Death in Venice, in June, and, oh yeah, in this blog here

Enter the heralds with their golden trumpets, play the trumpets – and then, lo, and behold: this here blog has entered, as a hopeful contestant (if contest it is) the world-renowned Blogocalypse Carnival, held for the first time but gathering so much expertise, it would suffice to describe the apocalypses of two or three worlds…

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Ah! Does that here sound like Lovecraft (via here)? A computer game called Necrovision? Does that mean the gaming experience includes visual impressions simulating a dead person’s? “The game”, it goes, “is using highly enhanced Painkiller technology” – whatever that is, I figure it’s not a complimentary helping of Vicodin or something like it.

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And, spinning the diorama a little on, I pause at this review of Cormack McCarthy’s ultra-violent last-man (and boy)-standing drama The Road, printed in German newspaper Die Welt… it’s a well-read review, no doubt, there are the references to McCarthy’s painfully acerbic narrative voice, and so on. It’s well-read, but as I was jogging along the lines, unsuspectingly, my eyes got stuck on a paragraph –

Das wahre Entsetzen gehört den bedingungslosen Schriftstellern, Autoren wie Joseph Conrad, Samuel Beckett oder Cormac McCarthy. Gegen ihren Horror sind die Gespenstergeschichten eines H.P. Lovecraft oder Stephen King bloßes Killekille.

In translation –

True horror is the domain of unconditional authors, authors like Joseph Conrad, Samuell Beckett (wasn’t his centennial in 2006? what is he doing here exactly?), or Cormack McCarthy. Measured against their horror the ghost tales of HP Lovecraft or Stephen King are mere child’s play.

Bang. I may be a little easy to throw off balance when it’s about Lovecraft, as he, son of no bitch, does after all involve me personally with his terrible, terribly adhesive prose – that judgment toward risibility – KilleKille/child’s play – was just about to launch me on a berserking path. It didn’t. I realized, in that one moment of grace, how incredibly old-fashioned and bland the author was – a more liberal translation of the paragraph, I figure, would run something like –

True horror is the domain of up-market authors, authors like Joseph Conrad (The Horror! The Horror!), Samuell Beckett, or Cormack MCarthy who are writing honest, straight literature, whose horror is easily paraphrasable in social terms, descriptive of social terms, and dealing with real problems – not like these escapist scribblers whose approach is weird, not straight.

This is ancient style canonical genre thinking, ascribing certain well-defined functions and domains to each and every genre. Horror, in this thinking, is most efficient when it’s not self-serving (as in horror fiction), but tied to a identifiable social agenda, when it’s written by authors, that is, who are most notifiably linked with literary traditions other than the Gothic tradition – or, by inversion: horror literature – Lovecraft, King, the whole Gothic shebang – is, by definition unpolitical and socially unreflected, played to no more than a simple effect, horror, in the reader, and therefore cheap, gratuitous – and the more gothicised it is, the more so, high literature or no. That’s not accurate, of course.

I might pinch the reader in this context to one of my favorite studies in the field, Theresa A. Goddu’s Gothic America, which does a hell of a lot to politicize the American Gothic as a whole (and she does that in a beautifully grafted argument – the physical structure of which is really something to look at on the page), to claim genuinely American socio-political themes for the American Gothic. She draws on John Neal‘s Logan, for example, to establish the racial other as a Gothic motive, and clearly ties that motive to racial degeneracy (think: Lovecraft).

Taught from infancy to see the Indian as a gothic monster, Americans were predisposed to accept Indian extermination. (57)

She’s talking about “real” Gothic here, in a more constricted sense triggered clearly towards these effects of horror, not in that wide, ambiguous sense in which the Welt-reviewer, see above, uses it to denote shades of meaning like absurd or colonial or…

She’s talking about a politicized Gothic, and I thought to myself, when I first read her study – Hallelujah! Praise! That’s what I need for Lovecraft – a hook to punt into the body of his work to drawl it out of the shadows, well into the light of discourses that will lure not just fan-scholars, but independent scholars, as well. More prosaically – I took her work as a pointer that it’s a very exciting experience to explore the political dimensions of the American Gothic – as a whole, Lovecraft, the dungeon kid, included.

Bearing that in mind – that critical verdict on “real” horror seems loveless. There’s no need to look for “real” horror only in those authors that are more commonly perceived as political and serious authors, anyway – no need to cultivate that exclusive and MLA-ish notion of the Gothic not as mode or genre, but more as a deliberately trashy by-note that serious authors ring at times. Hell, you can even take real horror authors like Lovecraft, explore political dimensions of their works and see how their horror works when it’s made to speak up in such an interpretative context…

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2 Comments

  1. Seen Mike Davis’s book on the gothic and paranoia in 19t C American lit? (No, not that Mike Davis.) Cause as much as I love Goddu ‘s work, Mike’s is better, and I’m not just saying that because he’s one of my best best friends.

  2. No, indeed not, I’ve ordered it & will look into it. And before that, I will have to read “The Custom-House”, finally…


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