Monday, May 14, 2012

Houellebecq on Lovecraft

Michel Houellebecq's little book on Lovecraft was first published in French in 1991 and belatedly published in English translation in 2005 as H. P. Lovecraft:  Against the World, Against Life.   Although it is bereft of the usual apparatus of scholarship other than a brief bibliography, Houellebecq's book is the most insightful writing on Lovecraft which I have seen.  (A close second to Houellebecq's study of Lovecraft is the first chapter of Colin Wilson's The Strength to Dream (1962), which was my introduction to the significance of Lovecraft.)

The English translation includes a thoughtful introduction by Stephen King.  This one sentence from King stands out:  " All literature, but especially literature of the weird and the fantastic, is a cave where both readers and writers hide from life. "

Houellebecq is forthright in his feelings regarding Lovecraft:  " Paradoxically, Lovecraft's character is fascinating in part because his values were so entirely opposite to ours.  He was fundamentally racist, openly reactionary, he glorified puritanical inhibitions, and evidently found all ' direct erotic manifestations ' repulsive.  Resolutely anticommercial, he despised money, considered democracy to be an idiocy and progress to be an illusion. "

Houellebecq offers the following in assessment of Lovecraft as a literary figure:  " The twentieth century may come to be recognized as the golden age of epic and fantasy literature, once the morbid mists of feeble avant-gardes dissipate.  It has already witnessed the emergence of Howard, Lovecraft, and Tolkien -- three radically different universes.  Three pillars of dream literature, as despised by critics as they are loved by the public. "

Noting that nowhere in his writings does Lovecraft take notice of either sex or money, Houellebecq sees in what might be considered a flaw a kind of strength, a rebellion against the world.  He believes that Lovecraft would disdain today's world even more than his own:  " The reach of liberal capitalism has extended over minds; in step and hand in hand with it are mercantilism, publicity, the absurd and sneering cult of economic efficiency, the exclusive and immoderate appetite for material riches.  Worse still, liberalism has spread from the domain of economics to the domain of sexuality.  Every sentimental fiction has been eradicated.  Purity, chastity, fidelity, and decency are ridiculous stigmas.  The value of a human being today is measured in terms of his economic efficiency and his erotic potential -- that is to say, in terms of the two things that Lovecraft most despised. "   


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