The Age of Lovecraft 0816699259, 9780816699254

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The Age of Lovecraft
 0816699259, 9780816699254

Table of contents :
1 “GHOULISH DIALOGUES” H. P. Lovecraft’s Weird Geographies
2 LOVECRAFT’S THINGS Sinister Souvenirs from Other Worlds
3 HYPER-CACOPHONY Lovecraft, Speculative Realism, and Sonic Materialism
4 PREHISTORIES OF POSTHUMANISM Cosmic Indifferentism, Alien Genesis, and Ecology from H. P. Lovecraft to Ridley Scott
5 RACE, SPECIES, AND OTHERS H. P. Lovecraft and the Animal
6 H. P. LOVECRAFT’S RELUCTANT SEXUALITY Abjection and the Monstrous Feminine in “The Dunwich Horror”
7 H. P. LOVECRAFT AND REAL PERSON FICTION The Pulp Author as Subcultural Avatar
8 A POLYCHROME STUDY Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald” and Lovecraft’s Literary Afterlives
9 LOVECRAFT Suspicion, Pattern Recognition, Paranoia

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The Age of Lovecraft

the age of

LOV ECR A F T ꙮ ꙮꙮ Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock editors Foreword by Ramsey Campbell Afterword: Interview with China Miéville

University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis London

Copyright 2016 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota Foreword copyright 2016 by Ramsey Campbell All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Published by the University of Minnesota Press 111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290 Minneapolis, MN 55401-­2520 Printed in the United States of America on acid-­free paper The University of Minnesota is an equal-­opportunity educator and employer. 22
















Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data The age of Lovecraft / Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, editors ; foreword by Ramsey Campbell ; afterword: interview with China Miéville. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-8166-9924-7 (hc) — ISBN 978-0-8166-9925-4 (pb) 1. Lovecraft, H. P. (Howard Phillips), 1890–1937—Criticism and interpretation. 2. Lovecraft, H. P. (Howard Phillips), 1890–1937—Influence. 3. Horror tales, American—History and criticism. I. Sederholm, Carl Hinckley, editor. II. Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew, editor. PS3523.o833z515 2016 813’.52—dc23 2015026150


To those who protect us from the madness—­ and to those who bring it.


Foreword: Lovecraft Appreciated Ramsey Campbell . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ix Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi Introduction: Lovecraft Rising Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock . . . . . . 1 1. “Ghoulish Dialogues”: H. P. Lovecraft’s Weird Geographies  James Kneale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 2. Lovecraft’s Things: Sinister Souvenirs from Other Worlds  Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 3. Hyper-­Cacophony: Lovecraft, Speculative Realism, and Sonic Materialism  Isabella van Elferen . . . . . . . . . 79 4. Prehistories of Posthumanism: Cosmic Indifferentism, Alien Genesis, and Ecology from H. P. Lovecraft to Ridley Scott  Brian Johnson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97 5. Race, Species, and Others: H. P. Lovecraft and the Animal  Jed Mayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 117 6. H. P. Lovecraft’s Reluctant Sexuality: Abjection and the Monstrous Feminine in “The Dunwich Horror” Carl H. Sederholm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133 7. H. P. Lovecraft and Real Person Fiction: The Pulp Author as Subcultural Avatar  David Simmons . . . . . .149 8. A Polychrome Study: Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald” and Lovecraft’s Literary Afterlives Jessica George . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166

9. Lovecraft: Suspicion, Pattern Recognition, Paranoia David Punter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183 10. Lovecraft’s Cosmic Ethics  Patricia MacCormack . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199 11. Lovecraft, Witch Cults, and Philosophers W. Scott Poole . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215 Afterword: Interview with China Miéville Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231 Contributors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 245 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249

FOREWORD Lovecraft Appreciated Ramsey Campbell


he fathers of the modern horror story are Poe in America and Le Fanu in Britain, both of whom refined Gothic methods to produce some of the greatest short stories in the field. Nor should Hoffman’s psychological fantasies be overlooked. If I take Lovecraft to be the most important single writer of the weird, it’s because he unites the traditions that preceded him on both sides of the Atlantic and builds on their strengths. His Supernatural Horror in Literature is not only an appreciation of all that he found best in the genre and a critique of the flaws he saw, but also a statement of his own artistic ambitions. His fiction gives them life. To an extent his reputation is the victim of his most famous creation, the Lovecraft Mythos. It was conceived as an antidote to conventional Victorian occultism—­as an attempt to reclaim the imaginative appeal of the unknown—­and is only one of many ways his tales suggest worse, or greater, than they show. It is also just one of his means of reaching for a sense of wonder, the aim that produces the visionary horror of his finest work (by no means all of it belonging to the Mythos). His stories represent a search for the perfect form for the weird tale, a process in which he tried out all the forms and all the styles of prose he could. Nevertheless the Mythos is his most visible bequest to the field, because it looks so easy to imitate or draw upon. As one of the first writers to copy Lovecraft without having known him, I must take some of the blame for the way his concept has been rendered overexplicit and overexplained, precisely the reverse of his intentions. Luckily his influence is far more profound. In his essays and letters he was able to preserve the notion of horror fiction as literature despite all the assaults pulp writing had made on its best qualities, a view that was especially fruitful in the case of Fritz Leiber, who followed his mentor’s example of uniting the transatlantic traditions. Other correspondents such


x Foreword as Robert Bloch, Donald Wandrei, and Henry Kuttner assimilated his vision into their own. More recently, such diverse talents as T. E. D. Klein, Thomas Ligotti, and Poppy Z. Brite have acknowledged Lovecraft’s importance to their work, but who could accuse any of them of simple mimicry? And consider Alan Moore, Jorge Luis Borges, Stephen King, Thomas Pynchon, Mark Samuels, Caitlín Kiernan, China Miéville, Laird Barron. . . . Several writers have even attempted, with various degrees of success and seriousness, to produce a version of the Necronomicon, the famed forbidden book of which he gave us glimpses that suggested something vaster. Artists as different as H. R. Giger and John Coulthart have drawn inspiration from him, and directors such as Roger Corman, Sean Branney, and Stuart Gordon have filmed his tales. While the opera for which Harold Farnese (who set two of the Fungi from Yuggoth to music) asked him to write a libretto was never written, Lovecraft is celebrated musically by two bands that bear his name, and dozens of others have included references to his work or derived whole pieces from it; the German band Nachtgeblüt even based six neoclassical keyboard fugues on “The Outsider.” His importance as a writer has been recognized by both the Library of America and Penguin Modern Classics, and the Penguin editions offer definitive restored texts. His use of suggestion and allusion might seem beyond the reach of most filmmakers, but I submit The Blair Witch Project as the most Lovecraftian of films, not least in the documentary realism he urged upon serious artists in the field and in the inexplicitness with which it conveys, to use his phrase, dread suspense. Yet Lovecraft’s achievement lies not so much in his influence as in the enduring qualities of his finest work. Who can forget the cellars of Joseph Curwen, the alien colour, the grotto beneath Exham Priory, the mountain that walked or stumbled, the graveyard above the tower, the handwriting out of time, and so much else? “I must be very deliberate now, and choose my words.” He did, and more of his successors should. The field would be all the richer if more writers learned from both his care for structure and his larger principles. His yearning for the cosmic is the greatest strength of his best tales. He is one of the few masters of the tale of terror that reaches for, and often attains, awe. Wallasey, Merseyside 11 October 2013



e would like to thank the following individuals for their many acts of kindness as we worked toward completing this project: Christopher Geissler and all those at the John Hay Library at Brown University for allowing us to use Lovecraft’s sketch of Cthulhu in our Introduction; Michael and Audrey Whelan for allowing us to reproduce Lovecraft’s Nightmare in this book; and Doug Armato and Erin Warholm-­Wohlenhaus at the University of Minnesota Press for everything they did to help us with this project. We thank the anonymous peer reviewers for reading the manuscript and for their insightful comments and helpful suggestions. Jeffrey Weinstock would like to acknowledge Central Michigan University’s College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences and to thank all those who supported a sabbatical release during spring semester 2015. Carl Sederholm would like to thank Brigham Young University for awarding him the Alcuin Fellowship in General Education, which provided funds for research and resources. We also thank our families for their love and support in all that we do.


ꙮ INTRODUCTION Lovecraft Rising Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock


o m e h o w , ag a i n s t a l l o d d s , Howard Phillips Lovecraft has become a twenty-­first-­century star. The American author of “weird tales” who died in 1937 impoverished and relatively unknown—­aside from a small group of admirers and collaborators—­now seems to be everywhere, cropping up in places both anticipated and surprising. That the author Stephen King has referred to as “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the horror tale” (Wohleber) holds an important place among horror writers and aficionados makes sense. Indeed, some of Lovecraft’s present ubiquity may be traced back to a process of genealogical inheritance in which Lovecraft nurtured the talents of August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, and Fritz Leiber; who in turn influenced the writing of King, Ramsey Campbell, and Clive Barker; who then begat Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Alan Moore, Brian Lumley, Caitlín R. Kiernan, and many others. Then there is of course another large family tree in which Lovecraft’s writings influenced the cinematic works of first Roger Corman and subsequently Ridley Scott, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Stuart Gordon, Joss Whedon, and Guillermo del Toro. But even this generational expansion of influence seems insufficient to account for the fact that, as Curt Wohleber wrote for American Heritage in 1995, Today, more than a century after his birth and nearly sixty years since his untimely end Lovecraft’s stories enjoy an astonishing popularity. Much of his fiction remains in print in both hardcover and soft. His stories have been adapted for radio, movies, and television and have served as the subjects of academic theses and scholarly papers. Widely translated, his work has an enthusiastic following in Japan, and intellectuals in France and Spain consider him a neglected genius of American letters.



Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock

What Wohleber observed in 1995 is even more the case today. Internet memes draw on Lovecraftian characters and concepts; likewise, video games (ranging from Arkham Asylum to World of Warcraft) turn to Lovecraft for developing various themes, moods, and situations. In the game Scribblenauts, players may even create and control a Cthulhu avatar. (Cthulhu, for the uninitiated, is Lovecraft’s most famous monstrous creation.) Cthulhu has even made a guest appearance on the popular television series South Park, thereby solidifying his place within American popular culture. As David Barnett summarizes in a 2013 article in Britain’s The Guardian (and simply the fact that Lovecraft’s success is being discussed in The Guardian—­as well as the Wall Street Journal [see Calia] is worth noting), a Kickstarter campaign to fund a life-­sized bust of the author for the Athenaeum Library in Providence, Rhode Island, “roared past its target of $30,000 in a few days,” the British graphic novel company Self Made Hero continues to churn out comic adaptations of Lovecraft’s tales, and stuffed toys and children’s books based on his work are readily available and sell well—­including a Shadow over Innsmouth / Where the Wild Things mash-­up titled Where the Deep Ones Are and plush Cthulhu dolls suitable for all ages. “Lovecraft has had quite an afterlife,” quips Luc Sante in The New York Review of Books, as he notes not only the board, computer, and role-­playing games inspired by his work, but film and television adaptations of his fiction and the “apparently endless list of pop songs . . . that quote or refer to his tales.” Even more surprising than Lovecraft’s contemporary pop culture presence is his current significance to academic and philosophical discourse. The author dismissed by American literary critic Edmund Wilson in 1945 as a hack whose only real horror was “the horror of bad taste and bad art” (47) is now included both on college syllabi and within the Library of America series of classic American literature. Lovecraft is also central to the philosophical movement known as object-­oriented ontology—­philosopher Graham Harman in Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (2012) praises Lovecraft as “one of the greatest [writers] of the twentieth century” (10), and asserts that he is “as great a hero to object-­oriented thought as Hölderlin was to Heidegger” (5). Even though Harman’s praise is hyperbolic, Lovecraft has nevertheless influenced a range of work in critical theory, from philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri to twenty-­first-­century posthuman theory. In A Thousand Plateaus (1980), for example, Deleuze and Guatarri refer to Lovecraft’s “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (1934) as among his

introduction 3 “masterpieces” in their discussion of “becoming-­animal” (240)—­a theme developed by Patricia MacCormack in her 2010 article for Postmodern Culture and elaborated further in her contribution to this volume. It thus appears we are living in the “Age of Lovecraft,” a cultural moment in which the themes and influence of Lovecraft’s writings have bubbled up from the chthonic depths of 1930s pulp writing to assume an unexpected intellectual and cultural influence. In this introduction we will elaborate more fully on Lovecraft’s popularity, with particular focus on his presence in academia, as well as noteworthy editions, adaptations, and appropriations of his work. Of greater interest to us, however, is the question, also taken up by the contributors to this volume, concerning what accounts for Lovecraft’s increasing prominence. As we developed this project, the two-­part question we asked the contributors to consider was “Why Lovecraft? Why Now?” The answer is of course complicated: Lovecraft’s current prominence is undoubtedly the product of multiple converging cultural forces and therefore cannot be explained with any one answer or approach. All efforts to respond to the question of Lovecraft’s unprecedented growth in popularity, however, point to the general fact that Lovecraft, himself moving outside of time as do some of his protagonists, addresses questions, anxieties, and desires that have become increasingly insistent since the close of the twentieth century and the start of the twenty-­first.

Lovecraft and Philosophy As Lovecraft expert S. T. Joshi summarizes, prior to 1971, the number of academic or mainstream critics who even discussed Lovecraft “could be counted on the fingers of one hand” (Joshi, Scriptorium)—­ and much of this work was biographical, seeking to explain Lovecraft’s work by reading it through the lens of Lovecraft’s life and experiences. Until quite recently, Lovecraft scholarship was mostly a cottage industry conducted as a labor of love by a handful of “acafans” (to use Henry Jenkins’s term for scholars who self-­identify as fans). Since 1979, Joshi has diligently edited a series of scholarly journals (Lovecraft Studies, Lovecraft Annual, Studies in Weird Fiction, and Weird Fiction Review) that have attempted to establish a critical discourse on Lovecraft and his work. Although not formally peer reviewed, essays in these publications, frequently illuminating in their own right, collectively did much to establish Lovecraft as a figure warranting closer examination—­an


Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock

invitation that academia has increasingly accepted. A January 2015 search of the MLA International Bibliography using “Lovecraft” as a keyword yields 525 hits, including 374 journal articles, 100 book chapters, and 33 monographs or edited collections. Over 45 percent of these were published in 2000 or later. While the majority of journal essays, as might be expected, appear in publications with an emphasis on speculative literature, such as The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Extrapolation, Studies in Weird Fiction, and, of course, Lovecraft Studies, essays on Lovecraft’s fiction can also be found in less predictable venues including American Journal of Semiotics, Journal of Philosophy, Minnesota Review, New England Review, Postmodern Culture, and Raritan. Book-­length studies of and collections of essays on Lovecraft, as well as books in which Lovecraft is a primary focus, have also proliferated in the twenty-­first century, supplementing foundational studies by Joshi, as well as by Maurice Lévy, Robert M. Price, Darrell Schweitzer, and Michel Houellebecq. These include three 2013 titles—­ Gavin Callaghan’s H. P. Lovecraft’s Dark Arcadia: The Satire, Symbology, and Contradictions; David Simmons’s collection, New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, which divides its focus between new analyses of Lovecraft’s writing and attention to his influence on popular culture; and William F. Touponce’s Lord Dunsany, H. P. Lovecraft, and Ray Bradbury: Spectral Journeys—­as well as a 2014 biography of Lovecraft, The Curious Case of H. P. Lovecraft, by Paul Roland.

Speculative Realism and New Materialisms Perhaps most surprising in relation to Lovecraft’s academic fortunes is his contemporary significance to a variety of related philosophical schools that go variously under the names new materialism, posthumanism, speculative realism, and object-­oriented ontology, as well as human–­animal studies. What these new theoretical paradigms have in common—­and what they tend to embrace in Lovecraft—­is an antihumanist orientation that challenges universal human supremacy and rethinks the relation of the human to the nonhuman. Because a number of the inclusions within this collection use these related critical approaches to think about Lovecraft and his contemporary significance, we will offer a brief overview of these philosophical lenses. The most strident case for Lovecraft’s twenty-­first-century philosophical significance is made by Graham Harman, a central figure within

introduction 5 the object-­oriented ontology branch of speculative realist philosophy. Speculative realism, broadly considered, challenges the “corrolationist” view that “beings exist only as a correlate between mind and world”; that is, the view that, “if things exist, they do so only for us” (Bogost 4). In place of this view, speculative realism posits a universe in which there is something in objects that always escapes knowing and in which human beings exist equally with other things. Harman’s 2012 book, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy, is a work intended to illustrate the ideas presented in Harman’s 2011 publication The Quadruple Object in which Harman introduces his system of object-­oriented philosophy in a schematic way. The key idea from The Quadruple Object—­ and of Harman’s object-­oriented philosophy more generally—­is that, in keeping with speculative realism, objects have a reality apart from their appearances. They are not simply sensual objects exhausted in the encounter with a conscious observer; rather, objects have an autonomy separate from their relation to us, to other things, and indeed from their constituent components (the object is more than just the sum of its parts). Drawing inspiration particularly from the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, Harman develops a theory of being in which humans have no special privilege, a “weird” or “speculative realism” in which real objects—­that is, objects outside of our sensuous apprehension of them—­withdraw from knowing, in which all objects have the same ontological significance, and which “shows the human-­ world circle to be indefensibly narrow” (Quadruple, 62). With this framework in mind, it may already be obvious as to why Harman is attracted to Lovecraft, a writer whose “cosmic indifferentism” stresses man’s insignificance within the larger scheme of the universe and who repeatedly emphasizes the inability of human beings fully to grasp the true importance of things. Lovecraft is the preeminent author of “weird realism,” according to Harman, because his writing continually gestures toward an unrepresentable other reality beyond sensuous perception—­and he does this in two ways: first, through the gap between the “ungraspable thing and the vaguely relevant descriptions that the narrator is able to attempt” (Weird Realism, 24) and, second, by overloading language with a “gluttonous excess of surfaces and aspects of the thing” (25). The literary world of Lovecraft is thus one in which “real objects are locked in impossible tension with the crippled descriptive powers of language” and “visible objects display unbearable seismic torsion with their own qualities” (27), making Lovecraft the


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“poet laureate of object-­oriented philosophy” (32). For Harman, weird or speculative realism not only makes the universe a more interesting place but object-­oriented ontology’s undermining of human exceptionalism (as developed by Jane Bennett, Ian Bogost, Levi Bryant, Timothy Morton, and others who do not address Lovecraft directly) can serve as the starting point for a more humane engagement with the universe we inhabit. Also addressing Lovecraft from a speculative realist perspective is philosopher Eugene Thacker, who proposes in his In the Dust of This Planet (2011) that supernatural horror is a privileged venue for addressing what he refers to as the “unthinkable world” (2). What Lovecraftian cosmic fear in particular allows us to contemplate, suggests Thacker, is a “planetary” consideration of the “world-­without-­us” (5), the “negative concept” of what remains “‘after’ the human” (7). Thacker addresses Lovecraft as part of his argument that “‘horror’ is a non-­philosophical attempt to think about the world-­ without-­ us philosophically” (9). Thacker shares company to a certain extent with author of weird fiction–­ turned-­philosopher Thomas Ligotti, whose work both literary and philosophical amounts, according to Ben Woodard, to an “anti-­anthrocentric onslaught against the ramparts of correlationist continental philosophy” as it repeatedly thematizes the resistance of the world to complete comprehension and what Ligotti refers to as the madness of thought itself. In his 2010 The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror, Ligotti turns to the work of Lovecraft to showcase how weird fiction reveals that “consciousness is an existential liability” and dispels the fiction that “our lives are not malignantly useless” (119). Ligotti’s pessimism is shared by philosopher Ray Brassier, who is in sympathy with Lovecraft’s “cosmicism” or cosmic indifferentism, although he does not discuss Lovecraft explicitly (see his Nihil Unbound).

Posthumanism The deflating of human pretensions to mastery and a profound anti-­ anthropocentrism at the heart of Lovecraft’s philosophy of cosmicism also helps explain the congruence between Lovecraft and contemporary posthumanist theorizing. As filtered through Deleuze and Guatarri, the “post-­anthropocentrism” associated with posthumanism “displaces the notion of species hierarchy and of a single, common standard for ‘Man’ as the measure of all things” (Braidotti, 67). For Deleuze and Guattari, as well as for Patricia MacCormack, Lovecraft’s short story “Through

introduction 7 the Gates of the Silver Key” exemplifies a process of being as becoming—­ becoming animal, becoming monster, becoming other than a fixed and finished human subject (see MacCormack’s contribution to this volume, as well as her “Deleuzo-­Guattarian Gates” and Posthuman Ethics, 89–­ 91). Along similar lines, Ben Woodard invokes Lovecraft in 2012’s Slime Dynamics to paint a picture of a universe crawling with life repugnant to human taste and sensibility that not only calls into question human assumptions about evolution and forces us to consider the degree to which higher intelligence is a significant advantage, but also prompts the very Lovecraftian realization of a universe inhospitable to human beings (11). This leads Woodard to postulate a philosophical principle he refers to as “dark vitalism,” a rethinking of traditional philosophical vitalism that strips humanity of its exceptionalism and resituates it as the fragile product of cosmic coincidence. For Mark McGurl and Ben Noys, Lovecraft’s post-­anthropocentrism has to do not with eliding distinctions among species but rather diminishment of human significance in light of “deep time.” McGurl places Lovecraft at the center of what he refers to as “the posthuman comedy,” “a critical fiction meant to draw together a number of modern literary works in which scientific knowledge of the spatiotemporal vastness and numerousness of the nonhuman world becomes visible as a formal, representational, and finally existential problem” (537). While for McGurl, Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror are finally consoling in their suggestion that “there’s intentionality out there, a source of authority immeasurably greater than any of those that frustrate his literary ambitions” (546), nevertheless, Lovecraft’s representations of “deep space and deep time alike are reasons to doubt the significance of humanity” (542). Ben Noys refers to this in Lovecraft as “horror temporis,” cosmic timescales that not only “precede and exceed the existence of humanity and life itself” (277) but that are fundamentally “indifferent to humanity” (278). Counterintuitively—­perhaps even perversely—­what contemporary philosophy thus celebrates in Lovecraft is what we could refer to as an ethics of diminishment, the undoing of human pretense and self-­ aggrandizement. Lovecraft’s cosmicism is found to be congruent with philosophical outlooks that emphasize that the universe is not built for human exploitation, that people are things among other things, and that there is more to things than meets the eye. Lovecraft’s artistic achievement, in a sense, is thus to undercut the significance not only of his artistic achievement, but of human achievement in general—­what his fiction


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tells us is that, however grand we consider human accomplishment, it will all inevitably disappear into the unplumbable depths of deep time. Put another way, Lovecraft’s significance to key philosophical debates rests on his assertions of human infinitesimality.

Popular Culture Presence Editions Shifting from academia to the popular culture marketplace, Lovecraft’s increasing visibility is evident in a variety of venues ranging from musical homages to internet mash-­ups. Nowhere is this cultural and critical reevaluation of his literary legacy more evident, however, than in new editions of his work—­beginning with the controversial 2005 inclusion of Lovecraft in the prestigious Library of America series. The same Edmund Wilson who blasted Lovecraft as a hack in his 1945 review dreamed of a book series collecting classic American literature along the lines of the French Bibliothèque de la Pléiade created in the 1930s. Although Wilson didn’t live to see it, his dream was realized in 1979 with the founding of the Library of America series, a long-­term publishing project intended to “preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping in print, authoritative editions of America’s best and most significant writing” (Jones). Wilson would likely have been appalled by the decision to include a collection of Lovecraft’s fiction in the Library of America, a sentiment shared by Newsweek critic Malcolm Jones who wrote in 2010, “maybe it’s cruel to label H. P. Lovecraft a second-­tier writer, but maybe not so mean to call him a fringe author. Anyway, it’s become harder and harder to ignore the fact that the Library of America is running out of writers.” Following the publication of the Library of America Lovecraft volume edited by horror luminary Peter Straub (with much behind-­the-­scenes work by preeminent Lovecraft authority S. T. Joshi), a somewhat different opinion was expressed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review by Daniel Handler—­aka Lemony Snicket—­who wrote in 2005 that Lovecraft’s prose may initially provoke dismissive laughter, but by the end of the Library of America edition, “one does not hear giggling so much as the echoes of those giggles as they vanish into the ether—­lonely, desperate and, yes, very, very scary.” Collection and republication of Lovecraft’s work had been picking up speed progressively since August Derleth and Donald Wandrei founded

introduction 9 Arkham House Publishing in 1939 with the explicit purpose of preserving Lovecraft’s work. The Library of America edition, however—­together with Penguin Books’ three editions of Lovecraft’s work containing critical and bibliographic materials to encourage deeper study of the stories (The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales [1999], The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories [2001], and The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories [2004]) and the 2005 Modern Library edition of At the Mountains of Madness (with an excellent introduction by author of the “New Weird” China Miéville)—­not only dramatically increased Lovecraft’s visibility but legitimated him by including him among America’s “best and most significant” writers. Multiple other editions of Lovecraft’s work followed, including three volumes for Barnes & Noble edited by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, an omnibus leatherbound collection of all his fiction edited by S. T. Joshi (also for Barnes & Noble), an edition of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (2010) published by the University of Tampa Press (also edited by Joshi), and a paperback collection of Lovecraft’s stories for the Harper Perennial Modern Classics series, Tales of H. P. Lovecraft, selected and edited by Joyce Carol Oates in 2007, with cover art by Mike Mignola—­the comic book artist and writer who also created Hellboy, a series that is also inspired by Lovecraft and his work. Joining the ranks of these recent collections and further solidifying Lovecraft’s reputation as an author of the first rank is the 2013 Oxford University Press edition of Lovecraft’s work, The Classic Horror Stories, edited by scholar of the Gothic Roger Luckhurst. Leslie Klinger’s 2014 edition of The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft likewise has the potential to further expand Lovecraft’s influence. Chris Wade of listed it as one of the best books of the year (see “Best Books”). What is worth emphasizing here beyond the proliferation of editions of Lovecraft’s work is the striking bifurcation of audience—­the general public on the one hand, an academic readership on the other. In the case of Lovecraft, we see a feedback loop in action in which popular attention to a peripheral author prompts scholarly attention, which in turn through a process of legitimization elicits more popular attention, propelling that author toward the center. Lovecraft’s success is arguably at least in part a product of his success. But what got the ball rolling?

Literary Legacy In addressing the question of why Lovecraft has enjoyed increasing popularity after his death while authors considered by some as more


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talented, such as Algernon Blackwood and Olaf Stapledon, have not, Jess Nevins in her review of Luckhurst’s 2013 Oxford University Press edition of Lovecraft’s stories in the Los Angeles Review of Books suggests two reasons: his nurturing correspondence to fellow and aspiring writers and his creation of what Nevins refers to as the first “open-­source fictional universe.” Lovecraft, as Nevins observes, was a voluminous correspondent, writing some hundred thousand letters in his truncated lifetime to fans and fellow writers. Commenting on the importance of Lovecraft’s correspondence, Joshi writes: In sheer quantity they dwarf the rest of his oeuvre to complete insignificance. . . . They are arguably some of the most remarkable literary documents of the century, and it is even conceivable that in the distant future his reputation will rest more on them than on his fiction. It is to the letters that we go for information on Lovecraft’s life, for details about his literary work, for the particulars of his philosophical thought; but more than mere utilitarian adjuncts to scholarship, they are some of the most beautiful things of their kind. Lovecraft had no compunction writing letters of fifty, sixty, or even seventy pages; and it is in these heroic epistles—­longer than most of his stories—­that he reveals his true greatness and diversity as an artist. From technical philosophizing to farcical and self-­parodic humor; from playful archaism to blunt colloquialism; from poignant reflections on the cosmic insignificance of mankind to heated discussions of political and economic regeneration, the letters run the gamut of subject, tone, and mood. (Joshi, Scriptorium)

Lovecraft’s correspondence, in which he offered “tireless help and encouragement” to aspiring writers, “makes one wonder little at the admiration and even reverence that all his colleagues extended to him during his lifetime and after his death” (Joshi, Scriptorium). In Nevins’s estimation, the connections that Lovecraft established with fans and other writers though his correspondence helped foster the cult of Lovecraft: “Decades before the social media, Lovecraft used letter writing to create a presence for himself in the consciousness of fans and writers and to create the social capital that paid off after his death.” Because of his generous encouragement of other authors, Lovecraft’s influence lingered long after his death in a way that of other authors may not have persisted. Perhaps even more significant for the developing cult of Lovecraft was his creation of a fictional universe with plenty of imaginative space available for other authors to set up shop. What has come to be called the “Cthulhu Mythos”—­a term coined by Lovecraft correspondent and

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promoter August Derleth—­refers to this shared fictional world, one that finds its basis in Lovecraft’s work but has also been elaborated on and developed extensively by other authors. In H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, Robert M. Price notes that the Mythos developed in two stages: the “Cthulhu Mythos proper,” which was formulated during Lovecraft’s lifetime and guided by him, and then, following his death, a second stage in which Derleth and others continued to expand the possibilities of the Mythos itself (85–­95). According to Nevins, “It was Lovecraft who first created a fictional universe that anyone was welcome to take part in. Both during his lifetime and immediately afterward, other authors made use of Lovecraft’s ideas and creations in their own stories and novels. Lovecraft’s generosity with his own creations ultimately gave them a longevity that other, better writers’ ideas and characters did not have.” From the 1930s through the 1960s, Lovecraft devotees, including Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, and Fritz Leiber, extended the Mythos by publishing works—­primarily short stories—­in various small venues devoted to horror fiction. Lovecraft’s influence on subsequent generations of authors is perhaps most evident in the many collections of these short stories and the way they both celebrate and expand the Cthulhu Mythos. Important collections include Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1969), with contributions by Robert E. Howard, Brian Lumley, Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, and August Derleth; likewise, New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1980) includes works by Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Lumley, and other writers claiming Lovecraft’s influence. Similar collections have appeared regularly over the past twenty years, including The New Lovecraft Circle (1996), edited by Robert M. Price and featuring stories by Campbell, Lin Carter, Alan Dean Foster, and Thomas Ligotti; Black Wings of Cthulhu (2010), edited by Joshi and including Caitlín R. Kiernan, Donald R. Burlson, Brian Stableford, and Philip Haldeman; Lovecraft Unbound (2009), edited by Ellen Datlow with fiction by Joyce Carol Oates; and New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird (2011), edited by Paula Guran and featuring contributions from Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Kim Newman, and Cherie Priest. Novels that participate in the Cthulhu Mythos include Fred Chappell’s novel Dagon (1987), a book that successfully blends Lovecraftian themes with the grit of Southern Gothic; Cthulhu’s Reign by Darrell Schweitzer (2010); and That Which Should Not Be by Brett J. Talley (which also features Cthulhu on the cover, 2011). Of particular note in establishing Lovecraft’s twenty-­first-­century


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place within popular culture are the explicit references and homages to Lovecraft in the works of King, Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Alan Moore. King explicitly acknowledges Lovecraft’s influence on his work in Danse Macabre (1981), where he writes that Lovecraft was his “first encounter with serious fantasy-­horror fiction” and that Lovecraft “opened the way” for him (102). He also references Lovecraft or elements of the Mythos directly in a variety of places, ranging from short stories such as “Jerusalem’s Lot” and “Crouch End” to longer works such as Pet Sematary (1983), Needful Things (1991), and It (1986; see Carter). King’s 2014 novel Revival not only opens with an epigraph taken from “The Call of Cthulhu” but also develops a narrative that concludes with a specifically Lovecraftian vision of cosmic horror. Gaiman has written several short stories, including “I, Cthulhu,” “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar,” and, as addressed in Jessica George’s contribution to this collection, “A Study in Emerald,” which draw upon elements of Lovecraft’s mythos; and there are numerous allusions to Lovecraft’s mythos sprinkled throughout Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, including the Necrotelecomnicon, which alludes to Lovecraft’s fictional grimoire, the Necronomicon. Although comics will be addressed separately below, graphic-­novel author Alan Moore must be mentioned here as having throughout his career referenced Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft thus slowly percolated into popular culture first by way of the machinations of a dedicated coterie of aficionados and subsequently through explicit and implicit references to his mythos in the work of prominent contemporary fantasists and horror writers. Notable in this respect is the elevation of Lovecraft as the progenitor of the New Weird, a literary movement established in the 1990s and associated with China Miéville, Jeff VanderMeer, and Steph Swainston that draws on horror even as it consciously evades generic boundaries and, as will be developed below, whose interests at times dovetail with those of certain schools of twenty-­first-­century critical theory and philosophy, like object-­oriented ontology and new materialism.

Comics One of the most exciting, though much overlooked, areas for Lovecraft studies is the proliferation of comics and graphic novels that adapt Lovecraft’s fiction. Don Smith’s catalogue of Lovecraft in comic books lists thirty-­five works, beginning with the 1950 issue of Vault of Horror

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that included an adaptation of “In the Vault” and ending with the 2003 comic Lovecraft, a fictionalized biography that imagines Lovecraft’s tales as though they were inspired by real events. Beyond the explicit adaptations and homages, Lovecraft’s fiction has also inspired many writers and artists within the comics industry and an even larger circle of amateur artists. Unfortunately, scholars have paid only cursory attention to the critical opportunities these comics present. Smith, for example, all but dismisses the power of graphic adaptations by suggesting that “Lovecraft’s greatest horrors (or monsters) do not adapt well to visual depictions, as most Lovecraft film adaptations prove” (Smith, 137). This point, however, rests on questionable logic. If Lovecraft’s stories haven’t led to great films, why is that a problem for comic artists? Smith’s argument that the imagination is better than visual representations as a source of what Lovecraft’s universe looks like (an argument in fact echoed by speculative realist Graham Harman) ignores the highly imaginative and exciting work done with Lovecraftian materials by numerous adapters working in the comics industry, not to mention the large number of equally inspired amateur comic artists. Among the most notable recent graphic novels inspired by Lovecraft are the two volumes (so far) of The Lovecraft Anthology published by Self Made Hero. Drawing on the work of multiple writers and illustrators, these anthologies adapt several of the major tales through powerful visuals inspired by the stories. Commenting on Lovecraft’s influence on comic art, editor of The Lovecraft Anthology I Dan Lockwood writes that “the more genre fiction I have encountered over the years . . . the more I have come to realize the extent to which Lovecraft’s tentacles have wormed their way into the minds of my favourite writers and artists. This wide-­ranging influence is a testament to the power of his imagination, as is his continued popularity with a devoted readership” (n.p.). Robert M. Price, himself a scholar—­and fan—­of Lovecraft, adds in his introduction to Volume II that “these visual adaptations serve as commentary revealing new dimensions of the stories” (“Foreword,” n.p.). In keeping with Linda Hutcheon’s analysis of adaptation, Price makes clear that in the graphic-­novel adaptations “recognition and remembrance are part of the pleasure (and risk) of experiencing an adaptation; so too is change” (Hutcheon, 4). In addition to the adaptations found in The Lovecraft Anthology, Self Made Hero has also published four stand-­ alone volumes: The Shadow Out of Time, The Case of Charles Dexter


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Ward, At the Mountains of Madness, and The Dream-­Quest of Unknown Kadath. In the realm of the New Weird, Boom! Studios currently publishes Cthulhu Tales and Fall of Cthulhu, two series that develop new stories set within the Cthulhu Mythos by multiple authors and artists. Online, Larry Latham’s web comic, Lovecraft Is Missing, combines the world of 1920s Providence with Lovecraftiania in a serial web format. Whereas the volumes published by Self Made Hero are relatively faithful to Lovecraft’s original texts, several comic book writers and artists claim Lovecraft as a significant influence and have developed work that not only bears a striking resemblance to the Cthulhu Mythos, but also pushes them in new directions. Mike Mignola, best known as the creator of the popular series Hellboy, draws on Lovecraftian themes and motifs in his stories of paranormal detection, subterranean monsters, occult conspiracies, and unstoppable creatures. Hellboy has also inspired two feature films, both directed by Guillermo del Toro, another well-­known Lovecraft enthusiast. Another comic by Mignola, The Doom That Came to Gotham (taking its cue from Lovecraft’s 1920 “The Doom That Came to Sarnath”), presents an alternative, noncanon Batman adventure that reimagines the hero working in the 1920s to discover and then battle a Cthulhu-­like monster. Even more central to contemporary popular culture is Alan Moore, the creative force behind the graphic novels Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell. Moore’s four-­issue 2010 comic book series Neonomicon not only is explicitly Lovecraftian in its inclusion of Lovecraft’s characters and themes, but also explicitly addresses the problem of sexuality in Lovecraft’s work, identifying it at the heart of the Mythos. Like other writers, Moore connects Lovecraft’s representations of human sexuality (or lack thereof) to his father’s syphilis, paranoia, and sharp decline (Neonomicon, 108). Moore’s story “Recognition,” included in Alan Moore’s Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths, a three-­volume miniseries published in 2003, treats Winfield Lovecraft’s sexuality directly, concluding with a striking image of him leaning out of a hotel window screaming into the night, his arms outstretched, his face sweaty, and his mouth wide. Within those screams, Moore identifies two striking connections between father and son, one borne of madness linked to sexual appetite and disease, the other tied to raging against cosmic indifference. Outside of the United States, Lovecraft’s fiction also casts a long shadow over Japanese horror manga. Shigeru Mizuki, one of the most celebrated manga cartoonists, adapted “The Dunwich Horror” in 1963.

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He also developed GeGeGe no Kitaro (1956 and ongoing), a serial that Justin Mullis describes as a cross between Casper the Friendly Ghost and Hellboy (Mullis, n.p.). Junji Ito, another Japanese horror manga artist, perhaps best known for Tomie (a series about a high school girl with destructive supernatural powers) and Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror, a series about a small Japanese town both cursed and obsessed with spirals, has also claimed Lovecraft as an important part of his artistic development. Although none of Ito’s works adapt Lovecraft directly, he notes that the latter’s “expressionism with regard to atmosphere greatly inspires my creative influence” (Winsby).

Visual Arts Although more often read these days without their original illustrations, much of Lovecraft’s fiction is arguably inseparable from the images that accompanied it. Pulp periodicals like Weird Tales, after all, were as famous for their illustrations and luridly attractive color covers as their stories. Lovecraft’s own passion for the arts comes through in stories like “Pickman’s Model” (1927), a story in which an artist creates horrific and demonic images developed from otherworldly models. In that story, Lovecraft refers to several of his favorite artists by name, most of them working within weird and fantastic traditions: Anthony Angarola, Sidney Sime, Nicholas Roerich, Henry Fuseli, Goya, and Gustave Doré. Despite Lovecraft’s reputation for claiming that his creatures defy description, he was not averse to roughing out a few images on his own, including one of Pickman’s infamous model and one of a seated, seemingly brooding, Cthulhu. Although rare and never officially published, these drawings may be found in the Lovecraft collection at the John Hay Library on the campus of Brown University. These drawings are rather crude but they nevertheless suggest an interest, even in the author’s own mind, in visualizing these impossible-­to-­describe creatures. Among Lovecraft’s favorite artists was the twentieth-­century artist Virgil Finlay, one of the best, most accomplished, and celebrated illustrators for Weird Tales and at least a dozen other pulp magazines. According to Jane Frank, Finlay’s work remains significant because it “brought about a renaissance in . . . science fiction illustration” by attracting not only readers but also “people who were interested in the art despite the story” (210). Finlay changed the look and feel of magazines like Weird Tales through his fantastic and imaginative images.


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Figure I.1. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu sketch. John Hay Library, Brown University Library.

What really caught Lovecraft’s attention, though, was Finlay’s illustration for Robert Bloch’s 1936 story “The Faceless God,” a picture that Henry Kuttner praised for its attempt to capture the look and feel of Lovecraft’s impossible-­to-­describe Great Old Ones (Frost, vii). Lovecraft was so pleased with Finley’s picture that he composed a sonnet entitled “To Virgil Finlay, a verse written after seeing Mr. Finlay’s illustration for ‘The Faceless God’” (vii). Finlay would later provide illustrations for some of Lovecraft’s own stories, including “The Shunned House” (1937), “The Thing on the Doorstep” (1937), and “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919). He also created the popular portrait of Lovecraft as an eighteenth-­century figure, complete with powdered wig, quill pen,

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and ruffled shirt. Behind Lovecraft, Finlay drew three ominous-­looking creatures and several stars, the basic building blocks of Lovecraft’s cosmic imagination. Finlay, like Lovecraft, inspired later generations of artists hoping to capture the face of an Elder God, an anxious human being, or an indescribable beast. Notable among these are Michael Whelan and H. R. Giger. Whelan, one of the most celebrated fantasy, science fiction, and horror artists active since the 1970s, is perhaps best known for the staggering number of book covers that feature his work, including the familiar scenes taken from Whalen’s diptych entitled Lovecraft’s Nightmare A and Lovecraft’s Nightmare B (1981). Originally created as a two-­panel work that could be displayed in a few different combinations, parts of them have appeared as the cover art for the Del Rey editions of Lovecraft’s work. In the years since Lovecraft’s Nightmare appeared on those covers, the images it portrays—­including a giant eye, a hooded figure revealing only a skeleton beneath his robe, skulls on pikes, and a tree made up of ghoulish faces—­have become an iconic part of many readers’ early experiences with Lovecraft. Portions of Lovecraft’s Nightmare have even crossed over into the world of heavy metal, having twice been used as album art, once for Obituary’s classic album Cause of Death (1990) and again for Demolition Hammer’s Epidemic of Violence (1992). Perhaps not surprisingly, parts of Lovecraft’s Nightmare have also appeared as large and colorful tattoos—­Tommy Dahlström, the lead singer for the influential Swedish death metal band Aeon, for example, sports one on his left forearm, showing fans his devotion both to Lovecraft and Obituary while on stage. Another famous—­ and controversial—­ artist regularly identified with the works of Lovecraft is the Swiss surrealist painter H. R. Giger. Although Giger has never created any single piece that adapts Lovecraft’s work directly, he has always been vocal about the impact of the Cthulhu Mythos on his imagination. Moreover, two of Giger’s art compendia take their name directly from Lovecraft’s most famous book: Necronomicon (1977) and Necronomicon II (1985). The first Necronomicon famously inspired much of the look and feel of Ridley Scott’s film Alien (1979), leading to Giger’s own help developing not only the look of the iconic double-­mouthed xenomorph developed for the film but also several of the striking set designs. For his work on the film, Giger in 1980 received an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. Giger later worked on other films, including Species (1995)—­another movie


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Figure I.2. Michael Whelan’s Lovecraft’s Nightmare A and B.

that perhaps shares some affinity with Lovecraft’s oeuvre (Frank, 235). Despite the relative absence of work drawn directly from Lovecraft, his paintings and sculptures share a common passion for dark and disturbing images that seem to belong to Lovecraftian space. His Necronomicon, much like Lovecraft’s own forbidden grimoire, is riddled with strange, unpleasant—­perhaps even posthuman—­images that suggest new ways of thinking about the world, the human body, and life itself.

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In so doing, Giger’s images also indirectly suggest the relevance of Lovecraft’s surreal nightmares for contemporary thinking about humanity’s place in the universe.

Music Scholarly work has only begun to understand the depth and complexity of Lovecraft’s impact on music. One of the most common places to find Lovecraft’s influence on music lies in the world of heavy metal. Perhaps the most high-­profile connection is found in Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu,” the epic instrumental from their second album Ride the Lightning (1984). Although there are no words, “The Call of Ktulu” suggests something of the mood of Lovecraft’s tale through its mysterious wind sound-­effects at the opening; its escalating sense of power and menace with each repeated riff, arpeggio, and beat; its haunting bass parts; its blistering guitar solos; and its powerful, climactic close. For their next album, Master of Puppets (1986), Metallica included the track “The Thing That Should Not Be,” an equally explicit Lovecraftian song about creatures lurking in the deep. The lyrics also feature a modified version of the famous couplet (found originally in Lovecraft’s story “The Nameless City” [1921]): “That is not dead which can eternal lie, / And with strange aeons even death may die.” The same couplet has since appeared regularly on multiple heavy metal albums, usually in lyrics but sometimes in surprising places—­for example, as part of the cover art for Iron Maiden’s Live after Death album (1985). Even though Lovecraft is never referenced in the music on that album, the couplet’s prominent place on the cover (it appears on a gravestone) prompted fans to wonder about the meaning and author of the words appearing next to the band’s undead mascot, Eddie. Since the 1980s, dozens of other bands, from different parts of the world, have taken an interest in Lovecraft, bringing elements of his work into their lyrics, album art, and overall style. Beyond heavy metal, Lovecraft has also influenced musical genres that draw imagery or inspiration from horror and weird fiction. He has accordingly been influential on a host of lesser-­known bands broadly categorized as goth, electronic, or dark ambient. Foundational goth band Fields of the Nephilim, for example, included the track “Reanimator” on their 1987 release Dawn Razor. German goth band Garden of Delight references Lovecraft across their oeuvre, and experimental electronic


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act The Unquiet Void has entire albums inspired by Lovecraft, including 2004’s Poisoned Dreams, which features the songs “Necronomicon,” “Return to Innsmouth,” and “R’lyeh Rerisen,” among others. In 1999, the German goth/industrial label Dion Fortune released a fifteen-­track Lovecraft-­themed compilation album titled The Challenge from Beyond: A Tribute to H. P. Lovecraft. Gary Hill’s The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H. P. Lovecraft (2006) provides a useful survey of Lovecraft’s influence and includes excerpts from interviews in which Hill asked musicians to reflect on Lovecraft’s importance to their work.

Cinematic and Televisual Adaptations Despite the fact that, in the estimation of some, Lovecraft’s work is essentially unfilmable (Sante, for example, says his fiction is “too literary”; see also Hantke), another source of his present popularity is the ongoing attention coming from filmmakers who cite his influence in their films. It is true that attempts to adapt Lovecraft’s fiction have generally been low-­budget and not especially successful. Notable efforts include Roger Corman’s 1965 Die, Monster, Die! loosely based on “The Colour Out of Space” (1927); Stuart Gordon’s Re-­Animator (1985), a fairly faithful, if campy, retelling of “Herbert West—­Reanimator” (1922); and Gordon’s Dagon (2001), which, despite the title, is most closely connected to The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936). Among the best adaptations of Lovecraft’s work is The Call of Cthulhu, a 2005 independent black-­and-­ white silent film adaptation directed by Andrew Leman of Lovecraft’s most famous tale published in 1928. Of greater significance to Lovecraft’s present popularity are the films that allude to or incorporate elements of the Cthulhu Mythos by directors who claim Lovecraft as an influence. John Carpenter, for one, developed an early interest in horror not only from classic genre films but also from reading stories by Poe and Lovecraft (Muir, 6). Even though none of his films directly adapts any of Lovecraft’s tales, several have clear Lovecraftian overtones and allusions. Carpenter’s use of the name “Frank Armitage” as the credited screenwriter for They Live (1988), for example, echoes the name of Lovecraft’s character Henry Armitage from “The Dunwich Horror” (1929). Other films, including Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), and In the Mouth of Madness (1994), also contain strong Lovecraftian overtones—­In the Mouth of Madness in

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particular presents itself as “an homage to H. P. Lovecraft,” both in its style and even in some of its dialogue (Muir, 167). Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), itself a remake of Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks’s 1951 The Thing from Another Planet (based on the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr.), also tips its hat freely toward Lovecraft’s tale of Antarctic terror At the Mountains of Madness. Ridley Scott’s films, particularly his hybrid horror / science fiction films like Alien (1979) and Prometheus (2012) (the latter discussed by Brian Johnson in this volume), also have strong Lovecraftian qualities, particularly in their pricking of anthropocentric pretensions. Of the newer generation, Guillermo del Toro and Joss Whedon are among the most popular film directors to cite Lovecraft’s influence. Not only has del Toro directed the two Hellboy movies (themselves, as noted above, heavily indebted to Mike Mignola’s own Lovecraft-­ inspired comic work), his as-­yet-­unrealized adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness may be one of the most popular films that never got made. Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods (2012) not only takes for granted the existence of Lovecraftian Elder Gods (here called Ancient Ones) but also suggests that one of the purposes of horror is to placate them annually with a bizarre ritual involving the sacrifice of five young people. As with film, Lovecraft has typically fared better on television through allusion or appropriation and not through direct adaptation. Of note in this respect are Rod Serling’s Night Gallery series, which adapted Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model” and “Cool Air” (adaptations both 1971; “Cool Air” published 1928); Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, which adopted the basically Lovecraftian premise (also undergirding Cabin in the Woods) that the world was once ruled by demonic Old Ones that now reside in a sort of Hell dimension waiting for their chance to return; and the series Supernatural, which in the season 6 episode, “Let It Bleed” (2011)—­originally titled “The Haunter of the Dark” after Lovecraft’s 1936 story of the same name (Stiles)—­introduces the idea that in 1937 Lovecraft had opened a gate to Purgatory. Perhaps most unexpectedly, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu is central to three 2010 episodes of the animated program South Park. After “DP Oil” drills a hole on the moon and releases Cthulhu from another dimension, Cartman enlists the monster to help destroy his “friends.” The linking here of the BP Gulf oil spill and environmental disaster with Lovecraft and his monstrous extraterrestrial “Elder Gods” offers a perfect example (although in a comic register) of the contemporary “apocalyptic Gothic” mode discussed by


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Figure I.3. South Park’s Cartman discusses matters with Cthulhu.

Mark Edmundson in his consideration of the contemporary culture of the Gothic that we address below.

Transmedia Adaptations As the overview of Lovecraft’s presence in contemporary popular culture already suggests, discussions of Lovecraft’s work must also include the way it spreads across media. As Linda Hutcheon explains, “the new entertainment norm, not the exception, is ‘transmedia’ storytelling,” a technique of telling stories across multiple formats using current technologies (xxiii). Though not addressing Lovecraft directly, Siobhan O’Flynn notes that “transmedia adaptations also exist as reworkings of the Mythos and content of a given story and storyworld” (Hutcheon, 184). Transmedia adaptations allow audiences to rethink, develop, and play in a world they once thought limited to a handful of stories. Such works “keep that prior work alive, giving it an afterlife it would never have had otherwise” (Hutcheon, 176). Lovecraft’s work currently enjoys a vibrant, dynamic—­and richly

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transmedial—­afterlife. This is especially true of his Cthulhu Mythos tales but is by no means limited to them. One area ripe for attention from scholars in this respect are playful online mash-­ups of Lovecraftian images and themes, such as the images circulated by the Facebook blogger Cthulhu Hand Luke and the group connected through the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, as well as the steady stream of video creations on YouTube. On Facebook, both Cthulhu Hand Luke and the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society serve as clearinghouses and launching points for often-­whimsical Lovecraft memes, such as the university seal and motto for Lovecraft’s fictional Miskatonic University, vintage-­ looking family photographs featuring individuals photoshopped with Cthuloid features, and scholastic-­looking posters on the necessity of educating children about the dangers of Cthulhu. On YouTube, one can find all manner of Lovecraft-­influenced content, ranging from Lovecraftian Christmas carols (“The Carol of the Olde Ones,” “Oh Come All Ye Olde Ones,” etc.) to Minecraft renderings of Lovecraft narratives to advertisements for the book series Lovecraft Middle School. These online homages, parodies, and mash-­ups, together with fan fiction, art, and the endless stream of eclectic merchandise—­ranging from action figures and bobblehead dolls to Lovecraft T-­shirts and Cthulhu ski masks (complete with tentacles)—­require researchers to shift away from simple notions of adaptation. Instead, scholars must begin thinking about Lovecraft’s work in terms of Clare Parody’s notion of “adaptive dynamics”—­the way contemporary convergence culture uses texts far beyond the simple “text-­to-­text or even text-­to-­multitext translations normally understood by the term ‘adaptation’” (217). From this perspective, Lovecraft presents a case study in transmedial adapation waiting to be written. Lovecraft not only seems to be everywhere, but his presence has seeped across generic boundaries, creating fertile new terrain for analysts of popular culture to consider.

Riding the Zeitgeist Several explanations for Lovecraft’s contemporary stardom have already been advanced above: the openness of his mythos invited participation by other authors in an early version of fan fiction that has had profound ripple effect: Those who enjoyed Lovecraft as kids (King, Gaiman, Moore, del Toro, and Whedon among them) are now the makers of popular culture. Publishers competing with one another have all


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jumped on the Lovecraft bandwagon (with Lovecraft, as with other things, nothing succeeds like success!). And there is a compelling congruence between Lovecraft’s philosophical diminishment of human significance and contemporary schools of thought that challenge human exceptionalism. To this list, one also must add the mainstreaming of speculative media and the related dismantling of the literary canon, what Mark Edmundson has referred to as the contemporary “culture of the Gothic,” and perhaps even the social affirmation of “nerdism.” As both academia and the popular press have noted, interest in speculative media—­narratives of fantasy, science fiction, and horror—­has expanded significantly over the past thirty years. As any quick perusal of summer blockbuster earnings or literary bestseller lists will attest, genre fiction in past generations ghettoized as acceptable children’s fare now dominates Western popular culture. Reasons for this are beyond the scope of this introduction (see speculations offered by Nelson, Saler, and Anderson); however, it is undeniably the case that Lovecraft, regarded as a cultish creator of gruesome tales, has benefitted from this mainstreaming of genre fiction. The door has swung wide for Mr. Lovecraft and his nightmarish brood to enter freely (and to leave something of his nightmarish vision). Lovecraft’s present popularity also seems part and parcel of what Mark Edmundson addresses in his 1997 Nightmare on Main Street as the American culture of the Gothic. “American culture at large has become suffused with Gothic assumptions, with Gothic characters and plots” (xii), asserts Edmundson, and although many of his supporting examples for this claim are somewhat dated, his general point nevertheless still rings true: American culture is saturated with Gothic narratives ranging from conspiracy theories to serial killers to doomsday scenarios. From news outlets to Internet feeds to talk shows, American culture seems obsessed with the dark, twisted, hidden, and menacing. Lovecraft not only benefits from this cultural obsession but participates in one of its primary threads: what Edmundson refers to as the “apocalyptic Gothic” (23). As a counterpoint to ecological catastrophe and global pandemics, Lovecraft gives us his Elder Gods, a variant on the perverse desire to imagine the end. To the extent that “nerdism” in the age of social media has gone mainstream (a 2014 National Public Radio segment on “Nerdist” Chris Hardwick notes, for example, the “domination” of entertainment by “nerd-­friendly stuff like science fiction, fantasy, and comic books”

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[Deggans]), Lovecraft may be considered as riding the cultural zeitgeist in a third way. According to Sante in an article titled “The Heroic Nerd,” Lovecraft “was a nerd on a grand scale . . . a heroic nerd, a pallid, translucent, Mallarméan nerd, a nerd who suffered for his art. . . . As a supplier of instruments for the cultivation of horror he was custom-­tailored for the suggestible fourteen-­year-­old boy, and the number of fourteen-­ year-­old boys—­some of them chronologically rather older, a few of them even female—­is continually on the increase.” While Sante’s evaluation is deliberately provoking, it is nevertheless true that social media has provided Lovecraft with capacious space for what Saler refers to as “public spheres of the imagination” (17): Facebook groups and discussion lists that encourage discussion and debates about imaginary characters and worlds and reward bookish in-­jokes. In a culture in which all are alike in their nonconformity, peripheral figures of prior generations such as Lovecraft curiously find themselves in the spotlight, their eclecticism central to their popularity. The obscure writer of Gothic tales from the early twentieth century now finds himself swept up by the zeitgeist of the twenty-­first.

Critical Questions and Future Directions As we turn to the interventions in Lovecraft scholarship offered by the inclusions in this volume and the implications of the “Age of Lovecraft,” it is important to highlight the vexed issues of Lovecraft’s racism, as well as to a lesser extent issues of his style, because they frame so directly concerns related to politics, quality, and the overall twenty-­ first century embrace of Lovecraft and the “New Weird” more generally.

Lovecraft and Race Lovecraft’s racism has long been one of the most controversial aspects of his life and career; it also raises significant questions about the merit of his work and the meaning of his place within popular culture. For Joshi, even though Lovecraft’s racism is obvious, it may nevertheless be “logically separable from the rest of his philosophical and even political thought,” something that should not generally impact our reading of the weird in general (A Life, 586). Although Joshi is not suggesting Lovecraft’s racism is simply a matter of context, he nevertheless wants to avoid it as a focal point for critical approaches to Lovecraft or his


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work. In our view, Lovecraft and the problem of racial differences cannot and should not be so easily divided. For Lovecraft, racial differences were broadly understood as clearly demarcated and dependable, a seemingly neutral and natural means of measuring human worth, ability, and intelligence. Even within the racially divided setting of early twentieth-­ century America, Lovecraft’s ideas concerning Anglo-­Saxon superiority, considered in terms of natural privileges, intelligence, finances, and so on, stand out for their sharpness and explicitness. In his correspondence, Lovecraft often spelled out these assumptions directly, telling Rheinhart Kleiner—­an early correspondent and friend who encouraged Lovecraft’s poetry—­that “the English are wholly Teutonic, and therefore dominant” or that “it is pitiful to me to hear apostles of equality pipe out that other races can equal this foremost of all—­this successor to the Roman race in power and virility” (Letters to Kleiner, 27). His 1912 poem “On the Creation of Niggers” provides an even more egregious example: there, Lovecraft suggests that when the world was created, the Olympian Gods constructed a stratified human family, one that began with those represented in God’s image (white, Anglo-­Saxon) and then went far downward to include Africans. In the most shocking passage, he explains that the Gods created a “beast . . . in semi-­human figure / Fill’d it with vice, and call’d the thing a NIGGER.” If, as Michel Houellebecq writes, “Lovecraft had in fact always been a racist,” the point is not simply to define the author’s character but to underscore the deep connections between Lovecraft’s attitudes and his fiction (105). Houellebecq, one of the most vocal critics in terms of foregrounding the role racism plays in Lovecraft’s oeuvre, goes on to explain that “racial hatred provokes in Lovecraft the trancelike poetic state in which he outdoes himself by the mad rhythmic pulse of cursed sentences; this is the course of the hideous and cataclysmic light that illuminates his final works” (107). Lovecraft’s race hatred grew even worse during his two-­year stay in New York City in 1925–­26. Lovecraft explained to painter, sculptor, and fellow poet and weird writer Clark Ashton Smith, that “The Horror at Red Hook” drew on “the connexion with the gangs of young loafers & herds of evil-­looking foreigners that one sees everywhere in New York” (Selected Letters II, 27). In the story itself, Lovecraft describes the population of Red Hook as “a maze of hybrid squalor” (119). In New York, Lovecraft’s racist feelings transformed from “the WASP’s well-­bred racism” to “the brutal hatred of a trapped animal who is forced to share his

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cage with other different and frightening creatures” (Houllebecq, 106). In Houellebecq’s estimation, Lovecraft’s fear of racial differences led to an increased emphasis on fictional depictions of hybridity, impurity, and degeneration. Lovecraft’s racial attitudes are sometimes so obvious that it often feels difficult to separate the man from his fiction, let alone his racist statements and attitudes. As China Miéville points out in the interview in this volume, Lovecraft’s racism should be understood as a central aspect of his creative output and not simply cast aside or ignored. What one may try to do, Miéville suggests, is “metabolize it and understand and even appreciate the power of the text.” Similarly, James Kneale writes that, “once Lovecraft’s racism is discovered, it is difficult not to read him solely in terms of these fears and hatreds. His pathology represents a critical singularity, from which interpretations struggle to escape” (116–­17). Because of this “critical singularity,” Lovecraft’s texts often risk being misread as mere “expressions of Lovecraft’s beliefs,” transcripts of racist beliefs rather than significant engagements with larger problems of otherness, abjection, and hybridity (117). According to David Simmons, Lovecraft’s “racially prejudiced comments belie a deeper and considerably more multifaceted engagement with concepts of the non-­Western Other, a stance that is attracted to that which it is simultaneously repulsed by” (“Certain Resemblance,” 18). Although critics like Houellebecq, Kneale, Simmons, and Miéville challenge readers to find ways of reading Lovecraft’s racism in terms of larger critical problems, writers like Laura Miller focus on the public consequences of celebrating Lovecraft’s legacy. In Miller’s article, she comments on the problems associated with awarding the “Howie”—­a bust of Lovecraft given at the World Fantasy Awards—­to authors for singular achievements in the last calendar year. For Miller, Lovecraft’s racist attitudes may warrant the creation of a new award, one that represents a less controversial pioneer in the field. In November 2015, as this book is about to go to press, it in fact has been announced that the World Fantasy Award trophy will no longer be modeled on Lovecraft (Flood). No other details about its replacement are yet known. Since one purpose of this book is to reflect on the significance of Lovecraft’s increasing popularity, not to mention his marked impact on early twenty-­first-­century discourse, we cannot dismiss the problem of racism as irrelevant, nor can we resolve it to everyone’s satisfaction. To understand Lovecraft in the cultural moment we are calling “The Age of


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Lovecraft,” we must grapple fairly with all that he was, reading his fiction in light of all its complexity, not simply to pick and choose according to our current interests. Simply put, there is no denying that Lovecraft’s racism factors into his creative output; our task, however, is to learn how to read it and how to understand it within Lovecraft’s larger reflections on the human, the other, the body, the alien, and the posthuman. With this in mind, we may also call attention to Jacqueline Baker’s 2014 article concerning Lovecraft and racism found in Publisher’s Weekly. Baker, a Canadian author whose 2014 novel, The Broken Hours, reflects not only on the person of H. P. Lovecraft—­the story treats the last few months of his life—­but also on the power of the weird. As she researched and wrote her novel, Baker confronted the problem of Lovecraft’s racism and was often asked to comment on it when others learned about her project. In “Facing the Monsters,” Baker reflects on the problem by suggesting a deeper look at human nature itself. Human beings, she suggests, are often at a loss to explain the baffling paradoxes and contradictions that lie at the heart of life itself. As she puts it, “Looking at a terrible thing—­racism, misogyny, ignorance, or hatred—­in the face this way reflects the horror back at us. We are reluctant to confront the monster, yes. Maybe what makes us so reluctant—­and what makes it all the more crucial we do so—­is that confronting the monster compels us to confront what is monstrous in ourselves.” Like many of Lovecraft’s own deeply flawed narrators, human beings must sometimes confront the unknown and the inexplicable with trepidation, a deep-­seated fear over the consequences of understanding the self. For many of those narrators, the results of engaging with terrifying questions, mysteries, and beings leads to a deeply engrained nervousness that undermines a stable sense of self. Lovecraft’s own fears, though certainly racist at times, also suggest that he was keenly aware of what it means to face crippling doubt over one’s own status not only locally but also in the world and—­ perhaps—­the universe.

Lovecraft’s Purple Prose In addition to Lovecraft’s racism, his notorious “purple prose” has also factored into evaluations of his literary merit. The most infamous critique comes from Edmund Wilson’s above-­cited remark that the real horror of Lovecraft’s work is “the horror of bad taste and bad art” (47). Although Wilson’s comments are more dismissive than analytical, some

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contemporary readers may struggle with certain aspects of Lovecraft’s literary prose, particularly his heavy use of adjectives, long sentence structures, and use of archaisms. In “The Dunwich Horror,” for example, Lovecraft describes the creature known as Wilbur Whateley as follows: “The thing that lay half-­bent on its side in a foetid pool of greenish-­ yellow ichor and tarry stickiness was almost nine feet tall, and the dog had torn off all the clothing and some of the skin. It was not quite dead, but twitched silently and spasmodically while its chest heaved in monstrous unison with the mad piping of the expectant whippoorwills outside” (223). Readers may also fault Lovecraft for his tendency to suggest that his fictional horrors are indescribable. In “From Beyond,” Lovecraft writes of “indescribable shapes both alive and otherwise . . . mixed in disgusting disarray, and close to every known thing were whole worlds of alien, unknown entities” (28). When Lovecraft turns to dialogue or representations of human speech, it often appears as long-­winded monologues, the speech itself often represented as local frightened dialect, as in The Shadow over Innsmouth when Zadok Allen, an old man and one of the last humans living in Innsmouth, relates some of the mysterious history of Innsmouth itself: Wal, Sir, Matt he says the native around thar had all the fish they cud ketch, an’ sported bracelets an’ armlets an’ head rigs made aout of a queer kind o’ gold an’ covered with picters o’ monters jest like the ones carved over the ruins on the little island—­sorter fish-­like frogs or frog-­like fishes that was drawed in all kinds o’ positions like they was human bein’s. (295–­96)

Allen’s speech, an important part of Lovecraft’s tale, goes on for several pages, potentially taxing readers’ patience. As Stephen King points out in On Writing, Lovecraft’s prose has “fewer than five thousand” words of dialogue (181). Whether King’s count is exactly right, his comment provides a helpful reminder that Lovecraft’s characters do not engage in dialogue so much as monologue, sometimes related through long, unbroken passages of represented speech. Some of Lovecraft’s infelicities of style may have been deliberate, no matter how awkward or arcane they may seem to contemporary readers. Lovecraft, after all, was committed to mastering the art of prose. In the essay “Literary Composition,” for example, he recommends that aspiring authors read and imitate authors like Addison, Irving, Poe,


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and Lord Dunsany, the last of which he describes as “the greatest living prose artist” who “derived nearly all of his stylistic tendencies from the Scriptures [the King James Bible]” (41). The essay also comments on the importance of mastering the rules of grammar, careful reading of literary models, and remembering that “one cannot be too careful in the selection of adjectives for descriptions” (42). Lovecraft’s prose may not always appeal to readers who prefer simple, clear, and direct prose. Nevertheless, it may be that Lovecraft’s style, rather than working at odds with his plots, in fact participates in generating the hold it exercises over the reader. Roger Luckhurst, for example, argues of Lovecraft’s prose that “the power of the weird crawls out of these sentences because of the awkward style. These repetitions build an incantatory rhythm, tying baroque literary form to philosophical content” (xx). What Edmund Wilson found so distasteful may in fact be precisely part of that toward which modern audiences gravitate.

