Bullet to the Net

Speaking of al-Maliki, well – no, dropping his name, basically, as I was doing and really no more than that, but – the Iraqi football national team won the Asian Cup yesterday, in a 1:0-win over Saudi Arabia. The final was played in Jakarta (Indonesia). People in Iraq celebrated the triumph. Also, people in Iraq died when bullwhipped suicide bombers exploited the situation – thousands of people crowding on the streets of Baghdad, –

The crowds briefly regained Baghdad’s streets from the gunmen, dancing to patriotic songs, waving the flag, and shooting into the air.

US army helicopters wisely interrupted their regular flyovers of the capital until the partying had stopped. (The Guardian)

– intoxicated over their team’s really quite spectacular success (they kicked out South Korea in the semi-finals, ranked considerably higher in the Fifa ranking [South Korea is at 58, Saudi Arabia at 61, Iraq is at 80] and so is Saudi Arabia, of course ) – and killed dozens of people, around 50 after last Wednesday’s win over South Korea.

Not one of the players on the Iraqi national squad plays at a Bundesliga side (although Bielefeld were just recently rumored [the guy on the photograph is Ernst Middendorp, Arminia Bielefeld’s coach, not Hawar] to look into signing Hawar Mohammed) – still, it makes me think.

Here in Germany, football is generally and by common agreement so definitely and only and exclusively a game, and just that – that is, politics are to be kept away from the pitch, and you won’t see clubs supporting any explicit political alignment oftheir fan base. That is not to say it doesn’t happen – especially (though not nearly exclusively) teams in East Germany have strong right-wing influences on the stands.

Still, basically, and at least as far as professional league football is concerned, match day is an opportunity to probe just how far rage, hatred, and intensity can go without starting a revolution or any political movement on any level. The most intense of these non-revolutionary experiences, for me, have usually come over the years in our matches against the league’s arch villains, FC Bayern München (I shall be damned if I directly supply them traffic in any way, so no link here). My side, FC Nürnberg, bless it, has its issues with the über-team from Munich – mostly because they have shoved us from the throne of absolute dominance in German football.

Growing up with the team involved, for the most part, a subtle maneuver between the glories of former days (nine championships, 3 cup wins, streaks of unbeaten games so long the sheer possibility of losing was a merely theoretical construct) and the embarassing pain of the present (six relegations, including one into third league football, plenty of amateurish players, ridiculously bad football that even a regular MLS game looks like the thrill of a century in comparison) – but however hard to bear it was at times, fans always stood firmly united against the Munich side – and the one notorious slogan you could always hear at the derbies, twice a season, even now that we’re are way better off again, run – Tod und Hass dem FCB (Death and Hatred to the FCB), often combined with some affirmation of Franconian independence – Franconia as opposed to loathed Bavaria, the grander unit on the political map, of which Franconia is a part.

There is a whole pseudo-political jargon arisen from that very intense rivalry – I remember talking to friends about the Bavarian occupying forces and their propaganda tv station (Bavarian Broadcasting – generally favorable to the Munich side, but not to us: or so it is said).

Now, seeing the news line on the Iraqi victory, the violence it inspired, as well as the joy, and the implications it might have (Iraq has a very real chance of facing the USA national team on the 2009 Confederations Cup, for which it qualified with its win) – I feel reminded that a) football is never a-political, that b) it is decadently foolish to even approach it in a fake-political way, and that c) I will henceforth refrain from refering, in the football context (not that I would do it anywhere else) to Bavaria as an occupying power like I mean it.

That’s when they chopped the mayor’s head off, back in ’93

Champs de Mars, Paris, La France

No, no – I don’t lapse into the age-blind nostalgia lingo of Lovecraft’s characters – that slangy, creepy way of telling things that happened 100s of years ago as if they’d had an active part in them. Not so. I meant this mayor here, Jean Sylvain Bailly, head of the first commune, in post-Revolution! – Paris, from 1789-1791. He was found indecent. Well, he was found indecent after he had deployed the National Guard, disastrously, to muffle, violently, a riot on the Champs de Mars, see above, that had arisen when an assembly had gathered to await the arrival of a petition that would have removed the king, Louis XVI, from office once and for all and for good. It didn’t arrive. People started lobbing rocks at the present National Guards, and mayhem was up and running.

Bailly was not forgiven for his deployment of the Guards. Having retired from office after the events on the Mars Field (and that is Mars, not as in the Misfits piece, Mars Attacks, but rather as in, Roman God of War), he was un-retired in 1793 and located, headwise, onto a guillotine bench, like so many . To quote the Schiller Institute’s tear-inspiring account of the final moments –

“You are trembling, Bailly?” asked one of the guards. “Yes, my friend, because of the cold,” serenely replied Bailly, as he walked up to the scaffold and put his head beneath the blade to receive the deadly blow.

