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Recommended Reading 39

This week: the dystopian potential of the “big data” revolution, and the need for a deliberate preservation of the sphere of the specifically human in the new reality of a true “information society.” The ubiquitous danger of untested chemicals in the products comprising most Americans’ daily lives. S. T. Joshi on H. P. Lovecraft’s enduring worth. British writer, feminist, and mystical Christian Sara Maitland’s dedication to finding and living in pure silence amid a noisy, clanging world. Douglas Rushkoff on the real “end of the world” as the West’s age-old infatuation with the future gives way to a bewildered, dehumanizing, and potentially transformative and revivifying culture of “present shock.” Marilynne Robinson on religion, science, art, and the miraculous. Richard Heinberg on the lie of a comprehensive “scientific account” of our world and experience, and the enduring presence of anomalies that show everything isn’t as fully understood as we’re commonly told. Read the rest of this entry

Art, meaninglessness, and salvation by despair

Start the music playing and then read the excerpted texts that follow, which may or may not be connected to each other and/or the music.

(The music is Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “Fordlandia,” titled after Henry Ford’s epic, disastrous, and somehow mythically tragic folly of trying to create an artificial industrial worker’s utopia in the Amazon rainforest in 1928.)

The time to begin writing is when the events of the world seem to suggest things larger than the world — strangenesses and patterns and rhythms and uniquities of combination which no one ever saw or heard before, but which are so vast and marvellous and beautiful that they absolutely demand proclamation with a fanfare of silver trumpets. Space and time become vitalised with literary significance when they begin to make us subtly homesick for something “out of space, out of time.”

— H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters II

* * *

I had gone to the Louvre that night to lay down my soul, to find some transcendent pleasure that would obliterate pain and make me utterly forget even myself. I’d been upheld in this. As I stood on the sidewalk before the doors of the hotel waiting for the carriage that would take me to meet Armand, I saw the people who walked there — the restless boulevard crowd of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen, the hawkers of papers, the carriers of luggage, the drivers of carriages — all these in a new light. Before, all art had held for me the promise of a deeper understanding of the human heart. Now the human heart meant nothing. I did not denigrate it. I simply forgot it. The magnificent paintings of the Louvre were not for me intimately connected with the hands that had painted them. They were cut loose and dead like children turned to stone.

— Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire

* * *

I took up the theme again that music and acting were good because they drove back chaos. Chaos was the meaninglessness of day-to-day life, and if we were to die now, our lives would have been nothing but meaninglessness. In fact, it came to me that my mother dying soon was meaningless and I confided in Nicolas what she had said. “I’m perfectly horrified. I’m afraid.”

Well, if there had been a Golden Moment in the room it was gone now. And something different started to happen.

I could call it the Dark Moment, but it was still high-pitched and full of eerie light. We were talking rapidly, cursing this meaninglessness, and when Nicolas at last sat down and put his head in his hands, I took some glamorous and hearty swigs of wine and went to pacing and gesturing as I had done before.

I realized aloud in the midst of saying it that even when we die we probably don’t find out the answer as to why we were ever alive. Even the avowed atheist probably thinks that in death he’ll get some answer. I mean God will be there, or there won’t be anything at all.

“But that’s just it,” I said, “we don’t make any discovery at that moment! We merely stop! We pass into nonexistence without ever knowing a thing.” I saw the universe, a vision of the sun, the planets, the stars, black night going on forever. And I began to laugh.

“Do you realize that! We’ll never know why the hell any of it has happened, not even when it’s over!” I shouted at Nicolas, who was sitting back on the bed, nodding and drinking wine out of a flagon. “We’re going to die and not even know. We’ll never know, and all this meaninglessness will just go on and on and on. And we won’t any longer be witnesses to it. We won’t have even that little bit of power to give meaning to it in our minds. We’ll just be gone, dead, dead, dead, without ever knowing!”

But I had stopped laughing. I stood still and I understood perfectly what I was saying!

There was no judgment day, no final explanation, no luminous moment in which all terrible wrongs would be made right, all horrors redeemed.

The witches burnt at the stake would never be avenged.

No one was ever going to tell us anything!

No, I didn’t understand it at this moment. I saw it! And I began to make the single sound: “Oh!” I said it again “Oh!” and then I said it louder and louder and louder, and I dropped the wine bottle on the floor. I put my hands to my head and kept saying it, and I could see my mouth opened in that perfect circle I had described to my mother and I kept saying, “Oh, oh, oh!”

I said it like a great hiccuping that I couldn’t stop. And Nicolas took hold of me and started shaking me, saying:

“Lestat, stop!”

I couldn’t stop. I ran to the window, unlatched it and swung out the heavy little glass, and stared at the stars. I couldn’t stand seeing them. I couldn’t stand seeing the pure emptiness, the silence, the absolute absence of any answer, and I started roaring as Nicolas pulled me back from the windowsill and pulled shut the glass.

. . . The second day it was no better.

And it wasn’t any better by the end of the week either.

I ate, drank, slept, but every waking moment was pure panic and pure pain. I went to the village priest and demanded did he really believe the Body of Christ was present on the altar at the Consecration. And after hearing his stammered answers, and seeing the fear in his eyes, I went away more desperate than before.

“But how do you live, how do you go on breathing and moving and doing things when you know there is no explanation?” I was raving finally. And then Nicolas said maybe the music would make me feel better. He would play the violin.

I was afraid of the intensity of it. But we went to the orchard and in the sunshine Nicolas played every song he knew. I sat there with my arms folded and my knees drawn up, my teeth chattering though we were right in the hot sun, and the sun was glaring off the little polished violin, and I watched Nicolas swaying into the music as he stood before me, the raw pure sounds swelling magically to fill the orchard and the valley, though it wasn’t magic, and Nicolas put his arms around me finally and we just sat there silent, and then he said very softly, “Lestat, believe me, this will pass.”

“Play again,” I said. “The music is innocent.”

Nicolas smiled and nodded. Pamper the madman.

And I knew it wasn’t going to pass, and nothing for the moment could make me forget, but what I felt was inexpressible gratitude for the music, that in this horror there could be something as beautiful as that.

You couldn’t understand anything; and you couldn’t change anything. But you could make music like that. And I felt the same gratitude when I saw the village children dancing, when I saw their arms raised and their knees bent, and their bodies turning to the rhythm of the songs they sang. I started to cry watching them.

I wandered into the church and on my knees I leaned against the wall and I looked at the ancient statues and I felt the same gratitude looking at the finely carved fingers and the noses and the ears and the expressions on their faces and the deep folds in their garments, and I couldn’t stop myself from crying.

At least we had these beautiful things, I said. Such goodness.

But nothing natural seemed beautiful to me now! The very sight of a great tree standing alone in a field could make me tremble and cry out. Fill the orchard with music.

And let me tell you a little secret. It never did pass, really.

*

What caused it? Was it the late night drinking and talking, or did it have to do with my mother and her saying she was going to die? Did the wolves have something to do with it? Was it a spell cast upon the imagination by the witches’ place?

I don’t know. It had come like something visited upon me from outside. One minute it was an idea, and the next it was real. I think you can invite that sort of thing, but you can’t make it come.

Of course it was to slacken. But the sky was never quite the same shade of blue again. I mean the world looked different forever after, and even in moments of exquisite happiness there was the darkness lurking, the sense of our frailty and our hopelessness.

— Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat

* * *

Henry Ford didn’t just want to be a maker of cars  — he wanted to be a maker of men. He thought he could perfect society by building model factories and pristine villages to go with them. And he was pretty successful at it in Michigan. But in the jungles of Brazil, he would ultimately be defeated.

It was 1927. Ford wanted his own supply of rubber — and he decided to get it by carving a plantation and a miniature Midwest factory town out of the Amazon jungle. It was called “Fordlandia.”

. . . Fordlandia isn’t just the story of a plantation; it’s a story about Ford’s ego. As disaster after disaster struck, Ford continued to pour money into the project. Not one drop of latex from Fordlandia ever made it into a Ford car.

But the more it failed, the more Ford justified the project in idealistic terms. “It increasingly was justified as a work of civilization, or as a sociological experiment,” Grandin says. One newspaper article even reported that Ford’s intent wasn’t just to cultivate rubber, but to cultivate workers and human beings.

In the end, Ford’s utopia failed. Fordlandia’s residents, ever in hope their patriarch would someday visit their Midwestern industrial town in the middle of the jungle, gave up and left.

These days, Fordlandia is quite beautiful, Grandin says. The “American” town where the managers and administrators lived is abandoned and overgrown. Weeds grow over the American-style bungalows, and bats roost in the rafters, and little red fire hydrants sit covered in vines.

— “Fordlandia: The Failure of Ford’s Jungle Utopia

* * *

As soon as a receptive mind discovers the works of someone such as Lovecraft, it discovers that there are other ways of looking at the world besides the one in which it has been conditioned. You may discover what kind of nightmarish jailhouse you are doomed to inhabit or you may simply find an echo of things that already depressed and terrified you about being alive. The horror and nothingness of human existence — the cozy facade behind which was only a spinning abyss. The absolute hopelessness and misery of everything. After publishing his first book in French, which in English appeared as A Short History of Decay (1949), Cioran learned from that volume’s enthusiastic reception that his manner of philosophical negation had a paradoxically vital and energizing quality. Lovecraft, along with other authors of his kind, may have the same effect and rather than encouraging people to give up he may instead give them a reason to carry on. Sometimes that reason is to follow his way — to communicate, in the form of horror stories, the outrage and panic at being alive in the world.

— Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race (from a pre-publication draft)

* * *

One of the most powerful spiritual practices is to meditate deeply on the mortality of physical forms, including your own. This is called: Die before you die. Go into it deeply. Your physical form is dissolving, is no more. Then a moment comes when all mind-forms or thoughts also die. Yet you are still there — the divine presence that you are. Radiant, fully awake. Nothing that was real ever died, only names, forms, and illusions.

The realization of this deathless dimension, your true nature, is the other side of compassion. On a deep-feeling level, you now realize not only your own immortality but through your own that of every other creature as well. On the level of form, you share mortality and the precariousness of existence. On the level of Being, you share eternal, radiant life. These are the two aspects of compassion. In compassion, the seemingly opposite feelings of sadness and joy merge into one and become transmuted into a deep inner peace. This is the peace of God. It is one of the most noble feelings that humans are capable of.

— Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

C. S. Lewis and H. P. Lovecraft on loathing and longing for alien worlds

C_S_Lewis_and_H_P_Lovecraft

Several years ago — almost seven, in fact (he said with a sense of temporal vertigo) — I published a series of posts here about what I then termed the “autumn longing,” that exquisite, fleeting, piercing experience of being tantalized by a vision of ultimate beauty and fulfillment that trembles just beyond the edge of our ability to attain or even fully imagine. The first post in the series was about C. S. Lewis, who gave what remains in my opinion the most complete and focused description of this experience in the English language. The second was about H. P. Lovecraft, who is far more well-known for writing about (and also for writing from) a vision of cosmic horror than a vision of beautiful longing, but whose life was centrally defined by an ongoing experience of this exquisite sehnsucht no less than Lewis’s was.

I went on to elaborate on these matters in a number of additional writings that have been published elsewhere, including “The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets: The Influence of H. P. Lovecraft on Thomas Ligotti,” published both at Thomas Ligotti Online and in Lovecraft Annual; my two-part essay “Lovecraft’s Longing” for the North Shore arts magazine Art Throb; and a column titled “Fantasy, Horror, and Infinite Longing” for SF Signal.

Over the years I haven’t seen anybody else writing about this psychological kinship between Lewis and Lovecraft via the experience of sehnsucht, so it was a real joy to stumble upon the following a couple of days ago:

Much has been said about Lewis and Sehnsucht, the German word for “longing” or “yearning.” Lewis thought that this species of longing was itself a precious possession, more precious than anything to be found in this world, because it directs us to another world, a “far off country” whence all the good things in our world derive their goodness. We feel it in those fleeting moments when we sense beautiful things beyond our grasp. It is, as Lewis famously said in his afterword to The Pilgrim’s Regress,

that unnamable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of “Kubla Khan”, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.

. . . Lovecraft was not an alien to this longing. He felt it, too, but without the satisfaction hope gives it. . . . Is this what becomes of Sehnsucht when it is disappointed? Does it become the phantasmagoria of Lovecraft? Must those who either cannot or will not believe in the promise implicit in our longing turn upon the reminders of another world and defile them? The prospect fills me with pity.

These paragraphs come from a highly absorbing essay by Presbyterian pastor, successful young adult fantasy author (under the pen name “Mortimus Clay“), and former philosophy professor C. R. Wiley about the deep philosophical disjunction between Lewis’s and Lovecraft’s respective explorations and presentations of the theme of alien worlds and alien life. The fact that Wiley clearly “sides” with Lewis — something that’s not surprising, given the fact of their shared orthodox Christian worldview — doesn’t make his insight into Lovecraft any less valid or penetrating, and in fact helps to deepen it.

Here’s are key excerpts that illustrate the point:

Both Lewis and Lovecraft were interested in other worlds, that is, in alien worlds. And using the tropes of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, they explored the implications of alien worlds for human beings. But their respective visions are as alien to each other as the worlds they wrote about are alien to our own.

. . . Lewis believed that God is good — but his goodness is unleashed from human management. As he famously said: Aslan is not a tame lion. Nevertheless, even though Aslan disturbs characters in the Narnia stories, he does not disturb the reader. Lewis is too avuncular for that. He wrote the Narnia stories with children in mind, and his hands are warm and reassuring as he holds the hands of his readers. Even the Space Trilogy reassures us.

That is not what Lovecraft was after. He wanted to disturb us. At his best, we can detect in him a longing for the power that underlies all things. But for Lovecraft, it is an amoral power. Like people as wildly different as Mary Baker Eddy and Arthur Schopenhauer, Lovecraft believed morality to be a human attempt to tame and sublimate this power and to make it socially acceptable and useful.

Lewis did not think morality was a human artifice imposed on a primal life-force. Like the Apostle John, he proclaimed that life and light have the same source and occupy the same space. For Lewis, life is found in morality, and, like life, it is a gift we do not give ourselves.

It is this alien source of morality that modern people find disturbing. Reducing morality to human origins is a human attempt to tame it. For Lewis, that effort is the source of all our ills; the refusal to submit to our given limits is what alienates us from God. And that is where monsters really come from. Whoever they may be now — the White Witch or Weston — the monsters were once people. That is the frightening news Lewis has to share about human nature. It turns out that Lewis can scare people after all.

Lovecraft also believed that there is something monstrous at the bottom of human nature. Nearly all his stories have the feel of a confessional about them. They often narrate a process of discovery, creating within the reader a sense of dawning horror. Not infrequently, there is — at the zenith of the story — some dark revelation concerning the protagonist’s origins. . . . These stories end in suicide, madness, or, as in The Shadow Over Innsmouth, a disturbing acquiescence. Given the Darwinian undertones, what else could one do but acquiesce? You are what you are, and that’s the end of it.

But for Lewis, there is reason for hope. Reality comes with an “upper story,” and while we are embodied souls, we are souls above all. It is to our souls that Lewis makes his appeal. He wants us to look in horror upon our inner monster, but unlike Lovecraft, he does not want us to die. He wants us to turn to Aslan and live.

More: “Lost and Found in the Cosmos: Lovecraft, Lewis, & and the Problem of Alien Worlds

The Teeming Brain Podcast #1: “Cosmic Horror vs. Sacred Terror”

Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft

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Cosmic Horror vs. Sacred Terror

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DESCRIPTION:

Do nihilism and cosmic meaningfulness stand in fundamental tension with each other at the heart of the horror genre? Were Lovecraft and Machen getting at fundamentally different moral, aesthetic, and metaphysical points with their respective horror stories? Does the (possible) tension between Lovecraftian cosmic horror and Machenian sacred terror constitute a fault line running right through the center of the horror genre and impacting its literature and cinema today?

These are the questions driving this first-ever Teeming Brain podcast, which has been, if you count back to the blog’s original launch, six years in the making. More immediately, it was recorded between November 20 and 28, 2012. Its origin can be found in three items: first, an article titled “Meaning to the Madness” — about Lovecraft, Machen, and the moral and philosophical ideas playing out in the current horror movie scene — written by Christian horror novelist Jonathan Ryan and published in Christianity Today; second, a response to and rebuttal of Ryan’s argument by Teeming Brain founder Matt Cardin in “Cosmic Horror, Sacred Terror, and the Nightside Transformation of Consciousness“;  and third, the vigorous conversation that grew up around that response both here and at Thomas Ligotti Online. There is also, fourth, John Morehead’s suggestion that this could all be turned into a stimulating podcast.

 

PARTICIPANTS:

This debut episode presents a roundtable featuring eight authors and thinkers in the areas of horror, philosophy, and religion, all of whom engage the questions described above plus a whole lot more.

  • Peter Bebergal, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and author of the widely praised memoir Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood.
  • Matt Cardin (host), founder and editor of The Teeming Brain and author of Dark Awakenings, Divinations of the Deep, and the forthcoming To Rouse Leviathan.
  • Nicole Cushing, author of the forthcoming horror novella Children of No One and the trippy bizarro fiction collection How to Eat Fried Furries.
  • Richard Gavin, author of the numinous horror collections At Fear’s Altar and The Darkly Splendid Realm and the Teeming Brain column Echoes from Hades.
  • T. E. Grau, fiction editor at Strange Aeons, author of the Teeming Brain column The Extinction Papers, and co-author (with his wife, author/editor/screenwriter Ives Hovenessian) of the forthcoming horror fiction collection I Am Death, Cried the Vulture.
  • John W. Morehead, Director of the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, creator of the blog Theofantastique (“A meeting place for myth, imagination, and mystery in pop culture”), and co-editor of The Undead and Theology.
  • W. Scott Poole, Associate Professor of History at the College of Charleston and author of Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting.
  • Jonathan Ryan, author of “Meaning to the Madness,” the highly praised supernatural/spiritual horror novel The Faithful (as Jonathan Weyer), and the forthcoming urban fantasy novel 3 Gates of the Dead.
Image via Tartarus Press, from “Arthur Machen vs. H.P. Lovecraft

Christians and cosmic horror: Linked by Lovecraft?

In a fascinating October 30 article published at Hieropraxis — a website about Christian apologetics and, more broadly, “literature and faith, truth and beauty” — creative writing teacher Garret Johnson, who works for both the University of Houston and Houston Baptist University, talks about the deep value of Lovecraftian cosmic horror for Christians. Specifically, he argues that many Christians and other theists may live with a too-thin view of the cosmos and the awesomeness of the powers and principles that exceed it and lie beyond the natural world of scientific investigation, and that cosmic horror of the kind represented most pointedly by Lovecraft may offer a necessary philosophical and even theological corrective.

It’s an excellent piece in its own right (despite its invocation of that damnable doppelgänger, Edgar Allen Poe, as well as a misspelling of Cthulhu), but it takes on added significance for Teeming Brain readers because of its direct resonance with the expansive conversation-slash-debate that exploded here recently when I wrote a critical response to Jonathan Ryan’s absorbing examination in Christianity Today of Lovecraft, Machen, and the tension between cosmic horror and sacred terror. See “Cosmic Horror, Sacred Terror, and the Nightside Transformation of Consciousness,” along with its raft of comments.

I heartily commend Johnson’s article to the attention of everybody involved, especially since it shows him claiming things about the fundamental import and impact of Lovecraft’s fiction that Ryan denies to Lovecraft and attributes instead to Machen. Here’s a taste, with emphases added by me:

Interestingly…for a materialist, Lovecraft seems to possess an unusual mistrust of the ultimate ends of “the sciences” and a profound lack of confidence in the autonomous human mind to either arrive at ultimate truths or to handle them once arrived at. This turns out to be a critical link between Christians and those who share such a vision of the universe as Lovecraft’s — particularly those who also flock to the unique realm of literature that is “Supernatural Horror.”

I’m wondering if it’s as immediately odd to others as it is to me that an adamantly hard-nosed materialist not only attempted a serious treatise on “supernatural” literature but also specialized in writing it, himself. It’s true that, in Lovecraft’s mind, the beastly grotesqueries he depicted — variously referred to as the Old Ones, the Great Old Ones, the Elder Gods, etc — were meant to be phenomena of strictly natural origin. But he saw such an immense gulf between the far reaches of possibility in the natural order and the human capacity for understanding such possibilities that it made for a frightening contrast: the bigness and power of the universe against the smallness and ignorance of humanity.

