studied so hard. Whether the dreams brought on the fever or the fever brought on the dreams, I do not know. What I can tell is that my sickness was instigated by that machine whose frantic, tinny cackle still echoes behind the walls of this dismal chamber with its brown hangings and maddening rows of antique tomes. Almost imperceptibly, as I drifted fitfully into sleep, the abstract horror of news and rumour spewed forth daily by the radiogram, and to which I had become passively accustomed, underwent a ghastly transmogrification into something altogether more distinct and unmistakably directed towards my own person, with a malignity whose eldritch proportions ruled out any merely personal malice. Indeed, I had the peculiar impression that the significance of the transmission belonged to the very atomic structure of the radio phenomena itself, rather than to the message it conveyed. The latter consisted only in the administration of a peculiar kind of questionnaire, sinister in its banality and conducted in a hectoring and unspeakably abhorrent, quasi-ritualistic tone, like the collective drone of some loathsome gigantic insect hive ponderously shaped into the articulate speech of an alien species: Has your wife a bodily ailment? Of what does your daily nourishment chiefly consist? Do you like jazz? Would it have been better to talk it over instead of beating up Curley? Who are the known associates of the subject ‘Alright’? What are the principal causes of armchair cancer? Then, dismal and shrill, like the piping of some amorphous idiot flute-player, there followed what any vaguely anthropoid being would hesitate to call ‘music’: Full of malignant cheer, as if an ingratiating commercial broadcast were serving as material for some elaborate psycho-technical experiment, its ghastly arias, imbued with deadly precision and deliberation, full of the mocking admonition to be happy, were swept aloft on great orchestrated swells obscenely distended with the gay promise of illusory gratification, their nauseating incantations violently devoid of all sense: The cutlets are playing a dog’s game, a dog’s game; the cutlets are playing a dog’s game, a dog’s game; the cutlets are playing a dog’s game, a dog’s game, all the livelong day.
I cannot say for how many nights these ‘dream broadcasts’ tormented me. No relief was to be had by severing the apparatus from its electrical source—for this was not where its power lay—nor even by attempting, as I once did in a fit of rage against the relentless imbecility of this odious racket, to pulverize the machine itself by means of a powerful chainsaw.
As I tossed nightly in a state of agonized half-sleep, the transmissions would mount to a climax of unbearable intensity. The inhuman prating became increasingly atomized, its turbid sequences subjected to a progressive statistical liquidation, and reaching their apex in a blasphemous domdaniel of cacophony, a satanic concert like six jazz platters revolving at the same time. In that shrieking, the inmost soul of human fear and agony clawed hopelessly and insanely at the ebony gates of oblivion. Stark, utter horror burst over me and weighed my spirit with a black clutching panic from which it can never shake free. I awoke to red madness and the mockery of diabolism, as farther and farther down inconceivable vistas that phobic and crystalline anguish retreated and reverberated.
Upon sequestering myself in the library, for a time the loathsome tittering of those infinitely appalling communications from beyond abated. Here I was able to continue my research, although the idea—somehow implanted by those demoniacal alien interrogations—of a black, hidden horror connected with incalculable gulfs of some sort of distance, was oddly persistent.
I began to have infrequent dreams of strange floatings over the city and through the regions around it. Certain brief, glimmering visions in these dreams—vague unplaceable dreams suggesting fragments of some hideous memory elaborately blotted out—now became connected irresistibly with the nature of the ominous ‘transmissions’.
After a day marked by wild hope and deepest depression, I found myself in the open air, beneath an indescribable black sky full of scurrying clouds. It seemed to threaten imminent catastrophe. I glimpsed the entire panorama of the city stretched out before me, but compressed into a miniature space. It looked like a giant, old-fashioned set of fortifications, with a few large industrial complexes (including two matching ones) in the middle. From afar I saw them protruding uncannily above the sands as parts of a corpse may protrude from an ill-made grave. There were almost endless leagues of buildings, each in its garden, and ranged along paved roads fully two hundred feet wide. These units, developed horizontally in fathomless vistas, were organized around the repetition of variously bizarrely-angled shapes. Once, I saw tremendous tessellated pools, reflecting the sun’s rays onto the underside of colossal horizontal concrete canopies cantilevered immeasurable distances beyond their exterior columns. In the shrunken and gibbous sky three huge, menacing stars could be seen; they formed an isosceles triangle. Always, the whole scene was shot through with the same hopeless feeling of sorrow.
