East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

On Lovecraft’s birthday

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1188_128486729706So, it’s H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday.
Back when I started reading HPL this was not the minefield it’s become in recent years.
So now I sit here and I wonder, how would a post in celebration of H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday be perceived?
How would it reflect on me?
Which is simply silly.
So, let’s get this thing going.

The importance of H.P. Lovecraft for the field of horror and for all of imaginative fiction cannot be denied. He fully deserves the title of literary Copernicus that Leiber bestowed on him.
Lovecraft took man out of the center of the horror genre and made him nothing more than an accident, an innocent (?) bystander caught in events he can’t hope to understand – or indeed, events he must hope never to understand. In that direction lurks madness.
Hic sunt leones – only worse, much worse.


It is equally undeniable that many of HPL’s ideas came from his personal world view that was, to use a technical term borrowed from psychiatry, like, totally f#cked up.
Not only HPL subscribed to much of the racist and reactionary thinking of his time – a fact that can be unpleasant, but can also be filtered through historical perspective – but he went one step further.
Read Lovecraft’s The Street and shiver.
The fact that he did so, in my opinion, basically as an act of roleplaying, only makes things worse.
You see, HPL liked to play the role of the old-fashioned gentleman from another time, the New Englander still loyal to the British crown, the grumpy supporter of the good old ways. Grandpa Theobaldus. And to play his role he had to turn the amp up to eleven on things he probably felt.
In a time in which most Americans were racist, and yet a lot of them were working to put an end to racism, Lovecraft acted and spoke and styled himself as an ultra-racist, an ultra-conservative.
A jerk, basically.
This is what I find hard to accept from him.
Because to me HPL was an intelligent individual, and to me intelligence and racism don’t go together. Intelligence and “playfully amplified” racism, even less so.

And yet he was weird.
HPL was a racist, but married a Jewish woman and ended his career in the Amateur Press by defending the right of an African-American to see his work published.
But of course, the fact that he loved spaghetti (he did) does not absolve him from what he said about Italians.
But he was certainly a pretty contradictory sort of chap.

And to be totally honest, I actually like the fact that HPL was such a weird jerk, and he wrote what he wrote.  And no, I’m not talking about his life, but ours. Because this dichotomy forces us to think.
We can separate the writing from the writer – and recognize HPL’s place in the pantheon of great horror writers, his role as a Literary Copernicus, dismissing his personal views as the drivel they were.
But we also have to acknowledge the fact that those views, HPL’s personal neuroses and his insufferable perception of reality informed much of his fiction. His fear of the Other gave us one of the great themes of weird fiction. His fear of sex and women and miscegenation gave us the early roots of what we call body horror. His paranoia gave us every conspiracy horror in the last fifty years.
And finally, we have to deal with the fact that a fundamental body of works that are (often) quite fun to read, came from the mind of a deeply flawed human being.
A jerk, as we said.

So, in the end, where do we stand?
I guess each one in the end finds their balance.
I like most but not all of HPL’s works and I think he was the sort of person I would have had endless discussion and fights on a personal basis.
I respect the art, or try to, while I find it hard to respect the artist. Very hard.
Not because of the name he gave to his cat, but because to play a part he chose to hurt people, and he probably did not even think about it.


But anyway, it’s the 20th of August.
HPL’s 128th birthday.
I think I’ll celebrate by re-reading The Temple, one of HPL’s most comically horrific – or horrifically comic – stories.
Happy birthday, dead dreamer.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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