Sniff. The grandeur of it.

Why I am telling all this as if I had had an active part?

Because the constructivist citizen of somewhere else is just about to tumble into instituting (not to say, constitutionalizing) a blogging commune, in fact: he’s already proto-elected himself a mayor, namely Michael Bérubé, and I think to myself, Daniel, this is your one chance of entering a commune without having the landlord tell you after a few days that all these commune-al friends have just set up a conscription service office for the French Foreign Legion, without your knowing of it, so go for it.

Therefore, I apply for a position in Blogoramaville, very coyly, mind you, – apply therefore for the as-yet-unofficial post of Laocoon of the Ville (for my first job act, see above: revolutionary mayors don’t live at ease. Neither do revolutionary scientists or scientists at all.) and answer the riddles the godfather of the Ville poses as an entrance exam.

The sphinx speaks these riddles, thus:

1. Michael Berube:[x=Republican Presidential Candidate]::a:b
2. Michael Berube:[y=Possible Mayoral Competitor]::c:d
3. Michael Berube:[z=Possible Running Mate]::e:f
4. Michael Berube:g::h:i

And it whispers something of – no similes! – and – no metaphors! – as if I knew what these were!

Ad 1)

Michael Berube:Mitt Rummy ::Michael Bérubé:Mitt Romney

Ad 2)

Michael Berube:Me :: Tenured:Adjuncted (d’oh!)

Ad 3)

Michael Berube:Lady Lazarus :: Closed Blog:Resurrected Blog (one year in every ten?)

Ad 4)

Michael Berube:David Horowitz :: Nuri al-Maliki:General Petraeus

Yeah, the answer to riddle 2 is cheap: shame!

No, actually these are vampire teeth on my tentacles, see?

A plush teddy to go with the most interesting incarnation of great and mighty Cthulhu? Here it is – tadaa! (via John Brownlee at ectoplasmosis)

As cute as it is – on a cuddling basis – I find the commercial line interesting that goes with it –

Now you can witness Cthulhu in his Dracula form!

First, this doesn’t quite get teratological matters right: Cthulhu is not a shape-shifter (that feat is more the domain of one of the colleagues on the pantheon, Nyarlathotep, the con man of multiple disguises, but of distinct origin: Egypt, and beyond it, the stars!).

Then, isn’t that sentence also an evaluation of the relation Lovecraft’s monster zoo has with more traditional, more deeply-rooted-in-folk monsters like Dracula (who, needless to say, is hardly older as a literary being than, say, Cthulhu – he has something like 20 years on the tentacled one)? That particular relation that David Punter claims does not exist?

Quoth Punter, :

“On the whole, they fail: in cultural terms, their power is nothing compared with that of Frankenstein and Dracula.” (Punter, David. The Literature of Terror. Volume 2. The Modern Gothic. Harlow, Longman, 1996. 45. )

They – he’s measuring here Cthulhu and Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow against Frankenstein and Dracula and decrees the former the inferior position at the doorsteps of the great British Gothic symbols, – which position they assume, if at all, only in academic criticism (and certainly British academic criticism) which will be sure to blurp out over-read interpretations of Stoker’s and Shelly’s classics for the next 1.000 academic generations to come.

In literary-cultural terms, Cthulhu has the destruction of the planet up his sleeve and is, of course, a space-travelling alien (without a space ship, that is: space-travelling by birth, if you will), while the vampire has a hard time traversing the sea even to England.

Cthulhu vs. Dracula, 2:0.

In (pop-) cultural terms, Punter’s point doesn’t seem so clearly drawn, either. True. Dracula is one of the strongest signifiers ever to pop into world literature, ever and at all: but where are the Dracula plush teddies (and no, Count von Count doesn’t count, he’s based on Lugosi’s interpretation of the vampire figure), the magical arcana referencing Dracula explicitly as an entity of real-world power, the semi-authentic forbidden tomes you could use to invoke the good sharp-fanged gentleman? Right. Not in this world. Cthulhu has all of these to his credit. That makes a new count,

Cthulhu vs. Dracula, 3:0.

Ha.

From the Dark

Before Hollywood moguls will have a chance to take Lovecraft moviedom from obscurity to glamor, Italian filmmaker Ivan Zuccon will have another celluloidal shot at the Lovecraft corpus, this time obviously at The Colour out of Space. Rather than exploiting the story’s hyper-realist explicitness (and note the occurence of the there is no need to speak– paradox here) –

There is no need to speak too exactly of what they found.

