In late summer of 1928 Lovecraft wrote what has come to be one of his most widely read stories, “The Dunwich Horror” (DUN, 155-98). The setting is the squalid and decadent backwater village of Dunwich, which (like the setting of “The Colour Out of Space”) one may place in western Massachusetts near the Quabbin region. At the outset we are given to understand that at the time of the narrator’s arrival, some horror has already transpired there—an effective means of distancing and deferring presence—a past horror in the wake of which “all signboards pointing toward [Dunwich] have been taken down” (157).
It seems that some years ago a strange and unsightly lad named Wilbur Whateley was born there, in the filthy house of his slatternly albino mother Lavinia and her father, old Wizard Whateley. The family was ill regarded even by the inbred and degenerate populace of the region, and various speculations circulated about the boy’s paternity. Tutored from strange old books by his wizard grandfather, he developed at an unusual rate, both mentally and physically, and often accompanied his elders to a tablelike stone on nearby Sentinel Hill, where bizarre rites were held. The Whateleys were noticed boarding up a now apparently occupied outbuilding and buying inexplicable numbers of cattle. Later whatever was in the outbuilding must have been moved to the house, from which the Whateleys were seen removing timbers to enlarge the interior space. At some point Lavinia vanished, and some time later the old man died.
Wilbur, tall and goatish-looking in his middle teens, made a trip to Miskatonic University in Arkham to consult that oft-used Lovecraftian prop, the ancient Necronomicon, in a Latin version kept under lock and key. The librarian, Dr. Henry Armitage, refused to let Wilbur take the book along, and later Wilbur, returning in the night to try to steal it, was killed by guard dogs. His remains were found to be “teratological fabulous” (174). He had kept a cryptographic diary, which Armitage retrieved from Dunwich and began trying to decipher. After Wilbur’s failure to return to Dunwich, whatever he had been keeping in the boarded-up farmhouse broke loose. Invisible and enormous, it began cutting deadly swaths across the countryside and killing whole farm families in the night.
Armitage at length deciphered the diary, to read accounts of how the Old Ones who once reigned over the earth would one day return (aided, he infers, by the Whateley influence) to take dominion. Fortifying himself with formulas and incantations to lay the horror, Armitage returned to Dunwich with two colleagues. Together they followed the horror up Sentinel Hill to the table-rock and dispatched it with chanted counterspells. While the villagers looked on from below, a bellowing voice rent the air with cries of “FATHER! YOGSOTHOTH!” in an obvious parody of the crucifixion (196).
Armitage finally told the Dunwich farmers what the reader must already know: that the horror, which had been rendered briefly visible as an “octopus, centipede, spider kind o’ thing” (197), the horror from the farmhouse, was Wilbur Whateley’s twin brother, who looked more like the father than Wilbur did. In this curious and complex tale, there is of course much more than is evident. The text deals in various kinds of self-subversion on various levels, raising questions of readability and figurality, questions of maintaining distinctions between subject and object, between human and horror, between cause and effect, and commenting allegorically upon its own self-perpetuating unreadability. Like the Whateley farmhouse and the abode of Erich Zann, “The Dunwich Horror” is more than one story.
The town name Dunwich itself derives from the name of an ancient town in England on the coast of the North Sea, a town which, over the centuries of its existence from Saxon times to the present, has gradually crumbled away into the encroaching sea. In early times the town was known variously as Dunwyc, Donewic, and Dunewic. The -wic or -wyc is a suffix meaning dwelling place, town, village, cluster of houses (compare the Latin vicus) and surviving as -wich or -wick in other place-names such as Norwich and Warwick. The rest of the name is of intriguingly uncertain meaning, though in dun we find suggestions of dark colors, murkiness, and gloom, appropriate to the mood of the tale and to the fictional town’s reputation. It is interesting that the Oxford English Dictionary gives, as a possibility for -wich, the meaning “a group of buildings connected with a salt-pit,” suggesting salt, brine, and thus the sea. Here we begin to glimpse connections between the town itself and the horror that visits it. Of Wilbur Whateley’s horrific twin, kept upstairs in the farmhouse, it is said that “from the vacant abyss overhead there came a disquieting suggestion of rhythmical surging or lapping, as of the waves on some level beach” (166-67). As we shall see, this is only one peripheral way, among other and more insistent ways, in which distinguishing barriers between the town’s human population on the one hand and, on the other, the alien horror that plagues the town are broken down. The very fact that the original coastal Dunwich was a town crumbling away goes a good way toward suggesting questions of integrity and identity. The text will force us to ask, what is Dunwich, what are its people, what is the horror?