New Directions Lovecraft’s contemporary ubiquity, as this introduction has established, is impressive, and this collection of essays seeks to consider why this is the case, what it means, and to extend research into Lovecraft in new directions. While the chapter inclusions to this collection are at once too diverse and interconnected to divide neatly into discrete and balanced sections, we nevertheless have sought to organize them into pairs and clusters that foreground shared themes and approaches and thus engage in dialogue with each other. With this in mind, the first four essays can be construed as our “speculative realism” cluster. James Kneale’s “‘Ghoulish Dialogues’: H. P. Lovecraft’s Weird Geographies” kicks things off by drawing on object-­oriented ontologist Graham Harman’s 2012 Weird Realism to link Lovecraft’s “purple prose” to its mesmeric hold over the reader. It is precisely through Lovecraft’s “infamously awkward” prose, asserts Kneale—­his “weird style”—­that the weirdness of reality is engaged. In “Lovecraft’s Things,” Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock explores how material objects in Lovecraft’s fiction act in the ways new-­materialist and speculative-­realist theorists such as Jane Bennett, Ian Bogost, and Graham Harman suggest all things do: they exhibit agency, intermesh with the human, prompt reconsiderations of where the line between human and nonhuman actually falls, and compel a reconsideration of the place of human beings in the

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universe. But in Gothic narrative such as Lovecraft’s, continues Weinstock, the “awesome plenitude of the alien everyday,” to borrow a line from Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology (2012), becomes a source of horror as, rather than elevating objects, human beings are reduced to things, “demoted to matter that doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things.” Brian Johnson’s “Prehistories of Posthumanism: Cosmic Indifferentism, Alien Genesis, and Ecology from H. P. Lovecraft to Ridley Scott,” addresses matter—­and whether humans matter—­from another perspective through an analysis of the conservative redeployment of a Lovecraftian genesis narrative in director Ridley Scott’s 2012 Prometheus. Through this juxtaposition, Johnson highlights the ecological stakes of Lovecraft’s “ethical posthumanism” and its renunciation of anthropocentrism. And rounding out this cluster, musicologist Isabella van Elferen’s “Hyper-­Cacophony: Lovecraft, speculative realism, and Sonic Materialism” first asserts a “resonance” between what she refers to as Lovecraft’s “hyper-­cacophony” and speculative realist Quentin Meillassoux’s “hyper-­chaos” before going on to argue the ultimate incommensurability of Lovecraft’s “paradoxical materialism” with contemporary philosophy. From speculative realism, the collection then shifts to a cluster of three essays that focus specifically on the matter of bodies—­the status of bodies in Lovecraft and representations of Lovecraft’s body itself. In the same way that James Kneale begins the speculative realism cluster by addressing the critical controversy over Lovecraft’s prose through the lens offered by Graham Harman’s object-­oriented ontology, Jed Mayer’s “Race, Species, and Others: H. P. Lovecraft and the Animal” opens this cluster by rethinking Lovecraft’s controversial representations of race through the paired critical lenses of animal studies and posthumanism. Mayer asserts that, in his attention to the permeability and uncertainty of species status, Lovecraft’s work may be read as offering a uniquely posthuman account of biology, one that complicates and to some extent subverts the racism that otherwise marred his work. Turning from race to a focus on sexual difference, Carl H. Sederholm in “H. P. Lovecraft’s Reluctant Sexuality: Abjection and the Monstrous Feminine in ‘The Dunwich Horror’” argues that speculation about Lovecraft’s “reluctant sexuality” has failed to connect it sufficiently with those same fears about the status of the body addressed by Mayer. With attention particularly to the character Lavinia Wheatley in “The Dunwich Horror,” Sederholm asserts that Lovecraft is not just fearful of human sexuality


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but of the body itself, as he connects anxiety over reproduction with the body’s inevitable decline and death. Shifting from bodies in Lovecraft’s fiction to Lovecraft’s body in the fiction of others, David Simmons in “H. P. Lovecraft and Real-­Person Fiction: The Pulp Author as Subcultural Avatar” analyzes the postmodern appropriation of Lovecraft as a fictional character in titles based on or around his stories and explores why this form of pseudo-­biographical narrative has become one of the defining modes of recent Lovecraftian graphic fiction. Simmons’s chapter on appropriations and redeployments of Lovecraft himself offers a convenient segue into a pair of chapters considering Lovecraft’s influence on and in the works of contemporary authors. First, Jessica George’s “A Polychrome Study: Neil Gaiman’s ‘A Study in Emerald’ and Lovecraft’s Literary Afterlives” considers Neil Gaiman’s hybrid Lovecraft / Arthur Conan Doyle pastiche “A Study in Emerald” in light of Lovecraft’s own “horror of hybridity,” concluding ironically that Lovecraft is best fitted to survive by becoming “post-­Lovecraft.” David Punter in “Lovecraft: Suspicion, Pattern Recognition, Paranoia” reads Lovecraft together with contemporary novelist William Gibson, as well as Freud’s famous case of Judge Schreber, with an emphasis on questions of whether we can recognize the patterns that are there and if the patterns we do recognize exist at all or are merely projections of the mind with no “actual” correspondence to some “real world.” The final pair of essays by Patricia MacCormack and W. Scott Poole in some ways ask the same questions about patterns raised by Punter but in relation to Lovecraft’s work. They have been intentionally juxtaposed and placed at the end of the volume to make explicit and debate two questions implicitly framed by the rest of the conclusions to this volume: what does it mean to enter the “Age of Lovecraft” and to what extent can a twentieth-­century author with such regressive political views serve as the standard bearer for twenty-­first-­century critical paradigms emphasizing, implicitly or explicitly, respect for existence on all levels? More so than any of the other inclusions to this volume, MacCormack in her dense and lyrical “Lovecraft’s Cosmic Ethics” makes the case that Lovecraft’s fiction, perhaps against the grain, rethinks “life in an ecological mode of multiplicity and connectivity” evocative of the contemporary ecosophical and chaosmological theory of philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and Michel Serres, while the “mucosal life of his monstrous protagonists” finds provocative resonances in the work of French feminist Luce Irigaray. Asking not what Lovecraft’s stories mean

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but how we can “use” them today, MacCormack concludes that Lovecraftian horror can be rethought as a “vitalistic, activist, and wondrous celebration of otherness.” Responding to the approach of MacCormack and others who seek to liberate Lovecraft’s fiction from the author’s odious beliefs is W. Scott Poole, who in his “Lovecraft, Witch Cults, and Philosophers” not only links Lovecraft’s fascination with witches and witchcraft to his racist personal beliefs but argues that contemporary efforts to transform the horror maestro into a philosophical guide are complicated by the kinds of strenuous maneuvers that must be effected to extricate the texts from the noxious racial and political views underpinning them. In his essay, Poole clearly gives voice to his “historian’s refusal to allow the material conditions that informed Lovecraft’s work to dissipate amid philosophical appropriations that ignore the author’s own interests and dismaying beliefs.” Together, MacCormack and Poole stage an important debate: With the “critical controversy” over Lovecraft’s racism in mind, to what extent can his fiction be used seemingly against the grain to advance more progressive political causes? Finally, bookending this collection are contributions by the old guard and the new guard of weird fiction, author Ramsey Campbell and author/ critic China Miéville, who together voice the themes of this collection writ large. Campbell’s brief preface celebrates Lovecraft’s achievement, highlighting the pervasive snaky tendrils Lovecraft has extended into contemporary popular culture. In a developed interview, Miéville, too, considers Lovecraft’s achievement and contemporary prominence—­but not without voicing some hesitation concerning Lovecraft’s racism and his use by contemporary philosophy. To enter the Age of Lovecraft, from Miéville’s perspective, means to move beyond simply “acknowledging” the injustices of the past toward a more concerted confrontation with them, their legacies, and both the horrific and ecstatic possibilities of a future of diminished human significance.

The Age of Lovecraft While each of the contributions to this volume will in its own way pursue the significance and implications of having entered the “Age of Lovecraft,” to conclude this introduction we will paint with broad strokes some of the ways in which our contemporary situation resonates with the thematic preoccupations of Lovecraft’s fiction. We now live in a Lovecraftian world marked by:


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1. The Awareness of Apocalypse Lovecraft’s fiction asserts throughout that all civilizations, however advanced they claim to be, inevitably fail. This, for example, is the history of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones in At the Mountains of Madness and, as revealed in The Shadow Out of Time, is the destiny of the entire human race, which will be replaced by a “mighty beetle civilisation” after a “monstrous doom” overtakes the human species (360). Another particularly hallucinatory portrait of man’s inevitable decline is represented in Lovecraft’s “He,” in which a vision of future New York reveals (exemplifying Lovecraft’s characteristic purple prose) the heavens verminous with strange flying things, and beneath them a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with impious pyramids flung savagely to the moon, and devil-­lights burning from unnumbered windows. And swarming loathsomely on aerial galleries I saw the yellow, squint-­eyed people of that city, robed horribly in orange and red, and dancing insanely to the pounding of fevered kettle-­drums, the clatter of obscene crotala, and the maniacal moaning of muted horns whose ceaseless dirges rose and fell undulantly like the wave of an unhallowed ocean of bitumen. (126)

Lovecraft’s literary visions of inevitable human decline and apocalypse are matched today by anxieties concerning nuclear weapons, terrorist groups, depletion of natural resources, community violence, rioting, global pandemics, and, in particular, global warming. As Steve Almond reported in 2013 in The New York Times, “the apocalypse market is booming.” As to the question of why, Almond writes, “The obvious answer is that these narratives tap into anxieties, conscious and otherwise, about the damage we’re doing to our species and to the planet.” As a consequence of technological innovation allowing unprecedented destruction and a general awareness of the ways in which human beings are despoiling the environment and altering it in ways that may be inhospitable to human life, the fantastic and science fictive narratives of apocalypse imagined by Lovecraft are now entrenched cultural preoccupations. Although our contemporary monsters may not resemble those in Lovecraft’s imagination, we nevertheless live today with the very Lovecraftian awareness of the looming specter of a sudden apocalypse.

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2. Antihumanist “Decentering” of Mankind’s Pretensions to Grandeur Lovecraft’s fiction thematizes insistently that, for all our arrogant self-­satisfaction and chest thumping, human beings in the larger scheme of things are small and helpless, subject to decay and death, forces that cannot be controlled. Lovecraft’s meditations on “deep time” and the immensities of space chasten human delusions of autonomy and control, and compared to his monstrous entities and civilizations—­Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones, the Mi-­go, his cone-­shaped Yithians who can travel through time and space and switch bodies, and so on—­the human species is primitive and powerless. Indeed, what protects us from going mad—­as Lovecraft famously writes at the start of “The Call of Cthulhu”—­is simply our ignorance of the true precariousness of our existence: “We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age” (139). And the final human ignorance is that bourne from which no traveler returns. With all his insistence on human frailty, Lovecraft’s thought was never far from the ultimate problem of death. In Supernatural Horror in Literature, Lovecraft explicitly tied anxiety over death with what he called “cosmic fear” (15), noting that “uncertainty and danger are always closely allied; thus making any kind of an unknown world a world of peril and evil possibilities. When to this sense of fear and of keen emotion and imaginative provocation whose vitality must of necessity endure as long as the human race itself” (14). Fear of the unknown, particularly the question of the persistence of some aspect of the psyche beyond death, lies at the heart of Lovecraft’s fiction. While anxieties about death and the unknown are far from new, Lovecraft’s understanding of the universe as a cold, strange place dominated by powers and forces that exceed human control and defy human comprehension in many ways anticipated contemporary advances in astronomy and physics that foreground just how mysterious and inhuman the universe actually is. When one contemplates that the universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old and expanding, or that seemingly


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solid objects are actually composed of whizzing particles and empty space, that the light from stars we see in the night sky is millions of years old, or that one quantum particle of a pair somehow “knows” what measurement has been performed on the other, we find ourselves adrift in a Lovecraftian universe, one that insistently foregrounds human ignorance and dwarfs human accomplishment.

3. Posthumanist Questioning of the Status of the “Human” Related to its antihumanist undoing of human exceptionalism, Lovecraft’s fiction, through its persistent thematizing of evolution and, significantly, atavistic devolution, insistently calls into question the status of the “human” in general as a discrete species somehow distinguishable from other terrestrial life. Repeatedly in Lovecraft, human beings are shown to be evolved from lower orders of life and at risk of returning to the primordial ooze from which we emerged. Thus, in “The Lurking Fear,” for example, the narrator discovers that the Martense family has degenerated into apelike creatures. In “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” Arthur Jermyn commits suicide after discovering that he is the descendant of the union between his ancestor and an “ape goddess.” At the end of “The Rats in the Walls,” the narrator’s discovery that his ancestors had kept other humans like cattle for food precipitates a linguistic devolution tapping into a kind of race memory as the protagonist’s speech moves backward in time from modern English to Middle English to Latin, Gaelic, and finally primitive grunts. And controversially at the end of The Shadow over Innsmouth, the narrator, having discovered his own genetic connection to the Deep Ones, returns to the sea, the birthplace of life—­although this is arguably less a devolution than a transformation into another type of being. For Lovecraft, it is not just that the civilized façade of the modern man is a thin veneer covering primitive savagery that can reassert itself, but also that the line between human and animal is porous and traversable. This calling into question the status of the human indeed is what has been embraced so fully by posthumanist theorists such as Rosi Braidotti who takes issue with the “humanistic arrogance of continuing to place Man at the centre of world history” (23). As part of the pricking of humanist pretensions, Lovecraft’s fiction undercuts human exceptionalism and realigns the human as part of a vast system of life, one that is deeply connected to other species and the planet more broadly. For

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Lovecraft, humans are neither distinct from other animals nor proudly sitting on top of the evolutionary ladder. Significantly, this point of view now finds an enthusiastic audience among those who see this realization as central to more humane and ethical modes of existence.

4. Ironic Disavowal At the same time that Lovecraft’s antihumanism is highlighted and celebrated by modern theorists, however, for others the realization that human beings are simply one species among many—­and perhaps not even the one best adapted to survive—­is a horrific realization to be resisted. And, indeed, the paradox of Lovecraft is that he could on the one hand hold such noxious views concerning race and on the other assert the relative insignificance of the entire species. What good is being atop the racial totem pole, one may ask, if one’s entire civilization is doomed to decline and the achievements and powers of other species far outstrip those of one’s own? But then we can ask a similar question of the human race: what good are petty skirmishes over religious doctrine and national borders when the entire race stands threatened by environmental catastrophe, global pandemics, and nuclear annihilation? Ironically, part of what resonates about Lovecraft today is his personal disavowal of the very insights within his fiction celebrated by posthumanist theorists. Lovecraft’s own horror of racial otherness and particularly of racial hybridity may consciously or unconsciously find purchase with those sharing similarly racist views and anxieties about miscegenation, as well as those who, like Lovecraft himself, fetishize the past as a bygone era of stability marked by inviolable racial and class hierarchy. Put differently, the racism at the core of Lovecraft’s fiction may be part of its appeal today in a world that would like to think of itself as “postracial” but demonstrates again and again that it is far from having overcome race-­based hatred. It is precisely because of this possibility that the racism embedded in Lovecraft’s fiction and letters must not be swept under the rug or simply “acknowledged,” but addressed, critiqued, and, as Miéville puts it, “metabolized.” Lovecraft, it would seem, is being propelled center stage by a maelstrom of cultural forces as a confluence of interests ranging from commercial and philosophical to creative and individual seek to claim him as central to our present moment. But perhaps, ironically, he finds such a congenial place precisely because he finally doesn’t entirely fit,


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twentieth-­century hand in twenty-­first century glove. Akin to Poe, his greatest influence, Lovecraft pushes his work toward a place that is “Out of Space—­out of Time”—­dreamlike, strange, and cosmic (Poe, “Dream Land,” 56). Like the “hideous dropping off of the veil” in Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” (199), Lovecraft’s stories point to suggested realities that challenge humanist thinking and undermine human pretensions of grandeur. His work obviously issued forth from a specific place and time, a context that shaped it, but his work never seems reducible to life in the early twentieth century alone, nor does it seem to connect fully to modern fears. To some extent, no single cultural moment seems to sync up with what Lovecraft does in his writing, not even the devastating global effects of World War I or the closer-­to-­home ravages of the Great Depression. In these days of post-­9/11 reconsiderations of horror fiction and film, it may be tempting to reconsider Lovecraft’s work in terms of nameless, faceless political or ideological antagonists intent on the destruction of certain aspects of Western life. Doing so may be perfectly legitimate, even necessary, but no single reading of Lovecraft seems able to connect his dark dreams to precise historical events, no matter how strong the connections appear at first glance. Lovecraft explains, “The one test of the really weird is simply this—­whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim” (Supernatural Horror, 16). Lovecraft’s mention of “awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings” is very much to the point. His fiction looks to the outside of things, attempts to go beyond its present moment, and repeatedly explores the inability of human beings to grasp the big picture of their own insignificance. Perhaps Lovecraft’s popularity inheres then in the resistance of his work to our full understanding or comprehension. We hope the inclusions in this volume will help us understand Lovecraft better and anew. But we also hope they reveal just how much more work remains and the ways in which Lovecraft will inevitably escape.

Works Cited Almond, Steve. “The Apocalypse Market Is Booming.” The New York Times. September 27, 2013. lypse-market-is-booming.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. 27. Anderson, Douglas A. “The Mainstreaming of Fantasy and the Legacy of The Lord

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of the Rings.” In The Lord of the Rings, 1954–­2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder, ed. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Schull, 301–­ 15. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2006. Baker, Jacqueline. “Facing the Monsters.” Publishers Weekly. October 24, 2014. ticle/654504-facing-the-monsters.html. Barnett, David. “HP Lovecraft: The Writer out of Time.” The Guardian. June 3, 2013. Bennett, Jane. The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. ———. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010. “Best Books 2014: Slate Staff Picks.” December 2, 2014. http://www dations.single.html. Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Braidotti, Rosi. The Posthuman. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 2013. Brassier, Ray. Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Bryant, Levi. The Democracy of Objects. Ann Arbor, Mich.: MPublishing, 2011. Calia, Michael. “Here’s Why H.P. Lovecraft Matters More Than Ever.” The Wall Street Journal. October 13, 2014. /heres-why-h-p-lovecraft-matters-more-than-ever/. Callaghan, Gavin. H. P. Lovecraft’s Dark Arcadia: The Satire, Symbology, and Contradiction. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2013. Carter, Margaret L. “The Turtle Can’t Help Us: The Lovecraft Legacy in Stephen King’s It.” Strange Horizons. December 19, 2005. http://www.strangehorizons .com/2005/20051219/king-lovecraft-a.shtml. Deggans, Eric. “Revenge of the ‘Nerdist’: Chris Hardwick Takes Over Your TV.” National Pubic Radio. January 9, 2014. /revenge-of-the-nerdist-chris-hardwick-takes-over-your-tv. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Edmundson, Mark. Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of the Gothic. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997. Flood, Alison. “World Fantasy Award Drops HP Lovecraft as Prize Image.” The Guardian. November 9, 2015. /world-fantasy-award-drops-hp-lovecraft-as-prize-image. Frank, Jane. Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2009. Frost, Brian J. “Virgil Finlay: A Profile.” In Virgil Finlay’s Far Beyond, v–­xi. Lancaster, Penn.: Charles F. Miller, 1994. Handler, Daniel. “‘H. P. Lovecraft’: Unnatural Selection.” The New York Times Sunday Book Review. April 17, 2005. ks/review/17HANDLER.html?_r=1&.


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Hantke, Steffen. “From the Library of America to the Mountains of Madness: Recent Discourse on H. P. Lovecraft.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 135–­56. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Harman, Graham. The Quadruple Object. Winchester, U.K.: Zero Books, 2011. ———. Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. Winchster, U.K.: Zero Books, 2012. Hill, Gary. The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H. P. Lovecraft. N.p.:, 2006. Houellebecq, Michel. H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. Trans. Dorna Khazeni. San Francisco: Believer/McSweeny’s, 2005. Hutcheon, Linda, with Siobhan O’Flynn. A Theory of Adaptation. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. Jones, Malcolm. “Jumping the (Literary) Shark. The Daily Beast. April 6, 2010. -shark.html. Joshi, S. T. “H. P. Lovecraft.” Scriptorium. June 1, 2007. Om. 27 ———. H. P. Lovecraft: A Life. West Warwick, R.I.: Necronomicon Press, 1996. King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Everest House, 1981. ———. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2000. Kneale, James. “From Beyond: H. P. Lovecraft and the Place of Horror.” Cultural Geographies 13 (2006): 106–­26. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2011. Lockwood, Dan. “Foreword.” In The Lovecraft Anthology, Volume I, ed. Dan Lockwood. London: SelfMadeHero, 2011. Lovecraft, H. P. At the Mountains of Madness. In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 246–­340. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. “The Call of Cthulhu.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales, ed. S. T. Joshi, 139–­69. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———.“The Dunwich Horror.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 206–­45. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. “From Beyond.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 23–­29. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “He.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales, ed. S. T. Joshi, 119–­ 29. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. “The Horror at Red Hook.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 116–­37. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner. Ed. S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2005. ———. “Literary Composition.” In Collected Essays, Volume II: Literary Criticism, ed. S. T. Joshi, 39–­45. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2004. ———. “On the Creation of Niggers.” In The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft, ed. S. T. Joshi, 389. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2013.

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———. Selected Letters, Volume II: 1925–­1929. Ed. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Sauk City, Wis.: Arkham House, 1968. ———. The Shadow Out of Time. In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 335–­95. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. The Shadow over Innsmouth. In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales, ed. S. T. Joshi, 268–­335. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. Supernatural Horror in Literature. New York: Dover, 1973. Luckhurst, Roger. “Introduction.” In H. P. Lovecraft: The Classic Horror Stories, ed. Roger Luckhurst, vii–­xxviii. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. MacCormack, Patricia. “Lovecraft through Deleuzio-­Guattarian Gates.” Postmodern Culture 20, no. 2 (January 2010). _culture/v020/20.2.maccormack.html. ———. Posthuman Ethics: Embodiment and Cultural Theory. Farnham, U.K.: Ashgate Publishing, 2012. McGurl, Mark. “The Posthuman Comedy,” Critical Inquiry 38 (Spring 2012): 533–­ 53. Miller, Laura. “It’s OK to Admit That H.P. Lovecraft Was Racist.” September 11, 2014. craft_was_racist/ Moore, Alan. Alan Moore’s Yuggoth Cultures and Other Growths. Rantoul, Ill.: Avatar Press, 2007. ———. Neonomicon. Rantoul, Ill.: Avatar Press, 2011. Morton, Timothy. Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality. Ann Arbor, Mich.: MPublishing, 2013. Muir, John Kenneth. The Films of John Carpenter. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000. Mullis, Justin. “The Cthulhu Mythos in Japan.” The Lovecraft eZine. January 9, 2013. Nelson, Victoria. The Secret Life of Puppets. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. Nevins, Jess. “To Understand the World Is to Be Destroyed by It: On H. P. Lovecraft.” Los Angeles Review of Books, May 5, 2013. view/to-understand-the-world-is-to-be-destroyed-by-it-on-h-p-lovecraft. Noys, Ben. “Horror Temporis.” In Collapse IV, ed. R. Mackay, 277–­84. Falmouth, U.K.: Urbanomic, 2008. Parody, Clare. “Franchising / Adaptation.” Adaptation 4, no. 2 (2011): 210-­18. Poe, Edgar Allan. “Dream-­Land.” In The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. G. R. Thompson, 56–­57. New York: Norton, 2004. ———. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” In The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. G. R. Thompson, 199–­216. New York: Norton, 2004. Price, Robert M. “Foreword.” In The Lovecraft Anthology, Volume II, ed. Dan Lockwood. London: SelfMadeHero, 2012. ———. H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1990. Roland, Paul. The Curious Case of H. P. Lovecraft. Medford, N.J.: Plexus Publishing, 2014.


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Saler, Michael. As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Sante, Luc. “The Heroic Nerd.” The New York Review of Books. October 19, 2006. Simmons, David, ed. “‘A Certain Resemblance’: Abject Hybridity in H. P. Lovecraft’s Short Fiction.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 13–­30. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. ———. New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Smith, Don G. H. P. Lovecraft in Popular Culture: The Works and Their Adaptations in Film, Television, Comics, Music, and Games. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. Stiles, Paula R. “Supernatural: TV Lovecraft.” Innsmouth Free Press. May 20, 2011. Thacker, Eugene. In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy Vol. 1. Winchester, U.K.: Zero Books, 2011. Touponce, William. Lord Dunsany, H. P. Lovecraft, and Ray Bradbury: Spectral Journeys. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2013. Whelan, Michael. Wonderworks: Science Fiction and Fantasy Art by Michael Whelan. Ed. Polly and Kelly Freas. Virginia Beach, Va.: Donning, 1979. Wilson, Edmund. “Tales of the Marvellous and the Ridiculous.” In H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism, ed. S. T. Joshi, 46–­49. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980. Winsby, Mira Bai. “Into the Spiral: A Conversation with Japanese Horror Maestro Junji Ito.” Trans. Miyako Takano. 78 Magazine. February–­March 2006. http://–01/arts/junji.shtml. Wohleber, Curt. “The Man Who Can Scare Stephen King.” American Heritage 46, no. 8 (December 1995). -who-can-scare-stephenking?page=show. Woodard, Ben. “Mad Speculation and Absolute Inhumanism: Lovecraft, Ligotti, and the Weirding of Philosophy.” Continent 1, no. 1 (2011): 3–­13. http://www.con ———. Slime Dynamics: Generation, Mutation, and the Creep of Life. Winchester, U.K.: Zero Books, 2012.


ꙮ “GHOULISH DIALOGUES” H. P. Lovecraft’s Weird Geographies James Kneale


or many observers, both academic and popular, Lovecraft’s popularity reflects the novel content of his stories: forbidden knowledge, tentacular horrors, and unthinkable gulfs of time and space. This chapter draws instead on Graham Harman’s suggestion that Lovecraft’s work is bewitchingly powerful because his allusive and infamously awkward literary style allows him to address the weirdness of reality itself. This insight allows us to return to some of the key questions that have concerned critics of horror and the fantastic—­questions of time, space, and representation—­and to ask whether Lovecraft’s heirs have really grasped the importance of his weird style and content. The Age of Lovecraft might, in fact, be weirder than many of the fictions written in his name.

Ghoulish Dialogues: Allusion, Space, Modernity In H. P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, eavesdroppers outside Joseph Curwen’s Pawtuxet farmhouse overhear several “ghoulish dialogues in which the past affairs of Providence families were concerned . . . occasionally pertaining to very remote places and ages” (112). Curwen seems unnaturally well informed about the past, and “it seemed as only direct talks with the long-­dead could possibly have furnished some of the data which he had so glibly at his tongue’s end” (106). In contrast, the reader remains rather poorly informed about Curwen’s death, as the action is described from a distance and those who took part in the raid on the farmhouse leave no records. In the first example, Curwen’s necromancy has allowed him to extract information about “remote places and ages” from the dead; in the second, the reader is positioned close enough to the raid to learn something about it, but far enough away that the details remain unclear.



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This chapter argues that these dialogues are a significant element of Lovecraft’s work and considers them in three ways. First, it addresses them as forms of allusion, following the work of the philosopher Graham Harman, who argues that Lovecraft’s success as a writer is largely down to his “weird style,” including his emphasis on allusive description, rather than his “weird content.” So while both of the examples mentioned at the start of the chapter relate unnatural events—­speech with the dead, or hideous noises and smells from the Curwen farmhouse—­it is the way they are represented that makes them genuinely powerful. Harman argues that, “in Lovecraft the medium is the message” (Weird Realism, 23), and Lovecraft himself lamented the “rarity of cosmic-­mindedness in Western civilization,” saying that even superstitious people “hold their weird views in a very non-­weird fashion” (Selected Letters III, 215). Style and particularly allusion are essential elements of Lovecraft’s weird fiction; the gaps they produce between things and their representations are what really give his writing its undeniable power, but they also encourage the reader to see reality itself as weird. Second, these allusions are often spatialized as questions of proximity and distance. Allusion suggests relations between one thing and another, and in Charles Dexter Ward Lovecraft establishes connections across time and space—­like Curwen’s ghoulish dialogues or his neighbors’ observations of the raid—­that allow him both to reveal and conceal the true horror of Curwen’s diabolical plans. These relations in time and space constitute a “weird geography.” Curwen’s ghoulish dialogues are just one example of the many conversations that Lovecraft’s protagonists have with interlocutors who are (un)dead, monstrous, not in their right minds or their right bodies, or cosmically distant in space and/ or time. And these exchanges are themselves only a small part of Lovecraft’s wider fascination with contact and connection, which are also given concrete form in eldritch books, sinister places, and weird artifacts that “open the holder and viewer to the Outside, usually with unfortunate consequences” (Hite, 21–­22). The Necronomicon, Crawford Tillinghast’s resonator, Innsmouth, and the Cthulhu bas-­relief all collapse time and space, folding different eons and the near and the distant together in dangerously transformative ways. Angela Carter noted that Lovecraft’s landscapes remain ambiguous even though “any competent map-­ maker could chart the world of H. P. Lovecraft in microscopic detail” (173), and Harman describes “The Dunwich Horror” as “Lovecraft’s first

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foray into ‘weird geography’” (Weird Realism, 100). This entangling of places and times is a key element of Lovecraft’s writing (Kneale, “From Beyond”), one that prompts a consideration of style and allusion as forms of engagement with cosmic scales of space and time. Third, the times and spaces conjured by these dialogues and connections allow a historicization of this weird geography, a reminder that Lovecraft’s work was in part a response to modernity (and perhaps even Modernism—­see Gayford; Carlin and Allen). Lovecraft tends to be thought of as a displaced colonial gentleman with distinctly antiquarian obsessions, and many of his views were clearly conservative; but he was also fascinated by contemporary scientific developments and an atheist who was hostile to superstition. This apparent contradiction can be resolved if, following Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts into Air, modernity is seen as bringing in “a world where everything is pregnant with its contrary” (22). This was certainly true of Lovecraft’s sense of place, as the eighteenth-­century buildings he loved in Providence and New York rubbed shoulders with or were threatened by newer structures. It seems to have been this juxtaposition of old and new that prompted his defense of the past and informed his topographical writings, visible both in his letter on the “old brick row” of Providence’s Market Square (“Old Brick Row”), and his description of the “hideous Victorian” building that is Wilcox’s home in “The Call of Cthulhu,” which is surrounded by “lovely colonial houses” and “the finest Georgian steeple in America” (184). At its broadest, modernism is “a struggle to make ourselves at home in a constantly changing world” (Berman, 6); conscious of the loss of the past, but equally drawn to the ideas and developments that lead to that loss, Lovecraft’s was a thoroughly modern predicament. The Age of Lovecraft is therefore a moment when the ancient coexists with the new, when the style of Poe meets stories involving submarines, telephones, and modern mathematics. It is the age, perhaps, of weird fiction or the “modern fantastic,” and an age in which we are clearly still living. Having suggested that these dialogues are important elements of Lovecraft’s work in these three ways, this chapter will now turn to Harman’s recent work on Lovecraft’s writing as a form of “Weird Realism,” a philosophy interested in the apparently occult nature of our relationships with objects. This section takes the form of a detailed review of Harman’s book, which is necessary because it is one of the most significant book-­length engagements with Lovecraft’s writing for some time


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and because its arguments run counter to many of the ideas that underpin contemporary Lovecraft criticism. The third section asks if weird realism raises questions for other critical approaches to Lovecraft’s work, before concluding that this emphasis on allusion represents a new approach to a well-­established problem. The fourth section demonstrates the value of Harman’s emphasis on the interaction of content and technique through a discussion of the role of mediating technologies in creating allusive weird geographies. Finally, Harman’s argument suggests that many of today’s posthumous encounters with Lovecraft are rather unsuccessful “ghoulish dialogues” because they fail to adopt his weird style, though it is possible that Lovecraftian influences in music and other nonliterary forms manage this, and that Charles Stross’s fictions may offer a combination of weird content and weird style. In this way the chapter sets out to map out new critical territories in the Age of Lovecraft.

Weird Realism Graham Harman’s Weird Realism effectively makes two arguments: “Reality itself is weird because reality itself is incommensurable with any attempt to represent or measure it” and “Lovecraft is aware of this difficulty to an exemplary degree” (51). Harman’s claim that Lovecraft is the model writer of ontography, the form of speculative realism outlined in The Quadruple Object,1 is illustrated by one hundred readings of short passages from the eight “great tales” (Houellebecq, 23). Harman suggests that critics have tended to consider Lovecraft “on the level of content, as a horror writer whose plots might be summarized and sifted for insights into his general world-­view” (Weird Realism, 232). This approach, arguably the dominant form of Lovecraft criticism, “reduces him to someone who happens to express certain views about the cosmos in the form of short stories in the mixed genre of horror/science fiction” (232). Instead, Harman makes a strong case for Lovecraft as a careful and effective writer who avoided pulp “by systematically debilitating content” (Weird Realism, 23). The opening sentence of “Whisperer in Darkness”—­“Bear in mind closely that I did not see any actual visual horror at the end” (200)—­is a good example of the way that Lovecraft “deliberately paralyzes his own powers of language” (Weird Realism, 42). This use of catachresis offers an opportunity to explore the different kinds of relationships that can emerge between real objects and our

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experience of their qualities. Harman argues that Lovecraft does this in two ways: allusion and “forms of literary cubism” (234).2 The first follows Kant’s separation of the noumenal and the phenomenal, exploring the “gap between unknowable objects and their tangible qualities,” between things as they are and as they appear to us (31).3 Lovecraft’s second (“cubist”) strategy is Husserlian and refers to cases where we apprehend objects as a mass of different sensuous properties but cannot find the link that brings them into a unity. The former is the most important for this essay, as it relates to questions of space and thus Lovecraft’s weird geography, as well as to particular kinds of content concerned with mediation. Allusion is central to fantastic writing, but “excessive allusiveness,” merely saying that something “cannot be described,” fails to conjure any sense of horror; it is the way in which the attempt at description fails that is significant (Weird Realism, 238). The Cthulhu bas-­relief from “Call of Cthulhu” does not simply represent an octopus-­headed humanoid dragon, for example. Thurston’s description is not what he sees, but the “simultaneous pictures” yielded by his “somewhat extravagant imagination”; even then, it is “the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful” (“Call of Cthulhu,” 141). Allusion is a form of spacing, as it holds objects like these at a distance from the viewer or reader. In fact allusion is a form of the phenomenological tension Harman calls “space”: “objects spatially removed from us are both absolutely distant . . . but also near to us insofar as they inscribe their distance in directly accessible fashion” (Weird Realism, 239). These allusions simultaneously produce a connection and a gap between two things, reminding us that language is “enfeebled by an impossibly deep and distant reality” (25). This can be seen when Lovecraft splits off a real object from its palpable qualities, for example the angle of masonry on R’lyeh that is acute, but acts as if it were obtuse; “anytime we run across a passage in Lovecraft that is literally impossible to visualize . . . we are dealing with this first kind of tension between a real object and its sensual qualities” (34). As Harman says, “The two terms of a Lovecraftian disjunction never offer a choice between one or the other, but reveal both choices to be completely inadequate expressions of a single phenomenon” (92–­ 93). Metaphors usually establish a resemblance between two different things—­but Lovecraft’s description of Cthulhu “is like a metaphor with one of the terms deleted” (238). Even worse, Lovecraft’s allusions often refer only to other allusions, so that the “suggestive” photograph of the


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almost indescribable black stone in “Whisperer” represents “the piling of allusion on top of allusion” (131). Lovecraft’s “cubist” strategy, on the other hand, explicitly describes sensuous objects but in such a way that “language is overloaded by a gluttonous excess of surfaces and aspects of the thing” (Weird Realism, 25). This resembles the method of Husserl, or the paintings of Picasso and Braque (particularly the latter’s Houses at L’Estaque, 1908) as “cubist painting renders its figures paradoxically distinct from the amassing of planes and angles through which they are presented” (Harman, “On the Horror,” 360–­61). The Elder Things are Lovecraft’s clearest illustrations of this: “Although much of Lovecraft’s style involves allusions in depth to indescribable realities withdrawing from all linguistic, perceptual, and even cognitive access, the descriptions of the barrel-­shaped monsters also generate perplexity on the fully accessible plane of empirical sensory data. . . . In a certain sense there is nothing strictly ‘noumenal’ about the barrel-­shaped creatures” (Weird Realism, 162–­63). As this suggests, Lovecraft’s “two primary weird stylistic tricks” (165) can be combined with one another, as he does here and in the descriptions of the Things’ Antarctic city and of Wilbur Whateley’s body. This analysis of a “cubist” style represents one of the most original developments in recent Lovecraft criticism. However, the remainder of this chapter will work with Harman’s ideas of allusion because they are so uncannily close to, but different from, the forms of allusion more commonly associated with fantastic writing. In exploring this, Harman provides a new way of thinking not just about Lovecraft but also about fantastic literature in general.

Weird Content, Weird Style Harman’s analysis is extraordinarily interesting, but to the literary scholar interested in what weird realism tells us about Lovecraft rather than the other way around, it presents a number of difficulties.4 Most importantly, because speculative realist philosophers reject “correlationism,” the argument that “we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other” (Meillassoux, 5), they also reject the linguistic turn in philosophy. When Harman says, “Reality itself is weird because reality itself is incommensurable with any attempt to represent or measure it” (Weird Realism, 51), he means a reality that exists beyond a subject to

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think it, not simply that thinking it is hard to do. As one reviewer puts it, “For Lovecraft, it’s the universe, not language, that is not what you think it is” (Stefans). As a result, critics should be cautious of reading Harman’s Lovecraft criticism as an extension of the existing literature on the fantastic, which is largely informed by poststructuralist accounts of the representational relationships between subjects and the world. However, paying attention to Lovecraft’s style, and its relationship to the content of his stories, does illustrate parallels between Harman’s analysis and the interpretations of critics from rather different traditions. Throughout Weird Realism, Harman presents Lovecraft as a writer who has been lauded and criticized for the content of his stories, rather than the way he wrote them; while he pays more attention to Lovecraft’s style than most critics, he insists that “the interaction between style and content is the theme of this book” (51). Toward the end of the book, Harman argues that Lovecraft’s style encourages readers to create what are, in effect, new objects. They have to pay attention to the Cthulhu bas-­relief, despite the fact that it is a metaphor with one term deleted; “Our lack of ease in doing so produces fission between us as observers and the newly created object” (258). Unable to paraphrase the bas-­relief, we experience it as an object in its own right. As a consequence, literature differs from philosophy because the former involves “the explicit production of unparaphrasable real objects (Antarctic cities, Cthulhu idols) in the very midst of the sensual realm” (260). It is not entirely clear whether objects that do not need to be described allusively are created as real objects in the same way, so that weird fiction differs from the mundane realism of “literary fiction,” but at least this gives a sense of the way that Lovecraft’s style and content work together. This implies that scholars may continue to read Lovecraft (and perhaps other writers of weird realism) for this interaction of style and content, and to consider the contributions of other critics who have identified similar interactions. Harman spends some time on the question of narration, for example, pointing out that it is often Lovecraft’s narrators who use the adjectives (“horrible,” “frightful,” or “unhallowed”) that so offended Edmund Wilson; these reflect a protagonist’s response to events, rather than poor stylistic choices on Lovecraft’s part (Weird Realism, 47). He also agrees with Michel Houellebecq’s low opinion of Lovecraft’s protagonists, suggesting that they “always appear as more hardboiled rationalists than we are, and at the same time as more


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gullible” (Weird Realism, 69). As his characters carry on their investigations, all the while denying the existence of the occult, Lovecraft employs “a deeply effective technique for luring his readers into believing more than he explicitly asks them to believe” (69). Finally, Harman suggests that Lovecraft sympathizes with the reader’s incredulous response to his narrators’ descriptions and actions, and is actually mocking his own protagonists; much of our enjoyment comes from the “laughably genteel or prudish response of the Lovecraftian hero to incidents we know to be worse than he expects” (Weird Realism, 49). Of course, Harman’s faith in Lovecraft may well be misplaced: as Joyce Carol Oates points out, “In Lovecraft, as frequently in Poe, style and self-­parody are indistinguishable” (“King of Weird”). Other critics of horror or the fantastic have paid attention to many of these elements, though not necessarily with reference to Lovecraft’s work, or at such length. Harman’s insistence on the importance of Lovecraft’s style is echoed by Roger Luckhurst, who argues that “the power of the weird crawls out of these sentences because of the awkward style,” and who also draws attention to Lovecraft’s “baroque literary form” and use of catachresis (“Introduction” xx). Similarly, Nöel Carroll suggests that many horror fictions involve what he calls the “drama of proof” (157) because they must “exhibit, disclose, and manifest that which is, putatively in principle, unknown and unknowable” (127). The existence of the monstrous must be demonstrated to the story’s protagonists as well as to the reader. This drama can be played out by two characters, a skeptic and one who “wants to believe”—­as is the case in Lovecraft’s “The Unnamable,” a paradigmatic example—­or between one of Lovecraft’s gullible rationalists and the less rational reader. This question of “proof” is related to what Roger Salomon calls the “problem of witnessing”: the monstrous must be displayed, but if it is seen too closely it gives up its power over us (76–­77). Similarly, Tzvetan Todorov suggested that the fantastic text encourages hesitation in the reader, who remains uncertain as to the text’s meaning. This uncertainty is produced by various techniques—­Lovecraft’s allusion or cubism, or Rosemary Jackson’s “non-­signification” (39)—­and is embodied in the figure of the unreliable narrator (and Lovecraft’s are less reliable than most, as noted above), as well as metaphors that produce mysterious third terms, or descriptions that unravel as they are read (Holloway and Kneale). All of these critics seem to address the same question then—­one that combines questions of style (allusion or nonsignification, broken

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metaphors, etc.) with content that matches this style (insane, confused, or forgetful witnesses; labyrinths and mirrors; monstrosity). However, they possess very different philosophical starting points: speculative realism, poststructuralist and structuralist literary theory, and analytic philosophy. As a consequence, it seems possible to suggest that an examination of the interplay of form and content in Lovecraft’s work represents an area where scholars might learn from a number of different philosophical positions. Having established this, it is possible to consider Harman’s insights in terms of those aspects of content that also speak to style. The next section examines how this style takes form in the text, so that allusion becomes forms of mediation and hence a weird geography.

“Necromancies & Excursions” It is well known, of course, that the cosmic reaches of space and time opened up by modern science inspired and terrified Lovecraft. However, this cosmic sublime could also appear in the everyday, prosaic landscapes of home, either brought from afar, like the meteorite that carries the color out of space to Massachusetts, or already immanent in places like Innsmouth by dint of their strange histories and complex geographies. Lovecraft admitted: I want to know what stretches Outside, & be able to visit all the gulfs & dimensions beyond Space & Time. I want, too, to juggle the calendar at will; bringing things from the immemorial past down into the present, & making long journeys into the forgotten years. But I want the familiar Old Providence of my childhood as a perpetual base for these necromancies & excursions—­& in a good part of these necromancies & excursions I want certain transmuted features of Old Providence to form part of the alien voids I visit or conjure up. (Selected Letters III, 214)

This passage illustrates Lovecraft’s interest in the cosmic as well as Providence’s role as the “base for these necromancies & excursions”—­in other words, for both the resurrection of the (dead) past and the finding of the distant close at hand. It is a perfect expression of the uncanny, despite Lovecraft’s suspicion of Freud. As he wrote to Smith, “In some, this mixed antiquarianism & exoticism might produce a hopeless emotional conflict; but in me the two elements have so far seemed complementary


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rather than antagonistic” (215). We are used to the idea that places can be haunted by their pasts, “restless spaces whose uses and meanings are constantly being repurposed, each time displacing and marginalizing disturbed spirits” (Curtis, 14), but Lovecraft knew that places could also haunt each other. Describing his “extreme & lifelong geographic sensitiveness” in an earlier letter to Smith, Lovecraft stated, “The greater number of my dreams & visions are fantastic syntheses, etherealisations, and rearrangements of the landscape & architectural impressions which impinge on me during waking hours” (Selected Letters III, 111). Far from being inspired by dream, Lovecraft’s landscapes were haunted by the real places he knew best, as well as by the literary landscapes of Poe and Dunsany. Like Crawford Tillinghast in “From Beyond,” Lovecraft knew that the Outside is already here, “entirely interpenetrative of our universe” (Hite, 25). Hite is referring to the dimensions discovered by Tillinghast, Walter Gilman, and Randolph Carter, or to the revelations about the origins of terrestrial life found in At the Mountains of Madness, where weirdness is where we began. But it also applies to the ancient, uneven, and shifting flows of people, things, and ideas popularly known as “globalization,” because even the most familiar, local things were strange and alien once, and many places are out of joint. If haunting is defined as the indeterminacy engendered by the experience of absent presence, then it includes anything that carries the trace of the faraway as well as anything bearing the trace of a lost past. These links are a kind of Lovecraftian allusion: not only a ghoulish dialogue with the past but a weird geography where spaces are inhabited by other places not directly accessible to us. Much of the attention given to geographies of haunting has been paid to “the complexity of modern cities, cities in which multiple time-­spaces are being produced, which overlap, interact, and interfere” (Thrift, 405), but any place that is well networked in time and space possesses something of this complexity. Lovecraft suggested that America inherited “the usual dark folklore of Europe,” to which was added new elements stimulated by “the keen spiritual and theological interests of the first colonists, plus the strange and forbidding nature of the scene into which they were plunged” (Supernatural Horror, 60). To consider only the most infamous example: Red Hook is shaped both by the “hybrid squalor” of recent immigrants from Europe and Asia and by the degenerate Robert Suydam, scion of a much more ancient family of white European immigrants (“Horror at Red Hook,” 119). Away from the world cities, the backwaters of Lovecraft’s New

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England were also shaped by contact with the outside world, haunted by distant places as much as by the weight of the local past. The principles and artifacts of Innsmouth’s Esoteric Order of Dagon were a long way from home, for example, but so was the Christian faith it replaced. (Salem, Innsmouth’s neighbor, is almost equidistant between the rival spiritual centers of Pohnpei and Jerusalem, as the crow flies.) These spaces are multiply haunted by contact with other places as well as by their pasts. These spatial hauntings may be thrown up by anything that is both immutable and mobile (Latour, 227), mediating between actors distant from each other in space or time. Lovecraft’s occult tomes are the obvious example because writing and print are the classic forms of this mediation. Lovecraft would have approved of the words of the Reverend Thomas Symmes, of Charlestown, Massachusetts, who noted in 1722 that “many of the eminent Servants of God being dead, yet speak unto us” because print had made their words “more extensive and durable” (quoted in Warner, 22). These ghoulish dialogues were mobile because print was portable and could go on after the death of those whose words had been recorded. Modern media like the telephone, radio, and television were also felt to be “haunted” when they appeared, caught up in emerging occult forms of communication with the dead and the distant: the séance, telepathy, automatic writing, and so on (see Kittler; Luckhurst, Invention of Telepathy; Ronell; Sconce; Thurschwell; Winters). “The electronically mediated worlds of telecommunications often evoke the supernatural by creating virtual beings that appear to have no physical form” (Sconce, 4). As objects bear meaning, they also act as forms of media; the material artifacts found in weird fiction, like the Cthulhu bas-­relief, are similarly mysterious bearers of meaning. Lovecraft’s fictions are surprisingly full of contemporary mediating technologies—­principally radio and telephone, but also the “telepathic radio” of “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and the photographs and phonograms of “The Whisperer in Darkness” (see Kneale, “Monstrous and Haunted Media”). The dreams that emanate from R’lyeh in “The Call of Cthulhu” are another form of occult broadcast, “sending out . . . the thoughts that spread fear to the dreams of the sensitive and called imperiously to the faithful” (“Call of Cthulhu,” 165). Francis Thurston’s piecing together of the story of the events of spring 1925 represents a form of triangulation that eventually locates the source of these transmissions. Modern forms of media allowed Lovecraft to experiment with


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different forms of allusion: revealing as well as hiding, showing but also transforming. The photographs, letters, books, telephone calls, and radio messages in his tales are all allusive connections to times and places elsewhere. Take the telephone, for example: in “The Statement of Randolph Carter” the portable telephone allows Carter to receive a message from a crypt without knowing what is on the other end of the line; in “The Thing on the Doorstep,” a phone call allows Lovecraft to foreshadow the final revelation and defer it until the very end of the story; in “The Dunwich Horror,” horror can again be heard, but not seen, on the party line. The telephone presents one solution to Salomon’s “problem of witnessing,” revealing monstrosity by sound, not sight, and keeping it at a distance. Weird content—­the apparently uncanny effects of modern media—­allows for a new form of weird style, and allusion creates a weird geography between witness and monstrosity. In At the Mountains of Madness, members of the expedition use wireless radio to communicate with each other and the outside world, and parts of the narrative take the form of short transcriptions of these messages. The highly detailed but cubist description of the “Old Ones” is not an eyewitness account, then, but a radio report, delivered at a great distance, and the narrator struggles to understand it: “Results, quickly reported over the wireless, were baffling and provocative indeed” (265). The power of media to transcend space begins to worry the narrator, who censors the later reports he passes on to the outside world. The radio allows for a necessary distance that maintains the mystery by alluding to, rather than revealing, the Old Ones. Similarly, the denouement of “The Dunwich Horror” is as distant as the dissection of the Antarctic Old Ones, and at the end of the drama the reader can only eavesdrop on the commentary of the locals as they watch through a telescope. In The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the battle at Curwen’s farmhouse is also reported from a distance; our vantage point is with the party farthest away from the house and with Curwen’s neighbors. The sounds and smells that are the only evidence of the struggle come to these witnesses from far away, along with whatever it is that “arched the backs and stiffened the fur of the three cats then within the room” (123). In all of these examples, these mediations are forms of allusion that also produce weird geographies of distance and proximity in Lovecraft’s work; content (forms of media) and style (allusion) work together.

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Ye Liveliest Awfulness of H. P. Lovecraft It is time to consider whether a similar match of style and content can be seen in contemporary reworkings of Lovecraft’s ideas and style, including those in music and other forms beyond literature. Harman argues that Poe’s technique resembles Lovecraft’s, which is perhaps not that surprising, but can this way of evaluating Lovecraft’s work help us establish other effective practitioners of weird realist art? Are contemporary writers, artists, or musicians capable of such sustained commitment to a weird style? If contemporary revisions of Lovecraft represent a kind of necromancy, then serious scholars might consider many of the Lovecrafts raised up in popular culture to be like Curwen’s failed resurrections—­“Noth’g butt ye liveliest Awfulness”—­precisely because so many aspects of the original are missing (Case of Charles Dexter Ward, 116). While it might seem possible to distinguish between the two Lovecrafts defined by the respective logics of “literary canonization and commercial adaptation”—­the “real” and “pulp” Lovecrafts respectively—­this distinction is impossible to maintain (Hantke, 136). Steffen Hantke suggests that despite the best efforts of S. T. Joshi and others, Lovecraft is now “not so much a clearly defined biographical entity . . . but rather a discursive entity, constituted and framed by fans or academics or filmmakers” according to their own personal, institutional, or commercial imperatives (137). There are many reasons for this. First, his writing style and sense of the fantastic favor indeterminacy, leaving many gray areas for others to explore. Second, his playful and open dialogues with friends and collaborators made his writing a shared, revised, and often contradictory text from the outset. Third, his rejection by the literary mainstream meant that alternative readings of Lovecraft’s work circulated largely unfixed by critical opinion for several decades, and definitive texts and authoritative biographies have been established only comparatively recently. Finally, his posthumous path to fame—­from the pulps to the mainstream via Arkham House, the counterculture, and now the Internet—­seems to have made him both highly influential and rather anonymous. Lovecraft seems to be everywhere, whether appearing as a character in fiction, comics, and music, or indexed by entities, places, and ideas that he created. China Miéville suggests that contemporary culture is characterized by “an accelerating circuit of teratogenesis” (123), but Mark Jones points out that while contemporary monsters seem to


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owe a debt to Lovecraft, the claims made for many “are both dubious and essentially pointless” (240). At the same time, the most interesting and original creations dwindle into insignificance compared to the contemporary ubiquity of the figures Lovecraft was already bored with by 1930. As he complained to Smith, “It is really very hard to work with a superstition as well-­known and conventionalised as those of the vampire and werewolf. . . . [S]o far I have found original synthetic horrors much more tractable” (Selected Letters III, 213, 224). Recent reviews of Lovecraft’s place in popular culture seem again to point to a contrast between style and content. Observing a tension between his widening popularity and the original (esoteric and downbeat) tenor of his work, Mark Jones implies that the content of Lovecraft’s fiction is more accessible than his style. Joseph Norman’s survey of varieties of heavy metal music suggests that while there is a good deal of predictable Lovecraftian content, there are also attempts at more suitably ominous sounds and atmospheres. The medium is both the most interesting aspect of this kind of weird horror, as Harman suggests, and the most challenging because critics have tended to subordinate it to content (and perhaps because many are less familiar with the tools or vocabulary of a formal analysis of music, art, etc.). In many cases, a lack of attention to style means that contemporary weird content is presented in a nonweird fashion. One contemporary writer who understands the significance of both content and technique is the author and critic China Miéville. Martyn Colebrook’s examination of Miéville’s fiction demonstrates that he shares a number of concerns with Lovecraft, notably around space and the city, though of course their political views are utterly different. In Miéville’s story “Looking for Jake,” Colebrook notes that “the narrator’s voice [is] in the process of fragmentation,” which suggests “the apparent failure of language to represent the subject of this event” (216). However, despite Miéville’s eye for urban settings, and his interest in juxtaposition and connection, there are few examples of the kinds of mediated weird geographies discussed above. For that we might turn to the work of Charles Stross, a writer who first touched on Lovecraft’s ideas with “A Colder War,” published in 2000, and the unrelated “Laundry” fictions, a series of four novels and five shorter works published between 2004 and 2013. The Laundry stories concern a British counterintelligence service dedicated to thwarting occult threats, principally the mathematical sorcery explored in Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House,” which has been greatly

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amplified by developments in computing. This, combined with Stross’s own fascination with gadgets and past experience as a programmer and computer journalist, makes mediated occult interaction and sorcerous forms of eavesdropping a central part of the Laundry stories. Monitors and smartphones become lethal weapons or vectors of infection as otherworldly entities possess the living by jumping through communication networks or from host to host. Telepathic connections are established between agents, or between “hive intelligences” and their victims, and the Laundry’s U.S. equivalent deploys dead human “assets” from afar much as remote-­controlled drone aircraft are used in Pakistan. In the Laundry stories, making contact—­by touch, sight, or telepathic influence—­is dangerous and staying offline becomes a way of guarding against possession. “Glamours” alter their victims’ perceptions and feelings; even Britain’s famously ubiquitous CCTV coverage becomes a weapon. The content is explicitly Lovecraftian, then, but the style is also close to Lovecraft’s in its use of mediation to reveal and hide. Stross shares very few of Lovecraft’s beliefs and politics, and their styles are very different; however, Stross’s reworking of the content of Lovecraft’s ideas remains bound up with ghoulish dialogues and questions of contact, influence, and connection.

Conclusions This chapter engages with some of the ideas emerging from speculative realism, asking what they might mean for Lovecraft criticism. The novelty and apparent strangeness of these arguments present a challenge to critics used to working with other approaches, but there are a number of things that might be learned from Harman’s work. First, Lovecraft’s style, so often seen as his weakness, becomes central to the study of his fictions. Second, the relationship between this style and the content of his stories allows us to see how careful technique meets pulp fiction to great effect. Third, I have argued that the use of allusion makes particular elements of content more significant—­in this case the forms of mediation that help create Lovecraft’s weird geography—­as well as reminding us that he is a very modern author. Finally, while there are many Lovecrafts circulating today, many present their weird views in a very nonweird fashion precisely because they do not take questions of style as seriously as Lovecraft did. Harman’s analysis does raise new questions, though. For example, how does Lovecraft’s racism fit this position? Is it the source and


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shaping of his feelings of horror, as figures as different as Houellebecq and Miéville have suggested, or does it also work at the level of technique? Harman suggests that Lovecraft’s racism is “abominable in ethical and political terms” but “undeniably effective in purely literary ones” (Weird Realism, 60). Perhaps if the bodies of Lovecraft’s protagonists and entities are seen as points of contact—­of miscegenation, degeneration, hybridity, and abjection—­this analysis of content and style can be developed further (see Simmons, Wisker). In this context, allusion becomes a way of keeping other bodies close or distant, separate or commingled. Other textual elements of Lovecraft’s writing may open up similar lines of enquiry. It should also be noted that this essay has concentrated on allusion because it is closest to ideas explored by other critics, but Harman’s analysis of Lovecraft’s “cubism” is even more promising precisely because it identifies what seems like a different technique in a novel way. Whether or not we agree that reality itself is weird, Harman’s approach seems to offer new possibilities for Lovecraft criticism, as well as returning our attention to his writing, so long subordinated to the recovery of his views from the weird content of his stories. While that is, of course, important, it diminishes Lovecraft’s significance as a writer of weird fiction. The challenge of the Age of Lovecraft is to consider the form and content of his work together, to analyze these ghoulish dialogues as both weird style and weird content, as stories with their own geographies and histories. Harman’s Weird Realism is both an important reminder of this, as well as the most sustained and original study of his style published for some time.

Notes 1. Harman’s source for the term “ontography” is M. R. James’s ghost story “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You My Lad,” though there does not seem to be any further Weird resonance to this choice (Quadruple, 124). See also Bogost, 35–­60. 2. In fact Harman finds four types of tension here, following the argument made in The Quadruple Object, but only two turn out to be common in Lovecraft’s work. 3. In “On the Horror,” Harman argued that Lovecraft was much more “cubist” than “noumenal”; Weird Realism revises this position in favor of the suggestion that what looks like Kantian noumenalism is actually a Husserlian-­Heideggerian withdrawal. 4. Harman has recently considered some of these questions himself (“Well-­ Wrought”).

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Works Cited Berman, Marshall. All That Is Solid Melts into Air. London: Penguin, 1982. Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Carlin, Gerry, and Nicola Allen. “Slime and Western Man: H. P. Lovecraft in the Time of Modernism.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 73–­90. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Carroll, Nöel. The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart. New York: Routledge, 1990. Carter, Angela. “Lovecraft and Landscape.” In The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names, ed. George Hay, 173–­81. London: Skoob Books, 1992. Colebrook, Martyn. “‘Comrades in Tentacles’: H. P. Lovecraft and China Miéville.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 209–­26. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Curtis, Barry. Dark Places: The Haunted House in Film. London: Reaktion, 2008. Gayford, Norman R. “The Artist as Antaeus: Lovecraft and Modernism.” In An Epicure in the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays in Honor of H. P. Lovecraft, eds. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, 286–­312. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2011. Hantke, Steffen. “From the Library of America to the Mountains of Madness: Recent Discourse on H. P. Lovecraft.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 134–­56. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Harman, Graham. “On the Horror of Phenomenology: Lovecraft and Husserl.” Collapse 4 (2008): 333–­64. ———. The Quadruple Object. Winchester, U.K.: Zero Books, 2011. ———. Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. Winchester, U.K.: Zero Books, 2012. ———. “The Well-­Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-­Oriented Literary Criticism.” New Literary History 43, no. 2 (2012): 183–­203. Hite, Kenneth. Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales. Alexandria, Va.: Atomic Overmind Press, 2008. Holloway, Julian, and James Kneale. “Locating Haunting: A Ghost-Hunter’s Guide.” Cultural Geographies 15, no. 3 (2008): 297–­312. Houellebecq, Michel. H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. Trans. Dorma Khazeni. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2006. Jackson, Rosemary. Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion. London: Routledge, 1981. Jones, Mark. “Tentacles and Teeth: The Lovecraftian Being in Popular Culture.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 226–­47. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Kittler, Friedrich. “Gramophone, Film, Typewriter.” October 41 (1987): 101–­18. Kneale, James. “From Beyond: H. P. Lovecraft and the Place of Horror,” Cultural Geographies 13, no. 1 (2006): 106–­26. ———. “Monstrous and Haunted Media: H. P. Lovecraft and Early Twentieth-­ Century Communications Technology.” Historical Geography 38 (2010): 90–­106.


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Latour, Bruno. Science In Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society. Milton Keynes, U.K.: Open University Press, 1987. Lovecraft, Howard Phillips. At the Mountains of Madness. In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, 246–­340. London: Penguin, 2001. ———. “The Call of Cthulhu.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 139–­69. London: Penguin, 1999. ———. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 341–­65. London: Penguin, 2001. ———. “The Horror at Red Hook.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 116–­37. London: Penguin, 2005. ———. “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction.” In Miscellaneous Writings, ed. S. T. Joshi, 113–­16. Sauk City, Wisc.: Arkham House, 1995. ———. “The Old Brick Row.” In Miscellaneous Writings, ed. S. T. Joshi, 511–­15. Sauk City, Wisc.: Arkham House, 1995. ———. Selected Letters III, 1929–­1931, eds. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Sauk City, Wisc.: Arkham House, 1971. ———. Supernatural Horror in Literature. New York: Dover, 1973. ———. “The Whisperer in Darkness.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 200–­267. London: Penguin, 1999. Luckhurst, Roger. “Introduction.” In H. P. Lovecraft: The Classic Horror Stories, ed. Roger Luckhurst, vii–­xxviii. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. ———. The Invention of Telepathy: 1870–­1901. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Meillassoux, Quentin. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. Trans. Ray Brassier. London: Continuum, 2008. Miéville, China, “M. R. James and the Quantum Vampire: Weird; Hauntological; versus and/or and and/or or?,” Collapse 4 (2008): 105–­28. Norman, Joseph. “‘Sounds Which Filled Me with an Indefinable Dread’: The Cthulhu Mythopoeia of H. P. Lovecraft in ‘Extreme’ Metal.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 193–­208. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Oates, Joyce Carol. “The King of Weird.” The New York Review of Books. October 31, 1996:­king-­of -­weird/. Ronell, Avital. The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989. Salomon, Roger B. The Mazes of the Serpent. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002. Sconce, Jeffrey. Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraph to Television. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000. Simmons, David. “‘A Certain Resemblance’: Abject Hybridity in H. P. Lovecraft’s Short Fiction.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 13–­30. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Stefans, Brian Kim. “Let’s Get Weird: On Graham Harman’s H. P. Lovecraft.” Los Angeles Review of Books. April 6, 2013:­get -­weird-­on-­graham-­harmans-­h-­p-­lovecraft.

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Thrift, Nigel. “With Child to See Any Strange Thing: Everyday Life in the City.” In A Companion to the City, eds. Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson, 398–­409. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 2000. Thurschwell, Pamela. Literature, Technology, and Magical Thinking, 1880–­1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1973. Warner, Michael. The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-­Century America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. Winters, Alison. Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Wisker, Gina. “‘Spawn of the Pit’: Lavinia, Marceline, Medusa, and All Things Foul: H. P. Lovecraft’s Liminal Women.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 31–­54. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.


