Race in Lovecraft Scholarship (III)

It’s time to thrash the satellites. I can say with some accuracy that I’ve read most of what was published over the past 70 decades under the header of “Lovecraft scholarship”, except a few oddities and extravagancies that are simply not available over here, in the old world, unless you’re willing to serve the currents of the rare books market with hefty doses of cash. I plan ahead to include at least a 2-3 weeks stay toward the end of my dissertation work at Brown University’s John Hay Library, which is home to the most extensive Lovecraft collection in the world – it’s quaint, and also: nice, to see that even in this age, a scholar may be forced to go en route to consult certain, earth- or library-bound sources.

Speaking as I was of Brown – today I had a “book” in the mail that I had been anciously awaiting for several weeks, after I had managed to find an affordable copy at abebooks.com – namely – H.P. Lovecraft: New England Decadent, composed in the 1970s by a member of that rarest of academic species, the academic Lovecraft critic, Barton Levi St. Armand. I read it – and, quite, frankly, it’s disappointing. His attempts to route Lovecraft close to the fin de siècle-scene and, on byways, the Puritan rhetors, hardly amounts to more – shall I say it with the duest of due respects – namedropping. Then, of course, it’s only a slim essay – and that was brought back to me when I realized that I had blown a 35-buck-charge to my credit card bill, all for a 50-some-pages-booklet. Oh, well. In any case, it’s some comfort that I am not one of a kind in seeing a logical relation between Lovecraft and these two (literary) eras.

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I should try to describe the orbit these Lovecraftian satellites are duly gyrating on – and I’ll refer the reader to an inside source, provided on the website of hyper-prolific scholar Robert M. Price, one of the more unorthodox cast members of the common Lovecraft tragedy, and also a renegade theologian, given to, as far as I judge that from his latest newsletter, some concept of Christian Atheism, the way Thomas JJ Altizer made it famous or infamous, depending on your leanings (and I’ve read quite a lot of Altizer, in his capacity as an interpreter of Nietzsche, mainly…and implicitly, as a theologian. His works emanate an intellectual buzz that I’m rather sensitive to, it seems).

The orbit…oh, yeah. I’ll make it very, very short: at a time in the 1970s, Joshi, see the last two posts, entered the scene to create for himself a lead role where previously there was none. From all accounts, not just from Price’s, it is obvious that his scholarly involvement with Lovecraft is complemented by an equally strong emotional involvement – there are passages, especially in his gargantuan Lovecraft bibliography, where you get the feeling that he’s talking about an unruly, but still lovable, child…that he’s set to play the advocate for. Be that…

…as it may. By sheer presence on the market, his role in Lovecraft scholarship has been extremely dominant for about three decades. Of course, that also extends into the publishing arena – he’s executive editor and contributor to the only “scholarly” Lovecraft magazines there are, Lovecraft Studies, and, to a lesser degree, The Crypt of Cthulhu (and, hit me hard, these quotes around scholarly are deliberate – both mags often read, again, with all due respect, like nerdy fanzines, and the scholarly quality…I mean, not that it’s not a very legitimate activity to engage in that philological source hunting that yields essay titles like A textual Oddity in “The Quest of Iranon” (Lovecraft Studies 34) – you get that for any much-read author, whatever his literary turf…still, in a field as Lovecrafto-centric as Lovecraft scholarship, this is sometimes taken to obsessive levels. To be fair, and yes: I want to be fair, the quality level seems to have risen in more recent copies of Lovecraft Studies, and there are some really fine essays in there.

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And now I gladly postpone the thrashing of the satellites to the next post.

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