Please, not the Kids

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As an update to Cthulhu’s Chariot – that was first posted by sigsegv (some rights reserved)  – via The Limbonaut.

The insinuation of it is malicious, in a malicious kind of way.

Cthulhu is supposed to be the eater of the world and of humankind, of course,  so his name, grouped in that way, is rudely ambiguous. Or could it possibly be that anyone is unaware of what Cthulhu is? Not seriously.

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Lovecraft 101

via Boy in the Machine

he’s finally entering the curriculum, if in a…well…mythological manner.

And at his place, Cruel Angel presents a written script for the event, Lovecraft 101.

Oh yeah, another apocalypse scheme from Germany

[first posted by Chili bob, some rights reserved]

Yeah, that’s exactly what Volkswagen automobiles are known as over here in Germany – chariots of the Gods, even multi-tentacled ones like Cthulhu. Just so as not to create confusion – Miskatonic University is in Massachussetts, and enrollment is extremely competitive.

I am the Last, I will tell the audient Void

[huh!]

[English translation of the video captions provided – here – by psychomachia]

And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences of electricity and psychology and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished, for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare. Never before had the screams of nightmare been such a public problem; now the wise men almost wished they could forbid sleep in the small hours, that the shrieks of cities might less horribly disturb the pale, pitying moon as it glimmered on green waters gliding under bridges, and old steeples crumbling against a sickly sky.

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

The title begs for details, it just does: why would the frontier pop up there in the first place?

The novel, The Confidence Man, is supposedly set in the 1850s, and it describes a voyage through territories – the Midwest and the Coastal Plains, or: the area wedged between the Appalachians and the Great Plains, or: Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana – that had well been integrated into the union.

[first posted by EricGjerde, some rights reserved]

To wit, in this context –

The Indian Removal Act had been ratified in 1830, under the auspices of President Andrew Jackson, signing into jurisdiction a forced westward movement –

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That it shall and may be lawful for the President of the United States to cause so much of any territory belonging to the United States, west of the river Mississippi, not included in any state or organized territory, and to which the Indian title has been extinguished, as he may judge necessary, to be divided into a suitable number of districts, for the reception of such tribes or nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and remove there; and to cause each of said districts to be so described by natural or artificial marks, as to be easily distinguished from every other. (my emphasis)

A sharper edge than mine is applied on the act – here – what the law implied was, of course, the forced removal of member of the Five Civilized Tribes from the South East into the West, here meaning: west of the Mississippi river.
Indian and frontier fighting, in the vein of Colonel John Moredock, was introduced into the White House with the presidency of William Henry Harrison (1840-1841, being the ninth president and the first to die in office, obviously. He was not impeached out of it.). The White House biographical info page introduces his vita thus –

“Give him a barrel of hard cider and settle a pension of two thousand a year on him, and my word for it, ” a Democratic newspaper foolishly gibes, “he will sit…by the side of a ‘sea coal’ fire, and study moral philosophy.”

– which seems like a very fair deal. Earlier in his life he had been governor of the Indiana Territory, moving in that position into the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, against the Indian forces under the command of Tecumseh, below in a British uniform, documenting the fact that he went into an alliance with the British after his forces had been defeated in 1811. The iconographic conventions baffle me somewhat – most of all the lady on the medallion. If anyone, it should show George III, king of Great Britain & Ireland from 1800-1820, which it clearly does not. Since the painting was done in 1848, decades after Tecumseh’s death (at the hands of said William Henry Harrison, as the uncorroborated story goes) in 1813, I would think the artist gave a damn for historical accuracy and planted Queen Victoria into the painting – though she, whoever she is, doesn’t seem to wear any regal apparel – crown, diadem, or something – or any other thing indicating her status.

Chief Tecumseh

So. At the time of the Fidèle scuttling down the Mississippi river, the frontier had been established as a place of presidential geo-politics – at the same time, Indians were hurried out of the Eastern seaboard colonies, West and in the direction of the frontier – which around 1850 had, of course, long reached the Western seaboard.

The Mexican-American war had brought California into the Union, ceded by Mexico in 1848 – with General William Tecumseh Sherman playing a major role in the events, of course.

The Bear State Flag, as hoisted by the Sonoma, Ca. crew who went to occupy the Mexican garrison in the city.

The Fidèle is an all-comprehensive stage for a self-contained narration. Using what must by needs and apocalyptic logic be the final hours of the world, a judgment day presided over not by a celestial panel, but, well – by the reader, to whom the con man is busy catering, – using these final hours productively entails a reconstruction.

Melville brings back the frontier into the middle of the country, – the sense of it radiates off board the Fidèle, that brave Mississippi steamer acting as a world stage, as a diorama of the world. On rolling down the river, she is creating a steadily updated sense of frontier, en passant, if you will – an inside (the ship= the world) and an outside (historical, secular reality outside the confines of the ship/world stage: such as the extended chapters on Indian hating, which present a geographical frontier themselves, THE frontier as worked into the site by real life explorer-heroes like Daniel Boone and fictional, ambiguous villain-heroes like Nick of the Woods).

