The Ockham Society (Week 3, MT18)

Ockham Society

James Matharu (New) (Un)Natural Violation: The Human Forms and Poe's `Spirit of Perverseness'

The paper is (very much) a work in progress, intended as part of a larger aesthetic and ethical investigation into the uncanny and the dreadful. I propose that certain uncanny objects are those whose expression is that of what was a human thing that has since bent or grown itself out of, and against, its human form. Imagining the coming to life of such objects is what lends certain fear to the experience of the uncanny: but to experience the uncanny is primarily to undergo a distinct sort of perception (or perceptual experience) of life-form violation. The violation is, however, understood as an integral part of what it is to be Human in another sense. That is, there are two notions of the human to be considered: (i) the human as the humane and mundane, against which uncanny being is contrasted; and (ii) the Human as that life-form which contains within itself both humanity (with a small ‘h’) and, naturally, the principle by which humanity is thrown off. This principle is not one of haphazard mutation or error but has a strict logic and reliance upon rational and sentimental understanding: ‘to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such’ (Edgar Allen Poe, ‘The Black Cat’). I draw on some remarks and ideas in Kant’s Critique of Teleological Judgment, Philippa Foot and Michael Thompson on natural-historical judgments, and principally the language and imagery of passages from Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’ to articulate this vision of what the uncanny can be. I will end with some remarks about the importance of stylistic and literary form to such articulation (this has a broader bearing on issues about philosophical method).


Chair: Jay Jian

Ockham Society Convenor: Charlotte Figueroa | Ockham Society Webpage