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Lovecraft Country

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Just finished watching the second episode of Lovecraft Country on HBO. I grew up on Lovecraft and felt conflicted when learning about the racist and anti-semitic subtext to some of his work. I haven’t read Matt Ruff’s book but I’m really liking the series, with contributions from the likes of Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams, so far. I find it very creative in its celebration of Lovecraft’s considerable contribution to the genre while rooting the narrative in the horror of the black experience, then and now. Looking forward to the ride!

 

#Black Lives Matter

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Lovecraft renounced much of his bigotry towards the end of his life. This change is glossed over frequently by his critics and evidence of that change in biases is seen in the research of prominent Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi.

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I discovered Lovecraft only a few years ago, bought a huge tome containing all of his works, and read about a third of it.  Whereupon I donated it, convinced that I've had enough.  I was left under the impression that it emitted the kind of qi I didn't feel comfortable having in my environment.  It's a taoist thing.  I'm sensitive to sha' qi. 

 

I've read worse -- the accounts (documentary ones dwarfing works of fiction in their horror) of, e.g., people who went through forced labor camps of the Stalin era, the cultural revolution in China, the Holocaust, the colonial exploits in Africa and South America, a huge amount of ponerology* literature, and yet I didn't feel I can't be in the same room with those books.  That's because between the horror and the reader there was a cushion of compassion emanating from the author, blunting the despair, giving hope, and ultimately uplifting the human spirit because the author, if nothing and nobody else, was on its side.  With Lovecraft, however, even though a lot of it I read as creatively (albeit bizarrely) reinterpreted fact rather than fiction, I felt the exact opposite.         

 

*ponerology -- the study of evil   

 

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Taomeow said:

I discovered Lovecraft only a few years ago, bought a huge tome containing all of his works, and read about a third of it.  Whereupon I donated it, convinced that I've had enough.  I was left under the impression that it emitted the kind of qi I didn't feel comfortable having in my environment.  It's a taoist thing.  I'm sensitive to sha' qi. 

 

I've read worse -- the accounts (documentary ones dwarfing works of fiction in their horror) of, e.g., people who went through forced labor camps of the Stalin era, the cultural revolution in China, the Holocaust, the colonial exploits in Africa and South America, a huge amount of ponerology* literature, and yet I didn't feel I can't be in the same room with those books.  That's because between the horror and the reader there was a cushion of compassion emanating from the author, blunting the despair, giving hope, and ultimately uplifting the human spirit because the author, if nothing and nobody else, was on its side.  With Lovecraft, however, even though a lot of it I read as creatively (albeit bizarrely) reinterpreted fact rather than fiction, I felt the exact opposite.         

 

*ponerology -- the study of evil   

 

hplovecraft.png.61ef56e825453a556fccf0228e5e45e0.png

 

Spoiler

Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Scaring the MEOW out of Daoists for over a century now!

 

 

 

 

Edited by virtue
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Lovecraft has a range of moods, from bleakly nihilistic (Call of Cthulhu) to darkly whimsical (his dream cycle). It's interesting to talk about authors who had repugnant views or (in the case, e.g. of Marquis de Sade, repugnant deeds to match) yet whose work nevertheless appeals to apparently decent people.

 

I was reading Chinua Achebe's critique of Joseph Conrad a while back and was struck by how some of it applied to Lovecraft (I have bolded the parts I think particularly relevant):

 

Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as "the other world," the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man's vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant beastiality. The book opens on the River Thames, tranquil, resting, peacefully "at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks." But the actual story will take place on the River Congo, the very antithesis of the Thames. The River Congo is quite decidedly not a River Emeritus. It has rendered no service and enjoys no old-age pension. We are told that "Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world."

 

Is Conrad saying then that these two rivers are very different, one good, the other bad? Yes, but that is not the real point. It is not the differentness that worries Conrad but the lurking hint of kinship, of common ancestry. For the Thames too "has been one of the dark places of the earth." It conquered its darkness, of course, and is now in daylight and at peace. But if it were to visit its primordial relative, the Congo, it would run the terrible risk of hearing grotesque echoes of its own forgotten darkness, and falling victim to an avenging recrudescence of the mindless frenzy of the first beginnings.

 

These suggestive echoes comprise Conrad's famed evocation of the African atmosphere in Heart of Darkness . In the final consideration his method amounts to no more than a steady, ponderous, fake-ritualistic repetition of two antithetical sentences, one about silence and the other about frenzy. We can inspect samples of this on pages 36 and 37 of the present edition: a) it was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention and B) The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. Of course there is a judicious change of adjective from time to time, so that instead of inscrutable, for example, you might have unspeakable, even plain mysterious, etc., etc.

