It is so dope when you stumble upon something so interesting that you just have to share it with people.  This week I was doing my usual podcast listening and I stumbled upon the below Radiolab podcast called “In the Dust of This Planet.” From the title I assumed it was going to be about space or astrology or something of that nature but I was pleasantly surprised.  It is very hard to tell a story that includes pessimistic philosophy, pop culture, True Detective, and fashion but some how they managed to do it!

So a little background before you take a listen:

“In the Dust of the This Planet”, is the first book in the ongoing series, Horror of Philosophy, by Eugene Thacker. Where Thacker explores the idea of the “unthinkable world”. He says the “world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, and the looming threat of extinction. In this book Eugene Thacker suggests that we look to the genre of horror as offering a way of thinking about the unthinkable world. To confront this idea is to confront the limit of our ability to understand the world in which we live – a central motif of the horror genre.” In the first volume, Thacker calls the Horror of Philosophy “the isolation of those moments in which philosophy reveals its own limitations and constraints, moments in which thinking enigmatically confronts the horizon of its own possibility.” Thacker’s work has been associated with contemporary philosophies of nihilism and pessimism, as well as to speculative realism.


Photo Credit: Zero Books

Here is an interesting interview transcript  with Eugene Thracker from “To The Best of Our Knowledge”:

Jim Fleming: When you watch a movie about zombies taking over the planet, you could be just having a good time… or you could be working out your existential angst and underlying sense of despair. Eugene Thacker teaches Media Studies at the New School in New York and he’s also the author of “In the Dust of This Planet: Horror and Philosophy, Volume 1″. In it, he argues that our world in increasingly unthinkable and that it makes sense to look at the horror genre for help since horror and philosophy have so much in common. As Thacker told Anne Strainchamps…

Eugene Thacker: The boundary between the natural and the supernatural, for instance, which is an age old boundary that’s inherited largely from classical cultures but also, obviously, from the history of religion. This is an ongoing interest both in horror and in philosophy and fundamentally what that’s about is, is the question of whether the world around you, the world into which we’re sort of thrown, is it – is the world that you see, what you get – or is there something else that’s sort of beyond appearances or beneath the surface; either in terms of a deeper meaning for an individual or in terms of sort of sensing that there is a place for an individual or for humanity, generally, in the world.

Anne Strainchamps: Is the world… safe because we can see what’s there or is the world terrifyingly unknown? There is a famous remark Stephen King made once, I think he said, “Horror is the reason we don’t like sleeping with our feet hanging out of the bed.” (chuckles).

Thacker: Emm hmm. Right.

Strainchamps: (continues) It’s about that fear of the unknown.

Thacker: That phrase, “the fear of the unknown,” interestingly is the definition that the American author, H.P Lovecraft gives to a tradition that he calls supernatural horror.

Strainchamps: You mention Lovecraft. There’s a famous short story by H.P Lovecraft, which you write about a bit in your book and I think expresses some of what we are talking about. It’s the one called “From Beyond.”

Thacker: Emm hmm.

Strainchamps: Can you describe that one?

Thacker: Yeah, it involves this sort of mad scientist type character that creates a strange device. Lovecraft doesn’t give it even a detailed description of what this device is. But supposedly, it enables a person to see what normally we cannot see – even into other dimensions and Lovecraft, here, is very much influenced by quantum physics, and … and relativity, and stuff he was very much interested in. As with many of Lovecraft’s stories, what happens is that invariably the character goes mad, he goes crazy because it’s not something that the human being is built for, that kind of reception; and there are some great scenes where the character describes seeing these strange quasi-creatures that seem to have bodies but are translucent and seem to even pass through him because they are from another dimension or something. So Lovecraft, in stories like that, is almost taking up quantum physics and then plopping it down into genre horror and then you see what happens when he does that.

Strainchamps: Well, I think the really creepy part about that story is… is Lovecraft’s vision of this other world that is filled with… these things that are sort of floating and misty and… oozing… you know there’s nothing really definite. Why do you think that is so horrifying?

Thacker: Yeah, you know it’s interesting. If you go back and you just think about horror film and you look back at the history of horror film and the way that monsters or creatures are represented, there’s something about the formulas that seems to hit a nerve with many people. In part, it could be because philosophers, such as Aristotle, tell us that life is defined by form and being formed and having a boundary and a outline.

Strainchamps: Well, speaking of ooze, that reminds me of another really sinister story that you write about. This one is by Fritz Leiber and it’s called “Black Gondolier.” Can you describe that one?