For some time I accepted the visions as natural, even though I had never before been an extravagant dreamer. In the course of some months, however, the element of terror figured with accumulating force when the dreams began so unfailingly to have the aspect of memories, and when my mind began to link them with my growing abstract disturbances—the feeling of mnemonic restraint, the curious impressions regarding time, the sense of a loathsome exchange with my secondary personality, and, considerably later, the inexplicable loathing of my own person.
In the depths of my worst depression since the winter months, I had these same dreams again, or, rather, I had dreams in which I remembered fragments of the first dreams. I have now again forgotten most of them, but I want to retain the pitiful vestiges I can remember in the hope that one day I shall perhaps remember more.
I was in a small room with a very high ceiling, a function room which was joined to the hall through connecting doors; a sort of foyer, with silvery tamarisks along the recessed walls at the rear and mesquite shade along the front walls. The folded structure covering this area resulted from the intersection of two gable roofs of problematical depth, their surface here and there vexed with anomalous spoutings. From a wide circle of ten scaffolds set up at regular intervals with a flame-girt monolith as a centre, eight concentric rings, monstrous constructions of black iridescent stone, each the hub of a system of five long, flat, triangularly-tapering arms, shielded the tenebrous interior space from the light. I was present at a large, unusually lavish banquet. The rooms and tables were lit only by candles that burned with a disturbingly livid incandescence, and this made it difficult to find one’s way to the main table. I struck out in search of my place on my own, pacing through Cyclopean corridors, black labyrinths so complex that no retracing of my steps could even be considered, up and down gigantic inclined planes of the same monstrous masonry, and through chambers full of curious and inexplicable utensils of myriad sorts. Then there were colossal caverns of intricate machinery whose outlines and purpose were wholly strange to me, and vast shelves of marble, bearing odious oblong boxes of disturbing size.
Eventually I found myself on a high, fantastically balustraded terrace about a boundless jungle of outlandish, incredible peaks, like the battlemented lookout platform of a tower above which the spire rises up still higher. It was with a grim sense of foreboding that I began to climb the spire. It was very steep, difficult and dangerous, something halfway between a spiral staircase and an Alpine chimney, the air thick with the stifling odor of nether gulfs. After an infinity of awesome, sightless crawling, I found that there was scarcely any room for me inside the spire. I was now gripped by panic.
From this perspective, on the plain below I saw groups of people with apparatuses, some kind of surveyors perhaps, functionaries whose entire mien was heavy with the pall of some unspeakable disaster. Grey, twisted, and brittle, a mixture of riff-raff and monstrosities, dwarflike figures with bald heads and tentacles, awakening veiled suggestions of a monstrous plasticity—these countless hordes were, as it seemed, doomed to labour endlessly beneath the vaulted heights of these Olympian edifices in a kind of post-existence, like cancerous appendages dragged along by the monotonous, obtuse voracity of their blind mechanical striving. Their measured gait, the hideous equivalence of their impeccably-calibrated actions, the implacable way in which they carried out their ominous errands, was belied by an overwhelming sense of some ancient, dread ritual whose gestures their fixed and empty motions unknowingly mimed.
Even where these dismal beings gathered to indulge in some kind of festive rite, their manipulated intoxication, their torchlight processions, their drum-beating, were arid and joyless as the eldritch scurrying of fiend-born rats across carrion-black pits of sawed, picked bones and opened skulls. Yet in the petrified otherness of these non-entities, there was something unmistakeably venal: as neutralized and impotent as ignominious ballast whilst engaged in their futile ministrations, during these impious pageants their eyes took on a manic yet cold look of grasping, devouring, commandeering, like the laughing placard of a toothpaste beauty in whose flashlight grin one discerns the grimace of torture.