 

The eagle-eyed English critic F. R. Leavis drew attention long ago to Conrad's "adjectival insistence upon inexpressible and incomprehensible mystery." That insistence must not be dismissed lightly, as many Conrad critics have tended to do, as a mere stylistic flaw; for it raises serious questions of artistic good faith. When a writer while pretending to record scenes, incidents and their impact is in reality engaged in inducing hypnotic stupor in his readers through a bombardment of emotive words and other forms of trickery much more has to be at stake than stylistic felicity. Generally normal readers are well armed to detect and resist such under-hand activity. But Conrad chose his subject well -- one which was guaranteed not to put him in conflict with the psychological predisposition of his readers or raise the need for him to contend with their resistance. He chose the role of purveyor of comforting myths.

 

I think Achebe's takedown of Heart of Darkness is dead-on, yet I nevertheless continue to love the book. Likewise with Lovecraft. There is much to criticize in these authors but if we think of literature as a dialogue, with more or less agreeable interlocutors, then repugnant opinions don't need to concern us so longer as there is a response. It seems like this Lovecraft Country is one such response, much like Tayeb Salih, VS Naipaul, and Chinua Achebe himself all had their own responses to Conrad.

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Very good points, my good Sir! Art speaks and entices us to investigate and let go for a while.

 

I don't know if any of the critics have noticed, but many of the fantasy and early science fiction inspired authors used subtle, maybe even sometimes unintentional, subversive tones against the prevailing moralism and lack of mystery in the late 19th century Anglo West.

 

Indeed, the lack of mystery and the ennui borne with it are a most certain provocations to the creative spirits and the childlike inquiring minds: There ought to be something more to the world than what the dull rationalism of mechanical obligations and the often judgmental moral certainty (e.g. puritanism) could ever allow.

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Lovecraft as other writers over the centuries is a product of his era, country and culture. One cannot criticise without this context.

How would you view the fable of Aesop named "Washing_the_Ethiopian_White" without context? It becomes a racist fable without being intended to be one in the first place.

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I don't judge Lovecraft too harshly but the "product of his time" defense only goes so far. He was relatively well-traveled and there were certainly contemporaries who knew better. He certainly had plenty of opportunity to interact with working class immigrants of various origins- many of whom were his readers. African-American literature was readily available and the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing in the 20's. He was fond of Richard Burton's translation of the Arabian Nights so the idea of an accomplished non-European civilization wasn't lost on him (though, of course, the Arabian Nights are themselves cartoonishly racist in their own way).

 

As for Aesop's fable, as far as I can tell, Aesop did not see "Ethiopians" as mankind's "grotesque echoes of its own darkness" (Achebe). Granted, the Greek attitude toward "Ethiopians", as toward other "barbarians" of any color, was an all-encompassing snobbery that persisted even after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople.

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Lovecraft is indeed a product of his time, but he is also known for being much more extreme than the average bigot of his fellow man then. 
 

His travel experience was mostly towards the end of his life, and what changed his views too was his marriage to a Jewess and being on the train out west that got him thinking.

 

Prior to that, he was the equivalent of a modern-day incel who was smothered by his aunts who raised him and his own development as a child put him behind his peers socially. He was incredibly awkward and can be thought of as a guy who lived in his head because he rarely spoke with the people whom he feared, but he was amongst them when living in New York.

 

This changed with his marriage and his travels gradually‚ÄĒhence the renunciation.

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1 hour ago, Earl Grey said:

His travel experience was mostly towards the end of his life, and what changed his views too was his marriage to a Jewess and being on the train out west that got him thinking.

 

Prior to that, he was the equivalent of a modern-day incel who was smothered by his aunts who raised him and his own development as a child put him behind his peers socially. He was incredibly awkward and can be thought of as a guy who lived in his head because he rarely spoke with the people whom he feared, but he was amongst them when living in New York.

That is what i knew from his bio and his books. It is pretty obvious that he lived as a recluse for most of his life and he wasn't well traveled. What he knew of the East he probably learned from books or reports of expeditions at the time from local newspapers. He appears to have some knowledge of ancient mythology of the middle east which correlates to how he built his Cthulhu mythos.

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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, Zork said:

That is what i knew from his bio and his books. It is pretty obvious that he lived as a recluse for most of his life and he wasn't well traveled. What he knew of the East he probably learned from books or reports of expeditions at the time from local newspapers. He appears to have some knowledge of ancient mythology of the middle east which correlates to how he built his Cthulhu mythos.


As a minority by western standards, I don’t buy into this woke framework. I have always known Lovecraft to be a weirdo, and unsurprisingly, many writers, artists, and musicians have had some sort of neuroses or addiction on top of being full of idiosyncrasies. Does it excuse them? Of course not. But do their works still influence us? It would be delusions and hypocrisy to say otherwise.

