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WEIRD ONTOLOGY AND NOETIC ESTRANGEMENT

Review of China Miville's THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS by Terence Blake
Reading THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS by China Miville is an awe-inspiring experience due
to the explosion of imagery, of erudition, of poetry and wonder that the book contains. The novella
embodies what it describes: the surrealist Resistance to the Nazi occupation of Paris has led to the
creation of a surrealist bomb, whose explosion produces an "S-Blast" that has liberated a myriad of
"manifestations", impossible entities freed from surrealist painting and sculptures to wreak havoc
on the Nazi occupying forces.
Two story threads are interwoven by means of alternating chapters. The events in 1941 in the city of
Marseilles leading to the fabrication and detonation of the S-bomb. The Nazi plot in 1950 to gain
final control over occupied Paris by means of demonology and, possibly, the fabrication of a
Nazified "manifestation" capable of taking on and defeating these creatures that do not obey the
laws of phyics or biology. It is at once a masterfully told story and an inspiring manifesto, an ode to
the liberating power of poetry, and to the creations, and the lives, of those who are steeped in it.
The poetry, the beauty, the freedom, and the adventure all recall the excitement one feels in reading
Deleuze and Guattari's ANTI-OEDIPUS, KAFKA, and A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, and their
"schizoanalytic" liberation of the unconscious. Michel Foucault in his preface to that book declared
that ANTI-OEDIPUS could be characterised as an "introduction to the non-fascist life", and this
epithet describes all of Deleuze's work. This non-fascist formula of resistance and (self-)creation
comes to life again in the pages of Miville's THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS.
One of the key characters is an "exquisite corpse", an assemblage or composite collage created by
Andr Breton, Yves Tanguy, and Jacqueline Lamba that has come to life as a sort of surrealist Big
Friendly Giant to help the protagonists in their struggle against the Nazi occupying forces:
The sheer abundance of imagery taken, or extrapolated from, surrealist works including many by
little known artists has led Miville to include a final chapter giving details about the works and
their origins. The effect of reading these notes after finishing the narrative is not one of having to
plod through scholarly references, but of awakening curiosity and of reliving the story in condensed
form.
Melville also gives us an autobiographical account of the genesis of the novel, instigated by a very
strange interview with an enigmatic old man who Miville suspects may be Thibaut, the protagonist
of the main action. This indicates that there may be some permeability or overlap between Paris in
our world and New Paris.Further, this would suggest that the title is misleading, and that the "last
days" have still not come for New Paris.
I lived in Paris for seven years and it was often a poetic and surrealist experience, although what
Deleuze and Guattari called the "micro-fascism" of everyday life was present too. So I can confirm
that there are in fact passages between the two worlds. China Miville's THE LAST DAYS OF
NEW PARIS constitutes one such passage. Dadaism and surrealism, but also schizoanalysis and
science fiction, provide us with other passages.
I kept thinking of Aliette de Bodard's THE HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS while reading China
Miville's THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS. The link may seem tenuous, as the styles and stories
are very different. They have in common the poetic evocation and reworking of a magic-saturated
Paris after a devastating and reality-distorting event, the Magic War for THE HOUSE OF
SHATTERED WINGS and the surrealist S-Blast for THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS.

