Thursday, March 28, 2024


“If Lovecraft was an odd child,” his biographer L. Sprague de Camp writes, “his mother showed signs of becoming even odder. In fact, she gave evidence that Lovecraft’s peculiarities were largely her doing. She got the idea that, for all his genius, her boy was ugly. She even told neighbors that he was “so hideous that he hid from everyone and did not like to walk upon the street so that people would gaze upon him… because he could not bear to have people gaze upon his ugly face.”
If Lovecraft’s mother had made a vow to raise another horror writer, she could not have done a better job of it. Of course, she did have the excuse that she was going insane, and finally ended up in an asylum. Lovecraft’s Dad also died in an asylum.
Lovecraft, who was a thorough racist and threw around the word “race stock” – with all the implication of inheritable traits – was, in a sense, incorporating into his conceptual schema both the anxiety-producing facts of his parentage and a plea for an exception to the race rules he laid down for himself.
I have made attempts to read Lovecraft. I like weird tales well enough, and certain of Lovecraft’s favorite weird writers – Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen – are all right with me. However, Lovecraft, perhaps because of the attempt to instil hideousness from the continual use of that word – a word his mother used about him – is never fun enough for me to read for any length of time. I know that Lovecraft has left an influential trace in the Anglophone imaginary of terror, and that he’s a cultic reference in the Fangoria community, having well overtaken Edgar Allan Poe.
Which makes me want to find a way of approaching him.
Lovecraft almost surely never read the autobiography of Daniel Paul Schreber, the paranoid patient who wrote it in order to make a plea for getting out of a mental asylum. The book became famous, of course, and was the basis for Freud’s essay on paranoia. It continues to have readers and interpreters. The surround sound in Lovecraft’s stories has some thing to do, I think, with the kind of paranoia that Schreber describes. In the Octopus edition of the e-flux journal (2016), there is an essay by Antonia Majaca - Little Daniel Before the Law: Algorithmic Extimacy and the Rise of the Paranoid Apparatus – that contains this passage – an uber relevant passage to reading Lovecraft:
“In his contemporary appraisal of the relevance of Schreber’s case, Eric Santner situates the judge in the wider social aftermath of Bismarck’s Kulturkampf and the accompanying paranoias about cultural degeneration in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Santner reads Schreber’s testimony as an “investiture crisis”—a point of rupture when institutional protocols and symbolic orders “collapse into the most intimate core of one’s being.”7 Through both a psychoanalytic and historical materialist lens, such a collapse entails a complete “loss of distance to some obscene and malevolent presence that appears to have a direct hold of one’s inner parts,” generating anxieties not of absence but of extreme proximity.8 I would argue, in affinity with Santner, that it is necessary to understand this particular historical neurosis in order to identify a lineage of libidinal economy running from the totalitarian fascist regime that emerged in the decades after Schreber’s death, through the modern and postmodern forms of totalitarian rule and the collective paranoia of the Cold war, to the neoliberal world order that followed and the forms of technocratic postfascism we have witnessed in recent years across the Global North.”

The investiture crisis is all over the current vogue for horror and the weird as the most pertinent genre to our current state. The sense both of an absolute proximity and an absolute helplessness before a mass phenomenon – isn’t this the social psychology of our current aesthetic moment?
Lovecraft was no prophet, but it is pretty obvious that something in his almost ridiculously genteel way of displaying blood and guts and tentacles has a pull on a large, mostly younger audience, torn by the incongruity of being raised protectively by a generation that seems convinced that there is no future, and acts, or doesn’t act, accordingly.

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