This is not so much a geographical frontier, but more a figurative, spiritual one. And that new frontier experience is part of the apocalyptic one-day-one-stage-experience that the con man, aka Satan, aka What-was-his-name, brings to an end when he smothers the light of the candle at the very end of the novel. There is no one left to reach out after that, no narrator lucky enough to be spared just for the sake of the narration, the way Ishmael takes the narration away from the capsizing of the Pequod –

[The Crew of the Pequod; first posted by Dunechaser, some rights reserved]

____________

I realize this is a way, way, way messed up argument that I would liberally cover in red if one of my students handed it in like that – I need to work out that frontier/apocalypse-interpretative-routine more, and my next chapter (and that’s where I’m escaping to now) on the Riders of the Purple Sage will give me the chance to.

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.

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

I find the idea of the Fidèle as a theatrical stage a little tricky to maintain when the novel moves into the topic of Indian hating & killing.

I find it tricky – what position would it provide to the extended chapters on Indian hating? Would it make them a tragic interplay in an otherwise comedic comedy, infuse some brutality into a story normally as light in tone as it is bitter and sardonic in import? Melville certainly creates a sense for how outré the whole Indian hating episode appears in the whole of the novel – he adapts for it, famously or infamously, passages from James Hall’s Sketches, Life, and Manners, in the West….and leaves out all the important parts, it seems at first (a short comparison between the treatment of Indian hating in Melville’s novel and Hall’s work is here, give or take the cheap advertisement) . The Indian turns into a demonic figure, unadressable and irremediable in his evil –

” As the child born to a backwoodsman must in turn lead his father’s life — a life which, as related to humanity, is related mainly to Indians — it is thought best not to mince matters, out of delicacy; but to tell the boy pretty plainly what an Indian is, and what he must expect from him. For however charitable it may be to view Indians as members of the Society of Friends, yet to affirm them such to one ignorant of Indians, whose lonely path lies a long way through their lands, this, in the event, might prove not only injudicious but cruel. At least something of this kind would seem the maxim upon which backwoods’ education is based. Accordingly, if in youth the backwoodsman incline to knowledge, as is generally the case, he hears little from his schoolmasters, the old chroniclers of the forest, but histories of Indian lying, Indian theft, Indian double-dealing, Indian fraud and perfidy, Indian want of conscience, Indian blood-thirstiness, Indian diabolism — histories which, though of wild woods, are almost as full of things unangelic as the Newgate Calendar or the Annals of Europe. In these Indian narratives and traditions the lad is thoroughly grounded. “As the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.” The instinct of antipathy against an Indian grows in the backwoodsman with the sense of good and bad, right and wrong. In one breath he learns that a brother is to be loved, and an Indian to be hated. (chapter 26)

Innate evil is fought by innate good: the backwoodsman is as genetically biased against his opponent as is his opponent, and neither religious intervention (the Quakers, of course, being the archetypal ally Native Americans had among white settlers), nor education (“little from his schoolmasters”) would change anything about that. Melville Indian-slayer Colonel John Moredock treads the steps not so much of Cooper’s Natty Bumpo (Leatherstockings has his serious issues with the native population, but never quite seems able to surrender his idea of their inherent goodness and noble savagery), but rather those of Robert Montgomery Bird’s Jibbenaynosay – featured in an 1837 novel of quite some rarity these days. I wouldn’t even know it, most likely, had not my adviser dealt out the whole story, copied, to his seminar one day.

[These were exceedingly many names to store in one single sentence. Here is for some entertainment, before the argument resumes – provided by Dominique Signoret – and off, again, goes the argument.]

Rather than carry a peace corps spirit to the frontier, Nathan”Jibbenainosay” Slaughter, aka Nick of the Woods, takes his battle axe instead and massacres whatever Indians come his way – a genuine evil charm to protect the white frontier population. The novel makes for an excruciating, but highly interesting read, if you manage to claim one of the rare copies.

Nathan, and that makes him more than just a maniac on a killing binge, is a Quaker going the killing way & no longer searching for the “Christ within” the Indian. In short: he is as ruthless as Melville’s Colonel Moredock – whatever Indian crosses his way, automatically slides on his personal black list. Both Bird and Melville don’t seem to grant any plot devices into their narration that would allow at least some sympathy engendered for the Indian – in fact, anything but. By transporting hatred against Indians as not only a coincidental experience, but a pre-condition for survival at the frontier at all, both inscribe an agenda into their slayers’ register and make their reading audiences sign it: the western expansion, it goes, was possible exactly because backwoodsmen braved the Indian danger and thus guarded the white settlers from their encroachment. 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.

[to be continued]