As the jarring cadences of their wailing imprecations were carried up to me on the black wind gusting foully from that distant plain, I realized with a jolt of grotesque disbelief that these impotent labourers must be the source of my nightly dream-broadcasts. Almost immediately I also became aware, with a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyze and annihilate me, that the antediluvian source of their petrified habitudes, a starkly horrific thing incommensurable with the horizons of any individual experience and having long since disappeared, for them, into the merciful abyss of forgetfulness, was itself present among them. There, sprawling repulsively across the earth, tended by the countless viscous masses of these self-oblivious drones, I saw It. I cannot even hint what it was like, for it was a compound of all that is repellent, uncanny, unwelcome, abnormal, and detestable. A mostly liquescent horror, thick with the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity, and dissolution; the putrid, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation, the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide; something blind and mutilated, endlessly calling to itself with a terrible moan that reverberated throughout untold chasms of unknown space; a renunciatory cry which, in that abysmally unexpected moment, I knew as also being my own—the ventriloquized tongue of a vile heredity that slavered poisonously at me from beyond all humanly-thinkable time.
In my panic, I tried feebly to croak some kind of warning to the sacrificial hordes below, as if my words could somehow undo their enigmatic readiness to fall under the sway of the unnamable Thing’s absolute domination. But my speech seemed awkward and foreign. I used my vocal organs clumsily and gropingly, and my diction had a curiously stilted quality, as if I had laboriously learned the English language from books. The pronunciation was barbarously alien, whilst the idiom seemed to include both scraps of curious archaism and expressions of a wholly incomprehensible cast. An unspeakable melancholy, drawing me irresistibly into the abyss, awakened this old, impotently yearning sound in its depths. Language sent back to me like an echo the humiliation which my immeasurable dread had inflicted on me in forgetting what I was.
The scene melted away, and I was swept by a black wind through gulfs of fathomless grey with the needle-like pinnacles of unknown mountains miles below me. After a while there was utter blackness, and then the light of myriad stars forming strange, alien constellations.
These events seemed so vivid to me that I found it hard to decide whether I had really experienced them. That is precisely the pattern that operates when one is gripped by madness. The implacable malignity of that vast abomination pursues me still, and I cannot shake off the conviction that in contemplating these appalling parched vistas of the unbroken reign of glacial death, I had become irretrievably aware of something forgotten: The lingering awareness of an ancient wound, belonging to some other plane or phase of entity from which it once fell, vintigillions of aeons ago.
With this certainty, the sway of reason is irrefutably shaken. Nothing will protect me from the black sickness. The centre of intellectual self-discipline as such is in the process of decomposition. Faced by a terrible cataract of memory—the awakening of thought to the nightmare of those unplumbed strata of extra-cosmic history—faced with the memory of a forgetting that had better have been left in place, the commemoration of that Thing whose internment in the deepest recesses of desuetude was once the very guarantee of my sanity, has become my only imperative.
A consciousness that wishes to withstand the unspeakable finds itself again and again thrown back on the attempt to understand, if it is not to succumb subjectively to the madness that prevails objectively. He who relinquishes awareness of the growth of horror not merely succumbs to cold-hearted contemplation, but fails to perceive, together with the specific difference between the newest and that preceding it, the true identity of the whole, of terror without end. Paralyzed by fear of the truth, mankind deigns not to raise the stone under which the monster lies brooding; to release to stark consciousness the whole process they have undertaken to suppress—yet unconsciously advance. In willing not to know that we serve Them still, that They shall awake and once again claim Their own, we condemn the spirit to increasing darkness. The world is systematized horror, its essence is abomination. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. To repress, in the face of this state of affairs, the full awareness of what has happened and what is behind it, may itself contribute to the recurrence of the unspeakable at any place on earth.
Still I dream. Once again, I am falling from those Cyclopean towers through deep, foetid shafts of reticulated ebony-black space, rushing past constellations whose form I cannot make out. Crashing down, I am pursued by the mocking laughter of the insidious object that disempowered me, liquidating intellect and pulverizing individuality.
Some day a new constellation will form, and as this constellation sheds its deathly-livid light on the most distant past, we may finally decipher the black knowledge that festers in the chasms of chthonic subconsciousness, molded by the dead brain of a hybrid nightmare—the diabolical unknown.