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.


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.


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.


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!


1 Comment

  1. […] 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 […]

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