Thacker: You know something very interesting in “Black Gondolier”… he imagines that oil is actually a kind of sentient entity and that instead of human beings using oil for all these years as a source of energy, oil has actually been utilizing human beings for its own unknown, sort of, intentions and uses. And there’s one character in that book who is fairly unreliable. He is sort of an autodidact and a little bit crazy and, and lives out by the oilfields all by himself and he’s a little bit paranoid but he’s drawn together all these different branches of knowledge – from the occult to physics – and, and has come up with this revelation or this theory about oil as, as using human beings actually. And Leiber wrote this, you know, a long time ago, but it’s quite pression today – given our own global context.

Strainchamps: Right. I think, maybe, that the terrifying notion there is… is this notion that this world is really not about people. It’s this very anti-humanistic notion. We walk around thinking, “We are the center of everything”. But if, in fact, we’re nothing and the world has a whole different… center. It could be other creatures, or other beings, are controlling us or just that, the world goes on without us and we are nothing.

Thacker: Yeah, it’s a really difficult thought, I think to wrap one’s head around. But I’d also argue it’s a really commonplace thought. All of us, each of us – as individuals – have hopes and desires and we do things to try to achieve certain ends. But all of us, even the most extreme control freak knows that sometimes it just doesn’t work out. There are things that are not in your control. And I think that those sorts of everyday feelings, maybe that people have, is something that is enhanced, or magnified, or maximalized in supernatural horror. To think about, well, what if the world is not simply the world in our image, which would be an anthropomorphic kind of view of the world; but, also, that the world is not made for our use and benefit, which is a more anthopocentric view, so that natural resources exist simply so that we can use them. And it’s also even different from a misanthropic view, you know, there’s also a view that the world hates us or it’s against us or human beings are the enemy of the world. Even not still a little bit humanistic because it’s sort of like saying, “At least the world takes enough to take notice, even though it doesn’t like us.”

Strainchamps: Right, “We matter”.

Thacker: Yeah, “We matter” or “The world notices.” Writers like Lovecraft evoke this other alternative which is really about indifference or the world as anonymous or impersonal or almost, sort of, indifferent to things we try to do to change it or mold it to our desires. And I think that’s, ultimately, the, the real hard thing to think through.

Strainchamps: So I have to ask you, what’s the benefit to this… kind of thinking. I mean, is there anyway in which you can or you do, use this to go, to go through our lives?

Thacker: Yeah, that’s a question that comes up frequently when I give talks and it’s a difficult question because part of the project for me is also, maybe, asking us to reexamine how we think about these sorts of things, whether it’s philosophy or horror or what have you. In the sense that we often… when we see something like this, want to know how it can help me or what should I do with it and really that’s sort of asking, “How can I use that to attain a certain end or help me get through this?” While I think you can do that, I also want to ask, “Is that the only way of looking at these kinds of works?” whether they’re examples in horror or philosophy. Particularly of philosophy, there’s often not that sort of question asked for that demand and almost in a therapeutic or even self-help kind of way, like “How can this help me get through this particular issue?” And I think there are examples of philosophy that address that. But I also feel like philosophy, and horror as well, I mean, they ask more questions than they provide answers and in fact they make things worse, usually, because they make you realize you’ve been assuming these things all along that have no ground. For instance in, there are often, like crisis-inducing more than problem-solving endeavors. But, you know, the question is, “Is there value in that?” and, I don’t know, I think that it is and I think that especially now given that we are… constantly encouraged to think about events on a global scale, but also on a non-human scale. These are areas, philosophy and horror, that might give us some ideas on about how to do that.

Strainchamps: You mean, how to imagine a world in which the monster doesn’t die?

Thacker: Either how to imagine a world in which the monster doesn’t die, how to imagine a world in which maybe there’s no difference between us and the monster. How to imagine a world in which maybe just the world itself, is a monster or being existing itself as a monster or I don’t know, I mean, how to think around these sorts of limits that are really absolute limits – they are not necessarily relative kind of limits.

now that we know more about the book… What does it have to do with Jayz or fashion…. Well references to the book started popping up in strange places.


The book was cited as influence in the writing of the series, especially the  Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey  (link)


Rocked by Lily Collins in Nylon Magazine

And then showed up as a graphic on a sweatshirt in a fashion editorial.

Clip from the “On the Run” video; jacket by BLK DNM

and then on Jay’s back….. so what gives? How did this obscure book about little know philosophy end up in pop culture?

So here is the podcast: