Kunstler channels Lovecraft, or, Cosmic Decay in Upstate New York
How very, very fascinating to see James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency and World Made by Hand, and one of contemporary America’s most visible, forceful, caustic, and eloquent prophets of doom (via peak oil, economic collapse, climate change, and more), turning to none other than H.P. Lovecraft for a properly evocative literary reference in his most recent blog post about first-world economic and industrial decay.
Kunstler begins his June 1 blog post, “Shattered and Shuttered,” with this:
The dollar was up to its armpits in quicksand, and oil prices had crept stealthily into the death-to-airlines range, and if, in the old slogan, what’s good for General Motors really is good for the USA, then destiny was dealing a harsh lesson to The Land of the Free — while I made a drive on Thursday (in a Japanese rent-a-car) through the remotest ends of upstate New York State into the province of Ontario, Canada, to see what I could see. What I saw was pretty scary.
You get into these far reaches of upstate New York and your senses report that you have entered something like an HP Lovecraft story, where the sun comes up twenty minutes late, and the magnetic poles are not where they’re supposed to be, and the few remaining denizens of the towns all have eleven fingers. . . . Even though I’ve seen plenty of desolation like it in other parts of the country — the back roads of Ohio, the Mississippi River towns of the upper Midwest, the morbid stretch of blue highway between Memphis and Little Rock — I’ve never encountered a landscape so shattered by the mere ravages of economic fate.
He goes on to exposit this observation by describing his northward trip in the inimitably vivid Kunstlerian fashion, telling us that “The most striking feature is how all the things once so ‘modern,’ all the roadside business enterprises designed along ‘space age’ motifs — the car dealerships with boomerang-shaped signs, the rocket-ship-style food huts, the schools that look like atomic power installations — all teeter now in sublime decrepitude. The reversal of spirit from childlike exuberance of the 1960s to the senile sclerosis of today said everything about where America is at.”
He shares with us that “The most horrifying part of the trip was the old city of Watertown, a short hop shy of the Canadian border,” where post-industrial decay has set in with a vengeance, and where “The humanity visible on the downtown streets. . . looked like extras who wandered away from the latest Road Warrior location shoot — semi-hominid creatures with strange loping gaits, arresting hair-dos, and enough tattoos to qualify them for harpoon duty on Herman Melville’s Pequod.”
After reflecting on what this all means for the “American dream” and describing how things were, sadly, ever-so-much more pleasant north of the U.S./Canadian border, Kunstler closes with this:
My daddy bought Chevrolets in the 1950s, marvelously crazy-looking machines with winged tail-lights that handled like pontoon boats, broke down after 30,000 miles, and were tossed out every couple of years not on account of their mechanical failures so much as their obvious lack of up-to-the-minute styling. The post-war prosperity dazzled his generation with its democratic cornucopian bonanzas. The innocence of all that is truly lost now. There is a dark sense of things shifting out there now in a major way. The tectonics of history are taking us to a strange place. Maybe Mr. Lovecraft had it right.
For people like me, and also, I know, many of my readers, whose intellectual, emotional, and aesthetic sensibilities resonate so strongly with Lovecraft’s signature themes, this double invocation of two major Lovecraftian tropes — that of hereditary genetic degeneration and that of epic cosmic and historical cycles which dwarf the scale of human comprehension and horrify with their unfathomable impact on our lives — really thrills with its creative hitching to Kunstler’s signature focus on the long view of American history and industrial civilization, which he sees as having reached an economic, technological, and ecological dead end, beyond which lies a convulsive period of collapse and (temporary?) dystopia.
I can easily envision a type of horror fiction that would embrace the internal logic of this thematic hybrid as its inspirational core.
On another note, Bryan Alexander, at his interesting blog Infocult, points to this latest Kunstler piece in a post titled — perfectly — “The Lovecraft Economy,” and describes it as “Jim Kunstler channels HP Lovecraft.”
Bryan also linked last year to my own post about “The Frankenstein Economy,” in which I pointed to the many recent uses of the Frankenstein metaphor to describe current economic developments. Now zombies have gotten in on the economic act as well.
I guess it was only a matter of time before some smart chap recognized HPL’s usefulness in all of this.