Anti-memetics and the new horror

I recently read There is no Antimemetics Division, by the pseudonymous qntm, and it was one of the freshest and most exciting horror novels I’ve read in years. It emerged from the SCP Foundation wiki, a collaborative storytelling project about the ‘Special Containment Procedures Foundation’, which manages dangerous entities and items to stop them causing harm.

qntm’s stories focus on a division of the Foundation that deals with anti-memes. These are ideas that obscure their own existence and are easily forgotten. Some of these ideas are predatory and dangerous. One such example is described as “a cognitohazard so dangerous that we can’t even write the reason why we can’t write it down down”. Another character describes them as “living fnords”.

This is a book that gives great concept, exploring all the different possibilities of anti-memes, as the characters fight an enemy they cannot allow themselves to consciously consider. It’s a huge challenge, which one character describes as “like building and launching Apollo 11 without a single engineer deducing that the Moon existed”. The book is well worth reading, and you can pick up a good flavour of it in the introductory story. It’s briskly written (an artefact of its origins) but very entertaining.

Around the time I was finishing the book, Dan Sumption linked me to a twitter thread where @bitterkarella theorised abouta new genre of horror that’s really blossomed online over the last 5-10 years… about a weird “otherness” infecting the world”. SCP was given as one example of this, alongside Scarfolk, Night Vale, Don’t Hug Me I’m scared. People suggested unedited Footage of a Bear, or the stunning movie Pontypool as examples. “It’s a style that clearly grew out of creepypasta but is sort of its own thing now… It blends elements of bizarro, Kafkaesque absurdism, body horror, and cosmic horror, often presented in a found document format.

There are obvious links with the New Weird and Hauntology. I’d put House of Leaves down as another example, along with some Borges stories. It’s a type of fiction I’ve always loved, and it seems to be on the rise.

Some people have made the distinction that this is not cosmic horror, as that deals with entities invading the world – but I see that more as Lovecraft’s specific take on the concept. For me, cosmic horror is about discovering the universe we live in makes no sense, whether that’s due to extra-terrestrial gods, or being trapped in the opening titles of TV shows. This thing that @bitterkarella talks about is a type of cosmic horror, but there is some new aspect coming through.

Borges wrote a wonderful essay called Kafka’s Precursors, about how Kafka’s writer retrospectively grouped a series of writers in a new genre of ‘Kafkaesque’ writing. Whatever this new form of horror is titled as, it’s going to produce some interesting new works, and recontextualise some old ones. qtnm’s There is No Antimemetics Division is a great example of this ‘new horror’.

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