Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Nyarlathotep Part 6: audient void

... audient void ...

Many hundreds have used this phrase since its appearance in Nyarlathotep. It has many nuances to these many individuals.

... audient void ...

What did it mean to HPL, though?

Why "audient" instead of audible, audacious, or some other expression?

It is from Latin, the present participle of audiere; to listen; paying attention. Webster's 1913 edition, however, makes a telling reference: see: Mrs. Browing, audient souls.

HPL - scientist first, but poet in heart - absolutely must have known of this most famous user and its usage in her masterpiece Aurora Leigh. Now, you and Chrispy will take a look. :)

Aurora Leigh was an incredible 11,000 line poem novel published in 1856. It stunned critics who mostly panned it save for its unique combination of masculine traits in the feminine body. Franly, no one had ever seen a woman do such a vast work of poetry - much less in Victorian times. Browning was feeling her feminist oats.

The "woman exhibiting masculine traits" is a theme the mature HPL would come back to many times. However, it is not the poetry, per se, but certain lines that would have had HPL's attention.

In the ROMNEY AND AURORA section: (lines 260,261)

"With strange electric life; and both my cheeks // Grew red, then pale, with touches from my hair ..." might conjure up static electricity and Tesla.

And lines 275-281 state:

"The mystic motions, which in common moods // Are shut beyond our sense, broke in on us, /// And, as we sate, we felt the old earth spin, // And all the starry turbulence of worlds /// Swing round us in their audient circles, till // If that same golden moon were overhead // Or if beneath our feet, we did not know."

The Moon, the Earth on its axis, mysticism, starry turbulence of worlds and other parts of this might have elicited the astronomer and apocalyptic in Lovecraft.

Elsewhere, we see the phrase that was quoted in Webster's 1913 edition, "For thrilling audient and beholding souls...".

Now we understand that Lovecraft replaced "souls" with "void". This (void) is a technical term, I believe. The void was the vacuum. As Classical Mechanics collapsed and was replaced by quantum physics at the beginning of the 20th century, the "aether" was put to rest by Einstein's special relativity. There was suddenly pioneer work to show that vast amounts of empty space existed throughtout the universe with densities near zero particles per cubic parsecs.

Once we got past the galactic edge nothingness was overwhelming.

A Victorian paradox arose and was best stated by the astronomer, Heinrich Olbers, in 1826. In a homogeneous Universe, infinite in space and time, every line of sight will end on the surface of a star. So why is the sky dark at night? It should be as bright as Broadway's Great White Way.

Hotly debated, the facts were known - the sky is black at night - but few could come up with a mathematical model. However, two literary philosophers - Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe - had written that one resolution to Olbers’ Paradox was that the Universe was finite. Being ‘mere’ writers, they were both ignored by scientists of the time. I believe that the 30 year old Lovecraft would have certainly come across his idol's (Poe) idea, and may have even used it here.

I think we can say that "audient void" meant something like an impassioned but watchful astronomer (HPL, maybe) peering into the blackness of space with a telescope and seeing the laws of physics come unraveled.

Often, HPL speculated that the laws of physics did not operate the same everywhere in the universe - and that there was no logical reason why they should.

Many quantum physicists wondered the same thing. It was only when Stephen Hawking forced quantum laws onto black holes that he realized the ultimate energy eater actually was the largest black body emitter - black holes emit heat. This fairly well cemented the idea that not only could Einstein's theories of relativity be melded to quantum dynamics, but that the laws of physics operate everywhere the same in our universe.

... audient void...

Below, I list two long passages of Elezabeth Barrett Browning's poetry from Aurora Leigh.

But oh, the night! oh, bitter-sweet! oh, sweet!
O dark, O moon and stars, O ecstasy
Of darkness! O great mystery of love,—
In which absorb’d, loss, anguish, treason’s self 255
Enlarges rapture,—as a pebble dropp’d
In some full wine-cup, over-brims the wine!
While we two sate together, lean’d that night
So close, my very garments crept and thrill’d
With strange electric life; and both my cheeks 260
Grew red, then pale, with touches from my hair
In which his breath was; while the golden moon
Was hung before our faces as the badge
Of some sublime inherited despair,
Since ever to be seen by only one,— 265
A voice said, low and rapid as a sigh,
Yet breaking, I felt conscious, from a smile,—
"Thank God, who made me blind, to make me see!
Shine on, Aurora, dearest light of souls,
Which rul’st for evermore both day and night! 270
I am happy."
I flung closer to his breast,
As sword that, after battle, flings to sheathe;
And, in that hurtle of united souls,
The mystic motions, which in common moods 275
Are shut beyond our sense, broke in on us,
And, as we sate, we felt the old earth spin,
And all the starry turbulence of worlds
Swing round us in their audient circles, till
If that same golden moon were overhead 280
Or if beneath our feet, we did not know.

Truth so far, in my book! a truth which draws
From all things upwards. I, Aurora, still
Have felt it hound me through the wastes of life
As Jove did Io: and, until that Hand
Shall overtake me wholly, and, on my head,
Lay down its large, unfluctuating peace,
The feverish gad-fly pricks me up and down
It must be. Art's the witness of what Is
Behind this show. If this world's show were all,
Then imitation would be all in Art;
There, Jove's hand gripes us!-For we stand here, we.
If genuine artists, witnessing for God's
Complete, consummate, undivided work:
-That not a natural flower can grow on earth,
Without a flower upon the spiritual side,
Substantial, archetypal, all a-glow
With blossoming causes,-not so far away,
That we, whose spirit-sense is somewhat cleared,
May not catch something of the bloom and breath,-
Too vaguely apprehended, though indeed
Still apprehended, consciously or not,
And still transferred to picture, music, verse,
For thrilling audient and beholding souls
By signs and touches which are known to souls,-
How known, they know not,-why, they cannot find,
So straight call out on genius, say, 'A man
Produced this,'-when much rather they should say,
''Tis insight, and he saw this.'
Thus is Art
Self-magnified in magnifying a truth
Which, fully recognized, would change the world
And shift its morals. If a man could feel,
Not one day, in the artist's ecstasy,
But every day, feast, fast, or working-day,
The spiritual significance burn through
The hieroglyphic of material shows,
Henceforward he would paint the globe with wings,
And reverence fish and fowl, the bull, the tree,
And even his very body as a man,-
Which now he counts so vile, that all the towns
Make offal of their daughters for its use
On summer-nights, when God is sad in heaven
To think what goes on in his recreant world
He made quite other; while that moon he made
To shine there, at the first love's covenant,
Shines still, convictive as a marriage-ring
Before adulterous eyes.

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