Rather weird than…

Weird:

The Three Weird Sisters

Weird Al Yankovich

Weird Tales

Also weird, as of today:

H.P. Lovecraft

– who, of course, happened to be the most important contributor to Weird Tales. When JC Henneberger founded the magazine in 1923, he likely didn’t have any categorical label in mind and used the term “weird” in one of its more neutral connotations – maybe strange, odd, or even bizarre?

It is only appropriate that Weird Tales doyen HPL should become the most significant player once the word is translated into genre terms – Weird Literature, as a generical term, cannot help but invoke, in some remove or other, Lovecraft.

K-punk shares an insightful analysis of the Weird, Lovecraft-style (also see the first part of it here) , and I quote here –

Thinking of the Weird as the ‘out of place’ or the ‘out of time’ will take us some way to distinguishing the Weird from both the Fantastic and the Uncanny. Lovecraft’s texts are not Fantastic in Todorov’s sense because in his ‘localised realism’ there is no sense of being suspended between naturalism and supernaturalism.

The shaking head in the direction of Todorov is very apt, of course – I remember meddling with Todorov and concepts of neo-fantastic in the early stages of my diss to somehow devise a generical-categorical container to store my discussion of HPL’s work in, and I also remember how that failed. While the Weird as a category is certainly helpful in that it gives Lovecraft’s species of horror a more detailed face, thereby drawing a line, as k-punk does, between and Freud’s notion of the uncanny, I’m still somewhat sceptical of it, not to say: I find it suspicious. It seems to reserve Lovecraft a unique, singular position when it makes him the founding godfather of the weird mode of writing out horror, and at the same time it creates a link between the nascent mode and its cradle, the most notorious pulp mag of the time. Somewhere along the logical line of Lovecraft founded Weird Literature – Weird Literature is Pulp Literature – Lovecraft wrote Pulp Literature, I start losing interest. Of course, he was publishing in a pulp venue, and his prose certainly shares some pulp characteristics – but it is not “the essence of pulp” (as David Punter has it: I’m quoting from memory and make no pretense at looking the passage up) – neither its didactic rhetorics, nor its consummately encyclopedic style, nor its intricate, almost obsessive devotion to atmosphere and, above all, place – are pulp-specific characteristics. The only obvious claim on the pulp label his stories pronounce are these ludicrously-couched inventory items that gloss some of the stories, though not all, with doses of nausea – the tentacle/tentacular being one of these – and, oh yeah, they were published in a pulp venue, that might also count.

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3-2

We won. I’ve been awake since Saturday morning. My surname has just become Sleep.

Inbetween the Race Race

This is…a bad post…in a bad blogging month…that, alas, will not ascend to any heights: Saturday morning I’ll swing myself into a train to Berlin, where I’ll no doubt (!) see my beloved Nuremberg side in a sweeping win in the Cup Finals against rival Stuttgart…my fingers are so crossed for myself and the community of 30.000 or so fellow Nurimbergians gathering in the Berlin Olympia-Stadion, and above all for the team: may this weekend so ultimately be the glorious resurrection of our team from decade-long mayhem to the Parnassus of German football fame that was for so long rightfully ours & will hopefully be once more ours in a matter of less than 48 hours: Berlin, we are coming! I am coming! Fame! Glory! And all against an already triumphant Stuttgart side, who comes and faces us as the freshly crowned German champions…the odds are against us, but the fates will find their ways to hand us the cup, I’m sure, even against all odds…oh yeah, it’s still only football, but it feels like history written into my palms and memories.

I should regain my senses some time Monday, only to usher them into a focus I need for two pending applications that I got running & a tax return form that grins madly at me: all three, applications and tax form, due in an insane way by the end of May…I see myself descending into blogging hell…all at a time that sees my craving for the chance and time to respond to an already promising foray of the Constructivist into the haunts of colonial hauntings, to a thoughtful whisp of Kip Manley on prose and comic pulp heroics, and a reflection on the subversive or non-subversive nature of Lovecraft’s prose.