Indeed the question of the “horror” of the title is a reasonable place to begin. The first problem is whether it is intrinsic to Dunwich or external to it. Dunwich itself, after all, is described in horrific terms, with natives “repellently decadent” and possessed of “well-defined mental and physical stigmata of degeneracy and inbreeding” (157). The place has horrors of its own, to be sure. In the title “The Dunwich Horror,” we are left to wonder whether the last word indicates external encroachment (like earthquake in “the San Francisco earthquake”) or intrinsic inclusion (like skyline in “the New York skyline”). The text will continally raise this question without, of course, finally providing an answer. And there are other problems with the title.
As with certain other emotive words (e.g., delight), the word horror may refer either to an emotional state within the mind or to that which produces it. We may feel horror or may feel that something external is a horror. In fact in some usages the two senses of the term may become impossible to separate, as when we say, A horror came upon me. Phenomenologically we may even regard horror produced by an “external” source as a content or construct of consciousness and therefore as a state-of-mind horror. Cause and effect are blurred here. The boundary between them crumbles in the machinations of language, as is perhaps only appropriate since such boundaries may well be linguistic constructs to begin with. The bipolarity between “external” and “internal” tends to suffer its opposing poles to collapse together. Each contains an enabling trace of the other.
An external horror maintains its status as a horror only to the extent that it is perceived. Wilbur’s twin crashing through the meadows would be of no valuational or attitudinal consequence if there were no one there to experience the effects. Conversely, an internal horror-reaction is supposed to have a generating object or source. It does not exist in vacuo but points, much like a linguistic sign, to something beyond itself. This problematic relation between externality and internality is in fact allegorized in the text by the Dunwich people (insiders in their own social system, yet outsiders in the more inclusive system) and the alien presences (outsiders, though significant only by being in Dunwich as encroachments). And as we shall see, there is reason on the level of mythic motif in the tale to find that the supposed boundaries between the human-versus-alien binary relation are inclined to self-dismantle. There is a serious question about how the motif of the mythic hero operates in the tale concerning the tension between Armitage and the twins. One notices that each faction is divided against itself—Armitage because of his myopic view, the twins because they are twins and, ironically enough, can only be characterized as twins, in the way in which the text operates, by virtue of their differences.
One finds etymological evidence tending, at first, to pull the term horror toward the internal or “state” sense and away from the external or “source” sense. Horror stems from the Indo-European root ghers-, “to bristle,” and is responsible for the Latin horrere, “to bristle,” “to tremble,” “to be in fear,” with mutually antithetical suggestions both of recoiling and of readiness to fight back. Horripilation is the bristling or the standing-on-end of hair, and bristling (as when one refers to a text’s bristling with plural meaning) suggests proliferation, growth, teeming, sprouting, multiplicity, division, diversity, bewildering profuseness. The allegorical implication is of course one of textual self-commentary upon polysemic content. In any case, the etymological leaning is toward horror as feeling rather than horror as cause. The text subverts this tendency, however, by imbuing on the narrative level the term horror with a sense of external causes of feelings. We hear that in 1928 “the Dunwich horror came and went” (160), and we reflect that comings and goings tend to characterize of external influences, of things happening to the people involved. Yet horror may even here refer to mental states as well, and we continue to countenance an unstable binary opposition: the human side, by association with feelings and mental reactions, versus the alien side, by association with the cause. While dwelling on this seemingly clear-cut bipolarity—an opposition as basic as humankind on the one hand and something threatening its extinction on the other—the text on various levels blurs the distinction between the poles on which it appears vehemently to insist.
One may remark that when the denizens of Dunwich describe the horror that plagues them, “horror” as external cause is a tropic representation of “horror” as feeling, and the question, in terms of figurality, is, what sort of trope is involved? Here we find the well-known dispute of metaphor versus metonymy raised anew. If when we say, Wilbur’s twin is a horror, we mean that Wilbur’s twin is something that instills horror within us, then the figure seems to be metonymy: substitution not on the basis (as with metaphor) of necessarily recognized similarity but on the basis of relational association. Yet what can we say of the veracity of what the Dunwich farmers relate, unless there is precisely the sort of similarity, between perceived external horror and the perception itself, that characterizes metaphor as opposed to metonymy? As we shall see further along, the text makes other suggestions of a metonymic praxis of writing, while covertly allowing metaphor to preside over metonymy on the thematic and imagistic levels.
