The world is weird. The sun spills light as though it has all the colors to burn what is dead and empty into luminous greens and yellows, while a pool of water adds its aesthetic by reflecting and shimmering the madness of light and color. And all of this is made because the Netflix inside my head is always in pre-production, production and post-production. The shudder I feel at this presence includes my own contribution of luminous greens and yellows shining inside me. Weird. Weird from the Old English wyrd meaning destiny, and of course, the Old Saxon wurd from the Old High German wurt “fate,” and the Old Norse urðr “fate.” The Old English weorðan “to become” leads back to the German root wer “to turn, bend.” To become within a turning, a bending. To become as destiny. To become as fate. Having the power to control what shall be appears with the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They give birth to the earthly and unearthly Becoming as odd, strange and disturbing. Consider the Weird Sisters.
Timothy Morton addresses the weird within ecology. In an essay entitled What is Dark Ecology? he explores how nature and our connection and disconnection within and without nature is “weird” and calls for an acknowledgement of the proper place of riddling in the world.
Weirdness involves the hermeneutical knowingness belonging to the practices that the Humanities maintain. The attunement, which I call ecognosis, implies a practical yet highly nonstandard vision of what ecological politics could be. In part ecognosis involves realising that nonhumans are installed at profound levels of the human — not just biologically and socially but in the very structure of thought and logic. Coexisting with these nonhumans is ecological thought, art, ethics and politics.
What thinks dark ecology? Ecognosis, a riddle. Ecognosis is like knowing, but more like letting-be-known. It is something like coexisting. It is like becoming accustomed to something strange, yet it is also becoming accustomed to strangeness that doesn’t become less strange through acclimation. Ecognosis is like a knowing that knows itself. Knowing in a loop; a weird knowing. Weird from the Old Norse, urth, meaning twisted, in a loop. The Norns entwine the web of fate with itself; Urðr is one of the Norns. The term weird can mean causal: the spool of fate is winding. The less well-known noun weird means destiny or magical power, and by extension the wielders of that power, the Fates or Norns. In this sense weird is connected with worth, not the noun but the verb, which has to do with happening or becoming.
The Great God Pan by Frederick Leighton. Pan, of course, is very weird. Half-man and half-goat, the very image of the form-changing course of nature so strange and becoming in its and his oddness. As here in the fourth century CE Praeparatio Evangelica by Eusebius of Caesarea.
In other cases also ere now some were shown to be servants of certain gods, as Pan of Dionysos: and this has been made clear by Apollo of Branchidae in the following verses. For nine persons were found dead; and when the inhabitants of the country district inquired the cause, the god made answer:
Lo! where the golden-horned Pan / In sturdy Dionysus’ train / Leaps o’er mountains’ wooded slopes! / His right hand holds a shepherd’s staff, / His left a smooth shrill-breathing pipe, / That charms the gentle wood-nymph’s soul. / But at the sound of that strange sound / Each startled dropped his axe / And all in frozen terror gaz’d / Upon the Daemon’s frantic course . . . .
Pan viewing Pan and much more in Laurence Housman’s The Reflected Faun. The appearance of the face and voice of nature, or if you wish, the core of nature, that which is everywhere but is not seen, compels and confuses us. Maybe this elusiveness is beneficial to us. As Emily Dickinson tells us, we can only take the truth on a slant.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
And so even if we welcome the very blood and tissue of nature, it may overwhelm us, it may offer a consciousness more than our minds can grasp, hold onto, and survive. As Patricia Merivale writes in her Pan The Goat-God,
When a man’s small soul is exposed to or merged with the soul of all things, whose unity, Pan, is made up of the duality of good and evil, the resulting emotions are terror and ecstasy, which blur together into the mystical emotion which might be called ‘Panic.’
Is this a voice of nature? A voice somewhat alien to us, those of us, meaning all humans, who through consciousness experience the ever-constant, ever-fulfilling fall from Eden; the conscious moments, part of consciousness, where we imagine ourselves separate from nature and in so doing alienate nature and then turning nature into an alien. In the movie Annihilation based on Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, an alien voice reflecting, refracting, expanding, consolidating becoming sounds much like Pan.
In the first novel of the trilogy, a psychologist and a biologist discuss the reality of crossing over into nature now bordered by “the shimmer.”
There was a gleam in her eye now that I did not like, that promised damage. “I want you to think about something. You might be immune to hypnosis–you might– but what about the veil already in place? What if I removed that veil so you could access your own memories of crossing the border?” the psychologist asked. “Would you like that, Little Flame? Would you like that or would you go mad?” (86)
This language takes us back to the opening of Machen’s The Great God Pan.
“Look about you, Clarke. You see the mountain, and hill following after hill, as wave on wave, you see the woods and orchard, the fields of ripe corn, and the meadows reaching to the reed-beds by the river. You see me standing here beside you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things—yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet—I say that all these are but dreams and shadows; the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes. There is a real world, but it is beyond this glamour and this vision, beyond these ‘chases in Arras, dreams in a career,’ beyond them all as beyond a veil. I do not know whether any human being has ever lifted that veil; but I do know, Clarke, that you and I shall see it lifted this very night from before another’s eyes. You may think this all strange nonsense; it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means. They called it seeing the god Pan.”
And Annihilation conjures a scene reminiscent of the end of Helen Vaughn, the daughter of Pan. I’ve included a visualization of the scene by Helen Landry.
“Though horror and revolting nausea rose up within me, and an odour of corruption choked my breath, I remained firm. I was then privileged or accursed, I dare not say which, to see that which was on the bed, lying there black like ink, transformed before my eyes. The skin, and the flesh, and the muscles, and the bones, and the firm structure of the human body that I had thought to be unchangeable, and permanent as adamant, began to melt and dissolve.
“I know that the body may be separated into its elements by external agencies, but I should have refused to believe what I saw. For here there was some internal force, of which I knew nothing, that caused dissolution and change.
“Here too was all the work by which man had been made repeated before my eyes. I saw the form waver from sex to sex, dividing itself from itself, and then again reunited. Then I saw the body descend to the beasts whence it ascended, and that which was on the heights go down to the depths, even to the abyss of all being. The principle of life, which makes organism, always remained, while the outward form changed.
“The light within the room had turned to blackness, not the darkness of night, in which objects are seen dimly, for I could see clearly and without difficulty. But it was the negation of light; objects were presented to my eyes, if I may say so, without any medium, in such a manner that if there had been a prism in the room I should have seen no colours represented in it.
“I watched, and at last I saw nothing but a substance as jelly. Then the ladder was ascended again… [here the MS. is illegible] …for one instance I saw a Form, shaped in dimness before me, which I will not farther describe. But the symbol of this form may be seen in ancient sculptures, and in paintings which survived beneath the lava, too foul to be spoken of… as a horrible and unspeakable shape, neither man nor beast, was changed into human form, there came finally death.”
Death occurs here, but death as a choice and death as a merging into multiplicity, which certainly not death as constructed within a discreet and divided universe.
The essential weirdness which we can embrace, as Timothy Morton suggests, reminds us that the “All” or if you wish the “One” blurs and merges each individual existence. The world is weird because we are weird creatures who exist briefly in a dream of being separate from everything and then die back into it to again be One and with All. Bon Appétit!