ꙮ LOVECRAFT’S THINGS Sinister Souvenirs from Other Worlds Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock


he appeal of the gothic as an artistic mode that depicts or relates violent or macabre scenes or events is a curious thing—­ after all, when you think about it, why would anyone care to linger over (much less savor) horrific images or accounts of murder, mutilation, monsters, and mayhem? While this question is a subset of the larger problem of what Steven J. Schneider refers to as the “paradox of fiction”—­the question of how we can be moved by what we know does not exist in the first place—­it has its own particular twist since the content involved is presumably distasteful; the Gothic confronts us with that from which we would normally shrink in fear or disgust. So, if being frightened or repulsed is unpleasant, why would anyone actively seek out such experiences? There have, of course, been numerous attempts to explain the seemingly counter-­intuitive hold that Gothic horror possesses over the reader or viewer. Philosopher Noël Carroll, on the one hand, narrows it down in The Philosophy of Horror: or, Paradoxes of the Heart (1990) to a contest between basic curiosity and disgust. Restricting his attention to “art horror” (artistic representations of horror), Carroll proposes that narrative engages the viewer’s interest, while horror elicits disgust. If our curiosity about how the characters will fare and how things will turn out is stronger than our disgust, we continue to consume the narrative. If disgust prevails, we stop reading or viewing. Kendall Walton, on the other hand, argues that it is only “make-­believedly” true that horror narratives frighten us. Appealing to “common sense”—­we can’t be afraid if we aren’t actually in danger—­Walton proposes that what we actually feel is what he refers to as a “quasi-­emotion.” As summarized by Steven J. Schneider, “Quasi-­emotions differ from true emotions primarily in that they are generated not by existence beliefs (such as the belief that the monster I am watching on screen really exists), but by ‘second-­order’


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beliefs about what is fictionally the case according to the work in question (such as the belief that the monster I am watching on screen make-­ believedly exists.” We thus derive enjoyment from playing along and pretending to be scared. Shifting the terms of the conversation a bit, I would like to suggest using language indebted to political theorist and philosopher Jane Bennett, historian Michael Saler, and philosopher and professor of digital media Ian Bogost (all to whom I will return later) that the allure of the Gothic and the fascination it provokes inheres at least in part in its staging of a peculiar sort of enchanted world—­in particular, a world in which the line between subject and object becomes muddled and obscured. The milieu of the Gothic narrative is one of animate objects—­of things that acquire mystery, depth, and often life of a sort—­and of de-­animated subjects, people who are treated like or become things. This confusion of ontological states is of course at the heart of what Freud famously describes as the uncanny. For Freud, the frisson of the uncanny is produced by a sort of upending of the world precipitated by the crumbling of preconceptions. It is experienced when the familiar becomes strange and when strange things seem familiar. What I will refer to as enchantment—­or, more properly as concerns the Gothic and its monsters, dark enchantment—­is a second-­order uncanny sensation of extended duration. It is experienced by the reader or viewer captivated by a familiar world made strange and who, knowing it to be a fiction, nevertheless cannot look away. My contention is that this dark enchantment, this hold of Gothic horror provoked by ontological confusion, goes beyond the curiosity concerning narrative events proposed by Carroll or the fun of pretending to be scared suggested by Walton and derives—­as both Victoria Nelson and Michael Saler suggest—­from deep-­seated desires for and fascination with the prospect of another world governed by different laws. This desire for wonder, which manifests in the affective state underlying the emotional response to the Gothic, is so strong that even dark enchantment—­even monsters and murder—­becomes satisfying. In fact, dark enchantment with its Gothic aura of dread and despair may be particularly well suited to contemporary sensibilities because it fuses magic with postmodern cynicism. Gothic horror reintroduces a sense of the numinous into an allegedly disenchanted landscape, but in such a way that human hubris is chastened and egotism upbraided. It may be easier and, indeed, both more appealing and convincing to imagine


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a world of ambient dread and actual horror than a fairytale world of happy endings. In order to develop this approach to the role of what we may, following Bennett, refer to as Gothic “thing-­power,” I will first consider the enchantment of fantastic narrative as suggested by Nelson and Saler. I will then offer a brief overview of the Gothic’s empire of uncanny things. From there, my next stop will be a reflection on critical theory’s recent preoccupation with matter, and I will end by attempting to put the pieces together in a consideration of the dark enchantment of “ominous matter” in the macabre tales of twentieth-­century American author, H. P. Lovecraft. Gothic things, as we shall see, invert conventional understandings of subject and object, person and thing. In doing so, they reconfigure the universe in a way that both enchants and unsettles.

The Enchantments of Fantastic Narrative The topic of enchantment has been the focus of three twenty-­first-­ century studies: political philosopher Jane Bennett’s The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (2001), Victoria Nelson’s The Secret Life of Puppets (also 2001), and historian Michael Saler’s 2012 As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality. In Bennett’s Enchantment, she variously defines enchantment as “a stage of openness to the disturbing-­captivating elements in everyday experience,” “a window onto the virtual secreted within the actual,” a “mood with ethical potential,” and a “picture of the world as a web of lively and mobile matter-­forms of varying degrees of complexity” (131). Contra assertions by Max Weber and others that processes of rationalization, secularization, and bureaucratization have drained the world of wonder (Saler, 8), Bennett’s point in Enchantment is that there is plenty in the world today that still enchants (including technologies and commodities—­Bennett does not focus on fiction). Both Nelson and Saler supplement Bennett by addressing the enchantments of fantasy literature, which they see as satisfying the desire for wonder in a secular age. Nelson frames things in religious terms: the “sub-­zeitgeist” of popular culture allows “the displaced religious impulse” (19) to “sneak in the back door” (18). Fantastic narratives thus provide a way that “we as nonbelievers allow ourselves, unconsciously, to believe” (vii) and reflect a “displaced longing for the transcendental” (84). Saler, too, while eschewing the language of religion and transcendence, asserts that “the vogue for fantastic imaginary worlds

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from the fin-­de-­siècle through the twentieth century is best explained in terms of a larger cultural project of the West: that of re-­enchanting an allegedly disenchanted world” (5). Saler, however, adds a little twist to Nelson, arguing that “modern enchantment” is characterized by a “self-­ conscious strategy of embracing illusions while acknowledging their artificial status” (13). With provocative, if unexplored, connections to Kendall Walton’s notion of quasi-­emotions, Saler proposes that what marks modern consumption of fantasy is what he refers to as the “ironic imagination”: a “double-­minded consciousness that became widespread in Europe and America in the late nineteenth century” and “permits an emotional immersion in, and rational reflection on, imaginary worlds, yielding a form of modern enchantment that delights without deluding” (30). For both Nelson and Saler, fantasy literature enchants the reader who finds the impoverished modern landscape sterile and lifeless. Fantasy restores wonder and, for Nelson, is a poor-­man’s substitute for religion in secular modern culture.

Castle, Portrait, and Book: Sinister Souvenirs from Other Worlds Where I extend on Nelson and Saler is with the proposition that part of the spell cast by the Gothic is woven with its uncanny things. In the first chapter of Fred Botting’s Gothic (1995), Botting characterizes the Gothic as “a writing of excess” (1). While Botting foregrounds actions and emotions that “transgress social proprieties and moral laws” (3) —­“vice and violence . . . selfish ambitions and sexual desires beyond the prescriptions of law or familial duty” (4)—­much of the excessiveness of the Gothic arguably derives from its uncanny subjectification of presumably inert matter and the concomitant objectification of living things. The darkly wondrous world of the Gothic is first and foremost a world of “ominous matter”—­of mysterious objects that exceed their intended purposes and, through their interactions with human characters, become drenched with affect and supersaturated with psychic investment. These are things that become more than things—­things with depth, hidden qualities, and indeed life of a sort. Privileged categories of Gothic things include architecture or landscape inhospitable to human well-­being (spaces of confinement, spaces of disorientation, disorienting or liminal Foucaultian “heterotopias”), representations of the human body, and bodies of knowledge; these three categories can be represented by the castle, the portrait, and the book.


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The Castle (Space) The Gothic castle, from Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otronto (1764) and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) to riffs on it such as Poe’s House of Usher (“The Fall of the House of Usher,” 1839), Shirley Jackson’s Hill House (The Haunting of Hill House, 1959), Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel (The Shining, 1977), the Danver’s asylum at the heart of the film Session 9 (Brad Anderson, 2001) and the videogame Asylum (2013), represents a paradoxical space of simultaneous confinement and seemingly infinite extension that often takes center stage and is the most memorable aspect of Gothic narrative. The protagonist finds him-­or herself (conventionally the latter) trapped in a mazelike Deleuzian “smooth space,” a nightmarish site of underground dungeons and turrets, great halls and alcoves, secret passages and hidden rooms. As is the case for the house in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000), the Gothic castle inevitably seems bigger on the inside than the outside—­ and grows over the course of the narrative as new spaces are revealed. As the protagonist struggles to comprehend this disorienting place, the Gothic castle becomes invested with a profound sense of dread: locked doors, thick walls, and darkness thwart progress and enforce isolation; half-­heard conversations convey ominous intent; and uncovered letters and manuscripts reveal histories of horror. This sense of unease culminates in the sublime vista of another world as seemingly supernatural noises, dreams, and visions punch a hole in rationalist conceptions of the universe. In this way, the Gothic castle functions as a Foucauldian “heterotopia,” a space of otherness condensing prison, graveyard, and museum as past and present intermingle, dark secrets come to light, and the supernatural demands a more expansive reconceptualization of reality. As the de rigeur storm rages without, the castle asserts what Bennett refers to in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2009) as “thing-­power”: “the curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle” (6). Chief among the castle’s effects is the opening of a portal for the protagonist to the outside of things, to a level of nonsensuous reality that then intermingles with—­ and spiritualizes—­the material world. Like the mystical grotto imagined as the “mysterious loci of psychic or spiritual transformation” (10) discussed by Nelson in the first chapter of Secret Life of Puppets, the castle functions as a liminal space and conduit between worlds. This representation of what Nelson refers to as the “supernatural grotesque” (18)

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then becomes a primary focus of dark enchantment within the narrative for the reader or viewer who seeks the re-­enchantment of modernity.

The Gothic Portrait (Human Form) While the castle is arguably the paradigmatic Gothic architectural edifice condensing anxieties about space and place and functioning as a conduit for the numinous, the Gothic portrait is exemplary of a second category of Gothic things: uncanny representations of the body that undo distinctions between animate and inanimate and past and present. Connected to other renderings of the body such as photographs, reflections, statues, puppets, anthropomorphic idols, and dolls, the Gothic portrait stages an uncanny inversion in which the inanimate thing assumes life while the living thing is frozen or vitiated. As with the Gothic castle and its hidden secrets, the Gothic portrait often stages a confrontation between past and present as long-­dead ancestors exert their influence and, as Derrida suggests of ghosts in general in Specters of Marx (1993), “hauntologically” interrupt the presentness of the present. In some cases, this irruption of the past is literal: in Walpole’s Otronto, a portrait of the tyrant Manfred’s deceased grandfather sighs and then the figure steps down from the frame; in both Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) and Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla (1872), the uncanny resemblance between a portrait of someone presumed long dead and a living character indexes the supernatural longevity of the latter. In other cases, obsessive attention to a portrait reveals a character’s melancholic fixation on the past—­Melville’s eponymous Pierre (1852) obsesses over a portrait of his father secreted in his closet, while Mrs. Danvers in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) moons over the portrait of her lost matron. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables (1851), the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon acts as a straightforward symbol of the persistence of the past and seems to shake its head or frown when something happens of which it doesn’t approve. The paradoxical liveliness of the Gothic portrait is emphasized even more fully in narratives in which a portrait, rather than gesturing toward the distant past by representing an ancestor, is literally linked to the life of one of the characters. This is obviously the case in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) in which Dorian’s portrait transforms to reflect his progressive moral decay, as well as in Poe’s short story, “The


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Oval Portrait” (1850), in which the painter of a portrait exclaims, “This is indeed Life itself!”—­only to then discover that his model/bride has died, her energy magically transferred to her portrait. In each instance, it is the portrait that assumes life as the living model freezes in time (Dorian himself becomes the static portrait as the painting changes) or perishes. Paintings become subjects as their subjects become objects. The magical investment of the Gothic object with uncanny life, as exemplified by the portrait, aligns it with the original conception of the fetish object. As detailed by William Pietz, the fetish is a material object “viewed as the locus of religious or psychic investment” that “subverts the ideal of the autonomously determined self” as it seems to exert some kind of outside control over the subject (23). For the reader as well, the Gothic object arguably functions as a fetish in the specifically psychoanalytic sense—­as a prophylactic against the castration of modernity and rational thought.

The Forbidden Book (Knowledge) What all Gothic objects have in common is that they function as portals to or sinister souvenirs from other worlds. The third category of Gothic object, the forbidden book, often is both—­a mysterious artifact from elsewhere that opens a passage to the beyond (either literally or in the figurative sense of a going beyond established knowledge and understanding). The tabooed quality of the forbidden book inheres in its profaneness—­its contempt for accepted practices and principles—­ and the concern that those who read from it will either be “corrupted” into emulating the socially unacceptable behavior described or will be driven insane by knowledge the mind is unwilling or unable to accept. Thus, Dorian Gray is corrupted by a “poisonous” French novel, and Robert W. Chambers’s collection of stories The King in Yellow (1895, a work esteemed by Lovecraft) is loosely organized around the conceit of a mysterious and decadent play (titled The King in Yellow) that, like the book in Dorian Gray, “poisons” its readers. In the same way that the Gothic portrait assumes life at the expense of the vitality of the model or viewer, the forbidden book serves as a Latourean “actant” as it exerts control over its reader, figuratively or literally “poisoning” him or her. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, to which I will return, is undoubtedly the most notable manifestation of the forbidden book in contemporary literature, but the category also includes

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the forbidden and literally poisonous book on comedy from Aristotle’s Poetics in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (1980); the book containing the key to summoning the devil in Arturo Pérez-­Reverte’s novel The Club Dumas (1993, adapted for film as The Ninth Gate [Roman Polanski, 1999]); “Hell’s Bible,” a version of the Bible with different contents in Francis Lawrence’s Constantine (2005); and The Book of Noah in Laura Bynam’s postapocalyptic Veracity (2010). Occasionally, the uncanny agency of the forbidden book is literalized through its animation: the Necronomicon Ex-­Mortis, a conscious allusion to Lovecraft in Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness (1992), bites the hand that holds it and literally pulls the reader in, while Tom Riddle’s diary in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998) similarly sucks in Harry and exhibits magical sentience. Together with the Gothic castle and portrait, the forbidden book exemplifies the ways in which the thing-­power of Gothic objects inverts and scuttles subject/object distinctions. Substituted for a rationalist conception of the world is an animistic one governed by a kind of “flat ontology” (see Bryant) in which all objects—­including people—­have the same ontological status. This reconceived reality then becomes the focus of desire on the part of the darkly enchanted reader or viewer who consciously or unconsciously seeks escape from what Nelson refers to as the contemporary “empirical-­materialist” (25) milieu of modern culture.

The Gothic Enchantment of Thing-­Power Providing us with a lens and language through which to consider the uncanny animacy of objects in Gothic narrative and the spell they cast are twenty-­first-­century theorists of things—­particularly those operating under the rubrics of new materialism, object-­oriented ontology, and speculative realism—­who seek “to counter the narcissism of humans in charge of the world” (Bennett, Vibrant, xvi) in the hope of fostering more ethical, fulfilling, and sustainable ways of existing. Bennett, for example, explains at the start of her Vibrant Matter that she wishes to “highlight what is typically cast in the shadow: the material agency or effectivity of nonhuman or not-­quite-­human things” (ix). Mel Y. Chen’s objective in Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (2012) is “to consider how matter that is considered insensate, immobile, deathly, or otherwise ‘wrong’ animates cultural life in important ways” (2). Stacy Alaimo in Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and


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the Material Self (2010) emphasizes what she describes as the “trans-­ corporeality” of the human subject—­the intermeshing of human beings with the “more-­than-­human” world that “denies the human subject the sovereign central position” (16)—­while Graham Harman asserts in The Quadruple Object (2011) that the autonomy of objects undoes the indefensible narrowness (62) of correlationalist viewpoints that assume that “if objects exist, they do so only for us” (Bogost, 4). Chen summarizes this trend when she writes, “Throughout the humanities and social sciences, scholars are working through posthumanist understandings of the significance of stuff, objects, commodities, and things, creating a fertile terrain of thought about object life” (5). What these approaches share is a sense of what Bennett refers to as a “vibrant, quirky, and overflowing material world” (Enchantment, 162) full of “strangely vital” (Bennett, Vibrant, 3) things that challenge the autonomy, boundedness, and supremacy of the human subject and raise questions concerning where the human stops and the nonhuman begins. Bennett thus introduces in Vibrant Matter her notion of “thing-­power”—­ “the curious ability of inanimate things to animate, to act, to produce effects dramatic and subtle” (6)—­and stresses the extent to which “human being and thinghood overlap” (4). Harman’s object-­oriented-­ ontologist “speculative” or “weird realism” proposes that objects have “lives” separate from human apprehension of them, “real qualities” that forever withdraw “into a shadowy subterranean realm” (Quadruple, 37) apart from conscious knowing and that “will never be exhausted by the feeble sketches of them delivered to our hearts and minds” (Quadruple, 28). Bennett figures this “irreducibly strange dimension of matter” as the “out-­side,” that which “refuses to dissolve completely into the milieu of human knowledge” (Vibrant, 3). Quentin Meillassoux means something similar in After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (2010) when he refers to “the great outdoors” as that which correlationalism has stolen from philosophy (7). And this reconsideration of things necessitates a concomitant rethinking of the human: “To be a speculative realist,” glosses Ian Bogost in Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing (2012), “one must abandon the belief that human access sits at the center of being, organizing and regulating it like an ontological watchmaker” (5). Human existence is no longer somehow special or privileged. Rather, as Levi Bryant explains in his The Democracy of Objects (2011), this reconsideration of objects tends toward a “flat ontology,” one that makes no distinctions among the types of beings that exist and treats all objects as existing equally. Within such an ontology, writes Bryant,

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“humans are no longer monarchs of being, but are instead among beings, entangled in beings, and implicated in other beings” (44). Those adopting this approach typically do so with charming exuberance, emphasizing, as does Bogost, the “awesome plenitude of the alien everyday” (134). For Timothy Morton, “An object is like Doctor Who’s Tardis, bigger on the inside than it is on the outside” (49). Bogost’s fifth and final chapter on Alien Phenomenology is titled simply “Wonder,” and here he explains that, “to wonder is to suspend all trust in one’s own logics, be they religion, science, philosophy, custom, or opinion, and to become subsumed entirely in the uniqueness of an object’s native logic” (124). Bogost’s wonderment resonates closely with the “belief in the spontaneity of nature” (Bennett, Vibrant, viii)—­the enchantment that Bennett associates with childhood experiences of “a world populated by animate things rather than passive objects” (vii). But, like the TARDIS mentioned by Morton, the strange and threatening home in House of Leaves is also bigger on the inside, and the childhood world of living objects becomes in the dark a world of night terrors and irrational fears. Beneath the exuberance and ethical posturing of new materialist philosophies skulks the terror of spontaneous nature and animate things turned malicious, of irrational space, and of objectified humans—­all of which fold into the Gothic depiction of a universe governed by powers and forces beyond human control or understanding. At times, tentacles of this lurking fear even break the surface of new materialist discourse, as when Bennett discusses life experienced as terror (Vibrant, 54), when Harman turns to a hangman’s hood (121) and dead things (123) for examples, and when Bogost references serial killers, corpses, and zombies. Indeed, Bogost’s remarkably Gothic-­sounding articulation of his program is “to release objects like ghosts from the prison of human experience” (65), while Bennett flirts with the “shadows,” and Harman’s things retreat into mysterious “subterranean realms” of being. It seems that the unpredictable “swerve” of matter addressed by Bennett in Enchantment (81) is often precisely—­ perhaps inevitably—­a careening into the affective terrain of the Gothic and, indeed, the story that Gothic narrative insistently tells is of the terror that accompanies human interloping into the great outdoors or the penetration of our “empirical-­materialist” sphere of existence by that which prowls what Bennett refers to throughout Vibrant Matter as the “out-­side” (2 and passim). Thing theorists and Gothic authors thus seem to offer us two sides to the same coin, and my argument is that the dark enchantment of the


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Gothic narrative is an exercise of the ironic imagination’s engagement with thing-­power, which opens an ominous portal to the out-­side and invites in what lurks there. The modern reader or viewer of the Gothic satisfies a need for wonder—­and perhaps even a connection with the transcendent—­through a variant of what Saler calls “animistic reason,” the imaginative imbuing or supersaturation of objects with meaning (109). With these assertions in mind, I now turn my attention to the writing of early twentieth-­century American “weird fiction” author, Howard Philips Lovecraft, with a focus on his appropriation and rescripting of those paradigmatic Gothic objects, castle, portrait, and book, and how he uses them to create a sense of ominous matter that darkly enchants modern readers.

The Dark Enchantment of Lovecraft’s Things The Castle (“The Rats in the Walls”) Although Lovecraft claimed to eschew well-­worn horror formulas and tropes, he nevertheless included defamiliarized, haunting spaces that range from creepy and forbidden houses (in, for example, “The Lurking Fear” [1922], “The Shunned House” [1924], “The Strange High House in the Mist” [1926], “The Dreams in the Witch House” [1932], and “The Haunter of the Dark” [1935]) to lost, creepy cities, often indicative of the existence of other races and civilizations (for example, “The Temple” [1920], “He” [1925], “The Horror at Red Hook” [1925], and notably At the Mountains of Madness [1931] and The Shadow Out of Time [1934–­ 35]). Lovecraft’s use of the convention of the Gothic castle is perhaps most immediately obvious in “The Rats in the Walls” (1924), a tale in which the physical geography of Exham Priory symbolizes time and the human mind as literal depth is paralleled both with going back in time and spelunking into the yawning cavern of the unconscious. “The Rats in the Walls” is the first-­person account of the sole remaining scion of the ancient Delapore family, who reverse emigrates from Massachusetts to his ancestral estate in England, known as Exham Priory, which he first surveys as a suitably gothic “jumble of tottering mediaeval ruins covered with lichens and honeycombed with rooks’ nests, perched perilously upon a precipice, and denuded of floors or other interior features save the stone walls of the separate towers” (91). Lovecraft indeed works hard in the first part of the story to establish the gothic pedigree of the priory, which is considered by the locals as “nothing less

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than a haunt of fiends and werewolves” (92) and around which legends “of the most grisly description” (93) swirl. The reader therefore is hardly surprised when, after taking up residence in the refurbished priory, the narrator is harassed by nightmares and his sleep is further disturbed by “the verminous slithering of ravenous, gigantic, rats” (98) within Roman walls thought to be solid limestone. The narrator resolves to root out the problem, and an investigation of the subcellar reveals the existence of a vault even further down. A passage—­one curiously chiseled upward from beneath—­conducts the narrator and a small team of investigators (with language resonating with that of Nelson) into “a twilit grotto of enormous height, stretching away farther than any eye could see; a subterraneous world of limitless mystery and horrible suggestion” (105). Here the discovery of an apparently endless sea of human bones precipitates a horrific revelation: the narrator’s family had maintained an underground city for centuries and previous generations had not only fed on human flesh but indeed raised humans like cattle for this purpose. In the end, the narrator—­seemingly channeling generations of ancestry—­regresses linguistically from modern English to Elizabethan, then Middle English, Latin, Gaelic, and finally inarticulate grunts, and is found crouching over the half-­eaten body of one of his co-­investigators. Like the TARDIS or the House of Leaves, Exham Priory is a space vastly bigger on the inside than on the outside, and it is one that transports both characters and reader into another world—­a past world of unholy rites and other gods, as indicated by the subcellar’s Roman inscriptions and ominous brown-­stained central altar of even greater antiquity that obscures the passage downward. The connection here to the transcendent is by way of the demonic as the agency of the spectral rats that summon the narrator compels a ghastly revelation and a literal, linguistic irruption of the past. Like the priory (“priory” of course shares the same root with “prior”), encrypted within the narrator is a legacy of horror. He and the building mirror each other, hold the past within, and it is the ghosts of place that act on the narrator until he uncovers what lurks in the depths of both the priory and his own soul.

The Portrait (“Pickman’s Model”) As with the Gothic castle, Lovecraft similarly appropriates and updates the thing-­power of the Gothic portrait. In The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927), Lovecraft’s use of the device is straightforward:


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the character Dr. Willett notes of a portrait of the story’s villain, Joseph Curwen, that “the eyes of the portrait had a sort of wish, if not an actual tendency, to follow young Charles Ward as he moved about the room” (140). In “The Picture in the House” (1920), a gruesome illustration in Filippo Pigafetta’s Regnum Congo (a book that actually exists—­ Relatione del Reame del Congo [1591]) of a sort of cannibal butchershop “star[es] repulsively upward” (41) and inspires vampiric meditations. In a variant on the portrait, the narrator in Lovecraft’s famous “The Outsider” (1921), seeking light and company after having escaped from a bizarre and deathly underworld, discovers to his horror that the monstrous creature that has panicked a party of revelers is in fact his own reflection. Perhaps most exemplary of thing-­power, however, is the photograph in Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model,”—­an image that gives birth to nightmare and causes the narrator to reevaluate entirely what he thinks he knows of the empirical-­materialist world. “Pickman’s Model” is, from start to finish, all about art and images that shake the bars of rationalist philosophy. The story centers on the artist Richard Upton Pickman who paints horrific—­and horribly realistic—­scenes of monsters and the macabre. Toward the start, the story’s first-­person narrator explains that, You know, it takes profound art and profound insight into Nature to turn out stuff like Pickman’s. Any magazine-­cover hack can splash paint around wildly and call it a nightmare or a Witches’ Sabbath or a portrait of the devil, but only a great painter can make such a thing really scare or ring true. That’s because only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear—­the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with latent instincts or hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness. . . . And Pickman had it as no man ever had it before or—­I hope to Heaven—­ever will again. (79)

When the narrator accepts an invitation to Pickman’s private studio for a viewing of works too ghastly even for public display, he makes a traumatizing discovery: pinned to the canvas of a gruesome painting of a ghoul feeding on a human body is an actual photograph of the creature—­Pickman’s model is an actual, existing monster. “Pickman’s Model,” finally, is all about the power of the photograph to reconfigure one’s sense of reality. While the ghoul depicted does not

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sigh or step out of the frame, Pickman does at one point leave the room—­ revolver in hand—­to respond to squeals and bleats allegedly from “bloated rats” (88) inhabiting an ancient well, and the narrator admits that he can no longer use the subway or go down into cellars. Just like the uncannily alive Gothic portrait, the photograph of Pickman’s model lets the out-­side in—­or, more accurately, prompts the recognition that the outside has always already been within the inside. The thing-­power of Pickman’s photograph inheres in a realism that requires a revision of one’s idea of reality itself.

The Book (The Necronomicon) Turning now to the book, among the most recognizable attributes of Lovecraft’s so-­called Cthulhu Mythos is unquestionably his fictional grimoire the Necronomicon, by the “mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred. First introduced in “The Hound” (1922) and then referenced repeatedly in other works, including “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), “The Dunwich Horror” (1928), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, At the Mountains of Madness, and “The Dreams in the Witch House” (1932), the book purportedly contains a history of Lovecraft’s “Old Ones” (his pantheon of extraterrestrial monstrosities, including Cthulhu, Yog-­Sothoth, and Azathoth) and the means of summoning them. A complete account of the book was provided by Lovecraft in his “History of the Necronomicon” (1927), which rather dryly explains that reading the book “leads to terrible consequences” (268) and humorously proposes that it is from the Necronomicon that author Robert W. Chambers derived the idea of his forbidden play The King in Yellow mentioned in his eponymous collection of stories that was published when Lovecraft was five years old. More so perhaps than any other object in Lovecraft’s litany of uncanny things, the Necronomicon illustrates the uncanny thing-­power of the Gothic object because, as a book of spells, the nature of the magic book is performative—­that is, it does things with words. Not only does the knowledge it contains compel a rethinking of the nature of reality and humanity’s place in the universe, but through speaking its incantations, the book facilitates and enacts the summoning of monsters, the raising of the dead, and the magical transformation of the universe. And one could add here that the forbidden book is performative in a second sense as well, as it metaphorically enchants the reader who wonders at the power of words to summon and who perhaps delights in the pricking


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of humanist pretensions implied by Lovecraft’s “cosmicism”—­his philosophical belief that the universe is without a recognizable divine presence and that humans are insignificant in the larger scheme of things.

Conclusion: “From Beyond” Ominous matter in Lovecraft—­which could be extended to the Cthulhu idol in “The Call of Cthulhu,” the gold tiara in The Shadow over Innsmouth (1931), the viola in “The Music of Erich Zann” (1921), the alien crystal in “The Haunter of the Dark” (1935), the “essential saltes” in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the silver key in the Randolph Carter stories (especially “The Silver Key,” [1926]), the mummified ape in “The Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (1920), the chemical solution in “Herbert West: Reanimator” (1921–­22), the brain-­speaking machine in “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930), the telepathy machine in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919), and so on—­ insistently does what I suggest all Gothic things do to greater or lesser extents: it serves as a conduit to the out-­side, to the great outdoors, to the numinous by way of the demonic. Lovecraft’s things function in precisely the way thing theorists like Bennett, Bogost, Harman, and others suggest all things do: they exhibit agency, they intermesh with the human, they prompt reconsiderations of where the line between human and nonhuman actually falls, and compel a reconsideration of the place of human beings in the universe. But in Gothic narrative such as Lovecraft’s, the awesome plenitude of the alien everyday becomes a source of horror as, rather than elevating objects, human beings are reduced to things, demoted to matter that doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things. This is the final realization in Lovecraft’s “From Beyond” (1920), his story of a machine that extends human vision into other dimensions, exposing that, “close to every known thing [are] whole worlds of alien, unknown entities” (28). The narrator’s technologically accentuated senses allow him to perceive shapes and creatures “walking or drifting through [his] supposedly solid body,” challenging his sense of corporeal concreteness and boundedness. The thing-­power of Crawford Tillinghast’s machine in “From Beyond” opens a portal to another world, but the true revelation prompted by the machine is that the world itself is a haunted castle with ghosts all around and indeed within us. While together with the story’s narrator, we as readers, darkly enchanted with

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the prospect of other worlds, “trembl[e] with anxiety to see the ultimate things” at which the narrator gestures, the horrific conclusion drawn from Lovecraft’s Gothic narrative is that, looking back from the beyond, human beings are simply things.

Works Cited Alaimo, Stacy. Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. Bennett, Jane. The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. ———. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010. Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Botting, Fred. Gothic. London: Routledge, 1996. Bryant, Levi R. The Democracy of Objects. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Open Humanities Press, 2011. Carroll, Nöel. The Philosophy of Horror: or, Paradoxes of the Heart. New York: Routledge, 1990. Chen, Mel Y. Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2012. Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias.” ments/heterotopia/foucault.heterotopia.en.html. Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny” In The Pelican Freud Library, vol. 14, trans. James Strachey, 335–­76. 1919; repr., Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1985. Harman, Graham. The Quadruple Object. Winchester, U.K.: Zero Books, 2011. Lovecraft, H. P. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 90–­205. New York: Penguin Books, 2001. ———. “From Beyond.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 23–­29. New York: Penguin Books, 2004. ———. “History of the Necronomicon.” In The Other Gods and More Unearthly Tales, ed. Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock, 267–­69. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2010. ———. “Pickman’s Model.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 78–­89. New York: Penguin Books, 2001. ———. “The Picture in the House.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 34–­42. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. ———. “The Rats in the Walls.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 89–­108. New York: Penguin Books, 1999. Meillassoux, Quentin. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. Trans. Ray Brassier. London: Continuum, 2008. Morton, Timothy. Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Open Humanities Press, 2013. Nelson, Victoria. The Secret Life of Puppets. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.


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Pietz, William. “The Problem of the Fetish, II: The Origin of the Fetish.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 13 (Spring 1987): 23–­45. Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Oval Portrait.” Edgar Allan Poe Society. July 21, 2015: Saler, Michael. As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Schneider, Steven J. “The Paradox of Fiction.” Internet Journal of Philosophy. June 9, 2009: Walton, Kendall. “Fearing Fictions.” Journal of Philosophy 75, no. 1 (1978): 5–­27.


ꙮ HYPER- ­CACOPHONY Lovecraft, Speculative Realism, and Sonic Materialism Isabella van Elferen


his chapter studies the current Lovecraft renaissance in speculative realist philosophy through the lens of critical musicology. Lovecraft’s numinous monsters resonate significantly with concepts introduced by speculative philosophers like Quentin Meillassoux and Graham Harman. Analyzing the sonic and musical metaphors that Lovecraft uses to describe cosmic realities and creatures, I argue that his work narrates a hyper-­cacophony, which is a sonic counterpart to Meillassoux’s “hyper-­chaos” (63). However, Lovecraft’s paradoxical materialism, which weirdly combines ontology with phenomenology and even metaphysics, simultaneously also causes a sharp divergence between his fiction and contemporary philosophy. Lovecraft’s will to believe in a metaphysical absolute is audible in each story and is diametrically opposed to the speculative ontological absolute that he advocates at the same time. Eager to see in Lovecraft a herald of its own project, however, speculative realism does not reflect on the philosophical paradoxes in his work. The inconsistency in Lovecraft’s thinking becomes especially evident in his hyper-­cacophonic passages, as sound and music, in sonic analogy to the cosmic entities they signify in his oeuvre, are empathically presented as simultaneously material and immaterial. Thus, the “shrieking, roaring confusion of sound” (Lovecraft, “Witch House,” 305) that thunders through his weird universes signifies both Lovecraft’s kinship to and his irreconcilability with contemporary philosophy—­or any earthly philosophy, for that matter.

Unspeakable but Speaking: Lovecraft and Sound H. P. Lovecraft’s stories contain many allusions to and descriptions of sound, but none are pleasant, soothing, or even vaguely harmonic. He generally follows the same procedures as other fantastic authors



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in describing sonic phenomena: the sounds in his stories are nothing like anyone has ever heard or do “not correspond to anything on earth” (“Witch House,” 309; see Van Elferen). Unlike in other sorts of fantastic literature, where sound and music often designate an idealized otherworldliness, Lovecraft’s soundscapes invariably signify the utter terror of the unknown and emanate from unspeakable monsters or gaping abysses. Many have no discernible source, as they are heard in darkness or at night. The apparent absence of a source prompts the hearers to assume two causes for their disembodiment: they must be both ghostly and malevolent. Often perceivers are not even sure whether they are really hearing these sounds. The suggestion that they might appear from some fissure between the perceptible and the imperceptible only intensifies their assessment as supernatural and evil. The narrator of “The Hound,” for example, recalls the night that he and his friend St. John went out to a graveyard in Holland to delve for hidden treasures, but were disturbed by “the faint deep-­toned baying of some gigantic hound which we could neither see not definitely place. As we heard this suggestion of baying we shuddered, remembering the tales of the peasantry” (83). Precisely the fact that this sound is only the “half-­heard, directionless” (83) suggestion of baying without any clear physical origin makes it utterly terrifying. Its continuous unseen presence haunts St. John and the narrator and eventually leads to their demise. The sounds in “The Dreams in the Witch House” are even less well defined and therefore more frightening than those in “The Hound.” The main character of the story, Walter Gilman, has studied so hard at a strange mixture of non-­Euclidean mathematics, quantum physics, and folklore that he has become highly sensitive to any suggestion of unnatural presence. His ears are particularly keen at night, when the sounds of little scurrying feet and creaking floorboards suggest the possibility of some spectral presence: “The darkness always teemed with unexplained sound” (300). As in “The Hound,” disembodied sound and impeded vision lead to sonic terror, but Gilman’s fear goes a step further: He has come to fear the sounds behind the audible sounds, assuming presence in each perceptible and imperceptible silence: “Life had become an insistent and almost unendurable cacophony, and there was that constant, terrifying impression of other sounds—­perhaps from regions beyond life—­trembling on the very brink of audibility” (“Witch House,” 303). When the sounds in Lovecraft’s stories are made by voices, the additional and crucial qualities of identity, subjectivity, and consciousness

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come into play. A voice is not just a random sound but a communication—­ the communication, moreover, of a conscious being that decides to speak to another being. Because it is laden with these elements of identity, voice is an important component of Lovecraft’s literary soundscapes, in which it has precisely the function of identifying the speaker—­that is to say, foregrounding the fact that that speaker often defies the possibility of identification: Lovecraft would not be Lovecraft if he did not invert the seemingly obvious signifying chain linked to voices and communication. The voices in “The Hound” appear to be identifiable enough. The ghostly baying that the protagonists hear is mixed with stereotypically spooky sounds like the autumn wind and the flapping of bat wings; on top of that, it becomes entangled with “shrill laughter” from behind a closed door (85) and “disembodied chatter” (86). These two vocal expressions are not merely spectral, as their sourcelessness suggests. The realization “with the blackest of apprehensions” that the nocturnal voices chatter “in the Dutch language” (86) complicates their identification. While on the one hand, this qualification clearly links the ghosts to the grave that the protagonists robbed in Holland; on the other hand, the incomprehensibility of the language and therefore the failing of communication suggests a degree of Otherness that is monstrous and threatening. This is far from the only instance in which voice becomes in fact the opposite of identity in Lovecraft’s stories. Indeed, that is precisely the voice’s function in Lovecraft: whenever a voice appears in a story, the reader can expect to find alienness described—­but an alienness that is, like any weird entity in his work, indescribable: “Shall I say the voice was deep; hollow; gelatinous; remote; unearthly; inhuman; disembodied? What shall I say?” (“Statement,” 13). Both Graham Harman (Weird Realism, 91–­92, 135–­37) and Dean Lockwood (76–­78) discuss the inhuman, specifically insect-­like quality that many of the alien voices in Lovecraft’s stories appear to have. This particular voice type is the most well-­known and identifiable in Lovecraft’s oeuvre, and its description is fairly consistent across the various stories. We do at least recognize a distinct identity in all its alien buzziness, however Other and frightening that identity is. Despite its recognizability, however, this voice still communicates only inhumanness and cosmic malevolence. The recordings that Akeley makes of the alien inhabitants of the hills around his house in “The Whisperer in Darkness” contain the voice of Nyarlathotep, who is identified only as “the other voice” in the story—­a voice that sounds like


Isabella Van Elferen a morbid echo winging its way across unimaginable abysses from unimaginable outer hells. . . . It was like the drone of some loathsome, gigantic insect ponderously shaped into the articulate speech of an alien species, and I am perfectly certain that the organs producing it can have no resemblance to the vocal organs of man, or indeed to those of any of the mammalian. There were singularities of timbre, range, and overtones which placed this phenomenon wholly outside the sphere of humanity and earth-­life. (220)

The design of this passage is intricate. Lovecraft seems at first glance to be describing very specific features of the voice, yet at the same time he creates what Graham Harman calls a “gap” between the qualities of the voice and the actual voice-­in-­itself (Weird Realism, 2–­6). First of all, the voice is described in an indirect manner, as the narrator of “The Whisperer in Darkness” is listening to a recording that may or may not have been tampered with. Second, the voice is not positively identified as anything in particular but only as nothing that could possibly exist: it is similar to, but not exactly the same as, that of a nonexisting insect, but only if that hypothetical insect were to pretend to speak as a human, and at the same time it is stated with conviction that the voice could never be produced by any human or indeed any mammal. So what does it sound like? The only thing the reader knows is what it does not sound like and the feeling it gives the indirect listener: “It caused a sharp intensification of that feeling of blasphemous infinity” (220–­21). Stripping down all the indirectness and the affective performativity of this description, the subject matter of the passage is timbre, and timbre only. This focus represents a clever authorial choice. Timbre is simultaneously the most clearly embodied and the most indescribable of all sonic qualities. Roland Barthes argues that timbre, which he defines as “the grain of the voice,” signifies “the body in the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes, the limb as it performs” (188), and he is right: when we hear a voice, timbre conjures up the speaker’s or singer’s phantom body just like phantom pain evokes an amputated limb. Timbre is a phantom voice communicating the beyond-­words of spectrality. Jean-­Luc Nancy assesses timbre as the most private of all musical experiences, a “communication of the incommunable: . . . that thing by which a subject makes an echo—­of self, of the other, it’s all one—­it’s all one in the plural” (41). Timbre communicates so much and yet so little: of the world of possible meanings and significations that it transmits nothing is definite. We

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cannot even describe timbre in words other than adjectives referring to the planes of the visual, the affective, or to temperature (see Barthes, 180): a timbre can connote darkness, or fear, or cold—­or simply nothing you have ever experienced before on this earth (see “Whisperer in Darkness,” 257). If a timbre has never been heard on this planet, that qualification would necessarily imply that the body evoked by this timbre does not exist in any earthly region. The alien timbres in Lovecraft’s work, thus, are key to his conception of the otherworldly: timbre, precisely in its immaterial corporeality and its indescribable outspokenness, is able to delineate the contours of a presence that is not present—­and that could never be present. Bodiless and unnameable, but audible and identifiable, the voices resounding through his stories offer concentrated foretastes of the ephemeral being hovering at the brink of the universe we know. When sound is organized into music, its connotations develop, shifting from beings originating in other worlds to those other worlds themselves. Even more so than sound, music for Lovecraft is hardly the metaphor for beauty and well-­being that it often is in other fantastic literature. On the contrary: music in Lovecraft is dissonant, blasphemous, and maddening, full of “cacodaemoniacal ghastliness” (“The Hound,” 82). The viol that drives his most famous sound story, “The Music of Erich Zann,” is a magical instrument of a very dark kind. The old, mute German musician in the story has little influence on the melodies played by his instrument, and becomes haunted and possessed by that music. Zann’s neighbor, the narrator of the story, is fascinated by the music he hears coming from the top floor in the middle of the night. It exerts a force that he cannot control but that puts the fear of the unknown into him: the music is “enchant[ing] . . . with strains I have never heard before” (47) filling him with “indefinable dread—­the dread of vague wonder and brooding mystery, [the music] suggesting nothing on this globe of earth” (49). As the music gradually turns into a “ghoulish howling” (52), it becomes more and more clear that the viol plays Zann rather than the other way around, and destructively so. Absorbed by the music against his will, the old man sweats, fights, suffers, and dies: the narrator, spellbound by the same music, is forced to watch the musician’s terrifying demise but is unable to do anything against the viol’s gruesome powers. The music described by Lovecraft’s narrators is often heard in the context of some arcane ritual aimed at the crossing of boundaries between one world or reality and the other. Such music signifies the


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actual experience of unknown realities through the forceful phenomenological vectors of rhythm, melody, and harmony. Hearing pounding rhythms and repeated melodies, the characters in his stories are drawn into the universes transmitted by the timbres of strange voices and instruments that produce this music. Music in ritual, whether in meditation, churchly ceremony or occult ritual, has the performative function of liturgy, inducing and supporting a movement away from the here and now. Buddhist mantras, Gregorian chant, and Satanist rites alike are based on the same centuries-­old metaphysical assessments of music’s spatio-­temporal lines of flight that Lovecraft deploys in his stories: music-­as-­liturgy is the melopoietic vehicle for transcendence, for a temporary dissolution of the subjectivity into the otherworldly dimensions of rituality. In Lovecraft, of course, the transcendence effected by ritual and liturgy is horrific and world-­shattering: there is a “hellish chant” in “The Dreams in the Witch House” (326), an “uncanny rhythm” in “The Moon-­Bog” (47), and, most skin-­crawlingly, the “ceaseless, half-­ mental calling from underground” in the Cthulhu rituals (58). These blasphemous liturgies lead to certain doom, as does the indescribable music in “Dreams in the Witch House,” which engenders a monstrous burst of Walpurgis-­rhythm in whose cosmic timbre would be concentrated all the primal, ultimate space-­time seethings which lie behind the massed spheres of matter and sometimes break forth in measured reverberations that penetrate faintly to every layer of entity and give hideous significance throughout the worlds to certain dreaded periods. (327)

Although impressively frightening in its general outline, when read closely this description of liturgical horror, once again, revolves less around melodies or rhythms than around that most ephemeral of musical parameters, timbre. The “cosmic timbre” in this passage represents the grain of a voice that is not physical, and possibly not even spatial or temporal. This noise extending from a great and terrifying beyond offers a sonic glimpse into realities inconceivable for our earthbound imagination. Sacralized by the setting of pagan rituality, and propelled into an unknown outside by the forces of rhythm, harmony, and melody, the transcendent power of musical timbre in Lovecraft’s work allows listeners to reach “beyond these aegipanic cacophonies” themselves, and into unknown dimensions (“Under the Pyramids,” 73). Finally, some of the music that Lovecraft describes is not only inhuman in origin but will also never be heard by humans and has nothing

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at all to do with the realm of the human. His introduction of the Great Old One Nyarlathotep, for instance, happens entirely in and through music. Nyarlathotep not only speaks through music, his entire being is musical. In Nyarlathotep, all the other characteristics of Lovecraftian sound prose converge: Nyarlathotep . . . the crawling chaos . . . I am the last . . . I will tell the audient void . . . Screamingly sentient, dumbly delirious, only the gods that were can tell. A sickened, sensitive shadow writhing in hands that are not hands, and whirled blindly past ghastly midnights of rotting creation, corpses of dead worlds with sores that were cities, charnel winds that brush the pallid stars and make them flicker low. Beyond the worlds vague ghosts of monstrous things; half-­seen columns of unsanctified temples that rest on nameless rocks beneath space and reach up to dizzy vacua above the spheres of light and darkness. And through this revolting graveyard of the universe the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlikely chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods—­ the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep. (“Nyarlathotep,” 31, 33)

Through the void that is the universe resounds a music which is at the same time a nonmusic, an event that is as material as it is immaterial: Nyarlathotep can only be alluded to in words attempting to describe impossible and unheard music. Lovecraft does exactly that, repetitively and endlessly, so much so that “the thin, monotonous piping of an unseen flute” (often also described as “mindless”) becomes a returning trope indicating the presence of Nyarlathotep throughout his work (here in “The Dreams in the Witch House,” 319). As a short musical motif announcing a character before that character itself is present, these thin pipes become nothing less than a literary leitmotif for the Great Old One. A leitmotif is a compositional technique used in Wagner’s operas and appropriated by composers of film music. It is a small, recognizable musical unit that corresponds affectively to an onstage or onscreen character. By always playing this motif when the affiliated character is present, the music becomes inextricably linked with that character (see Gorbman, 26–­29). This effect can be so strong that the sounding of a leitmotif can announce the presence of a character even when that character is not (yet) visible: just as the chromatic motif in Jaws betrays the presence of the shark, the


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thin pipes in Lovecraft can indicate the otherwise imperceptible presence of Nyarlathotep. Lovecraft’s creatures, thus, may be unspeakable, but they do speak, even if humans cannot perceive their bodies, understand their message, or—­in the case of Lovecraft’s readers—­actually hear them. It is important to note that these terrifying disembodied sounds, hideous voices, musical rituals, and the Nyarlathotep leitmotif are never heard by the readers of his stories. His weird world of sound is doubly removed from the reader, as they are told from memory by the inaudible voice of Lovecraft’s narrators. The second half of this chapter will argue that listening to Lovecraft should remain impossible.

Hyper-­Cacophony: Lovecraft and Speculative Realism Lovecraft is popular in a recent strand in philosophy often designated as “speculative realism.” The speculative realists have embraced Lovecraft because he narrates worlds that lie beyond perception, which ties in with their attack on correlationism and phenomenology. This attack is expressed most poignantly in Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude (2008), in which the author tries to find an answer to what he calls “correlationism” (5), the Kantian notion that thinking and being cannot be separated from one another. Because of the primacy of phenomenology in post-­Kantian thinking, philosophy has tended to focus on the qualities an object has for us; and in the linguistic labyrinths of poststructuralist thought the “for us” has all but replaced the object in-­itself. Since Kant, the absolute is obsolete: the project of speculative realism is to rehabilitate it. Meillassoux starts this project by trying to find philosophical grounding for scientists’ seemingly fantastical statements that the universe originated 13.5 billion years ago, that the earth originated 4.56 billion years ago, that life on earth originated 3.5 billion years ago, and humankind originated 2 million years ago. How can this be understood, Meillassoux wonders; what should thinking do with these claims that objects and creatures existed irredeemably outside the scope of phenomenology? Basing his assertions on the evidence provided by empirical science, he argues that it is clear that anything can have been, independently of phenomenology: carbon-­dating can prove beyond doubt that there has been a time in which humans, and therefore human observers, did not exist. These incontestable data lead Meillassoux to introduce a number of new

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concepts to philosophy. He defines as “ancestral” the reality in which there were no humans, and thus no human phenomenology; ancestrality is “any reality anterior to the emergence of the human species” (10). Meillassoux’s definition of what he calls the “arche-­fossil” is equally concerned with the empirical proof of the outside of human perception and correlation: the arche-­fossil is “material indicating the existence of ancestral reality” (10). In order for philosophy to be able to occupy itself with this time and this being that exists outside thinking, he concedes, a speculative realism needs to be put into place that addresses these forms of a nonmetaphysical absolute. Speculative realism must be a math-­driven philosophy that studies “mathematics’ ability to discourse about the great outdoors; to discourse about a past [but also a future, or a parallel time] where both humanity and life are absent” (26). He is so confident in mathematics that he proclaims a bright new future in which every aspect in and outside the world, within and outside the reach of humans, will be calculated and reformulated—­even and especially the absolute of ancestral times and of things-­in-­themselves whose qualities are outside the grasp of phenomenology (108, 117). The ancient universes narrated in Lovecraft’s work and the creatures that inhabit them seem to match seamlessly with Meillassoux’s philosophy. Lovecraft’s work revolves around “the fearful myths antedating the coming of man on earth” that speak of “worlds of elder, outer entity” that contain the secrets concerning “the pits of primal life” (“Whisperer in Darkness” 211, 215). It is not hard to conceive of these cosmic eras as ancestral times in Meillassoux’s definition. Time and time again, moreover, the tireless scientists populating Lovecraft’s stories prove that these ancestral realities exist, even though they never appear before the eyes of any observer. The scientists’ gathering of empirical evidence in order to chart the ancestrality of the universes they are confronted with ties in with Meillassoux’s mathematical paradigm, which similarly endeavors to calculate insight into the outside-­human-­perception. Because his protagonists keep finding carved stones, amulets, inhuman footsteps, or even (parts of) corpses, Lovecraft’s fiction also contains arche-­fossils, materials that indicate the existence of the Great Old Ones in prehuman times—­an existence that is now faded but not less real: “Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not,” says the Necronomicon (“Dunwich Horror,” 220). While sharing Meillassoux’s belief that science will eventually uncover all secrets within and beyond the nature of our universe, Lovecraft is ambivalent about the outcomes of this process. He lets the narrator of


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“Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” make an opening statement that shows a simultaneity of fascination and fear for what science might reveal in the future: “Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—­if separate species we be—­for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world” (24). These “unguessed horrors” are caused by the possibility that the universe, before, during, and after the era of human life, may consist of the infinite, mindless, reasonless chaos hinted at in Lovecraft’s own stories. This same chaos plays an important role in Meillassoux’s philosophy. The latter argues that the absolute, which has thus far been hidden by the restraints of correlationism but which mathematics will continue to lay bare, can only be reached through what he calls “the principle of unreason” (Meillassoux, 60). Surpassing the correlationist principle of sufficient reason by which a Kantian thing-­in-­itself becomes unthinkable (44–­49), Meillassoux surmises that we “put back into the thing itself what we mistakenly took to be an incapacity in thought” (53). A stubborn insistence on causality, he argues, has made philosophy obscure the fact that there is no reason (see 92, 110). The speculative thesis he thus postulates is that precisely this unreason is absolute: it is not unthinkable, for that supposition would imply a return to the correlationist for-­us (the “cogitamus,” 50), but it necessarily and absolutely is. Graham Harman has explored the relation between phenomenology and unreason in related ways, but his object-­oriented ontology focuses on the nonphenomenological qualities of objects in-­themselves rather than on the epistemological implications of those qualities. Harman has written extensively on Lovecraft, claiming that he is “a writer of gaps between objects and their qualities” (Weird Realism, 4) whose weird prose challenges conventional phenomenology. In Lovecraft’s literary descriptions of the creatures, events, and realities his characters encounter, Harman says, a consistent gap or “fission” arises between language and meaning: the unknown colors and quasi-­buildings occurring in his stories could never be visualized, as the point of their description is precisely that all description of these phenomena must fail (24–­37, 241–­43). Strictly speaking, Lovecraft’s work cannot and should not be turned into graphic novels, films, or video games, for that would mean that the numinous indescribability of his realities would be straitjacketed into forms and limits. “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” for instance, tells the reader only that some horror is “unbelievable, unthinkable, almost

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unmentionable”—­and even that information is only third-­hand, transmitted by an unreliable narrator who repeats what the voice of his friend told him from the bottom of a grave and through a telephone (7). Exceeding representation, the nameless Thing escapes limits, disclosing only an unending outside (see Botting, 288–­91). The nonsounding of sound in Lovecraft is eminently important in this context. The unnameable voice mentioned in Carter’s statement, the Witch House’s cosmic timbre, Nyarlathotep’s blasphemous flutes: all of these are described with speechless terror, and none will or can ever be heard. “The Dunwich Horror” features indescribably horrible sounds that could not possibly have been produced by human anatomy. Instead, they appear to be some unearthly, disembodied voice emerging from an arche-­fossil, an ancient altar stone in the middle of a deserted landscape. But the sounds cannot be sufficiently described, as both their being itself and their qualities escape reason: “It is almost erroneous to call them sounds at all, since so much of their ghastly, infra-­bass timbre spoke to dim seats of consciousness and terror far subtler than the ear” (243). But what is an “infra-­bass timbre”? Bass is a pitch range, not a timbre; and even within that pitch range there is no such thing as “infra-­bass.” Is Lovecraft synesthetically conflating colors (infrared) and sounds? What are these “seats of consciousness and terror”? Is terror necessarily unconscious? Is the author implying that the ear sometimes functions as such a seat? Does that mean that terror enters the body and the mind physically as well as emotionally? Lovecraft’s literary depictions of what his characters hear—­more intensely so than what they see, smell, or touch—­are the antithesis of descriptions: these words could not nor should ever be put into sound, the popularity of “Lovecraftian” music notwithstanding (see Hill; Norman). This nonexistent timbre, with all its suggestion of impossible physicality and its evocation of unknown fears, is a perfect example of the fission that Harman discovers in Lovecraft’s work: the object in-­itself remains hidden behind the intangible qualities that are attributed to it by a literary style best described as an act of ontological veiling. It is evident why Lovecraft is so highly regarded by speculative realists. His unspeakable cosmic voids seem to form a perfect presentation of the “hyper-­chaos” that is found through the speculative realist unreasoning aperture onto the absolute, the great outdoors, the eternal in-­itself, whose being is indifferent to whether or not it is thought (Meillassoux, 63). When describing hyper-­chaos, Meillassoux briefly ventures into a


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Lovecraftian topology of his own whose style Harman would doubtlessly describe as masterful gap writing: What we see there is a rather menacing power—­something insensible, and capable of destroying both things and worlds, of bringing forth monstrous absurdities, yet also of never doing anything, of realizing every dream, but also every nightmare, of engendering random and frenetic transformation, or conversely, of producing a universe that remains motionless down to its ultimate recesses, like a cloud bearing the fiercest storms, then the eeriest bright spells, if only for an interval of disquieting calm. We see an omnipotence equal to that of the Cartesian God, and capable of anything, even the inconceivable; but an omnipotence that has become autonomous, without norms, blind, devoid of the other divine perfections, a power with neither goodness nor wisdom, ill-­disposed to reassure thought about the veracity of its distinct ideas. We see something akin to Time, but a Time that is inconceivable for physics, since it is capable of destroying, without cause or reason, every physical law, just as it is inconceivable for metaphysics, since it is capable of destroying every determinate entity, even a god, even God. (64)

The kinship between Meillassoux’s philosophical speculation and Lovecraft’s literary weirdism is tangible, both stylistically and conceptually. Lovecraft’s cosmic realities, removed from our own by “nameless aeons and inconceivable dimensions” (“Whisperer in Darkness,” 215), are as “transfinite” as Meillassoux’s hyper-­chaos (101–­7). The creatures he describes are as nonphenomenological, as unreasonable, and as absolute as the objects and events of the speculative realists. The sounds in Lovecraft’s stories, originating from those timeless voids and generated by those nonphenomenological beings, would have to be conceptualized here as a hyper-­cacophony: his universes echo with sounds that are inaudible, with timbres that are physically impossible, with music that is unimaginable even for an unearthly musicologist: “The shrieking, roaring confusion of sound which permeated the abyss was past all analysis as to pitch, timbre, or rhythm” (“Witch House,” 305). As precise as it may seem, this description of otherworldly sound in “The Dreams in the Witch House” creates as much fission as any weird phenomenon: although Lovecraft indicates in how many ways this sound cannot be described, he carefully avoids any concrete hints as to what this (music/ noise/drone/cacophony) hyper-­cacophony could actually sound like.

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Through hyper-­cacophony’s omnipotence, anything could become audible, even an inconceivable “pandaemoniac cachinnation” (“Dunwich Horror,” 218). And nothing could be audible, too, in an interplanetary silence with no sound but “the unechoing emptiness of infinity” (“Celephaïs,” 25). Anything could sound. Sonic dream or nightmare, creation or destruction. Or all at the same time.

Sonic Speculation: Lovecraft’s Problematic Materialism Despite the “weirding” of contemporary philosophy resulting from enthusiastic appropriations of Lovecraft (Woodard), there is one, possibly unbridgeable, difference between speculative realism and weird literature. The “gap” that Harman notes between Lovecraft’s objects and their qualities also marks a gap in the critical assessment of his work: speculative realism overlooks the immaterial, possibly metaphysical components in Lovecraft, which become especially evident in his hyper-­cacophonic passages. Lovecraft’s stories almost invariably begin by an account of the scientific credibility of their subject matter. His main characters are often researchers: Henry Akeley in “The Whisperer in Darkness,” for instance, studied mathematics, astronomy, biology, anthropology, and folklore; Walter Gilman in “Dreams in the Witch House” is a student of quantum physics, mathematics, and folklore. Balancing between them a verifiable blend of abstract reasoning and superstition, these latter two disciplines characterize the research efforts of Lovecraft’s protagonists. More often than not, they move on the edges of the knowable, trying to find empirical proof of the cosmic, the prehuman, the supernatural. Lovecraft’s scientists, however, must always come to the conclusion that science cannot reach and understand all. The otherworldly realities and creatures under investigation consistently escape any attempt empirically to prove their existence; on top of that, whatever evidence was collected always mysteriously disappears. Many of his stories end with the suggestion that there may be realities and beings that come from “far outside even the Einsteinian space-­time continuum or greatest known cosmos,” and which are “wholly beyond the utmost reach of any human imagination” (“Whisperer in Darkness,” 221, 235). The scientific references here serve but one goal: to show that calculus does not suffice when attempting to think the nameless truths in the Lovecraftian universe.


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It is at this junction that Lovecraft’s materialism is revealed to be problematic, paradoxical even, and that weird fiction diverges from contemporary philosophy. As speculative realism does, Lovecraft thinks a great outdoors beyond perception. Unlike speculative realism, his thinking is not driven by the calculable mathematical possibility of the “transfinite” (Meillassoux, 103) but by the im/possibility of infinitude, “the last, utter sweep which has no confines and which outreaches fancy and mathematics alike” (“Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” 281). Thus, while Meillassoux argues that the primary absolute of hyper-­chaos relates to the derived absolute of mathematics through abstract calculation, the numinous beings crawling through Lovecraft’s universes explicitly do not. Because that would imply that they are and are not at the same time, Meillassoux would have to discard them as “contradictory,” nonexistent exponents of metaphysical belief systems (69–­71). In Lovecraft’s work, there is not only room for incalculability but also for metaphysical assumptions: there may or may not be unfathomable worlds and Great Old Ones that fall outside the reach of science. In his thinking about these impossible realities, he does not so much discard empirical objectivity as doubt the extent of its objectivity: Men of broader intellect know that there is no sharp distinction betwixt the real and the unreal; that all things appear as they do only by virtue of the delicate individual physical and mental media through which we are made conscious of them; but the prosaic materialism of the majority condemns as madness the flashes of super-­sight which penetrate the common veil of obvious empiricism. (“The Tomb,” 1)

Here Lovecraft finds himself diametrically opposed to speculative realism: science, he claims, does not gain insight in absolute materialism, but presents a “common veil” of “prosaic materialism” that has nothing at all to do with the hidden realities of the cosmos. Meillassoux, on the contrary, triumphantly prophecies that “it is by way of mathematics that we will finally succeed in thinking that which, through its power and beauty, vanquishes quantities and sounds the end of play” (108). His response to the above passage from Lovecraft could only be that the author is adhering to Kantian correlationism, which would rather admit to the limits of thinking than to the principle of unreason. Right there, it would seem, the speculative affection for the weird author must definitively come to an end, for the whole speculative project is to overcome this kind of correlationist reasoning.

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From Pythagoras to John Cage, sound and especially music have presented philosophy with a problem that yet awaits resolution. As acoustic vibrations generated by instruments and voices, sound and music can be theorized through ontological materialism (see Matheson and Caplan), but as performative events leading to aesthetic and affective experiences, sound and music must be thought in the realm of phenomenology, which has a much less comfortable relation to materialism (see Benson). The heart of this problem lies in one’s definition, and this is where opinions vary. Can music be defined as vibration only, is it a medium through which we communicate, or does it only properly come into existence once it is heard? Does it exist when it consists of a score only, or does it originate in the mind of a composer? Because of their uneasy fit between ontology and phenomenology, between materiality and immateriality, sound and music are privileged metaphors for Lovecraft’s paradoxical materialism. The sounds discussed in the first paragraph of this chapter are poised right at the border between sonic ontology and phenomenology. The disembodied sounds in “The Hound” challenge the idea that acoustic vibrations must necessarily be physical, as they may have been made by metaphysical beings; the diabolical music of Erich Zann takes its listener over the limits of sanity and materiality; and the “morbid echo” in “The Whisperer in Darkness” originates from a sphere wholly outside matter. The crucial importance of music for Lovecraft’s conception of materialism, and for its incommensurability with speculative realism, becomes especially evident in hyper-­cacophony. The music of the Great Old Ones is immaterial and metaphysical as well as originary and ontological. In “The Dream-­Quest of Unknown Kadath,” Lovecraft envisions a musical cosmogony, a version of the Big Bang—­an arche-­sound—­that is reminiscent of the Pythagorean harmony of the spheres: a mathematical absolute. These aspects tie in with Meillassoux’s speculative absolute. In stark contrast to the speculative hyper-­chaos, however, Lovecraft’s hyper-­cacophony spawns metaphysical as well as materialist being: Trembling in waves that golden wisps of nebula made weirdly visible, there rose a timid hint of far-­off melody, droning in faint chords that our own universe of stars knows not. . . . It was a song, but not the song of any voice. Night and the spheres sang it, and it was old when space and Nyarlathotep and the Other Gods were born. (“Dream-­ Quest,” 248)


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These Gods are metaphysical entities originating in the midst of nothing, borne from a bodiless voice. This very notion marks an unbridgeable abyss between Lovecraft and speculative philosophy. One of these entities, the unspeakable Nyarlathotep, moreover, is manifested through a music that far exceeds even the possibility of materialism. The relevant passage from “Nyarlathotep,” which was quoted earlier, gains extra philosophical weight in the light of its contrast to speculative realism: the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlikely chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods—­the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep. (“Nyarlathotep,” 33)

When Nyarlathotep speaks, his voice itself is music, too: “I will tell the audient void” (31). This godly voice suggests a divine corporeality, and the audient void he addresses suggests listening outside perception. The accumulated sonic paradoxes of ontology and phenomenology, materiality and metaphysics pervading Nyarlathotep mythology irrefutably disclose a major philosophical conflict between weird fiction and speculative realism. Lovecraft’s stories may reflect a reasonless, inhuman chaos populated by arche-­squids whom nameless aeons have coagulated into arche-­fossils, but within this chaos there is the ephemeral echo of singing voices whose timbre, pitch, and rhythm are like nothing you have ever heard. Suggesting absolute materialism yet escaping mathematic calculation, unnameable yet not object-­oriented, exceeding the limits both of language and of mathematics, Lovecraft’s hyper-­ cacophony represents a weird metaphysical materialism, a cosmic chant that is to be unheard throughout all infinity. “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” . . .

Works Cited Barthes, Roland. “The Grain of the Voice.” In Image Music Text, 179–­89. Trans. Stephen Heath. London: Fontana Press, 1977. Benson, Bruce Ellis. “Phenomenology of Music.” In The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music, eds. Theodore Gracyk and Andrew Kania, 581–­91. London: Routledge, 2011.