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Race and Decay (X)

Oh yes.

I began my inquiry into the topic of Race and Decay Lovecraft’s prose with the assertion that decay and also apocalypse depend on the historicality of their agents (Race and Decay I), that is: you have to somehow be on the historical timeline to be apocalyptized. I then went on into a closereading of Through the Gates of the Silver Key to analyze Lovecraft’s use of time (Race and Decay II), went on even further into the story and introduced the dichotomy of kairos (moment) and chronos (timestream) and argued that Lovecraft’s characters don’t have access to the kairos and therefore can’t render themselves historic: they are fleeting by (Race and Decay III). Taking up the dichotomy I made the case that this ahistoricality is very specifically the white man’s problem and a reading of The Call of Cthulhu fed me lines (Race and Decay IV). Looking deeper into race I used Race and Decay V and held that the racial and ethnic others are closely linked in one advantage they have over the white narrators and characters, their access on historical time. Adding some more layers, I went to contrast the Cotton Mather’s concept of public evil (Race and Decay VI) with Lovecraft’s concept of evil as subjective and genetically hereditary (Race and Decay VII). I then brought in Thomas Hobbes, developed the idea that, basically, Lovecraft’s white characters and narrators are anti-social in that they cannot participate in a state or any community, at all (Race and Decay VIII): they’re fighting on their own against a racially charged evil for which, they think, no absolution is possible exactly because it’s transmitted genetically-biologically.

And yesterday I was playing around a little, adding some Innsmouth links to procrastinate a little, just for the sake of it. No more. The Shadow over Innsmouth, it is, and no mistakes.

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The story invites interpretation. It is rich, it is well-plotted, hell, it even builds suspense, which is not a very common thing in Lovecraft. My reading of it will argue along the lines I laid out in my previous chapters, see above, to argue for a concept of supremacist apocalypse.

It begins innocently enough. The narrator, who will become our confidant, guide and killer, hits on one of these places that aren’t on the map, and in Lovecraft being off the map, even to a small extent, equals decay inevitable: in that his understanding of the New England site is very Puritan, very laden with shadows of murdering barbarians and a sense of communal failure: here’s a failing colony to preach to! Cotton Mather would have a grand summer delivering sermons in places like Innsmouth or Dunwich, no doubt.

Any reference to a town not shown on common maps or listed in recent guidebooks would have interested me, and the agent’s odd manner of allusion roused something like real curiosity. A town able to inspire such dislike in it its neighbors, I thought, must be at least rather unusual, and worthy of a tourist’s attention. If it came before Arkham I would stop off there and so I asked the agent to tell me something about it. He was very deliberate, and spoke with an air of feeling slightly superior to what he said.

The place is just the right sort of playground to play with powers that are not worshiped in any regular denominational church – Captain Marsh, one of the forefathers, it goes, used to do things…on a reef…the Devil Reef, and no, it’s not god’s fallen angel he’s communicating with. Note that evil isn’t just there, it seems to be brought into existence by some kind of ritual passing on the reef –

“That is, sailors that didn’t hail from Innsmouth. One of the things they had against old Captain Marsh was that he was supposed to land on it sometimes at night when the tide was right. Maybe he did, for I dare say the rock formation was interesting, and it’s just barely possible he was looking for pirate loot and maybe finding it; but there was talk of his dealing with demons there. Fact is, I guess on the whole it was really the Captain that gave the bad reputation to the reef.

“That was before the big epidemic of 1846, when over half the folks in Innsmouth was carried off. They never did quite figure out what the trouble was, but it was probably some foreign kind of disease brought from China or somewhere by the shipping. It surely was bad enough – there was riots over it, and all sorts of ghastly doings that I don’t believe ever got outside of town – and it left the place in awful shape. Never came back – there can’t be more’n 300 or 400 people living there now.

That doesn’t stop Lovecraft from inserting a jab at the yellow peril, for the heck of it: dropping racially loaded comments, by numbers, Lovecraft-style.