 

¬†I wrote in my own thread for woke criticisms that in the country that I¬†presently live in, Lovecraft is insanely popular in literary and hobby cultures‚ÄĒeven though the people here and I have been depicted as little pygmy cannibals goblins, the Tchotchos. We are fully aware he imagined us to be savages‚ÄĒand we find it hilarious even as this country has had colonialism on top of racism. We look at the ideas he made and escapism that exists, and have games revolving around hyperbole: role playing as southern plantation owners being murdered by Cthulhu cultists, and treat his ignorance the same way white people make fun of Asian people Engrish. Is it offensive? Some of us do think his views are messed up, but we don‚Äôt enjoy what Lovecraft has spawned from literary influences to games and art¬†any less.

 

There is an ongoing reaction here since the World Fantasy Awards removed Lovecraft’s bust as their award to highlight woke articles about Lovecraft and how they’re all written with the same arguments by Americans predominantly and the people here instead do more Lovecraft related activity as a response.

 

The Americans of course have their history of slavery that causes them to react differently to their literary son, and the dialogues about him are led by the Americans very loudly. It is made worse by how Americans lead the dialogue more because of their influence via social media and homogenization of ideas that also stem from Silicon Valley and its unsurprisingly parochial views that somehow are packaged as diverse because of the love for tech and its stranglehold on 21st century life. As a result, the Americans can keep going on about this unoriginal revisionist progressive view, but it’s not going to be as fun as the ideas or settings Lovecraft created. Lovecraft and his legacy will continue entertaining us all, and wokeness today will be tomorrow’s old hat.

Edited by Earl Grey
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History is messy. No one fits the cookie cutter form....no one possibly can fit that form....Martin Luther King was a notorious womanizer....yet he did great things. We all got gunk inside of us.....people who do healing work understand this principle. Angels we are not.  

 

Never read Lovecraft....but i've always had a resonance with that particular current of energy. Cthulhu, The Watchers, Satanism, Loki, Lucifer....rebellious archetypes, whom are arbiters of forbidden knowledge. Cool cats the lot of em. 

 

tarot-card.jpg

 

 

 

Edited by RiverSnake
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I absolutely hate revisionism. Don't like a work of art? Don't bother with it. Every country has had moments that was nothing to be proud of and most people have too. That doesn't mean anything by itself, these moments in time won't go away because we choose to ignore them, they are part of history and sometimes wisdom can be gained by reflecting on what went wrong. I really don't understand wtf is going on in the States. Columbus wasn't the best guy ever but he discovered America. No amount of defacing his statues will change that fact. In the UK too many philanthropists were slave traders during the Age of Discovery. Bringing down their statues won't release the enslaved nor diminish their contributions (in whatever form) to the local community.

Is anyone in modern Turkey ever admit that the Ottomans had slaves a little more than a century ago?

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Aside from a couple stories, he's never hooked me with his style.  The Temple drew me in, but only I suspect because it reminded me of Fritz Lieber's Tale of Symorgia.  Lovecraft tends to be wordy and dry to me, leaves me rather neutral.  I've tried several times... C'est la vie.

 

 

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1 hour ago, silent thunder said:

Aside from a couple stories, he's never hooked me with his style.  The Temple drew me in, but only I suspect because it reminded me of Fritz Lieber's Tale of Symorgia.  Lovecraft tends to be wordy and dry to me, leaves me rather neutral.  I've tried several times... C'est la vie.

 

 

 

I was waiting for someone to mention the unmentionable.  :D   I may have criticized him (if you can call subtle perceptions I cited that) for all the wrong reasons.  Truth be told, I found out he was somewhat of a chthonic character himself only after the fact, not before I discovered I can't take his writing style.  And a great pity it was too, because I came to check him out from the Necronomicon, an earlier and much more enjoyable discovery, and was getting ready to love his craft.  

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Well, he invented the Necronomicon, so you like something he did. There is at least one purported Necronomicon that was published but it is a modern invention, inspired by Lovecraft (though oddly relying more on Mesopotamian mythology as I recall).

 

His writing style is uneven. It can be dull or laughably bad but generally I like his ornate style, especially when he channels Dunsany. That’s probably why I love Clark Ashton Smith so much who is just so absurdly purple that one must either despise it or surrender (I surrender):

 

Fritz Leiber is probably a better writer overall. It’s been a while since I read him, I have to remedy that. 

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2 hours ago, SirPalomides said:

Well, he invented the Necronomicon, so you like something he did. There is at least one purported Necronomicon that was published but it is a modern invention, inspired by Lovecraft (though oddly relying more on Mesopotamian mythology as I recall).

