Skulltopus 3: Yes, We Have No Macra
If any monster in the history of Who was ever a gothic, hauntological thing embodying the ‘return of the repressed’, it was the Macra.
All the ostentatious happiness of the Colony is there to cover unease. They know there’s something wrong, otherwise why deny it so desperately? Why would the Colony go to such lengths to contain and silence Medok unless he was speaking the unspeakable truth that everybody else wants to deny? The Macra haunt the Colony, scuttling around at night, hiding in the shadows, unseen then glimpsed and then disappearing. They haunt the people, who all know about them (even down to having a name for them) but claim to disbelieve in them. They represent repressed knowledge that is insisting upon being remembered. This is pure gothic.
But… they’re also a bit Weird, in the sense of the ‘Weird fiction’ of early 20th century horror (something I’ve discussed in previous Skulltopusposts). William Hope Hodgson, one of the greatest Weird writers, used giant crabs a lot in his peculiar and deeply unsettling maritime tales. As previous noted, the author China Miéville has written that the Weird (at least classic, ‘haute Weird’ of the late 19th-early 20th century) was an attempt to express the meaningless and unrecognisable, and that it thus stands in “non-dialectical superposition” to the gothic (or the ‘hauntological’), which is about the buried secret, the thing we recognise but refuse, that which we know but wish (need) to deny. The tentacled thing is the quintessential Weird monster type… a type unprecedented in Western fantastic fiction before the Weird. But Hodgson’s tentacled things co-exist with giant crabs. I’m not sure how precedented giant crabs were in the Western uncanny. Certainly, people in the West had seen crabs before… but then, as Miéville acknowledges, they’d seen tentacled things too. It’s not about unfamiliarity so much as literary unprecedentedness, as an absence of semiotic baggage and any tradition of previous meanings. In any case, whereas the haunting thing is frightening because we recognise it, and recognise that it means something, the Weird thing is frightening because it is something meaningless and incomprehensible, stalking us for no reason that we can ken.
The Macra are TV monsters from 1967… and this is very different to literary monsters in 1917… but that’s a minefield I’ll try to traverse in another post. But, shunting that massive problem to one side just for now, the Macra genuinely do seem to me to be Weird, but also to be hauntological. They haunt because, as noted, they are recognised and not recognised, seen and denied, fled from because of the repressed knowledge that they represent. On the other hand, they are not spectral or phantasmic, for all their elusiveness. They’re giant crabs for heaven’s sake. Or are they?
Because here’s the really strange thing: the Macra don’t really seem to be giant crabs at all! The original titles of this story were ‘The Spidermen’ and ‘The Insect-Men’. The characters in the story are uncertain what the Macra are, even – especially – when they see them. …