14 April 2008

Horror as Initiation: Lee Foust

I wanted to piggyback onto my blog from a few days ago to mention an alternative take on similar material. Lee Foust has a couple of brilliant essays on the h2so4 site.

The Horrific Experience of Countercultural Initiation

The Horrific Experience of Coming Face to Face with the Other 2

I find the distinction between female and male gothic modes rather interesting. Which I think gets back to what I find interesting with Lovecraft. It's common knowledge that Lovecraft projected a certain degree of his racism onto his monsters, often using similar terminology to describe both. Yet, I think Lovecraft also projected a certain amount of his own self image onto those monsters.

I'll mention one early story "Facts in the Case of Arthur Jermyn," which can be read as a neurotic phobia of miscegination. Yet, when HPL describes how the first Jermyn seemed to prefer being put in a madhouse to being around to see his son grow up, I find myself wondering about Lovecraft's own father who ended up in a madhouse and wasn't there to see his son grow up. Jermyn's son, as it becomes clear, is clearly monstrous, only half-human.

So, with respect to female and male gothics, where does Lovecraft fall? Except for a few pieces, his monsters aren't just entities to be beaten so order can be restored. I would argue several of his better regarded stories ("The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "At The Mountains of Madness", "The Outsider") present rather human monsters. But does Lovecraft really fall into the female gothic, where the monstrous ultimately comes to be accepted as good and beautiful? So, does Lovecraft present us with a male or a female gothic, or is it actually something weirder, some form of hermaphroditic gothic?

1 comment:

ricollateral said...

Lovecraft, in terms of how we might relate his fiction to his own experience and lessons we might extrapolate into theory and practice of the real world, is intrinsically far less sexy than the academically-acknowledged definition of worthwhile horror. Lee points to something engaged with libido (which I'd like to extend to both sexes as desire for creation and for life), but Lovecraft steps out of sexuality, or onto the oposite extreme on another dimension — I'd put him firmly in the destrato camp.

Let's not forget that for one thing, Lovecraft's visions of the fantastic came from crippling nightmares; and secondly that he was a depressed severe neurotic unengaged with any scene contemporary to his own, and in fact not critical but simply hateful of the then modern world and eventually a complete recluse.

Like Nietzsche, he's hard to take critically (well, he's utterly panned by critics) because apart from his latent racism and classism, he is simply disgusted by almost everything. As you point to in your example, he may empathise with certain horrific entities; but he can never sympathise: for him, there is no visible redeeming feature in society — he cannot visualise a betterment for any individual because he sees virtues (where and when he does see them) as begetting horror in a world inextricably suffuse with fatally crippling unpleasantness.

First thing on my agenda on pay-day evening is to get my hands on a copy of Michel Houellebecque's H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life — the title says it all! If we are to take lessons from Lovecraft, they might be that the mind is a terrible thing to taste... Or — if I were ever to recommend Lovecraft as reading for personal enrichment — that the saving mercy of the human mind is its inability to correlate its contents. :)