Friday, March 28, 2014


Lovecraft's Something

With luck I am going to a Lovecraft-themed event next month where I'll hopefully get the chance to do a reading and be on a panel and argue my own corner about this flawed but hugely important author.

Lovecraft was not an accomplished writer. His prose is grammatically and syntactically weak, his story structures ponderous and ineffective, his conceptual abilities poor, his descriptive powers misaligned, his characterization nonexistent, his politics repellent... and yet his work still has 'something'. What is that something? I have often wondered. I have wondered for years.. This morning a plausible answer came to me. He gratifies (or at least assauges) the revenge yearnings of readers who feel they have missed out on life.

The main underlying message of his work is this: "Don't worry that you were too shy and inept and unlucky to live an exciting and experience-rich and successful life. Humanity is worthless anyway and will be destroyed by monstrous cosmic forces. And by reading these stories, and enjoying them, you are associating in a small way with those very powers of darkness and evil that will annihilate petty human concerns, so actually you are superior and not inferior to all those people you have envied for so long who always seemed to get the girl, the luck, the happiness..."

This might sound totally disparaging, it's not really. This message (if I'm correct) is a human reaction to a human need and it fulfills the needs of others.

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Wow. If this was intended as clickbait for enraged Lovecraft fanboys, you may well succeed. ;-)

It can be easy, with innovators, to eventually forget how original they were at the time; don't remember anything like L's utter nihilism before him, except perhaps for Poe. So without L, we might not have had K.E. Wagner, Ligotti, Mark Samuels, & so on. That's one thing anyway.

Nor do i think your theory applies well to my fave bits of L -- his earlier Dunsanian stories, plus the Randolph Carter ones.

(Not defending his actual writing style of course, which was admittedly atrocious)
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I use literature to change my daily mood or mindset, for example Lovecraft and Ligotti in a creatively pessimistic direction or Rhys Hughes and Michael Wyndham Thomas in a creatively optimistic one. That is not to say that these authors or any other authors have a pre-set direction-finder for me - because my many favourite authors lead off into all manner of unexpected and oblique directions of mindset, not only changing it but re-creating or splintering that mindset...
I agree with what someone said above about HPL's Randolph Carter stories. I recently real-time reviewed 'The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath' - and here I seemed to be using HPL in the same manner as I recently used James Joyces in Finnegans Wake. Or as I often use Lord Dunsany or Laurence Sterne...
Well, I'm not saying I'm right. Who is ever really right about the arts? But it's always worthwhile suggesting ideas...

And yet it does amuse me how so many people who admire Lovecraft totally sidestep the psychosexual elements that saturate and power his work. It's like watching a bunch of tax avoiders finding loopholes to avoid paying tax.

Lovecraft was certainly a significant writer; but the psychosexual elements in his work are blindingly obvious and and more what he was about that any other element, really. Let's not pretend he was essentially motivated by cosmic concerns and that readers who enjoy his work are philosophy junkies. The horrors in his stories are primarily sexual and only cosmic as a secondary effect.

Having said that, I totally agree that his earlier, Dunsany-esque work was of a different order and purer.

Des: I have never heard of anyone using literature to change their moods. That's fascinating! People generally use it to confirm their feelings, not alter them.
Alyxandr: I can think of nihilistic writers before Lovecraft... Comte de Lautreamont's CHANTS DE MALDOROR, for instance, has to be several orders of bleakness, savagery and ecstasy beyond Lovecraft?
That's why I have been waking up every morning with a Rhys Flash Fiction!
Kindly refrain from confusing the issue with facts, Mr. Hughes... certainly there were nihilistic writers before Lovecraft, Lautreamont preeminent among them, but Lovecraft arguably brought it into the mainstream (he said, stealthily moving the goalposts.)

I don't think I enjoy L primarily for the reasons you state (I totally kiss girls, like, all the time, honest) -- perhaps I just find it easier to ignore that aspect of him. And one does have to be careful about calling out authors as momma's-boys, as the collateral damage from that approach can easily include as a casualty a certain Mr. Borges, and I don't think either of us wants that.

Anyway, thought Mr. Weirdmonger put things quite well.
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