The philosophy of cosmicism operates under the understanding that the universe operates as a mechanism that indifferent to the will of humans. It suggests that we as a species are insignificant in the grand vastness of the universe, so therefore any ethical endeavours are ultimately pointless. Under cosmicism, the universe operates without the concept of morality or emotions, and there is a distinct lack of a moral deity that has any care towards the human (Greenham, 2013). The opportunity for creating a sense of dread under this philosophy, therefore lies in the understanding that we as a species are not only alone in the universe without a guiding figure to guide us, much like a parent would their young children, but also that any of the actions that we take on this earth are of no ethical significance to the universe, so therefore there is no point in attempting to act or hold oneself to any moral standing at all.
H.P Lovecraft understood and utilised cosmicism to imply that humans at large were helpless but to exist at the mercy of the vast universe, and employed cosmicism in his writing to create a fear of both the unknown and the other. In The Shadow Over Innsmouth (Lovecraft, 1936), cosmicism is used to convey a sense of dread by telling us a story of the unknowable, and feeding us information bit by bit in a way that insights fear for the protagonist and that of the ‘other’ – namely the fish-people of Innsmouth. Lovecraft incites this cosmic fear also by giving us a story in which upon finishing it, audiences understand that the horrific occurrence was seemingly seen as inevitable. Meaning that the cosmic universe did not care for what one could do in an attempt to change their fate or to exist outside of the universe’s understanding of what was to happen, that the unthinkable would have happened regardless, and that really we are all powerless to the will of the universe (Stableford, 2007). In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, we are lulled into the sense that our protagonist has escaped his supposed fate, only to later realise that he was one of the monsters all along, just without his knowledge.
In contrast, cosmicism is utilised in The Void (Gillespie & Kostanski, 2016) to create and convey this sense of dread for the humans in the story attempting to explore beyond the capacity of human knowledge. They are therefore being held accountable for the attempt to reach beyond themselves, as the vast expanding universe does not care for anyone to fully understand it, and attempting to is a futile exercise that will not end well for any who dig too deeply. This differs from the standard understanding of cosmicism as explained to us by the definition given in Greenham (2013), as the film seems to suggest that those that go searching for information are to be punished by the universe for it, whilst cosmicism suggests that the universe is not concerned by human intervention.
In conclusion, an effective use of cosmicism has the capability to convey not just a sense of dread, but to create tension and to incite a real fear in the reader, given that Lovecraft suggests that “the oldest and strongest fear is a fear of the unknown” (Lovecraft, 1934, pg. 1.) This existential fear is particularly damaging to humans, as humans are prone to creating meaning within their own lives, whether internally through self worth or externally through a relationship with the divine-something which Lovecraft was particularly derisive of. Therefore, this suggestion that the universe is going to do whatever it likes, and that is a complete lack of point in human existence is a concept that is particularly frightful to humans.
Greenham, E. (2013). Neocosmicism: God and the Void. Ph.D. Murdoch University.
Lovecraft, H. (1934). Supernatural Horror in Literature.
Joshi, S., & Stableford, B. (2007). Icons of horror and the supernatural: Cosmic Horror (pp. 65-96). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.