I was motivated to write by today's Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times, Washington Chainsaw Massacre, in which Dowd draws parallels between our current political situation and the plots of some major horror works in literature and film and references Lovecraft. Now, don't get me wrong, I mostly agree with Dowd. There's certainly plenty of Fear and Loathing to go around in our current political climate, and it's not difficult to imagine the Capitol--currently occupied by one overly sensitive party and one that has fallen into somnambulance--splitting apart like the House of Usher.
And it's kind of cool to see Lovecraft referenced in the New York Times, but as sometimes happens, I can't help feel it's done in a way which reinforces the image of Lovecraft as a writer who mostly just called things "indescribable" and then threw a lot of adjectives around. The passage in particular is:
In the short story “The Outsider,” Lovecraft’s narrator offers a description that matches how some alarmed Democrats view Tea Partiers: “I cannot even hint what it was like, for it was a compound of all that is unclean, uncanny, unwelcome, abnormal and detestable. It was the ghoulish shade of decay, antiquity and desolation; the putrid, dripping eidolon of unwholesome revelation; the awful baring of that which the merciful earth should always hide. God knows it was not of this world.”
There's something about the choice of this quote that feels, well, like Dowd just skimmed a Lovecraft Best of... until she found the first sentence that seemed purple and horrific enough. Where to start? How about the fact that the narrator in this case is describing his own reflection, which actually seems like an interesting commentary though not one that Dowd seems be to trying to make. Or how about the fact that both the Tea Parties and Lovecraft have a soft spot for the 18th century? Or how the past in Lovecraft's fiction often takes on a dual role of both idyllic refuge and source of menace? Not to mention that some of these descriptors just seem off. (Do Democrats really think of the Tea Party as a "shade of decay" or an "unwholesome revelation"? Isn't it the Republicans who are more likely to think in terms of moral disgust?)
To tell the truth, as a Lovecraft nerd, as someone who has read more than a couple of biographies about him, as someone who thinks it's kind of cool how he went from being a cult writer to having a Library of America printing, I feel a certain degree of affection for Lovecraft and an almost protective reaction when I see him portrayed in a reductive way, especially by people who perhaps should know better (*cough*StephenKing*cough*). And I don't really feel like the Lovecraft quote Dowd chose adds a whole lot to her argument. It's just a series of pejoratives, taken out of context in a way that deprives them of much of their meaning. It seems like, had she read a little more deeply into Lovecraft, she might have turned up something more appropriate or interesting. And I guess that's what I find most disappointing.