Merwin and Zenas were both there, in part, though the vestiges were mainly skeletal. There were also a small deer and a large dog in about the same state, and a number of bones of small animals. The ooze and slime at the bottom seemed inexplicably porous and bubbling, and a man who descended on hand-holds with a long pole found that he could sink the wooden shaft to any depth in the mud of the floor without meeting any solid obstruction.

– into a Gordonesk splatter parade, Zuccon’s new movie Colour from the Dark seems to use the symbol (from space – in Lovecraft’s story the eponymous color drops from the sky, representative in its formless-ness of all his alien horrors from the sky) to explore the horrors of history. To quote the Meath Chronicle, see the link above

Director Zuccon has set his version of the story in Italy, in the 1940s, during World War II.The central characters in the film are members of a rural farm family who accidentally disturb some supernatural force that had been buried in a well on their farm. The movie follows how the married couple and the sister of the wife on the farm are affected by the water from this well where they have disturbed the spirit, and the inexplicable events that happen around the farm.

And –

Shanahan plays their neighbour, Giovanni, who lives next door with his granddaughter, and who tries to save the family from the destruction and havoc being wreaked on them by the evil force. He is also harbouring a Jewish girl in one of barns, as she hides from the Nazis in wartime Italy.

Interesting – the thought that Lovecraft’s code of horror symbols can be politicized, seriously (or so the preview seems to imply) made to work in a political context. That adds to the only apparent conjecture that his work must be a-political, simply because his politics were so ridiculously gestured and unreflected (at one time or another, and even at several times – post 1922 and 1933 – he applauded and clapped to the honor of Mussolini and Hitler, but swung back, more sensibly, to an embracement of FDR when it was about the politics back at home). Lovecraft’s fiction, and that movie that rises from it with it, makes the case for the Gothic as a social force, or rather, as an effective mediator of social forces.

And where would you ever need it as such if not in Lovecraft’s prose output. In a letter dated November 22, 1934 (no. 741 in the fifth of the five-volume Selected Letters) he writes –

Thus the Nazis in Germany want to get rid of every trace of Jewish blood, while other groups believe that the highest intellectual qualities in all races come through prehistoric & forgotten infusions of Semitic blood! Amidst such a confusion of objects, what single policy could ever gain an effective ascendancy? However – this is not to say that eugenics will remain utterly neglected. There are, of course, certain lines of action where virtual unanimity exists; & along those lines considerable progress may be expected. It is, for example, agreed that hereditary physical disease & mental inferiority ought not to be transmitted – hence within the next half-century the sterilisation of certain biologically defective types will probably become universal throughout the western world, thus cutting down the prevalence of idiocy, epilepsy, haemophilia, & kindred inherited plagues. The Nazis have already put such a policy into effect.

The curse of the apocalyptist: unity (“virtual unanimity”) will only be achieved in annihilation and destruction, – until then, the call of the day goes out for observation, study, scrutiny. The other will be contained and thus eradicated by scientific means, whose most convinving raison d’être is their efficiency: they actually work, and that is more than can be said about other parts of modern 1930s life.

Lovecraft’s politics are most productive in his fiction. That is not to deny weight to all the nonsensical charlatan politics in the letters – just because he didn’t have a swastika sown to his lapels, his politics are not unreal – they may be stifled, thwarted, but nevertheless historical and own to the context in which he chose to be a racist dick – but still it’s his fiction where his politics are realized. It is here they become open to interpretation, that they lose their unambiguousness – here that they must be interpreteted, because they are fused into ambiguous symbols of race and ethnicity. In interpreting them and in reading symbols like the shoggoth we do not necessarily enter into a state of complicity with the author, but rather we come to see the symbols as actively working and engaged and functional in a context. They are creative of meaning (the formless-sprawling shoggoth maybe more than other members of the man’s teratology) and dive right into history, violently – rather than trying to stand apart at a convenient breathing distance from where it is possible to lecture on and advocate the benefits of eugenics.

Mirandized: Thou hast the right to refrain from Revolution

Two days late. Ah. There goes the revolution anniversary.

Uncelebrated. Naturally, Lovecraft’s conservative & conservating prose outlook conceived of revolution, if it did, in terms of science. Thus, At the Mountains of Madness –

Popular imagination, I judge, responded actively to our wireless bulletins of Lake’s start northwestward into regions never trodden by human foot or penetrated by human imagination, though we did not mention his wild hopes of revolutionizing the entire sciences of biology and geology. His preliminary sledging and boring journey of January 11th to 18th with Pabodie and five others – marred by the loss of two dogs in an upset when crossing one of the great pressure ridges in the ice – had brought up more and more of the Archaean slate; and even I was interested by the singular profusion of evident fossil markings in that unbelievably ancient stratum.