If that was the intro, he’s shipping the tirade right away –

“But the real thing behind the way folks feel is simply race prejudice – and I don’t say I’m blaming those that hold it. I hate those Innsmouth folks myself, and I wouldn’t care to go to their town. I s’pose you know – though I can see you’re a Westerner by your talk – what a lot our New England ships – used to have to do with queer ports in Africa, Asia, the South Seas, and everywhere else, and what queer kinds of people they sometimes brought back with ‘em. You’ve probably heard about the Salem man that came home with a Chinese wife, and maybe you know there’s still a bunch of Fiji Islanders somewhere around Cape Cod.

“Well, there must be something like that back of the Innsmouth people. The place always was badly cut off from the rest of the country by marshes and creeks and we can’t be sure about the ins and outs of the matter; but it’s pretty clear that old Captain Marsh must have brought home some odd specimens when he had all three of his ships in commission back in the twenties and thirties. There certainly is a strange kind of streak in the Innsmouth folks today – I don’t know how to explain it but it sort of makes you crawl. You’ll notice a little in Sargent if you take his bus. Some of ‘em have queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, starry eyes that never seem to shut, and their skin ain’t quite right. Rough and scabby, and the sides of the necks are all shriveled or creased up. Get bald, too, very young. The older fellows look the worst – fact is, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a very old chap of that kind. Guess they must die of looking in the glass! Animals hate ‘em – they used to have lots of horse trouble before the autos came in.

They are evil, they are backward – they are racially degenerated, these connotations merge easily and necessarily here. The idea of the ethnically diverse coastal town is not so very new – Melville’s Ishmael tries to give us a description of one before he boards the Pequod, foe example. Lovecraft expands the notion of diversity and leaves no doubt just what was going on that ominous reef: the Innsmouth folk are, for lack of a better word, fish people: Some of ‘em have queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, starry eyes that never seem to shut, and their skin ain’t quite right. Rough and scabby, and the sides of the necks are all shriveled or creased up. Get bald, too, very young. No, it’s not sloppy of him to bring that punchline so early on in the story as he does it – it’s important for the further development of the plot that the reader keep in mind that these Innsmouthians were not just miscenegating with the regular crew of seaboard expats. They are different…with a twist.

I myself would have thought of biological degeneration rather than alienage.

When the narrator says that in description of one of the Innsmouth natives, the bias seems clearly positioned: decay is perceived as less threatening than alienage, the impingement from Asiatic, Polynesian, Levantine or negroid influences. Of course, the Innsmouth version of decay is the result of an exchange with indeed another race, the Deep Ones – and strangely enough, this will be the alternative by far favored by the narrator. The bargain struck in Innsmouth is folksy, plain, straight: the Innsmouth natives hand over occasional human sacrifices to the Deep Ones, as well as a bounty of breeding and mating possibilities, and in return, they receive all the fish they could possibly ever wish for. This has something of the easy-going commercial structure outlined by Mather in defense of his belief in witchcraft as force to reckon with: witches/wizards give themselves up to Satan and are rewarded in due turn – supernatural strength, wealth, you name it. In Innsmouth, the deal is capped somewhat short –

As for business – the abundance of fish was certainly almost uncanny, but the natives were taking less and less advantage of it. Moreover, prices were falling and competition was growing. Of course the town’s real business was the refinery, whose commercial office was on the square only a few doors east of where we stood. Old Man Marsh was never seen, but sometimes went to the works in a closed, curtained car.

Still, there is no way to dissolve it – once it is struck, it will last forever: a sticky unison with the great, alien other that is so much more powerful and charming as a referential power than, say, the Christian God –

“Then’s the time Obed he begun a-cursin’ at the folks fer bein’ dull sheep an’ prayin’ to a Christian heaven as didn’t help ‘em none. He told ‘em he’d knowed o’ folks as prayed to gods that give somethin’ ye reely need, an’ says ef a good bunch o’ men ud stand by him, he cud mebbe get a holt o’ sarten paowers as ud bring plenty o’ fish an’ quite a bit of gold.

