Race and Decay (IV) (Or: Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!) (Or: get that tentacle out of your mouth before you talk to me!)

I would like to get back to the distinction I had drawn attention to in my last post – that between chronos and kairos, the time stream and the moment. Randolph Carter, the protagonist I have been padding on the head, as well as other (not to say: all other) Lovecraft protagonists, has that inconvenient problem that he cannot get into the moment and therefore cannot ever be historical, tacked to one spot on the timeline, rather than the time stream as a whole.

That’s his problem…and, more precisely: that’s the white man’s problem. I will now add some members of Lovecraft’s character inventory that are launched at an exact opposite to Carter, the ahistorical – they appear in The Call of Cthulhu – one of these seminal stories that a seminar on Lovecraft would place in some prominent position…because it’s so gravitional, so representative, and, well, because it’s just an interesting story. Its narration is elaborately structured and arranged in several interlocked levels of action, radiating from a total of three grand chapters (“The Horror in Clay”/”The Tale of Inspector Legrasse”/”The Madness from the Sea”) – you almost miss the fact that great, grand, and mighty Cthulhu has a premium appearance in the story because it’s jacked off only at the very end, and ends, as Lovecraft readers tend to experience always and any time, are meant to be conclusive, but not in any way climactic: Cthulhu comes in only after the reader picks up the signal that his/her attention may now officially flag, as well he might. He doesn’t matter all that much, except as a namesake – but here he goes: Three men were swept up by the flabby claws before anybody turned. God rest them, if there be any rest in the universe. Yihaa! Bless us with your tentacles! Mighty Cthulhu! Grand Cthulhu!).

In response to legal complaints about some apparent voodoo rituals gone totally wrong, Inspector Legrasse (of New Orleans) summons his men and rushes into the swamp…

So a body of twenty police, filling two carriages and an automobile, had set out in the late afternoon with the shivering squatter as a guide. At the end of the passable road they alighted, and for miles splashed on in silence through the terrible cypress woods where day never came. Ugly roots and malignant hanging nooses of Spanish moss beset them, and now and then a pile of dank stones or fragment of a rotting wall intensified by its hint of morbid habitation a depression which every malformed tree and every fungous islet combined to create. At length the squatter settlement, a miserable huddle of huts, hove in sight; and hysterical dwellers ran out to cluster around the group of bobbing lanterns.

They are riding into putrefaction, aka the “squatter settlement” – which, as miserable as it seems, is still very pertinent to Legrasse and his men. These squatters, after all, are white men, mostly primitive but good-natured descendants of Lafitte‘s men, were in the grip of stark terror from an unknown thing which had stolen upon them in the night – that is, squatting somewhat outside jurisdiction (maybe not as much as Lafitte, the pirate, did), but still hanging on to its fringes enough so they can appeal to its center for help. These squatters have a problem, as the text has it, with an

unknown thing which had stolen upon them in the night.

Well, the unknown thing, to be precise, has not exactly paid a visit to them proper – it’s more by hear-say they are afraid of it:

There were insane shouts and harrowing screams, soul-chilling chants and dancing devil-flames; and, the frightened messenger added, the people could stand it no more.

How about good old self-defense? Why do these people, enjoying the autonomy and removal of the swamp settlement, not get off their asses and see for themselves what causes these harrowing screams – well, they are decaying, of course – and Legrasse and company are able to help them because they, unlike the squatters, are further removed from the place of evil, implicitly less decayed. I made that point some time ago in my reading of The Dunwich Horror – decay in Lovecraft is voyeuristic and staged all for the audience: a thing for the theater stage, where agents wander in and out. No, these squatters cannot help themselves, and so can’t the Dunwichians – once you’re decaying in Lovecraft’s fiction, you become a burlesque’s subject matter, inertiatic and damned to witness what other people may or may not be able to do for you.


1 Comment

  1. […] 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 […]

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