The English Eerie

The recent BBC Radio 3 documentary programme, Into the Eerie, gave a good account of some of the ways that the eerie worms its way into the English landscape. As a point of departure, Mark Fisher’s notion of the eerie, which he laid out in his The Weird and the Eerie, was discussed. For Fisher, whereas the weird is characterised by a superfluity of presence (why is there something when there should be nothing?), the eerie is conversely characterised by an excessive absence (why is there nothing when there should be something?). A Lovecraftian entity with a tentacled face is weird; a piano playing in an empty room is eerie.

Although the focus was very much on the English landscape, it was notable that the programme was predominantly concerned with the way that the eerie seems to have arisen to prominence as a response to the so-called Anthropocene, that is, the ongoing geological age in which human activity is seen to be the main influence on the climate and the environment. This is of course a global phenomenon but the programme was quite right to focus on the more local ways that it has registered at a deep level.

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LTC Rolt’s Sleep No More

The ghost stories of LTC Rolt are less well known than those of MR James and are in some respects a little derivative of the master but they deserve to be read for the way that they depict a sinister, supernatural presence in the industrialised landscape. Rolt himself was an historian who wrote biographies of some of the leading figures of the industrial revolution and he was also an engineer, classic cars enthusiast and a railways and canal preservationist, so his love of the technics of industry is well attested. In some ways this simply throws the horrors in his stories into a sharper relief because he writes often of malign agencies that haunt the sites of such industry: railways, mines, canals, and so on. It could be argued that Rolt was one of the first edgelands writers, as his stories hone in on those sites where human industry abuts nature. But for Rolt, it is not so much the machinic automatism of the industrial age that gives birth to the horror but rather the disturbance of a prior site of numinous power.3566146 Continue reading “LTC Rolt’s Sleep No More”