Hammers and drills drill and chisel for fossils, not palace walls, let alone the residents of such walls.

Revolutions may also be internalized, private affairs in Lovecraft’s prose. Thus, The Call of Cthulhu –

Shaken with such a mental revolution as I had never before known, I now resolved to visit Mate Johansen in Oslo.

The thing has already happened: it returns as a shadow. Memories and fragments of pre-revolutionary culture come swinging back into Lovecraft’s modern New England world at very regular intervals, and never quite unambiguously: you bet that Lovecraft, the labored Anglophile did not count himself by default and with ease on the American side of events. Nationality (like ethnicity, race, religious believes) is a fragile, bull-whipped concept in his works, an incubator of ambiguities. To quote from his poem, An American to Mother England (and in so doing I feel like a complete wretch: the thing is not exactly a badge of accomplishment to the author: my trust, if labored, goes to Lovecraft that his reputation can bear even the grisly, trashy, shitty parts of the oeuvre. So, forward, into the pain –

What man that springs from thy untainted line
But sees Columbia’s virtues all as thine?
Whilst nameless multitudes upon our shore
From the dim corners of creation pour,
Whilst mongrel slaves crawl hither to partake
Of Saxon liberty they could not make,
From such an alien crew in grief I turn,
And for the mother’s voice of Britain burn.
England! can aught remove the cherish’d chain
That binds my spirit to thy blest domain?
Can Revolution’s bitter precepts sway
The soul that must the ties of race obey?
Create a new Columbia if ye will,

The flesh that forms me is Britannic still!

[Columbia, not as in British Columbia – he’s using it as a poetic cognomen for the US, as derived from Columbus.]

[No comment here: I feel unable right now to problematize the poem in a way that exceeds the brevity of four-letter-words.]

Rather, a taste of the shadows of revolution that crop up again and again.

Thus, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward –

It was getting to be a slum here; but the titan elms cast a restoring shadow over the place, and the boy used to stroll south past the long lines of the pre-Revolutionary homes with their great central chimneys and classic portals. On the eastern side they were set high over basements with railed double flights of stone steps, and the young Charles could picture them as they were when the street was new, and red heels and periwigs set off the painted pediments whose signs of wear were now becoming so visible.

[This story alone features six explicit uses of the Revolution.]

I say: shadow, but that’s not necessarily what the stories present. Look at the following passage, from The Shadow over Innsmouth: you can’t help feeling that the reader is actually supposed not just to commemorate the event, but more, to remember it. That’s an easy exercise, if you got the right twist on it: longevity is just one of the boons that the temporally displaced (like Joseph Curwen, villain and foe of Charles Dexter Ward) enjoy, of course.

Thus I began my systematic though half-bewildered tour of Innsmouth’s narrow, shadow-blighted ways. Crossing the bridge and turning toward the roar of the lower falls, I passed close to the Marsh refinery, which seemed to be oddly free from the noise of industry. The building stood on the steep river bluff near a bridge and an open confluence of streets which I took to be the earliest civic center, displaced after the Revolution by the present Town Square.

Oh, yeah, that was after the Revolution they reconstructed the town square, and did we ever have a great time molesting the construction workers, by telling them stupid fish jokes, and how they would grow gills if they didn’t get their job done fast enough.

July 14

The Frontier as Apocalyptic Place: Melville’s Indian Hating Revisited (III)

This is not so much a romanticized introspection into a patron-customer-relation, but rather a justification of a territorial expansion that was still rolling on when Melville and Bird wrote their novel.

Lovecraft never saw the Mississippi. Of course Lovecraft saw the Mississippi, in New Orleans (thanks to Kenneth Hite for the hint!). He never saw the west: his personal route of territorial expansion mostly took him all the way up and down the east coast and was memorized in several travelogues of varying literary merit – quote Sunand T. Joshi:

Lovecraft’s travel essays form a unique body of his work. True, few of us have the patience to wade through the eighteenth-century diction of A Description of the Town of Quebeck (1930-31) – his single longest work, and a self-conscious flaunting of his utterly non-commercial stance – but such things as “Vermont – A First Impression” (1927) or “The Unknown City in the Ocean” (1934; on Nantucket) speak poignantly of his constant need to be aesthetically revivified by actual contact with the relics of the past.