And in an odd movement – Lovecraft is offering assimilation, not without sabotaging it at the same time. The narrator, and that is the punchline the story is heading for, is one of the Innsmouth folks, as he explicates in a genealogical attempt: the whole horror of the place is suddenly gulped down in one embrace. And it is carefully built up, too – the narrator enters the city, is drawn into it, and is finally trapped in it: the night is coming and with it the promise of change.

Later I might sift the tale and extract some nucleus of historic allegory; just now I wished to put it out of my head. The hour grown perilously late – my watch said 7:15, and the Arkham bus left Town Square at eight – so I tried to give my thoughts as neutral and practical a cast as possible, meanwhile walking rapidly through the deserted streets of gaping roofs and leaning houses toward the hotel where I had checked my valise and would find my bus.

The bus will not ever leave – and why should it when the scene is so utterly promising? The Innsmouth fish people miscegenation varieté gives decay a whole new name, a cultural face that is looking into the future. In Dunwich, decay is finite, inertiatically stalled – white people were lounging back to observe their apocalypse – there also, a cross into the alien, racial other occurs, but is singled out as a magical-ritualistic occurence on a small scale and for one family, the Whateley clan. In Innsmouth miscegenation goes populist – and no doubt the community prospers. Its apocalyptic transformation is consummated – of course, Innsmouth is beyond all repair: it serves its purpose as breeding ground. The transformation goes from human to deep one, and the whole is joining it like there is no tomorrow in a human world, as indeed there isn’t. The procession is finally marching and moving in a dirge on human civilization –

And yet I saw them in a limitless stream – flopping, hopping, croaking, bleating – urging inhumanly through the spectral moonlight in a grotesque, malignant saraband of fantastic nightmare. And some of them had tall tiaras of that nameless whitish-gold metal … and some were strangely robed … and one, who led the way, was clad in a ghoulishly humped black coat and striped trousers, and had a man’s felt hat perched on the shapeless thing that answered for a head.

The Deep Ones are lying, lying and waiting to reap their bounty –

For the present they would rest; but some day, if they remembered, they would rise again for the tribute Great Cthulhu craved. It would be a city greater than Innsmouth next time.

__________

This, then, is the essence of Lovecraft’s racism – it is not about the rigorous defense of one ethnicity against another, it is rather about sharing in a dominant ethnicity – whatever it is – able to carry a quest for empires and territories that will subjugate heroically whatever other ethnicity is in its way, a wet dream of retribution that is here located into the town of Innsmouth. Humanity is failing – after it has bred its own destruction by ushering in a species as ruthlessly imperialist as itself but moreover having that not slight benefit of being immortal –

One night I had a frightful dream in which I met my grandmother under the sea. She lived in a phosphorescent palace of many terraces, with gardens of strange leprous corals and grotesque brachiate efflorescences, and welcomed me with a warmth that may have been sardonic. She had changed – as those who take to the water change – and told me she had never died. Instead, she had gone to a spot her dead son had learned about, and had leaped to a realm whose wonders – destined for him as well – he had spurned with a smoking pistol. This was to be my realm, too – I could not escape it. I would never die, but would live with those who had lived since before man ever walked the earth.

I met also that which had been her grandmother. For eighty thousand years Pth’thya-l’yi had lived in Y’ha-nthlei, and thither she had gone back after Obed Marsh was dead. Y’ha-nthlei was not destroyed when the upper-earth men shot death into the sea. It was hurt, but not destroyed. The Deep Ones could never be destroyed, even though the palaeogean magic of the forgotten Old Ones might sometimes check them. For the present they would rest; but some day, if they remembered, they would rise again for the tribute Great Cthulhu craved. It would be a city greater than Innsmouth next time. They had planned to spread, and had brought up that which would help them, but now they must wait once more. For bringing the upper-earth men’s death I must do a penance, but that would not be heavy. This was the dream in which I saw a shoggoth for the first time, and the sight set me awake in a frenzy of screaming. That morning the mirror definitely told me I had acquired the Innsmouth look.