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Botting, Fred. “More Things: Horror, Materialism, and Speculative Weirdism.” Horror Studies 3, no. 2 (2012): 281–­303. Gorbman, Claudia. Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Harman, Graham. Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. Winchester: Zero Books, 2012. Hill, Gary. The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H. P. Lovecraft. N.p.:, 2006. Houellebecq, Michel. H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. London: Orion, 2005. Lockwood, Dean. “Mongrel Vibrations: H. P. Lovecraft’s Weird Ecology of Noise.” In Reverberations: The Philosophy, Aesthetics, and Politics of Noise, eds. Michael Goddard, Benjamin Halligan, and Paul Hegarty, 73–­83. London: Continuum, 2012. Lovecraft, H. P. “The Call of Cthulhu.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 139–­69. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. “Celephaïs.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 24–­30. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. “The Dream-­Quest of Unknown Kadath.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 155–­251. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “The Dreams in the Witch House.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 300–­334. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “The Dunwich Horror.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 206–­45. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 7–­13. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. “The Hound.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 81–­88. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. “The Moon-­Bog.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 42–­49. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “The Music of Erich Zann.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 45–­54. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. “Nyarlathotep.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 31–­33. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 7–­13. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. “Through the Gates of the Silver Key.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 264–­99. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “The Tomb.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 1–­10. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. “Under the Pyramids.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 53–­77. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. “The Whisperer in Darkness.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 200–­267. New York: Penguin, 1999.


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Matheson, Carl, and Ben Caplan. “Ontology.” In The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music, eds. Theodore Gracyk and Andrew Kania, 38–­47. London: Routledge, 2011. Meillassoux, Quentin. After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. Trans. Ray Brassier. London: Continuum, 2008. Nancy, Jean-­Luc. Listening. Trans. Charlotte Mandell. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007. Norman, Joseph. “‘Sounds Which Filled Me with an Indefinable Dread’: The Cthulhu Mythopoeia of H. P. Lovecraft in ‘Extreme’ Metal.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 193–­208. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013. Van Elferen, Isabella. “Fantasy Music: Epic Soundtracks, Magical Instruments, Musical Metaphysics.” Journal for the Fantastic in the Arts 24, no. 2 (2013): 4–­24. Woodard, Ben. “Mad Speculation and Absolute Inhumanism: Lovecraft, Ligotti, and the Weirding of Philosophy.” continent 1, no. 1 (2011): 3–­13.


ꙮ PREHISTORIES OF POSTHUMANISM Cosmic Indifferentism, Alien Genesis, and Ecology from H. P. Lovecraft to Ridley Scott Brian Johnson Myth or otherwise, the sculptures told of the coming of those star-­headed things to the nascent, lifeless earth out of cosmic space—­their coming, and the coming of many other alien entities such as at certain times embark upon spatial pioneering. —­H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness


he evocation of a “nascent, lifeless earth” in the opening sequence of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) immediately announces a tonal revision to the franchise that Scott inaugurated several decades earlier with the landmark horror-­science fiction hybrid, Alien (1979). In Thomas Doherty’s apt summary, Prometheus’s homage to the famous “Dawn of Man” sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), with its “swooping aerial shots of a virginal, magnificent earthscape” that “caress vistas untouched by fauna or, better, [by] human [beings],” celebrates “a terrain oozing pristine ecological beauty, reminiscent of the Blu-­ray wonders of the BBC’s Planet Earth series” (53). Especially when compared to the cold and unsettling title sequence of Alien, in which the letters of the film’s title menacingly rotate into view against an inhospitable starscape to the strains of Jerry Goldsmith’s chilling score, Prometheus’s reverential Sierra Club montage is awe inspiring, rather than anxiety provoking; it establishes wonder and enchantment—­not horror or uncanniness—­as the affective horizon of the Alien “prequel.” The tonal shift between the opening sequences of Alien and Prometheus epitomizes the new twist the latter gives to the series’ longstanding thematic preoccupation with human origins. Whereas Scott’s original film and its sequels all display a morbid fascination with the material violence of childbirth and the psychoanalytic work of abjection



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in their proliferation of monstrous alien mothers for Ripley to battle, internalize, and transmute, the new film replaces fear of the “Alien Bug-­ Mother” (Zwinger, 74) with nostalgia for a prehistoric Mother Nature. The “oozing ecological beauty” of an unpopulated womb/world in those opening shots of Prometheus displaces the menacing maternal of the earlier films with a geologically remote prehuman vision of maternal innocence about to be cut short by the paternal tinkering of a literally alien science. Gaea, then, emerges as the film’s ultimate lost object, while humans seem reduced to mere biotech experiments conducted by a super race of Promethean giants: pale, scientistic “Engineers” who play God, seeding the waters of this BBC Eden with their own primordial DNA in a primal scene that austerely mythologizes “sacrificial” masculine potency. In so doing, it gives audiences a new origin myth to contemplate: not the myth of the monstrous feminine that animated the quadrilogy, but a planetary version of the Frankenstein myth in which the beneficent mother is always already absent, her generative power usurped in advance by the “new Promethianism” of paternal science that appropriates creation as its exclusive province. Cultural fantasies of this sort about “alien astronauts” or “gods from outer space” who guide or even create humankind have had astonishing traction throughout the latter half of the twentieth century—­from Erich von Däniken’s sensationalistic “alternative archaeology” in Chariots of the Gods? (1968) and Zecharia Sitchin’s speculation about “extraterrestrial genesis” in The Twelfth Planet (1976) to latter-­day doomsday cults and “UFO religions” like Heaven’s Gate and the Raëlian Movement. As Jason Colavito argued in his study of these phenomena nearly a decade ago, the metanarrative of “alien genesis” originates in H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, particularly its deployment in At the Mountains of Madness (1936), the novella in which unfathomably ancient and God-­ like cosmic visitors dwelling in a hidden city in Antarctica are “supposed to have created all earth-­life as a jest or mistake” (21). It is little wonder, then, that the Alien franchise—­one of the most creative and resonant popularizers of Lovecraftian motifs and themes of the past fifty years—­should revisit this very terrain in a film that is arguably even more overtly Lovecraftian than the original Alien. Accounts of the Lovecraftian roots of Ridley Scott’s Alien often point to the visionary creature and set designs of Swiss “surrealist” painter and Lovecraft admirer H. R. Giger.}1 As original Alien script-­writer Dan O’Bannon’s reminiscences attest, however, Alien was, ab ovo, a

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reimagining of Lovecraft’s universe for horror and science fiction film audiences of the late-­1970s: where Lovecraft told of an ancient race of hideous beings menacing the Earth, Alien went to where the Old Ones lived, to their very world of origin. . . . That baneful little storm-­lashed planetoid halfway across the galaxy was a fragment of the Old Ones’ home world, and the Alien a blood-­relative of Yog-­Sothoth. (“Something Perfectly Disgusting”)

Much in the way that Lovecraft disdained the Gothic’s conventional “sheeted form clanking chains” in favor of a “certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread” produced by the presence of “outer, unknown forces” (Supernatural Horror, 107), O’Bannon’s guiding principle when writing the original script was to avoid the camp knowingness of slasher horror, the better “to penetrate the audience’s defenses . . . to rip away their safety and leave them quivering and vulnerable in their theatre seats” (“Something Perfectly Disgusting”). Lovecraft was a natural muse for O’Bannon in this enterprise since the philosophy of “cosmic indifferentism” that informed Lovecraft’s mythos stories was the basis of a similarly “primal” assault on the nerves of Lovecraft’s readers. At its most basic, Lovecraft’s conception of “cosmic horror” rested upon the discovery of the irrelevance of human beings to a mechanistic-­materialist universe in which no other appears whose gaze we might attract or in whose approval we might bask. As James Campbell observes, citing Donald R. Burleson, “the horror in a Lovecraft tale resides not in some physical manifestation of terror, but rather in ‘man’s recognition of his own motelike unimportance in a blind and chaotic universe’” (169). In place of the knife-­wielding psychos, who were all-­too-­readily amenable to recoding as antiheroes by jaded film audiences, then, O’Bannon’s initial script and Scott’s final cut evoked just such a relentlessly material universe whose indifference to human concerns was registered by the human focalizers of these narratives as a murderous threat. Just as Lovecraft personified his materialist philosophy of “cosmic indifferentism” in a timeless pantheon of alien “gods” productive of epiphanic “cosmic horror” in human discoverers of their presence, so too did O’Bannon, Scott, and the film’s other scriptwriters embody the amorality of the universe in a deadly alien life form, while setting the terrors of Alien against a literal backdrop of cosmic indifference: “In space, no one can hear you scream,” warns the famous tagline, converting the


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conventional motif of Gothic isolation into a Lovecraftian affirmation of the devouring void.2 Marrying the run-­for-­your-­life slasher formula to a science fiction setting, moreover, the film’s “haunted house in space” conceit exploited the generic heterogeneity already present in Lovecraft’s weird tale, a border genre that China Miéville aptly glosses as “a materialist ‘scientific’ weird” whose particular frisson is rooted in its insistence on “a universe that has always been monstrous and implacable” and in its concomitant “express[ion of] the ‘supernatural’ in materialist terms” (xvi). If the weird tale’s distinction, as S. T. Joshi puts it, is to have “shift[ed] the locus of horror from the terrestrial to the cosmic” (151), Alien’s distinction is to have embraced the trajectory of this shift by literally taking film audiences “to where the Old Ones lived, to their very world of origin” in pursuit of a filmic experience of “cosmic horror.” Although such attestations of inspiration and influence are clearly important, my concern in this chapter is to specify some limits to the by now automatic attribution of the adjective “Lovecraftian” to Scott’s two Alien films, first by examining Alien’s reinvention of cosmic horror and its philosophical cognate, cosmic indifferentism, and then by reading Scott’s 2012 Alien “prequel”3 in light of its differences both from Scott’s first Alien film and from Lovecraft’s own At the Mountains of Madness, a text to which the second film seems obsessively (and unconsciously) to allude. These readings, taking as their lodestar Prometheus’s suggestive transformation of the Alien myth of the monstrous feminine into a new maternal myth of pristine-­but-­vulnerable Nature with which we began, ultimately argue for the salience of Lovecraft’s materialist-­posthumanist cosmic indifferentism to decenterings of the human in contemporary ecological thought—­decenterings that stand in stark contrast to the spectacular but more superficial “Lovecraftianism” of Scott’s often reactionary reimagining of cosmic indifferentism in both films. Scott’s evocations of Lovecraft rewrite the latter’s cosmicism in two significant, interconnected, and historically specific ways. First, if Lovecraft’s fiction could be said to mythologize cosmic indifferentism by dramatizing its subjective costs for human protagonists who are harried by alien personifications of the materialist universe and shaken or destroyed by the trauma of “cosmic” anagnorisis, Scott’s Alien exemplifies the slide of cosmic indifferentism from myth into metaphor. The post-­Darwinian evolutionary, scientific, and racial materialisms that animated Lovecraft’s particular intervention into early twentieth-­century modernity make clear the degree to which his fictions were concerned

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with the scandal of cosmic indifferentism as such—­that is, with the frisson produced by the reader’s recognition that anthropocentrism was itself a flimsy illusion, an epistemological error. “Cosmic indifferentism” in Scott’s Alien films, however, often tacitly betrays the posthumanism of Lovecraft’s philosophical materialism. The figures that Lovecraft used to mark a genuinely “cosmic” indifference to humanity—­aliens, androids, and hostile planets—­often seem reduced in Alien to allegorizations of more conventionally anthropocentric concerns about gender, class, and political agency. Such a reduction is particularly evident, for instance, in Alien’s “late capitalist” thematics of sinister corporations and embattled subjects who are pursued through maze-­like environments with little hope of survival and no structurally transformative capacity. Despite the science-­fictional trappings, the indifference here is not cosmic but corporate. In Prometheus, Lovecraft’s more literal, “mythic” concern with human insignificance is spectacularly restored, but this restoration is itself reinflected in a way that subverts the more radical implications of Lovecraftian cosmicism, pushing that film’s overtly indifferentist thematics of alien genesis back toward nostalgia for the very individualist subject of liberal humanism that Lovecraft’s own version of alien genesis resolutely dismantled and mercilessly derided.4 Whereas Lovecraft’s fiction reveled in the shattering terror that cosmic indifferentism could evoke, Scott’s Prometheus is considerably more ambivalent about such revelations: it flirts uneasily with the possibility of a godless universe in which human beings possess no ennobling specialness, but ultimately disavows the implications of such a revelation. The film’s affective and symbolic economies, which emphasize cosmic reenchantment over cosmic horror and anthropocentrism over posthumanism, are symptomatic of this disavowal. Its consequence is that something important about Lovecraft’s own fiction is both hinted at and obscured—­namely, the manner in which Lovecraft’s indifferentist alien “gods” and materialist ontology might be read as a phobic but philosophically cognate anticipation of the more sanguine ethical posthumanism of contemporary ecological theory of Cary Wolfe and the new materialism of Jane Bennett.

Alien’s Indifferent Cosmos: Cosmic Horror as Metaphor and Myth Although it is certainly possible to read the cosmic indifferentism of Alien literally—­to see it, in other words, as the referent of the film’s


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horror effect as such—­the film’s critical reception demonstrates that Alien not only supports but encourages more metaphorical readings of “indifferentism” as it is embodied in the alien life form, in its android cognate (the corporate lackey / Science Officer Ash), and in the dangerously aloof ship computer “Mother.” At one level, the film seems to be, as Barbara Creed argues in her classic essay, a reenactment of the Kristevan narrative of individuation by abjection. From this point of view, Ripley’s agon with the alien life form—­her attempt to keep it off the ship and then to escape or destroy it—­allegorizes the nascent subject’s formative psychic struggle to mark off and to maintain the bodily boundaries that will form the basis of its ego, a struggle that, in Julia Kristeva’s account of abjection, entails separating oneself from the always too-­close, never adequately jettisoned body/identity of the “devouring” mother or “monstrous-­feminine” (Creed, 50). In this reading, the Alien itself symbolizes the radical “indifference” of maternal proximity as the Thing that threatens to annihilate the subject at every turn. At another level, the film evokes, even if it does not fully commit to, “a scathing critique of capitalism, depicting alienated workers savaged both by the pitiless Company, which regards them as expendable, and the Company’s double, the pitiless Alien, which regards them as prey” (Hurley, 208). In this reading, the Alien and the android’s threatening “indifference” to human life designates capitalism’s structural indifference to human suffering and class exploitation. This “Marxist” dimension of the film dovetails with a third plot, for the film not only embodies capitalism in a literally inhuman Company Man, it also telegraphs his contempt for human life through a semiotics of rape when the android melts down and attacks Ripley with a rolled up magazine. Ripley’s survival of the android’s phallic assault and her destruction of the Alien signify a rejection of both capitalist indifference to human life in general and of patriarchy’s murderous response to women in particular. The difference between Alien’s evocation of cosmic indifferentism and Lovecraft’s, then, is that whereas Lovecraft treats cosmic indifference as a revelation that produces a sensation of “cosmic horror” among the weak of heart (in his fiction) or provides a basis for an Epicurean ethics of ataraxia among the stout (in his letters), Alien reduces cosmic indifference to a metaphor for corporate indifference (“Bring back alien life form. Crew expendable”), patriarchal hostility, or a devouring maternal enemy that must be destroyed or escaped. No matter what referent(s)

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one assigns to the metaphor, Alien’s hermeneutic recoding of “indifferentism” is anthropomorphic rather than posthumanist. Structurally, too, Alien evokes cosmic indifferentism only to foreclose it, using it as the basis for a cathartic experience of horror that will ultimately be mastered by the film’s triumphant protagonist; this is a far cry from Lovecraft’s tales in which cosmic indifferentism underpins an experience of horror that is not, in principle, masterable by human agents—­or, if it is, this is so only in the form of a pessimistic amor fati. As James Campbell observes, “aside from the extraterrestrial beings, only three kinds of characters appear [in the Cthulhu Mythos stories]—­ humans who remain blissfully ignorant of their own insignificance as a species and who easily retain their homocentrism; those initiated or knowing humans who learn the truth and go insane; and those who know and can adjust emotionally and intellectually to human insignificance in a vast, purposeless cosmos” (177). Of these three character functions, it is the second that typifies the affective power of Lovecraft’s stories, as the first is denied any authority and the third achieves its grim “adjustment” to cosmic truths only in the shadow of madness and horror. Alien’s Ripley clearly steps out of this shadow and into the sunlight more confidently than, say, the protagonist of At the Mountains of Madness, whose escape from the Old Ones’ ancient city is nearly stymied by his companion Danforth’s breakdown: “It was then, just as I was trying to steer safely through the pass, that his mad shrieking brought us so close to disaster by shattering my tight hold on myself and causing me to fumble helplessly with the controls for a moment. A second afterward my resolution triumphed and we made the crossing safely—­yet I am afraid that Danforth will never be the same again” (100). Danforth’s madness functions here as a dangerous supplement to the narrator’s “triumphant” crossing back into the world of sanity and sense, a world that remains uncannily haunted by the closing unfathomable gibberish of the narrator’s discourse: the quoted Cthonic exclamation “Tekeli-­li! Tekeli-­li!” (102), which pays homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1837). Ripley’s defeat of the alien life form in the original film is presented more triumphantly than this; following the climactic battle that celebrates her ingenuity and fortitude, she reposes serenely, enjoying her domestic reward in a deep-­space sleep chamber with feline companion Jonesy, cosmicism’s threat dispatched (at least until the sequel). The film’s metaphorization of cosmic indifference is the hermeneutic corollary of its plot’s optimism. Just as the audience’s ultimate confrontation with cosmic indifference is warded off by Ripley’s


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victory, so too is this confrontation foreclosed by the film’s interpretive demand to look beyond its science fiction surface to a network of substitutions that flagrantly reject Lovecraftian cosmicism’s decentering of heroic individualism. Yet, traces of the film’s origin in Lovecraftian cosmic indifferentism remain. Its “Sleeping Beauty” ending seems out of synch with the rest of the picture—­as if to acknowledge that the film’s humanist triumph of the individual could only really be a fairytale after all. In the final analysis, Ripley’s victory seems at best contingent and temporary; the film’s “recuperative humanism” falls flat. As Hurley suggests in an exemplary reading, it is at least possible to locate in Alien a posthumanist impulse that persists despite the film’s engineering of closure and its explicit thematization of human endurance. She locates this impulse in the film’s generic link to a cinema of “body horror” with its “spectacular visual staging of bodily ambiguation,” the hallmark of which is to dramatize “again and again . . . a human subject dismantled and demolished” (205). Such dismantlings, Hurley suggests, exemplify postmodernity’s double gesture of subverting humanist dogma while celebrating “new economies of identification and desire” (205). Thus, rather than reading the monstrous alien bodies and eviscerated human corpses of Alien as allegories of “the dehumanization of life under capitalism” or “the traumas of oedipalization” (205), Hurley advises taking “the sheer alien-­ness of the Alien” seriously (219) and treating it as “a[n] ontological challenge . . . to a human [identity] predicated on a body that’s a discrete, bounded, and stable unit” (219). Insofar as the viewer’s pleasure may be said to stem from such “spectacular enactments of the posthuman” (Hurley, 220–­21), Alien retains a subterranean link to the decentering tactics and estranging pleasures of Lovecraft’s own “indifferentist” cosmic horror. Nowhere are these estranging pleasures more apparent than in the curious reversal of narrative sympathies that Lovecraft effects in At the Mountains of Madness when the narrator declares, upon discovering the mutilated corpses of several once-­fear-­inducing Old Ones: “Poor devils! After all, they were not evil things of their kind. They were men of another age and another order of being . . . Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-­ spawn—­whatever they had been, they were men!” (92). A “monstrous barrel-­shaped” alien race that initially inspires terror in the Antarctic expedition on the basis of its morphic ambiguity (“Can’t decide whether animal or vegetable” [19]) and its intimated connection to “Elder Things

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supposed to have created all earth-­life as a jest or mistake” (21), the Old Ones have descended from the stars and built their Antarctic fortress “before the true life of earth had existed at all” (57). They thus embody not only terrestrial development on a geological scale (both plant and animal) but also cosmic indifferentism at its most unsettling: “They were the makers and enslavers of that life, and above all doubt the originals of the fiendish elder myths which things like the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon affrightedly hint about” (57). The narrator’s surprising identification with these disturbing architects of humanity—­“They were men!”—­makes visible the narrator’s accommodation to cosmic indifferentism as a “hideous truth” (56). At the Mountains of Madness thus could be said to intimate a posthumanist riposte to anthropocentrism that anticipates the (incipient) ethical posthumanism of Alien in its common demand for what Hurley called “new economies of identification and desire” that entail “the breakdown of human specificity” (205). In both instances, significantly, the breakdown of human exceptionalism occurs around the problematic of the human being’s attempt to distinguish itself from “Nature”—­coded as the maternal body in Alien and as “inorganic matter” (64) or “the nascent lifeless earth” (59) in At the Mountains of Madness. Lovecraft’s “posthumanist” tendency to decenter human identity by reconnecting it to often troubling or defamiliarizing images of nonhuman nature makes his poetics of the materialist grotesque a suggestive precursor to the new ecological materialisms. In the spirit of hastening Michel Foucault’s prediction of the disappearance of man, that “invention of recent date” destined to “be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea” (387), for instance, Wolfe’s “posthumanist” materialism demystifies “the fundamental anthropological dogma associated with humanism . . . namely, that ‘the human’ is achieved by escaping or repressing not just its animal origins in nature, the biological, and the evolutionary, but more generally by transcending the bonds of materiality and embodiment altogether” (What Is Posthumanism? xv). Distinguishing his definition of posthumanism from the very different use of this term by some theorists of postmodernity who celebrate “cyborg” or “transhumanist” “fantasies of disembodiment and autonomy” (xv) that naively reprise “ideals of human perfectibility, rationality, and agency inherited from Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment” (xiii), Wolfe characterizes his brand of posthumanism as an ethical project that exposes how “the institution of speciesism fundamental . . . to the


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formation of Western subjectivity and sociality as such . . . relies on the tacit agreement that the full transcendence of the ‘human’ requires the sacrifice of the ‘animal’ and the animalistic” (Animal Rites, 6). His aim is thus explicitly to move beyond the anthropocentric position-­ taking of identity politics, which “often reinscribes the very humanism it appears to unsettle, so that the formerly ‘abstract’ subject of liberal humanism, though now indeed socially marked and locatable, is nonetheless ‘marked’ by a very familiar repertoire, one that constitutes its own repression . . . of the question of the animal and, more broadly still, of the nonhuman” (9). The “vital materialism” of political philosopher Jane Bennett similarly affirms that the stakes of such attempts—­to demonstrate that “the ‘human’ . . . is not now, and never was, itself” (Wolfe, Animal Rites, 9)—­are broadly ecological. Like Wolfe, Bennett draws on philosophers Bruno Latour, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari to expose the fundamental entanglement of the human and the nonhuman, calling for a “vital materialism” that would acknowledge the actantial “capacity of things—­edibles, commodities, storms, metals—­not only to impede or block the wills and designs of humans but also to act as quasi agents or forces with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own” (viii). Complementing Wolfe’s posthumanist deconstruction of the human/ animal conceptual divide, Bennett’s problematization of the distinction between humans and things is similarly designed to promote ecological modes of thought that would subvert “the image of dead or thoroughly instrumentalized matter” that “feeds human hubris and our earth-­ destroying fantasies of conquest and consumption” (ix). Lovecraft’s pessimistic posthumanism was not overtly concerned with anxieties about ecological catastrophe, but it did emerge out of a recognition of humanity’s inescapable imbrication in the nonhuman world. Moreover, by embodying its cosmic principle of indifference in unknowable but clearly animate alien “gods,” it presented this imbrication in a mythic register that uncannily anticipates Bennett’s strategic defense of anthropomorphism as an antidote to the greater evil of anthropocentrism: “We need to cultivate a bit of anthropomorphism—­the idea that human agency has some echoes in nonhuman nature—­to counter the narcissism of humans in charge of the world” (xvi). Lovecraft, too, anthropomorphized the material cosmos in ways that narrowed the gap between human and nonhuman difference. It is a further testament to the salience of Lovecraft’s fiction for contemporary posthumanism that

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the monism Lovecraft derived from German biologist and naturalist Ernst Haeckel, and on which his own indifferentist philosophy of mechanistic materialism was partly premised, is echoed by the philosophical debt of Bennett’s vital materialism to the monisms of Spinoza, Deleuze, and Lucretius, the latter of whom also figures prominently in Lovecraft’s intellectual genealogy.5 Bennett’s celebration of monism’s “insinuation that deep down everything is connected and irreducible to a simple substrate” on the ethical grounds that it “resonates with an ecological sensibility . . . that . . . is important to [her]” (xi) sounds very like an optimistic transformation of Lovecraft’s mock horror at the collapse of boundaries between human self and nonhuman other that reduces humanity, in At the Mountains of Madness, to the satiric figure of a waddling, myopic, albino penguin (85–­86). In all of these ways, the posthumanist elements of Alien point both backward to the prototypical discourse of Lovecraftian indifferentism and ahead to the new materialisms of ecocriticism at which Lovecraft’s own philosophical fables themselves unwittingly gesture.

The Reenchanted Cosmos: Prometheus and the Posthuman Condition Prometheus seems to be a more literal-­minded homage to Lovecraft than Alien had been. Visually, the cobra-­like alien “Hammerpede” parasite and Elizabeth Shaw’s betentacled “Trilobite” appear to allude more directly to the “octopus-­like head” of Cthulhu or “the star-­headed Old Ones” (Mountains of Madness, 60) than do Alien’s “face-­hugger,” “chestburster,” or adult alien life form. Similarly, the cylindrical “ampules” that house the Engineers’ biological weapon evoke the barrel-­shaped design of “certain monsters of primal myth, especially the fabled Elder Things in Necronomicon” (19), even as the black ooze of weaponized mutagens within those canisters recalls the Elder Things’ deadly “multicellular protoplasmic . . . slaves” (59–­60), the shape-­shifting Shoggoths, and their trail of “iridescent black slime” (91). The climactic battle between the adult Trilobite and the Engineer on the planet’s surface likewise seems to reference the warring alien races that feature in the mural-­history of the Old Ones in At the Mountains of Madness. The allusions to Lovecraft are even more evident in the mise-­en-­scène and plot, which baldly adapt the Antarctic setting, archaeological sleuthing, and terrible ontological discoveries of At the Mountains of Madness. In Lovecraft’s novel, the


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Antarctic setting establishes an atmosphere of inhuman strangeness that harkens back to the polar Gothic sublime of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) and Edgar Allan Poe’s Pym, even as it provides an objective correlative for the cosmic indifferentism that informs the novel’s central conceit of alien genesis: the notion that “Elder Things . . . created all earth-­life as a jest or mistake” (21). The “monumental bleakness” (Arthur Max, qtd. in Salisbury, 60) of the alien planet in Prometheus appears to stand in for Lovecraft’s Antarctica and serves a similar purpose. Here, too, human archaeologists discover unsettling hints about an alien hand in human origins and come face-­to-­face with archaic alien “gods” whose presence seems tacitly to affirm an indifferent cosmos.6 As in Alien, the film’s manifest narrative operates to ward off such an affirmation—­in this case, defending anthropocentrism by presenting an epistemological conflict as a story about human triumph over a monstrous adversary. This similarity between the films is particularly evident in the set piece where Shaw enters a plexiglass medipod and undergoes an automated “caesarean” to remove the human-­alien hybrid from her abdomen. Evoking the sleep pod of the “Sleeping Beauty” ending of Alien, but purging that scene of its ambiguating fairy-­tale frame, the medipod scene in Prometheus places the writhing horrors of Lovecraftian cosmic indifferentism and posthumanism’s exploded body fully on display, but only to reduce them to objects of human technical mastery. As unsettling and bloody as the medipod scene unquestionably is, its management of abjection is more assured than it was in Scott’s original film. Shaw’s abortion naturally may be read as a highly compressed reiteration of the former film’s psychoanalytic narrative; its function, however, is to exorcise the ambiguities of human subject-­formation that haunt that original story. These are dispensed with, abjected, in Prometheus’s climactic monster battle between the adult Trilobite and the rampaging Engineer. In this later remarkable scene, the question of the human is decisively settled: the squishy representative of Cthulhu and the Old Ones no longer menaces the human as an abject double, threatening the subject with perpetual annihilation. It has become instead a deus ex machina for dispensing with dangling plot threads and for—­in the greatest irony of all—­ensuring the escape of the human protagonist, who is now free to anticipate her glorious destiny in the film’s forthcoming sequel. Even more profound than the plot’s subordination of cosmic indif-

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ference to humanist ideology is the film’s affective economy: despite the fact that one can see the Lovecraftian mark of anxiety about cosmic indifference everywhere in the film’s motifs, creature designs, and thematic preoccupations, the treatment of these things is now principally mobilized to manage the Lovecraftian affect of cosmic horror that animated Alien, transmuting it into something more akin to cosmic enchantment, awe, or wonder. Scott’s revisionism in this area is particularly apparent in the way he resolves the mystery of the Space Jockey left dangling in Alien (Scott, 10). In the first film, Giger’s “biomechanoid” cosmonaut was a signifier of human insignificance, a synecdoche for human hubris in the form of a giant brought low by the relentless working out of the predatory alien’s mindless reproductive cycle. As Hurley argues, Alien’s Space Jockey functions as a double for humanity: “the helmsman’s . . . death mask of agony and astonishment . . . points towards” the “common status” of his race and the human race as “mere prey for the superior Alien” (217–­18). In Prometheus, however, the Space Jockey is reimagined as the Prometheus plasticator of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an “Engineer” of human life who, like the Titan of myth, “created man from clay” (Mellor, 71). In place of the indifferent cosmos of the first film, where “in space no one can hear you scream,” Prometheus presents the most interested universe imaginable—­a universe not of silence but of copious chatter and activity, in which the alien creator-­gods beckon from cave murals, even as they aim their weapons back toward the petri dish of Earth. Where once Scott’s audience was chilled by the Lovecraftian paradox of a cosmos that was at once indifferent and (for that very reason) menacing, in Prometheus it might find itself oddly reassured by a communicative cosmos of Engineer-­Creators—­postmodern Prometheii who, even if they belie the loving father-­God of Shaw’s rose-­colored imaginings, nonetheless dramatically affirm the importance of human beings to their creators. The film’s allusions to the Prometheus of myth (a figure who was not only in some versions the creator but also the savior of human kind), coupled with the anthropomorphic design of the Engineers themselves, subtly undermine intimations of cosmic indifferentism to posit a more conventional and reassuring “humanocentric” cosmos than the one suggested by Alien’s xenomorph, face-­hugger, or chestburster. How fitting that the giant statue of the Engineer head that overlooks the alien pyramid’s Ampule Chamber “was inspired by Michelangelo’s David, Elvis Presley, and the Statue of Liberty” (Salisbury, 119).


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Somewhere between Scott’s original Alien film and its prequel, cosmic horror has become something more akin to cosmic enchantment. The Lovecraft of Prometheus, for all its ostentation and flamboyant abjection, is kinder and gentler than the Lovecraft of Alien. It is symptomatic, then, that Scott does not make reference to Lovecraft at all in interviews about the genesis of Prometheus, paying homage instead to Lovecraft’s inheritor and domesticator, Erich von Däniken (Scott, 12–­ 13). The latter’s popularization of the alien astronaut theory, relying on speculative interpretations of archaeological evidence and contemporary UFO sightings in Chariots of the Gods?, captured precisely the appetite for reenchantment that Colavito locates in “the zeitgeist of 1970s America” in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis: “In a world that was all too frightening and all too coldly mechanical and scientific in its instruments of death, it became easy to understand why so many would try to escape into fantasies and mysteries of the past as a way out of the all-­too-­explicit horrors of the present” (152). Such an appetite for reenchantment, moreover, is endemic to the conception of postmodernity epitomized by Jean Baudrillard, in which, as Elias Canetti puts it, “without realizing it, the whole human race has suddenly left reality behind” (qtd. in Best and Kellner, 133). It is in large part such a Baudrillardian thesis about “the end or disappearance of production, the real, the social, history, and other key features of modernity” (Best and Kellner, 133)—­most notably the humanist subject—­to which Scott’s Alien prequel responds. This postmodern context is evident, for instance, in the way that Prometheus retains Alien’s metaphorical use of cosmic indifferentism as an allegory of contemporary capitalism. Whereas Alien established capital’s sinister presence through fantastmatic proxies—­the android Ash or disembodied ship’s computer Mother—­Prometheus embodies capitalism even more directly in the form of the corporate head of the Weyland Corporation, who bankrolls and secretly accompanies Shaw’s journey to a meeting with humanity’s makers. Ironically, however, the increased prominence of the late-­capitalist setting in the latter film does not lead to a more developed or focal political engagement. Whereas, in Alien, multinational capitalism was evoked as an object of explicit and often scathing critique, in Prometheus it has become merely the taken-­for-­granted context of the film’s more profound preoccupation with metaphysical and ontological questions about the status of “the human” in postmodernity. That is, if Alien turned cosmic indifferentism into a metaphor for

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late capitalism, it did so out of a concern with political economy as such (directly thematizing wages, inequality, class warfare, and so on); in Prometheus, it is not a concern with late capitalism as a virtually unnavigable system of economic exploitation that motivates the plot so much as a concern with what Fredric Jameson famously diagnosed as its “cultural logics”: the waning of affect, the triumph of simulation, and vertiginous loss of history and spatial locatability that plague the subject of postmodernity and evacuate its sense of subjective consistency and political agency, transforming the old modernist subject’s feeling of what Georg Lukács called “transcendental homelessness” (41), into a general postmodern condition of nostalgia for the real. Such intense nostalgia—­what Lukács identified, after Novalis, as “the urge to be at home everywhere” (11)—­animates virtually every frame of Prometheus’s repurposing of cosmic indifferentism for the work of reenchanting the world and restoring to the postmodern subject a sense of authentic being, meaning, and value. Like a latter-­day von Däniken, Scott completely reframes the alien genesis motif, making it the pretext not for a Lovecraftian posthumanism but, quite the contrary, for the reassertion of human specialness against an anxiety-­provoking new “posthuman condition” (Halberstam and Livingston, 19) in which “a technologically mediated ‘crisis’ of human uniqueness” (Graham, 11) expresses itself in a parade of phobic representations: cyborgs, androids, alien-­human hybrids, and other technologically inflected, boundary-­ dissolving monsters that “expos[e] . . . the redundancy and instability of the ontological hygiene of the human subject” in the era of postmodernity (12). The difference between Lovecraft’s posthumanism and this postmodern “posthuman condition” is subtle but important. In the former, Lovecraft permits no nostalgia for our missing ontological privilege, which was, in his estimation, always only an illusion; Lovecraftian posthumanism thus finds common ground with the ethical posthumanism of Wolfean ecocriticism and the new materialisms of Deleuze, Latour, and Bennett. In intimations of a “posthuman condition,” however, our putative “posthumanity” is articulated not as an ontological, transhistorical fact that it is our ethical duty to acknowledge, but as a historic rupture, a technologically mediated “crisis” that, by implication, might be reversible, and is thus inevitably characterized by the wistful backward glance. Prometheus constitutes one such backward glance. The quintessential postmodern subject, and the de facto protagonist of Prometheus, is


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not Ripley-­knockoff and “true believer” Shaw but melancholic android David. It is not Shaw’s faith but David’s pathos, in other words, that is the locus of audience cathexis. In what I take to be the film’s paradigmatic scene, David is planted on the kaleidoscopic holodeck of the Engineers’ ship, awestruck as the alien star maps swirl around him, his expression evoking the sublimity of encountering a reenechanted universe and the existential bliss of those happy ages when “the fire that burns in the soul” could be recognized as being “of the same essential nature as the stars” (Lukács, 11). In this strictly utopian scene, the disorienting hyperspace of postmodernity seems magically to have been transmuted into a vision of transcendental homecoming. It is within this context that the film’s opening images of a pristine maternal planet immediately prior to alien scientific intervention become intelligible. Gaea is for audiences what the Engineers’ star maps are for David: a symbolic placeholder for a certain kind of postmodern subject’s lost object—­a missing sense of anthropocentric “at homeness” that symptomatically presents itself according to the paradoxical formulation of nostalgia for a place that has never been visited. Such visions of humanist homecoming constitute the film’s ever-­ receding utopian horizon. David is destroyed by the Engineers, not reborn, and Shaw’s breast beating about “what makes us human” protests too much and thus rings hollowly throughout the film, exposing itself as little more than a vain wish for the divinely sanctioned human exceptionalism that the film asserts but cannot defend. This impasse is registered most symbolically by the pathos of David’s identification with Peter O’Toole’s performance of T. E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia: both are bastards, exiles, and seekers of authenticity via the doomed logic of cultural masquerade. Thus does the film designate the postmodern subject who longs for a transcendentally “human” experience, but who remains nonetheless adrift in the void of hyperspace and simulation.7 In what can be read only as a disavowal of this very dilemma, the final act of the film hastily resolves the plot by making humanist superheroine and daddy’s girl Shaw into David’s savior after he has been destroyed by his Quixotic quest for parental recognition. Even though the film fails to provide Shaw’s reactionary anthropocentrism with any convincing narrative authority, it is nonetheless Shaw herself, as inheritor/anticipator of Ripley’s mantle—­Promethean defender of humanity—­whose actions bring about the plot’s allegorical recentering of the human. In

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the final scene of the film, Shaw (lugging around David’s severed head) anticipates her heroic confrontation with putative embodiments of cosmic indifference, looking skyward in a classic gesture of human striving; this tableau illustrates just how profoundly Scott has rejected even the tentative ironies and qualifications of anthropocentrism with which Alien had concluded. Instead of Ripley’s ambiguous stasis framed by the fairy-­tale glass casket, Prometheus leaves its audience with an iconic image of human indomitability. The posthumanism of Prometheus thus involves a sleight of hand: cosmic indifferentism is conjured up by the spectacle of Engineer creator-­gods and tentacled monsters from beyond the stars, but the ethical posthumanism of Lovecraft, Wolfe, and Bennett that such figures imply is immediately conjured away by the reframing of this “posthumanism” as a peculiarly “postmodern” problem. The imputation of a “posthumanist condition” to the present is thus the film’s central ideological gesture. And yet, despite its essentially conservative rejection of Lovecraftian cosmic indifferentism, Prometheus nonetheless allows at least some of the ecological implications of Lovecraftian archaeology to surface. In exchanging the uncanny for the marvelous, rewriting cosmic horror as cosmic enchantment, and reducing Lovecraft’s alien gods to anthropomorphic figures that reassure as much as they menace, Prometheus perhaps unwittingly foregrounds the thematics of ecological thought and vital materialism, even if it ultimately betrays them with a kind of “faux posthumanism” (Wolfe, Animal Rites, 169) that is unwilling to renounce anthropocentrism in the final instance. For this reason, the film’s opening evocation of a pristine prehuman planet is simultaneously suggestive and disappointing: it gestures insistently at the ecological stakes of Lovecraft’s own ethical posthumanism, even as it transforms Lovecraft’s mythmaking into a melancholic occasion for humanist nostalgia.

Notes Many thanks to indefatigable research assistant Thomas Froh for his careful research, valuable suggestions, and insightful feedback. 1. See Levy (35). Giger had been introduced to Lovecraft’s work in the late 1960s when he illustrated stories for the second issue of Robert B. Fisher’s fan journal Cthulhu News. He subsequently became so fascinated with Lovecraft’s Necronomicon that he borrowed its title for his own book of neo-­Gothic “biomechanic” paintings in 1977 (Giger, 40). When Giger’s Lovecraft-­inspired vision made its way


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to Scott in 1978 courtesy of original Alien scriptwriter Dan O’Bannon, who presented the director with a copy of Giger’s Necronomicon, Scott was captivated and Giger’s involvement in the film was secured (Houston, 21). Several of the Necronomicon paintings became the basis for Giger’s fuller visual design of both the alien “space jockey” and the adult Alien “xenomorph” of the landmark film, ultimately earning him an Academy Award for visual effects in 1980 and making an indelible mark on popular consciousness. 2. That Lovecraft and the makers of Alien sometimes personify this “blind and chaotic universe” in creatures that seem to ooze “hatred and hostility” toward human beings is not necessarily a contradiction, for as Joshi points out with regard to Lovecraft, the stories themselves are necessarily mediated through the distorting lens of human self-­importance (157). As Colavito notes regarding Ash’s admiration for the Alien’s “purity . . . [and] sense of survival; unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality”: “A clearer statement of Lovecraft’s ‘cosmic indifference’ had never been spoken” (170). 3. Although initially conceptualized by Scott as “the Untitled Alien Prequel” (Salisbury, 22)—­set on Alien’s moon, LV-­426 and exploring the events leading up to the Titanic Space Jockey’s death—­Scott subsequently disconnected Prometheus from Alien, making it “a standalone story” that “‘shares DNA’ with Alien, but is not a direct prequel, and [is] not set on LV-­426” (Salisbury, 15). On the tension between Prometheus as prequel and standalone film, see Sobchack. 4. There is an intrinsic mockery of what Lovecraft himself calls “humanocentric” (qtd. in Joshi 154) protagonists in his tales, a sometimes misanthropic “belittling of the human race” that is “the negative side of his cosmicism” (Joshi 160). Foremost among Lovecraft’s strategies of belittlement, Joshi suggests, is the former’s “attribution of a grotesque or contemptible origin of our species,” something that is particularly apparent in the “ignominious” creation myth of At the Mountains of Madness (155). 5. Lovecraft noted, in a letter to Zealia Brown Reed, that his “mechanist[ic] materialis[m] [derived from] the line of Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius—­and in modern times from Nietzsche and Haeckel” (qtd. in Campbell, 171). 6. For an illuminating discussion of parallels between At the Mountains of Madness and Prometheus, that makes similar observations, see Johnny Kennedy’s blog post on “The Engineer Mythos” on Strange Shapes. 7. David’s “sister”—­“corporate bitch” Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron)—­ enacts a parallel story in which she must “prove” her humanity by sleeping with hunky African-­American ship’s captain Janek (Idris Elba, playing a masculine version of Shaw), who, according to the film’s racial shorthand, embodies humanness at its most jocose.

Works Cited Alien. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto. Twentieth-­ Century Fox, 1979.

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Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010. Best, Steven, and Douglas Keller. Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. New York: The Guilford Press, 1991. Campbell, James. “Cosmic Indifferentism in the Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft.” In American Supernatural Fiction: From Edith Wharton to the Weird Tales Writers, ed. Douglas Robillard, 167–­228. New York: Garland, 1996. Colavito, Jason. The Cult of Alien Gods: H. P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture. Amherst, Mass.: Prometheus Books, 2005. Creed, Barbara. “Horror and the Monstrous-­Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection.” Screen 27 (1986): 44–­71. Doherty, Thomas. “Prometheus.” Cineaste 37, no. 4 (2012): 53–­55. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage, 1994. Giger, H. R. HR GIGER ARh+. Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2001. Graham, Elaine L. Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens, and Others in Popular Culture. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Halberstam, Judith, and Ira Livingston. “Introduction: Posthuman Bodies.” In Posthuman Bodies, 1–­19. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Houston, David. “Ridley Scott: Directing Alien through an Artist’s Eyes.” Starlog 26 (1979): 18–­30. Hurley, Kelly. “Reading Like an Alien: Posthuman Identity in Ridley Scott’s Alien and David Cronenberg’s Rabid.” In Posthuman Bodies, ed. Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston, 203–­24. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1997. Joshi, S. T. “H. P. Lovecraft: The Fiction of Materialism.” In American Supernatural Fiction: From Edith Wharton to the Weird Tales Writers, ed. Douglas Robillard, 141–­66. New York: Garland, 1996. Levy, Frederic Albert. “H. R. Giger Alien Design.” Cinéfantastique 9, no. 1 (1979): 35–­39. Lovecraft, H. P. At the Mountains of Madness. New York: The Modern Library, 2005. ———. “The Call of Cthulhu.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 139–­69. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. Supernatural Horror in Literature. New York: Dover, 1973. Lukács, Georg. The Theory of the Novel: A Historico-­Philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature. Trans. Anna Bostock. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1971. Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York: Routledge, 1989. Miéville, China. Introduction. At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft, xi–­xxv. New York: The Modern Library, 2005. O’Bannon, Dan. “Something Perfectly Disgusting.” Alien Quadrilogy. Disk 2. First Draft Original Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon. Twentieth-­Century Fox, 2003. Prometheus. Dir. Ridley Scott. Perf. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy


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Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-­Green, Charlize Theron. Twentieth-­Century Fox, 2012. Salisbury, Mark. Prometheus: The Art of the Film. London: Titan Books, 2012. Scott, Ridley. Foreword. Prometheus: The Art of the Film by Mark Salisbury, 8–­21. London: Titan Books, 2012. Sobchack, Vivian. “A Hard Place: How Ridley Scott’s Prometheus Deals with Impossible Expectations and Mythological Baggage.” Film Comment 48, no. 4 (2012): 31–­34. Wolfe, Cary. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. ———. What Is Posthumanism? Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010. Zwinger, Lynda. “Blood Relations: Feminist Theory Meets the Uncanny Alien Bug Mother.” Hypathia 7, no. 2 (1992): 74–­90.


ꙮ RACE, SPECIES, AND OTHERS H. P. Lovecraft and the Animal Jed Mayer


n a whimsical paean to the virtues of cats, H. P. Lovecraft distinguishes his favorite animal from its more popular counterpart, the dog, but hastens to add: “I have no active dislike for dogs, any more than I have for monkeys, human beings, negroes, cows, sheep, or pterodactyls” (“Cats and Dogs”). The appearance of the term “negroes” in this list of animals, pointedly distinct from the category of human beings, may be read as yet another troubling instance of the author’s notorious racism. Yet by placing the category “human beings” within a list of animals, Lovecraft also offers an implicit challenge to human exceptionalism. This challenge is cohesive with a distinctively posthumanist ethos central to his work as a whole and especially pronounced in the writings of the 1930s. It is an ethos succinctly declared by the author himself when he proclaimed: “All my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-­at-­large” (Selected Letters, 150). Instead, his work is preoccupied with the nonhuman, vividly rendered in multifarious forms, which threaten to displace humanity from its self-­proclaimed position of privilege. Read from a posthuman perspective, Lovecraft’s list of animals challenges the ways in which we conventionally categorize other species. The placement of “negroes” next to “human beings” shocks even while it foregrounds the prejudices that inform our taxonomical systems. In this respect, Lovecraft’s list resembles that of a “certain Chinese encyclopedia,” imagined by the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, in which animals are slotted into a comical array of seemingly incongruous categories, from particular species, such as “suckling pigs” and “stray dogs,” to states of being, such as “tame” or “embalmed,” to categories that foreground the point of view of the observer, such as those “drawn with a very fine camelhair brush” to those “that from a long way off look



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like flies” (Foucault, xv). For Michel Foucault, this list “shattered . . . all the familiar landmarks of my thought—­our thought . . . breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-­old distinction between the Same and the Other” (xv). While for Foucault this collapse inspires “laughter,” for Lovecraft such shatterings evoke horror; yet for both figures the disruption of “age-­old distinctions” enables an imaginative transcendence of a narrowly human sense of order. To read Lovecraft’s list of animals in this light is to become aware, in the words of Jacques Derrida, that “the animal is a word, it is an appellation that men have instituted, a name they have given themselves the right and the authority to give to another living creature” (“Animal,” 392). Lovecraft’s work offers an extended challenge to what animal rights activists and theorists have dubbed speciesism, the privileging of one species (Homo sapiens) over all others, the latter of which are deemed void of subject status and hence unworthy of moral concern. That such a perspective can exist alongside attitudes that can be clearly categorized as racist, itself serving as the starting point for considerations of species prejudice, is peculiar but by no means exceptional. The juxtaposition “monkeys, human beings, negroes” in Lovecraft’s list points to Darwinian evolutionary narratives that may paradoxically serve to support both challenges to speciesism and the furtherance of racism. In a key passage from The Descent of Man, Darwin asserts, For my own part I would as soon be descended from that heroic little monkey, who braved his dreaded enemy in order to save the life of his keeper, or from that old baboon, who descending from the mountains, carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs—­as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practises infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions. (Evolutionary Writings, 919–­20)

This passage is representative of the ways in which evolutionary narratives have raised the moral status of nonhuman animals while simultaneously relegating non-­Europeans to a lower evolutionary status. Derrida has described this as a “biologistic continuism, whose sinister connotations we are well aware of,” as it can serve to perpetuate

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hierarchical distinctions between ethnic groups even while it offers a common ancestry (“Animal,” 398). Like Darwin’s, Lovecraft’s work is haunted by the prospect of kinship with other ethnic groups, even while he avidly explores connections with nonhuman beings both cosmic and earthly. Without seeking to escape the implications of Lovecraft’s racism, I would like to propose an alternative way of contextualizing the author’s racial prejudices within a broader posthumanist perspective, one that subverts constructions of human uniqueness and superiority. This subversion manifests itself in his narratives through imaginative accounts of the intelligence and complexity of nonhuman beings, and of the presence of the nonhuman within the supposedly sovereign human self. His narrators undergo journeys into the heart of the nonhuman, discovering alien intelligences that dwarf our own and traces within ourselves of a physical and mental heritage that is decidely alien. Moreover, Lovecraft’s work gives form to a tension in our relationship with nonhuman beings that remains a preoccupation among scholars in the field of animal studies: namely, the complex, often conflicted relationship between interspecies kinship and difference, community and subjectivity, empathy and enmity. Weird literature is permeated by these tensions, as it is populated by nonhuman beings who threaten human sovereignty. While such writing often renders the other through the lens of fear and loathing, thus reproducing many of the speciesist and racist attitudes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the classic body of weird writing was composed, the element of horror also challenges any illusion of objective detachment that might bolster the authority of the human observer’s perspective. Although many of Lovecraft’s narrators are academics engaged in scientific research, their encounters with absolute alterity serve to shatter the familiar categories that once might have lent a reassuring sense of order to the universe. Among these categories are those that taxonomically separate humans from their many others, and while the response of Lovecraft’s narrators to such categorical breakdowns is typically one of horror, it is also, frequently, one of recognition, a mutual understanding that transcends species barriers. The mingling of horror and recognition that accompanies the encounter with the nonhuman other is one that is vitally shaped by Lovecraft’s racism, particularly the fear of hybridity and miscegenation. As David Simmons argues, Lovecraft’s narratives regard the racial other from “a


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stance that is attracted to that which it is simultaneously repulsed by,” an ambivalence that reflects the narrator’s reluctant awareness of an already hybridized self (19). The result, Simmons argues, is that Lovecraft’s narrators often find their sense of identity fragmented by their at least partial realisation of an essential communality between all peoples. Such a repeated patterning implies a degree of ideological tension: the admission of an essential racial and biological universality within humanity tempered by a reluctance to suggest any measure of approval concerning the issue. (19)

This biological universality may extend across species barriers as well as racial barriers, and while Lovecraft’s narrators experience fragmentation of their human identities, they also encounter a sense of kinship where once they knew only difference. Human animal studies has made relatively little impact on Lovecraft scholarship, despite the fact that studies of horror and science fiction literature have played an important role in what has been dubbed the “animal turn” (see Weil). Works that influenced Lovecraft, such as those by Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the early H. G. Wells, have offered human animal studies scholars a rich field for exploration. As a genre, science fiction has lent itself particularly well to such approaches. As Sherryl Vint argues in her introduction to a special issue of Science Fiction Studies devoted to animal studies and science fiction: “The genre’s history of grappling with alterity and granting subjectivity to the non-­human makes it an exemplary cultural resource through which to explore this changing intellectual and material landscape” (178). Following on Darko Suvin’s influential description of science fiction as the literature of “cognitive estrangement,” Joan Gordon observes: “Estrangement allows one to step outside one’s own form of cognition or place in the world and look at the change this alteration makes, or to consider one’s own position as another might, another’s position as if it were one’s own” (331). As I will argue, Lovecraft is a deft practitioner of this form of cognitive estrangement: placing the reader in unsettling proximity to the nonhuman other is just one of the qualities he shares with science fiction writers. Although weird literature is not science fiction, it shares with that genre several key elements that are also distinctly posthumanist. The weird is, according to Lovecraft, “the literature of cosmic fear,” and like

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science fiction it often concerns “contact with unknown spheres and powers” (Supernatural Horror, 108, 109). While both weird and science fiction render such tales of first contact in largely materialist terms with an exactness of observation imitative of the sciences, their narratives generally describe unprecedented events that involve, as Lovecraft claims of weird fiction, the “suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature” as they are currently understood. Even hard science fiction employs known scientific laws to create imagined phenomena transcending human experience. Lovecraft describes this experience of cognitive estrangement as “cosmic alienage or ‘outsideness’” (“Notes on Writing”). Yet while science fiction can often evoke the sense of horror such alienage may produce in a human observer, in the weird, fear is the whole point. Weird encounters with the other take place in an “atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread” evoking “a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim” (Supernatural Horror, 108, 109). Such an atmosphere would not seem a likely one for fostering the mutual understanding of human and nonhuman beings, and while tales of alien encounter often have peaceful resolutions in science fiction, in weird literature the result is invariably unpleasant. And yet it is this element of fear that lends to the weird a quality quite unusual in literature: however much we learn about the other, it remains alien. In this respect the weird circumvents the tendency to anthropomorphize other creatures, to project human qualities onto the nonhuman other. While “one of the most common fantasies in SF is the desire to communicate with an alien species, to extend our understanding beyond the limits of human experience,” in living out this fantasy writers can also replicate a tendency common to our relationship with nonhuman animals: “Too often we construct animals as mirrors for ourselves. We fail to encounter other creatures in their concrete materiality, to allow an exchange with a recognized fellow-­subject to take place” (Vint, 181). While anthropomorphism may function as a form of empathy, through which we recognize similarities between humans and other animals, applied uncritically, as Kari Weil argues, “the urge to anthropomorphize the experience of another, like the urge to empathize with that experience, risks becoming a form of narcissistic projection that erases boundaries of difference” (15). Weil instead advocates a more nuanced perspective, a “critical anthropomorphism” that will


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foster empathy while maintaining recognition of the uniqueness of each creature’s mode of being. Critical anthropomorphism is an ethical relating to animals (whether in theory or in art) . . . in the sense that we open ourselves to touch and be touched by others as fellow subjects and may imagine their pain, pleasure, and need in anthropomorphic terms but must stop short of believing that we can know their experience. In addition, critical anthropomorphism must begin with the acknowledgment that the irreducible difference that animals may represent for us is one that is also within us and within the term human. (16)

Weil offers this approach as a corrective to the tendency in animal advocacy to represent animals as subjects deserving of rights according to human systems of law and ethics in order to achieve limited goals in legal reform but at the risk of constructing animals as lesser versions of ourselves. Weird encounters with the other often begin at the other end of the spectrum, with an overwhelming sense of “irreducible difference,” but often, particularly in Lovecraft, moving toward a cautious admission of kinship. While the sense of horror pervades such encounters, significantly overshadowing possibilities for empathy, when mutual recognition between Lovecraft’s narrators and nonhuman beings does occur, it is never without an awed recognition of absolute alterity, one that may even exist “within us and within the term human.” Many of Lovecraft’s most celebrated tales focus on the alien within. Earlier stories, like “Arthur Jermyn” and “Rats in the Walls,” often concern the narrator’s horrified reaction to the discovery of his own monstrous ancestry, reflecting the author’s own fears of racial miscegenation and degeneration. In later works, however, the response to such revelations grows increasingly ambiguous, perhaps as a result of his own complex response to the experience of living in a racially diverse New York in the mid-­1920s, a period when he was also briefly married to Sonia Greene, a woman of Jewish descent. Michel Houllebecq argues that these experiences transformed an otherwise disdainful attitude toward so-­called inferior races “into a full-­fledged racial neurosis” that provided a creative spur, a “racial hatred” that “provokes in Lovecraft the trancelike poetic state” producing that “hallucinatory vision” from which would spring such visionary creations as “the nightmare entities that populate the Cthulhu cycle” (105, 107). Suggestively, Houllebecq observes that what we see in the later work “is no longer the WASP’s

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well-­bred racism” of Lovecraft’s New England background, but rather “the brutal hatred of a trapped animal who is forced to share his cage with other different and frightening creatures” (106). If Lovecraft came to feel like a “trapped animal” during his New York period, due to his proximity to ethnic groups he found “different and frightening,” he also seems to have begun to recognize that he shared more than a cage with them, but a common ancestry and nature as well. The difference is particularly marked in a later work like The Shadow over Innsmouth, which ends with the narrator answering the beckoning call of his alien ancestry. In contrast to an earlier work like “The Festival,” where the narrator is initially drawn to his ancestral home to participate in an ancient family ritual only to flee in horror when he discovers the truth of his monstrous lineage, Robert Olmstead, the protagonist of The Shadow over Innsmouth, is initially repulsed by the denizens of a cursed seaport town, but gradually comes to recognize his kinship with them, and even, reluctantly, to embrace it. The residents of Innsmouth have a long history of intermarriages with a race of aquatic beings referred to as the Deep Ones, whose blood endows humans with eternal life and the ability to live underwater. When Olmstead recognizes his family connection to these underwater creatures, he ultimately decides to join them in their underwater city. As Timothy H. Evans observes, “There has been considerable debate about whether the end of this story is meant to dramatize a corruption of the narrator, or whether it constitutes a humanizing of the Deep Ones, a recognition that ‘alien’ traditions may be as valid as New England traditions” (125). The horror Olmstead feels for Innsmouth and its residents for the greater part of the story is far too vivid to be easily dismissed by the uncharacteristically upbeat ending, yet there also runs throughout a tacit admission of the narrator’s kinship, registered as an uncanny attraction to the strange locale and peoples. Throughout the story, Olmstead slowly reconciles repulsion toward those who bear the “Innsmouth Look,” a general disgust that one character refers to as “simply race prejudice,” and more complicated feelings “which one could not dissociate from a certain haunting and uncomfortable sense of pseudo-­memory, as if they called up some image from deep cells and tissues whose retentive functions are wholly primal and awesomely ancestral” (277). Evans claims, persuasively, that in this ambivalence, “Lovecraft is acknowledging the presence of conflicting emotions in the face of change” (125). The changes evoked in the story are more than merely cultural: they are explicitly biological, and


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the conflicting emotions of the protagonist derive from an intermingling that is as much one of species as of race. In the words of Zadok Allen, the drunken old resident from whom Olmstead learns much of the town’s mysterious past, it “seems that human folks has got a kind o’ relation to sech water-­beasts—­that everything alive come aout o’ the water onct, an’ only needs a little change to go back agin” (297). Throughout the story, the narrative focuses on details that emphasize the animal nature of the Innsmouth residents. Olmstead initially hears furtive sounds of “hoarse barkings and loose-­syllabled croakings [bearing] little resemblance to recognised human speech” (312). As he attempts to flee the town, these “noises swelled to a bestial babel of croaking, baying, and barking without the least suggestion of human speech” (326). While such “croaking and jabbering” is sometimes racialized as “some hateful guttural patois I could not identify” (323), the sounds are explicitly animal enough to make Olmstead wonder if they were pursuing him with the help of “dogs after all” (326). He notes repeatedly the “hopping” and “undulating” qualities of their movements, revealing their aquatic nature, yet he also notes “the dog-­like sub-­humanness of their crouching gait” (323). Olmstead inadvertently reveals his kinship to these “sub-­ humans” when he demonstrates a knack for imitating their “shambling gait” (323). At one point, he succeeds in deceiving his pursuers then returns to his normal pace, but it seems that his animal nature is not so easy to shake off, as suggested by Lovecraft’s wry choice of phrase: “Once more in shadow, I resumed my former dog-­trot” (323). While Olmstead’s pursuers are more or less humanoid, their animal characteristics are so pronounced as to suggest a concern with issues of kinship that go well beyond the racial issues that are usually addressed in analyses of the story. Tracy Bealer succinctly notes, The foreignness of the aliens themselves, both in terms of their extra-­ terrestrial origin and their previous residence in the Indies, renders their interactions with humans a neat encapsulation of interracial contact. They are, for all intents and purposes, racially marked immigrants overtaking and, according to the initial response of the narrator, polluting and degrading Innsmouth’s Anglo Saxon stock . . . (45)

This is certainly accurate, as the story’s emphasis on the foreign origins of the aliens who come to occupy the offshore depths of Innsmouth makes clear. Their intermixing with the town’s human residents also clearly

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reflects the author’s own fears of miscegenation. Yet they remain explicitly nonhuman in ways that point to the author’s interest in employing the weird to subvert anthropocentrism. When Olmstead discovers his true family origins, he pointedly laments, “It was the end, for whatever remains to me of life on the surface of this earth, of every vestige of mental peace and confidence in the integrity of Nature and of the human mind” (327). However much the author might have regarded racial mixing as a crime against nature, the horror here described is clearly one that is closely related to that “cosmic alienage” that the author stressed was so central to the weird, “a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos” (107). In The Shadow over Innsmouth, the natural laws that are broken are those that the narrator wished to believe separated him from the lower orders, as much of species as of race. While Olmstead’s revelation is not without its frisson of horror, it records a kind of mental breakdown that brings about a radically different worldview. His story of alien encounter begins in explicitly racist terms, which are ultimately exposed as a misconception of the weirder biologies at play. Lovecraft’s concern with alterity, with difference, is something weird writing shares with human animal studies. The growing concern with issues of “animal difference” among scholars in the humanities reflects an ongoing preoccupation with challenging constructions of difference more broadly. Animal difference is, as Cary Wolfe argues, “the most different difference, and therefore the most instructive” for understanding how and why certain groups are subject to marginalization (Animal Rites, 67). Although issues of animal welfare and advocacy remain central, human animal studies can also show the ways in which “violence against human others (and particularly racially marked others) has often operated by means of a double movement that animalizes them for the purposes of domination, oppression, or even genocide—­a maneuver that is effective because we take for granted the prior assumption that violence against the animal is ethically permissible” (Wolfe, “Human,” 567). The reduction of other humans to the status of animal is predicated on the reduction of the nonhuman to a morally negligible status in which killing them is not murder, a “non-­ criminal putting to death,” as Derrida describes it (“Eating Well,” 280). It is worth noting in this context that, after Olmstead’s escape, the residents of Innsmouth are rumored to have been herded into “concentration camps” by Federal agents, a fate presumably justified by their perceived


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subhumanity (268). And while it is Olmstead’s own terrified reports of the goings-­on at Innsmouth that bring about their persecution, he ultimately recognizes that he has more in common with the Other than he would ever have suspected before his weird encounter. Many of Lovecraft’s later tales are preoccupied with entering into the consciousness of radically alien beings. The Cthulhu saga’s increasingly elaborate descriptions of alien societies are one aspect of the author’s preoccupation with giving imaginative form to nonhuman beings, but several works offer more intimate encounters, where the human narrators enter directly into the mental and bodily experiences of the other. Walter Gilman’s nocturnal journeys in “Dreams in the Witch House” are one example of this, but in The Shadow Out of Time Lovecraft conducts a thought experiment in which a human mind temporarily occupies the body of an alien being. While the mental traveler Nathaniel Wingate Peasley does not arrive at the kind of willing acceptance of kinship as that shown by Robert Olmstead, he does acquire a richer understanding and even an awed admiration of the alien race whose form he inhabits, noting behavioral parallels between his own species and the “Great Race of Yith.” As in “The Whisperer in Darkness,” the locus of horror in the story is in alternative embodiment, yet in both cases these transbodily experiences also enable a kind of visionary knowledge, transcending the limitations of the merely human. These later thought experiments of Lovecraft may be compared to the practice of critical empathy discussed earlier, in which we attempt to imagine the experiences of another while resisting the tendency to transpose our own anthropomorphic perceptions. Thinking oneself into the alien experiences of another being is an imaginative practice common to science fiction, but it is also engaged in by biologists and ethologists, though generally with considerable professional trepidation. In his 1967 essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” philosopher Richard Nagel weighs in skeptically on the possibilities for trans-­species empathy, arguing, “It will not help to try to imagine that one has webbing on one’s arms, which enables one to fly around . . . catching insects in one’s mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high-­frequency sound signals; and that one spends the day hanging upside down by one’s feet in an attic” (439). Imagining these physical qualities would reveal, “only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves,” not “what it is like for a bat to be a bat.” Ultimately, Nagel argues, “I am restricted by the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task.”