But first we look at some of the ways in which the text subverts the notion that in the supplementarity human/alien, sympathy with the human viewpoint wins the day. On the level of descriptive symbolism, the text raises the question of this supplementarity early on. We are told that in the approach to the village of Dunwich “the crude wooden bridges always seem of dubious safely,” spanning, as they do, “[g]orges and ravines of problematical depth” with their rickety boards (156). Clearly the tale is one of humankind against a larger, possibly menacing, nature. The universe does indeed hold “problematical depth,” and human concerns (symbolically, the bridges over the ravines) are hard put to maintain themselves in an uncaring cosmos. The etymology of bridge suggests human concerns: the root is bhru-, “eyebrow,” whence derives the Germanic form brus, “eyelid,” “eyelash.” What is underscored here is seeing, perception, the human point of view. Yet of the monster on Sentinel Hill near the end, we hear from Curtis Whateley, one of the farmers, that it has “great bulgin’ eyes all over it” (194). This statement suggests not only that human “seeing” is not a unique viewpoint but also, by the multiplicity of the teratological eyes, that human seeing may in fact be very limited in comparison. Symbolically the bridges both draw sympathetic attention to humankind against alienage and connect humankind with alien encroachments to subvert this tendency. We are told of an “awful creakin’ and strainin’ on the bridge” as the monstrous twin passes, and we see that the bridges are not features of human concern merely (189). The alien presence uses them as well, making the same connecting passes that humans make, though (by virtue of the “strainin’”) finding the bridges barely adequate to the alien purpose. Perhaps from the human standpoint the bridges are of “dubious safety” because they may hold—because they threaten to establish a link between human and alien. The fact that Wilbur Whateley himself is half human and half monstrous does much to destroy any supposedly lasting barriers between the two poles of the opposition. He is a link, a nexus, a bridge “of dubious safety.”
We find further such suggestions in the mythic content of the tale, since if there is any “hero” in the story, it is scarcely Dr. Armitage, even though he appears to come through in the end with a kind of victory. When viewed (as is common in mythic strains containing the twin motif) as a single character, it is obviously Wilbur and his even more hideous twin, and not Armitage, who possess the mythic/archetypal qualities of the questing hero. The alien presence, like Jesus and Buddha, springs from “miraculous” or god-sired birth. True to the usual pattern, Wilbur-as-hero embarks on a quest, journeying to the university in Arkham to obtain the Latin Necronomicon. Wilbur dies in the quest, and the twin (identified as the same hero-strain) is symbolically reborn from the “womb” of the farmhouse. The twin symbolically descends to the underworld by slipping down into Cold Spring Glen, and the hero experiences ascension and “return to the father” at the end atop Sentinel Hill. This strain of myth is clearly played out by the alien twins, while the text expends vast energies trying to make the rather buffoonlike Armitage the conquering “hero” and to make the human viewpoint foremost. By the mythic content as opposed to the simple narration, the human/alien supplementarity is stood on its head.
Yet with the subversion of distinctions between the two poles, not even this reversal has any permanent standing. When, for example, the wizard grandfather at the farmhouse (Wilbur’s tutelary figure) “knocked out all the partitions and even removed the attic floor, leaving only one vast open void between the ground story and the peaked roof” (166), we clearly have a symbolic bringing down of defining boundaries that would separate the human and alien concerns. In the matter of this carpentry, the text inadvertently carves a path for this indeterminacy of boundaries when it describes, contiguous to its description of the sealed upper portion of the house, the “fitting up of another downstairs room” for the grandson Wilbur, “a room which several callers saw, though no one was ever admitted to the closely boarded upper story” (163). Then we have the telling language: “This chamber he lined with tall, firm shelving” (emphasis added) to hold the ancient books from which the grandfather would tutor Wilbur.
“This chamber,” we realize by reading the rest of the sentence, refers to Wilbur’s study, but syntactically it seems to refer to “the closely boarded upper story” belonging to the wholly alien twin. What we have here is no mere infelicity of syntax but rather an instance of the manner in which a text may unwittingly admit its covert program of subversion of that which it seems to undertake on the levels of surface reading. The narration as a whole labors to make the tale one of the good guys versus the bad guys, yet it unsettles this distinction. (Dunwich itself is a horror always already waiting to happen.) The tale’s epigraph from Charles Lamb’s “Witches and Other Night-Fears” lays the groundwork in telling us, of the horrific things that await us, that “the archetypes are in us, and eternal” (155, emphasis added). Again, firm boundaries are not to be maintained, however strenuously the text seems to insist upon them.
