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Cosmicism is the literary philosophy developed and used by the American writer H. P. Lovecraft in his weird fiction. Lovecraft was a writer of philosophically intense horror stories that involve occult phenomena like astral possession and alien miscegenation, and the themes of his fiction over time contributed to the development of this philosophy.
The philosophy of cosmicism states "that there is no recognizable divine presence, such as a god, in the universe, and that humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of intergalactic existence." The most prominent theme is humanity's fear of their insignificance in the face of an incomprehensibly large universe: a fear of the cosmic void.
Cosmicism and humanism are incompatible. Cosmicism shares many characteristics with nihilism, though one important difference is that cosmicism tends to emphasize the insignificance of humanity and its doings, rather than summarily rejecting the possible existence of some higher purpose (or purposes); e.g., in Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories, it is not the absence of meaning that causes terror for the protagonists, as it is their discovery that they have absolutely no power to change anything in the vast, indifferent universe that surrounds them. In Lovecraft's stories, whatever meaning or purpose may be invested in the actions of the cosmic beings is completely inaccessible to the human characters.
Lovecraft's cosmicism was a result of his complete disdain for all things religious, his feeling of humanity's existential helplessness in the face of what he called the "infinite spaces" opened up by scientific thought, and his belief that humanity was fundamentally at the mercy of the vastness and emptiness of the cosmos. In his fictional works, these ideas are often explored humorously ("Herbert West–Reanimator," 1922), through fantastic dream-like narratives ("The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath," 1927), or through his well-known Cthulhu Mythos ("The Call of Cthulhu," 1928, and others). Common themes related to cosmicism in Lovecraft's fiction are the insignificance of humanity in the universe and the search for knowledge ending in disaster.
Lovecraftian characters notably become insane from the elimination of recognizable geometry. Lovecraft's work also tended to impress fear of the other onto the reader, such as in The Dunwich Horror and Dagon, often portraying that which is unknown as a terrible threat to the rest of humanity. This is possibly a reflection of his own personal views, which were often insular and paranoid.
Though cosmicism appears deeply pessimistic, H.P. Lovecraft thought of himself as neither a pessimist nor an optimist but rather a "scientific" or "cosmic" indifferentist, a theme expressed in his fiction. In Lovecraft's work, human beings are often subject to powerful beings and other cosmic forces, but these forces are not so much malevolent as they are indifferent toward humanity. This indifference is an important theme in cosmicism. The noted Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi asserts that "Lovecraft constantly engaged in (more or less) genial debates on religion with several colleagues, notably the pious writer and teacher Maurice W. Moe. Lovecraft was a strong and antireligious atheist; he considered religion not merely false but dangerous to social and political progress." As such, Lovecraft's cosmicism is not religious at all, but rather a version of his mechanistic materialism. Lovecraft thus embraced a philosophy of cosmic indifferentism. He believed in a meaningless, mechanical, and uncaring universe that human beings, with their naturally limited faculties, could never fully understand. His viewpoint made no allowance for religious beliefs which could not be supported scientifically. The incomprehensible, cosmic forces of his tales have as little regard for humanity as humans have for insects.
Though personally irreligious, Lovecraft used various "gods" in his stories, particularly the Cthulhu-related tales, to expound cosmicism. However, Lovecraft never conceived of them as supernatural, but extraterrestrials who understand and obey a set of natural laws which to human understanding seem magical. These beings (the Great Old Ones, Outer Gods and others) — though dangerous to humankind — are portrayed as neither good nor evil, and human notions of morality have no significance for these beings. Indeed, they exist in cosmic realms beyond human understanding. As a symbol, this is representative of the kind of universe that Lovecraft believed in. Though some of these beings have - and in some cases create - cults to honor them, to the vast majority of these beings the human race is so insignificant that they aren't given any consideration whatsoever.
- Joshi, The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, p. 12.
- "Seven surprising ways H.P. Lovecraft influenced our pop culture (5. Bleak Philosophy)". BBC. BBC. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
Lovecraft dubbed his view of the world ‘cosmicism’, in which all the achievements and inherently noble qualities of humans and humanism pale in comparison to the vast indifference of the rest of the universe.
- Davis, Sarah S. (19 February 2019). "Your Introduction to the Cosmic Horror Genre". BOOKRIOT. RIOT NEW MEDIA GROUP. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
Lovecraft’s fiction established the Cosmicism literary philosophical movement, of which cosmic horror is one example.