 

 

I didn't say I liked nothing he did, I liked the literary device of inventing and ominously referencing a book that doesn't exist, a device tried and true (and in its turn possibly invented in China and taken all the way to wuxia noves), and a few other things, of course.  The modern Necronomicon (coupled with the new translation of Gilgamesh) sparked my interest in things Mesopotamia, and I suspect the suspected author, Peter Levenda, a fellow taoist, walked a similar path toward creating it.  These things do get as bizarrely convoluted as Cthulhu's tentacles.  Still I much preferred an earlier Cthulhu's literary counterpart and possibly inspiration, Moby Dick.  

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Moby Dick really is amazing. What a strange, beautiful, messy book. Unfortunately when a book gets put in The Canon and everyone has to read parts of it for school, a lot of people can't enjoy it properly and can't appreciate how delightfully weird a book like Moby Dick is.

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12 hours ago, RiverSnake said:

 

Never read Lovecraft....but i've always had a resonance with that particular current of energy. Cthulhu, The Watchers, Satanism, Loki, Lucifer....rebellious archetypes, whom are arbiters of forbidden knowledge. Cool cats the lot of em. 

 

 

 

Cthulhu isn't really Luciferian. The thing about Cthulhu is that, at least in Lovecraft's view, there is no higher power it is in rebellion against. It is basically a personification of the universe's lack of purpose, meaning, etc. and the insignificance of humanity. That's Lovecraft's "cosmicism" in a nutshell. Although the fact that mere humans are able to temporarily thwart Cthulhu's rising by ramming him with a boat might raise questions about how insignificant they really are.

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8 minutes ago, SirPalomides said:

Moby Dick really is amazing. What a strange, beautiful, messy book. Unfortunately when a book gets put in The Canon and everyone has to read parts of it for school, a lot of people can't enjoy it properly and can't appreciate how delightfully weird a book like Moby Dick is.

 

Not in my school, luckily, hardly anyone read it where I come from, but of course in school they did it to our own genius authors.  I did, however, in college, have to write a term paper on Moby Dick, but I had great rapport with my teacher of American literature and admired him and had a minor crush on him, so it was fun.  

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4 minutes ago, Taomeow said:

 

Not in my school, luckily, hardly anyone read it where I come from, but of course in school they did it to our own genius authors.  I did, however, in college, have to write a term paper on Moby Dick, but I had great rapport with my teacher of American literature and admired him and had a minor crush on him, so it was fun.  

 

 

Was Bulgakov's Master and Margarita part of the curriculum in your school days or was it still being censored?

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Just now, SirPalomides said:

 

 

Was Bulgakov's Master and Margarita part of the curriculum in your school days or was it still being censored?

 

Still censored back then, never even mentioned in the school program (thank god, come to think of it...  it is part of the program now and this was conductive to raising a generation of kids who hate it :D and of critics who cater to that sentiment.)  Back then, however, for me, it was part of that scene where they give you an unobtainable book if you've karmically earned it that I was talking about earlier, which adds a special flavor to the read -- you can never get as much excitement out of a book you buy or borrow from the library no matter how good it is.  I was visiting a friend during winter vacations, on my first unsupervized trip to Moscow -- I was 17 -- and had about three days to read it.  Needless to say it thwarted my vacation fun plan something horrible. :D   

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Posted (edited)

I guess the only thing I can think of remotely comparable to your unobtainable book experience for Americans would be something like the Satanic panic of the 80's and 90's where certain books and music- while not legally banned- were being fanatically suppressed at schools and, by many parents, at home. And this was of course being boosted by a national media misinformation campaign. In some places this meant any kind of fantasy literature. My parents took all my brother's D&D books and threw them out (he said they burned them but I think he was being melodramatic). I remember one of my teachers seriously forbidding The Hobbit from her classroom because it was Satanic.

 

A far cry from Soviet censorship needless to say- it was still easy enough to obtain these materials at the average bookstore or by mail. Some rather mediocre acts even exploited the situation to get publicity for themselves- I am speaking of course of the stupid band Cannibal Corpse.

Edited by SirPalomides
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For those interested, Phil Hine, chaos magic writer, published his Pseudonomicon which deals with magic related to the Cthulhu Mythos. I've read some of Hine's other work but not this so I can't really comment on its quality.

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1 hour ago, SirPalomides said:

The thing about Cthulhu is that, at least in Lovecraft's view, there is no higher power it is in rebellion against. It is basically a personification of the universe's lack of purpose, meaning, etc. and the insignificance of humanity. 

 

So, Cthulhu is the Dao? Excellent! 

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