So far I have not shot myself as my uncle Douglas did. I bought an automatic and almost took the step, but certain dreams deterred me. The tense extremes of horror are lessening, and I feel queerly drawn toward the unknown sea-deeps instead of fearing them. I hear and do strange things in sleep, and awake with a kind of exaltation instead of terror. I do not believe I need to wait for the full change as most have waited. If I did, my father would probably shut me up in a sanitarium as my poor little cousin is shut up. Stupendous and unheard-of splendors await me below, and I shall seek them soon. Ia-R’lyehl Cihuiha flgagnl id Ia! No, I shall not shoot myself – I cannot be made to shoot myself!

I shall plan my cousin’s escape from that Canton mad-house, and together we shall go to marvel-shadowed Innsmouth. We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.

Race and Decay (IX)

Thesis I: The Lemming

Thesis II: The Intellectual Lemming

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Thesis III: The Intellectual, Vengeful Lemming

This will be my second-to-final post on the Race and Decay chapter of my grander inquiry into Lovecraft’s use of race – I will focus on a story of his that I haven’t mentioned yet here: The Shadow over Innsmouth, written in 1931. Earlier that year he had slapped another grand story in the neck and heaved it on the dissecting table of the reading public, At the Mountains of Madness, where it hadn’t fared…at all, neither well, nor bad. Like Shadow it would be published only several years latter. Even these two stories alone make for an outstanding annus mirabilis – it doesn’t get much better than this when it’s Lovecraft who does the writing.

Kenneth Hite, at his place, shares some insights into the story and mentions Robert Price’s edition of The Innsmouth Cycle and Tales out of Innsmouthwith a reading of the Innsmouth community as carriers of a cargo cult. Strange it is. Whatever way you read Lovecraft: the end of all is always sneaking in, somehow or other. Meanwhile, Sheila tries to identify Danvers, MA with the fictional Innsmouth, and also claims that Lovecraft is one of these writers who perform better in audio than in print, because, and I quote here,

“He, like many Victorian and Turn-Of-The-Century writers, write [sic] in a very wordy style.”

That has certainly something to it, it’s just: he was not a turn-of-the-century writer, much less a Victorian writer, and unlike these Victorian writers he invested heavily into atmosphere (and hence: into language, maybe even wordy language), not into plot. He’s not a Dickens or Thackeray to have numbers and godawfully mighty numbers of subplots sprout from the plot. And he was still boasting his vocabulary invasions when modernist literature had long installed sober curtness and restraint as the method de jour. Looking at the output of Hemingway and Lovecraft, you wouldn’t think they were writing on one planet, much less at the same time.

In still another corner my eyes fall on a femininist-inspired segue to the story, composed by the BrownRecluse and run under the title of Daughters of Innsmouthand it delights the reader, me, with such…such…how do you call that?…wonderful? wondersome? wondering? phrases like –

“[…]but most were eventually swayed upon discovering that Dagonism was, indeed, a legitimate spiritual order — a sect whose fundamental principles were comparable to those of Mormons or Mennonites.”

That is, the Innsmouth people, whose odd behavioral patterns will figure in this post a little further down – are odd because they pursue a legitimate sectarian form of established religion. I won’t read the story here. Irrespective of its quality, it’s good to see the continuation (of plot mechanisms, character inventories, stylistic mannerisms, and so on, the whole shebang), as Houellebecque calls Lovecraft’s impressive cultural afterlife, of Lovecraft head into directions that probably would have choked the master into a violent fit. Syndicated religion in a lead role? He would have hated that. Interestingly (and: crucially and beneficially!), it’s being insinuated to him posthumously again and again. Friend and protegé August Derleth, who I mentioned two or three posts back, was the first in that row when he brought his Roman-Catholic faith to his readings of the Lovecraft prose corpus and especially his alien inventory, as figuring in the Cthulhu Cult, Peter G. Epps is behind Derleth in the row through his insightful thesis on Christian Hope in the Horror Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, where he also gets back to Innsmouth. More on that in my summary reading.