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Biologists after Nagel have been less skeptical. Richard Dawkins argues that, while we cannot know exactly what it is like to perceive the world through sonar rather than hearing or sight, we can know what it is like to construct a mental model of the world based on the sensual perception of objects in space, since that is precisely what we do through visual cognition. More recently, marine biologist Peter Godfrey-­Smith has explored the possibilities of imagining what it is like to be a creature even more distantly related to us than the bat. In “On Being an Octopus,” Smith argues that imaginatively occupying an animal is not so different from when we try to understand “humans who have different capacities and backgrounds from our own” (47). In both cases we seek connections “between what goes on inside that animal and experiences that we can, through memory and imagination, partly conjure in ourselves.” It is a process that involves meticulous observation as well as imagination, but Godfrey-­Smith offers a persuasive account of what it is like to feel the world through tentacles, appendages that serve the octopus as both limbs and sensory organs. In addition to their enormous flexibility, research has shown that tentacles function with a surprising degree of independence from the brain, yet our imaginations are nevertheless capable of imagining what it might be like to explore our surroundings with arms that we partly guide and partly watch as they move independently of us, as weird as that experience might be from a human perspective. Lovecraft’s work is, of course, populated by a wide variety of tentacled beings, so much so that this limb comes to serve as a kind of shorthand symbol for the alien and monstrous. As a signifier of the weird, the tentacle is a relatively recent arrival, according to China Miéville, who argues: “The spread of the tentacle—­a limb-­type with no Gothic or traditional precedents (in ‘Western’ aesthetics)—­from a situation of near total absence in Euro-­American teratoculture up to the nineteenth century, to one of being the default monstrous appendage of today, signals the epochal shift to a Weird culture” (105). While horrific tentacled creatures have appeared in earlier fiction, most notably in the work of Jules Verne and Victor Hugo, their presence in the weird tale takes on a decidedly new function, serving to disturb settled notions of biological form. In Lovecraft, tentacles emerge from unexpected places, the head of Great Cthulhu being one of the more memorable examples, inspiring a horror toward forms that challenge our understanding. For Miéville, the weird registers the shock of the new: “Lovecraft’s hysterical insistences that nothing like this had ever been seen before, that nothing could possibly


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prepare anyone for such a sight, when his Great Old Ones appear, is the narrative actualisation of the Weird-­as-­novum, unprecedented Event” (110). While the intrusion of monstrous forms into weird fiction can be read as a response to the upheavals of modernity as Miéville suggests, they can also be read in terms of their imaginative engagement with nonhuman forms. Miéville succinctly observes, in terms relevant to both biology and weird fiction, “The octopus is problematized ontology” (109). The Shadow Out of Time is a work that problematizes ontology by imagining what it might be like to inhabit the body of an utterly alien, tentacled being. After a disturbing and lengthy out-­of-­body experience, Nathaniel Wingate Peasley seeks to discover some explanation for the imagery seen in his recurring dreams. What he discovers threatens to displace humanity’s privileged position at the apex of evolved life-­forms, as his researches begin to suggest “that mankind is only one—­perhaps the least—­of the highly evolved and dominant races of this planet’s long and largely unknown career” (350). This prehistorical displacement of human sovereignty becomes increasingly personal for Peasley as he begins to suspect that an alien intelligence occupied his body for five years, a period that remains a blank space in Peasley’s memory, until he begins to connect the imagery of his dreams to what he initially believes to be mythic accounts of prehuman history discovered in his research. As the evidence mounts in favor of a mental exchange with some impossibly remote alien being, Peasley resists acknowledging the apparent truth with a reluctance that grows increasingly implausible. Although many of Lovecraft’s narrators share Peasley’s resistance to horrific revelations, his own evasion seems especially unconvincing unless we acknowledge the profound sense of displacement this character has undergone, not just encountering a radically alien presence, but occupying it. Peasley’s gradual remembrance of having occupied the body of an alien life-­form has much in common with the kind of critical empathy practiced by biologists and ethologists as well as theorists in the field of human animal studies. Of course Lovecraft’s emphasis on the horror of this experience means that the critical element is decidedly more pronounced than the empathic, yet through this critical perspective Lovecraft offers an account of alien embodiment that subverts human sovereignty even while it imagines possibilities for alternative states of being that might transcend the human. Peasley increasingly experiences what he calls a sense of “body loathing,” a pathological reluctance to look at himself that also makes itself felt in his dreams. This self-­loathing is

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in conflict with a growing “morbid temptation to look down at myself,” which reaches a point when he can no longer resist his curiosity and looks down at his dreaming self: At first my downward glance revealed nothing whatever. A moment later I perceived that this was because my head lay at the end of a flexible neck of enormous length. Retracting this neck and gazing down very sharply, I saw the scaly, rugose, iridescent bulk of a vast cone ten feet tall and ten feet wide at the base. That was when I waked half of Arkham with my screaming as I plunged madly up from the abyss of sleep. (358)

The horror felt at this realization of alien embodiment begins to fade through “hideous repetition” of self-­examination in his lucid dreams, and Peasley grows “half-­reconciled to these visions of myself in monstrous form.” One spur to this reconciliation is his engagement in tasks that have a distinct similarity to human activities, including “reading terrible books from the endless shelves and writing for hours at the great tables with a stylus managed by the green tentacles that hung down from my head” (358). If the tentacle is, as Miéville suggests, the appendage of weird ontology, then Peasley’s encounter disrupts any comfortable separation he might once have made between human and nonhuman states of being. If writing—­a skill holding a uniquely privileged position among articles of anthropocentric self-­definition—­can be performed with a tentacle, then the conceptual underpinnings of human exceptionalism begin to unravel. The profound implications of this revelation seem particularly horrific to Peasley, who confesses that in watching the alien beings in his dreams, “Their actions, though harmless, horrified me even more than their appearance—­for it is not wholesome to watch monstrous objects doing what one has known only human beings to do,” particularly the sight of them “writing diligently with a peculiar rod gripped in the greenish head-­tentacles” (357). Prior to these revelations, the narrator remains aloof toward his own body, in dreams as well as awake, until self-­recognition makes him painfully aware of his own ontology. In his dreams his presence “seemed to be that of a disembodied consciousness with a range of vision wider than the normal; floating freely about, yet confined to the ordinary avenues and speeds of travel” (358). Peasley, as in Cartesian accounts of human consciousness as a kind of ghost inhabiting a bodily machine distinct from the thinking self, glides along in his dream world, unconscious of


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his embodiment. But his growing sense of self-­loathing delivers his first hint of his essentially alien nature, as he experiences “a feeling of profound and inexplicable horror concerning myself. I developed a queer fear of seeing my own form, as if my eyes would find it something utterly alien and inconceivably abhorrent” (345). Before he becomes acclimated to his alien form, this loathing is an expression of his repulsion toward the alien other. Yet as he grows used to the nonhuman body occupied in his dreams, it is his human self that begins to inspire loathing, as he later notes: “Again and again I looked nervously down at myself, vaguely disturbed by the human form I possessed” (382). Peasley comes to experience a radical reversal of his sense of human selfhood: the nonhuman has become the seat of stable subjectivity, and the human has become repulsively alien. Lovecraft’s narrative experiment in weird ontology bears some resemblance to that conducted by Vilém Flusser and Louis Bec in their mock-­scientific treatise Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, in which they imagine what it is like to be a vampire squid, a creature, they stress, that, however different in form and being, “is not entirely alien to us” (5). As with Peasley’s habitation of nonhuman form, they come to inhabit a “world [that] is not grasped with hands but with tentacles” (38). Flusser and Bec concoct a non-­anthropocentric fable in which “the stream of life will not flow in our direction” but in the direction of the vampire squid (12). Like Lovecraft, their choice of nonhuman subject derives from its horrific appearance. By exploring the sense of disgust raised by cephalopods like the vampire squid, they seek to subvert the hierarchies separating humans from other beings: Incorporated into our “collective unconscious” is a hierarchy of disgust that reflects a biological hierarchy, and this has resulted in the following conception of the nature of life. As far as we are concerned, life—­the slimy flood that envelops the earth (the “biosphere”)—­is a stream that leads to us: We are its goal. We rationalize this feeling and base categories on it that allow us to classify living beings, namely, into those that approximate us (“incomplete humans”) and into those that depart from us (“degenerate humans”). Our biological criteria are anthropomorphic; they are based on a hollow and unanalytic attitude toward life. (12)

Lovecraft’s fiction poses a similar challenge to this “hierarchy of disgust,” by unsettling the reader through cognitive estrangement. The

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racism that provided the author with an extensive vocabulary of loathing becomes, paradoxically, the means by which his stories achieve intimate contact with the feared other.

Works Cited Bealer, Tracy. “‘The Innsmouth Look’: H. P. Lovecraft’s Ambivalent Modernism.” Journal of Philosophy: A Cross-­Disciplinary Inquiry 6, no. 14 (2011): 43–­49. Darwin, Charles. Evolutionary Writings. Ed. James Secord. New York: Oxford Univesity Press, 2010. Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: Norton, 1986. Derrida, Jacques. “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow).” Trans. David Wills. Critical Inquiry 28, no. 2 (Winter, 2002): 369–­418. ———. “‘Eating Well,’ or the Calculation of the Subject.” In Points . . . Interviews, 1974–­1994, ed. Elizabeth Weber; trans. Peggy Kamuf et al., 96–­119. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995. Evans, Timothy H. “A Last Defense against the Dark: Folklore, Horror, and the Uses of Tradition in the Works of H. P. Lovecraft.” Journal Of Folklore Research 42, no. 1 (2005): 99–­135. Flusser, Vilém, and Louis Bec. Vampyroteuthis Infernalis: A Treatise, with a Report by the Institut Scientifique de Recherche Paranaturaliste. Trans. Valentine A. Pakis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books, 1970. Godfrey-­Smith, Peter. “On Being an Octopus.” Boston Review 38, no. 3 (2013): 46–­50. Gordon, Joan. “Animal Studies.” In The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. Mark Bould et al., 331–­40. London: Routledge, 2009. Houellebecq, Michel. H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. Trans. Dorna Khazeni. New York: McSweeney’s Books/Believer Books, 2005. Lovecraft, Howard Philips. “Cats and Dogs.” The H. P. Lovecraft Archive. http:// ———. “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction.” The H. P. Lovecraft Archive. http://www ———. Selected Letters, Volume II: 1925–­1929. Eds. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Sauk City, Wisc.: Arkham House, 1968. ———. The Shadow Out of Time. In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 335–­95. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. The Shadow over Innsmouth. In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 268–­335. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. Supernatural Horror in Literature. In At the Mountains of Madness: The Definitive Edition, 103–­73. New York: Modern Library, 2005. Miéville, China. “M. R. James and the Quantum Vampire: Weird; Hauntological: Versus And/Or And And/Or Or?” Collapse 4 (2008): 105–­28. Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” The Philosophical Review 83, no. 4 (1974): 435–­50.


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Simmons, David. “‘A Certain Resemblance’: Abject Hybridity in H. P. Lovecraft’s Short Fiction.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 13–­30. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013. Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. Vint, Sherryl. “‘The Animals in That Country’: Science Fiction and Animal Studies.” Science Fiction Studies 35, no. 1 (2008): 177–­88. Weil, Kari. “A Report on the Animal Turn.” Differences: A Journal Of Feminist Cultural Studies 21, no. 2 (2010): 1–­23. Wolfe, Cary, and W. J. T. Mitchell. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. ———. “Human, All Too Human: ‘Animal Studies’ and the Humanities.” PMLA 124 (2009): 564–­75.


ꙮ H. P. LOVECRAFT’S RELUCTANT SEXUALITY Abjection and the Monstrous Feminine in “The Dunwich Horror” Carl H. Sederholm


lthough h. p. lovecraft’s stories provide fascinating glimpses into monstrosity, cosmic horror, and secret ritual practices, some scholars have criticized his representation of women and the general absence of human sexuality in his writings, suggesting that he not only dreaded sexual feelings in his personal life but also avoided them in his fiction. There is certainly some truth to these assumptions; as Gavin Callaghan claims, Lovecraft had “an aversion to women” and that their place in his fiction “is as disturbing to Lovecraft as it apparently is to some of his readers” (162). But as Callaghan also argues, it may no longer be enough to claim that Lovecraft avoids sexuality or that he refuses to write strong female characters. Along these lines, scholars including Victoria Nelson and Gina Wisker have begun to question whether Lovecraft’s depictions of women may also be more complex than once thought, suggesting a greater overall importance to the relative absence or presence of female characters in his work. In some cases, as I will discuss, Lovecraft even develops female characters—­Lavinia Whateley from “The Dunwich Horror,” for instance—­to signify aspects of human sexuality and the human body itself. Throughout “The Dunwich Horror,” Lovecraft describes Lavinia not only as abject and disgusting, but also strongly hints that it is her body’s reproductive power—­not just the monstrous twins or the mostly absent Yog-­Sothoth—­that unleashes an awful destructive force against the human race. Lovecraft’s apparent panic concerning women, as illustrated in part through his representation of Lavinia, suggests a deeper, unaddressed fear of the body—­a fear that manifests as anxiety concerning both the body’s reproductive functions and its inevitable decline, decay, and death. In other words,



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Lovecraft’s sexual loathing, his attempt to separate human behavior from animal action, and his apparent wish to escape physical instincts, desires, or passions, all suggest a difficulty reconciling intellectual fantasies with physical realities. Lovecraft was not therefore simply dismissive of sex; he was also concerned about the status of the body itself, its drives, its instincts, its needs. In his article “Lovecraft and Gender,” Donald Burleson effectively captures the critical consensus by stating simply that Lovecraft “is not notable for giving expression to major female characters, overall; men, by and large, seem to dominate the stories” (21). Unfortunately, Burleson does not respond to this problem as much as he could have; instead he relies on certain rough-­and-­ready deconstructive moves to demonstrate that Lovecraft’s language does not generally adhere to a strict male/female binary opposition. Although Burleson raises important questions related to problems of gender and language in Lovecraft, his article never reaches beyond its broadly deconstructive points, leaving the question of female trouble in “The Dunwich Horror” mostly unresolved. Victoria Nelson’s position, developed in The Secret Life of Puppets, looks beyond the problem of absent women in Lovecraft toward his broader avoidance of human sexuality. As she puts it, “sex is the major unaddressed issue of Lovecraft’s work” (115). According to Nelson, scholars have largely overlooked the deeply sexual undercurrents of Lovecraft’s monsters. And yet, Lovecraft’s language sometimes betrays “an aura of sexual squeamishness and repulsion [that] hovers like a low and unattended fog” (115). By implication, Lovecraft’s sexuality is always monstrous, neither provocative nor erotic, always “displaced in an uneasy fusion with the transcendent into monstrosity” (115). But what does Nelson mean by this “uneasy fusion,” and how does it help us discuss Lovecraft’s presentation of sexuality in his fiction? Moreover, what is the relationship between the transcendent and the monstrous? Much of Nelson’s case relies on the speculation that an eight-­year-­ old Lovecraft remembered the pain and suffering his father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft, experienced as he died from syphilis. She also assumes that Lovecraft researched the various medical texts of the day in order to understand the dreaded disease that claimed his father’s life. If so, Lovecraft would have not only read about “the sexually transmitted disease whose physical marks were lesions, eruptions, tubercles, bubos, and

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gummas of the most horrific sort,” he would also have seen disgusting photographs graphically documenting all these various conditions (117). Such images, Nelson hints, caused Lovecraft to fear that he too could be brought down by a ravaging sexually transmitted disease, complete with its physical and mental consequences. But these fears also sparked Lovecraft’s imagination, causing him to create a series of evil creatures that ooze, pulsate, and drip mostly from below the waist. “It is hard not to believe, viewing these anonymous and pathetic images of suffering, that one has located the originals of Lovecraft’s pulsating horrors,” Nelson suggests (117). Nelson’s argument is quite compelling, and yet I am not certain that Lovecraft’s monsters should necessarily have their roots in medical literature about syphilis. On the one hand, Nelson’s point provides good reasons to rethink the problem of sexuality in Lovecraft’s fiction, particularly as it relates to fears of biological inheritance, a theme he treated in tales like “Arthur Jermyn” or “The Rats in the Walls,” for example. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that creative origins of beings like Yog-­Sothoth and Cthulhu would come solely from grisly photographs of syphilitic patients. In my view, there is a deeper concern operating in Lovecraft’s mind, one that connects sex with feelings of disgust and repulsion; such feelings, I suggest, come from concerns about his own physical state—­including his own sense of mortality—­rather than from fears about his father’s death. In some of his correspondence, Lovecraft suggests directly that sex was beneath him, something that should be associated with animals and not intellectually inclined men. Further, young children usually have a hard enough time imagining their parents as sexual beings without indulging their own budding curiosity by reading up on diseases. Lovecraft’s comments on human sexuality, found largely in his correspondence, are stunning not only for their emotional distance but also because of their broadly dismissive attitudes. By his own account, Lovecraft did develop his understanding of sex when he was eight years old, the same period in which his father died.1 But, as Nelson also suggests, Lovecraft’s interest may have stemmed from secrecy surrounding the cause of his father’s death. Scholars do not know how much Lovecraft understood at the time, but it is hard to imagine Lovecraft’s highly reticent mother and aunts sharing with him explicit details about sex and sexually transmitted diseases. In a letter to J. Vernon Shea, Lovecraft comments on the perplexities of understanding human sexuality when


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adult discussions were full of “strange reticences [and] embarrassments” and that the literature on the topic sometimes contained “oddly inexplicable allusions [and] situations” (Selected Letters IV, 355). A precocious child, Lovecraft “exhausted the entire subject in the medical section in the family library” at eight years of age (355). Clinical to a fault, Lovecraft does not admit any sexual longings or any embarrassment over his curiosity; instead, he explains that reading up on the topic “virtually killed my interest in the subject” (356). The problem, he explains, was that “the whole matter was reduced to prosaic mechanism—­a mechanism which I rather despised or at least thought non-­glamorous because of its purely animal nature [and] separation from such things as intellect [and] beauty—­[and] all the drama was taken out of it” (356). Such remarks deny any positive qualities to human sexuality. Indeed, Lovecraft separates sexual desires from intellectual and aesthetic ideals as though the former could muddy his high intellectual standards, including those related to beauty. In an earlier letter to Shea, Lovecraft explained that, “In these transitional days the luckiest persons are those of sluggish eroticism who can cast aside the whole muddled business [and] watch the squirming of the primitive majority from the sidelines with ironic detachment” (Selected Letters III, 425). Elsewhere, Lovecraft explains to Reinhold Kleiner in much bolder terms that “Eroticism belongs to a lower order of instincts, [and] is an animal rather than nobly human quality” (Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner, 178). Although he admits that his language is more a “rhetorical outburst” than a carefully nuanced argument, Lovecraft also hints that choosing between the infinite and the carnal may even lie at the core of certain contemporary racial assumptions (179). As he explains, “The primal savage or ape merely looks about his native forest to find a mate; the exalted Aryan should lift his eyes to the worlds of space [and] consider his relation to infinity!!” (179).2 Softening his rhetoric a bit, Lovecraft states that I suppose my opinion is determined by the much simpler fact that I chance to have vastly more imagination than emotion. About romance & affection I never have felt the slightest interest; whereas the sky, with its tale of eternities past & to come, & its gorgeous panoply of whirling universes, has always held me enthralled. And in truth, is this not the natural attitude of an analytical mind? What is a beauteous nymph? . . . What is the secret of time, space, & the things that lie beyond time & space? . . . Here—­here, at last, is something worthy of the interest of enlightened mankind!!! (178–­79)

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In these comments, Lovecraft seems determined to distinguish intellectual pleasures from physical pleasures, suggesting that those who engage in sexual activity are driven by primal urges, rather than by a higher fascination with the cosmos. According to Sonia Davis, Lovecraft’s short-­term wife, Lovecraft was always highly reticent on matters of sexuality, both publicly and privately. Though an “adequately excellent lover,” Lovecraft “refused to show his feelings in the presence of others” (“Memories of Lovecraft,” 116). His mother was similarly unaffectionate and distant; always taking what Davis calls a “touch-­me-­not attitude” toward her son (117). Davis reports that even though Lovecraft did engage in sexual activity with her, he never initiated intimate contact on his own, leaving such advances up to his wife (Everts).3 Davis recalls that Lovecraft, perhaps because of his Victorian upbringing, was often “squeamish and prudish about perfectly natural functions. The very mention of the word sex seemed to upset him” (Everts). Although Davis suggests that physical expressions of intimacy or affection were rare throughout her relationship with Lovecraft, there was one unusual, though oddly endearing, practice worth mentioning—­when Lovecraft wanted to express physical affection towards his wife, he would do so by interlocking his little finger with Sonia’s and utter a monosyllabic “Umph!” (Davis, 117). S. T. Joshi’s quip concerning this practice—­“move over, Casanova!”—­ certainly warrants repeating here (341). It is possible that Lovecraft’s sexual reluctance may be little more than the combined effects of his Victorian-­era childhood, including his mother’s own reticence toward physical contact.4 Davis’s recollections certainly suggest such connections. According to Joshi, though, the subject should simply be left alone. For him, Lovecraft “was simply one of those individuals who have a low sex drive, and for whom the subject is of relatively little interest” (341). Lovecraft himself reports having little interest in the topic. He explained to R. H. Barlow that “Having no particular interest in the subject of sex save as one of an hundred social & aesthetic problems (& a vastly less important one, right now, than those connected with economics) of civilization, I would be the last to choose an Havelock-­Ellisian line of argument as an evening’s discussion” (Letters to R. H. Barlow, 268). Joshi is right to claim that Lovecraft had little interest in the subject of sex; nevertheless, it is unfortunate that he refuses to explore the topic further, nor even to consider the possible intersections between Lovecraft’s sexuality and his fiction. Joshi also


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ignores the possibility—­addressed explicitly, though rather loosely, by L. Sprague de Camp—­that Lovecraft may have been a closeted homosexual. Indeed, he turns against any attempt to connect Lovecraft’s work and repressions by stating that “it is mere armchair psychoanalysis to say that he somehow sublimated his sex urges into writing or other activities” (341).5 Surprisingly, Joshi is not alone in wanting to keep silent regarding Lovecraft’s sexuality. Michel Houellebecq, in his study, H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, dismisses the topic as irrelevant to Lovecraft’s aesthetics. Explorations of sexuality in Lovecraft, he suggests, are misguided; readers and critics need to “move on” from what is, essentially, a private matter (58). Houellebecq reminds readers that Lovecraft held no interest in Freudian psychology, once referring to it as a system of “puerile symbolism” of little interest to those claiming cosmic curiosity (61). He also turns to a telling passage from Lovecraft’s correspondence with Frank Belknap Long in which he once again distinguishes between sexual longing and true intellectual activity: “’Fore God, we can see beasts enough in any barnyard and observe all the mysteries of sex in the breeding of calves and colts. When I contemplate man, I wish to contemplate those characteristicks [sic] that elevate him to an human state, and those adornments which lend to his actions the symmetry of creative beauty” (Selected Letters I, 283). Not surprisingly, Lovecraft concludes that sex belongs with “such beastly things as he [man] holds in common with any hog or stray goat” (283). For Houellebecq, the implications of Lovecraft’s comments suggest that “if he refused all sexual allusions in his work, it was first and foremost because he felt such allusions had no place in his aesthetic universe” (59). In other words, Lovecraft’s aesthetics require casting aside the sexual and thinking more exclusively about the broader implications of cosmicism. Despite Houellebecq’s arguments to the contrary, sexuality nevertheless holds a significant place in Lovecraft’s fiction. Some of Lovecraft’s monsters are clearly understood to be mothers or the horrific spawn of mothers. One of his most enigmatic of these creatures, mentioned in works like “The Whisperer in Darkness,” “The Dreams in the Witch House,” and “The Thing on the Doorstep” is the infamous Shub-­Niggurath or The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young. From its name to its function, Lovecraft intimates that this creature’s powers of reproduction are inherently linked to her power to evoke horror and disgust. Moreover, Shub-­Niggurath also suggests a

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striking connection between racism and misogyny; as Callaghan points out, Lovecraft sometimes developed a rather “pointed combination of feminine with black characteristics,” thereby connecting his fears of an archetypal Great Mother with an equally strange concern with racial difference (162). According to Callaghan, Lovecraft may have understood “the symbolic darkness of blacks” to be directly connected to the “archetypal symbolism in the darkness of the seething repressed unconscious” (162). Although Callaghan’s psychoanalytical argument lies outside of my larger discussion, it nevertheless helps establish the point that, for Lovecraft, the feminine does not generally appear in thematically uninflected ways. Critics should never force an author’s hand, but I find it unusual that critics like Joshi, Houellebecq, and others reject sex as a topic beneath critical notice or as not belonging to Lovecraft’s aesthetic vision. Imagine if writers like Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, or Judith Butler ignored the sexual implications of human life and conceded that there is no critical purpose discussing it. Simply put, there is no separating sexuality from other important aspects of human life; as Maurice Merleau-­Ponty explains, “sexuality is neither transcended in human life nor shown up at its centre by unconscious representations. It is at all times present there like an atmosphere” (195). Though not about Lovecraft specifically, Merleau-­Ponty’s claim serves as a reminder that sexuality is central to human experience, impossible to ignore or to transcend. Lovecraft’s perspectives on sexuality should therefore be understood as a relevant part of understanding his fiction and his influence even though sex may not literally lie at the heart of the Mythos or within the individual representations of various creatures. Lovecraft, however, is not simply fearful of human sexuality in the abstract; instead, he is concerned about the fact of the body itself. By turning attention toward the body, I am not suggesting another degree of separation but developing another level of complexity, one that assumes intricate and intimate connections between sexuality and the body more generally. Returning to Merleau-­Ponty’s phenomenological perspective, we read that “there is interfusion between sexuality and existence, which means that existence permeates sexuality and vice versa, so that it is impossible to determine, in a given decision or action, the proportion of sexual to other motivations, impossible to label a decision or act ‘sexual’ or ‘non-­sexual’” (196). Lovecraft, at least in some of his correspondence, would likely not agree with this point of view, apparently wishing


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to separate the sexual from the nonsexual, the body from the mind, and the spirit from the flesh. As Ernest Becker relates, most human beings struggle with similar concerns, wondering how to reconcile the paradox, of feeling both “out of nature and hopelessly in it,” feeling simultaneously powerful and helpless, unique and common (26). According to Becker, humankind is dual, up in the stars and yet housed in a heart-­pumping, breath-­ gasping body that once belonged to a fish and still carried the gill-­ marks to prove it. His body is a material fleshy casing that is alien to him in many ways—­the strangest and most repugnant way being that it aches and bleeds and will decay and die. Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever. It is a terrifying dilemma to be in and to have to live with. (26)

Becker’s memorable discussion also helps explain some of Lovecraft’s complaints against sex. Sex, including the possibility of bringing children into the world, is commonly shared, not something rare, distinctive, and set apart. As I see it, Lovecraft laments this commonality, preferring to think of himself in terms of rarer forms of human action. This duality that Becker describes, especially the psychological struggle between feeling simultaneously unique and common, may also lie at the heart of certain general sexual problems. As Becker puts it, “No wonder man is impaled on the horns of sexual problems, why Freud saw that sex was so prominent in human life—­especially in the neurotic conflicts of his patients. Sex is an inevitable component of man’s confusion over the meaning of his life, a meaning split hopelessly into two realms—­symbols (freedom) and body (fate)” (44). For Lovecraft, this human duality is similarly difficult to understand, let alone reconcile. In Martha Nussbaum’s terms, “human beings cannot bear to live with the constant awareness of mortality and of their frail animal bodies” (17). If similar things may be said of Lovecraft, then Michel Houellebecq’s argument about him—­that he is against the world and against life—­can only be half right. Whatever his feelings toward the world, Lovecraft is not against life; more precisely, he is against mortality, particularly the realization that he must face up to the limitations, the urges, and the drives of the body itself. Like Poe, Lovecraft may have even dreamed of a consummate relationship with the universe, one made up of unity,

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certainty, and enduring intellectual growth. But, also like Poe, Lovecraft could not reconcile his ambitions with the certainty of death. No wonder Lovecraft wrote so often about infinite beings bent on destroying all human flesh; cosmic ambition, it seems, always ends with the certainty of the body, especially its eventual decay and death. To illustrate my point further, I want to comment on the ways it may apply to “The Dunwich Horror,” especially through the figure of Lavinia Whateley, a woman Lovecraft generally describes in terms of disgust and abjection. Lavinia, I suggest, is important for two main reasons: First, she stands in for Lovecraft’s general fear of women and sexuality, particularly as they pertain to problems of abjection and miscegenation. Second, Lavinia also suggests that human reproduction is directly tied to the body itself and that it requires present and active male and female participation. Although Lovecraft may turn away from the fact that female bodies beget other bodies, he seems unable to accept the male role in human reproduction, preferring (so he claims) to dwell on cosmic thoughts and intellectual puzzles. Perhaps this is another reason Lovecraft presents human sexuality as always partly monstrous, steeped in dark and mysterious urges, destructive forces he hopes never fully to understand or accept. The horrific plot that makes up “The Dunwich Horror” begins with a significant date—­February 2, 1913—­the day Lavinia birthed her twin children. Even though the narrator dismisses Lavinia as “less worthy of notice” than her children, it is her pregnancy and deliveries that trigger the events described in “The Dunwich Horror” (209). Indeed, her sexual liaison with Yog-­Sothoth not only brings the monstrous Whateley twins into existence but also spurs their desire to summon their father back to earth. Even Henry Armitage, the hero-­librarian of the story, can barely contain his wild ravings when he learns about “some plan for the extirpation of the entire human race and all animal and vegetable life from the earth by some terrible elder race of beings from another dimension” (234). Armitage may not completely grasp Lavinia’s precise role in this plot (or won’t even consider it), but he understands enough to blame her family for initiating the problem: “‘Stop them, stop them!’ he would shout. Those Whateleys meant to let them in, and the worst of all is left” (234). Lavinia appears only briefly in “The Dunwich Horror,” but she is consistently described in terms consistent with Julia Kristeva’s notion of abjection: as something (or someone) that “disturbs identity, system,


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order” (Kristeva, 4). According to the narrator of “The Dunwich Horror,” Lavinia belongs to the “decadent Whateleys,” the strand of a larger family known for their nonconformity to civilized standards. Lovecraft describes her as “a somewhat deformed, unattractive albino woman of thirty-­five,” her pale white skin and pink eyes contributing to a generally “sickly” appearance (210). Though she has “no known husband,” she births twin children, one of whom is a “dark, goatish-­looking infant” and the other an unseen and invisible creature (210). Aside from her physical appearance, Lavinia dwells in an abject environment, a home “from which all standards of order and cleanliness had long since disappeared” (210). Instead of beauty and order, the Whateley home is dark and dank, overwhelmed by a smell so awful it “could not come from anything sane or of this earth” (214). It is only when this rank odor spreads beyond the Whateley home that Richard Armitage comes to understand a key passage from the Necronomicon, one that simply states, “As a foulness shall ye know them” (221).6 Lavinia, however, is not simply the abject and “slatternly, crinkly-­ haired albino daughter” of old Wizard Whateley (211). More importantly, she is a mother, the (possibly) willing participant of a terrible union meant to trigger broad human destruction.7 In this sense, Lavinia’s abjection extends directly into her maternal role, marking her as a type of the “monstrous-­feminine,” Barbara Creed’s concept of a woman who threatens order and stability precisely because of her reproductive ability (3). Drawing on Kristeva’s work, Creed explores the ways horror movies play off of the primal struggle between mothers and children concerning freedom or dependence. For Kristeva, human beings become human subjects to the extent they are able to separate themselves from their mothers, establishing “a limit, a boundary, a border between the sexes, a separation between feminine and masculine as foundation for the organization that is ‘clean and proper’” (100). To put it another way, children only enter the symbolic realm (the world as lived experience) once they cast aside their mother, treating her as abject and unclean. According to Creed, “all individuals experience abjection at the time of their earliest attempts to break away from the mother” (11). This break, however, is rarely neat; the mother (sometimes the child, too) does not let go easily, causing the mother’s body to become a site of “conflicting desires” (11). Playing off this primal conflict, the horror tradition regularly draws on notions of abjection through manipulating the frightening status of a threatening and smothering “maternal figure” (10).

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Whereas Yog-­Sothoth’s own destructive powers exceed his reproductive abilities, Lavinia’s are tied directly to her status as a mother, her actual ability to help create monster children. As Gina Wisker explains, this concern parallels the broader “concerns of the early twentieth century, the disgust and abjection of reproduction, fear of the weird more generally, and imperial concern of the invasion of the foreign and alien Other through miscegenation” (32). Such fears, particularly as they appear in Lovecraft, should not be understated. Indeed, as Wisker continues, Lovecraft draws on horrific female figures “with deep unease, their liminal state, their unfixed origins and identities, their acts of bridging races and of individual hybridity a gateway to the unspeakable, the very worst events and states of being” (33). Lavinia is therefore not a passive vessel, but a horrific means of spreading the awful abjection of Dunwich precisely through the power of sexual reproduction. As the story makes clear, Lavinia descends from a line of “repellently decadent” human beings, an offshoot of the Whateley family marked by a “well-­defined stigmata of degeneracy and inbreeding,” a race unto themselves (208). Moreover, “their annals reek of overt viciousness and of half-­hidden murders, incests, and deeds of almost unnamable violence and perversity” (208). So bad is the general state of affairs that Armitage rejects the possibility of human inbreeding as the source of the problem, suggesting that in this town a story like Arthur Machen’s Great God Pan would read like “a common Dunwich scandal” (221). Of course Dunwich was always abject, but Lavinia allows things to spread by bringing forth Yog-­Sothoth’s awful spawn, making her the core of the horror itself. Were she simply a sacrificial character, a pure and innocent maiden chosen to mate with a monster, the story would read much differently, something out of fantasy fiction perhaps. But Lavinia is not a ritual virgin, a sacrifice to a monster; she is, instead, a monstrous mother, a woman steeped in abjection, her offspring committed to the destruction of human life. For better or for worse, Lovecraft never describes the actual relationship between Lavinia and Yog-­Sothoth. Even though Weird Tales featured plenty of lurid cover art, explicit depictions of sexual relationships were not part of the magazine’s overall aesthetic. Readers and publishers would also likely have balked at such details. And, as intimated by his letters, Lovecraft would likely not have felt comfortable describing sexual activity in his work. Nevertheless, the coupling between Yog-­ Sothoth and Lavinia should be understood as the major focal point of the


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story. Indeed, if I am right to suggest that “The Dunwich Horror” reflects Lovecraft’s sexual loathing, then it is Lavinia’s status as Yog-­Sothoth’s sexual partner that factors as the most horrific—­most abject—­part of the whole story. It was she, after all, who experienced Yog-­Sothoth’s horrifying and amorous embrace, received his monster-­spawning seed into her body, and brought their offspring into the world. Because of her engaging in monstrous intercourse and her willingness to bear horrific children, Lavinia is marked as an abject mother. As William Miller explains in The Anatomy of Disgust, female genitals have long been held to be “highly dangerous and vulnerable,” bringing to mind a long history of debates over virginity, misogyny, and sexism (101–­2). But female genitals do not only symbolize so much “cultural baggage”; they also represent abjection precisely because “they are receptacles for that most polluting of male substances, semen” (103). Men and women both find contact with semen messy and disgusting, something “dangerous to oneself as well as to others, self-­defiling as well as defiling” (103). When received into the vagina, semen “makes [it] the site of rank fecundity and generation that assimilates it to the constellation of images that makes teeming, moist, swampy ooze a source of disgust” (103). Like other bodily fluids, semen signifies certain strong, broad, and symbolic assumptions, some of which fall into social and cultural taboos. In this case, as Miller explains, it is understood not only to “feminize whatever it comes into contact with” but also to mark female reproductive organs as specific sites of abjection and disgust precisely because they receive these fluids directly (105). As an abject woman and as a sexually active being, Lavinia Whateley is thereby doubly polluted, a monstrous female willingly unleashing horror on her community through her reproductive power. In the end, Lavinia’s fate is largely ambiguous. Sometime during a climactic and terrifying Halloween night, the one when fire burned atop Sentinel Hill and the “rhythmical screaming of vast flocks of unnaturally belated whippoorwills” filled the night sky with increasing horror, only to stop, suddenly and mysteriously, at dawn, she disappeared. The narrator, unable completely to explain, let alone understand, these events, reports simply that “none of the country folk seemed to have died” in the night. The only casualty, apparently, was that “poor Lavinia Whateley, the twisted albino, was never seen again” (218). Whether she is killed or taken to another dimension is unclear. The townsfolk, unsurprisingly, believed that Wilbur knew something but were obviously never

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going to get anything concrete out of him. What is clear is that Lavinia remains an abject figure to the end, the narrator reminding readers yet once more of her “twisted” and “albino” state (218). Whatever her fate, then, Lavinia will always be “generative of uncertainty, ambiguity, [and] undecidability” (Burleson, 24). Abject and disgusting, she is a monstrous mother, a human terror, a reproductive trigger in the plot against Dunwich (Burleson, 24). Despite the growing commentary on the topic, understanding Lovecraft’s controversial and provocative statements on—­and deployment of—­sexuality will likely remain a vexing problem for some time to come. As Stephen King rightly suggests, part of the difficulty is that the whole topic risks appearing simultaneously fascinating and funny, provocative and ridiculous. As he puts it, It can be argued that such “great texts” as “The Dunwich Horror” and “At the Mountains of Madness” are about sex and little else, and that when Cthulhu makes one of its appearances in Lovecraft’s tales, we are witnessing a gigantic, tentacle-­equipped killer vagina from beyond space and time. I’m not trying to make light of HPL, only pointing out that if the Elder Gods are seen from a psychoanalytic standpoint, especially from the standpoint of psychoanalysis as it existed in HPL’s time, then we’re in a Freudian three-­ring circus. (13)

When put this way, Lovecraft’s fiction unfortunately appears as a frightening blend of the scatological and the weird, a bizarre joke played on unknowing readers.8 But, as scholars increasingly conclude, there remains something genuinely interesting about Lovecraft’s understanding of women and sexuality, something beyond simple and straightforward psychoanalytic readings, the kind that construct a tent just big enough for the “Freudian three-­ring circus” King advises against. In the end, my argument urges that those who write about Lovecraft’s reluctant sexuality, whether pertaining to his personal life, his correspondence, or his fiction, should consider its wider implications, mainly as they apply to problems concerning the human body. Criticism has effectively begun to tackle the vexing problems of abjection and the representation of women, but it often stops there, forgetting that these topics should also point directly to questions of embodiment. As part of this discussion, scholars should therefore turn to how Lovecraft addresses the paradoxes of the body itself—­how he understood its contradictory needs, its drives and impulses—­and how it functions within


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his broader notions of cosmicism. Scholars should likewise explore the implications of Lovecraft’s blending of sexuality with abjection. As I have discussed, Lavinia Whateley illustrates a part of this connection, suggesting one important way Lovecraft’s representations of women may actually function.

Notes 1. My discussion here not only draws on Victoria Nelson’s arguments, but also on Lovecraft’s 1934 letter to J. Vernon Shea (available in Selected Letters IV, 351–­ 71). Though not exclusively about sex, the letter nevertheless details Lovecraft’s youthful interest in the subject, his careful reading on the topic, and his apparent sudden loss of interest in it. Although Lovecraft does not connect his early interest to his father’s illness and death, it is nevertheless a helpful representation of Lovecraft’s youthful attitudes toward sex and their possible connections to his adult feelings. 2. Space restrictions won’t allow me to engage more deeply with the vexing problem of Lovecraft’s racism, a topic most recently addressed by David Simmons in his article “‘A Certain Resemblance’: Abject Hybridity in H. P. Lovecraft’s Short Fiction.” See especially 15–­17. I am mostly relying on Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation for insights into early twentieth-­century racial assumptions, particularly the uses of terms like “Anglo-­Saxon” and “White.” Although Slotkin does not discuss expressions like “Exalted Aryan” specifically, his analysis remains helpful in unpacking some of Lovecraft’s assumptions. See especially 42–­48. 3. For this discussion, I am relying on Joshi’s H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, Sonia Davis’s “Memories of Lovecraft I,” and R. Alain Everts’s article “Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Sex: or, The Sex Life of a Gentleman.” The latter includes transcribed passages from Everts’s recorded discussions with Sonia Davis. Everts’s own conclusion is that Lovecraft’s apparent reluctance had more to do with his upbringing and his sense of propriety than any personal feelings of disgust. Lovecraft simply left such things in the bedroom. More of Davis’s commentary on her relationship with Lovecraft may be found in her The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft. 4. L. Sprague de Camp’s discussion of Lovecraft’s childhood and his relationship to Sarah Susan Lovecraft draws similar conclusions. See his H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography, 16–­17 and 191. The articles by Everts and Davis also call attention to Sarah’s own reluctant physical expressions of affection. In his more recent discussion, Gavin Callaghan ties together details from Lovecraft’s life and psychoanalytical/archetypal criticism to suggest a broad concern with “the Feminine and the maternal,” problems that began during his years with his mother and aunts (240). 5. Joshi’s dismissive attitude is also likely an attack on de Camp’s often simplistic connections between repression and behavior. In one instance, de Camp accounts for Lovecraft’s attitudes toward sex by stating that “Lovecraft certainly suffered from enough sexual repression to account for his exotic behavior” (191). For de Camp’s discussion of Lovecraft and homosexuality, see 191–­92 of his biography of Lovecraft.

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6. Although my discussion here concerns Lovecraft’s depiction of Lavinia as unclean in certain respects, it is interesting to point out that in a 1926 letter to Frank Belknap Long, Lovecraft commented on his own frustration with working in a dirty, unorganized environment: “I couldn’t form a single well-­defined thought in that damnable Clinton Street pigsty, whereas now that I am at home again in the surroundings betting a civilized man I can at least do as well as I did before I left them” (Selected Letters II, 80). 7. Even though my reading suggests that Lavinia is a somewhat consenting sexual partner, we cannot overlook the fact that her actual willingness is never made clear in the story. She could easily be, as Donald Burleson suggests, the victim of “cosmic rape” (24). But, as Burleson also points out, Lavinia does seem to pay “homage later, upon Sentinel Hill, to the forces with which the birth of her twins are allied” (24). Even though Gina Wisker does not address this question directly in her article, she notes that it was Old Wizard Whateley who set up the monstrous union in the first place, thereby placing responsibility on his shoulders (48). 8. In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft complained about his friend Samuel Loveman’s habit of finding “phalli in most things from church steeples to mushrooms” (Selected Letters II, 50). Not surprisingly, Lovecraft strikes hard against such interpretations of things. In his words, “For my part, I have neither studied such things nor do I entertain any belief in the expansive phallic interpretations of modern pseudo-­psychologists” (Selected Letters II, 50).

Works Cited Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. New York: The Free Press, 1973. Burleson, Donald R. “Lovecraft and Gender.” Lovecraft Studies 27 (1992): 21–­25. Callaghan, Gavin. H. P. Lovecraft’s Dark Arcadia: The Satire, Symbology, and Contradiction. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Company, 2013. Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-­Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge, 1993. Davis, Sonia H. “Memories of Lovecraft I.” Arkham Collector 4 (1969): 116–­17. ———. The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft. West Warwick, R.I.: Necronomicon Press, 1985. de Camp, L. Sprague. Lovecraft: A Biography. New York: Doubleday, 1975. Everts, R. Alain. “Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Sex; or, The Sex Life of a Gentleman.”­sex.aspx Houellebecq, Michel. H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. Trans. Dorna Khazeni. San Francisco: Believer/McSweeny’s, 2005. Joshi, S. T. H. P. Lovecraft: A Life. West Warwick, R.I.: Necronomicon Press, 1996. King, Stephen. “Introduction: Lovecraft’s Pillow.” In H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, trans. Dorna Khazeni, 9–­18. San Francisco: Believer/ McSweeny’s, 2005. Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Lovecraft, H. P. “The Call of Cthulhu.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 139–­69. New York: Penguin, 1999.


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———. “The Dunwich Horror.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 206–­45. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. Letters to R. H. Barlow. Eds. S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. Tampa, Fla.: University of Tampa Press, 2007. ———. Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner. Eds. S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2005. ———. Selected Letters, Volume I: 1911–­1924. Eds. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Sauk City, Wisc.: Arkham House, 1965. ———. Selected Letters, Volume II: 1925–­1929. Eds. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Sauk City, Wisc.: Arkham House, 1968. ———. Selected Letters, Volume III: 1929–­1931. Eds. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Sauk City, Wisc.: Arkham House, 1971. ———. Selected Letters, Volume IV: 1932–­1934. Eds. August Derleth and James Turner. Sauk City, Wisc.: Arkham House, 1976. Merleau-­Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. 1962; repr. New York: Routledge, 2003. Miller, William Ian. The Anatomy of Disgust. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. Nelson, Victoria. The Secret Life of Puppets. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. Nussbaum, Martha. Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004. Simmons, David. “‘A Certain Resemblance’: Abject Hybridity in H. P. Lovecraft’s Short Fiction.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 13–­30. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Slotkin, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-­ Century America. New York: Harper Perennial, 1992. Wisker, Gina. “‘Spawn of the Pit’: Lavinia, Marceline, Medusa, and All Things Foul: H. P. Lovecraft’s Liminal Women.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 31–­54. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.


ꙮ H. P. LOVECRAFT AND REAL PERSON FICTION The Pulp Author as Subcultural Avatar David Simmons


n the latter half of 1935, an eighteen-­year-­old Robert Bloch sat down to write a short story for Weird Tales magazine that he would title “The Shambler from the Stars.” The tale tells of a young writer who seeks out the aid of a tall, pallid gentleman with a cadaverous visage who lives in Providence to help him translate an arcane text, which leads to the untimely death of the gentleman at the hands of an invisible “Star Vampire.” So specific was the resemblance of this character to Lovecraft that Weird Tales requested that Bloch get his victim’s permission before agreeing to publish the story. After writing to him, Lovecraft supplied Bloch with a faux certificate that authorized him “to portray, murder, annihilate, disintegrate, transfigure, metamorphose, or otherwise manhandle the undersigned in the tale entitled the shambler from the stars” (Letters to Robert Bloch, 67). Such literary interplay exemplified the close friendship that had been struck up between Lovecraft and his protégé after Bloch had written a fan letter in 1933 expressing his love of Lovecraft’s Weird Tales stories. Bloch went on to include another thinly veiled incarnation of Lovecraft in his story “The Dark Demon,” in which Edgar Gordon, “A reclusive dreamer” (62), experiences strange dreams of “Dark Ones” from beyond the cosmos that inform his writing. While Bloch’s stories are interesting given the career that he would go on to have in the horror genre, they are also significant as some of the first instances, alongside Frank Belknap Long’s “The Space Eaters,” of “Real Person Fiction” (RPF) featuring Lovecraft, albeit examples where both parties might be considered to “know” each other. Bloch’s particular deployment of Real Person Fiction—­a type of fan fiction that includes real people1—­reflects the young writer’s adoration of Lovecraft’s writing, especially his Cthulhu-­inflected tales. Bloch’s desire to include a



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fictionalized version of Lovecraft in his tales can be seen as both a concerted effort to (playfully) acknowledge the significance of Lovecraft in the field of weird/horror writing and a means of repaying the debt that Bloch felt toward Lovecraft for encouraging him in his early writing. As Bloch commented in a 1963 interview about Lovecraft, “I have many times gone on record as saying Lovecraft was my literary mentor” (qtd. in Hart, 13). Real Person Fiction can, in many ways, be seen as a fan equivalent of the celebrity pulps that were commonplace between 1905 and 1945, choosing, as it does, to focus on a constructed version of the person being written about. As Jess Nevins elaborates, “the basic assumption of the Celebrity Pulp was that a celebrity’s public persona—­Errol Flynn as a swashbuckler, for example—­was that celebrity’s real personality, and that the celebrity led an off-­screen life full of adventures typical of their public persona.” RPF is distinguished from other examples of fan fiction that feature “real people” because RPF intentionally blurs the division between the popular “public” image of the individual being written about and their actual “real life.” Interestingly, both Bloch’s and Belknap Long’s stories include versions of Lovecraft that imagine that the writer was a reclusive outsider whose fictional creations were in fact “real.” Gordon in “The Dark Demon” and the unnamed “mystic dreamer in New England” in “The Shambler from the Stars” (154–­55) exist on the fringes of mainstream society, possessing a knowledge of arcane rituals and texts manifested in their “cryptic fascination” with “the nameless fears, the grotesque dreams, the queer, half-­intuitive fancies that haunt our minds” (Bloch, “Shambler,” 153). Similarly, we are told of the Lovecraft stand-­in, Howard, in “The Space Eaters,” that he possesses “a wildly imaginative nature held in restraint by a sceptical and truly extraordinary intellect” and that he writes about “the horror [he’s] known and felt for years” (Belknap Long, 74–­75). This ability distinguishes Howard from the rest of the population of the fictional setting of Partridgeville, who are confined by their narrow-­mindedness and “prosaic brains” (75). Belknap Long presents Howard as a tortured artist who suffers because of his inability to fully and accurately describe the cosmic horrors that plague him: “I am only a poor fool of a creative artist, and the thing from outer space utterly eludes me” (77). While the central premise of “The Space Eaters,” like Bloch’s quasi-­ biographical stories, suggests that Lovecraft was writing about “real” events, Belknap Long’s story goes further and proposes biographical

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links between Lovecraft’s “real” life and the processes that informed his work.2 It has been widely noted that Lovecraft suffered from psychological problems throughout his life, including depression, in part linked to his lack of discernible success with his writing. S. T. Joshi suggests that Lovecraft’s writing “turned from the nostalgic to the misanthropic” (“Introduction,” xi) as he suffered hardship after hardship in his later life. Belknap Long’s story makes explicit, in a fictionalized manner, this connection between Lovecraft’s unhealthy mental state and the horrors in his writing. The narrator of the tale warns the fictional Howard, “You shouldn’t project yourself into your stories” (82), and later in the tale Howard exclaims that, “I can’t help identifying with my characters when I write” (82). “The Space Eaters” ends with Howard refusing to heed the narrator’s warnings that he should just forget about the horrors that they have witnessed, rather than attempting to document them, for “that way madness lies” (95). Instead, at the climax of the tale, Howard’s writing serves as a beacon for the evil powers that both characters encountered, and the writer goes insane when the monstrous entities return. Ironically, given Lovecraft’s relative anonymity during his life outside of his close circle of friends and the readers of Weird Tales, this (albeit fictionalized) positioning of the author as a socially awkward visionary might be considered as instigating a great deal of the public perception of Lovecraft that persists to this day. It is not too great a leap to believe that successive generations of readers and writers may have been more influenced by these fictional incarnations of the writer than by nonfictional texts such as S. T. Joshi’s H. P. Lovecraft: A Life (1996) or the many volumes of Lovecraft’s letters that have been published by the niche publisher Arkham House. The use of Lovecraft as a character in these “Cthulhu Mythos” stories is perhaps doubly ironic when we consider Lovecraft’s often “poor” characterization in his own writing. Indeed, in his comprehensive biography of Lovecraft, Joshi suggests that vivid characterization would have proven detrimental to Lovecraft’s cosmic outlook, which is itself “in defiance of the humanocentric pose,” and “boldly challenge[s] that most entrenched dogma of art—­ that human beings should necessarily and exclusively be the centre of attention and aesthetic creation” (A Life, 652). Similarly, Lovecraft himself proposed that “the best weird tales are those in which the narrator central figure remains (as in actual dreams) largely passive” (Lovecraft, qtd. in Oates), arguing against the prioritizing of characterization in a


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manner that seems at odds with the “Lovecraft Circle’s” recurrent use of their own alma mater as a recognizable figure in their fiction. Nevertheless, in the Lovecraftian texts that I will look at in this essay the concept of Lovecraft as a fictional character is central. Indeed, I will argue that the adoption of “fan-­like” RPF practices involving the rewriting of Lovecraft as conceptual and ideological proxy constitute one of the defining characteristics of much of the contemporary work being carried out by writers in the field of comics and graphic novels. Indeed, it is possible to see the Lovecraft Circle as analogous to a kind of fan-­writing group. It is perhaps not surprising that such links should exist given that several critics (including Henry Jenkins) have suggested that fandom originated with the letters pages of early twentieth-­century pulp magazines such as Weird Tales and Hugo Gernsback’s Amazing Stories. Certainly, Sheenagh Pugh’s influential definition of fan fiction as “fiction based on a situation and characters originally created by someone else” (9) seems to form a tailor-­made description of the work produced by those in Lovecraft’s group of friends. While Joshi suggests Lovecraft served as a facilitating force rather than a leader, “[as] a hub for an intricate network of friends and colleagues” (Unutterable, 498), it seems apparent that there was an implicit hierarchy among those involved. Consequently, all of the group’s members looked to Lovecraft for advice and help in their writing, with many going on to write stories influenced by their mentor’s ideas (primarily those later stories categorized as “The Cthulhu Mythos”); as Glenn Willmott suggests, “Many considered him to be an elder and master from whom to learn their craft” (157). Belknap Long’s “The Space Eaters” and Bloch’s “The Shambler from the Stars” both show evidence of Lovecraft’s influence, most obviously in terms of each story’s use of recognizably Lovecraftian trappings but also in their concerted desire to express a sense of the “cosmic” fear intrinsic to Lovecraft’s best work.3 While both Belknap Long and Bloch might be considered as initiating the use of (a fictionalized version of) Lovecraft in their writing, I wish to turn now to a decidedly more recent instance of Lovecraft RPF offered by the contemporary U.S. comics industry. I make this sizeable chronological leap because the comics I discuss represent the most direct continuation of the trends I have already identified as central to representations of Lovecraft in fiction. This is not to say that there is nothing of significance in the many instances of Lovecraft as a character in the intervening period (Lovecraft’s Book [1985] stands as an interesting example of this practice), but rather I focus on recent instances of

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Lovecraft as a character in light of changing contemporary opinions concerning the cultural status of the author. The last ten years have witnessed Lovecraft and his writing permeate the U.S. comic book industry to an unprecedented level. From the Lovecraftian trappings of Mike Mignola’s immensely popular Hellboy series, to the references that pepper Joe Hill’s Locke and Key (2008–­present), right up to the full-­blown engagement with the Cthulhu Mythos of comic maestro Alan Moore’s Neonomicon (2010), Lovecraft’s cultural cache in the field of comics has never been higher. More pertinently, considering the concerns of this chapter, it is immediately noticeable that a significant number of the current spate of comic books and graphic novels incorporate H. P. Lovecraft in a quasi-­biographical manner traceable back to the Lovecraft Circle’s own writing. Indeed, it is fair to say that the appropriation of Lovecraft as a fictional character in pseudo-­biographical narratives has become one of the defining modes of recent Lovecraftian graphic fiction. However, whereas Belknap Long and Bloch both employed Lovecraft analogues, perhaps as a means of propagating a sense of inclusiveness among those who recognized the “real writer” that served as a model for their respective fictional instantiations, these more contemporary texts name Lovecraft and often explicitly (albeit sometimes loosely) incorporate key events from the writer’s life in creating their fictions. In their use of information gleaned from ostensibly nonfictional sources such as documentaries, personal correspondences, diaries, and letters to help build a fictional universe based on the supposed life history of a real person, contemporary writers adopt practices very close to those of fan-­fiction writers producing RPF. Such successful examples as Hans Rodionoff’s Lovecraft (2004), Larry Latham’s free web-­comic Lovecraft Is Missing (2008–­), Mac Carter’s comic book miniseries The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft (2010), Jaime Collado’s Poe and Phillips (2011), and Bruce Brown’s series of “children’s” Howard Lovecraft volumes (2010–­), all embody this trend.4 It is interesting to note that this more recent spate of appropriations has arisen at a time when Lovecraft and his writing is in the process being subsumed into the mainstream. The publication of scholarly books such as New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft (2013) and this one, coupled with editions of Lovecraft’s stories released by such mainstream, respectable publishing houses, such as the Library of America, Penguin Modern Classics, and Oxford University Press, would appear to testify to the passing of Lovecraft’s non-­or subliterary status. Steffen Hantke has recently suggested that, “from an academic point of view, Lovecraft


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has long ceased to be an author beyond the pale of canonization” (137), while the leading Lovecraft expert, S.T. Joshi, claimed in 2013 that “the time for defending Lovecraft as a genuine literary figure is long past; his ascent to the canon of American and world literature is now complete” (Foreword, xv). Certainly, Lovecraft’s status among academics is on the rise, while it is fair to suggest that his position in popular culture appears now to be established. I wish to argue that the trend in comics for RPF involving Lovecraft must be considered in the light of this cultural assimilation, for if Lovecraft is in danger of being the the “outsider no more” (Simmons, 1), then this has significant consequences for the continued positioning of Lovecraft as a niche author producing “unclassifiable” fiction for a select band of hardcore fans. Indeed, such a positioning of Lovecraft and his work as “a subcultural good” (Willmott, 157) has arguably been critical for the author’s enduring success. As Willmott notes when discussing the early marketing of Lovecraft by Weird Tales and its ilk, “Lovecraft was appropriated by pulp fiction in order to define a market niche precisely comparable to those fashioned by the Modernist avant-­garde: that of an elite group recognizing itself in taste for styles, sensations, and values that are degraded in the public eye” (157). It is telling that the three examples of Lovecraft RPF in comics that I will look at in this chapter prioritize the author’s outsider status—­as clinically insane, as pulp writer, and as a lonely child—­in order to position him in opposition to the bourgeois familial, business, and religious structures of the hegemonic mainstream. This positioning of Lovecraft as an outcast may be seen as reflective of a desire to reassert the supposedly subcultural aspects of the writer and his work.5 Indeed, in this context it is doubly significant that so many writers and artists have chosen the comic book medium, itself still culturally derided as subliterary by many, to tell such stories. In this manner, the form through which these stories are told, a kind of fusion of elements of the RPF subgenre of fan writing with the higher gloss of the contemporary graphic novel format, becomes important. If, as John Frow suggests, genres “emerge and survive because they meet a demand, because they can be materially supported, because there are readers and appropriate conditions of reading (literacy, affordable texts), writers or producers with the means to generate those texts, and institutions to circulate and channel them” (137), then it is likely that such representations of Lovecraft must be speaking to a contemporary audience that possesses a certain perception of the writer (as outsider, as recluse) that

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it wishes to uphold, perhaps in direct rejection of the author’s increasingly mainstream profile. The fact that these narratives also work to validate the fan’s level of engagement with Lovecraft’s writing, presenting the reader with carefully coded, favorably depicted representations of subcultural Lovecraft fandom and fan knowledge, also point to the existence of a particular self-­conscious audience that desires such specificities of representation. Such representational practices are evident in Hans Rodionoff’s graphic novel Lovecraft. Originally intended as a movie script, Rodionoff’s fictionalized biography is presented as a bespoke, professional product, published by Vertigo, with an embossed cover, quotes from noted horror directors and writers, and full color illustrations throughout. Rodionoff’s narrative clearly positions Lovecraft as an “outsider” from the mainstream; he is a “strange boy . . . burdened with an unholy legacy” (back cover). Rodionoff proposes that, like his father who went mad as a result of his comparable abilities, Lovecraft can perceive the “Beyond,” a nether realm inhabited by an eldritch race of monsters, who threaten to break through to our world and destroy us all. The narrative subsequently proceeds to chart Lovecraft’s attempts to ward off these creatures, first as a child haunted by night-­gaunts and suffering from the death of his beloved grandfather by a Shoggoth, and then as an adult writing horror stories “to order for a vulgar magazine” (53) while fending off attacks by crazed Cthulhu worshippers, including Wilbur Whateley among others. Throughout the story, Lovecraft cannot get others to understand what is happening to him; he is beset by nonbelievers, all of whom belong to a mainstream majority that, it is suggested, either have vested interests in denying the truth of Lovecraft’s experiences (a snooty hotel owner, the doctors at the Providence mental asylum) or are blinded by their belief in conventional systems of knowledge (Lovecraft’s contact at Weird Tales, Edwin Baird). Harry Houdini, a figure for whom the real Lovecraft ended up ghost-­writing, is particularly dismissive of Lovecraft’s esoteric “specialist” knowledge, suggesting that Lovecraft must be either “completely absorbed by [his] own fantasies . . . or . . . insane” (65). Such an accusation is similar in tone to those claims leveled at hardcore fans, who have often been depicted as “emotionally unstable, socially maladjusted, and dangerously out of sync with reality” (Jenkins, 10) by the mainstream media, and paints Houdini as a nonbeliever, unable to appreciate the truths encapsulated in Lovecraft’s stories. The valorization of specialist knowledge continues in the book’s


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skillful weaving together of elements of Lovecraft’s real, historically documented life (Lovecraft’s being dressed as a girl when a child, his marriage to Sonia Greene and subsequent divorce), with aspects of his horror writing. Rodionoff sets out to give the impression that the writer lived through the horrific events of stories including “Dreams in the Witch House” and “The Dunwich Horror,” with the writer acting as a kind of secret guardian for all of humankind. While Rodionoff manages to create a fascinating speculative scenario, perhaps more significant is how the narrative works to reconfirm the subcultural capital of Lovecraft and his stories. Indeed, Rodionoff writes Lovecraft’s “outsider” status into the narrative itself in such a way that the graphic novel can be read as an attempt to support both the perception of the author’s “real life” position as someone on the outskirts of the mainstream (literary) establishment and the Lovecraft fan’s desire to reassert (and occupy) the same position. There are two specific techniques Rodionoff uses to achieve this effect. First, in embedding references to Lovecraft’s life into the narrative alongside references to elements from his stories, Rodionoff manages to validate the kind of specialist fan knowledge only a niche audience is likely to possess. This postmodern process of intertextuality is often carried out not only by professional writers but also by fans, who believe that “the best [stories are] those which not only conform to . . . expectations about favorite characters but also contribute new insights into their personalities or motivations” (Jenkins, 58). This is clearly the case of Rodionoff’s narrative, in which “fannish” knowledge of Lovecraft increases the reader’s appreciation of the interconnected nature of the story. Furthermore, Rodionoff’s actions also serve to reassert his own “fan” status. Following some of the ideas concerning popular reading discussed by French scholar Michel de Certeau, Henry Jenkins suggests that fans are not passive viewers; in addition to appreciating media texts, they seek them for their own means: “In the process, fans cease to be simply an audience for popular texts; instead, they become active participants in the construction and circulation of textual meanings” (16). Much as Jenkins writes about Star Trek fans who create their own fan fiction or fan art based around “alternative” readings of the original canonical television shows and films, ones that reflect their own particular interests and lived experiences, so we might see Rodionoff’s work as an active engagement with Lovecraft’s fiction and “real” personal

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history. In the case of Lovecraft, Rodionoff seeks to construct his own version of the author, one that then informs his readers’ interpretations of Lovecraft and his writing. Second, the central conceit of Rodionoff’s story is that Lovecraft can see what other (often bourgeois) characters cannot; indeed, it is this information that helps him in his adventures. In contrast to the model of fans whose specialist knowledge is considered a negative trait, a confirmation that they have “devot[ed] their lives to the cultivation of worthless knowledge” (Jenkins, 13), this fictional Lovecraft’s use of his unique knowledge of a world separate yet linked to ours is shown to be beneficial, a positive trait. Subsequently, Lovecraft becomes a kind of avatar, a fan proxy, whose specialist knowledge enables him to save others from a fate worse than death. While Lovecraft is undeniably out of sync with the reality experienced by those around him in Rodionoff’s narrative, he refutes Houdini’s accusations in the middle part of the text, exclaiming that the illusionist is “blinkered by common convention” (67). It is this very distance from perceived “reality” that proves beneficial as the writer realizes the danger we are facing and manages to restrain the monstrous forces from getting through to our world. Although such a burden inevitably has a detrimental effect upon the writer’s relationships, working life, and sanity, the story ends on a note of hope. In a move that befits the text’s attempts to fuse the writer’s “real” life with his fiction, Lovecraft realizes that he can close the gate to the netherworld forever by putting “the incantations that bind the old ones and keep them from our world . . . in my writing. That way, every time someone reads the words, the gate will be strengthened” (137). Lovecraft prays that his stories will not “fall into obscurity” (137) as this might mean the gate will reopen. This metatextual allusion to the significance of reading Lovecraft’s works in spite of their marginalized status exemplifies the narrative’s reassertion of Lovecraft’s subcultural capital in light of the growing mainstream (and academic) acceptance of the author and his writings, validating the activities of fans who might have been responsible for keeping the gates closed up to the present day. The use of many of the coded practices of fan fiction to meet an increasing desire among fans to reassert the subcultural status of Lovecraft’s writing is further evident in Mac Carter’s The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft. Carter builds upon Rodionoff’s attempts to marry elements of Lovecraft’s life with the horrors of his stories, exploring the psychosexual undertones in Lovecraft’s fiction. However, whereas


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Rodionoff’s text offers a fairly measured and scholarly semibiographical example of Lovecraft RPF, Carter takes a quite different approach to his melding of Lovecraftian fact and fiction. The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft offers the reader a pulp-­infused “what if” scenario that foregrounds the action-­adventure elements common to the cheap early twentieth-­century magazines in which Lovecraft published much of his work. As such, in tone at least, Carter’s work might appear to be less faithful to the atmosphere of Lovecraft’s stories than Rodionoff’s work. Described as “one part biography, one part horror pulp, and one part fugitive thriller” (Goldberg), this is a Lovecraft tale in which the depiction of the life of the titular writer once again mixes fact (Lovecraft’s mother’s mental illness, his time spent living with his two aunts) with fiction—­but this time Lovecraft develops into a much more active and heroic figure, fighting off a monstrous Shoggoth with a meat cleaver and eventually vanquishing a reemergent Abdul Alhazred in an act of derring-­do. Though Carter’s approach to his source material might be considered less faithful than Rodionoff’s, significantly, he also clearly seeks to reassert Lovecraft’s subcultural status throughout his narrative. Indeed, while Rodinoff’s Lovecraft emphasizes the value of Lovecraft’s subcultural status through a focus on the character’s fluctuating mental state in order to critique the homogenous and judgmental nature of hegemonic society, Carter overtly references the style of the pulp adventure magazine both visually and in the structure and content of the narrative as a means of criticizing the failures of the capitalist hegemony. It is not surprising that Carter should appropriate pulp in this manner, for, as Erin A. Smith notes in her discussion of the form, there is a long history of pulp writers and editors priding “themselves on their artisanal independence from the world of consumer culture” (146). Although some recent criticism (most notably work by Clive Bloom and David Morgan’s 2002 PhD dissertation entitled Pulp Literature: A Re-­evaluation) has attempted to elevate pulp fiction, often by positioning it as postmodern “other” to more canonical fiction, it is fair to say that pulp writing still occupies an unstable cultural position, with some in the academy seeing it as little more than “weeds” in the forest of “proper” literature (Grenville, 94). Yet Carter’s use of pulp tropes speaks to a desire to revalidate such literature, with The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft foregrounding pulp’s subversive ability to offer a radical alternative to the capitalist mainstream by providing a space and

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therefore a potential voice for the marginalized in society—­something that is apparent in the book’s engagement with issues such as mental health and the class structure, and its inherent commitment to the subcultural history of the comic book / graphic novel form. On a narrative level, the series’ critique of capitalism is evident from the start. After a short prologue, The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft opens with Weird Tales’ editor Farnsworth Wright discussing the unsellable nature of Lovecraft’s stories with Lovecraft’s friend Clark Ashton Smith. Wright is depicted as a money-­hungry businessman with little-­to-­no interest in Lovecraft’s claims about his duty to provide “quality” (13) to his readers. In Wright’s opinion, Weird Tales and the pulp magazines are a distinctly money-­driven, capitalist enterprise, a place where the formulaic and unoriginal is what succeeds: “Ghosts. Werewolves. Vampires. That’s what gets Joe Reader to plunk down his hard earned quarter” (12). Indeed, in a humorous vignette that echoes the real-­ life difficulty Lovecraft had with publishing his work, Wright is puzzled by the originality of Lovecraft’s tales, preferring that he follow recognized pulp conventions: “his stuff is bizarre. Maybe too bizarre” (13). Carter emphasizes the social inequalities of the United States during the 1920s, a period when the financial divisions in U.S. society were at an all-­time high. This is a North America in which the poor live in squalor (shown by the coughing urchin selling newspapers on the street whom Wright cons out of proper payment), while the decadent rich embrace a sense of personal liberation and greed (represented by Lovecraft’s rival for Sylvia St. Claire’s affections, the playboy Grayson Chesser). When we meet Lovecraft, he is late for a date with attractive librarian and flapper St. Claire (the flapper also being a potent symbol of contemporary class divisions). The Lovecraft we encounter is once again, and in keeping with Rodionoff’s narrative, presented as an outsider, a tortured artist whose ability to imagine the horrors that inhabit his unpopular stories separate him from the rest of Providence society: “crossing a perfectly ordinary street, I conjure up an alternate dimension” (22). This semi-­biographical version of Lovecraft is plagued throughout the story by his desire to write the perfect weird tale; however, the narrative makes it clear that what fuels Lovecraft’s need is not a desire for success within the capitalist system: the author states he seeks “Not . . . the tawdry trappings of celebrity,” but rather to earn “entree into [the] renowned coterie” (90) of his creative idols, Poe, Blackwood, and Dunsany.


