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"The Weird and The Eerie" by Mark Fisher

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BOOK REVIEW: The Weird and The Eerie by Mark Fisher (Repeater Books) 2017

It is while reading a book like Mark Fisher’s The Weird and The Eerie that I learn a little more about myself and why I am drawn to certain stories, while passing or ignoring others. Perhaps I’m easily bored. After all, days spent in a dull elementary school classroom as a child often had me fantasizing about a UFO appearing outside the window of my school and whisking me away on an adventure.

Is that weird? Perhaps? Eerie? Not so much. And author, political theorist and cultural critic Mark Fisher (Ghosts of My Life, Capitalist Realism) wants to help those of us who seek out the weird and the eerie, be it in an H.P. Lovecraft story, a song by the post-punk band The Fall, or in a Stanley Kubrick film like The Shining, which is examined in these pages.

While “weird” and “eerie” may seem to be the same thing, they are not. Fisher’s argument – made over six essays in “The Weird” portion of the book, and in seven essays in “The Eerie” section – is that they are distinctly different and possess their own characters and properties.

“I have been fascinated and haunted by examples of the weird and the eerie for a s long as I can remember,” writes Fisher in the introduction. “Yet I had not really identified the two modes, still less specified by their defining features.”

Adds Fisher: “What the weird and the eerie have in common is a preoccupation with the strange. The strange – not the horrific. The allure that the weird and the eerie possesses is not captured by the idea that we ‘enjoy what scares us.’ It has, rather, to do with a fascination for the outside, for that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition and experience.”

Along with it, Fisher notes, is a “certain apprehension … even dread.”

Lovecraft, H.G. Wells, the aforementioned band The Fall, Philip K. Dick and even David Lynch’s works, including Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, are examined through the lens of the weird, with Lynch’s preoccupation with “curtains,” acting as portals.

And Fisher’s insights prove spot on, as I’m a fan of all of the above, attracted to its beautiful weirdness.

I was particularly captivated by the chapter titled “Alien Traces: Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky, Christopher Nolan,” where Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining are analyzed, as are Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker, while the brilliant Interstellar, with its time travel conundrums and overarching theme of love crossing the boundaries of space and time, something I examined in my review, here.

Regarding 2001, the film that changed my life in the mid-1980’s, the “enigma of alien agency,” writes Fisher, “is posed by the film’s totem, the monolith, which is something like the paradigm case of an eerie object.”

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The occult-minded rock band Led Zeppelin had this very idea in mind on their 1976 album Presence, where they featured an enigmatic, monolith-like object on the album cover. There is something disquieting about it, and yet awe-inspiring, for both the apes at “The Dawn of Man” and for the astronauts who uncover a monolith from beneath the lunar surface.

Addressing Margaret Atwood’s 1972 story Surfacing, the main character goes into the Canadian wilderness to find her missing father, only to experience her own disdain for the failures of the Sixties generation and how the “libertarian rhetoric” of the time is no more than a “legitimation of familiar male privilege but offering new rationales for exploitation and subjugation.” Sounds like a lot of the male-led “cult” activity of the hippie counterculture, when the Age of Aquarius soured.

But the eerie is really in the narrator’s isolation from society and civilization and facing these issues, but in wrapped in eerie packaging, particularly with allusions to an abortion the narrator had.

Fisher writes: “Surfacing can be situated as part of another fin-de-Sixties/early-Seventies moment: the post-psychedelic oceanic. Atwood’s lake, viscous with blood and other bodily fluids, has something in common with the ‘bitches brew’ that Miles Davis plunges into in 1969, emerging, catatonic, only six years later …”

And as I got closer to the end of Fisher’s book, I remember thinking how well Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel Picnic at Hanging Rock – made into a particularly eerie film by Peter Weir in 1975 – would fit in this slim volume.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed. The final chapter, titled “’The Eerieness Remains’: Joan Lindsay,” goes directly into the eerie qualities in the book and novel, which, Fisher writes, “includes disappearances, amnesia, a geological anomaly, an intensely atmospheric terrain – but also because Lindsay’s rendition of the eerie has a positivity, a languorous and delirious allure, that is absent or suppressed in so many other eerie texts.

I could not agree more, having analyzed the film in a Dust Devil Dreams post in 2015 titled “No picnic” and noting that the story is “haunting, beguiling and dream-like.”

I found Fisher's insights to be interesting and important, particularly for a reader whose favorite genres of book and film usually involve the weird and the eerie.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Just found out today (Feb. 13, 2017) that Mark Fisher died approximately one month ago. We are saddened to report this news. Fisher was a remarkable analyst and thinker and his writings and thoughts will be missed (RIP Mark Fisher 1968-2017).

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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