… The thing that’s ferociously interesting about this is that Lovecraft recognizes, and articulates (in his fiction especially), certain realities more incisively than do many of us theists who profess doctrinal convictions about them: both the frightening reality (or possibility to Lovecraft) of sentient beings with great power that exist in the universe but are not human, and the relative ignorance of an often over-confident, hubristic human race in the face of such large forces. This latter reality is compounded by another: the inability of the human mind to fully comprehend the deep things of existence.

Another great commonality, then, between Christians and readers and writers of Horror (not the gore-fest kind, but this subtle, supernatural kind) is a deep sense of, and response to, the realities of things unseen, unknown, things of deep mystery.

— Garret Johnson, “HP Lovecraft and Christian Thought,” Hieropraxis, October 30, 2012

 Image: “Age of Chaos” by Nick Keller from Desktop Nexus

Cosmic Horror, Sacred Terror, and the Nightside Transformation of Consciousness

What’s this? A discussion of current horror cinema that contrasts H. P. Lovecraft’s worldview of cosmic horror, pessimism, and despair with Arthur Machen’s worldview of redemptive sacred terror? And it’s published by — wait for it — Christianity Today magazine? The stars, it seems, are aligning.

One is rife with despair, the other clings to hope. The contrast between the two [authors] results in a remarkable tension found in the history of horror.

… Modern horror films have drunk deep from Lovecraft’s well, repeatedly depicting a dreary cycle of trying to escape the despair … Lovecraft, [Joss] Whedon [in Cabin in the Woods], and [Ridley] Scott [in Prometheus] fall into a deeper current of attempting to find meaning through horror. Whedon and Scott at least take it to the next level by asking deeper questions about how human beings find hope, but they fail because there is no way around Lovecraftian despair while playing under Lovecraft’s rules. A different playbook is needed, one written by Arthur Machen. Most modern horror filmmakers have long forgotten Machen, an under-appreciated legend.

… While Lovecraft was an atheist, Machen fully embraced the doctrines of his Anglican faith. His horror contained the mystery of abandoned places, forgotten gods, and utter terror at the unknown, but also the possibility for humans to find hope beyond despair. Unlike Lovecraft, Machen pushed toward a more holy terror, a sacred fear that could prompt a person to kneel before God. Machen felt despair could be avoided by seeing the good God who ruled over the world “behind the veil.” A person could experience holy terror like the prophet Isaiah felt when he stood before the throne of God — or, to bring it back to movies, like Indiana Jones showed in Raiders of the Lost Ark (telling Marion to respect the ark’s power by not looking at it when it was opened) and The Last Crusade (when, to reach the Holy Grail, he had to navigate a treacherous maze requiring him to kneel, to spell God’s holy name, and then take a literal “leap of faith”). Machen uses sacred terror to not only scare us, but to push us deeper to think about “unseen realities.”

— Jonathan Ryan, “Meaning to the Madness,” Christianity Today, October 10, 2012 Read the rest of this entry

Deep Shadows and Numinous Horror: Introducing “Echoes from Hades”

The question of whether I found Horror or Horror found me is a longstanding one, and despite much contemplation, I’m no closer to a definitive answer.  Perhaps there isn’t one to be had.  Either way, Horror unquestionably crept into my world early, and with indelible power.

My name is Richard Gavin. I am a Canadian author of supernatural Horror fiction, and although this has been my vocation for the better part of two decades, my relationship with Horror stretches further still, reaching back to my formative years. Given my novice status here at The Teeming Brain, I thought it best to use this initial installment of Echoes from Hades as a form of introduction to this background and my outlook on such things.

One of my initial memories of movies was seeing Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula on afternoon television.  The film’s impact on me was immediate and dramatic.  Monsters and the macabre swiftly became a constant in my life.  And unlike so many passions that erupt in one’s childhood, Horror never lost its lustre for me.