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Interestingly, the Lovecraft that we find in Carter’s story often disparages the pulps. He states that they are “the wastelands” (92) and argues that they are “commercial and conventional. They pay little and offer even less in the way of hope to the author who aspires to ascend the mount of literary achievement” (91). This is ironic given that Carter’s work consciously imitates aesthetic elements of the pulp era. Each issue of the four-­part miniseries bears a faux-­distressed cover, echoing the original and cheaply made pulp magazines, while Tony Salmon’s artwork and Adam Byrne’s coloring attempt to mirror the sketchy, coarse illustrations adorning magazines like Weird Tales and Argosy, and the use of contrast and muted tones of early twentieth-­century pulp art forms including Universal Studios horror and film noir. Originally released in serial format, the end of each part relies on a cliffhanger that consciously apes the use of such a narrative device in the Saturday-­ morning pulp film serials of characters such as Flash Gordon and Dick Tracy. The story might also be considered as pulp in nature with Lovecraft imbued with a heroic agency and the globe-­trotting narrative taking in such locales as ancient Egypt and the United States during the roaring twenties. For most of the story, Lovecraft’s opinions of the pulps are aligned with those who represent the structures and institutions of the capitalist hegemony. When the police attempt to track down Lovecraft after he is accused of the murder of several Providence residents, their views of the debased status of such writing lead them to conflate both the marginalized nature of the writer with other marginalized aspects of society (confusing a tramp for Lovecraft and suggesting that the writer is homosexual [113–­14]) and suggest an intrinsic link between his writing for the pulps and his being a killer (113). However, at the end of the story Lovecraft seems to reevaluate his relationship with the pulp magazines. He realizes his role as the “gate” that effectively safeguards our world from Alhazred and the other monstrous creatures that he dreams about but from whose effects he is unable to protect St. Claire. Nevertheless, this failure drives him to keep writing and, in a coda to the series, we are given the sense that Lovecraft has accepted Weird Tales (and the pulps more generally) as a necessary and valuable outlet for the documentation of the horrors that he has witnessed. Indeed, rather than turn his back on such fiction, we are shown that Lovecraft has instead travelled to Egypt, where he intends to pursue his writing. While The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft less overtly acknowledges Lovecraft’s fan readership than does Rodionoff’s Lovecraft, it is

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interesting to consider Carter’s self-­conscious appropriation of pulp tropes in light of the discussion of readers offered by Michael Denning in Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working-­Class Culture in America (1987). Denning argues that, rather than an exploitative art form reliant upon cheap sensation, pulp fiction is a site of cultural struggle that fuses political symbols of democracy with the traditions of craft labor. In light of this interpretation, one might see Carter’s homage to pulp as evidence of a desire to reassert Lovecraft’s original “pulp” status as a means to reclaim the writer for a subcultural group. By foregrounding the lowbrow, trash aesthetic of the pulps, Lovecraft and his writing is perhaps repositioned outside a literary and academic establishment on the verge of assimilating him. Furthermore, in terms of reading such graphic fictions as examples of RPF, Carter’s referencing of pulp is apposite, reminding the reader of “the close relay between readers and writers of . . . pulps” (152), which saw many pulp magazines fostering nascent fan networks. As Smith suggests, “often young fans edited the most important pulp titles” (151), and magazines such as Amazing Stories printed the full names and addresses of readers who wrote letters to the editor, facilitating communication and organization among fans. The issue of “fan service” recurs in Bruce Brown’s Howard Lovecraft series of children’s graphic novels, which tell fictionalized versions of the writer’s early life. In an interview about the first in the series, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom, Brown suggested that “this book is a giant Easter Egg to fans of Lovecraft.” An expressionist-­infused take (all chiaroscuro shading and weird angles) on Lovecraft’s early life, the work is one in which the writer’s mad father bequeaths him a magic book that acts as a gateway to a variety of mystical worlds and horrific, though ultimately comedic, adventures. In Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom, Brown rewrites King Abdul as a child monarch seeking to return his homeland, R’yleh, to its former glory with Lovecraft’s help. Lovecraft vanquishes the evil Dagon with the help of his pet Deep-­ One, Spot, only to find that Abdul is in fact a monster and that Dagon was originally conjured to help entrap Abdul and his followers. The follow-­up, Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom, sees Lovecraft return to R’yleh, which has now thawed but is still victim to Abdul’s reign and that of the entity with which he is in communication, Azathoth. With the help of his mad father and a policeman named Clyde Smith, Lovecraft must travel to Yuggoth to rescue his remaining family and halt his transformation into a slimy fish person. While both are simple narratives (which mold key ideas from Lovecraft’s writing into a


David Simmons

distinctly “threshold crossing” fairy-­tale formula), Brown’s stories serve as a kind of fan service insomuch as the aficionado will recognize the many references to Lovecraft’s original tales. Brown’s text doesn’t take the subgenre in any new directions—­in fact, his conceit closely follows but makes more explicit a practice, evident in both Rodionoff and Carter’s work, that Ika Willis terms “supplementation”—­a process whereby fans reread a text refusing any “illusion of continuity” (158) in order to reopen the original material to a host of new interpretations. Brown’s revisiting of Lovecraft’s (imaginary) childhood parallels fan fiction writing, which frequently creates and then explores the “gaps” in an original text;6 in this case Brown uses the “gap” or lack of widespread knowledge surrounding Lovecraft’s early life humorously to speculate how events in the writer’s childhood may have led him to later produce his well-­known horror stories. In this way, the fan may be thought to take control of the canonical, “original” text, and the writers discussed in this chapter may be seen as attempting to wrestle some semblance of control back from a version of Lovecraft that is in the process of being accepted and absorbed into the mainstream literary-­critical establishment. Consequently, while it may now be the case that readers are encountering Lovecraft through these semi-­ biographical yet fictionalized versions of the author, faithfulness to the life of the “real” H. P. Lovecraft appears to be of secondary importance to the writers involved. Rather than concern themselves primarily with issues of fidelity, Rodionoff, Carter, and Brown attempt to imbue Lovecraft with a set of meanings that position the writer and his work as subcultural. Rodionoff paints Lovecraft as a mentally disturbed savant, Carter depicts the writer as an anticapitalist outsider, and Brown presents us with an eccentric child version of the author-­to-­be. The continuing use of Lovecraft as a character in graphic fiction (and elsewhere) means that we should no longer think of Lovecraft’s persona as relating to the “real” Lovecraft, or as a character in the traditional sense; instead, it is now more appropriate to see “Lovecraft” as a fictional character with his own autonomy—­an entity in which a range of specific ideological signifiers have accumulated and are now concentrated. In this way the uses of Lovecraft in the graphic narratives under study in this chapter become instances of the figure’s conceptual persona pointing to the writer’s increasing ideological multivalency and the multitude of uses to which those adopting fan practices might put him. Indeed, based on these examples, the graphic novel form would now appear to

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be one of, if not the primary, means by which such practices take place. Perhaps it is the graphic novel’s own uneasy status as “high and mass, modernist and ‘lowbrow,’ mixing stark oppositionality with mainstream cultural appeal” (Chute and Dekoven, 184) that makes it an appropriate outlet for an exploration of Lovecraft’s own changing cultural position. The authors examined here use the relative artistic freedoms afforded by sequential narrative (at least in comparison to more expensive media such as film and television) to restate the author’s subcultural status on the level of both content and form.

Notes 1. RPF is itself a very contentious area within fan fiction. Many fan-­fiction writers see Real Person Fiction as having worrying ethical implications when it comes to issues of privacy, though broadly speaking, what is loosely termed Historical RPF (writing involving real-­life figures who are now dead) is thought to be much more acceptable. 2. Interestingly, Bloch himself adopted this approach in his later work Strange Eons (1978), which speculates that all Lovecraft’s stories are true, and depicts three protagonists who encounter this truth and the horrific events that take place as a result of their realizations. 3. Although both writers are obviously indebted to Lovecraft’s writing and sense of the cosmic, it is important to note that Long’s use of Christian symbolism in “The Space Eaters” is at odds with Lovecraft’s secular brand of horror. 4. Indeed, such is the number of graphic narratives that now include Lovecraft as a fictional character that to discuss them all in depth is beyond the scope of this article. As such, I choose to focus on those examples that I believe do something aesthetically or ideologically significant with the conceit. 5. I use the term “subcultural” in its Bourdieuian sense, denoting assets that have conventionally lain outside of official “cultural capital.” According to Bourdieu, this includes art forms such as “cinema, jazz, strip cartoons, science fiction or detective stories” (87). 6. See Iser’s The Implied Reader.

Works Cited Belknap Long, Frank. “The Space Eaters.” In Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, 74–­98. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998. Bloch, Robert. “The Dark Demon.” In More Nightmares: Weird Tales by Robert Bloch, 162–170. New York: Belmont, 1962. ———. “The Shambler from the Stars.” In Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, 153–­61. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998. Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Routledge: London, 2010.


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Brown, Bruce. “LNN Interviews Bruce Brown: Author of Hoard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom.” The Lovecraft News Network. November 3, 2009. http:// thor-of.html. Carter, Mac. The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft, Volume 1. Berkeley, Calif.: Image Comics, 2010. Chute, Hillary, and Marianne Dekoven. “Comic Books and Graphic Novels.” In The Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction, ed. David Glover and Scott McCracken, 175–­95. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Denning, Michael. Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working Class Culture in America. New York: Verso, 1998. Frow, John. Genre. London: Routledge, 2005. Goldberg, Matt. “John August to Pen Rewrite of The Strange Adventures of H. P. Lovecraft for Ron Howard?” February 22, 2011. /john-august-the-strange-adventures-of-hp-lovecraft-ron-howard/. Grenville, Kate. “Cannon Fodder.” HQ Magazine, January/February 1998: 93–­95. Hantke, Steffen. “From the Library of America to the Mountains of Madness: Recent Discourse on H. P. Lovecraft.” In New Critical Essays on H.P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 135–­56. New York: Palgrave, 2013. Hart, Will. “Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, and Others Discussing H. P. Lovecraft in 1963.” CthulhuWho1’s Blog. October 7, 2010. /fritz-leiber-robert-bloch-and-others-discussing-h-p-lovecraft-in-1963-a-com plete-pdf-file-with-jpgs-available-too/. Iser, Wolfgang. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. 3rd ed. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978. Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fandom and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. Joshi, S. T., “Foreword.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, xi–­xv. New York: Palgrave, 2013. ———. H .P. Lovecraft: A Life. West Warwick, R.I.: Necronomicon Press, 1996. ———. “Introduction.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft, ed. S. T. Joshi, vii–­xx. London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2002. ———. Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction, Volume 2: The Twentieth and Twenty-­First Centuries. Hornsea, U.K.: PS Publishing, 2012. Lovecraft, H. P., Letters to Robert Bloch, ed. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. West Warwick, R.I. Necronomicon Press, 1993. Nevins, Jess. “One Celebrity Who Kept It Real.” Livejournal. April 11, 2010. http:// Oates, Joyce Carol. “The King of Weird.” The New York Review of Books. October 31, 1996. Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context. Bridgend, U.K.: Seren, 2005. Rodionoff, Hans, Keith Giffen, and Enrique Breccia. Lovecraft. New York: Vertigo, 2003. Simmons, David. “H.P. Lovecraft: The Outsider No More?” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 1–­10. New York: Palgrave, 2013.

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Smith, Erin A., “Pulp Sensations.” In The Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction, ed. David Glover and Scott McCracken, 141–­58. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Willis, Ika. “Keeping Promises to Queer Children: Making Space (for Mary Sue) at Hogwarts.” In Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet, 153–­70. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. Willmott, Glenn, Modernist Goods: Primitivism, the Market, and the Gift. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.


ꙮ A POLYCHROME STUDY Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald” and Lovecraft’s Literary Afterlives Jessica George


hen we think of “h. p. lovecraft,” we think of a number of things. First among them may still be the biographical fact of a writer from Providence, Rhode Island, and the sixty or so pieces of “weird fiction” that he produced, but the name “Lovecraft” also invokes a variety of other cultural productions, including film adaptations, derivative works of prose fiction, role-­playing games, artwork, toys, comic books, and webcomics—­even an album of Christmas songs (H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, A Very Scary Solstice). Lovecraft is, if not everywhere, in many places—­and, as such, is many things. There are fictions whose horrors might easily be designated “Lovecraftian” without explicitly referencing his stories, and the term itself connotes a variety of ideas and motifs drawn from Lovecraft’s fiction but often significantly transformed. A “Lovecraftian” text may evoke the cold horror of cosmic indifference; it may, at the other extreme, feature a tentacled extraterrestrial horror drawn in the “kawaii” style of Hello Kitty (Tackett). It may even feature Lovecraft as a fictional character, inserted into the world of his stories (Moreno-­Garcia), a practice that draws attention to the unfixed nature of our notion of the author. While even some fairly recent Lovecraft criticism constructs the idea of a “single writer” whose work ought to be disseminated and understood in “unadulterated” form or not at all (see, for example, Joshi, Rise and Fall, 20, 228), the Lovecraft of the popular imagination is, as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll describes “man” more generally, rather, the author as “a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens” (Stevenson, 56). That a description from the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) is apt here is perhaps unsurprising. The destabilizing of self central to fin-­de-­siècle Gothic runs also through


a polychrome study


Lovecraft’s stories in their treatment of authorship and identity, and still makes itself known in contemporary horror and science fiction, manifesting itself in a horror of hybridity. The centrality of this concern, I would like to suggest, is perhaps one reason Lovecraft’s fiction lends itself so readily to reworkings, and particularly to self-­conscious, metatextual reworkings that draw attention to—­even draw strength from—­ their status as hybrid texts. One such text is Neil Gaiman’s 2003 short story, “A Study in Emerald,” which I consider in this chapter. Drawing playfully upon the doubling motif of fin-­de-­siècle Gothic—­the doubling of detective and criminal in the Sherlock Holmes stories, and the anxiety surrounding the boundaries of the “human” in Lovecraft, as well as the status of all these things as part of a shared canon (or several overlapping canons) of knowledge—­“A Study in Emerald” foregrounds both its own hybridity and the multiplicity of identities inhabited in the acts of writing and reading. Read with attention to this idea of multiple selves, alongside the significance of writing to definitions of the “human,” Gaiman’s story both draws out the current in Lovecraft’s fiction wherein writing troubles straightforward definitions of the “human,” and suggests itself as one such troubling text. The horror of hybridity in Lovecraft invokes and engages with a set of anxieties around the nature and status of “the human” that dates from the emergence of evolutionary theory in the mid-­nineteenth century. In “The Dunwich Horror,” “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” and The Shadow over Innsmouth, the ability of human beings to mate with abject, animalistic, and often racialized Others is clearly linked both to the loss of human distinctiveness and supremacy occasioned by knowledge of our descent from “lower” primates, and to contemporary racist discourses around immigration and perceived threats to the primacy of educated, “civilized,” white Anglo-­Saxons. The loss of anthropocentrism gave rise to attempts to shore up a particular version of the “human” in the form of anxieties around degeneration, and the gathering momentum of the eugenics movement. Some human beings were defined as less “human” than others—­but anxieties about “miscegenation” and degeneration betrayed a fear that even the most privileged of “human” identities could lose its specificity. (For more detailed discussions of these issues, see, for example, Daniel Pick, Faces of Degeneration; Kelly Hurley, The Gothic Body; and Donald J. Childs, Modernism and Eugenics.) Scholars including Bennett Lovett-­Graff and David Simmons have discussed these anxieties in some detail. Where


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Lovett-­Graff concentrates on Lovecraft’s personal distaste for immigrants, as well as a perceived discomfort with the revelation that his own “English” heritage—­which he had been fond of proclaiming (Joshi, A Life, 7)—­was not quite so “unmixed” as he had thought (Lovett-­Graff, “Shadows,” 178), Simmons, using Julia Kristeva’s concept of abjection, argues for a rather more “multifaceted” engagement with the Other in Lovecraft’s fiction—­one “that is attracted to that which it is simultaneously repulsed by” (18). Of the texts I have already mentioned, only The Shadow over Innsmouth acknowledges this attraction explicitly, its narrator’s horror at his nonhuman heritage giving way to a sense of its “wonder and glory” (335). Even in texts where hybridity is straightforwardly horrific at the level of the narrative, however, the fitness to survive of the pure human—­as opposed to the monstrous but preternaturally strong and able offspring of human–­Other couplings—­is called into question. Later texts, most notably “The Whisperer in Darkness” and The Shadow Out of Time, take tentative steps into an embryonic posthumanism, suggesting the necessity to human survival of the destabilizing of “human” identity. The encased, immortal brains and speech-­machines of “The Whisperer in Darkness” offer a kind of horrific transhumanism, wherein bodily experience and individual specificity are sacrificed in the pursuit of knowledge—­which, as S. T. Joshi has noted, is in Lovecraft the “highest ethical purpose of man” (Decline of the West, 42). The Great Race of The Shadow Out of Time, meanwhile, guarantee their survival by shifting repeatedly between time periods, planets, and bodies, achieving the effective immortality of their species and its accumulated knowledge at the expense of any whole or permanent identity. They recall irresistibly Donna Haraway’s notion of cyborgs, embracing “permanently partial identities” (13). With no specified origin, they “would not recognize the Garden of Eden” (9); they avoid apocalypse by adopting and adapting to new forms of hybrid existence. The dark flipside of Haraway’s cyborg ideal is also present; however, the survival of the Great Race necessitates the ousting of those whose bodies they appropriate and their being “left to die in the horror of strange shapes” in the Great Race’s place (Shadow Out of Time, 345). For Darwin, the extension of sympathies to people of other races, even to nonhuman animals, was a marker of highly developed social instincts, indifference to “the sufferings of strangers” a sign of savagery (116–­18). Lovecraft’s posthuman future is in this way haunted by the possibility of atavistic reversion, an

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anxiety present in so much of the Gothic literature of hybridity (Dryden, 7–­11, 77–­78; Hurley, 56, 86). At the surface level of the text, Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald” appears to reproduce these anxieties fairly straightforwardly. As we might expect from its title, the story draws explicitly upon Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1887 A Study in Scarlet, the “Emerald” of the title referring to the color of the blood or “ichor” shed by the tale’s Lovecraftian monsters (35). The first part of the story is in large part directly lifted from A Study in Scarlet. It takes the form of a first-­person account written by a former military man, injured in Afghanistan. Our narrator takes lodgings in Baker Street with a mysterious new friend, who deduces his army career at a glance, and who eventually reveals himself to be the world’s only consulting detective (28, 33). The narrator’s injury has been inflicted by a horrific “thing” encountered in an underground lake reminiscent of that in “The Festival,” leaving him with a “fear of the world-­beneath-­ the-­world akin to panic” worthy of any Lovecraftian protagonist (29). They are called upon to investigate the murder of Prince Franz Drago of Bohemia, whose royal descent is clear to the narrator’s friend from the color of his blood and the teratological strangeness of his corpse (35–­36). As the mystery progresses toward its resolution, it grows apparent that the narrator is not Watson, as we might first have supposed; nor is his friend Holmes. The narrator, we infer from the blanked-­out signature that closes his account, is Sebastian Moran; his friend’s research interests identify him as Holmes’ dark double, Moriarty (52, 56). Holmes and Watson are responsible for the Prince’s murder. For this is an England—­or, in the world of Gaiman’s story, an “Albion” (56)—­ruled by a race of Lovecraftian monsters known as the Great Old Ones and their hybrid descendants. Their rule has accomplished a horrific reversal of the order familiar from Conan Doyle’s stories. Here, Moriarty—­ likened in “The Final Problem” to a spider (217) (a descriptor Lovecraft would apply to the titular monster of “The Dunwich Horror” [224]) and described at the same time as having a “criminal strain . . . in his blood,” like the atavistic born criminals of Cesare Lombroso’s work (Conan Doyle, “The Final Problem,” 216)—­enjoys the patronage of the police and the Queen, while Holmes, rational human subject par excellence, is a wanted fugitive. And, lest we question whether Moriarty and those who employ him must be necessarily abhorrent, we are invited to share in the “hellish” spectacle of the dead Prince’s body, and in the knowledge of his sadistic “recreational predilections” (Gaiman, “Study,” 35, 53).


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The murder scene, with its dripping “ichor” and the inhuman physiology of the victim, invokes the death scene of Wilbur Whateley, a decidedly malignant hybrid, in “The Dunwich Horror.” Holmes here leaves the signature “Rache,” an archaic term for a hunting dog, at the scene of his crime (37, 50), and we recall that Wilbur Whateley meets his doom at the jaws of a guard dog (Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror,” 222). The story seems to offer us an uncanny double of the London of the Victorian Gothic, one in which the Great Old Ones and their acolytes dominate public life, while the Restorationists, seeking a return to “the old ways . . .—­mankind in control of its destiny” (Gaiman, “Study,” 50), must skulk in the shadows, taking refuge in the slums and rookeries that, in Linda Dryden’s words, represent “the underbelly of London society that was testimony to the human duality of the metropolis” (44). The escape of Holmes and Watson, and the imminent reckoning of which Moran warns at the end of his account, offer some hope for the human, however; and it seems that perhaps the rational, fully human subject will reassert itself, the “natural” order will be restored, and the supremacy of the human reassured. Gaiman’s note on the story in his introduction to Fragile Things seems to betray a belief in the fundamental incompatibility of the two worlds the story combines: “the world of Sherlock Holmes is so utterly rational, after all, celebrating solutions,” he writes, “while Lovecraft’s fictional creations were deeply utterly irrational, and mysteries were vital to keep humanity sane” (Gaiman, “Introduction,” 4). If both worlds cannot continue to occupy the same narrative space, one must win out; and the survival of Holmes seems to imply a reaffirmation of the “rational.” “A Study in Emerald” does not quite share the pessimism evident in stories like “Arthur Jermyn” and “The Call of Cthulhu.” Knowledge of the Old Ones’ existence is not enough to drive humanity to madness or to seek refuge in “a new dark age” (Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu,” 139); rather, they may be overcome, their rule survived. There is something of what Joshi has termed the “Derleth Mythos” (Rise and Fall, 224) here, as well as in the fact that these Old Ones have enslaved humanity, indoctrinating the great mass of human society into the belief that their rule is “the price [they] pay for peace and prosperity” (Gaiman, “Study,” 53). Rather than cosmic indifference, their behavior betrays a desire for domination. This is not the universe of Lovecraft’s tales faithfully reproduced, then. In tweaking it to produce a story that “[plays] fair with both Lovecraft and with the creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,”

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Gaiman draws our attention to his rewriting of Lovecraftian concepts, and to their openness to such rewritings (“Introduction,” 5). The Lovecraft invoked in “A Study in Emerald” is the multiple Lovecraft. While “A Study in Emerald” makes use of the anxieties that surround hybridity in many of Lovecraft’s stories—­and, indeed, in much Gothic fiction—­it also draws attention to its own multiple, hybrid nature. A close reading reveals some of the ambivalence present in later fiction by Lovecraft, most obviously in The Shadow Out of Time. The centrality of language to definitions of the “human” is long established. Joanna Bourke has noted the ways in which thinkers from Aristotle to Darwin prioritized language as a means of distinguishing human from animal (29–­31, 35). Nineteenth-­century thinkers, she writes, “ranked humans and other animals according to a hierarchy of language. They expected ‘primitive peoples’ to possess less elaborate systems of communication. These peoples were, literally, less human than others” (44). The humanity of those who lacked language due to disability was similarly “[downgraded . . .] because language was assumed to be inseparable from the faculty of reason” (51). Lovecraft’s fiction places a similar emphasis on language—­written language in particular. The “humanity” of nonhuman creatures—­ whether sympathetic as in At the Mountains of Madness, or uncanny, as in “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Whisperer in Darkness”—­is frequently determined by their use of writing systems and their ability to master human language. The Old Ones of At the Mountains of Madness, with their dot-­writing and their propensity for recording historical narrative, are ultimately determined to be “men” (330), while Wilbur Whateley, in “The Dunwich Horror,” is unsettling at least partly because of his preternatural learning; he is better at being “human” than fully human beings (216). The fully human being, then, is one who writes—­ but writing is revealed not to be a specifically human accomplishment. Indeed, other, more advanced species of extraterrestrial beings may in fact be better at it than humans. The category of the “human” is revealed as arbitrary, as open to change, since there is now nothing specifically human about human beings. It contains multitudes. Writing is precisely what brings this blurring, this multiplicity—­this hybridization—­to the fore. The identity of the writer, then, is called into question; it becomes multiple. The Shadow Out of Time foregrounds the way in which writing may trouble the category of the “human,” raising questions about authorial


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identity in the process. The narrator and protagonist, Professor Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, collapses while delivering a lesson and suffers a bout of apparent amnesia that lasts for the next five years. During this period, a secondary personality appears to assert itself. It is immediately identified by his wife as “some utter alien usurping the body of her husband” (339) and quickly gives up on any attempt to impersonate Peaslee, instead embarking on an intensive and seemingly random program of research into the world around it. When Peaslee comes round, he at first has no memory of the past five years, though he continues to refer to the “secondary personality” and its activities in the first person throughout the story, to unsettling effect (337–­41). He begins to have strange dreams, which eventually reveal themselves to be memories. We learn of the existence of a species of extraterrestrial beings known as the Great Race, who settled in prehistoric Australia after leaving their home world. They did not accomplish the voyage by moving physically through space but by exchanging their minds with those of a race of enormous cone-­shaped beings who already lived on Earth. They are able to effect such exchanges across time as well as space, and will later escape the destruction of their Australian civilization by transferring their minds once again, this time seizing the bodies of “the hardy coleopterous species immediately following mankind” and leaving their occupants to die in their stead (359). In the meantime, they use their facility for mind transfer to kidnap educated minds from various other species throughout the history of the solar system, sending minds of their own race into their bodies to research their historical periods, and pumping the captive minds for information (352). This is what has happened to Peaslee: the “secondary personality” that appeared after his collapse was actually a mind of the Great Race. The reality of his memories is confirmed when, during an archaeological expedition to Australia, he finds the ruins of the Great Race’s enormous city, and, in its vast library, a manuscript giving the history of his own time, in his own handwriting (395). Writing is central to the Great Race’s civilization. In his memories, Peaslee observes them “writing diligently” in their great central archive (357), a “titan repository” that holds “the whole of earth’s annals—­ histories and descriptions of every species that had ever been or that ever would be” (360, 351). At first, he is deeply unnerved by the sight, “for it is not wholesome to watch monstrous objects doing what one has known only human beings to do” (357). The specifically human nature of these

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activities is quickly called into question, however, since the Great Race appears to be much better at them: Peaslee concludes from “their rate of reading, writing, and operating their machines . . . that their intelligence [is] enormously greater than man’s” (357). And while it is the secondary personality’s strange use of language that first gives away that it is not Peaslee, interestingly, it is not so much a lack of competency as the specifically bookish quality of its speech that does this. Its pronunciation is “barbarously alien,” but only because it appears to have “laboriously learned the English language from books” (337). Particularly unsettling to Peaslee is the Great Race’s writing, a system of “curvilinear hieroglyphs . . . following no recognised human pattern” (349). He feels that the characters are “mocking” him; that they might “blast [his] soul with their message were [he] not guarded by a merciful ignorance” (346). His inability to understand them, in contrast to the Great Race’s capacity for understanding the languages of numerous and disparate species, offers one reason for his sense of being mocked. More interesting, though, is his assertion that this ignorance is “merciful,” an echo of the dire warning of the consequences of knowledge that opens “The Call of Cthulhu.” The human mind, it is implied, is not fitted to deal with the knowledge these particular hieroglyphs might impart; this language exceeds its reason. If writing is a marker of humanity, then human beings are themselves not yet fully human; or, to put it another way, the evolution of humanity will eventually lead us to become something other than human. Writing becomes an activity to whose full significance human beings do not yet have access, and so, by engaging in it, we move toward the posthuman. The story’s climactic revelation—­Peaslee’s discovery of his own manuscript in the ruined city—­makes this explicit. Although this account is written in “the letters of our familiar alphabet, spelling out the words of the English language” (395), the context of its existence opens up a realm of meaning with which Peaslee is unable to cope. The splitting of his identity is highlighted. The Peaslee who wrote the manuscript was a hybrid, a human mind in an alien body and environment, acting according to the habit of the Great Race. The Peaslee who discovers it, back in his human body (the presence of which in the titan city is itself enough to disconcert him [382]) experiences uncomfortably the overlapping of his identities. He becomes both human and human–­Great Race hybrid; both one who remembers and one who forgets; one who writes, and one who rewrites by reading from a different perspective. Authorial identity


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here seems to be always already hybrid, encompassing the human and the more-­than, the other-­than, the posthuman. It is this notion that “A Study in Emerald” picks up on and expands in its problematizing of the notions of authorship and identity. The plot, at the most basic level, seems to reinforce the established Gothic convention of the horrific hybrid, and to seek to reinscribe the supremacy of the “human” over the abhuman. Read with attention to its status as a transformative work, however, “A Study in Emerald” relies upon—­ indeed, draws attention to—­its own hybrid nature, and the necessarily hybrid nature of its authorship. Sheenagh Pugh, in her study of fan fiction, The Democratic Genre, discusses the ways in which an assumed shared “canon” of knowledge between reader and writer constitutes both “a restriction, since those without such knowledge will not be able to relate to canon-­based stories in the same way, and an opportunity, since it facilitates a lot of shorthand, allusion and irony” (32). It is worth noting here that, for Pugh—­with whom I would concur—­the differences between commercially published derivative works like “A Study in Emerald” and unofficial fan fiction published in nonprofit zines or online archives are primarily financial and legal, not fundamental differences in kind. Indeed, “Cthulhu Mythos” fiction seems to occupy a kind of middle ground between the two, lacking sanction from any “official” source but being published in commercial pulp magazines. Pugh defines fan fiction as “writing, whether official or unofficial, paid or unpaid, which makes use of an accepted canon of characters, settings and plots generated by another writer or writers” (25), and is careful to note that much “canon” material—­particularly that derived from films and television shows—­is already the work of multiple creators rather than of a single individual author (26). Writing based upon an extant canon, for Pugh, allows for the leaving of “a very particular kind of gap, which the reader can often fill via shared knowledge,” a “participatory principle” characteristic of this type of text (174). This affords fan-­fiction writers the opportunity to reinterpret source material by “taking familiar things and putting new twists on them, making the reader see them in new ways,” and to experiment with “how much [they] have to actually put on the paper, and how much [they] can leave to happen in the reader’s head” (174–­75). This happens in a fashion qualitatively different to the stripping-­ down practiced by writers of original flash fiction, Pugh suggests. The impact of pivotal moments in fan stories may depend “on not having

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to be spelt out or arrived at over a long period but dropped casually and brutally into the pool of knowledge its audience already possesses” (176), a description that could certainly be applied to the revelation of narratorial identity in “A Study in Emerald.” Henry Jenkins, who has written extensively on fans and participatory culture, sees fan works as forming part of a dialogue both with and around the source material. They “explore excess details and undeveloped potentials,” participating in the production of “a meta-­text that is larger, richer, more complex and interesting than the original series” (278–­79). (Jenkins is specifically interested in the practices of television fans, but his conclusions need not be restricted to television-­based fictions in their application.) Of course, intertextuality is not a feature specific to derivative works; modern Gothic horror, in various media, frequently relies on its audience’s familiarity with the genre. (One example that springs immediately to mind is the 2012 film, The Cabin in the Woods [Drew Goddard], which ends with the protagonists refusing to make the expected heroic sacrifice, concluding that perhaps is it time for humanity to step aside and allow some rather Lovecraftian-­sounding “giant evil gods” to take a turn at world domination.) Texts that draw explicitly upon preexisting canons, however, are able to assume a more detailed shared knowledge, and to draw upon it in more focused and specific ways, drawing attention to what Jenkins calls “the rough spots of the text—­its narrative gaps, its excess details, its loose ends and contradictions—­in order to find openings for the fans’ elaborations of its world” (74). The specificity of the text becomes the means by which its boundaries are blurred. Oscar Wilde, writing in defense of one of the ur-­texts of Gothic doubling, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), encapsulates the way in which these “rough spots” may open the way for rewritings, for a multiplicity of interpretations. Although “[it] was necessary . . . to surround Dorian Gray with an atmosphere of moral corruption,” by refusing to specify Dorian’s sins, Wilde claims to have “[kept] this atmosphere vague and indeterminate and wonderful” (82). This is certainly one of Jenkins’s “narrative gaps”; and its result is a profusion of readings, for “[each] man sees his own sin in Dorian Gray” (82). For Wilde, to “[confuse] the artist with his subject-­matter” is an “unpardonable crime” (82)—­a stance that seems almost to prefigure the notion of the “Death of the Author” that would be developed by Roland Barthes in the mid-­twentieth century. The “indeterminate” text, for Barthes, finds its “unity” only in the reader, who in turn “can no longer be personal,” but only “a man without


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history, without biography, without psychology; he is only that someone who holds collected into one and the same field all of the traces from which writing is constituted” (54). The boundaries of readerly identity are themselves blurred in the act of reading: as Zadie Smith puts it, Barthes’s readers “add to the text’s sudden indeterminacy, their own indeterminacy as well” (42). In destabilizing the notion of a whole and inviolable identity—­that of the reader as receiver, or of the author as the source of a definitive and coherent explanation for the text—­“The Death of the Author” resonates with an “anti-­humanist” turn in theory in the 1960s, one which, in the name of “radical change,” posed challenges to “humanism’s claim that ‘we’ are naturally inclined to think, organise and act in certain ways” (Badmington, 7). Neil Badmington has argued that, despite some significant differences, “posthumanism inherits something of its ‘post-­’ from poststructuralism” (9). The challenge to humanism recalls anxieties that can be found in the Gothic of the late nineteenth century, and that echo through the fiction of Lovecraft and other “weird” writers into modern horror and science fiction. A passage in a recent lecture by Gaiman, interestingly, seems to illustrate (and in positive terms) this destabilizing of self that may take place in the act of reading—­and to acknowledge, wittingly or otherwise, the blurring of boundaries between readerly and authorial identity. “Prose fiction,” Gaiman suggests, is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed. (“Why Our Future Depends on Libraries”)

In context, the passage refers to the experience of reading written fiction, in contrast to that of watching films or television, but the unspecified “you” who “alone . . . [creates] a world” becomes a double, and thereby a paradox. If the author is not dead, he or she has here been collapsed into the reader; they are a multiple one, who may even contain “everyone else out there.” A similar point is made by Michael Saler, in his study As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality, in which he identifies the fictional worlds of Conan Doyle, Lovecraft, and Tolkien

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as precursors to present-­day virtual realms such as World of Warcraft. A central feature of the way readers experience and participate in these worlds is what Saler terms the “ironic imagination,” the ability to “[live] simultaneously in multiple worlds without experiencing cognitive dissonance” (13). In the late nineteenth century, readers of fantastic fiction began to “[play] with multiple identities and multiple realities,” to “embrace alternative worlds and to experience alternative truths” (14). The ability of readers to “inhabit” these worlds “communally and persistently,” experiencing them as virtual realities rather than private entertainments, resulted at least in part from the emergence of “new public spheres of the imagination” at the fin de siècle (17). The letters from readers printed in magazines, alongside fan publications, associations, and conventions, provided the opportunity for readers to “make the imaginary world more virtually ‘real’ by probing its details, reconciling its apparent contradictions, and filling in its lacunae” (18)—­engaging with its “rough spots,” to use Jenkins’s term—­participating in “collective exercises of world building” and becoming “ex post facto collaborators with the author” (25). These fans became both “active participants in the elaboration of imaginary worlds and detached critics of them” (97). Some even dressed in the costume of the imaginary worlds they inhabited and reenacted canonical scenes, positioning themselves not just as observers and cocreators but as characters or inhabitants of these fictions (121–­23). Saler points also to the indeterminacy of authorial identity for these participatory readers, pointing out that “Holmes was said to be real, Conan Doyle was said to be fictional” (36) and that members of the Baker Street Irregulars, a fan society, frequently identified the author as “Watson’s literary agent” (121). Lovecraft’s fictional world, too, would “transcend its creator,” one fan suggesting that its enduring appeal lay in the opportunities it afforded for the reader to “build for himself” rather than in the unidirectional passing-­down of narrative from author to passive reader (146–­47). In a paragraph that carries echoes of Lovecraft’s Great Race, surviving through their embrace of partial identities, Saler suggests that “the provisional meanings, multiple selves, and manifold worlds” that these fictions allowed readers to inhabit were central to their existence in a changing world, helping them to inhabit a “disenchanted modernity,” to “embrace contingency and difference and to question essentializing narratives” (200). Both Pugh and Jenkins have suggested that this blurring of the reader–­author boundary is central to fan fiction (Pugh, 226; Jenkins,


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74). Pugh makes explicit reference to Barthes’s essay, and to its frequent citing “by fanfic writers defending their practice to non-­believers” (152); readers and writers of derivative and transformative fictions, she suggests, do not “altogether [believe] in the notion of the single-­authored book” (234). “A Study in Emerald,” in foregrounding its hybridity, makes explicit that it is not “single-­authored.” The advertisement-­style epigraphs to the story’s sections (itself a device that invokes the serialized structure of longer stories published in the pulp magazines, including Lovecraft’s “Herbert West—­Reanimator” and “The Lurking Fear”) reference classic works of nineteenth-­century Gothic fiction: Frankenstein (33–­34); Jekyll and Hyde (38–­39); and Dracula (42). Of the plays performed by Holmes and Watson’s theater troupe, My Look-­Alike Brother Tom, though a comedy, involves the classic Victorian Gothic trope of doubling, and “The Littlest Violet-­Seller” recalls the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Little Match Girl.” The mention of violets may remind us of the canonical Sherlock Holmes character Violet Hunter, who, in “The Copper Beeches,” is employed to act as a double for an imprisoned daughter (284). The references to Lovecraft’s fiction in “A Study in Emerald” are numerous as well. We find the underground lake from “The Festival” (29); the death of Wilbur Whateley from “The Dunwich Horror” (35); the buzzing alien voices of “The Whisperer in Darkness” (40); the telepathic communications of “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Mound” (40); the fictional topoi of R’lyeh, Leng, and Carcosa (43); a “Black One of Egypt (in shape almost like a man)” who must be Nyarlathotep (44); an “Ancient Goat, Parent to a Thousand” who must be Shub-­Niggurath (44); and a “White Lady of the Antarctic Fastness” who does not appear in Lovecraft, but who we might perhaps conjecture to be the further horror that lurks beyond the Mountains of Madness (44). Indeed, part of the pleasure of reading “A Study in Emerald” is in identifying the various scraps that make up its patchwork—­in creating a world (or at least a London) in which the monstrous doubles and vampires of the Victorian Gothic, the clients and criminals of Doyle’s detective stories, and the inhuman extraterrestrial beings of Lovecraft’s weird tales coexist. The gradual revelation of the killers’ identities relies on an assumption of shared knowledge; it requires the reader’s familiarity with A Study in Scarlet and the likelihood that we will assume the narrator and his friend are Watson and Holmes. Indeed, Moriarty informs Moran that he is sure they “were meant to be together” and “have fought the good fight, side

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by side, in the past or in the future,” a slyly ironic reference to the existence of their counterparts in another fictional world (33). The impact of the theater scene, in which the company for whom Holmes and Watson are working presents a “rousing historical narrative” wherein the coming of the Old Ones is “joyously proclaimed,” necessitates a familiarity with Lovecraft; it hinges upon our awareness that the Old Ones are in fact “monsters” (44). “A Study in Emerald” takes place in an alternate version both of Doyle’s rational Victorian London and of Lovecraft’s horrific universe, but at the same time invokes both of those with which we are already familiar. They are layered over one another—­or, perhaps, nestled inside one another, like Russian dolls. That this world—­this text—­is a hybrid is one source of our pleasure in reading it. The hybrid, multiple nature of the author—­the destabilizing of any coherent authorial identity—­goes along with this hybridity of textual world. Identity, particularly authorial identity, and doubling are central. The main duos form a pair of Gothic doubles—­Holmes and Watson, Moriarty and Moran—­and Holmes, posing as an actor, actually plays a pair of identical twins during the theater passage. That Moriarty, in a slightly earlier passage, has appeared in the guise of “a strange assortment of characters,” just as Holmes does, both here and in the original stories, further illustrates that the two characters are counterparts (41). They are doubled in their multiplicity. We are also reminded that, posing as an actor and playwright who celebrate the coming of the Old Ones in their work, both Holmes and Watson are effectively leading double lives. And Watson does this as a writer. Ostensibly, Holmes—­posing as the actor Vernet—­cannot divulge his playwright’s identity because “he is a professional man, and does not wish his connection with the stage publicly to be known” (46). Watson disguises himself behind a disguise (even as Holmes’s claim may be literally true). And as a text whose interpretation by its audience is contrary to its author’s intentions in writing it, Watson’s play becomes multiply authored. It takes on different meanings for its in-­text author and audience, and for its audience of readers. Later on in the story, Holmes informs us—­via a letter to Moriarty, who is posing as a theatrical agent—­that they have previously corresponded, Moriarty as himself, Holmes as “Sigerson,” another canonical pseudonym (55). Writing becomes both a means by which identity is concealed, and one by which it is revealed. In the letter, Holmes finally signs himself with the nom de guerre “Rache”—­previously found, as in A Study in Scarlet, scrawled on the wall at the Prince’s murder scene


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(35–­37, 54). This appears to be what Holmes considers his true identity—­ but it is unstable, destabilizing, in itself. It blurs the boundaries between human and animal; here, its significance is less the German translation, “revenge,” than its archaic definition, “hunting dog” (50). It unsettles the relationship between humans and Old Ones that has been established in the world of the text, prey becoming predator. It is temporary by design, an identity established as part of the struggle against the Old Ones, becoming obsolete once the promised reckoning has occurred. And Holmes’s existence in the text invokes his canonical counterpart; we cannot read the Holmes of “A Study in Emerald” without the Holmes of A Study in Scarlet appearing in outline. All these texts, of course, make up another text, hybrid and blurred around the edges. And all these various authorial identities are layered over each other by the use of allusions to an assumed shared knowledge, drawing attention to the text’s participatory aspect—­to the work we do in reading it. Its unfixedness draws our attention to the ways in which writing blurs the boundaries of identity. Indeed, our narrator is himself in a sense hybrid. This is true literally, at the level of narrative: his body is altered—­both injured and healed—­by the touch of the Old Ones. It is also true of his identity as writer. Perhaps the text’s most telling moment comes at the very beginning of Moran’s account, where he asserts, “I am not a literary man” (28). An expression of Victorian reticence, perhaps, but also one that foregrounds that Moran is fictional. He is not really writing this; he is not any kind of “man.” We cannot simply become immersed in the text, imagine ourselves absorbing a narrative dispensed straightforwardly through singular, writerly authority—­or, at least, if we do this, we lose access to many of its pleasures. We become aware of ourselves as active readers. As Smith might put it, the text’s indeterminacy is inseparable from our own indeterminacy. There can, in the end, be no such thing as “a literary man”: “man” in this Lovecraftian universe is always “literary,” but “literary man” is never singular, always multiple. The survival of Lovecraft’s stories relies in part on their multiple, hybrid nature, and on their awareness of this nature. Like the posthuman Great Race, they survive by partaking of “permanently partial identities” and “contradictory standpoints” (Haraway, 13). In its existence as a hybrid text, then, “A Study in Emerald” makes explicit what is implicit in Lovecraft: that human identity may rely upon writing, but the identities we inhabit when we write, and when we rewrite by reading, are always multiple and partial. The posthuman

a polychrome study


condition gestured at in The Shadow Out of Time becomes actual for readers of the text. It is by virtue of our previous reading that we partake in its participatory pleasures. It is by virtue of our having read Lovecraft that we become aware of how doing so moves us beyond the “human.”

Works Cited Badmington, Neil. “Introduction: Approaching Posthumanism.” In Posthumanism, ed. Neil Badmington, 1–­10. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave, 2000. Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author.” Trans. Richard Howard. In The Rustle of Language, ed. François Wahl, 49–­55. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. Bourke, Joanna. What It Means to Be Human: Reflections from 1791 to the Present. London: Virago, 2011. The Cabin in the Woods. Dir. Drew Goddard. Mutant Enemy, 2012. Childs, Donald J. Modernism and Eugenics: Woolf, Eliot, Yeats, and the Culture of Degeneration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Conan Doyle, Arthur. “The Copper Beeches.” In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 260–­85. London: Penguin, 1981. ———. “The Final Problem.” In Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories with Contemporary Critical Essays, ed. John A. Hodgson, 214–­29. Boston: Bedford Books, 1994. Darwin, Charles. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: John Murray, 1883. Dryden, Linda. The Modern Gothic and Literary Doubles: Stevenson, Wilde, and Wells. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Gaiman, Neil. “Introduction.” In Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, 3–­ 24. London: Headline Review, 2006. ———. “A Study in Emerald.” In Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, 25–­ 56. London: Headline Review, 2006. ———. “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading, and Daydreaming.” The Guardian. October 15, 2013. -gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming. Haraway, Donna. “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s.” In The Haraway Reader, 7–­45. London: Routledge, 2004. H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. A Very Scary Solstice: Holiday Cheer and Lovecraftian Horror Combined! 2006. Hurley, Kelly. The Gothic Body: Sexuality, Materialism, and Degeneration at the Fin de Siècle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. Joshi, S. T. H. P. Lovecraft: A Life. West Warwick, R.I.: Necronomicon Press, 1996. ———. H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Wildside Press, 1990.


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———. The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos. Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Mythos Books, 2008. Lovecraft, H. P. At the Mountains of Madness. In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 246–­340. London: Penguin, 2001. ———. “The Call of Cthulhu.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 139–­69. London: Penguin, 1999. ———. “The Dunwich Horror.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 206–­45. London: Penguin, 2001. ———. The Shadow Out of Time. In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 335–­95. London: Penguin, 2005. ———. The Shadow over Innsmouth. In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 268–­335. London: Penguin, 1999. Lovett-­Graff, Bennett. “‘Life Is a Hideous Thing’: Primate-­Geniture in H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘Arthur Jermyn.’” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 8, no. 3 (1997): 370–­88. ———. “Shadows over Lovecraft: Reactionary Fantasy and Immigrant Eugenics.” Extrapolation 38, no. 3 (1997): 175–­92. Moreno-­Garcia, Silvia. “Lovecraft: The Character.” Innsmouth Magazine. August 19, 2011. Pick, Daniel. Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c. 1848–­c. 1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Pugh, Sheenagh. The Democratic Genre: Fan Fiction in a Literary Context. Bridgend, U.K.: Seren, 2005. Saler, Michael. As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Simmons, David. “‘A Certain Resemblance’: Abject Hybridity in H. P. Lovecraft’s Short Fiction.” In New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David Simmons, 13–­30. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Smith, Zadie. “Rereading Barthes and Nabokov.” In Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, 41–­56. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2009. Stevenson, Robert Louis. “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Tales of Terror, ed. Robert Mighall, 5–­70. London: Penguin, 2002. Tackett, Devon. “Cookie.” Hello Cthulhu. November 30, 2003. http://www.hello–11–30. Wilde, Oscar. Letter to the Editor of the Scots Observer, July 9, 1890. In Selected Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Rupert Hart-­Davis, 81–­82. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.


ꙮ LOVECRAFT Suspicion, Pattern Recognition, Paranoia David Punter


want in this chapter to suggest that there is something peculiarly “modern” in Lovecraft’s writings. This may, on the face of it, seem a strange proposition. After all, a great deal of what is obvious about Lovecraft’s textuality is the extremity of its archaism. This comes across in at least two different ways: first through the continual insistence on the antiquity of the scenes in which his stories and poems are set, from ancient Egypt through to (more usually) his peculiar and specific (re-­)envisioning of Providence, Rhode Island, and New England more generally; and second through the pseudo-­antiquity of his own prose, whether presented as rendering manuscripts and other communications from the past or delivered as in propria persona. But when attempting to address this archaism, difficulties arise. After all, Gothic fiction in Europe and America has dealt in such deliberate slippages of time for several centuries, yet critics have discerned in Lovecraft some clear difference in his prose, his poetry, and more generally his concerns with how to textualize fear. For when we come to consider Lovecraft’s project and his accomplishment, then that is the one word, the reverberating keynote, we need to keep in mind: what Lovecraft is crafting, sometimes with considerable success, at other times not, is fear. It is a commonplace to say that the “origins” of Gothic fiction lie in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and to pursue this by claiming that such fiction emerges as a response to the era of Enlightenment, itself perhaps a “reactive fiction” designed to dispel religious and mythological beliefs surviving from the Middle Ages, which came to be seen as encumbrances to the ideals of human progress, barnacles messily holding back the stately progress of the ship of reason (see Punter, 20–­53). Yet critical thinking about the Enlightenment has historically encountered certain problems. The Enlightenment was, of course, a pan-­European phenomenon of



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the middle years of the eighteenth century, perhaps best represented in the great French Encyclopédie, which had the grand project of encompassing and describing all current human knowledge. For the Enlightenment, there were no dark corners, no shadows; it seemed possible that technological and industrial progress would soon—­if it had not done so already—­banish the ghosts, spirits, demons. Provided superstition and most forms of religion were discarded, there would be no impediment to what was regarded as the intrinsic perfectibility of man. All of natural life was deemed to be open to scientific inspection, although the arts also had a role to play, provided they could be viewed through the lens of cool reason and did not consort too far with dangerous reaches of fantasy and the imagination. The Enlightenment was intrinsically teleological; it pointed to a surpassing end of human knowledge, one that would be beneficial to all mankind. This is far too vast a subject to enter onto here, but suffice to say that, quite apart from Gothic fiction, Enlightenment conjured its own intrinsic demons. Whether we refer to them as the “Illuminati,” as the resurgence of Rosicrucianism, as a series of long-­lived and endlessly recurring radical plots to overthrow the State, Enlightenment was haunted from the outset by accusations of its own secrecy: a movement that claimed its mission was to throw light into shadowed corners stood against the backdrop of a long history of plot, paranoia, conspiracy. The apparent attempt to accomplish a secure grounding of knowledge in reason was always accompanied by the thought that this attempt was itself yet another grab for power, that the opposition to potentates and tyrants, monarchy and priesthood, was merely the efflorescence of a long-­fostered plan on the part of a quasi-­masonic intelligentsia and professional elite to take over the reins of influence. We may look at these interpretations of the struggles of Enlightenment in a number of different ways. For my purposes, and in order to prepare for a discussion of Lovecraft, the term I want to focus on is apophenia. Now, apophenia is a contested term. Essentially, it relates to the far wider issue of pattern recognition, which is currently a key term in a range of discourses from psychology to systems analysis; indeed, it has been claimed that pattern recognition is a way of referring to the key distinction of human beings from other animals, although clearly in this claim there lies an implicit privileging of the ability to describe pattern rather than merely to apprehend it—­as all living creatures must do, to one degree or another, in order to survive and multiply. Pattern

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recognition, one might reasonably say, is the gateway to successful nourishment and reproduction. Apophenia, however, is not quite thus; it is, in itself, the victim of a confused and anxious terminological history, but from this history a few phrases and attachments stand out. Apophenia is the perception of patterns in data otherwise regarded as without meaning. The existence of apophenia has been regarded as a tool for use in the diagnosis of early stages of schizophrenia. But to turn to the deployment of the term “apophenia” in relation to the work of Lovecraft, it is also associated with conspiracy theory and more importantly with the specific form of apophenia known as pareidolia which is the term used to describe those moments when perceivers claim to have, for example, seen holy signs in the delineation of the most mundane of objects: a piece of bread, for example, which when cut accidentally into a specific shape shows the outline of the holy stigmata. Apophenia, it perhaps goes without saying, is necessarily a contested site; after all, without a contest between belief structures, no single specific manifestation of pattern could be seen as pathological, and all the examples of pareidolia of which one can find evidence must by definition have at least more than one believer, otherwise they could not enter the textual field at all. But of all the phrases surrounding this contested site, the one that is perhaps most apposite to Lovecraft is this: apophenia is a “process of repetitively and monotonously experiencing abnormal meanings in the entire surrounding experiential field” (Conrad, 406). Repetition; monotony; abnormality. These seem to me to be three key words when discussing Lovecraft, and I hope to suggest that in the context of these terms Lovecraft’s fiction escapes from the confines of archaism and reminds us, fearfully and at times painfully, of the specifically modern context of these terms, even if it does so through a type of negative reflection. But before approaching, or returning to, Lovecraft, I will take two detours. I will say something about William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition (2003), and something about the peculiar and engrossing case history of Judge Schreber, as told by Freud. The case of Schreber is unique among Freud’s case histories for two reasons: first, because Freud never met Schreber and analyzed his situation largely through a reading of Schreber’s own remarkable biography and, second, because this analysis of Schreber is the only one of Freud’s to which is attached, albeit with certain disclaimers, the term “paranoia.”


