The unfathomable shard pierces the fog around it, erupts from the gently billowing forms to loom over its surroundings in the most unsettling way. It is formed from some inky black material within which can be seen the beginnings of the infinite, drifting away into a non-horizon. It resists the penetration of our gaze, the probing of our feeble constructs of rationality, writhing away and slithering into the darkness whenever any definition was within grasp. With every step it expands ever inwards to evade us. Shapeless horrors intersect with pure wonder as paradox is synthesised into singular form, defined yet entirely absent. It appears we have lost our way.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the unknowable recently. It might have something to do with the fact I’ve been brushing up on my knowledge of Kant and Transcendental Idealism, but in truth that’s probably more of a symptom than a cause, as I’ve been lead backwards from thinking about the limits of possibility and knowledge in relation to both political, philosophical, ecological and creative ends, towards reconsidering Kantian Metaphysics and various other thoughts that had been gathering dust somewhere in the vaults. Tying all this together, I think, are my thoughts on our idea of Horizon.
Horizon is something that in physical space we can see, measure and represent relatively accurately. Look out of any window, and you will likely see some measure of horizon, some point where things recede from view. At its most simple definition, the horizon is the point where we can see no more. The two common dictionary definitions of horizon;
- The line at which the earth’s surface and the sky appear to meet.
- The limit of a person’s knowledge, experience, or interest
Both roughly get at the same phenomenon, and the visual, spacial horizon often provides us with a handy metaphor to consider its more difficult to place counterpart. Is, however, the visual horizon a sufficient means to describe mental, ontological and epistemological horizons, in other words the limits of our understanding, and can these more elusive horizons really be defined as limits at all?
I am drawn to ask this from an exchange within the first episode of Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House, which, by the way, is wonderful and I wholly recommend. Towards the beginning of the episode, a question is asked about the supernatural, to which the response is that there is no such thing. The idea here is that, contrary to our idea of there being a natural and a supernatural; things that are natural phenomena, and things that are not, there are only things we do not yet understand. Within the context of the show, this exchange also contains the arrogant assumption that these things can in fact be known, and are simply phenomena waiting to be conquered by reason.
For if these things are simply natural phenomena waiting to be accounted for, this goes on to imply the horizons of knowledge are constantly shifting but all can be overcome, that there are, even in a universe of infinite possibility, no limits. This is maybe something that comforts us or feeds into our sense of rational superiority, but it seems to ignore entirely the possibility, the lurking presence of the infinite, the unknowable and the indefinable. To think wholeheartedly that our horizon is 1.definite and 2.encompasses the entire possibility of knowledge seems to ignore the fact that we are operating from a position of marked limitations, that in effect however much we push into the unknown, however much we rationalise phenomena, this expansion of horizons is achieved over a world distinctly unknowable to us, a world of things removed from us, without us, an ontology without humanity.
Here I have reached the horizon of much of my own understanding in some sense, as I have yet to read some of the key texts leading towards object oriented ontology and the anti-correlationist view often defined under the umbrella of speculative realism, but so far I have my own thoughts on how this could be visualised. The realism of the knowable overlying the unknowable thing-in-itself, perhaps even, as Eugene Thacker might say the world-in-itself, is in some sense the act of terra-forming the void. We push further into the unknown, and thereby we form a kind of layer, a layer of form onto the formless beneath. The understood world is in some sense a kind of actively formed ontological landscape, into which we drill and dig, carving out new caves and quarries into the cliff-faces and hills, but never penetrating into the unknowable underneath.
In this sense, the horizon becomes something far more difficult to place, less a horizon at all than a shifting plateau into which our perceptions of objects, our processes of exploration constantly uncover ever increasing horizon. Expeditions into the unknown linger just above the unknowable, they probe into the depths, but as is the nature of the infinite, only more is to be found. I’ll probably disagree with myself in a few posts or so, so take all this with maybe a little bit of salt, but this stuff has been too potent in my mind recently for me not to blog about it.