Nautical-looking

In my next few posts I’ll look a little into how Lovecraft is inscribing race, religion , and horror into his stories, or more abstract, in genre terms: how productive race is as a topos for reading his prose as gothic fiction. That seems like the litmus test of Lovecraft scholarship, the way Emily Dickinson scholarship posits her (textual) sexuality as an obstacle that any Dickinson scholar inevitably has to pass by – for Lovecraft matters, it’s his position on race. There’s no better way to locate a Lovecraft scholar than this: in explaining it, you also account for your position on not only the man, but the whole phenomenon, the whole Lovecraft myth, – for your position on the scale between devoted acolyte and detached critic. Not that the scale is not swinging – it always does, always should, whatever serves your respective needs best: the race discussion, however, tips the scale and pins it for a moment, to ask in an impartial voice: defense or attack? Dou you choose some apologetic mode to redeem the man (the way practically all American Lovecraft scholarship has done it) or don’t you? Browsing over the last paragraph, I realize it reads like a battle proclamation – when the issue at hand is really to important to reduce it to matter of dispute over the direction of Lovecraft scholarship: race is a central topic in all his prose and prose fiction, and as such it is closely related to other topics, like authority and power.

Does that not necessarily involve an exploration of his (something-) semitism –  even I find it tempting to draw notice to his marriage to a Jewish woman in that context. That’s the obvious point to spiel on in an apologetic manner, if you’re into apologetics: entering the state of matrimony with Jewish Sonia H. Greene redeems at least fifty, if not fifty-five % of his politically incorrect trangressions. The romantic notion of a consistency of author and text, created by the former’s inspiration: Lovecraft takes it and shreds it, distances himself from his texts, and shoves them into outré territories he may confess an aesthetic allegiance with, if nothing more.

Is there racism in his stories, at all? Yeah, there is that occasional racist slur squatting like a fat spider and hissing its venom against the unknown “nautical-looking negro” (The Call of Cthulhu) and others, but his characters seem just a little to – outlandish? displaced? alien? – uninvolved to make them moving pieces in any social constellation…or that’s what they appear like, to me. I shouldn’t be too bold on that point – if nothing else, they are class- and caste-conscious, feeding on exactly the cesspool that racism is bred in (as Anderson demonstrated in his Imagined Communities).

I’ll start in my next post with a reading of The Horror at Red Hook, one of the stories kept in check on any Lovecraft scholar’s reading list for its disgustingly blatant racism. I’m not so much interested in quarrying shares, in order to see how much blame goes to the author and how much to the characters. Stories like Red Hook make it pretty obvious that L didn’t hesitate to highjack a plot when he needed a context for a social message de jour (thank goodness, he didn’t often follow that call), however bluntly it is set up in this story – it’s obvious because it stands in direct relation to artistic quality: the louder Lovecraft’s biographical voice is in a story, the more layers of fictionality he scrapes off to make a point, the worse the story gets.

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