Indeed this text is a striking example of one that operates with literary interest because of its self-subversions. A mere surface-level reading produces a story almost painful in its melodrama. As a “hero,” Dr. Armitage comes off poorly with his corny lines—“But what, in God’s name, can we do?” (185)—and with his swashbuckling antics. In fact there is something decidedly comic in the spectacle of a doddering professor, accompanied by two colleagues, chasing a monster up a mountainside with a can of bug spray—surely this amounts to a descent from pathos to bathos—and the comic impression would seem to threaten the horrific agenda of the tale. It is only when we see how the text itself (sufficiently rich in figurality and mythic content to do so) undermines its own workings, that we begin to see a work of literature peeking through.
Dr. Armitage, though he comes across as something of a simpleton, does aid in textual dissemination: he reads for us. Reading the library’s Latin translation of the Necronomicon over Wilbur Whateley’s shoulder, he has glimpsed the program of dominance in which Wilbur and his kind are to play a part and the timeless adumbrations of that program: “The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, They walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen” (170). It is significant here that the text speaks of spacings, for its covert energies are spent manipulating spaces—closing spaces thought to gape between the human and the alien elements of the drama and opening spaces within the various entities of the tale. These spaces show how the text differs with itself: spaces between human innocence and human sordidness (the farmers are supposedly innocent victims, but Dunwich is a foul place to begin with, and Wilbur, after all, is part human), spaces that confound cause and effect by opening themselves up within cause itself and within effect itself. The passage quoted serves also to show that the Old Ones, the alien element (if that element can be isolated, which is doubtful) in the drama, are not given to facile explanation. They are not simply themselves, they are “to us unseen.”
Farther along in Wilbur’s perusal of the Necronomicon we find: “Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now” (170). This resounding chiasmus (Man, They, They, man) allegorizes the manner in which the two supposedly separated facets of the tale’s thematic bipolarity are balanced with each other. Interestingly, in this a b b a rhetorical pattern, man is on the outside, and They (the primordial Old Ones) are on the inside. This is contrary to the facile notion that man is the “insider” who belongs and that the alien presence represents an externality that does not belong. The text has found yet another rhetorical mode in which to question its own narrative activities. And lest one think again that the reversal of the supplementarity human/alien is to resettle as a fixed hierarchy, so that the text escapes aporia or oscillation, one need only look at the sentence from the Necronomicon following the one just quoted: “After summer is winter, and after winter summer” (170). This further metaphorical chiasmus strongly suggests cyclicity, endless deferral and change, absence of settled reading. Like the Old Ones themselves, who were and are and shall be, the text will not be reduced to final explication.
From beginning to end, the text finds ways to eradicate its own rigidity of distinction, privilege, or choice between its human and alien concerns. Even in the opening line—“When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork at the junction of the Aylesbury Pike just beyond Dean’s Corners, he comes upon a lonely and curious country” (154-55, emphasis added)—we begin to see that the villainy of the tale is not simply identifiable with the invading presence. How can a fork in the road be simply wrong? What if one wanted, as one presumably could for one reason or another, to go to Dunwich? All roads justify their existence by leading somewhere that someone could presumably need to go. But Dunwich itself is somehow “wrong.”
The imagery also suggests bifurcation, split reading, problematic finding of paths through the text. The adjectives lonely and curious are of course instances of transferred epithet, since it is not the countryside but the traveler who sees it who can be lonely or curious. Again, apparent barriers come down, divisions between the visitor (who is expected to be repelled by the region) and the region itself are undone. We encounter once again the problem of distinction between the fear and that which is feared, a doomed distinction between subject and object.
The text comes close to articulating this problem when, in describing old Wizard Whateley’s trip to Osborn’s store after Wilbur’s birth, it tells us that the old man seemed to have acquired “an added element of furtiveness in the clouded brain which subtly transformed him from an object to a subject of fear” (160, emphasis added). The old man has been feared, but now, perceiving that he himself fears, they fear for him. He has journeyed from being a construct of fear in their minds to an externality that has its own fears, which, however, are then further, new constructs in their minds. When the text, describing Wilbur’s state of mind in reading his own fragmentary copy of the Necronomicon, says that “it puzzled him to find discrepancies, duplications, and ambiguities which made the matter of determination far from easy” (169), it might well be speaking of its own complex machinations.
