At length a universal hubbub wilde
Of stunning sounds and voices all confus’d
Borne through the hollow dark assaults his eare
With loudest vehemence: thither he plyes,
Undaunted to meet there what ever power
Or Spirit of the nethermost Abyss
Might in that noise reside, of whom to ask
Which way the neerest coast of darkness lyes
Bordering on light
– Milton, Paradise Lost, II.951-959
The Abyss holds the answers. The beginning before beginning, the profound depths from which all originated: only it can show why it all happened, why you are anything at all. It surrounds you. It lies in the space between the stars, the quantum flux underlying all matter, the gulf between your mind and others’, the void separating you from your self. It constitutes all we’ve never known, and the negation of all we think we do. The gaps in human awareness are immense. All our battles are fought at the frontier of this darkness. Although your greatest challenges lie deep in its recesses, therein also lies the only solution to the question your being poses: the truth, in all its beauty, in all its horror. Are you sure want to hear it?
The Abyss teems with noise. Although the pit may be dark and bottomless, what is inside it calls your name, beckoning you to follow. Like the sirens whose nostalgic song of all history draws you recklessly toward the deadly rocks that surround them, the Abyss knows your number, but the consequences for following its call are endless. “The Echo of Your Past” stretches back through all time and space. You are the result of endless chains of causes stretching back to the beginning of time. The Abyss tempts you with a glimpse of eternity, but the space “Outside Now” is impossible to fathom. What it offers is ineffable, even incomprehensible, yet you still look: gazing into its mirror, the image that the noise spits back to you reflects infinitely in your pupil. The Abyss doesn’t stare into you: it is you, gazing into yourself. What you hear in the noise is only what you are, forced into audience. You can’t stop listening.
…By degrees we beheld the infinite Abyss, fiery as the smoke of a burning city; beneath us at an immense distance, was the sun, black but shining; round it were fiery tracks on which revolv’d vast spiders, crawling after their prey… I now asked my companion which was my eternal lot? he said, ‘between the black & white spiders.’
– Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
The Abyss hides a multitude of dangers. Unlike beasts, who threaten death with tooth and claw, The Abyss’ subtle snares promise to let you live. Its sounds, though harsh, can’t harm you, because their volume is forever at your disposal. The danger is that you might pay attention. You might take time to listen, to open yourself to the experience of its profound depths. What besets you is not an enemy, except insofar as you are your own worst; rather, what attacks you is your fascination with your own lostness, your fallenness into being. The Abyss invites you to grapple with the world inside you, absorbing you with each suggestion of intelligibility, captivating you with every novelty, promising that each new moment will provide clarity, a stroke of lightning in the darkness to reveal, if only for an instant, the form of what surrounds you. It never arrives. It leaves you more lost than before. It would have been better had you not listened at all.
The Abyss is profound. In its depths lie the material of all creation: raw vibrations, abstracted from the instruments that designed them. Their constant flux is chaotic, though it doesn’t partake of pure, unregulated disorder; rather, it possesses an unfathomably complex order, like Lovecraft’s non-Euclidean monstrosities. The “Abuse” it doles out against your mundane sensibilities doesn’t even contain reliable emotional content. The best you can produce is a fear response. In giving ear to the noise, it grips your consciousness, shredding it as it stretches its components over many dimensions. It threatens madness: even where you recognize a sound, trumpets, an announcement of some arrival in the chaos, it folds in on itself, repeating into oblivion, never returning, never delivering on its promise, as if it too were lost in its own reflection. Words become meaningless gibberish or vague bursts of indeterminate affect. At some point, you hear the splashing of water: the primordial flood? But even that sound is a trap that draws you deeper into the raw frequencies. In that water is your dissolution.
BOATSWAIN:…We were dead of sleep,
And—how we know not—all clapp’d under hatches;
Where but even now with strange and several noises
Of roaring, shrieking, howling, jingling chains,
And more diversity of sounds, all horrible,
We were awaked; straightway, at liberty;
Where we, in all her trim, freshly beheld
Our royal, good and gallant ship…
– Shakespeare, The Tempest, V.I.229-237
The Abyss does not need your affirmation. It is, whether or not you choose to recognize it. It does not care if you listen. In fact, it welcomes your dismissal. “It’s just noise.” Sure. If that is what you need to tell yourself to preserve your ego against this colossal vortex, go right ahead. It will be here, yawning, lying in wait for your return. If you never come back, it never needed you. Go on with your life. There are no guarantees for those who give it ear: what it serves up is what only you can find in it. It’s a nightmare. When you awake, its chimeras and delusions dissipate like so much dust and smoke. But the memory lingers. You can plumb its depths for explanations. Godspeed. It will yield what you give to it, but in that process, it will change you.
The Abyss is a vast reserve of beauty. Struggling through its madness and terror does not bring you into some proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, but it casts the darkness in a new shade. Like Faust, who traveled the chasms of the abyss in search of Helen, you may carve out the time for a brief stay in the verdant fields of Arcadia. It may not last long. But where the Abyss devours you, absorbing you into its folds, there you may find its greatest gifts. The experience of straying from the marked path into the dark woods is a gift in itself. Lostness, after it settles, is a kind of peace. Helplessness and despair can transform into the calm center of the maelstrom. Dwell there. Don’t fight it. Drift on its currents. Let yourself slip into its trap.