My approach to science fiction starts from an adoption and generalisation of Darko Suvin's thesis
that science fiction is the "literature of cognitive estrangement". This definition is quite thoughtprovoking, but the term "cognitive" is too limiting, as if so called hard science fiction were the
paradigm of the whole genre. I suggest that the term "noetic" is more suitable, comprising not just
the cognitive but also the imaginative acts of the spirit, and so allowing for a unified vision of
science fiction and fantasy.
"Estrangement" is more useful, as it is a much more ambiguous and polysemic notion, so I propose
to consider science fiction and fantasy together as composing the literature of noetic estrangement.
To bring out the Deleuzian resonance of Suvin's definition and of my reformulation, we could
define science fiction and fantasy as the "literature of noetic deterritorialisation".
This reformulation (the literature of noetic estrangement) constitutes not so much a non-Suvinian
definition, whatever that would be, as a form of non-standard Suvinism,, since it does away with
the strong demarcation that Suvin establishes between the genres of fantasy and science fiction.
(Note: this distinction is based on a parallel with the development of contemporary French
philosopher Franois Laruelle's thought. The title "non-philosophy" (as in non-Euclidean geometry)
belongs to the negative phase of Laruelle's intellectual evolution, stretching over 20 years, from
1981 to 2001. Aside from its critique of standard philosophy as unable to attain the immanence it
purported to aim for, it was unfortunaely characterised by subservience to the model of science as
cognitive paradigm. Laruelle later came to see this scientism as maintaining his thought within the
very standard presuppositions that he wished to criticise. He moved from a purely verbal
repudiation of scientism contained in the later works of this period (called Philosophie III) to an
incomplete and timid practical overcoming of the scientistic presupposition in his work from
roughly 2002 till now).
The title THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS, while not containing a logical contradiction, indicates
the sort of temporality that goes with science fiction, according to Deleuze. The autobiographical
chapter after the story is enough to indicate that the events recounted in the novella were not the
"last" days, as Miville met an old man who he thinks, but he is not sure, may be Thibaut, his young
protagonist, grown old. The title also occurs in the story: Thibaut meets up with a mysterious
woman, Sam, perhaps journalist or perhaps secret agent, who is taking photos for a projected book
with that same title.
The "last days" of the title still have not come; in that sense the book is pre-apocalyptic. In another
sense it is post-apocalyptic, as the S-blast has devastated and metamorphosed Paris, and iis effects
need to be contained, as they threaten to spread everywhere. Thus while being in relation with the
"apocalyptic" the novel's temporal dimension is not the future, nor even futurity as such, but rather
the "untimely", in Nietzche's (and Deleuze's) sense, against this time (resistance), in favour of a
time to come (creation of the possible). Thus the untimely is not so much temporal, not so much a
question of the future or of futurity as modal, or, following an indication of Samuel Delany, a
question of subjunctivity. In any actual case temporal estrangement and modal estrangement are
intertwined, and may even be on occasions indiscernable.
"Apocalypse" for Deleuze is not a temporal, nor even a modal notion, but an ontological one. It
announces the unveiling of what Miville has called "Weird ontology", where entities that do not
fully respect the principle of identity assemble and struggle. It is interesting that in the novel there is
also a (Nazi) force for identity, that eliminates all antogonisms, that is itself a manifestation, and not
some foundation of reality.
I have argued that the term noetic estrangement, or in Deleuzian language noetic
deterritorialisation, best describes the type of non-mimetic fiction or Weird realism that can be
found in China Miville's works (amongst others). His latest novella THE LAST DAYS OF NEW
PARIS is a good example as it describes the consequences of an "S-Blast", the result of the

explosion of a surrealist bomb, unleashing a swarm of weird creatures on a Nazi-occupied city.


There is a self-referential dimension to this premise, as "S-Blast" well describes not only China
Miville's own writings, but the whole domain of "weird" literature..
There is also a political dimension: the S-Blast corresponds to Gilles Deleuze's notion of "irruption
of the Real" that he sees taking place in the event of May 68. Thus the novel also functions in some
ways as a manifesto, as it declares in favour of the power of the imagination to maintain our
resistance against the forces of fascism. This is not to cede to a magical fantasy of the omnipotence
of the imagination. As with Deleuze, Miville's conclusion is that an "S-Blast" is a good start, but it
is not enough. In Deleuze's terms a creative subjective redeployment needs to be relayed by a
political and an economic redeployment to be effective.
True to his Nietzscheanism Deleuze has commented Lovecraft in giving priority to his affirmative
elements over the more standard pessimist image (something he does with Beckett and Kafka as
well). I think this shows the "new" weird was already present within the old. This is in line with the
vision expressed discursively in Miville's interview in THE AGE OF LOVECRAFT, and
imagistically in the novel THE LAST DAYS OF NEW PARIS, of the problematic synergy in
Lovecraft's works between the surrealism (affirmation of fantasy) and the fascism (elevation of a
master-race). Miville's repeated evocation of the sublime in explicitly Lyotardian terms goes in the
same direction. For Lyotard the aesthetic of the sublime was an indication that the post-modern did
not come chronologically, or even logically, after the modern but accompanied it from the
beginning.
Miville is not alluding so much to mainstream surrealism that has long since been assimilated as to
the minor and lesser-known surrealists: the women, the marginals, and the excommunicated.
Surrealism too had its fascistic tendencies when it organised itself into a School. Just as Breton's
surrealism was an appropriation and codification of the multifarious Dadaist and Surrealist
experimentations, we see today an appropriation and codification of Weird Realism by philosophies
that are neither weird nor realist, but rather conformist consensual idealisms.
Graham Harman's attempted hi-jacking of the weird in his object-oriented philosophy (see his
"WEIRD REALISM: Lovecraft and Philosophy", 2012) is properly called "weird sensualism".
Harman's ontology is based on a radical disjunction between manifest, or "sensual", realities and the
unknown ineffable invisible Real. In terms of this version of OOO the Weird is not Real at all, but
sensual.
Slavoj Zizek's quantum meditations produce a weird realism in which manifestation is as such real
(and one should note that the Surrealist entities in Miville's novel are called "manifs" or
"manifestations"). This is his debt to Deleuze's concept of simulacra, which Zizek has explained in
great detail in the first chapter of his book LESS THAN NOTHING (also published in 2012). In the
first chapter, Zizek outlines a concept of pure semblances or pure appearances, that would not be
the appearing of any more fundamental but totally unknown reality. These appearances are to be
distinguished from the simple negation of reality that is implicit in post-modern sophistry and
purely aesthetic play.
For Zizek, pure appearances, simulacra, or semblances, are real in their own right, and contain
immanently the criteria for distinguishing illusion from substance. This is the same sort of nonbifurcationist pluralist ontology that is to be found in Deleuze's and in Miville's works. It merits
the name "weird ontology". The little that Deleuze says about the ontology underlying Lovecraft's
weird fiction is coherent with his own ontology, whereas Harman's meanderings on "weird realism"
are in contradiction with his own bifurcationist schema.
This is the basis for the role that the American magician's apprentice, Jack Parsons, plays in the
novel. He is not content with a purely aesthetic, ultimately ineffectual, resistance in a separate
domain cut off from the real word. He seeks to "weaponise" surrealist creation and avant-garde
experimentation and to undo the separation by combining them with magic in the construction of

