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O'Gwin, C. Malone, K.R. (2018). Ineffable and Weird Fiction. Free Associations, 19(1):47-64.

(2018). Free Associations, 19(1):47-64

Ineffable and Weird Fiction

Chase O'Gwin and Kareen Ror Malone

What is the ineffable? If one were to look up the standard definition, they would find that it is generally defined as something ‘too great, powerful beautiful etc. to be described or expressed.’ Demonstrably relevant to religious traditions, the ineffable is hardly reducible to them. The ineffable is famously evoked by the English Romantic poets of the Eighteenth Century in William Wordsworth's iconic poem (1850) The Prelude (Second Book)

From Nature and her overflowing soul

I had received so much, that all my thoughts

Were steeped in feeling; I was only then

Contented, when with bliss ineffable

I felt the sentiment of Being spread

O'er all that moves and all that seemeth still;

O'er all that, lost beyond the reach of thought

And human knowledge, to the human eye

Invisible, yet liveth to the heart …

While the immanence of the beauty and awe of the ineffable power of nature gave transcendent solace to Wordsworth and his Romantic contemporaries, such cosmological consolation soon seems less assured by a sacramental sentiment. Impacted by modernization and not always apprehended by the mortal soul through the heart's deep perception, Baudelaire's intimations of the apperception of the ineffable are more fragmentary and require deciphering divorced from any amiable covenant between the ineffable and the sensible. From Correspondences:

Nature is a temple where living pillars

Let escape sometimes confused words;

Man traverses it through forests of symbols

That observe him with familiar glances.

(Baudelaire, 1857)

By the time of Edgar Alan Poe, the articulation of the relation of our mortal being with that which lies beyond it exploits formalist aesthetic properties, including logic, as pressing one to what might lie beyond symbolic articulation (Lacan, 2006a). Yet Poe's insights into the machinations of a symbolic construction, rather than depicting events, for example, still evoke the encounter with death and its return (Poe, 2006). The assurance of a confluence between the beyond and what is present has most definitely taken a more severe and even sinister turn.

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