I do not believe I’m being dishonest when I say that my young mind intuited, albeit vaguely, that there was something grand about Horror, something important.  The whole field felt akin to an iceberg: its true significance was submerged, seething somewhere beneath its latex make-ups and Gothic prose. Read the rest of this entry

H.P. Lovecraft, Literary Hackwork, and the Horror of a Malevolently Indifferent Universe

Yesterday Geoffrey Pullum, Gerard visiting professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences at Brown University and professor of general linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, penned a blog post for the Lingua Franca blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education about his recent visit to a couple of Lovecraftian sites in Providence. I was pleased to see Lovecraft being brought up like this at the Chronicle, and then I was even more interested when I noticed the tone of both Pullum’s post and some of the comments it had drawn. A lurking disdain for the Old Gent from Providence was on display right from the start, and I felt HPL was taking a subtle, and in some cases overt, drubbing of the type that properly should have been laid to rest with his ascent to canonical status around the turn of the new millennium. I also felt there was a misreading of not just his work but his worldview that was afoot.

Pullum starts his post on a strikingly negative note by recalling his first boyhood encounter with Lovecraft’s writing and giving it a retroactive trashing before allowing a backhanded compliment:

As a 14-year-old budding collector of supernatural horror fiction, browsing a bookstore in England, I happened upon a paperback collection of stories by H. P. Lovecraft. I opened it and read the first sentence of “The Lurking Fear”:

“There was thunder in the air on the night I went to the deserted mansion atop Tempest Mountain to find the lurking fear.”

That must be one of the worst opening lines in all of horror fiction, I now realize. It reads like an entry in San Jose State’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, inspired by the ludicrous opening of the novel Paul Clifford by Edward “It was a dark and stormy night” Bulwer-Lytton. And when I tell you that the last words of Lovecraft’s tale are “They were never heard of again,” you may find it hard to believe that even a 14-year-old would not be sophisticated enough to laugh out loud. Yet somehow, for a boy craving escape from the mundane world of the suburbs south of London, Lovecraft’s overwrought ghastliness rang an eerie distant bell in some haunted mansion of my imagination.

— Geoffrey Pullum, “Lovecraft’s Providence,” Lingua Franca, The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 17, 2012

He goes on to describe how last week, after a day of teaching at Brown, “the fact that I am now living and working in Lovecraft’s beloved home town suddenly struck me as very significant.” Moved by this emotion, and setting out “For some reason I could not name,” he went and visited a couple of the famous Lovecraftian sites and structures in Providence — something I myself did several years ago during my sole (so far) trip to New England. Read the rest of this entry

Recommended Reading 24

This week we bring you an exceptionally rich list of excellent reading and, in two cases, excellent listening. Topics include: the inherent — and ongoing — problem with financial institutions that are “too big to fail”; the siege of higher education in its traditional form by tech startups and the exploding online college movement; the overt, frightening, and thoroughly Orwellian/dystopian militarization of America’s cities as domestic law enforcement is remade in the mold of a counterinsurgency operation; the sci-fi sounding but very real possibility of having your brain hacked and your sensitive data stolen via consumer-grade EEG headsets used in gaming and other activities; a brilliant interview with esoteric author Guido Mina di Sospiro by Teeming Brain columnist David Metcalfe at Reality Sandwich; research into the phenomenon of hearing voices and the ways that “normal” people can learn to speak to God; excellent new pieces on F. Scott Fitgerald’s epic depression, H.P. Lovecraft’s life and work (from the Smithsonian [!]), and the discovery of a copy of Frankenstein inscribed by Mary Shelley to Lord Byron; and two recent pieces from NPR on musical matters, the first examining America’s interesting shift toward a craving for “sadness and ambiguity” in pop music over the past 50 years, and the second profiling John Cage on the hundredth anniversary of his birth.

Read the rest of this entry

Teeming Brain columnist T. E. Grau in “Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities”

May saw the publication of the horror anthology Urban Cthulhu: Nightmare Cities, edited by Henrik Sanbek Harksen and featuring a story by Teeming Brain columnist T. E. Grau. As you’ll recall, T. E. writes The Extinction Papers for us, and as you’ll see if you read his bio on our Teem page or check out his section of our Bookshelf, he’s a rising author of idea-driven and stylistically rich horror fiction.

Note that Urban Cthulhu also features a story by Joe Pulver, for whose latest book, the mind-bending fiction/poetry collection Portraits of Ruin, I wrote the introduction.

As of very recently, Urban Cthulhu is available at Amazon. Its cover copy indicates the interest it holds for fans of horror fiction in general and Lovecraftian fiction in particular:
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