The Necronomicon passage that Armitage reads over Wilbur’s shoulder says, “Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate” (170). Here key is associated with the alien presences, yet elsewhere it finds its association with the Dunwich farmers themselves. We are told, of the armigerous Dunwich families, that “many branches are sunk into the sordid populace so deeply that only their names remain as a key to the origin they disgrace” (157). Here again we find mingling of human and alien concerns, not to mention (in “only their names remain”) textual suggestions of separation between signifiers (as names) and that which they are naively supposed to represent without ambiguity—separation between signifiers and signifieds. Key here would seem to mean “clue.” Yet the term key occurs in its most interesting context elsewhere in the text, in the discussion of cryptanalysis that takes place with reference to Armitage’s deciphering of Wilbur’s cryptographic diary.
To attack the problem, Dr. Armitage steeps himself in “the massed lore of cryptography” (183), and the text regales us with a long list of authorities whom he consults—a listing, interestingly enough, copied almost verbatim from the article on cryptography in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica; this situation provides an interesting instance of the phenomenon whereby writing comes to wander through new contexts whose extent its originators could scarcely have imagined or controlled—including De Vigénère’s Traité des Chiffres. The professor finally determines that it is indeed a Vigénère cipher with which he has to deal (though, hiding the connection in a manner itself in keeping with cryptography, the text, having mentioned Vigénère in a long list of authorities, declines to call the finally identified cipher type a Vigénère cipher). Vigénère’s method is a polyalphabetic encipherment technique, “one of those subtlest and most ingenious of cryptograms, in which many separate lists of corresponding letters are arranged like the multiplication table, and the message built up with arbitrary key-words known only to the initiated” (183). In fact the Vigénère “tableau” familiar to students of cryptanalysis consists of a twenty-six-by-twenty-six block of cyclically shifted alphabets:
. . . . . . . . . . .
Here we return to our earlier puzzling over the matter of metaphor versus metonymy and find that the text is the site of an unstable encounter between the two. The presence of the word arbitrary suggests, in contrast with the necessary similarities of metaphor, the relational associations of metonymy. Indeed the sort of substitution called metonymy is strongly suggested in the cryptographic motif itself. Cryptography, by and large, deals with substitution of letters for other letters, and certainly we may observe that such substitution is at least seemingly arbitrary, or in any event is based upon such relational considerations as the question of which alphabet in the Vigénère tableau the key word at any given moment requires us to employ to encipher a given plain text letter. Again, as in our considerations of the title, the energy of the text seems to be given over to arguing for the preeminence of metonymy over metaphor. Yet the text subverts this seeming tendency in operating with powerfully dominant metaphors that span the story’s thematic content. The text, as we have been observing, covertly moves to coalesce the supposedly fixed binary-oppositional poles of human versus alien concerns, secretly insisting on similarities where differences were thought to reign.
Indeed in the Dunwich farmers we find the very essence of alienage, of separation from proper humanity. The aliens are a metaphor for this alienage of humankind from itself. It is the similarity between the human and the alien factors, after all, that comes off as the most horrifying implication, symbolized in the human element within the alien forms. At the end, Curtis Whateley, who has seen the monstrous twin, recoils most from the revelation that he leaves for last: that “they was a haff-shaped man’s face on top of it, an’ it looked like Wizard Whateley’s, only it was yards and yards acrost” (197). The twin—only known at the end to be one of a pair and thus plural rather than singular in nature—is an ironic metaphor for the self-alienating farmers who regard it with such loathing. Metaphor is the ruling device. Ironically, in the textual concern with cryptography that we have been examining, the cryptogram is an extended metaphor for “hiddenness” in the cosmos generally, for our inability to “read” the universe. This is true in spite of the fact that the primary mode of operation in cryptography is metonymic (that is, relational, arbitrary-looking) substitution. The text, extolling metonymy but thriving upon metaphor, thus insists on a figural privilege whose essence is denied in the figural praxis of the text itself.