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Turning first to Pattern Recognition. There are many ways of describing the central motifs of this novel, but the one in which I am interested is the attribution of the video clips that form its center of attention. Largely unintelligible but susceptible to worldwide distribution, they are eventually attributed to one of a pair of twins, a twin who has been brain-­damaged. It turns out (if anything does “turn out” from this closely involuted novel) that the clips are, among other things, visual representations of the brain fracture, the partial separation of lobes, from which the twin suffers; thus, the plot hinges on the “recognition” of the “pattern” that is endlessly reproduced through the world’s media but that has its origin in an individual’s psycho-­medical condition. What is accomplished through this series of tropes? We are not speaking here of “mere” paranoia, but instead, in thoroughly modern terms, of a variety of neuropsychology, but this does not in itself prevent the reader from seeing the metaphorical relation between the condition of Nora’s brain and the (as we might put it) “repetition,” the “monotony,” the “abnormality” that may characterize the more general condition of neocapitalism—­after all, the peculiar gift, talent, strength of the novel’s major protagonist, Cayce Pollard (the “pollarding,” in the sense of cutting back in order to grow more fruitfully though more artificially, of the “case,” a name Gibson has used a number of times before) is to recognize through a quasi-­allergic reaction the power or weakness of various examples of the “brand name.” “Pattern recognition”: we perhaps need to focus on the term “re-­ cognition,” which implies, presumably, that the patterns at stake are ones that have existed previously—­our potential cognition of them is merely “re-­cognition,” these patterns underlie the current interpretations we might lay upon them. We are surely drawn irresistibly to Derrida’s notion of the “trace” (see, for example, Writing and Difference); not in itself a new notion, but one that, like all the others with which we shall be dealing here, is susceptible of a prehistory; we might think, for instance, of the old American word for an almost-­erased road or track left by a preexistent and now almost demolished civilization—­the “Old Natchez Trace” might be the most instantly recognizable literary example.1 And so, the issue of pattern recognition may be one that is freed from the more usual coordinates of time and space; in saying that, I am obviously building toward—­or perhaps am overinfluenced by—­Lovecraft’s continual discourse of that which lies beyond the “usual” coordinates,

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that which can only be described by a different topography, a different geometry, a difference in how the perceiving mind might be challenged to make sense of what it appears to be seeing. Lovecraft’s texts—­let us venture upon a generalization here—­exist only on the border of that which can be apprehended and that which cannot; he is the writer of the trace, the writer of that which can be apprehended only after it has gone or prior to its arrival, that which is never present: the writer of the trace, the trace of the writer. And this is perhaps a strange thought: that Lovecraft may be, or have been the incarnation of, Derrida’s dream—­the writing that never was, the event that never happened, the text that dissolves into its own otherness. Yet I want to pursue this thought; but before I do—­and unending prefaces, ideas that never come to the point, are neither foreign to Lovecraft nor, of course, to Derrida, whose entire huge oeuvre might be considered, from one point of view, as a prolegomena to that which was never written, that which never could be written, that which, in Lovecraft’s version, would only ever have been written in that curious linguistic tense that would involve the prewriting of the history of the stars and of the cosmos—­I need to bring onto the stage, as does every literary critic who is aware of the demands of the law, the judge: and in this case, Judge Daniel Schreber of the German High Court. As Judge Schreber takes the stage, and occludes Mr. Lovecraft and Mr. Gibson by the sheer weight of his legal majesty—­perhaps we might think at this point of a different judge, of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dead judge of The House of the Seven Gables, image for the uneasy sleeping of a corrupt and collusive law—­we move into a different realm of pattern recognition. For the good judge—­and it appears that Schreber was a good judge, for he retained his high office throughout his lifetime even though, remarkably, he did not renounce some of his “convictions,” for example that he was female and that he was irradiated by the rays of God—­held to a version of the originations of the world that was “different.” I will not say “different” from what, but suffice it to say that Freud was sufficiently moved—­or disturbed? or comforted? or corroborated?—­by what he read in Schreber’s account of his life to feel that here was an example on which he could comment, to the good, whatever that might possibly mean, of the ongoing diagnosis of paranoia. Paranoia; apophenia: here is where I am seeking to arrive, or so it would appear. Where am I seeking to arrive? Where, or what, is the possibility of arrival? We can arrive only if we have set out, or at the very


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least plan to do so, and thus we have already (obviously) formed a pattern, perhaps in its most crucial form as a map. What, then, is “pattern recognition”? What would it mean to discover that all of our petty struggles on this planet have merely been enactments of larger cosmic battles of which we know (at the beginning or, frequently, at the end) nothing? Or what will it mean to find that we as individuals are the recipients of messages that we can rarely understand, let alone interpret, but that may have been reaching us—­whoever “us” might be—­for not merely a few years or decades, but for millennia past? And these are some of the questions that Lovecraft poses, although they do not seem a million years away from either Marx and Engels on ideology or from F. Scott Fitzgerald on the giant spectacles, the summation of the regime of control by “optical illusion” (see The Great Gatsby). However, I already appear to have long postponed my encounter with Lovecraft. This seems suitable, for Lovecraft’s texts are excessive, embarrassing, excrescences on the corpus of literature, are they not? Perhaps more interestingly, in some lights they appear to be a continuing satire, a deliberate extension to the extreme; but confusingly, that is exactly what they are not. That is not what they are at all. That is, in a very real sense, the very last thing that they are. Because they do not reside within their own anachronism; instead, they are texts of modernity. And so now it is time to examine, or perhaps better, inhabit, this curious reticulation of the modern. We can examine it, for example, in the “case” of Charles Dexter Ward. Ward, by the time the story begins, is mad; that is, as Lovecraft might put it, a point on which all are agreed. But the crucial question remains: Has he been rendered thus by what he has discovered, by the revelation to him of patterns within the cosmos whose very existence is sufficient to make one lose one’s wits; or is he mad in the sense that his derangement, his alterity, the obliquity of his perception is such that it has enabled him to see more deeply into a truth, a meaning, a sense of pattern that we, the otherwise “normal” readers, the representatives of a modern, “enlightened” outlook on life would regard, have regarded, will no doubt continue to regard, as altogether a narrative of insanity? In Lovecraft, we as these “normal” readers are placed in a curious situation—­“curious” in the sense of “peculiar,” but also “curious” in the other sense of becoming victims of a certain curiosity, an inquisitiveness, which we may feel—­and, of course, especially as scholars of one kind or another, and therefore by a necessary extension as antiquarians, poking

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about among the remains of the dead, striving to reanimate that which is long gone, consigned to dust and history—­is both essential and suspicious. As a “reader” of Schreber, Freud, too, is placed, or places himself, in a curious position: analyst where no analysis, in the classical sense, is possible; seeker after meaning where the outcome of this search is far from obvious. Freud’s commentary on Schreber’s autobiography may have contributed to the ongoing description of paranoia—­indeed it did—­ but it did Schreber no “good” at all. It was not even directed toward a “cure”; and, as I have said, Schreber’s entrenched beliefs remained, as far as Freud was aware, substantially unchanged throughout his life—­ although his methods of concealment, his adjustment between his private and public worlds, appear to have become, for better or worse, more sophisticated. With what does Lovecraft confront us? He confronts us with an extended commentary on modernity, on the enterprises and limitations of the modern. In the “case” of Charles Dexter Ward, there is always the possibility of a diagnosis, indeed in this case at least two separate diagnoses, one by Dr. Willett and one by those who are referred to only as the more “academic” alienists. Many of Lovecraft’s texts serve as test cases of psychological interpretation; the deeper subtext—­although not all that deep—­is probably most clearly evidenced by his occasional references to Freud. A typical one refers to Freud’s interpretative structure as “puerile” (11). And this is interesting, for there is a curious tension in Lovecraft’s texts themselves between the “puerile” and the adult. We can see it in their reception, where they occupy some kind of maturational hinterland; they are stories that one “used to” read, but out of which we have now grown, now that we are “grown-­up.” Of course, the obvious terrain here is that of the adolescent, and one might refer to Lovecraft’s texts as “transitional.” They appear to suggest unknown powers at work and, although it might appear bizarre, it would not in fact be too far from the point to think of Lovecraft’s ongoing battle between the (evil) “Great Old Ones” and the (good, or at least fair) “Elder Gods” as an internal battle within the adolescent as she or he seeks to comprehend the possibility that parents (repositories of wisdom fatally mixed with imposers of savage and apparently meaningless rules) might fall into two imaginary categories. D. W. Winnicott’s categories of the good and bad mother are relevant here, as is his attempt to assert that where we end up as we try to negotiate—­as perhaps we do all our lives long—­our way between this


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Scylla and Charybdis of maturation is with some ill-­formed, always temporary, structure of the “good enough” (see Winnicott). But in Lovecraft, it would be fair to say that nothing is ever “good enough.” The old gods are evil, and one specific mark of their malignity is that they were here before us; in one sense, this is sufficient to explain the impossibility of us having any dealings with them that will not contaminate and, in the end (or perhaps before the beginning), threaten us with a complete dissolution of self. In many of the stories, but by no means all, a safeguard is inserted (perhaps he is a cemetery guard) in the form of a narrator who can come between us and this dissolution.2 Yet, Lovecraft asks, is this sufficient? It may be that we can guard against dissolution in the future, but what if it has already occurred, if we are ourselves merely the fruit of a prior catastrophe that has permanently removed us from the possibility of realizing a potential that cannot occur on the infected soil of Earth? We might consider, for example, “The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” which is, it would appear, the outcome of an invasion by mankind of territory that had previously belonged to, and been peopled by, an entirely different “race” (and “race” is another site of endless contestation from Lovecraft): “It is told that in the immemorial years when the world was young, before ever the men of Sarnath came to the land of Mnar, another city stood beside the lake; the gray stone city of Ib, which was old as the lake itself, and peopled with beings not pleasing to behold. Very odd and ugly were these beings, as indeed are most beings of a world yet inchoate and rudely fashioned” (5). In Lovecraft, the trappings of modernity are being constantly undermined by memories (even, and perhaps especially, if they are “immemorial”) of what has previously existed; indeed, it would be fair to say that in these (endlessly, monotonously, abnormally) repeated scenarios we come across something of the true duplicity of the nature of the “haunt.” That which haunts is also that which can lay claim to its own prior neighborhood, its “haunt,” and no legal exercise, or paralegal exorcism, can perform a proper or lasting judgment when it comes to ownership of the land—­or of the imaginings of that land, for in the best of Lovecraft’s tales it would seem that it is the land that imagines itself. In, for example, “Under the Pyramids,” Lovecraft writes, I saw the horror and unwholesome antiquity of Egypt, and the grisly alliance it has always had with the tombs and temples of the dead. I saw phantom processions of priests with the heads of bulls, fal-

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cons, cats, and ibises; phantom processions marching interminably through subterraneous labyrinths and avenues of titanic propylaea beside which man is as a fly, and offering unnameable sacrifice to indescribable gods. (65)

Yet, of course, this is merely a simulacrum of a land imagining, or dreaming, itself; the interpolation of choice items (“unwholesome,” “subterraneous,” “titanic,” but above all “unnameable” and “indescribable”) from Lovecraft’s powerful but limited litany of repeated (monotony-­inducing) adjectives makes this over into an unmistakably colored perception, of the “prior” as never at rest, as ceaselessly seeking to impose its rhythms onto the present, the modern. Those rhythms, those totally unmelodic melodies—­the drumming, the maddening thin piping that surround the incarnations of the gods of the Cthulhu Mythos—­serve as an unceasing backdrop to the equally ceaseless, but perhaps ultimately pointless, endeavor of language to disclose some pattern, some meaning, to this resistant and resurgent past. Apophenic textuality: the constant, monotonous repetition. We need only to consider one of Lovecraft’s many, many lists of “forbidden books,” all of which are exactly (or almost exactly) the same. In “The Haunter of the Dark,” for example: He himself had read many of them—­a Latin version of the abhorred Necronomicon, the sinister Liber Ivonis, the infamous Cultes des Goules of Comte d’Erlette, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, the old Ludvig Prinn’s hellish De Vermis Mysteriis . . . the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Book of Dzyan, and a crumbling volume in wholly unidentifiable characters yet with certain symbols and diagrams shudderingly recognisable to the occult student. (344)

Repetition, like chanting, will incarnate; this has, of course, been the staple belief of magical cults and groups down the centuries, exemplified, for example, in the rituals of the Order of the Golden Dawn. To put it another way, language is power; if the Word can only be recited correctly, then it will exercise an influence over mankind that can be effected by no other force—­military, religious, economic. It would be easy to see this as the response of an always defeated intelligentsia, drowning in the mud of warfare, the corruption of the State, and especially recently the endless violent speciousness of capitalism, to its own subjugation, and that is certainly part of the story, and it is one


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within which Lovecraft’s texts have their place, although it is indeed interesting that, as I mentioned above, this place is always on the negative side. In other words, when words of power are spoken in Lovecraft, they are almost invariably harbingers of evil or, to be more precise, they serve to allow in and onto the terrain of humanity that which is abhuman. Words in Lovecraft are not the salvific province of mankind; they are treacherous; they summon the unexplained and the profoundly unwanted, and above all they may be overheard, overheard by figures and beings that have no salvation, no mercy at heart. Instead, they belong to an older order, to be feared and shunned. We do not need to list them here, Nyarlathotep, Great Cthulhu, Yog-­ Sothoth, and all the others, a cast of thousands—­or do we? Because it is in their listing, oddly, that they achieve such “reality” as they have: they sometimes seem to be, in Walter Benjamin’s sense when he is analyzing the impulses of modernism (although some might feel, and this would be equally relevant to Lovecraft, that what Benjamin is really talking about here is a historically specific manifestation of obsessive/compulsive disorder), pieces for collectors (see Benjamin, 61–­69). For example, at some point in the development in the “myth,” Cthulhu takes over the commanding role, which he/she/it did not have before—­exactly when did this happen? This is the kind of question that gets asked among adepts of what we might call the Lovecraftian myth machine. And that machine—­and it is just as “real” as the texts themselves—­is essentially geared to another machine: the modern machine that produces “authenticity.” We might consider, for example, “Pickman’s Model.” Here the artist Pickman, famed (albeit among a very limited circle) for producing artworks that excite “the physiology of fear” (79), is eventually revealed as having produced his appalling paintings from “life”—­hence the notion of the “model.” But this weird version of authenticity is, of course, immediately reversible: if this “thing” that he has reproduced is “life,” then what indeed is life, as we have formerly conceived it? And we might follow this reflection on the provenance of the visual arts with an essay into the musical sphere, with “The Music of Erich Zann.” Here our narrator, lodged in an unpromising boardinghouse, hears from the old, dumb musician who, he has been told, inhabits the floor above him the strains of wild melody: he is “haunted” (that word again) by “the weirdness” of his music. “Knowing little of the art myself, I was yet certain that none of his harmonies had any relation to music

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I had heard before; and concluded that he was a composer of highly original genius” (46). But, predictably, this hunt for the “original,” the “authentic,” produces nothing; or rather, what it produces is the revelation (which, it has to be confessed, the reader has all along been expecting) that Zann’s music is simply his terrified attempt both to reproduce and at the same time drown out quite other melodies that are coming at him constantly through a window that opens, if it opens at all, onto a different world. And so for Lovecraft there is no promise or threat of originality; instead, there is only the monotony of apophenia. Everything has been said, uttered, done before: all our attempts to conjure a lively, active present are overshadowed by the looming “presence” of the past—­just, we may say, as the attempts of the adolescent to form a “different” life are constantly overshadowed by the loved, feared, reviled life that has gone before, by the knowledge that is simultaneously not a knowledge, of the primal scene; but just as, as well, modernity—­in, for example, one of its most potent recent incarnations as early twentieth-­century modernism—­is condemned to look back over its own shoulder to see what “foul fiend” may be following. Lovecraft’s revealing dismissals of Freud are, in fact, paralleled by his scorn for T. S. Eliot (see Joshi, 179). The primal scene: it would hardly be possible to pursue the major motifs in Lovecraft without venturing into the territory of the sexual, the reproductive, if only because of the near-­absolute embargo in his stories on any possible thoughts of the kind. Near absolute, but not absolute; for there are, for example, the fish-­women of Innsmouth, transmitters of the past abhumanity that continues to infect the region around. Fish, the fishy, the octopoid, the tentacular—­there is a whole metonymic series in Lovecraft that moves us through a set of perspectives of what might be found in the ocean, that which might be swimming (or flailing, or flumping) below the surface, signified only by its impact on the purity of the aboveground species. Fish-­women, dark pools of water, traces of feet that are not (yet) feet on flooded steps up to the streets that are also peculiarly waterways in towns that Lovecraft at least considers “ancient”: this is the kind of antiquity that might come to reclaim us if we cease for a moment to believe in modern methods, if we drop our guard and risk the relapse into the sea, or into the graveyard—­at any rate, below the ground, whence our ancestors came. As we have seen, one of the complexities in Lovecraft concerns language: whether it is capable of creating, enacting, performing new


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things; whether it remains as the ineluctable bond that attaches us, with or without our agreement, to the abhuman; this, of course—­and this is perhaps one of the most radical of Lovecraft’s suggestions, one of the most radical parts of his suggestiveness—­would imply that, at root, language is not human at all. In this respect, the only modern thinkers who have followed this line to any kind of fruition, if not conclusion, are Deleuze and Guattari, with that complex and convoluted series of readings that we might summarize as the discourse of the wolf (see Deleuze and Guattari, 36). There is, for example, “The Nameless City.” Here, paradoxically, there is no lack of names: Araby, Memphis, Babylon—­the whole apparatus of Orientalism is here within the first page, and later we will hardly be surprised to learn that we are yet again in the haunting presence of the “mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred”; how many times, we might reasonably ask, have we seen him before. But the city itself has no name; it is part, perhaps, of that different, unnamed, unnameable universe that Lovecraft himself refers to as having been addressed, if not described, by Lord Dunsany in the phrase “the unreverberate blackness of the abyss” (34). A “nameless city”; Beckett’s L’Innomable (1953); various other “unnameables.” In Lovecraft, matters are frequently “beyond description.” Perhaps, strictu sensu, they are always beyond description, and here is where it seems to me that one can loop back again to Lovecraft’s modernity. For if we consider earlier tales of ghosts, ghouls, phantoms—­for example those so frequently recounted in eighteenth-­ century chapbooks—­then what one finds is a deeply earnest attempt to convince the reader of the verisimilitude of these encounters with the occult, the strange, the otherwise unbelievable. And of course one finds this in Lovecraft, too, but with, I believe, a subtly different inflection. Lovecraft is not, I think, principally trying to make us “believe in” his manifestations; rather, he is challenging us to produce the clear grounds on which we would oppose them. What, precisely, are the ways in which we would stand our ground above the slow, inevitable sinking of the marsh? How, he challenges us, are we to maintain our empiricist beliefs if it is the case that there are other evidences—­in all cases scientifically verified—­that might cause us to entertain a different point of view? We could at this point bring back the judge; and who better, who more reasonable and sane, than Judge Schreber to adjudicate these competing systems, these different beliefs? Well, one answer, although not

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everybody will believe it, is Freud himself, and here he is speaking of some of Schreber’s own beliefs, specifically in relation to Dr. Flechsig, the doctor who attended Schreber from the first and was curiously rewarded by being offered a key place in the judge’s delusional system: Of the actual nature of Flechsig’s enormity and its motives the patient speaks with the characteristic vagueness and obscurity which may be regarded as marks of an especially intense work of delusion-­ formation, if it is legitimate to judge paranoia on the model of a far more familiar mental phenomenon—­the dream. Flechsig, according to the patient, committed, or attempted to commit, “soul-­murder” upon him—­an act which, he thought, was comparable with the efforts made by the devil or by demons to gain possession of a soul. (Freud, 38)

There are various terms one might pick up on here; I want to attempt to gesture toward only four. The first is “vagueness,” because this speaks also to the impossibility that Lovecraft’s protagonists customarily have in recalling key events in their encounters with significant figures; so many of the stories are full of hiatuses that we might fairly refer to as the sense of a haze, a cloud of unknowing that develops around the primal scene, so that origins cannot, and indeed must not, be known: to look too closely at that which is forbidden might indeed drive us mad, might enable us, with the utmost horror, to imagine that perhaps, after all, we were not here first, that somebody else has been here before us—­ modernity’s most terrible anxiety, its most active fear, its most prominent spur to action and textuality. The second, all too obviously, is “judge”: what is it “legitimate” to “judge”? Or perhaps the question is better stood upon its head, as with the jurors in Alice’s courtroom: what would it be that might be “illegitimate to judge”? In Lovecraft, there is no judge. There is no figure—­and here we necessarily think again of the ghastly, sleeping figure of Hawthorne’s Judge Pyncheon, summation of all that may be wrong with the very notion of the embodiment of the law—­who has the power or capacity to judge of the phenomena described. Except, of course, for the author himself: final arbiter of the events mentioned, full of hints, always dropped too soon for more recent tastes in detective fiction—­yet perhaps this is partly the point. For in Lovecraft, oddly enough, nothing is ever truly mysterious; rather, what needs to be uncovered is simply the covert, silent operation of the apophenic, the discovery of patterns where, other


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than the sharing of mass delusion, none may exist; the exposure of what might otherwise be thought of as “Enlightenment” as being, in Blake’s resonant phrase, “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (150). The third and fourth are “dream” and “soul murder,” and I want, perhaps unfashionably, to couple them together. Lovecraft is very interested indeed in what the soul might be, what might happen to it, and how it might fare when decoupled from other coordinates, principally but not exclusively the body. Yet, following from his dismissals of Freud, he is not much interested in dreams. He uses them when they might take effect as narrative devices, but there is no richness to his interpretation of dream, no sense of what might otherwise have been thought of as useful fodder to his mill; instead, there is, as would presumably be obvious from his dismissals of Freud, a fear of the dream and a preference for different systems of signs—­not ones set in the vaporous atmosphere of the imagination, but ones instead set in stone, on the headstones of graves, on the walls of prodigious vaults, in the walls where otherwise humans might never come, and so written, sometimes, in language that no man can understand. Except that, of course, somebody has to understand them, or the tales could not be written, textuality could not occur. Apophenia and modernity: the need to discover (find, uncover) patterns, no matter what the evidence might suggest. In Lovecraft, it is frequently remarkable how far his narrators can lag being the reader; what we have worked out pages or even whole chapters ago remains to be fully absorbed by our narrator/detective figure, but this is perhaps too simple a way to put it. For what this odd narrative procedure may in fact enact is a difference, an ingrained difference, between two distinct parts of our reading persona, and I suspect that this is where the true appeal of Lovecraft lies. For in his tales, we rush ahead of ourselves. There is part of our reading persona that always already knows what the denouement is going to be—­we have read the repetitions, we have experienced the monotony of the modern, so many times before, we already know that there is no possibility of originality here, despite—­or perhaps because of—­ the archaism of the apparatus, and so we have no need of moment-­by-­ moment reading. And yet, the other part of our self, that part which remains wedded to text, remains firm in its attention, no matter what the object—­we have to retain some kind of narrative jouissance, even if it is only a modernist simulacrum; we have to suppose, at least for a certain duration, that

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things are not foreclosed. Perhaps here is the most extraordinary thing about Lovecraft. It would of course be naive to conclude that anything in his tales of disaster, collapse, madness, and somnambulism could ever turn out different; of course not. But that does not prevent the occulted wish that the modern could eventually triumph over the crude, barbaric, violent impulses of the old. Of course, it may be that in order to imagine this future triumph—­ which would be the long-­displaced and delayed victory of enlightenment—­we would need to become involved in a descent into apophenia; we would need to believe, to believe sincerely and with, no doubt, military, economic, and political force to back us up—­that these hauntings can be banished. But of course they cannot; the essence of modernity is indistinguishable from its dealings with its archaic other—­as apophenia is indistinguishable from the need to make or perceive patterns without which we would not be able to survive.

Notes 1. The reference is to Eudora Welty’s story, “Livvie.” 2. The reference here is to Derrida’s “Foreword: Fors: The Anglish Words of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok.”

Works Cited Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. London: Jonathan Cape, 1970. Blake, William. Complete Writings. Ed. Geoffrey Keynes. London: Oxford University Press, 1966. Conrad, Klaus. Die beginnende Schizophrenie: Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns. Stuttgart: Georg Thieme Verlag, 1958. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980. Derrida, Jacques. “Fors: The Anglish Words of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok.” In The Wolf Man’s Magic Word: A Cryptonymy by Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, xi–­xlviii. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986. ———. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Ed. Jeffrey Meyers. London: Phoenix, 1993. Freud, Sigmund. “Psycho-­analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides).” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 12, eds. James Strachey et al., 3–­ 82. London: Norton, 1953. Gibson, William. Pattern Recognition. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2003.


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Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables. New York: Signet, 1961. Joshi, S. T. A Dreamer and a Visionary: H.P. Lovecraft in His Time. Liverpool, U.K.: Liverpool University Press, 2001. Konrad, Klaus. “Gestaltanalyse und Daseinanalytik.” Nervenarzt 30 (1959): 405–­10. Lovecraft, H. P. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 11–­20. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 90–­205. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. “The Doom That Came to Sarnath.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 5–­11. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “The Haunter of the Dark.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 336–­60. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. “The Music of Erich Zann.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 45–­54. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. “The Nameless City.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 30–­41. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “Pickman’s Model.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 79–­89. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. “Under the Pyramids.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 53–­77. New York: Penguin, 2001. Punter, David. The Literature of Terror: The Gothic Tradition. London: Longman, 1996. Schreber, Daniel Paul. Memoirs of My Nervous Illness. New York: New York Review of Books, 2000. Welty, Eudroa. “Livvie.” In The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, 228–­39. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1982. Winnicott, D. W. “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena.” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 34 (1953): 89–­97.


ꙮ LOVECRAFT’S COSMIC ETHICS Patricia MacCormack They did not know that beauty lies in harmony, and that loveliness of life has no standard amidst an aimless cosmos save only its harmony with the dreams and the feelings which have gone before and blindly moulded our little spheres out of the rest of chaos. They did not see that good and evil and beauty and ugliness are only ornamental fruits of perspective, whose sole value lies in their linkage to what chance made our fathers think and feel . . . —­H. P. Lovecraft, “The Silver Key” Irreversible time and history send their roots deep into strange substances. They are born from circumstances. —­Michel Serres, Five Senses


ovecraft’s cosmic horror exceeds its place in genre and even literature as it resonates with paradigm shifts in philosophies of ecological ethics and what could be described as a physics of radical alterity. For Lovecraft, the affects of becoming monster and entering into becomings simultaneously with the monsters of his Ancient Ones pantheon are horrific; for contemporary theories of what it means to be human, these stories can be liberatory in many ways. Fabulated teratology and hybridity coalescing with the infinite potentializations of thought found in pure abstraction align with the histories of maligned humans. Against many critics, Lovecraft offers entryways into feminist, ecosophical, queer, and mystical (albeit atheist) configurations of difference. Ultimately, Lovecraft’s more cosmic works rethink life in an ecological mode of multiplicity and connectivity, uncannily evocative of contemporary ecosophical and chaosmological theory seen in the work of Continental philosophers such as Félix Guattari, Michel Serres, and Gilles Deleuze, while the mucosal life of his monstrous protagonists finds a strange bedfellow in the “angels of mucous” of French feminist Luce Irigaray (Irigaray Reader, 173). This chapter will perform a refined and sometimes perverse interpretation of Lovecraft’s cosmic



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horror stories with these theories to show that Lovecraft is uncannily relevant for posthuman philosophies, and that traditional criticisms of his work as nihilistic, misogynistic, unethical, and generally concerned with the maintenance of traditional values ought to be reoriented. It will not ask what his stories mean but how we can use them today, perhaps for unique purposes, to imagine becoming the horrors he evokes toward a vitalistic, activist, and wondrous celebration of otherness, manifested in a variety of ways, from ethics to erotics, and literature to philosophy. Lovecraft’s cosmic worlds, from the intimate Gothic genealogies emergent within the substance of strange earth, expansive beneath slimy seas, or the infinite collapse of time and space in the simultaneity of Ancient and Elder, alien and terrestrial, share certain features that, in spite of the horrors they frequently strike within those doomed to acknowledge their place in this infinite, also command an apprehension (though without comprehension) of an ecosophical multiplicity-­become-­ single-­plane that operates via an ultimate harmony of all differing intensities of the universe. The very orientation of Lovecraft’s work as horror is based not on content but on his manipulation of perspective, from subjective perspective to the opening out of imperceptible encounters that nonetheless affect beyond all possible prediction and refute reflection. Lovecraft’s tales teach us two lessons: all order is chaos, and chaos is gracious in the gifts it offers in allowing us to combine its wondrous expressions into orderings. Our “little spheres” and “ornamental fruits of perspective” (Lovecraft, “The Silver Key,” 254) are nothing more than coping mechanisms for a teeming universe that will always be too much for human apprehension. The ordering of chaos is an operation, not of science or sense but of power. The disinterested universe, terrestrially “nature,” conceptually “cosmos,” neither refutes nor conforms to human orderings. Humans alone are troubled when they see the ways in which the cosmos simply is—­without qualification. The affects of our interaction with his tales are correlative upon the extent to which we see ourselves as ordering and ordered human subjects. Deleuze and Guattari state, “affects are the becoming inhuman of man” (What Is Philosophy? 169, original emphasis). Man, in antagonism to the cosmos, only comes into being through the very draining of affective, material, wondrous particles of unique intensities within, between, and as collectives of life forms. “Man” is anathema to cosmos in that the term refutes chaos via two trajectories. The first is the claim that all things belong to ontology and

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can be exhaustively known. The second is the formation of oppositional fantasies that bifurcate reality and fantasy. These usual suspects in the isomorphic lexicon of dominant and oppressed terms within ontology also resonate with binaries such as man/woman, truth/fiction, logic/ imagination, waking life / dream states, and so forth. Man does not oppose the cosmos, but the epistemological operations that bring “Man” as a majoritarian concept into being convert the operation into an objective truth and man from a constructed fantasy into an observable transcendental reality. Lovecraft excavates this myth, and so his mythos is as much a debunking of the myth of man as of the creation of new myths. Lovecraft’s myths, however, do not belong to the dichotomous pairings of true/false, real/imagined, and so on. Just as harmony does not differentiate beauty and ugliness or good and evil, in Lovecraft past and present, genealogy and aberrant orphanage, monster and human, perceptible and imperceptible belong on the same planes as variants of consistencies. Deleuze and Guattari define planes as consistencies “peopled by anonymous matter, by infinite bits of impalpable matter entering into various connections” (Thousand Plateaus, 255). In this sense Lovecraft’s most chaotic vision of life is also what makes it most harmonious. Any entity demarcated from its irrefutable connectivity to all else is still chaotic: “Every state of things is already too complicated for it” (Serres, Birth of Physics, 162). “Things” in Lovecraft, be they monsters, humans, hybrids, or any other kind of emergence, are also always simultaneously parts of larger collectives and are themselves fractally formed. Deleuze (after Leibniz) calls such fractal collectives “elastic bodies”; they “are not separated into parts of parts but are rather divided to infinity in smaller and smaller folds that always retain a certain cohesion” (Fold, 6). This can be seen explicitly in Lovecraft’s development of Randolph Carter, who is at once Carter facet, Carter fragment, and Carter indissoluble from all other molecules of the universe in Lovecraft’s story with E. Hoffman Price, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”: He was in many places at the same time. . . . There were “Carters” in settings belonging to every known and suspected age of Earth’s history. . . . In the face of that awful wonder, the quasi-­Carter forgot the horror of destroyed individuality. It was an All-­in-­One and One-­in-­All of limitless being and self—­not merely a thing of one Space-­Time continuum, but allied to the ultimate animating essence of existence’s whole unbounded sweep—­the last, utter sweep which


Patricia MacCormack has no confines and which outreaches fancy and mathematics alike. (279, 280, 281)

It thus seems perverse that this writer of unimaginable horror—­the horror coming as much from the capacity to invoke what can never be imagined, even when protagonists stand encountering such invocations—­can also be argued to offer a glimpse into unimaginable structures forged through connectivities, addresses to the belongings and nuptials that connect all life regardless of the human constructs of species, genus, to what constitutes life itself, combined with the very collapse of physics of space and time. The question both Lovecraft and his readers ask becomes “horror for whom?” While the delights of Lovecraft are irresistibly found in horror, many of his stories elicit wonder or confoundedness or, especially in the case of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” a reader’s reevaluation and eventual giving away of how a human both does and can perceive at all. For these three reasons—­the giving away of self, the becoming particle in a collective eco-­cosmic plane, and ultimate forsaking of perception that operates through (re)cognition and signification—­Lovecraft’s reader enters into a place of minoritarian literature. Minoritarian literature refers not to the frequency of certain author types (by gender or race for example) but those writers who are treacherous to their own language while remaining expressive within it, undutiful sons and daughters, abject orphans with disrupted and disruptive relations with their literary genealogy. “Minor authors are foreigners in their own tongue. If they are bastards, if they experience themselves as bastards, it is due not to a mixing or intermingling of languages but rather to a subtraction and variation of their own language achieved by stretching tensors through it” (Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand Plateaus, 105). For all nondominant subjects, human language has been the language of Man that creates the truth by which one comes into being at all—­as majoritarian human or as the various failures to be so, from woman and nonwhite human through to animal, vegetable, and so forth. Lovecraft’s perspectives both align us to already being bastards—­be it a result of nebulous combinings with alien fish such as the Innsmouth folk, or worshipping gods who are their own bastard hybrids, such as the squid-­dragon Cthulhu, or those who cannot see yet orient the world with madness such as Nyarlathotep, or Brown Jenkin and other animal-­ human abominations. Lovecraft retains language as a writer, but he regularly exceeds the

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limits and traditional configurations and uses of language in a human way; rather his potentialization of thought comes from ascribing hints, clues, via dreams and imaginings, of things that are never entirely evident because they exceed language. Ironically, this compulsion may come from an all-­too-­human impulse to capture what is incommensurable with human perception capacities. Oxymoronically, Lovecraft’s is a language of exquisitely and infinitesimally descriptive abstraction. This is due to the cosmos being Outside—­within the universe and that which makes up the universe but inexhaustible and inapprehensible, thus inadmissible through language. Outside refers to that which is irrefutably in the world (or the cosmos) but which is almost impossible to finally demarcate and comprehend through any means, be they linguistic or even via semiotic trajectories of abstraction and emotion. However, Outside is from where the catalysts and affects that inspire art, literature, and creativity come. Outside is the place of thought, rather than knowledge, and imagination, rather than reflection. Foucault defines Outside thus: A thought that stands outside subjectivity, setting its limits as though from without, articulating its end, making its dispersion shine forth, taking in only its invincible absence . . . to regain the space of its unfolding, the void serving as its site, the distance in which it is constituted and into which its immediate certainties slip the moment they are glimpsed. (15–­16)

When Lovecraft calls certain creatures human blasphemies, it is not because they speak the abominable but that they silence human knowledge and possible conversion of it to language. Minor literature “implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams . . . To think is always to follow the witch’s flight” (Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy? 41), or to have dreams in the witch house, where “non-­Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain; and when one mixes them with folklore and tries to trace a strange background of multi-­dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of the Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-­corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension” (Lovecraft, “Dreams in the Witch House,” 300–­301). Such dreaming collapses discrete epistemes, making blasphemies from


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not simply organic orderings toward monsters such as witches and rat-­ men, but knowledges themselves and the means by which they orient perception—­reality and unreality, science and fiction—­and function—­ truth and untruth. Like the Lord of Flies himself, who mixes truth with lies rather than side with any one half of an ordering binary system that facilitates a clear understanding of good and evil, the mix of truth and lies, comprehension and dissolution, and familiarity with confounded disorientation, Walter Gilman’s waking dream state describes thought itself as: “disarrangement of perspective; but he felt that his physical organisation and faculties were somehow marvellously transmuted and obliquely projected—­though not without a certain grotesque relationship to his normal proportions and properties” (Lovecraft, “Dreams in the Witch House,” 304). Deleuze states of the intimacy between perception as hallucination and normality as informing the structure of unreality, “Every perception is hallucinatory because perception has no object. . . . That we are always perceiving in folds means that we have been grasping figures without objects, but from the haze of dust without objects that the figures themselves raise up from the depths and that fall back again” (Fold, 93, 94). Gilman’s mode of perception/a-­perception thus resonates with the baroque emergent-­recessive nature of all perception, delivered from binaries of reality/unreality and hallucinatory/real. It is unnecessary here to go into the many criticisms of Lovecraft’s literature beyond the generic claims that, whether of its time and his prejudices or for other reasons, his works include elements contemporary ethics would decry as racist and misogynist, and thematically nihilistic. While the first criticisms are valid, as I have argued elsewhere (see MacCormack), Lovecraft’s stance against humanity is not necessarily one against joy, but rather, as argued above, perhaps it is premised on the annihilation of a certain kind of humanity and for those subjects that only can be perceived as such. Here then is a strange configuration, directly reflective of the non-­Euclidean angles and impossible planes that populate Lovecraft’s works. While the content of his writing is often offensive against and oppressive of minorities, Lovecraft’s larger vision, that which has lead him to be described by Michel Houellebecq as against life, opens up the very possibilities of ethical alterity and encounters premised on the destruction of the privileged subject of the white male that are necessary in order to lead to liberation of all lives as unique emergences. While far from being “pro-­” feminist or racially diverse, what Lovecraft can offer in a cosmogenic rereading is

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new opportunities of thinking alterity without imposing replacement structures that would only serve to reify those formerly oppressed positions through converting positive inclusion into ontological atrophy. Cosmogony is the collapse of space and time, which does not seek to replace the old with the new, the familiar with the novel, but which acknowledges that all strangeness of substance and combinations are already available in this cosmos. It is total inclusion of the overwhelming foreignness of the Universe, from the most intimately proximate to the most imperceptibly distant. If this volume speaks of an Age of Lovecraft, it is due to larger paradigmatic reconfigurations of what we can call a Lovecraftian perception, rather than redemption, or ignoring his transgressions against minoritarians. Lovecraft’s use in thinking new ethical emergences of difference without setting up replacement arguments via the demand of his work for the reader to rethink perception itself is the ultimate ethical model for infinite allowance of all difference to emerge, as difference becomes the only signifier, without qualitative or taxonomical condition (which is why his monsters never “belong,” either to a single genealogy or even to one kind of entity, but are both hybrid and singular). Lovecraft’s minor literature, then, is radical in its challenge to semiotics itself. He creates a kind of non-­Euclidean a-­perception machine as described by Guattari: A “machinics” breaking with [capitalist modes of knowledge] would imply a refusal of the dichotomy between material processes and semiotic processes. It would be brought to consider the deterritorializations of time and space only in connection with a new type of assemblage of enunciation, new types of faciality traits, refrains, relations to the body, sex, the cosmos. (Machinic Unconscious, 105)

Rudimentarily, certain bodies remain oppressed in Lovecraft’s work. But more emphasis is placed in the very instability of the term body itself and its attachment to subjectivity. While Lovecraft’s is frequently a visceral horror, he also expresses a viscerality within the psyche, where the mind becomes mucosal and the flesh an abstracted concept. Faciality describes Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of the white male face as the geology of zones of frequency, and power comes explicitly from the extent to which one fulfills the dominant human face. Lovecraft’s people are fish-­flesh-­foul faced to begin with; they “glaze fishily” (“Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” 47), ultimately collapsing their flesh into the


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animal-­vegetal-­mineral body “human and non-­human, vertebrate and invertebrate, conscious and mindless, animal and vegetable” (“Through the Gates,” 280), and this collapse creates an intimate relation with the earth, with all cells and molecules, so that connectivity to the unlike is what defines Lovecraftian entities, both protagonists and monster-­Gods, “more often nothing of which either the naturalist or the palaeontologist ever heard. . . . But strangest of all were their heads, which presented a contour violating all known biological principles. . . . I thought of comparisons as varied as the cat, the bulldog, the mythic Satyr, and the human being” (“Nameless City,” 36). These heads, not faces but probing satellites, do not replace the human. They include the human in the earth’s own pantheon, while also including the domestic animal, and the mythical as part of the real, so Lovecraft’s dichotomies themselves no know taxonomy. Materiality, animality, life, and reality are part of the vast connective tissue collapsing all thought and, by doing so, opening it out into infinity, the very antithesis of the homogeneity human knowledge perpetuates by converting all elements to being defined and evaluated through their relation with the human subject. In this way, Lovecraft refutes contemporary media trends not because he stands for a nostalgic vision but because his is a vision of a futurity found in an immemorial past where time has collapsed along with particles of difference to create a liberation of cosmos that is both immanent and available. In this sense, Lovecraft’s are not “other” worlds but opportunities to access dissipations of this world without each story as a unique trajectory leading back to a vacuous empty repetition of stagnant homogenous trends such as those that structure the marketability of literature (of all genres) based on it, the variety of forms of which ultimately end up being the same signifying compulsions dressed differently, thus refuting real difference itself. We are thus in the presence of two polar modalities of consciousness: that of pseudo-­territorialities of resonance and that of an irrevocable deterritorialization; that of tranquilizing (and reassuring) faces and significations and that of anxiety without object, or rather, an anxiety which aims at the reality of nothingness. . . . It is a question of neutralizing, by reducing them, the ‘n’ animal, vegetal and cosmic eye of the rhizomatic possible which could subsist within residual territorialized assemblages . . . the media install a vanishing point behind every glance. (Guattari, Machinic Unconscious, 82–­83)

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Carter’s existence as forms over subject fulfills these cosmogenic criteria. “‘Carters’ of forms both human and non-­human, vertebrate and invertebrate, conscious and mindless, animal and vegetable. And more, there were ‘Carters’ having nothing in common with earthly life” (“Through the Gates,” 280). The final-­phase descriptions of Carter elucidate that there is no more resonance in Lovecraft. Resonances with the human disappear, meaning knowledge constituted through orders of human perception is defunct. Resonances with the human are always haunted by resonances with things unnameable, and so the very promise of reassurance through resonance becomes perilous. The exhaustive postmodern circus of contemporary media over representation—­freak after freak, transgression after transgression—­is encyclopedic. It uses such spectacles, be they cinematic, literary, or increasingly real life, in order to fulfill the vacuous promise that, by representing, one can objectify, apprehend and “know,” so become safe from any aberration. Lovecraft’s horrors are found in their intimacy to which their protagonists cannot stand in opposition. The frequent revelation in much of Lovecraft’s work is that the monster is the self, found most profoundly perhaps in “The Outsider.” The monster is me means that Lovecraft’s tales are not so much populated by monsters; rather, protagonists, and readers, become part of a new territory altogether, which is why in so many tales the very terrain itself is integral to the hybrid, strange genealogies, be it the farmland of the Wards, the subterranea of Innsmouth, or the infinite cosmos of the Ancient Ones. And we are inextricable from the territory, connected as parts of a singular living infinite. This is how Lovecraft differs from both traditional horror, where the monster is in our world, or fantasy, where a constructed world is stalked by monsters who belong. Lovecraft collapses the alien and the terrestrial, just as he collapses dream and reality, flesh and earth/space, and the within/without. Beyond the apprehension of the arboreal structures that place Man at their zenith and animal, monster, vegetal, or otherwise within a strict hierarchy, Lovecraft’s rhizomatic series of infinite connectivities mean all matter itself is alterity, unique in its specific proximities to other elements and within itself. For this reason, inclusion of minorities positively would not redeem readings of his work, because his work is premised on the refusal of Man himself and his arboreal terrains of knowledge. Here arises another absence for which Lovecraft is critiqued—­a supposed, even likely, aversion to the carnal. But in some way, he represents bodies and sex in a positive manner. From a feminist perspective, the


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construction of filiation through unnatural participation describes a liberation of desire between two unlike entities that is not premised on the dominance of a single mode of understanding (usually phallologocentrism). Irigaray, speaking of angelic sex as mucosal, is relevant to Lovecraft’s monster heredity: “The consequences of such non-­fulfilment of the sexual act remain. . . . To take only the most beautiful example . . . let us consider the angels. These messengers are never immobile nor do they ever dwell in one single place. As mediators of what has not yet taken place. . . . These angels therefore open up the closed nature of the world, identity, action and history” (Irigaray Reader, 173). It is the affect, rather than the structure, that differs. Irigaray describes this angelic carnality as a writing, or expression, found in mucous. Mucous connects, it is the sticky, abject, but jubilant viscosity of jouissance that is premised on lack of demarcation between entities, on shared fluidities and on the qualities associated with the unnameability of feminine desire that repudiates logic, singularity, and dominant binary tenets of knowledge and perception. “Nor will I ever see the mucous, that most intimate interior of my flesh, neither the touch of the outside of the skin of my fingers, nor the perception of the inside of these same fingers, but another threshold of the passage from outside to inside, from inside to outside, between inside and outside, between outside and inside” (Ethics, 170). Mucous is also, of course, what traditionally makes up the texture of the monster. Irigaray critiques three elements of dominant human phallologocentric subjectivity here—­the affirmation of the dichotomy between inside and outside / self and other, the repudiation of existence as connectivity, and the demarcation of objects fixed in space over existence as metamorphic threshold continual in (non-­chronocentric) time. Irigaray’s is a project of threshold being, journeying (without origin or destination) selfhood as multiple and part of larger collective structures with the angel as both fictive and material. Carter’s journey occurs amidst backgrounds [both through and around] of other planets and systems and galaxies and cosmic continua. Spores of eternal life drifting from world to world, universe to universe, yet all equally himself. . . . His self had been annihilated; and yet he—­if indeed there could, in view of that utter nullity of individual existence, be such a thing as he—­was equally aware of being in some inconceivable way, a legion of selves. (“Through the Gates,” 280)

Irigaray and Lovecraft’s Carter share much in the elements constituting this cosmogenic a-­subjectivity; feminism celebrates this state, and so the

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extent to which Lovecraft can be applied to a new age of interpretation through alterity is measured by the extent to which his tales remain “horror” stories. The reader must ask, “horror for whom?” Carter’s could be a jouissant journey, his Gods angelic. Yes, there is no sex in Lovecraft, but his oeuvre is fundamentally based on visceral connections with the unlike and, in their inevitable realization of their teratological heredity, his protagonists grapple with their relationship, not with monsters but with the way they feel about the relations themselves. Just as minor literature is a grappling with perception and a-­perception, in which readers have a choice to lose themselves in the forfeiting of subjectivity for unheard of becomings or to confirm their subjectivity and dismiss a tale as fictive, un-­affective, and pure fantasy, so protagonists such as Carter and Ward and poignantly the Outsider (the belonger who does not belong) choose either to remain outsiders or succumb to the self/non-­self of becoming with monsters, Gods, and ultimately the cosmos. Remember, the story of the Outsider is the story of all minority human subjects. When we reach the point where we realize that, because of our gender, race, or other differences, the monster is in the mirror and the dominant white male face is neither reflection nor aspiration (but the most mythological subject of all). No sex; however, lots of production without reproduction. Lovecraft’s tales of horror for the reader open to (perhaps because already) becoming Outsider are perverse love stories. Serres states: “Love is a chimera, the leftovers of the split up parts” (Natural Contract, 232), just like the protagonists, Gods, and monsters of the tales. Dare I then hazard to formulate an erotics of Lovecraft? Against all that Lovecraft has been accused of being “against”—­against life, against women, against sex—­I propose there are elements we can descry in Lovecraft that can be recuperated, which are useful for ethical erotics. I affirm I have no interest in claiming revisionist intent by Lovecraft; I am unearthing no secret code or repressed mechanisms. But literature, as it catalyzes thought, dreams, physics, and reality—­all one in Lovecraft and to an extent in philosophy—­is ethical in its affects as much as its content, and what ways of reading Lovecraft can do I find enigmatically liberating. What are some of the key elements that can be distilled from my explorations that could orient Lovecraft toward an ethical erotics of alterity? I propose the following: Lovecraft’s work, while not about (any beneficial kind of) sex, is about desire. Most explicitly, it is about the conjoining of unlike entities into combinations unheard of in terrestrial majoritarian instances. Desire in Lovecraft is never for the object or the other for two reasons. The first is that the demarcation between self and


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other no longer exists; the second is that desire is not a monodirectional force but a miasmic flow that is the very air of the territories that the (formerly) human and alien facet-­lives occupy. This may account for the consistent sense of inevitability in the fate of Lovecraft’s protagonists (Carter, Gilman, Charles Dexter Ward, and others) and populations (the folk of Innsmouth and so on), both volitional and resistant. The collapse of time is also important in this structuring of desire as ubiquitous flow. As many tales testify to the collapse of all time, and to loss of self occurring as a commune with absolute simultaneity, “coexistent with all time and conterminous with all space” (“Through the Gates,” 281), so the narrative implicit in traditional Lacanian constructs of desire as toward or for something, which has genesis and result, is defunct. Desire in Lovecraft is the already always that is present as, within, and the territory of “life,” which, according to philosophers such as Deleuze and Guattari, Irigaray, Serres, and (via the word pleasure) Foucault, is the ethical imperative that constitutes entities and their relations. Just as in Lovecraft desire is neither good nor evil, pleasurable nor painful; it is the constant recombining of expressions and affects that comingle entities. It is the very plane of life, however life incarnates. The Ancient Man of Truth in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” incarnates this, as both symbol of the mechanism of the territory that is desire, and as the territory itself (much as Irigaray’s mucosal angels are all at once messengers, message, and catalyst toward the beyond). The Man of Truth is described as “surgings,” and “the surgings were speaking to him in a language that was not of physical sound or articulate words. ‘The man of Truth is beyond good and evil’ intoned a voice that was not a voice. ‘The man of Truth has ridden to All-­Is-­One’” (“Through the Gates,” 278). While the planes of desire in Lovecraft do not fulfill common understandings of erotics, they share with eroticism a refusal for satisfaction or completion, a perpetual state of both being within and beyond a frenzy of potential, and an excitation that is also a dread, of loss of self in the face of communion with an unimaginable but materially present other(s). Desire shows us that what catalyzes our very being is beyond language. Against Manton’s perplexity to Carter that “the mind sometimes holds visions and sensations of far less geometrical, classifiable, and workable nature, he believed himself justified in drawing an arbitrary line and ruling out of court all that cannot be experienced and understood by the average citizen. Besides, he was almost sure that nothing can be really ‘unnamable.’ It didn’t sound sensible to him” (Lovecraft,

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“Unnameable,” 83), all affect repudiates language, and comes from the rhizomatic infinite connections that are the plane of desire. Serres urges, “Do not seek to know how to look at a landscape” (Five Senses, 239), and Lovecraft shows if one does, one is likely to go mad or live in terror. But an erotics of Lovecraft leads to the nepenthe infinity that is the cosmogenic becoming of those who submit to the world of nebulous combinings in his work. Such submission, which is also an active seeking of transformation, is undeniably created through expressions and affects of desire. The qualitative factor comes only from the extent to which the protagonist, population, or reader wishes to maintain her position. Here is where Lovecraft both is and is not against “women.” As already stated, for feminism, the schematics of desire in Lovecraft deliver them from being horror stories. Mucosal monsters, multiplicity, collapse, and metamorphosis, love with and for abstraction and a giving away of repressive regimes of logic and isomorphic binarism are all common tenets of Continental feminism. Feminist erotics have long been associated (both positively and negatively) with ecological and ecosophical principles. Far from bleeding-­heart, touchy-­feely expressions of desire for maligned others, what this shows is a voracious drive for proximity with alterity and (and as) totality, or an openness to creativity and newness found in the acknowledgment that the earth and life are nothing more than a mesh of unlike entities coexisting, who know themselves little better than their absolute others. Similarly, this erotic is not extricated from issues of justice and liberation, nor does it operate purely because of them. As science and dreams collapse in Lovecraft, in ecosophical feminist ethics there are no taxonomies of intent; ethics and erotics are the same. There is joy in liberation (but not smug self-­satisfaction, for there is neither demarcated self nor extinguished satisfaction in the plane of desire) and despair in pleasure and wisdom in imperceptions. It is a different language, which in Lovecraft is a language of silence, of incomprehensible unheard-­of alien grammars, and of monsters in their mucosal glory. “Already constructed theoretical language does not speak of the mucous. The mucous remains a remainder, producer of delirium, of dereliction, of wounds, sometimes of exhaustion” (Irigaray, To Speak, 244). Ironically the “remainders” in Lovecraft’s tales are the human-­inhuman hybrids, the archaic leftovers that are the new races, like women maligned because they are too much and not enough, overwhelming in their multifaceted, manifold, vulvic tentacle morphology, and yet lacking. The question becomes, not what is


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found in Lovecraft, but how do we read Lovecraft? As majoritarians, they are horror tales; as feminists, they are problematic but wondrous critiques of what is valued in subjectivity and what unheard-­of desires can elicit. The erotics are found in ways of reading, a cosmogenic erotics of readership. [Cosmogenics requires] to bring into being other worlds beyond those of purely abstract information, to engender Universes of reference and existential Territories where singularity and finitude are taken into account by the multivalent logic of mental ecologies and by the group Eros principle of social ecology; to dare to confront the vertiginous Cosmos so as to make it inhabitable. (Guattari, Three Ecologies, 67)

For Guattari, this chaosmotic universe is ethically necessary to the extent that all life finds it inhabitable. For Lovecraft, a very particular kind of subject finds the Ancient One–­infected universe uninhabitable. Inhabitable for whom? is the key question. Lovecraft’s tales are populated with things that are unbearable, which are persistently named as unliked by various scientists, doctors, explorers, archaeologists, writers, musicians—­a cornucopia of white men fulfilling rigidly reified positions of power across those epistemic fields that create human understandings of reality, truth, logic, and what is possible. They don’t like certain sounds, certain angles, certain silences, certain configurations: “There were certain proportions and dimensions in the ruins which I did not like” (“Nameless City,” 31), “Horrors of a form not to be surmised” (Dream-­Quest, 178). Perception and comprehension comes announced via the licit and illicit in the language of these makers of the one, single, terrestrial, limited world. Majoritarian language, which favors the singular, deferring all alterity to its comparison and relation with dominant ideologies and logic, speaks not only what is, but what is possible, and in this way massacres the world that exceeds it through invalidating its very potential to be. If these excesses are finally announced, because it is through dominant language, they are fated to be subsumed, assimilated, and mere shadows of the dominant and their failure to be so. But Lovecraft shows us what is possible, while managing to show it is also unnameable, beyond our very capacity to describe it, and this is his most radical gift to cosmogenic ethics and nonmajoritarian erotics. Lovecraft’s visceral, fleshy, corporeal, teratological, and emphatically material world is also a world where human language, that

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great annihilator of the potentialization of the expressivity and affect of entities that are not counted by the majoritarian human, is without power. Horror for some, the very opening of the world to others. Ambitiously, I claim Lovecraft operates the very speech his Man of Truth gives to Carter: It was as though suns and worlds and universes had converged upon one point whose very position in space they had conspired to annihilate with an impact of resistless fury. . . . After a time the hearer began to translate the waves into speech-­forms known to him, and his sense of horror and oppression waned. Fright became pure awe, and what had seemed blasphemously abnormal seemed now only ineffably majestic. (“Through the Gates,” 281)

Carter’s horror wanes when his singular subjectivity restores and speech becomes comprehensible, but this is a necessary evil in order for Lovecraft to allow glimpses of encounters to resonate just enough for us to feel the awe his language expresses. The most powerful parts of the tales are when we no longer seek translation, conversion, or a restoration of the subjectivity all nondominant subjects never had anyway. Lovecraft’s is a new radical language of nonlanguage, speech in silence, invoking ecosophical connections and cosmogenic relations to the extent we allow his language affect with desire as much as horror. Lovecraft silences the dominant human. From this silence comes the cacophony of the Ancient Ones. Silence returns like a modest veil. Slowly. The immortals are hesitant to descend to such an easily sullied place. The gods pass us by, weightless, insubstantial, flanking non-­existence, evanescent spirits; the least wrinkle in the air will chase them away. . . . stillness has the quality of eloquence, and the social contract answers silence with the silence of what is said. The gathering hears and recognizes itself through a word that emanates from its own silence. . . . should the spoken word be silenced, then the gods will come. (Serres, Five Senses, 86–­87)

Works Cited Deleuze, Gilles. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Trans. Tom Conley. London: Athlone, 2001. Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. London: The Althone Press, 1987.


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———. What Is Philosophy? Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Foucault, Michel. “Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside.” In Foucault/ Blanchot, Trans. Brian Massumi, 7–­60. New York: Zone Books, 1987. Guattari, Félix. The Machinic Unconscious. Trans. Taylor Adkins. New York: Semiotext(e), 2011. Irigaray, Luce. The Three Ecologies. Trans. Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton. London: Athlone, 2000. ———. An Ethics of Sexual Difference. Trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. New York: Cornell University Press, 1993. ———. The Irigaray Reader. Trans. Margaret Whitford. London: Blackwell, 1992. ———. To Speak Is Never Neutral. Trans. Gail Schwab. London: Athlone, 2002. Lovecraft, H. P. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 11–­20. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. In The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 90–­205. New York: Penguin, 2001. ———. “The Dream-­Quest of Unknown Kadath.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 155–­251. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “The Dreams in the Witch House.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 300–­334. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “The Nameless City.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 30–­41. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “The Outsider.” In The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 43–­49. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. “The Silver Key.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 252–­63. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “Through the Gates of the Silver Key.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 264–­99. New York: Penguin, 2004. ———. “The Unnamable.” In The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, ed. S. T. Joshi, 82–­89. New York: Penguin, 2004. MacCormack, Patricia. “Lovecraft through Deleuzio-­Guattarian Gates.” Postmodern Culture 20, no. 2 (January 2010). /journals/postmodern_culture/v020/20.2.maccormack.html. Serres, Michel. The Birth of Physics. Trans. Jack Hawkes. Manchester, U.K.: Clinamen, 2000. ———. The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies. Trans. Margaret Sankey and Peter Crowley. London: Athlone, 2008. ———. The Natural Contract. Trans. Elizabeth MacArthur and William Paulson. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2001.




ovecraft dreamed of witches. Despite the fact that Lovecraft’s intellectual influences and personal interest in matters magical situate him with other writers of the supernatural that he deeply admired such as Arthur Machen and Lord Dunsany, most readers connect Lovecraft’s work to the terror associated with “Great Old Ones,” alien gods whose rise from the dark places of the earth or whose arrival from other dimensions signals an end to human existence. The insistence of Lovecraft’s interpreters and fans that his extraterrestrial pantheon constitutes a truly new departure in the writing of horror has lead them to assert that Lovecraft made a clear break with older Gothic traditions. The back cover of the authoritative edition of Lovecraft’s works from Penguin books, edited and with an introduction from S. T. Joshi, clearly asserts, for example, that “Lovecraft reinvented the horror genre, discarding ghosts and witches.” The pages within, meanwhile, are filled with witchcraft. Of course, these are not always the typical witches of gothic lore. These witches are frequently conduits to the numinous realms of the “Great Old Ones.” Their powers tap into unknown geometries and even a kind of mathematical occultism.1 Nevertheless, Lovecraft did dream of witches and even believed myths about them that claimed to uncover their roots in historical experience. The terror of their power haunted his fiction. Lovecraft thus based his terrors on something in addition to giant beasts from alternate dimensions. His literary nightmares are also grounded in a personal fear of atavistic cultural performances. In fact, the major thread that runs through his fiction arguably has less to do with “cosmic terror” and much more with a sense of personal revulsion from the savagery of magic and the terror of superstition and folk belief. We have his belief that Europe had been haunted by legions of



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darkness to thank for a much more significant portion of his oeuvre than has been realized. An examination of the ideas that informed Lovecraft’s beliefs about the terrifying nature of the supernatural illuminates two important areas in the study of his work and influence. First, it suggests that Lovecraft’s much-­discussed ideas about race are tied closely into his conceptions of the primal and the savage. Atavistic witch cults are, in other words, closely united in Lovecraft’s vision of the world with the savagery of what he called “voodoo and witch-­whispers” (Joshi and Schultz, Lord of the Visible World, 121). Second, the author’s belief in a racialized witch cult has relevance to the contemporary effort to enlist Lovecraft in various philosophical enterprises. Amid current efforts to extract a philosophical position from Lovecraft’s work, it is worthwhile to consider how the author’s own historical interest informed the weltanschauung that can be determined from his writings. Understanding more of the intellectual influences that shaped the author’s worldview calls into question the enthusiasm with which the Providence author has been drafted into various ideological and philosophical struggles.2 This essay’s exploration of these issues inevitably involves us in the often pugnacious struggle between historicism (or “the new historicism”) and modernist/formalist readings of Lovecraft. One-­note, one-­beat interpretations of Lovecraft from the historicist camp might lead us to see his work as a simple entanglement in a commodity culture (“the pulps”) in a larger social world structured around racist assumptions about primitivism. A more formalist look, intertwined with the curious need to turn the author into a philosopher (or at least a mascot for a philosophy) threatens to cut him free from his historical moorings and become almost a caricature of formalism, the straw man that the work of Aram Veeser, Stephen Greenblatt, and others have been burning to the ground since the late eighties. Perhaps a historian with little interest in defending historicism can look at these issues anew. Lovecraft thought of himself as something of an amateur historian. How this self-­conception informed his ideas about witches and race in the era of fascism can help us better critique numerous contemporary efforts to transform the maestro of horror into an intellectual doyen.

Lovecraft among the Witch Hunters In an October 4, 1930, letter to his fellow pulp writer Robert E. Howard (best known as the creator of the “Conan the Barbarian” cycle of

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stories), Lovecraft attempted to explain to his Texas friend some of the lineaments of New England psychology. Howard had long been fascinated with the romantic notion of the New England colonies as America’s haunted wood, the location in the American imagination that Washington Irving condenses into Sleepy Hollow and famously describes as the place where “the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make . . . the favorite scene of her gambols” (3). Lovecraft begins his detailed letter (he never wrote a letter, it seems, that did not become an extended essay and thought experiment) by trying to explain what he calls the “profoundly morbid streak in the Puritan imagination (Joshi, Schultz, and Burke, 67). As much as Lovecraft may have held dear his antiquarian interest in his native region, he pulls no punches in describing the New England mentality as “a really profound study in group-­neuroticism” with its background in “the dark Saxon-­Scandinavian heritage” (67). Following this, Lovecraft launches into a précis of the Puritan neurosis with what sounds a bit like warmed-­over Freud combined with his insistence that New England, or at least Massachusetts, had accepted far too much indentured labor in the colonial period, resulting in an influx “of a vile class of degenerate London scum as indentured servants” (68). Then, Lovecraft rather abruptly switches gears to make a broader historical claim. He wants Howard to know “that the traditional features of witch-­practice and sabbat orgies were by no means mythical” (68–­69). Witches were real, he believed—­real at least in the sense that they believed themselves to be witches and that a long, secret tradition of the practice of witchcraft had endured through 2,000 years of Christianity with remnants of its traditions surviving in a variety of folk beliefs. Lovecraft described to Howard, in language redolent of one of his tales of horror, that “through history a secret cult of degenerate orgiastic nature worshippers” had been “practicing fixed rites of immemorial antiquity for malign objects” (69). Lovecraft’s seemingly odd belief in the existence of a powerful witch cult grows directly, as he himself writes, from his reading of Margaret Murray’s 1921 The Witch-­Cult in Western Europe. Before her work, Lovecraft tells Howard, most scholars had believed “that all witchcraft scares were pure hallucinations” (72). Lovecraft continued to hold forth on the idea of the witch cult as late as 1934 in a letter to his young friend R. H. Barlow. In response to questions about the nature of the Salem witch trials, Lovecraft called the case “a baffling & fascinating problem for any historian or anthropologist (Joshi and Schultz, O Fortunate Floridian, 130). He noted that Murray believed most of the victims of Salem to be cult members,


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while Montague Summers affirmed the innocence of at least some of the accused. Lovecraft himself averred the proportion of innocent to “real” witches as “about half and half” (130). Clearly Murray’s conception of a historical witch cult continued to influence Lovecraft even in his later years. Margaret Alice Murray, an Egyptologist caught up in the early twentieth century’s fascination with folklore and myth ignited by James Frazer’s Golden Bough (1890), argued that Paleolithic and Neolithic fertility rites had survived long after the emergence and growth of Christianity. The Church had looked at what Murray called “the ancient religion” as witchcraft, forcing its practices underground through persecution (19). Murray then elaborated on this basic thesis in works including The God of the Witches (1933), in which she suggested that the Church had partially created its notion of Satan by literally demonizing the ancient witch cult’s Horned Hunting god (Barry and Davies, 71). Malcolm Gaskill, a leading scholar on the witch trials in early modern European history, writes that, “some historians criticized Murray but most ignored her” (25).3 Historians’ lack of interest in her work did nothing to harm its popularity. Murray’s indefensible thesis thrived and influenced the way two generations understood the witch trials. Despite her rejection by the world of historical scholarship, Lovecraft not only accepted Murray’s thesis as a matter of historical truth, but he expanded on it and used it fruitfully for some of his most significant fictions. As Gavin Callaghan points out, Lovecraft’s narrators who assert the reality of the dark forces they encounter are modeled on Margaret Murray’s refusal to accept the idea that “hysteria and hallucination” constituted the basis of the European witch trials (204). Although his work seems to marry horror and science fiction (and thus he “reinvented the horror genre”), the terror of witchcraft and indeed of witch cults suffuses his oeuvre. This is the case, for example, in Lovecraft’s arguably most famous story, “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), a tale that depends on the idea of a global witch cult for both its atmosphere and its narrative. Cthulhu, even as it waits dreaming in its house at R’lyeh, haunts the world through dark rites in the Louisiana swamps and among diabolists in the wastes of Greenland and Iceland (Lovecraft, Cthulhu, 149, 150). In “The Haunter of the Dark” (1936), the black gateway to the evil depths of things suggests the existence of “certain cults of evil antiquity” (Lovecraft, Cthulhu, 350). His 1932 story “Dreams in the Witch House” depends directly on

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a Murray-­influenced reading of Salem (Lovecraft, Witch House, 301, 322–­23). The story revolves around a mathematics student who meets a transdimensional witch named Keziah Mason, put to death during the Salem trials but returning to haunt the odd geometrics of his room in the twentieth century. Although Lovecraft uses his interest in an occult mathematics to good effect, “old Keziah” travels to the young mathematician through “freakish curvatures in space” and Lovecraft evokes Murray’s belief in actual satanic gatherings by building his tale around the approach of Walpurgis Night and the idea of special oaths taken to “The Black Man” (306–­7, 309). The influence of the witch cult idea is even more explicit in Lovecraft’s 1923 story, “The Festival.” This tale focuses on a visitor to his ancestral seaside home of Kingsport (modeled on Marblehead, Massachusetts) where he meets an old man who keeps “hoary and moldy” books of evil. The aging sorcerer becomes his psychopomp into the dark subterranean passages beneath the town, a meeting place for an ancient cult of “cloaked throngs forming a semicircle around a blazing pillar” (Lovecraft, Cthulhu, 115). The significance of Murray’s influence over Lovecraft’s work seems undeniable and Lovecraft himself affirms it in places. Joshi notes, for example, that when Lovecraft wrote much later of the origins of “The Festival,” he described how, “in intimating an alien race, I had in mind the survival of some clan of pre-­Aryan sorcerers who preserved mysterious rites like those of the witch cult I had just been reading about in Margaret Murray’s The Witch Cult in Western Europe” (384–­85). Joshi also notes that Lovecraft had apparently come across the same idea in Arthur Machen’s stories of primitive, pre-­Christian “Little People.” This made Murray’s thesis even more compelling for him, Joshi argues, because he tended to see Machen’s tales “as a striking anticipation of his own” (384–­85).4 A wealth of evidence suggests that Lovecraft found much that was attractive in Murray’s thesis. One of the many reasons modern historians of witchcraft dismiss “the witch cult thesis” concerns Murray’s dependence on J. G. Frazer’s conception of a path of historical development in which societies move from magic to religion to science. This view of human history assumes a lower, primitive stage of human development, while also suggesting the possibility of “survivals” of the primitive past into the present (Barry and Davies, 71). Lovecraft fully accepted this idea and his correspondence often reflected what he saw as an ongoing dialectic between progress and primitivism. Such ideas


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may have appealed to him on a deeper level than as a useful philosophy of history. However, unlike Murray or most of her partisans, Lovecraft racialized the idea of the witch cult and connected its primitive rites to his notion of a hierarchy of primitive and superior races, which in turn heightened his anxieties about the danger of witch cults. Lovecraft displayed a terror of racial hybridity, a racism rooted in his notions of Nordic and Anglo-­Saxon superiority and connected to a larger matrix of intellectual production in which scholars across disciplines engaged in a discourse of primitivism. Examples of Lovecraft’s theories and fears related to race are numerous. Certainly the most famous—­and most frequently quoted—­comes from a letter he wrote in 1924 concerning his experience of Brooklyn, New York. In that year, he began his short, counterintuitive, and seemingly catastrophic marriage to Sonia Greene and moved for two years to a city he would come to despise and to identify with his vision of debased modernity and many of his racial fantasies. In an outburst to friend and protégé Frank Belknap Long, he described New York’s Lower East Side as “an awful cesspool” filled with beings “that could not by any stretch of the imagination be called human. . . . They—­or the degenerate gelatinous fermentation of which they were composed-­seemed to ooze, seep and trickle thro’ the gaping cracks in the horrible houses” (Lovecraft, Selected Letters I, 333–­34). The bizarre nature of these fulminations suggests that Lovecraft may have passed over into something resembling satire. Indeed, the language is so extreme that it is difficult to accept it at face value as wholly serious. Some of his letters gathered into S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz’s Lord of a Visible World, however, suggest something more disturbing. In July 1925, he wrote of his attempt to have a July Fourth picnic with Sonia at Pelham Bay Park in Bronx. His letter to Lillian D. Clarke about this day trip turns into a racially charged rant about crowds made up of “flabby, pungent, grinning, chattering n______s. (Joshi and Schultz, Lord of a Visible World, 179). Moreover, the unhappiness of Lovecraft’s short marriage seems connected to the fact that the man married to a Jewish woman could write that, “the so-­called Jews of today are either Carthaginians or squat yellow Mongoloids from Central Asia . . . the mass of contemporary Jews are hopeless as far as America is concerned” (179). Despite pronouncements to the contrary by some of his defenders, Lovecraft’s racial paranoia did not mellow with age. In another letter collected by Joshi and Schultz, written in the 1930s following the

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triumph of fascism in Italy and Germany (and strong fascist parties in France, Great Britain, and even the United States), Lovecraft suggested that different racial stocks had developed along “separate lines of evolution” (325). About the harshest thing he had to say about Hitler in this context was that the German Fuehrer was an “unscientific extremist,” while elements of Nazi racial theory seemed “crude and ignorant.” He had far harsher words for “the anti-­Hitlerites” who he described as the “rabble-­catering equalitarian columnists of the Jew York [sic] papers” (325). Lovecraft linked his primal terrors of the witch cult with the racialized subhuman. This can be seen most clearly in “The Call of Cthulhu,” where “the wooded swamps south of New Orleans” gives refuge to “a dark cult . . . infinitely more diabolical than even the blackest of the African voodoo circles” and where Cthulhu is worshipped as an “elder devil” by “a singular tribe or cult of degenerate Esquimaux” (Lovecraft, Cthulhu, 147, 149). Not surprisingly, the research of Professor Angell, one of the original researchers into the “Cthulhu cult,” contains notes on both Frazer’s Golden Bough and “Miss Murray’s Witch-­Cult in Western Europe” (142). Lovecraft’s acceptance of Murray’s witch cult thesis, and his use of the thesis in his fiction, cannot be separated from his fascist tendencies and his sense that inferior races inclined naturally to specific forms of ritualistic savagery that needed, indeed demanded, suppression. Maurice Lévy reminds us that Lovecraft served as editor of a journal titled The Conservative that called for “pan-­Saxonism” and praised the Ku Klux Klan as “a noble . . . band of southerners who saved half the country from destruction” (27). This is the same author who wrote tales of misbegotten evil raised by savage cults. Accusing Lovecraft of fascist tendencies, I realize, constitutes what feels like a kind of stereotype of historicism—­the definitive thumbs-­ down historicists new and old have eagerly delivered to formalism’s sometimes reactionary aesthetic (one might call it “the Ezra Pound complex”). I want to be cautious about what Allen Dunn and Thomas F. Haddox have called a “third person discourse” that seems to show up in a great deal of historicist readings—­the assumptions, theoretical and ethical, that historicist critics seem to keep in their back pocket as they wade into a writer’s corpus (xi). The epitome of this would be, of course, the infamous right hook from Stephen Greenblatt in “Towards a Poetics of Culture” where he simply says “my own work has always been done


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with a sense of just having to go about and do it, without establishing first exactly what my theoretical position is” (1). And yet this essay seeks to make another point. I’m a historian, not a historicist. My approach is, of course, to show the material conditions (broadly conceived) that gave Lovecraft his witch fascination. But it also includes wondering why these conditions have been ignored by another historical phenomenon: the philosopher who seeks to transform Lovecraft into his guide and/or bumper sticker. Some of these theorists ignore the historical context of Lovecraft to such a degree that they miss a primary element in his fiction. Both text and context are obscured by a need to insert Lovecraft into worlds of discourse that held much less interest for him than, say, his personal fascination with an exploded historical position that depended on ideas premised on Western cultural imperialism and racism. The historian has to take note of a strand of writing that has not only subordinated the history of a writer and the material conditions of his writing, but indeed has lost track of a significant theme in the writer’s own work. This essay therefore is less historicist critique than a historian’s refusal to allow the material conditions that informed Lovecraft’s work to dissipate amid philosophical appropriations that ignore the author’s own interests and dismaying beliefs.

