Thursday 19 June 2008

Lovecraft Event Part 2

Although the common, and false, image of Lovecraft is as a reclusive antiquarian obsessed by a heavily idealised New England past, we have seen how he is familiar with the most advanced and experimental currents of his time in the arts and sciences. His relation to these currents is, of course, a reactive or even reactionary one. Does this preclude formal inventiveness? Alain Badiou states, ‘[t]o resist the call of the new, it is again necessary to create arguments of resistance adjusted to the novelty itself. From this point of view, every reactive disposition is contemporary with the present against which it reacts’ (in Clemens 290). In the formation of “reactionary novelties” (Badiou) Lovecraft can be aligned with those forms of “High Modernism,” such as T. S. Eliot’s, that constituted themselves, in Peter Nicholls words, as “an attack on modernity” (251). The difficulty, in terms of Badiou’s evental tracings, is how Lovecraft’s “novelty” is something artistically “new” while at the same time “politically” reactionary (and reactionary against other artistic innovations); it suggests the intersection or imbrication of events: in this case art, science, politics.

His reaction against these currents of the new produces a “reactionary novelty,” but actually also a true novelty of disruption that exceeds its primary evental site – Gothic fiction; this may be why that it only outside of the Gothic that we find Lovecraft’s true disciples: William Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, and Michel Houellebecq, artists like H. R. Giger and John Coulthart, and muscians like The Fall and Patti Smith. The Lovecraft event therefore problematises Badiou’s formulation of the artistic event by being a reactionary event that produces something new.

For the “Lovecraft event” the experimental forms of the “New” provide the points of resistance against which he forms his “images” of horror qua chaos. The “reactionary novelty” of his position is that is through this opposition “gratified by images” that Lovecraft forms an “image” of the real as the “structure” (or better said “anti-structure”) of the physical universe. His horror emerges precisely through the rupture with our usual perception of this physical universe as bound by law, and results from “a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.” (Lovecraft in Joshi 2000) This then is the moment of the suspension of the laws of physical reality itself. In Lovecraft’s own case such an intuition of horror emerges from his struggle with the damage inflicted on his mechanistic materialism by the new discoveries in quantum theory, as S. T. Joshi remarks “I do not know how well Lovecraft really came to terms with indeterminacy” (2000). I’d be tempted to add very well, if we conceive it under the sign of horror. At the same time this “reactionary novelty” is also what generates the true novelty in Lovecraft.

For Lovecraft the bulwark against this “chaos”, this horror, the “one anchor of fixity” (in Joshi 2000), is tradition. This is why this horror of chaos is not only figured at the level of physical matter but also folded onto a horror of mass democracy, not least through the dimension of racism. The forces of “democracy” threaten the eroding of tradition, although Lovecraft recognises the role played by capitalism in this process as well. These forces find their representation in the figures of the masses of alien Others that throng the spaces of the city (cf. “He” (1925) and “The Horror at Red Hook” (1925)). Rather than seeing Lovecraft’s racism as an inexplicable lapse (pace Joshi) I would suggest we see it as the “anchoring point” that meta-sutures tradition. As Lacan predicted in Television racism arises again in the competition over jouissance engendered by the fracturing of social relations and, as Miller puts it, “is founded on what one imagines about the Other’s jouissance.” (79) The monstrous imaginings Lovecraft has about the Other’s jouissance stabilise the forces of chaos outside and in opposition to the forces of tradition. It is just this schema which Lovecraft’s own fictions undermine and collapse through their admission of miscegnation, most effectively in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1931); in this story “chaos” is at once warded off but only to become the very foundation and origin of the universe, the world, the human race, and the Lovecraftian hero himself.

“The Call of Cthulhu” locates and stabilises the core of racism in the “degenerate” cultists who “worship” Cthulhu in the swamps of Louisiana. These cultists form an “indescribable horde of human abnormality,” composed of “hybrid spawn” (152); once again we can see the link with the fears of mass democracy and the crowd. Those captured during the police raid led by Inspector Legrasse are found to “be men of a very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally aberrant type.” (153) This racism is also correlated with jouissance, not only in the ceremonies themselves but also in the state promised by the return of the Great Old Ones:
The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. (155)
The result is a kind of Nietzschean materialist “heaven” on earth, recognisable later in the libidinal materialisms of Deleuze and Guattari or Lyotard. It is also, very probably, the result of a category error that supposes the Great Old Ones require “worship” and the mediation of humans to return – the story is somewhat ambiguous on this second point. This traditional topos of the rewards for the devil-worshipper is displaced by Lovecraft’s cosmicism of an indifferent universe.

References (Part 2)
Justin Clemens, 'Had We But Worlds Enough and Time This Absolute, Philosopher...'
, Cosmos and History 2 (1-2) (2006): 277-310.
S. T. Joshi, ‘
H. P. Lovecraft’, The Scriptorium 2000.
H. P. Lovecraft. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Ed. and Intro. S. T. Joshi (London: Penguin. 1999).
Jacques-Alain Miller, “Extimité.” In Lacanian Theory of Discourse. Eds. Bracher, Mark et al (New York and London: New York University Press, 1994), pp.74-87
Peter Nicholls, Modernisms: A Literary Guide (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995

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