I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which surround me as an atom and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.
Whether or not there’s a cosmos is uncertain, and our science advances precisely to the extent that it’s given up maintaining any cosmic or cosmising presuppositions.
What is ALH84001? It is an object, a fossil. It has a reality outside of subjective experience. The object is a meteorite from Mars and its history predates all known species of life—extant and extinct—on Earth. It is of Martian origin, and yet we know of it through its place on the surface of our own planet. It was discovered here. More specifically, it was discovered in Antarctica just after Christmas in 1984.
What is ALH84001? It is thought to differ from other Martian meteorites through containing the fossilised relic of alien worm life in its material structure. It is a key for the rediscovery of a lost origin, a fragmented part of a cosmic jigsaw puzzle that will enable “us” to ascertain the origin of life on Earth (which may or may not owe its genesis to alien bacteria). Yet as much as it is a fossil, ALH84001is also a symptom to be deciphered—a geological phantasy rendered apparent.
There is silence in the cosmos, a Levinasian insomnia that knows no respite. Infinite terror, Pascalian anxiety. This planet is floating. It is fundamentally unanchored, “tethered to a burning sphere by an invisible force in an unfathomable universe” (Mulder). The Earth is the stage for an anxiety concerning the surrounding world, the cosmos. Beyond the porous line of the Earth’s blue atmosphere, another world unfolds into the darkness. Like the Earth, it too is composed of matter. But unlike the Earth, it marks a cut in our relationship to things. It is unbridgeable and uninhabitable - that which cannot be integrated into the symbolic order.
Pascal, like so many before and after him, turns to the darkness in which the Earth hangs suspended and experiences the repulsion of anxiety. A repelling force. The void is silent; the finitude of “man’s” call is unanswered. The void does not speak except as a form of resistance, an anti-speech. The lack of dialogue, this break in intersubjective relations, becomes a problem. The cosmos becomes a site of oppression, breaking the human’s need to be heard, and thereby forcing him to confront the limits of his narcissism. There is nothing. Truly, there is nothing except for yourself.
Over the years, unmanned robots are sent to investigate the scene of anxiety. There, these automatons of human engineering search out the deepest recesses of the known universe in search of something other than the humans that put the machines there in first place. Very little is discovered, save for photographic imagery of the Earth taken from other planets. But then ALH84001 enters the scene of this anxiety. It summons hope that life exceeds the margins of this planet. In its fossilized worm, there is evidence of a world beyond our own.
To what extent does ALH84001 mark a reality? Put another way: to what extent is ALH84001 a reality anterior to human experience? There is repulsion of a silent cosmos—an endless night of anxiety and insomnia, in which something opposed to the subject remains as that: a remainder. And then there is Mars, the Promethean origin of life on Earth. How did the two planets come into dialogue with one another? One way in which they've come into being is by acting as interlocutors in the silence of dark space. Now, Mars speaks. It has been terraformed, not through machines but through its symbolic appropriation as a planet that speaks to the Earth by discharging the materiality of its voice back to our planet, a voice that is now being deciphered.
All of which is posed against the backdrop of “speculative realism,” with its all too human desires to exceed the finitude of subjectivity. Clearly the aestheticization of a Lovecraftian universe—together with the veneration toward “darkness,” the notion of a “hyper chaos,” and the posting of a genuinely “great outdoors” which is anterior to human experience—belies a narcissistic identification the world as conforming to a certain phantasy. As with ALH8400, the Lovecraftian realist universe marks a response to Pascalian anxiety rather than a conformation with it. If the “real” is sought, then it is within the confines of an “imaginary real,” an aestheticized void, which Lovecraft was attuned to with such precision.
The phantasy of speculative realism is to preserve this indeterminate world, not as something which is fundamentally beyond experience, but as that which anchors experience in the first place. This is possible thanks to the fact that speculative realism allows the subject to observe from afar the reality of a world, which at the same time opposes him. In effect, the real becomes sublimated.
Mars joins ranks with speculative realism, now localizing anxiety to a specific object: ALH8400. The "great outdoors" of anteriority becomes a specular lens reflecting back an anxiety that can now be domesticated as an object that is both repellent and seductive: a Martian fossil. In the meanwhile, anxiety as a genuine reality is buried beneath the surface of Earth, or otherwise clothed in the language of a Lovecraftian universe. All along, the real of realism is lost. Anxiety - far from the province of a human reality alone - becomes the lost exit, mistaken as an inward looking subjective reality. In reality, however, this uncharted highway is the place in which the alien cosmos is proven to be there all along.