Witches, Racism, and Philosophers Lovecraft’s ideas about secret magical cults clearly dovetailed with certain elements of his worldview. The writer’s acceptance of the existence of an atavistic witch cult, his interest in various kinds of occult arcana, and his terror of racial difference helped make him a poor historian and a philosopher of questionable value, for all his talents as a writer of the fantastic. He ably created an aesthetic of darkness but his own inability to grasp his historical errors and free himself from his racialized conceptions of magic make him a less-­than-­useful guide for philosophical reflection. Lovecraft, it should be pointed out, certainly did hold to a personal philosophical position. He described himself as a thoroughgoing materialist who asserted in his letter to his Kleicomolo Circle (a kind of 1920s listerv of correspondents) that, “Space and time have always existed. This is the only legitimate axiom in all philosophy” (Joshi, Against Religion, 9). In this same 1916 letter, collected in Joshi’s Against Religion, he raised the possibility that human beings might be “an abnormal

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growth—­a disease in the system of nature” (9). The cosmic nature of his horror grew directly out of this particular element of his worldview. The Elder Ones might sweep human beings aside, stomp them into paste, or simply swallow them whole out of indifference rather than malice. We are, he wrote, “a trivial incident” and as important in the history of the universe as “the child’s snow-­man in the annals of terrestrial tribes and nations” (9). Lovecraft’s nihilism at times overpowered his ability to terrorize. For those of us who tend toward nihilism in our own philosophical musings, setting sail on the author’s black seas of infinity holds little fear. Indeed, his passing a sentence of damnation on the human race offers a feeling akin to delight, not unlike the pleasing sensation that accompanies the ending of Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods (2012) or watching the series Life after People (2008–­10, a series that did, apparently, prove too depressing for its audience after a couple of seasons). In essence, as Timo Airaksinen’s excellent book The Philosophy of Lovecraft argues, the author had a very narrow “spectrum of fear.” He did not do well, for example, at horrifying us with either moral guilt or physical pain, prime elements of the Gothic tradition and a set of concerns that obsessed Poe but that troubled Lovecraft almost not at all (145–­46). The fear incited by Lovecraft’s work does not, ultimately, belong to our fears of insignificance or some yawning abyss of nihilism—­and it is doubtful that these things held much terror for the author. His reading of both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer may have given him more of a feeling of glee rather than terror, the exhilaration that comes with the feeling that one is walking the tightrope of existence without a net, a feeling more bracing than gruesome. Lovecraft instead terrifies us with the possibility of conspiratorial magic, a term I use to suggest two things: first, that malign properties beyond our understanding are at work in the world and threaten the boundaries of human experience and, second, that these powerful forces can enter this world by the shattering of the parameters that guard the human being from chaos. On the second point, Lovecraft’s racism becomes especially apparent. He himself felt terrorized down to his Anglo-­Saxon toes by the untermensch, the subhuman. He transformed this into supernatural horror by imagining the subhuman acting in diabolical concert with the extrahuman, the cults of the Elder Gods opening doors to these dread dimensions so that these Beings could lay waste to the world. The aesthetic experience of terror Lovecraft managed to create draws


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on a deep well of fear that has more to do with the dreams in our evolutionary witch house than anything that we will admit to in our waking hours. When with the mad narrator of “The Rats in the Walls” we hear the “insidious scurrying; gently rising, rising as a stiff bloated corpse gently rises above an oily river,” then we are experiencing the same terror of life that Lovecraft experienced and wanted to show us through his tales of horror (Lovecraft, Cthulhu, 108). Such a powerful experience of terror, one that seems encoded in our DNA, does awaken certain philosophical questions—­and those that have followed these questions almost always feel the need to separate the wheat from the chaff in Lovecraft’s work and, of course, to distance themselves from his racial premises. Airaksinen, for example, finds in Lovecraft a useful companion for thinking through both the problems of linguistics and the indeterminacy of identity. Airaksinen makes far-­ reaching claims for the value of Lovecraft as a philosopher, concluding that he is “a sage and a magus worthy of our attention, study, and admiration” (229). Dealing with Lovecraft’s repulsive racial beliefs as evidenced through his massive epistolary corpus forces Airaksinen into some odd places. He argues that we should read the letters of Lovecraft, and the character who appears there, as the work of a “secondary author” who turned life itself into “a horror story, a corruption of reality” (54). Significantly, in an entire chapter that dwells on “The Festival,” Airaksinen never discusses how much the tale draws on Lovecraft’s fear of enduring witch cults even though he sees the author as someone who “longingly admires history” and transforms it into fiction (53–­54). And Airaksinen has a lot of company. As noted earlier, Lovecraft’s failings have not precluded efforts at finding a philosophical position in Lovecraft. A closer look at these efforts suggests that they are attempting to map out a Lovecraftian geography of meaning that ignores a vast dark forest at the very heart of his work. Some seem to ignore his own philosophical concerns and wave aside his racist muttering in order to recruit him for various philosophical positions. Thus, Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy uses Lovecraft without making him central to his argument. Thacker’s work, the first volume in a trilogy, takes a wide-­ranging approach to philosophical questions and the horror tradition. He certainly does not look at Lovecraft as anything resembling a “sage.” Lovecraft represents part of a veritable mountain of literature used by Thacker to explore what he calls “the

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occulted world” in which meaning, to our horror, remains hidden from human beings (52–­53). Another recent work using Lovecraft to think philosophically, Ben Woodard’s Slime Dynamics, reminds its readers that they are the product of “globs of swarming proto-­life within the primeval oceans” (1). While the idea that human life emerged from slime is far from novel, Woodard wants to examine the existential implications of the end of anthropocentrism, using horror as a guide. Lovecraft is important here but, like Thacker, Woodard’s short text roams freely over the horror genre, examining diverse expressions of the genre from the science fiction film District Nine (2009) to the work of author Thomas Ligotti (12). Woodard does closely examine Lovecraft’s disgust for life that appears in his work as an “assault on the senses” and notes that this aesthetic of horror “questions the purported necessity of a shape to life and intelligence” (38). He discusses Lovecraft’s absurd racial theories (while not situating them within a particular history) and acknowledges the contradictions of an alleged materialist and nihilist who “assumed that one form of civilization could save humanity from itself” (64). Graham Harman’s 2012 Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy has rightfully garnered the most attention for those interested in horror and philosophy. Harman helped found the philosophical school of object-­oriented ontology (known to acolytes as OOO). Although space demands an oversimplification of Harman’s detailed argument, OOO assumes the autonomous nature of the world of objects that surround us, challenging any effort to privilege human subjectivity in relation to the world of things. This is a self-­consciously post-­Kantian position undermining the idea that human perception should have epistemological priority over other possible realities. OOO falls under the umbrella of speculative realism, a school of thought that includes philosophers Quentin Meillassoux, Iain Hamilton Grant, and Raymond Brassier.5 Weird Realism not only seeks to connect Lovecraft to these ideas but also joins the chorus of those who want to defend Lovecraft from his detractors. Harman painstakingly shows, with little room for argument, that Edmund Wilson’s critiques are based on a shallow reading of the Providence author (see Wilson). The long middle section of Weird Realism takes one hundred passages from Lovecraft’s stories, places them in narrative context, and generally does a fine job of explaining why they are well written. Although the largest portion of the book defends Lovecraft against his erstwhile critics, this is, in fact, not Harman’s point


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at all. Harman believes that he has found in Lovecraft someone to be Hölderlin to his Heidegger. Lovecraft can be best understood, he tells us, as the “poet laureate of object-­oriented philosophy” (32). He seems little concerned with the fact that this makes Lovecraft’s own fairly clear philosophical premises fade into the background, while also making it difficult for the historian to place the author in the context without which he truly begins to feel like only a writer of particularly scary monster stories (33, 34). Harman’s term “weird realism” might actually define what Lovecraft is up to with his efforts at pushing the human mind out upon what he calls in “The Call of Cthulhu” the “black seas of infinity” (Cthulhu, 139). Lovecraft’s idea of “cosmic horror” dissolves representation into terror. His goal is not to explore the endless variety of “things” or to ponder their subjectivity in relation to human experiences, as do the practitioners of OOO. As many interpreters have noted, Lovecraft for the most part clearly adheres to a strict nihilism. This is not a phenomenological realism, but rather the feeling one gets out of learning how little the universe actually cares about your concerns. Lovecraft does privilege the subjectivity of his narrators, often so that he can drive them mad. Given Harman’s philosophical interests, perhaps he can be forgiven for ignoring Lovecraft’s fascination with the witch cult thesis. Recognizing this important point about Lovecraft’s worldview, however, highlights the weakness of Harman’s overall argument against the usefulness of historical materialism in understanding aesthetic phenomena, which leads Harman to some very different conclusions about Lovecraft and race than I am asserting in this essay. When historical contextualization is missing, the formalism Harman claims not to endorse (despite favorably quoting from Cleanth Brooks in his final chapters) comes in through the back door. Harman attacks materialism—­the scientific version of which delighted the man whose philosophical ideas Harman ostensibly examines—­as a philosophy that “belittles content . . . since it treats all content as derivative of a prior and deeper history” (254). Why it “belittles content” to see that content is derived from “a prior and deeper history” is left a mystery. Lovecraft certainly believed that his work drew on a deep well of historical meaning. He saw his own use of the idea of the witch cult as an aesthetic choice grounded in historical reality. The failings of Weird Realism can be summed up in the weight that Harman places on defending Lovecraft from what he calls “a dogmatic acquaintance of [Harman’s]” who derided the author’s work by suggesting Cthulhu was no dread horror since “a dragon with an octopus head is

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not scary” (24). Harman seems more than a little outraged at his acquaintance, noting that “the fact that the t-­shirts and fantasy paintings of the world depict Cthulhu straightforwardly as a dragon with an Octopus head is not Lovecraft’s fault” (24). In fact, Lovecraft had a great deal to do with it. He didn’t simply, as Harman suggests, vaguely describe a monstrosity that then launched a thousand ships full of fanboy merchandise. The author himself drew a sketch of Cthulhu that serves as the basis for all those “t-­shirts and fantasy paintings” (24). The material facts of Cthulhu are that the thing that rises from its ancient sleep does in fact look a bit like something part octopus and part dragon and has proved pretty compelling for all that. Cthulhu is much more than an amalgamation of monstrosity. Harman could have told this annoying person that Cthulhu has “a prior and deeper history.” The Thing that rises from the seas is no object shot into disconnected space, as Harman tends to believe all the objects in the world are. Lovecraft created this abomination at a time when a combination of ancient folklore and modern science increasingly made twentieth-­century people nervous over the boundaries of the human and the monsters. The rise of fascism owed some of its strength to the desire firmly to separate the iron will of the human from the shapeless mass of subhumanity. Lynching and segregation in the United States drew its strength from the same dark roots. Lovecraft, it is worth noting, supported segregation in the strongest of terms, believing it offered the only safeguard against a monstrous amalgamation of races. It comes as no surprise that his most richly imagined monster features the terrors of amalgamation or that the terror of the primitive remains darkly with us. The failure to take Lovecraft seriously when he writes of race and witch cults gives rise to problems that go beyond understanding the author’s basic worldview. Harman takes to task cultural historians who evaluate Heidegger’s thought on the basis of the philosopher’s deep and abiding affection for Adolph Hitler. Near the conclusion of Weird Realism, he accuses those who might underscore Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies of removing “autonomous content” from his philosophy (254). Given that Harman believes that experience can be parsed in this way (surgically amputated rather than parsed, really), his odd, brief, and wholly unnecessary aside about Heidegger in a book about Lovecraft makes sense (254). Of course, the recent release of Heidegger’s so-­called black notebooks makes it impossible for Harman to continue to hold such a view (see Oltermann). It seems now that there was no “autonomous content” to the philosopher’s work that did not intertwine with


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a brutal, unrelenting, and philosophically argued anti-­Semitism. But, even before the release of this material, how could we possibly separate Heidegger’s philosophy from the man who wore the Brown Shirt to his professorial office hours and scrupulously paid his dues to the Nazi Party through April 1945?6 Nor can we ignore the social and cultural matrix that leads the brilliant Lovecraft to write of and to embed a virulent strain of racism and related historical errors into the greatest of his stories. We cannot deny Lovecraft his witches and still read the text on it own terms. The history of race, exoticism, Western notions of superiority and the lights going out all over Europe formed not only Lovecraft’s historical moment, but also crowd his texts like sorcerers at their sabbat.

Nihilism and Hunger for the Fantastic What has Lovecraft wrought through his work? What did his explorations in the fantastic give to us? Maurice Lévy, in one of the most sensible studies of the author’s work ever published, describes how the work of Lovecraft “responded to a need for mystery and horror. It partly filled the void that his agnosticism and despair had carved in him” (34). If there is a phenomenology lurking in Lovecraft, it is a phenomenology of this despair. If his work represents a human subjectivity that yields to the subjectivity of other things, it is with the sense of loss and abandonment that owes more to Nietzsche than poststructuralism. We love his work because, like him, “we cannot become truly interested in anything that does not suggest incredible marvels just around the corner.” Perhaps also like him we feel that “the world and all its inhabitants impress me [us] as insignificant” and thus we “crave intimations of larger and subtler symmetries” (qtd. in Lévy, 34). Lovecraft’s historical mistakes helped him to body forth his own creeping terrors of race, particularly the terror of amalgamation and primitivism. We don’t have to share these terrors to admire his aesthetic of the fantastic and find in them an almost perfect expression of Žižek’s “Big Other” that stalks the ruins of the historicist/modernist debate. Of course, we also don’t have to look to him as a sage and a guide or a fictional imprimatur for a philosophical system that would have held little interest for the author himself. His nihilism, his own personal dreams in the witch house, gives us plenty to chew on. Or perhaps plenty of Things that will chew on us.

lovecr aft, witch cults, and philosophers 229 Notes

1. For the classical statement on Lovecraft’s alleged break with gothic horror and turn toward “speculative fiction,” see Leiber. Leiber believes that Lovecraft founded his horror in the possibilities of hyperspace, interdimensional travels and multiple layers of reality rather than traditional gothic conventions. 2. As I will develop more fully, increasingly interpreters present H. P. Lovecraft to us as everything from an apostle of nihilism to a voice to add to the chorus of the new atheism to “the poet laureate of object oriented philosophy” (Harman, Weird Realism, 32). 3. This neglect ironically helped her theories take deeper root in the popular consciousness. In the 1950s, her ideas played a role in the birth of neo-­paganism. Gerald Gardner, one of the preeminent figures in the formation of the modern Wiccan movement, borrowed her ideas wholesale. Murray approved of certain elements of this movement, writing a preface for one of Gardner’s books. She herself denied being an active member of the Wiccan revival (Barry and Davies, 72). The study of European witch panics changed dramatically in the 1960s with the birth of a scholarship grounded in the meticulous study of archival materials and trial records. But by then it was a bit too late. Elements of Murray’s problematic scholarship seized the imagination of the public, gelling as it did with a general fascination with the Salem Witch trials and widespread lack of comprehension about the nature of the broader European witch panic. 4. A number of other tales deal with the idea of malign cults, sometimes imagined as interlinked with kinship networks. These include the 1927 short novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the 1928 “The Dunwich Horror,” and the 1931 The Shadow over Innsmouth. 5. The place to begin learning more about OOO is Harman’s Guerrilla Metaphysics. 6. Published in March of 2014 (after several drafts of this piece that dealt with Harman’s aside on Heidegger already existed), “the black notebooks” are a series of the philosopher’s private journals that provide a deeply personal understanding of his work. A series of reflections beginning early in World War II are the most controversial as they link his ideas about the dangers of modernity to weldjudentum (“world Judaism”). A March 12, 2014, article in The Guardian notes that some Heidegger scholars actually attempted to prevent their publication and quotes an unnamed German scholar as calling the notebooks “a debacle for modern continental philosophy” (Oltermann).

Works Cited Airaksinen, Timo. The Philosophy of Lovecraft: The Route to Horror. New York: Peter Lang, 1999. Barry, Jonathan, and Owen Davies, eds. Witchcraft Historiography. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007. Callaghan, Gavin. H. P. Lovecraft’s Dark Acadia. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland Press, 2013.


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Dunn, Allen, and Thomas F. Haddox. “The Enigma of Critical Difference; or, Why Historicists Need Convictions.” In The Limits of Literary Historicism, ed. Allen Dunn and Thomas F. Haddox, xi–­xxv. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2011. Gaskill, Malcolm. Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Greenblatt, Stephen. “Towards a Poetics of Culture.” In The New Historicism, ed. H. Aram Veeser, 1–­14. New York: Routledge, 1989. Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things. Chicago: Open Court, 2005. ———. Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy. Winchester, U.K.: Zero Books, 2012. Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. 1820; repr., West Yorkshire, U.K.: Watermill Press, 1980. Joshi, S. T., ed. Against Religion: The Atheist Writings of H. P. Lovecraft. New York: Sporting Gentlemen, 2010. Joshi, S. T., and David E. Schultz, eds. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000. ———, eds. O Fortunate Floridian: H. P. Lovecraft’s Letters to R. H. Barlow. Tampa, Fla.: University of Tampa Press, 2007. Joshi, S. T., David E. Schultz, and Rusty Burke, eds. A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard: 1930–­1932. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2009. Leiber, Fritz. “‘Through Hyperspace with Brown Jenkin’: Lovecraft’s Contribution to Speculative Fiction.” In Lovecraft Remembered, ed. Peter Cannon, 472–­ 83. Sauk City, Wisc.: Arkham House, 1998. Lévy, Maurice. Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic. Trans. S. T. Joshi. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1988. Lovecraft, H. P. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories. New York: Penguin, 1999. ———. Selected Letters, 1911–­1937. Eds. August Derleth, Donald Wandrei, and James Turner. 5 Vols. Sauk City, Wisc.: Arkham House, 1965–­1976. Murray, Margaret Alice. The Witch-­Cult in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971. Oltermann, Phillip. “Heidegger’s ‘Black Notebooks’ Reveal Anti-­Semitism at Core of His Philosophy.” The Guardian. March 12, 2014. /books/2014/mar/13/martin-heidegger-black-notebooks-reveal-nazi-ideology -antisemitism. Thacker, Eugene. In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy Vol. 1. Winchester, U.K.: Zero Books, 2011. Wilson, Edmund. “Tales of the Marvellous and Ridiculous.” In Literary Essays of the 1930s and 1940s, 700–­702. New York: Library of America, 2007. Woodard, Ben. Slime Dynamics. Winchester, U.K.: Zero Books, 2012.

ꙮ AFTERWORD Interview with China Miéville Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock March 23, 2014 jeffrey andrew weinstock: We’d like to ask you questions clustering around your own personal relationship with the writings of Lovecraft, the “New Weird,” Lovecraft in contemporary popular culture, and academic appropriations of Lovecraft. To begin, who is Lovecraft for you and how did you come to his writing? china miéville: I suspect that like a reasonable number of people my age and people who are in “geek culture,” I came to him via role-­playing games. It was through The Call of Cthulhu, so I was one of those people who got it the wrong-­way round. If you were someone who played RPGs, you were supposed to play Call of Cthulhu because you loved Lovecraft, but actually I think a substantial proportion of us were essentially voracious for any RPGs and so played Call of Cthulhu having no real notion of the Mythos and then went back to the reading list that was in the beginning of the game. I came to him actually slightly later than many of my pantheon. Many would have started reading him as kids at ten or roundabout. I was a bit later—­in my teens. jaw: Do you think that having first encountered Lovecraft in a gaming context inflected your understanding of his texts? cm: Possibly. I have always felt that there are two poles in Lovecraft—­ the numinous, the “Real,” the sublime, which is completely beyond representation; and a countervailing tendency, which is the tendency toward surplus specificity, a kind of incredibly nerdy itemization of exact specificity. It is not always true that images in Lovecraft are never described. Actually, there are many cases—­most obviously in Mountains



Interview with China Miéville

of Madness—­where they are described with absolutely minute Linnaean precision, but they culminate in a kind of excess of exactitude that itself adds up to something beyond representation. I think this to a certain extent dovetails with the gaming—­or at least I should say with the gaming paradigm that I was playing nearly thirty years ago—­which was toward a kind of statistical driven exactitude. I think the approach to Lovecraft that only stresses the “beyond representation” sometimes misses the kind of nerdy categorizing—­almost Pokémon-­like—­specificity of impossible physical form. One of the ways that I first encountered Lovecraft was through reading these extraordinary monsters that are very specifically itemized. Obviously, one can debate exactly what a Byakhee looks like or how tall is a Gug, but actually they are described—­in a way that is simultaneously faithful to the impossibility of representation and also neurotically like a naturalist’s exactitude of representation. So possibly the stressing of that other tendency comes out of having encountered him in a kind of heroically point-­ missing paradigm. jaw: I was thinking in terms of the interactive aspect of gaming. It’s an unusual kind of scenario to take an author’s text and transform it into an experience in which one co-­participates in developing the narrative. Do you think that this aspect of your introduction to Lovecraft shaped your relationship with or appreciation of him? cm: I don’t think so, because the interactive element was the aspect that interested me by far the least. I was much more interested in totalizing systems. There is something about that kind of totality that interests me much more than the interactivity. I think that’s why I fairly swiftly stopped being interested in playing or running such games. I’m also kind of skeptical about interactive fictions. Any text is already interactive—­reading is not a passive activity. And given how much of Lovecraft’s oeuvre is essentially nihilistic, if one is going to be really faithful to an interactive Lovecraft, then the bulk of what your characters are going to be doing is running away, going mad, or dying. Some people do play campaigns that way. But I’m not quite sure for me in terms of the point of Lovecraft what one particularly gains through interactivity. jaw: Thinking in terms of Lovecraft and the visual, my early experiences

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with Lovecraft were filtered through the Michael Whelan covers on the Del Rey editions. cm: Yes, they were hugely influential on a whole generation. Yes, I agree. And for me it was also the illustrations of the creatures within the bestiaries sections of the games. It is interesting because when you see Lovecraft’s own representation of, for example, the Cthulhu statue, it’s rubbish, it’s terrible, it’s very small-­scale, banal—­underwhelming, I suppose is the term. jaw: Do you feel yourself as writing in a Lovecraftian vein? Are you content to be considered a part of the “new Lovecraft circle”? cm: Honestly, I’m neither content nor discontent. It doesn’t concern me. Lovecraft obviously looms very large for me, as for other authors, and I’m perfectly happy with that and certainly at times I write things that are deliberately inspired by him or homages or references or so on. I think there are plenty of Lovecraftian writers. But the question of writing in a Lovecraftian vein: It sort of begs too many questions for me to answer. I would have to know on what level and in what way, and I also feel that there is a danger here. We have to specify our terms or we end up not saying anything very useful. So if you mean by writing in a Lovecraftian vein having lots of interesting monsters, then I hope so. But if we are talking about getting at the kind of bleak fracturing of high modernity through the inadequacy of language to representation, then you could make the case that someone like George Eliot or Gertrude Stein is writing in a Lovecraftian vein. I guess in terms of my own self, I would throw up my hands and say, sure, if that’s helpful, but it is not something that detains me. I think it would be interesting to try to narrow down exactly what you mean, because I worry sometimes that Lovecraft is easily kind of parody-­able and becomes narrowed in terms of what makes the work interesting. jaw: Your reference to the inadequacy of language prompted me to think of your work Embassytown, which is not one that I had previously considered particularly Lovecraftian. cm: Yes, to me Lovecraft is one example of a whole tradition of ecstatic writing, which is predicated on the simultaneous striving for and


Interview with China Miéville

inevitable failure of the representation of the unrepresentable through language. To that extent, Lovecraft is writing in a vein like a number of the ecstatic religious poets of the Middle Ages and later. I see Lovecraft as being a kind of version of Julian of Norwich or some of the more visionary aspects of Anglo-­Saxon writing, up through the visionary dissident poets—­people like Francis Thompson. I would say that Lovecraft is one interesting pulp modernist exemplar of that tradition, but one who to a certain extent inverts what we might think of as its traditional value hierarchy in terms of the sublime being something toward which one’s prayers are reaching—­as opposed to the sublime being the terrible. (Not that the former tradition doesn’t contain the latter, of course.) jaw: The attempt to recuperate Lovecraft as part of a larger tradition seems to jar with the idea of the Lovecraft event. Is this a kind of revolutionary antihumanist sublime? cm: Ben Noys at one point refers to the “Lovecraft Event,” and I think that’s a very useful category to think about some writers and artists who embody and crystallize certain shifts in aesthetics and representations. Lovecraft is one of those epochally important artists. We all have our favorites and we all have people we think are underrated, but I’m talking about people who have had paradigmatically shifting impact on the field. The question of why—­why then, why now—­is obviously a different question. There is something about that kind of concatenation of events and moments . . . Lovecraft arrived when it was Lovecraft time. I do tend to feel that history throws up the figures it needs. It’s a fairly trite Adorno point of people being funnels for the social moment and that what constitutes an important or power artist is someone who is most open and receptive to those moments. There is something about Lovecraft that made him fantastically open and an extremely efficient funnel—­a distiller of a wide variety of social forces and concerns of that particular moment. Any cultural figure exists both at the moment of their productivity as well as at the time of their reception. And they get received differently. If you think about people like Arcimboldo or Bosch and their rediscovery at the hands of the surrealists, that changes what they were. And so for Lovecraft. There is the Lovecraft event in terms of the moment at which he was writing and then the Lovecraft Event in

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relation to a contemporary moment ready to receive it in a particular way. As with any cultural moment, it is a question both of break and continuity and, as I say, I would locate him in a kind of visionary and ecstatic tradition. The break for me crystallizes during the First World War. It was not caused by it, but the war acted as a kind of fulcrum point in which a kind of faith in gradual progressive amelioration and improvement of the world through the management of modernity became shattered and the chaos and blood and brutality of modernity and capitalism became undeniable. That’s why I also locate Lovecraft within the modernist tradition. The shattering of the representation of the First World War was a kind of terrible, terrible sublime. That’s the moment of which I think he is an expression—­and I would argue probably the most pure and vivid expression of that moment at which the nostrums of a kind of late Victorian bourgeois culture become unsustainable. I mean they were always unsustainable, but more vividly so. jaw: Back to the idea of Lovecraft time. Time in Lovecraft seems to be a complicated subject. On the one hand, you have Lovecraft himself living within his historical context but feeling himself not to be a part of his particular moment in his nostalgic reflection back to the eighteenth-­ century gentleman. Then within the fiction itself you have the development of this deep time, this epochal time that seems to be in some ways part of the way that Lovecraft diminishes human endeavor. How do these get reconciled or do they within his fiction? This will speak later to his retrograde views. cm: I don’t think they do get reconciled. Part of what makes his texts powerful is precisely this kind of inability/refusal to square those different elements of time. And to him, this is a cause of immense anguish—­a libidinally invested anguish. If you think about the end of “Innsmouth” when the protagonist is beginning to change and is aware of the change, all of a sudden the horror of slipping under the waves and becoming a different kind of creature that experiences all these things including time differently becomes kind of lovingly, even erotically, described. So there is clearly a draw toward the kind of collapse into deep time as well as a horror of it—­and obviously you can see that this is partly a reflection of the kind of new cosmology and scientific advances. When I talk about cultural anxieties of modernity, I don’t want to understate


Interview with China Miéville

the fact of changing Darwinian theory, changing theories of cosmology and the universe, and so on. If you look at the writing of William Hope Hodgson and many of the other writers of weird fiction, that sense of deep time is present there as well and this is partly the context in which they are writing. That doesn’t answer the question of why does it impact the text in the way it does, the effect of it. Essentially, you can see a lot of Lovecraft’s writing as the impossibility of being a human in deep time. To that extent, you could make some comparisons with J. G. Ballard. Ballard is also obsessed with deep time; however, his individual human relationships to it are more flat and less anguished. There is no reconciliation in Lovecraft and that is part of what makes him interesting—­there is no humanist happy ending in terms of that conceptual reconciliation. jaw: Do you think that helps explain why he is so central to the New Weird? Is it the conception of deep time? What is it about Lovecraft that the New Weird seems to gravitate around the most? Why is he such a central foundational figure? cm: Why do particular artists get found at particular times and other ones don’t? It isn’t merely a question of quality. There are plenty of better writers who don’t get picked up and who deserve to become epochal figures. I would say that it probably is overdetermined, the overlapping of many different things. I would say that it is partly a generational shift—­all of a sudden, people about my age who were of the right age to encounter Lovecraft in cheap paperbacks, the first stirrings of a mass pulp style dissemination—­in the same way that the hippies did that with Tolkien, even though Tolkien had obviously been published decades earlier, but there was something about the reception of Tolkien at that particular political and generational moment, young people interested in certain things. There is a wave of writers who have been interested in talking about Lovecraft, and they have reached a certain level of cultural prominence. These things become self-­feeding. But that’s not to duck the big question. It is much more a question about cultural moment. The short answer is that I don’t really know. I can hypothesize that there is something about the relative bleakness of the past few years, something about a particular kind of interest in a sense of the impossibility of human agency, and there is also another element, which is aesthetics. I think the

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culture industry has started to work out how to monetize his aesthetics, which means that this also becomes a very powerful motor for the dissemination of these images. So one sees more and more tentacular monsters in film and so forth. At the level of cultural production, some of this is about geeks in their mid-­thirties and forties who all of a sudden find ourselves in positions in which we can culturally disseminate things, whether it is in the field of philosophy or literature or whatever. I think that’s why this particular piece of our mental furniture is so fecund right now. I also suspect it has something to do with the collapse of certainties. I think it dates back to the turn of the millennium in terms of the first stirrings of a kind of collapse of a particular political economic consensus, one which was exaggerated even more about five years ago. This is a bit negative because there is a danger of a kind of functionalism whereby one says you know this particular piece of culture is really big at the moment, let’s work out why and work out a kind of hermetic bolted-­on set of instrumental reasons. One can always ret-­con a theory as to why something has become important—­and I’m not opposed to that to a certain extent. There is clearly a particular reason that Lovecraft has suddenly become a Penguin Classic, American Library, and so on. But I would also say that there is a surplus, so that we can explain only so much and then there is an excess, a kind of accursed share at the end, a black box that is very difficult to open. jaw: Connected to the idea of riding the zeitgeist, is there a way in which weird fiction can move center stage? Can weird fiction be both weird and mainstream? cm: I’m suspicious . . . but I don’t want to seem too precious about weird fiction. If you think about someone like August Derleth, the way he took the kind of fairly unremittingly nihilist Mythos and started to repitch it in a slightly more Manichaean form. It becomes more of a kind of eldritch Star Wars in some ways. You could see that process, to put it harshly, as a kind of domestication, banalization. Clearly, that existed from the start to some extent. I do think that it is fairly inevitable that the more culturally prominent these traditions become, the more powerful will be those banalizing and domesticating elements within them. We’ve had plushy Cthulhus for years. They are going to become more and more prominent and maybe we’re going to see more and more movies


Interview with China Miéville

in which plucky teenagers banish Elder Gods. I don’t want to be precious about it. I don’t relish that because part of what I like about this cultural stuff is precisely its occasionally rather camp unremitting beetle-­ browed nihilist stuff. Although I wouldn’t say it is all nihilist—­one of the reasons I like Hodgson so much is that I think he actually struggled much more with the nihilism, and he is one of my favorites in this field. So, no. I think to be honest, this is not to do with the uniquely precious nature of weird fiction. I think it has to do with what the culture industry does and what it always does—­it has done it with surrealism, with hip-­hop culture. All these things which had a genuine sense of alterity and distinction and in some cases a certain kind of countercultural edge become blunted and banalized and the next thing you know you have a mildly reconfigured NWA song selling breakfast cereal. Similarly, you’re going to get Azathoth chocolate bars. I don’t relish this, but this is what happens. It happens to every interesting cultural movement. We can already see it happening now, and the best that one can hope is that some of the more interesting elements will also be pushed forward and you’ll end up with a few interesting pieces of culture out of this as well. These things all have their moment. At the moment we’re having a very big weird fiction, Lovecrafty moment—­it’s having a big blip and that’s great. Those of us who love it should enjoy the good aspects of that and decry the banalizing aspects of it, but it will pass. We will still be able to go back to those texts and something else will become what people are interested in. jaw: The Azathoth chocolate bar: “Taste the Chaos”! cm: [laughs] The thing is that this has happened so many times. And there is always this kind of hipster/geek thing that “I loved this culture and they ruin it.” And I’m not saying it’s not true, I’m just saying that acting scandalized and surprised that this happens seems unconvincingly disingenuous at this point in history. And many of us are complicit in a lot of this. Those of us who love this stuff because we have such a voracious appetite for it, we will reward with our money the very things that are undermining what we like about it in the first place. We become part of ruining what we love. So absolutely there is this part of me that has loved this stuff for years and is a bit sad that it is becoming so trendy, but that’s a very everyday feeling and not the most noble one, so I think that one just has to try to respond with dignity to it.

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That doesn’t preclude talking seriously about what makes it interesting at a certain time. Surrealist aesthetics for example have become profoundly banalized in mass culture, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t write really interestingly on and learn from and still be moved by and affected by the genuinely astonishing, aesthetically powerful, radical—­ literally, politically, and aesthetically—­movement of high surrealism. That’s about historicizing it and that will always be there, and we can always talk about what this stuff was doing at its high point, as well as trying to do our best to do interesting things with it. And even if the interesting part of whatever happens is a minority, it will still be there. It will never be as if that particular vein will be bled dry—­that’s not how culture works. jaw: Perhaps even more surprising than the pop culture prominence of Lovecraft is his current place within academia—­most notably within the object-­oriented ontology. To what extent do you feel that Lovecraft can be abstracted from his historical moment to serve as standard bearer for posthumanist possibility? cm: There’s nothing wrong or ignoble or surprising about philosophers and theorists taking works of art as provocations to new heuristics. You can think of lots of classic works of philosophy in which someone will read a poem or look at a picture or famous painting and use it as a peg on which to spin out often a very interesting and provocative and possibly even correct set of theories. So to the extent that what’s happening is that these writers are finding in Lovecraft et al. something that provokes a kind of thought, that’s not just fine, that’s common. That’s what philosophers have always done. I get much more concerned with the idea of treating Lovecraft as a philosopher. That I think makes me a little nervous. You talk about him as a standard bearer. I kind of don’t even know how that would work. If anything, it seems to me the line of causality is possibly reversed so that when I read some of this recent philosophical work, it seems to me—­and I enjoy reading it—­I end up reading it more itself as a species of poetry or indeed weird fiction than accepting its truth claims. And I think there is a difference between using aesthetic bits and pieces to provoke thought and theory, as opposed to kind of aestheticizing theory in that way. Do I think that Lovecraft allows us unique new prisms through which we can reconfigure materialism for the twenty-­first century and dispense with


Interview with China Miéville

and move beyond the kind of paltry notion of the human agent and so on? I’m very suspicious of that. I am very suspicious of the truth claims of much of object-­oriented ontology from a kind of respectfully interested Marxist position. I buy a lot of the correlationalist critique, I’m totally interested in the kind of nihilistic materialism of someone like Ray Brassier, so I’m not saying there is no there there. What I am saying is that this particular, often deeply politically etiolated posthumanism seems to me theoretically unconvincing. I speak from a kind of respectful suspicion about that. I am not an object-­oriented ontologist. Nor am I a trained philosopher. My hesitation isn’t merely a question of saying that you can’t derive any politics from this and being a kind of toy-­town leftist in that fashion; it is about saying specifically that the philosophical truth claims made here seem to me to be myopic in some cases or simply unconvincing. This is something that I think is now common in theory in general, which is “as so-­and-­so tells us,” “as we learn from such-­and-­such,” and then the replication of a statement from a particular favorite text without, for me, sufficient critical breakdown of how one can derive a persuasive truth value from it. If, as seems to me to be happening sometimes, there is a kind of excitement in the totalizing aesthetic of Lovecraft—­and that I totally share—­and if we go from that to “as we can see from Lovecraft,” I’m suspicious of that. And while I do enjoy reading this stuff, as I say I read it more like a piece of Lovecraftian fiction written in the guise of an essay—­often very beautifully written, very poetic, very interesting, and provoking interesting thought—­in the same way as if I read Deleuze and Guattari, I get most out of it if I read it as a poem. jaw: To what extent is it problematic to take a guy who had such regrettable views on race and religion and to elevate him as some kind of forward-­thinking posthumanist? cm: There is a danger to it. We want to have our cake and eat it because there are plenty of artists we admire who have terrible political views. And there is no necessary contradiction between admiring their work and decrying the politics that went into the work. But you have to be very rigorous about it. To the extent that you have a paradigm predicated on certainly particular posthumanisms tout court, the notion of a subject position of humanity becomes uninterestingly epiphenomenal,

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and then there’s a real danger that the kind of racism, while regrettable, becomes . . . you are not really talking about hierarchies between subjects anyway, you are talking about collapsing that whole paradigm and focusing on bleak deep time and so on, so if that’s your approach, it could become something that you don’t feel you necessarily have to engage with full on. Whereas I think what’s important about Lovecraft, and this is now an absolute standard after the work of people like Houellebecq and so on, is that there is nothing epiphenomenal about racism in Lovecraft. As Houellebecq says, it is race hatred that raises in him the poetic trance. And I think that’s exactly right. Which means that all those things that one’s talking about—­all that kind of deep time, all that kind of deep novum, all that ecstatic collapse of the subject position—­is predicated on master-­race ideology, race hatred. So, in other words, the antihumanism one finds so bracing in him is an antihumanism predicated on murderous race hatred. And this is why you don’t get to escape it by saying “well, we’re not really talking about humans.” I don’t think the racism can be divorced from the writing at all, nor should it be. What one can try to do in the case of Lovecraft—­and in the case of many other writers, the case of Conrad, the case of Céline, and plenty of other writers of toxic opinions—­is to try to metabolize it and understand and even appreciate the power of the text. You can only do so by unflinchingly taking on the extent to which that power is predicated on something which is brutal and oppressive. I don’t even want to call it a pathology of modernity, because actually modernity is constructed on these things. This work is spun from utterly toxic aspects of modernity and therefore it may illuminate them in certain powerful ways, and maybe give you a sense of the kind of imbrication of these kinds of toxic ideologies with the nature of everyday life. One of the things I find powerful in Lovecraft is the way he can never forget this. And it seems to me to be the best way to get on with the fact that one finds Lovecraft’s texts very powerful is to unflinchingly and unblinkingly take on the extent to which what you are receiving is race hatred in poetic form. And you have to not just diagnose but excoriatingly attack that hatred, while acknowledging that it has some kind of diagnostic use-­value and ecstatic power as a piece of cultural bumph. I’m always comparing it with Heart of Darkness because somebody I admire once talked about Heart of Darkness as a great piece of work despite Conrad’s racism. I was thinking that the difficulty is that it is an


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amazing piece of work because of it. And I think that the shift from the despite to the because is a key thing in thinking about this. This is a very problematic area. I don’t just mean that we have to “acknowledge” that he was racist. Acknowledgment is absolutely not enough, and I think that there can be a sense in which we “acknowledge” that he had regrettable opinions and therefore we’re inoculated and then, that done, we get to kind of geekishly enthuse about how cool these monsters are. No, that’s not okay. And particularly because a lot of modern aspects of geek culture are saturated in certain of these aesthetics. My own feeling is that if you take stock of your own cultural sphere and cultural production and at a certain point, if a critical mass of them are saturated with fascist aesthetics, then something is going on. I think this sometimes about the number of theorists—­many of whom are also Lovecraft fans—­who are really into black metal, for example—­and this is an easy one for me because black metal is not my thing—­but there can be a kind of “Obviously I’m not agreeing with the Norwegian Nazi black metal bands, but the music does a certain thing I will now discuss.” But you know what: if your favorite books and your favorite music and many of your favorite films and this and this are all saturated with fascist aesthetics, maybe something is going on here. Maybe we need to reintroduce a kind of not merely diagnosis, but judgment. Maybe one has to turn around and be able to say that this is a very powerful piece of work, but it is not okay. I don’t know, but I’m open to this. Certainly, in the immediate future what I would say is that the kind of unflinching metabolization of Lovecraft in terms of his attitudes toward race and so on can only be done on the basis that one does not explain it away; one does not simply “acknowledge” it and think it done. One has to see it as much more constitutive of his oeuvre than that. jaw: You’re working on a study of Lovecraft yourself. Where is that headed? cm: It’s slow, very slow. I gave a load of lectures for about three years running on various weird fiction writers, and I’ve been wanting to turn it into a book and I intend to. I suspect I may have missed the cultural moment by the time it is done, but it is something I would like to do. So I’m taking these discussion and lectures and trying to flesh them out a bit. So it would obviously be along the lines of the stuff we’re talking

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about and along the lines of the stuff I’ve published like the introduction to weird fiction in the Routledge [Companion to Science Fiction] book, so it would be about the sublime, politics, humanism, and it would very much for me be about weird fiction as ecstatic fiction. That’s part of my goal.


Ramsey Campbell is an English horror fiction author, editor, and critic who has been writing for more than fifty years. He has published thirty-­six novels and eighteen collections of short stories. One of the most celebrated authors in the genre, among his many awards are twelve British Fantasy Awards, four World Fantasy Awards, and three Bram Stoker Awards. He has received the Living Legend Award from the International Horror Guild, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association, a Grand Master Award from the World Horror Convention, the Howie Award from the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival for lifetime achievement, and most recently the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. Jessica George received her PhD from Cardiff University. Her research has focused on Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and evolutionary theory, and she has previously published on Machen’s Little People stories. She is a writer as well as a student of weird fiction, most recently contributing to the Hic Dragones anthology Impossible Spaces. Brian Johnson is associate professor and graduate chair of English at Carleton University, where he teaches theory, genre fiction, and Canadian literature. Recent publications include essays on serial killing in Canadian crime fiction, the pedagogy of horror, and libidinal ecology in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. James Kneale is a cultural and historical geographer at University College London interested in literary geographies, particularly those of fantastic fiction. The coeditor (with Rob Kitchin) of Lost in Space: Geographies of Science Fiction, he has also published on H. P. Lovecraft, William Gibson, and others. He also researches historical geographies of drink and temperance. Patricia MacCormack is professor of continental philosophy at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. She has published extensively on


246 Contributors feminism, philosophy, Lovecraft, Italian horror film, perversion, queer theory, animal rights, and teratology. She is coeditor of Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Cinema, editor of The Animal Catalyst: Toward Ahuman Theory, and author of Cinesexuality and Posthuman Ethics. Jed Mayer is associate professor of Victorian literature at SUNY–­New Paltz. He has published essays in Victorian Studies, Victorian Poetry, and The Journal of Pre-­Raphaelite Studies, as well as in the anthologies Considering Animals and Animal Agencies. His book manuscript Scientific Dominion: Experimenting with the Victorian Animal explores the broader cultural impact of the scientific study of animals during the Victorian period. China Miéville is author of several novels, including The City & the City and Embassytown. His nonfiction includes London’s Overthrow and Between Equal Rights, a study of international law. He is associate professor of creative writing at Warwick University. He has won the Hugo, World Fantasy, British Science Fiction, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. W. Scott Poole authored the award-­winning Monsters in America and, more recently, Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror. He is professor of history at the College of Charleston. David Punter is professor of English at the University of Bristol. He is the author of numerous books, essays, and articles on the Gothic, romanticism, and literary theory. Among his best-­known works are The Literature of Terror; The Hidden Script: Writing and the Unconscious; The Romantic Unconscious: A Study in Narcissism and Patriarchy; Gothic Pathologies: The Text, the Body, and the Law; Postcolonial Imaginings: Fictions of a New World Order; and Rapture: Literature, Addiction, Secrecy. His latest critical book is The Literature of Pity. He has also written five collections of poetry and several short stories. Carl H. Sederholm is associate professor of humanities at Brigham Young University and specializes in American literature, including Gothic and horror literature and film. He is coeditor of Adapting Poe: Re-­Imaginings in Popular Culture and coauthor of Poe, the “House of Usher,” and the American Gothic. He has also published articles on H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Jonathan Edwards, Lydia Maria Child, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

contributors 247

David Simmons is senior lecturer in English and screen studies at Northampton University. He has published extensively on twentieth-­ century American literature and culture. He is the author of The Anti-­ Hero in the American Novel: From Heller to Vonnegut and editor of New Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut and New Critical Essays on H. P. Lovecraft. Isabella van Elferen is professor of music and director of research for the School of Performance and Screen Studies at Kingston University London. She publishes on music philosophy; film, TV, and video game music; Gothic theory and culture; and baroque sacred music. She is the author of Gothic Music: The Sounds of the Uncanny (winner of the Alan Lloyd Smith prize for best book in Gothic criticism), Mystical Love in the German Baroque: Theology—­Poetry—­Music, and the editor of Nostalgia or Perversion? Gothic Rewriting from the Eighteenth Century until the Present Day. Her new book Goth Music: From Sound to Subculture is cowritten with Jeffrey Weinstock. She is division head of visual and performance arts and audiences for the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts, editor for The Soundtrack, and a member of the advisory board of Horror Studies. Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock is professor of English at Central Michigan University. He is the author or editor of nineteen books, including The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters; The Works of Tim Burton: Margins to Mainstream; The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema; and Charles Brockden Brown. He is coauthor of a study of goth music and subculture with Isabella van Elferen and has coedited with Catherine Spooner a collection of essays on Twin Peaks.


Aeon (band), 17 Airaksinen, Timo, 223–24 Alaimo, Stacy, 69 Alien (film), 17, 21, 98, 100, 108–10, 114n2 Almond, Steve, 34 Anderson, Brad, 66 Angarola, Anthony, 15 Apophenia, 184–85, 187, 193, 196–97 Arkham Asylum (video game), 2, 66 Baird, Edwin, 155 Baker, Jacqueline, 28 Baker Street Irregulars, 177 Ballard, J. G., 236 Barlow, R. H., 137, 146 Barnett, David, 2 Barron, Laird, x Barthes, Roland, 82, 83, 175, 176, 178 Baudrillard, Jean, 110 Bealer, Tracy, 124 Bec, Louis, 130 Becker, Ernest, 140 Beckett, Samuel, 194 Benjamin, Walter, 192 Bennett, Jane, 6, 30, 63–64, 66, 69–71, 76, 101, 106–7, 111, 113, 167 Berman, Marshall, 45 Blackwood, Algernon, 10, 159

Blake, William, 196 Bloch, Robert, x, 1, 11, 16, 149–50, 152–53; “The Dark Demon,” 149–50; “The Shambler from the Stars,” 149–50, 152; Strange Eons, 163n2 Bloom, Clive, 158 Bogost, Ian, 5–6, 30–31, 63, 70–71, 76 Borges, Jorge Luis, x, 117 Botting, Fred, 65 Bourke, Joanna, 171 Braidotti, Rosi, 6, 36 Branney, Sean, x Braque, Georges, 48 Brassier, Raymond, 6, 225, 240 Brite, Poppy Z., x Brooks, Cleanth, 226 Brown, Bruce, 153, 161, 162 Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series), 21 Burleson, Donald R., 99, 134, 145 Bynam, Laura, 69 Byrne, Adam, 160 Cabin in the Woods (film), 21, 175, 223 Callaghan, Gavin, 4, 133, 139, 218 Call of Cthulhu, The (film), 20 Call of Cthulhu (role-playing game), 231 Campbell, James, 99, 103


250 Index Campbell, Ramsey, ix–x, 1, 11, 33, 245 Canetti, Elias, 110 Carpenter, John, 1, 20–21 Carroll, Nöel, 50, 62 Carter, Angela, 44 Carter, Mac, 153, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162 catachresis, 46, 50 Chambers, Robert W., 68, 75 Chappell, Fred, 11 Chen, Mel Y., 69, 70 Clarke, Lillian D., 220 Colavito, Jason, 98, 110 Colebrook, Martyn, 56 Conrad, Joseph, 241 Corman, Roger, x, 1, 20 cosmogony, 93, 205 Coulthart, John, x Creed, Barbara, 102, 142 Cthulhu, 2, 11, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 35, 47, 49, 75, 76, 84, 107, 108, 127, 135, 145, 149, 192, 202, 218, 221, 226, 227, 233, 237 Cthulhu Mythos, 10, 11, 12, 14, 17, 20, 98, 103, 151, 152, 153, 174, 191 Dahlström, Tommy, 17 Danielewski, Mark Z., 66; House of Leaves, 66, 71, 73 Darwin, Charles, 118, 119, 168, 171 Datlow, Ellen, 11 Davis, Sonia Haft Greene Lovecraft (Sonia Greene), 122, 156, 220 Dawkins, Richard, 127 de Camp, L. Sprague, 138

de Certeau, Michel, 156 deep time, 7–8, 35, 235–36, 241 Deleuze, Gilles, 2, 6, 32, 106–7, 111, 194, 199–205, 210, 240, 246 del Toro, Guillermo, 14, 21, 23 Derleth, August, 1, 8, 11, 170, 237 Derrida, Jacques, 67, 118, 125, 187; Specters of Marx, 67 desire, 24, 63, 64, 69, 104, 105, 121, 141, 149, 152, 154, 156–59, 161, 170, 208–11, 213, 227 Dion Fortune (band), 20 disgust, 62, 123, 130, 135, 138, 141, 143–44, 225 Doherty, Thomas, 97 Doré, Gustave, 15 Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan, 32, 169, 170, 176, 177, 178, 179; “The Copper Beeches,” 178; “The Final Problem,” 169 Dunn, Allen, 221 Dunsany, Lord (Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany), 4, 30, 194, 215 Eco, Umberto, 69 Edmundson, Mark, 22, 24 Elder Gods, 21, 24, 145, 189, 223, 238 Eliot, T. S., 193 Engels, Friedrich, 188 Enlightenment, 105, 184–85, 196 epistemes, 204 Evans, Timothy H., 123 fantastic, the, 34, 43, 49, 50, 55, 222, 228 Farnese, Harold, x

index 251

fascism, 216, 221, 227 feminism, 208, 211 fiction, interactive, 232 Fields of the Nephilim, 19 Finlay, Virgil, 15–17 Fitzgerald, F. Scott, 188 Flusser, Vilém, 130 Fog, The (film), 20 Foucault, Michel, 105, 118, 139, 203, 210 Frank, Jane, 15, 18 Frazer, James, 219, 221 Freud, Sigmund, 63, 139, 140, 185, 187, 189, 193, 195, 196, 217; “The Uncanny,” 77 Frow, John, 154 Fuseli, Henry, 15 Gaiman, Neil, 1, 11–12, 23, 32, 166–81, 169; “A Study in Emerald,” 12, 32, 166–67, 170–71, 174–75, 178–80 games, role-playing, 2, 166, 231 Garden of Delight (band), 19 Gardner, Gerald, 229n3 Gaskill, Malcolm, 218 geek culture, 231, 242 Gibson, William, 32, 185, 186, 187; Pattern Recognition, 185–86 Giger, H. R., x, 17, 19, 98, 109, 113-114n1; Necronomicon I, 17; Necronomicon II, 17 Godfrey-Smith, Peter, 127 Gordon, Joan, 120 Gordon, Stuart, x, 1, 20 Gothic, 21–25, 31, 62–77, 100, 108, 127, 166–79, 183–84, 200, 203, 215, 223 Goya, Francisco de, 15

Grant, Iain Hamilton, 225 Greenblatt, Stephen, 216, 221 Greene, Sonia, 122, 156, 220 Guatarri, Félix, 2, 6 Guran, Paula, 11 Haddox, Thomas F., 221 Haldeman, Philip, 11 Halloween (film), 20 Handler, Daniel (Lemony Snicket), 8 Hantke, Steffen, 20, 55, 153 Haraway, Donna, 168, 180 Harman, Graham, 2, 4–6, 13, 30–31, 43–51, 55–58, 70–71, 76, 79, 81–82, 88–91, 225–27 Heidegger, Martin, 2, 5, 226, 227–28 Hellboy (comics), 9, 14–15, 21, 153 heterotopia, 65–66 Hill, Gary, 20, 89 Hill, Joe, 153 Hite, Kenneth, 44, 52 Hitler, Adolph, 221, 227 Hodgson, William Hope, 236, 238 Hoffman, E. T. A., ix Houdini, Harry, 155, 157 Houellebecq, Michel, 4, 26–27, 46, 49, 58, 138–40, 204, 241 Howard, Robert E., 1, 11, 216–17 H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, 23, 166 Hurley, Kelly, 102, 104–5, 109, 167, 169 Husserl, Edmund, 5, 47–48 Hutcheon, Linda, 13, 22 hybrid, 21, 26, 32, 52, 97, 108, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 173, 174, 179, 180, 205, 207

252 Index interactive fiction, 232 In the Mouth of Madness (film), 20 Irigaray, Luce, 32, 199, 208, 210–11 Iron Maiden (band), 19 Irving, Washington, 29, 216 Ito, Junji, 15 Jackson, Rosemary, 50 Jackson, Shirley, 66 James, M. R., 58n1 Jameson, Fredric, 111 Jenkins, Henry, 3, 152, 155–57, 175, 177 Jones, Malcolm, 8 Jones, Mark, 55, 56 Joshi, S. T., 3–4, 8–11, 25, 55, 100, 114, 137–39, 151–52, 154, 166, 168, 170, 193, 215–17, 219–20, 222 jouissance, 196, 208 Kiernan, Caitlín R., x, 1, 11 King, Stephen, x, 1, 11–12, 23, 29, 66, 145, 247 Kleicomolo Circle, 222 Klein, T. E. D., x Kleiner, Rheinhart, 26, 136 Klinger, Leslie, 9 Kneale, James, 27, 30–31, 43–61, 245 Kristeva, Julia, 102, 141, 142, 168 Kubrick, Stanley, 97 Kuttner, Henry, x, 16 Lacan, Jacques, 139, 210 Latham, Larry, 14, 153 Latour, Bruno, 53, 106, 111 Lawrence, Francis, 69

Lawrence, T. E., 112 Le Fanu, Sheridan, ix, 67 Leiber, Fritz, ix, 1, 11 leitmotif, 85–86 Leman, Andrew, 20 Lévy, Maurice, 4, 221, 228 Library of America, x, 2, 8–9, 153, 237 Ligotti, Thomas, x, 6, 11, 225 Lockwood, Dan, 13 Lockwood, Dean, 81 Lombroso, Cesare, 169 Long, Frank Belknap, 138, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 220 Lovecraft, Age of, 3, 32–33, 45, 58, 205 Lovecraft, H. P. 1, 72, 161; At the Mountains of Madness, 9, 14, 21, 34, 52, 54, 72, 75, 97, 98, 100, 103–5, 107, 145, 171; “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” 16, 53, 76, 206; “The Call of Cthulhu,” 9, 12, 45, 47, 53, 75–77, 95, 170, 173, 178, 218, 221, 226; The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, 9, 43, 54, 73, 75, 76; “Cats and Dogs,” 117; “The Doom that Came to Sarnath,” 14, 190; “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, The,” 14, 93; “The Dreams in the Witch House,” 9, 56, 72, 75, 80, 84–85, 138; “The Dunwich Horror,” 14, 20, 29, 31, 44, 54, 75, 89, 133–34, 141, 144–45, 156, 167, 169–70, 171, 178; “From Beyond,” 29, 45, 52, 76; “The Haunter of the Dark,” 72, 191, 218; “He,”

index 253

34, 72; “The Horror at Red Hook,” 26, 72; “History of the Necronomicon,” 75; “Literary Composition,” 29; “The Music of Erich Zann,” 76, 83, 192; “The Nameless City,” 19, 194; Necronomicon,12, 17, 20, 44, 68, 75, 87, 105, 107, 142, 191; “On the Creation of Niggers,” 26; “The Outsider,” x, 74, 207, 209; “Pickman’s Model,” 15, 21, 73–75, 192; “The Picture in the House,” 74; and prose style 28–30; and race 25–28; “The Rats in the Walls,” 36, 72, 135, 224; The Shadow Out of Time, 13, 34, 72, 126, 128, 168, 171, 181; The Shadow over Innsmouth, 20, 29, 36, 76, 123, 125, 167–68; Supernatural Horror in Literature, ix; “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” 2, 7, 76, 92, 199, 200–202, 210; “Under the Pyramids,” 84, 190; “The Unnamable,” 50; “The Whisperer in Darkness,” 53, 76, 81, 91, 93, 126, 138, 168, 171, 178 Luckhurst, Roger, 9–10, 30, 50, 53 Lukács, Georg, 111, 112 Luke, Cthulhu Hand, 23 Lumley, Brian, 1, 11 Machen, Arthur, 143, 215, 219, 245 Marx, Karl, 102, 188, 240 materiality, 5, 6, 7, 10, 30–31, 34, 35, 38, 44, 47–48, 51, 52, 57, 62–77, 85, 87, 90, 92, 93, 97,

104, 105, 106, 107–8, 109, 118, 136, 138, 140, 143, 166, 167, 170, 174, 176, 186, 194, 197, 200, 201, 203, 206, 207, 212, 218, 223, 225, 226, 228, 233, 235–239, 241 McGurl, Mark, 7 Meillassoux, Quentin, 31, 48, 70, 79, 86–90, 92–93, 225 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 139 Metallica (band), 19 Middle Ages, 183, 234 Miéville, China, x, 1, 9, 11–12, 27, 33, 37, 55–56, 58, 100, 127–29, 231–43, 246 Mignola, Mike, 9, 14, 21, 153 Miller, Laura, 27 Miller, William Ian, 144 Mizuki, Shigeru, 14 Modernism, 45, 167, 192 modernity, 43, 45, 67–68, 100, 128, 177, 189, 190, 193–95, 197, 220, 233, 235, 241 monster, 7, 14, 21, 28, 62–63, 74, 108, 143–44, 161, 169, 199, 201, 206–9, 226–27 Moore, Alan, x, 1, 12, 14, 23, 153, 245 Morgan, David, 158 Morton, Timothy, 6, 71 mucous, 199, 208, 211 Mullis, Justin, 15 Murray, Margaret, 217–21, 229n3 music, 19–20, 46, 55–56, 79, 80, 83–90, 93–94, 192–93, 242 musicology, 79 Nachtgeblüt (German band), x Nagel, Richard, 126, 127

254 Index Nancy, Jean-Luc, 82 Nelson, Victoria, 24, 64, 65, 66, 69, 73, 133, 134, 135 nerdism, 24 Nevins, Jess, 10–11, 150 new historicism, 216 Newman, Kim, 11 New Weird, 9, 12, 14, 25, 231, 236 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 114n5, 223, 228 Night Gallery (TV series), 21 nihilism, 223, 226, 228, 238 noise, 44, 66, 84, 90, 124 Norman, Joseph, 56 Noys, Ben, 7 numinous, 63, 67, 76, 79, 88, 92, 215, 231 Nussbaum, Martha, 140 NWA (band), 238 Nyarlathotep, 81, 85, 86, 89, 93, 94, 178, 192, 202 O’Bannon, Dan, 98, 99 O’Flynn, Siobhan, 22 O’Toole, Peter, 112 Oates, Joyce Carol, 9, 11, 50, 151 object-oriented ontology, 2, 4, 5, 6, 12, 31, 69, 70, 88, 225, 239, 240 ontography, 46 ontology, 2, 4–6, 12, 31, 69–70, 79, 88, 93–94, 101, 128–30, 200–201, 225, 239–40 Oxford University Press, 9, 10, 153 paranoia, 14, 184–87, 189, 195, 220 pareidolia, 185

perception, 5, 86–87, 92, 94, 127, 151, 154, 156, 185, 188, 191, 202–5, 208–9, 212, 225 phenomenology, 5, 31, 70–71, 79, 86–88, 93–94, 228 philosophy, analytic, 51 Picasso, Pablo, 48 Pietz, William, 68 Poe, Edgar Allan, ix, 20, 29, 38, 45, 50, 52, 55, 66–67, 103, 108, 140–41, 153, 159, 223, 246–47; “The Fall of the House of Usher,” 38, 66 Pokémon, 232 Polanski, Roman, 69 poststructuralism, 49, 51, 86, 176, 228 Pound, Ezra, 221 Pratchett, Terry, 12 Price, E. Hoffman, 201 Price, Robert M., 4, 11, 13 Priest, Cherie, 11 Prometheus (film), 21, 97–98, 100–101, 107–11, 113 Pugh, Sheenagh, 152, 174, 177, 178 Pynchon, Thomas, x queer, 29, 130, 150, 199 radio, 1, 53–54 Raimi, Sam, 1, 69 repetition, 129, 185, 186, 191, 206 rhythm, 30, 84, 90, 94, 191 ritual, 21, 83–84, 86, 123, 133, 143, 150, 191 Rodionoff, Hans, 153, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 162 Roerich, Nicholas, 15

index 255

Rowling, J. K., 69 Saler, Michael, 24–25, 63–65, 72, 176–77 Salomon, Roger, 50 Samuels, Mark, x Sante, Luc, 2, 20, 25 schizophrenia, 185 Schneider, Steven J., 62 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 223 Schreber, Judge Daniel Paul, 32, 185, 189, 194, 195 Schultz, David E., 216–17, 220 Schweitzer, Darrell, 4, 11 Scott, Ridley, 1, 17, 21, 31, 97–101, 108–11, 113 Scribblenauts (video game), 2 Serres, Michel, 32, 199, 201, 209–11, 213 Shea, J. Vernon, 135–36 Shoggoth, 12, 107, 155, 158 Sime, Sidney, 15 Simmons, David, 4, 27, 32, 58, 119–20, 149–65, 167–68, 247 Sitchin, Zecharia, 98 Smith, Clark Ashton, 11, 26, 51–52, 56, 159, 161 Smith, Don, 12–13 Smith, Erin A., 158, 161 South Park (TV series), 2, 21–22 Species (film), 17 speculative realism, 4–6, 13, 30–31, 46, 48, 69, 79, 86–87, 89–94, 225 Stableford, Brian, 11 Stapledon, Olaf, 10 Star Wars (film series), 237 Straub, Peter, 8 Stross, Charles, 46, 56, 57

sublime, 51, 66, 108, 231, 234–35, 243 Suvin, Darko, 120 Swainston, Steph, 12 Symmes, Thomas, 53 Talley, Brett J., 11 technology, 22, 46, 53, 64 telephone, 45, 53–54, 89, television, 1, 21, 156, 163, 175, 176 Thacker, Eugene, 6, 224–25 They Live (film), 20 thing-power, 66, 69–70, 72–76 timbre, 82–84, 89–90, 94 Todorov, Tzvetan, 50 Tolkien, J. R. R., 176, 236 trace, 52, 186–87, 203 uncanny, 51, 63–65, 67–69, 75, 113, 123, 171; “The Uncanny,” 77 Unquiet Void (band), 20 VanderMeer, Jeff, 12 Veeser, Aram, 216 Vint, Sherryl, 120, 121 vitalism, 7 voice, 80–86, 89, 94, 159, 210 von Däniken, Erich, 98, 110–11 Wade, Chris, 9 Walpole, Horace, 66, 67 Walton, Kendall, 62, 63, 65 Wandrei, Donald, x, 8 Weil, Kari, 120, 121, 122 weird fiction, 3–4, 6, 19, 33, 44–45, 53, 58, 72, 92, 94, 121, 128, 166, 236–39, 242–43

256 Index weird geography, 44–45, 47, 51–52, 54, 57 Weird Tales, 15, 143, 149, 151–52, 154–55, 159, 160 Welty, Eudora, 186, 197 Whedon, Joss, 1, 21, 23, 223 Whelan, Michael, 17, 233; Lovecraft’s Nightmare A, xi, 17–19; Lovecraft’s Nightmare B, xi, 17–19 Wilde, Oscar, 67, 175 Willmott, Glenn, 152, 154 Wilson, Edmund, 2, 8, 28, 30, 49, 225 Winnicott, D. W., 189, 190, Wisker, Gina, 58, 133, 143

witches, 33, 74, 204, 215–18, 222, 228 Wohleber, Curt, 1–2 Wolfe, Cary, 101, 105, 106, 113, 125 Woodard, Ben, 6–7, 91, 225 World Fantasy Awards, 27, 245 World of Warcraft (video game), 2, 177 Wright, Farnsworth, 159 Yog-Sothoth, 75, 99, 133, 135, 141, 143, 144, 192 Žižek, Slavoj, 228