We may also note, clearly, that the motif of cryptanalysis (one common in Lovecraft’s fiction) is an allegory for such things as the text itself hides beneath its own surface workings. The Vigénère tableau operates as an allegorical reflection of perpetual shifting, deferral, change, irresolvability, cycling without end, layers of unreadable textuality, hidden meanings, discontinuity between seeming and being, spacing between the appearance and the nature of what is read. And the whole notion of solving the diary/cryptogram, over which Armitage labors, is one fraught with irony. (One wonders, by the way, why Wilbur even kept the diary, since a poly-alphabetic encipherment would be something that not even he could casually peruse, or could read at all without tedious application of the key. We have here a striking instance of the sort of thing Jacques Derrida was writing about, in La Carte postale, when he raised the question, who writes, and to whom?)
“Dr. Armitage,” we are told, as his labors begin to come to fruition, “read for the first time a continuous passage of Wilbur Whateley’s annals” (183). Reading for the “first time” suggests future, and different, readings: there can be no final or settled reading, of the cryptogram or of the text. Armitage fails to solve cryptograms of higher orders. Wilbur himself is a walking cryptogram, a repository of textual complexity, remaining unsolved. The whole cosmic situation in which humankind, Armitage discovers, finds itself enmeshed amounts to a cryptogram defying solution. Armitage “solves” the cryptographic diary, vanquishes the monstrous twin, and moralizes in the end to the Dunwich farmers, only to fail to understand what he himself has read from the Necronomicon: that everything happens in Nietzschean cycles, that nothing stops the process, that there can be no real conclusion, no satisfactory solution. The Old Ones will be back.
What is this cryptogram that walks about in the text and is called Wilbur Whateley? It is part human, part fabulous monster. The very name Whateley contains the germinal question, What? This word itself is indeterminate (its “whatness” is unsettled), since it may function as an interrogative or a fully pronomial form, and as subject or object. These are differentiated in French—qui for subject, que for object—but not in English, the language of Wilbur’s diary. What, as pronomial form (French ce que or ce qui) purports to suggest substance, but the interrogative what is open-ended. We see that the text asks, is Wilbur anything or anybody definite? He is human, he is alien, he is both and neither. He has no self-identity, no fixity. Little wonder he represents an unsolvable cryptogram ironically belying the supposed solvability suggested in the text’s narration concerning the “solved” diary. As a symbolic cryptogram, he is, one may say, a cipher or zero—a nothing-definable.
The very notion of solving is problematic, and tellingly so. Solve is etymologically connected with dissolve. Dis- may mean “apart” or may have fully negative import, as in such words as disallow. The Latin solvere means “to loosen.” Just as “loosen” may be transitive or intransitive, we find the same problem in dissolve: to vanish or to cause to vanish, to be destroyed or to destroy, to lose definition or cause to lose definition. Once again subject and object are confounded, as are cause and effect. (Here we have echoes of the problem described earlier: we cannot distinguish clearly between what Dunwich is and what is done to it.) Is “solving” the text tantamount to “dissolving” (destroying) it? The suggestion is strong here that such is the case. In some contexts “solution” and “dissolution” are not antithetical but synonymous, and if solving a cryptographic text (and what literary text is not cryptographic?) amounts to reduction to truth-content or settled reading, then indeed one may say that “solution” amounts to textual death, and dissolution, to a refusal to let the text continue to live and proliferate. If we follow solve all the way back to its Indo-European root leu-, “to loosen,” we note that the English and Latin forms in s- owe their existence to a prefixing, on the Indo-European level, of leu- by the form seu-, a reflexive meaning “self” and generating the reflexive form se in French and Spanish. Thus solve (seu-leu-) becomes to loosen oneself, dissolve oneself, be cut apart, be “solved.” What Armitage needs to have done in his “solution” is to have learned about himself. But he solves his cryptogram only to dis-solve it, in the negative sense of the prefix.
The text is altogether a complex of oscillations, of binary poles that refuse to stay fixed, of allegorized unreadabilities, of cryptic textuality that comments upon its own cryptic nature. Neither human/alien nor alien/human can be a viable supplementarity or privilege-structure when the two poles intertwine and obscure their definitions. The real “Dunwich horror” may then well be this impossibility of separating the cause-horror from the effect-horror, or of separating ourselves from what we fear: “The archetypes are in us, and eternal.” But on the other hand, maybe we escape the real “Dunwich horror” after all, because maybe that horror is the only horror to which texts and their readers are potentially exposed: the horror of singleminded, stultifying readings that lead to semantic settlement and fixity, that is, to textual death. The text resists such containment with amazing energy. It might be speaking of its own labyrinthine complexities when it comments, of Armitage’s experiences: “Reason, logic, and normal ideas of motivation stood confounded” (181).