his S-device.
Zizek's post-Deleuzian ontology is far more consonant with Weird fiction than Harman's OOO. Any
ontologically informed list of "Weird Realists" should not include Harman at all, but only those that
question the simplistic bifurcation between subject and object that is Harman's starting point. My
favorite Weird Realists are Zizek, Stiegler, Latour, Laruelle (in his "non-standard" and "philofiction" phase, Badiou (in his post LOGICS OF WORLDS phase), and also Lyotard, Deleuze, and
Feyerabend.
Another criterion of the Weird, besides its suspension of the subject-object bifurcation, is that it
typically belongs with an ontology of abundance. This second weird theme involves the suspension
of the principle of identity in favour of alterity, multiplicity, difference, and becoming. Harman's
OOO is the exact opposite, it proposes an ontology of withdrawal and impoverishment (for more
details, see my ONTOLOGY: Abundance vs Withdrawal).
One of the most disquieting aspects of Graham Harman's OOO system is its annexation of
movements that are diametrically opposed to its own ideas. Harman's revisionist account and
annexation of Bruno Latour's work is a case in point: he has managed to associate his name with a
philosophy totally opposed to his own. Another example is his annexation of Weird literature by
means of his concept of "weird realism". In terms of Harman's OOO the weird is sensual, not real.
In contrast, Deleuze's philosophy is "weird" from the very beginning, and becomes even more so in
the collaboration with Guattari. Lovecraft plays a very important role in A THOUSAND
PLATEAUS, but Harman makes no mention of Deleuze and Guattari in his own book on Lovecraft.
I do not care for the enshrining of a genre tag for a market niche in a substantial critical category,
but if the term "New Weird" has any sense it is to be sought in the Time Image as analysed by
Deleuze in his CINEMA II. Contrary to what many commentators seem to believe, the system
outlined in the "cinema" books is not limited to the cinema, but is meant to provide a general
classication and phenomenology of images and signs. The New Weird with its metamorphoses and
impossibilities, its becomings and cosmicities, with its ontological hesitations and its undoing of the
barrier between real and unreal, belongs to the regime of the time image. Harman's OOO cannot
deal with that aspect, as for him time is unreal period.
Monsters and metamorphoses, hybrids and becomings, are all sensual. His real objects are
unspeakable, not in the Lovecraftian sense of an ineffable overwhelming of our most basic
categories, but in the more banal sense that they are unsayable because there is nothing to say about
them, they are boring empty posits, vapid non-entities.
It is clear from their positive treatment of Lovecraft in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS that for
Deleuze and Guattari his works as presentations, at the level of content, of "time images", according
to Deleuze's later terminology. The synchronic spatialised image (Chronos) of time, which is all that
Harman's OOO is capable of attaining, is suspended in favour of a mutant image (Aion) based on
abundance, multiplicity and dispersion.
Notes:
1) I am grateful to a conversation with Anna Powell for helping me to clarify this last point. Her
book DELEUZE AND THE HORROR FILM (Edinburgh University Press, 2005) provides a far
better, and less pretentious, guide to philosophy and "horror", and indirectly to "weird fiction" in
general, than OOO's attempted annexation of these works and themes.
2) For a long-term engagement with the Deleuze-Lovecraft connections see all of Patricia
MacCormack's work, in particular:
Lovecraft through Deleuzio-Guattarian Gates (Postmodern Culture, Volume 20, Number 2, January
2010) and
"Lovecraft's Cosmic Ethics" (THE AGE OF LOVECRAFT, University of Minnesota Press, 2016).