Race and Decay (VII)

I’ll go a little deeper into what I just scribed the outlines of in my previous post: into evil it is. The point I wanted to render into some kind of permanent memory for my ongoing discussion of Race and Decay, the second chapter of my guerre avec Lovecraft’s use of race, an exceedingly long chapter because I keep adding layers of bricks as I go along – this point was that evil, in Lovecraft’s prose, is strictly individual, centered on the subject in a genetic mode of transference: in short, it’s a genetic, biological trait, not a behavioral pattern assumable and sheddable at will. As such it rests in a logical symbiosis with race – it’s dangerous to be outside the aryan spectrum that Lovecraft had in mind when he fabulated (thank goodness and the influence of great and mighty Cthulhu – not so much in his prose, and more in his letters) on the heroic, axe-wielding Teuton he imagined when he reflected on racial wholeness and health. It’s dangerous because it comes to be co-terminous, almost intuitively, with being evil: you’re other than white, you’re evil by definition. I listed an example for that annoying logical relation when I wrote about the swamp cultists that the narrator of The Call of Cthulhu places at the epicenter of decay –

Void of clothing, this hybrid spawn were braying, bellowing, and writhing about a monstrous ring-shaped bonfire; in the centre of which, revealed by occasional rifts in the curtain of flame, stood a great granite monolith some eight feet in height; on top of which, incongruous in its diminutiveness, rested the noxious carven statuette.

Another, way more…shall I say: more endemically dimensioned, example is found in The Shadow over Innsmouth.

As Dunwich, Innsmouth is a tradition-laden, history-burdened New England town whose city boundaries are also geographical containers of decay – it neatly stops and starts at the border line as it exists in the imagination of the narrator, who is drawn to it via its notoriety, to begin with:

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.

The place makes an ideal holiday resort for apocalyptic sects, priests, and other representatives of the species in some way in love with the end –

“Innsmouth? Well, it’s a queer kind of a town down at the mouth of the Manuxet. Used to be almost a city – quite a port before the War of 1812 – but all gone to pieces in the last hundred years or so. No railroad now – B. and M. never went through, and the branch line from Rowley was given up years ago.

“More empty houses than there are people, I guess, and no business to speak of except fishing and lobstering. Everybody trades mostly either here or in Arkham or Ipswich. Once they had quite a few mills, but nothing’s left now except one gold refinery running on the leanest kind of part time.”

Never heard of the Manuxet River, of Arkham, and indeed – of Innsmouth? Most likely not if you’re not somewhat familiar with Lovecraft’s fictive New England geography – these places are very real and New Englandish in their feel (not fantastic landscape fantasies, although Lovecraft uses these, as well), but still not bound to a map – It is not down in any map; true places never are, as Melville’s Ishmael has it of Queequeg’s native-fictional island Kokovoko – still, his stories don’t end up as escapist fantasies of the Lord of the Rings-type. He rather installs a perfect simulacrum of this world – and then steadily destroys this simulacrum to subvert our sense of security in this, our world: hail to the Gothic apocalypse. This is at least, admittedly, somewhat escapist in so far as it takes a merely nostalgic, but not a historical/historicizing perspective – it allows him to impose social and political networks on the plot, or rather: to weave them into the plot as he pleased, running a highly selective politics. What is overwhelmingly amiss in all of his fiction is any figure of the Leviathan – any sense of community in a politically effective way.


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