The droll caveat (“few of us have the patience” – obviously enough readers do to warrant a re-edition by Joshi`s able editory hands, and an affordable one, too) notwithstanding, the paragraph concludes concisely the terms of Lovecraft’s understanding of the land, of the country and sites in it – as a repository of memories to be cashed in on wandering through. His fictional treatment of nature and site is peculiar enough, not only because his places often tend to be so brittle and fragile that they promise to crumble even as you read them: he uses nature in a way that re-erects the frontier as it was in early generation Puritan times, pushed just slightly beyond the extents of the original colonies, but when you consequently come to this new frontier, prodded on by Lovecraft’s always prodding narrators, you find that Lovecraft was there before you, storing nasty, bileous surprises where you really don’t want to find them.

Stories like The Picture in the House depend on a sense of re-discovery, a sense of almost having been there before, but not quite – déjà vu with a generously applied layer of decay . The frontier the story leads us to is, however, a new one, not just a copy of the old Puritan style frontier: and Lovecraft seems to develop some touristy qualities when he has his narrator drone that –

But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.

and –

In such houses have dwelt generations of strange people, whose like the world has never seen. Seized with a gloomy and fanatical belief which exiled them from their kind, their ancestors sought the wilderness for freedom. There the scions of a conquering race indeed flourished free from the restrictions of their fellows, but cowered in an appalling slavery to the dismal phantasms of their own minds. Divorced from the enlightenment of civilization, the strength of these Puritans turned into singular channels; and in their isolation, morbid self-repression, and struggle for life with relentless Nature, there came to them dark furtive traits from the prehistoric depths of their cold Northern heritage. By necessity practical and by philosophy stern, these folks were not beautiful in their sins. Erring as all mortals must, they were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed. Only the silent, sleepy, staring houses in the backwoods can tell all that has lain hidden since the early days, and they are not communicative, being loath to shake off the drowsiness which helps them forget. Sometimes one feels that it would be merciful to tear down these houses, for they must often dream.

That is rolling so many potentially and actually ridiculous notions into a jumble, that I wonder if he even was awake when he wrote it in 1920, not just sleepwriting at the guidance of a spirit in the form of Cotton Mather who whispered to him and let him in on the dark secrets of the Northern Puritan warriors of the conquering race.

[The soundtrack is here supplied by Norwegian black something band Dimmu Borgir, who I remember having the dubious pleasure of seeing live some 10 years back.

The video (rather than a hearty thundering sermon) is the first thing YouTube brings up for the search term “puritanical”: well. Satan made them do it, I guess. They do have a decent bass drum, and I can imagine that laboredly demonic sprechgesang works well enough to impress your regular 16-year old who discovers for the first time that there is a metal bottom to the pop-ping chart world of music: it certainly worked on me when I was 16.]

Lovecraft’s notion of Puritanism, as far as it can be constructed, was quite negative – when they figure, they figure as exponents of oppressive religion and ignorant narrow-mindedness. Here, they are installed with a crude racial agenda – to make up for the deficit they, as the narrator imputes, grow into by severing the ties with their kind – that is, they alienate themselves from the body politic of Mother England (“gloomy and fanatical belief”), go into exile, and there they develop and rear their “Northern” heritage, whatever that is in this context: a Danish Viking seems to be insinuated here.

Gracefully, that is not the end – under that jumble of ethnically prejudiced bias lurks the dark.

Erring as all mortals must, they were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed.

And all out of a sudden, wouldn’t they know it, these Puritans are inscribed into a Gothic register – and pay a tribute to Lovecraft’s creative license. Puritan sins may not have been elegant, but for the most part they were out in the open, explicitly named and re-cycled in preaching culture and religious discourse, and occasionally even tagged with names, so everybody in the community knew who to lay the finger of blame on. Sure, “unspeakable” sins were unspeakable – in public – but these were few. Debaucheries, hetero-sexual licenses, alcoholism, all of them: signs of an unholy covenant with the devil, are quite explicitly present in and around, for example, the Salem trials. Naturally, all these sins nailed to the public pillory served to appeal to that sense of cohesion that the Puritan settlers had started to lose around 5 minutes after they touched American soil.

It’s in a systematical denial of the community aspect – that personal sin is, indeed, very pertinent to the welfare of the whole community – that Lovecraft is here re-invoking a Puritan populace. For the “strange people” out in the wooded hinterland, sin is a very private and personal thing, to hide, to reel in in the dark, but not to actually engage in a public discourse: Lovecraft’s Puritans wouldn’t have ostracized and trialled Hester Prynne, they would have locked her away in an attic and found her a forced mating partner among the ranks of the alien pantheon.