- Nguyen, Trung (20 December 2016). History of Humans. Is There a God?. 3. EnCognitive. ASIN B01MS00MUT.
Cosmicism [is] [t]he literary philosophy…stating that there is no recognizable divine presence, such as God, in the universe, and that humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of intergalactic existence.
- Peak, David (2014). The Spectacle of the Void. U.S.A.: Schism Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-1503007161.
This [Lovecraftian] paralysis is caused by the realization that the underlying problem…[is] that incalculably large void which envelopes us all.
- Philosophical Team (15 March 2019). "HP Lovecraft: The Cthulhu myth, upside down Kant's horror" [H.P. 洛夫克拉夫特：克蘇魯神話，顛倒康德的恐怖]. Hong Kong News (in Chinese [Traditional]). Hong Kong 01 Ltd. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
‘Cosmicism’ [is such that] [t]he universe transcends human imagination and is unimaginably huge. When human beings…face this near-infinite macro…[they] will feel extreme fear, and they are on the verge of madness because of their smallness and absolute powerlessness. The fear of the ‘wake' people facing the great existence constitutes the core idea of Lovecraft's horror literature.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
- Baldwin, Matthew (15 March 2012). "H.P. Lovecraft, Author, Is Dead". tmn. The Morning News LLC. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
The defining feature of Cosmicism is…the utter insignificance of [hu]man[kind].
- Peak, David (2014). The Spectacle of the Void. U.S.A.: Schism Press. pp. 57, 59. ISBN 978-1503007161.
Julia Kristeva defines the void as ‘the unthinkable of metaphysics’…[T]he void…is that which lies beyond comprehension…[an inability] to correlate what we see with [what we] previously understood…This is the horror of the void: humans coming face to face with displacement, alienation, and the meaninglessness of life in the universe
- Wiley, C.R. (24 August 2017). "Lovecraft's Cosmicism: What it Is, How It Works, and Why It Fails". patheos. Patheos. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
Cosmicism is based on the idea that humanism is an illusion.
- Philosophical Team (15 March 2019). "HP Lovecraft: The Cthulhu myth, upside down Kant's horror" [H.P. 洛夫克拉夫特：克蘇魯神話，顛倒康德的恐怖]. Hong Kong News (in Chinese [Traditional]). Hong Kong 01 Ltd. . Retrieved 2 June 2019.
For Kant, the island on which human beings are located is the only place of truth (meaning true knowledge)…But for Lovecraft, the island is called 'ignorance'...[the Lovecraftian gods'] actions, thoughts, and moral values are completely incomprehensible to human beings, and the gods are indifferent to human life and values.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)
- Fritz Leiber "A Literary Copernicus,"Discovering H. P. Lovecraft, ed. Darrell Schweitzer (1987).
- Price, "Lovecraft's 'Artificial Mythology'", An Epicure in the Terrible, p. 247.
- Price, "Introduction", The New Lovecraft Circle, pp. xviii–xix. Price writes: "One seeks forbidden knowledge, whether wittingly or, more likely, unwittingly, but one may not know till it is too late... The knowledge, once gained, is too great for the mind of man. It is Promethean, Faustian knowledge. Knowledge that destroys in the moment of enlightenment, a Gnosis of damnation, not of salvation."
- Peak, David (2014). The Spectacle of the Void. U.S.A.: Schism Press. pp. 27, 28. ISBN 978-1503007161.
[O]f [Lovecraft’s] extra-dimensionality…[i]t is the horror of unknown interiors, the failure of our geometry
- William F. Touponce (2013). Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft, and Ray Bradbury: Spectral Journeys. Scarecrow Press. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-8108-9220-0.
- Price, "Lovecraft's 'Artificial Mythology'", p. 249.
- "S.T. Joshi Interview - Acid Logic e-zine". www.acidlogic.com.
- Mariconda, "Lovecraft's Concept of 'Background'", pp. 22–3, On the Emergence of "Cthulhu" & Other Observations.
- Burleson, "The Lovecraft Mythos", Survey of Science Fiction Literature, p. 1284.
- Joshi, S. T. (August 1997). "Introduction". The Annotated H. P. Lovecraft. New York, NY: Dell. ISBN 0-440-50660-3.
- Houellebecq, Michel (1999). H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. Brooklyn, NY: McSweeny. ISBN 1-932416-18-8.
- Fossemò, Sandro D. (2010). Cosmic Terror from Poe to Lovecraft. Italy.