Race and Decay (What is the Roman numeral for infinity?)

I’ll finish the Race and Decay chapter with one final, longish, grand post, and I’ll get that out  that weekend. Meanwhile, Iain Gibson, in his virgin post at Also, I can kill you with my brain makes me wonder and gape when he is relegating Herbert Phillips Lovecraft [sic] into the role of a receptionist in hell: not only will that give me a welcome opportunity to meet him, finally, come time, it also calms my fears that he might have had a deathbed conversion, à la Wallace Stevens or Charles Darwin (beware: fundamentalist content ahead). The good man! Hang in there, Lovecraft! In hell!

Race and Decay (VIII)

Over at Table of Malcontents, John Brownlee makes an excellent case for the obligatory inclusion of a Cthulhu rubber mask into the preparations for your next date. Thank goodness I have mine always with me, together with the authentic Cthulhu tentacle replica that I bought of the mad Arab…eh…I mean, my tentacle dealer earlier this year.

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Bringing in Thomas Hobbes now, dragging him basically to the trough because I would like to move this discussion of Race and Decay on in a way that is reminiscent of productive work behavior, – so, dragging him, I find that not a little canonized quote helpful in my attempt to account for the political status of Lovecraft’s characters, if ex negativo –

THE final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war which is necessarily consequent, as hath been shown, to the natural passions of men when there is no visible power to keep them in awe, and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their covenants, and observation of those laws of nature set down in the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters (Leviathan, ch. 17).

Lovecraft’s characters cannot live in Commonwealths because they are in a perpetual state of war, and to Hobbes the term is especially charged and obstructed into the way of the common wealth. One of the laws of nature he mentions, see above, is laid out in chapter fourteen of the book, where he draws up the dichotomy of jus naturale and lex naturale,

natural right

THE right of nature, which writers commonly call jus naturale, is the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing anything which, in his own judgement and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.

and

natural law

A law of nature, lex naturalis, is a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same, and to omit that by which he thinketh it may be best preserved.

respectively.

It is, the argument goes, nature’s law that prescribes man the task of self-preservation and nature’s right that allows for his self-realization. Bringing the two together without any restraints equals chaos, a war of everyone’s interest against everyone’s interest – hence, Hobbes includes self-restraint to purposefully curb the extent of self-realization, and as long as all men go in accordance with self-restraint, war will be avoided. If some men, however, turn a forgetful eye to that obligation, bang!, war it is, in self-defense then. I’m not trying to paraphrase Hobbes’ commonwealth theory just for the exuberant heck of it – rather, I’m trying to find a slot to fit Lovecraft’s character inventory into.

Thesis I: The Lemming

Lovecraft’s characters – and I include here narrators, protagonists, antagonists: the whole inventory of human/half-human/not so very human-signifiers, but, naturally not: the ethnical/alien other opposed to them in various constellations – do not subscribe to the lex naturalis. Self-preservation is simply not in them, neither on a purely individual, nor on a communal level (I still think of these lazy Dunwich bums going on strike while Yog-Sothoth is rampaging through their town).

Thesis II: The Intellectual Lemming

His characters also overwhelmingly refer their epistemologies to mainly two knowledge-generative sources, science and art. Both are effective in approaching the other, but only one – art – installs the possibility of actually merging with the other, and from the merger result: madness, freak anatomies, and bad skin. Richard Upton Pickman, protagonist-artist in two stories, namely Pickman’s Model and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, is a prime example here – in moving swiftly and with lust from painting ghouls to being with ghouls to being a ghoul, a movement baptized in the story as a sardonic evolution. I’ve doted on the Pickman figure and its implications for quite a while in the chapter of my dissertation work I’m just writing, and it’s growing ever more important to me, it seems. Oh yeah, don’t just paint decay – be decay! Go, Pickman, go!