Realism is conservative

October 26, 2019

We live in uncertain times. We have always lived in uncertain times. I think what makes the weird inherently attractive is that it speaks to a part of us that knows, consciously or not, that the rules we play by, the realities we choose to agree to and normalize, have cracks in them. Increasingly, I think that putting realist modes and non-realistic modes at opposite ends of the spectrum does a disservice to both. Realism is conservative in that it tells us what we believe is real is in fact real. But it isn’t. It’s also consensual, questionable, open to interpretation, and often ignorant of other, competing narratives. We are in a moment when the consensus is beginning to shift. Non-realist modes seem to help us get a handle on this faster because they teach us the consensus was never absolute to begin with. People were excluded, people dissented. This breakdown is enjoyable at some level even as it’s also frightening. It means elements of our lives which we lacked the ability or will to question suddenly seem disputable, something we can fight back against. Breakdown gives us an opportunity to see what lies beneath, for better or worse. Increasingly what strikes me as strange about Lovecraft’s fiction is the sense that once the monstrous is encountered, the only options are madness, forgetting or death. And that in its own way is a conservative way of thinking: there are many more options. Resistance, recuperation, remembering, rebirth. This is the energy that comes from the collapse of the consensus — the possibility of change.

Helen Marshall
Interview with David Davis 15th November 2017

loathsome shapes

April 3, 2019

The nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh … was built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults.

H.P. Lovecraft
The Call of Cthulhu

Pleasure to me is wonder – the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.

H.P. Lovecraft
The Defence Remains Open!

The blind cosmos grinds aimlessly on from nothing to something and from something back to nothing again, neither heeding nor knowing the wishes or existence of the minds that flicker for a second now and then in the darkness.

H P Lovecraft
The Silver Key
Weird Tales, January 1929

inward dreamings

September 6, 2018

All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other.

H.P. Lovecraft
The Silver Key

an infernal paradise

May 28, 2018

a city of the future - London

In Lovecraft’s defining stories, meaning such later works as “The Shadow out of Time” and “At the Mountains of Madness,” there is a sense of adventure. In his letters, Lovecraft often wrote of experiencing moments of what he called “adventurous expectancy,” by which he meant feeling oneself on the brink of some weird and hyper-exciting revelation that is always held in suspension and never known in its particulars. This is patently an aesthetic perception of existence. Borges described a similar feeling of the imminence of a revelation that never occurs as the definitive aesthetic experience. In Lovecraft’s work, unlike that of Borges, the origin of his feeling of adventurous expectancy derives from something terrible that is associated with the inconceivable spatial and temporal nature of the physical universe. I think that a great many people experience the same thing in their lives. I have myself. But it never occurred to me to express this feeling as a source of adventure in my stories.

My focus has fairly consistently been on what I have thought of as an “infernal paradise,” a realm where one wallows in something putrid and corrosive that lies beyond exact perception. In his stories, Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy ultimately has its origin in something terrible, and not the child’s picture-book wonderland you find in the work of a lot of writers of fantastic fiction. But it’s still thrilling in its own way. It isn’t purely hellish, as is the case with my stories. Lovecraft was an astronomy buff as a child and so this feeling probably stemmed from that time. I was a pathological Catholic as a child, and one might make a connection between my early life and my later writings on that basis. Ultimately, the difference I’m trying to articulate between Lovecraft’s adventurous expectancy and my infernal paradise may seem superficial. I would say as much myself. But it seems to me that what captivates a reader’s interest in one writer’s work as opposed to another’s is quite often based on superficial qualities, even when there are deeper likenesses. Anyone can think of examples among both popular and literary writers. Lovecraft’s defining works portray a variety of monsters. Mine seldom do. What’s the difference? Not much on the deepest level. But monsters are a great literary hook and there is necessarily a surface adventure in dealing with them. If asked to name the definitive image in Lovecraft, one might likely say its tentacles flailing from the body of a monster. For me it would be probably be puppets, manikins, and clown-like things, even though these are more often a matter of metaphor than a literal presence of a monstrous type. Nevertheless, if Lovecraft’s tentacle monsters and my puppets and so on fought each other, I think the monsters would win.

Thomas Ligotti
Interview: Thomas Ligotti and the Realm of Nightmares
Weird Review 15th October 2015

cthulhu_rises_by_silberius-d7mlm8d

Well, it’s pretty generally known in the States that I got into writing because of Lovecraft. He’s taken a lot of blame for a lot of things that he’s not really responsible for. But I did send my first fan letter to him because I read about his previous stories in the letter column of Weird Tales. There was nowhere to get them. They weren’t reprinted; they weren’t available. So I wrote to him and asked whether he knew where I could find some of this stuff and he offered to let me borrow all of his published work. And then at about the fourth letter on he suggested I try my own hand at writing — he’d be glad to read it and comment on it. And he also gave me a list of correspondents that formed what would later become known as the ‘Lovecraft Circle’. The result of that I got in touch with August Derleth, who lived out at Sauk City about 125 miles from where I was, and Clark Ashton Smith, Eddie Hoffman Price, and J. Vernon Shea, who was not a professional writer, but certainly one of the most avid fans and one of the most knowledgeable. And this increased my area of operations considerably, and some of the people I remained in correspondence with for many, many years to come. It was a very rewarding experience.

Bear in mind I’m talking about times when I was 16, 17, 18 years old, and it was quite a thrill to associate with such people even through correspondence, or know people like Weinbaum and Farley and work with them in the Fictioneers group, where we didn’t read stories or anything but helped each other with plot problems. That was very, very interesting.

Robert Bloch
Fandom Panel: Cinecon 20th April 1981

true supernatural horror

March 31, 2018

Halloween boy and ghost

Atmosphere is the all-important thing, for the final criterion of authenticity is not the dovetailing of a plot but the creation of a given sensation. We may say…that a weird story whose intent is to teach or produce a social effect, or one in which the horrors are finally explained away by natural means, is not a genuine tale of cosmic fear; but it remains a fact that such narratives often possess, in isolated sections, atmospheric touches which fulfil every condition of true supernatural horror literature. Therefore we must judge a weird tale not by the author’s intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point…The one test of the really weird is simply this — whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.

H.P. Lovecraft
Supernatural Horror in Literature

machines using men

March 24, 2018

our future selves

There’s no use pretending that a standardised, time-table machine-culture has any point in common…with a culture involving human freedom, individualism and personality. So…all one can do…is to fight the future as best he can. Anybody who thinks that men live by reason, or that they are able to consciously mould the effect & influences of the devices they create, is behind the time psychologically. Men can use machines for a while, but after a while the psychology of machine-habituation & machine-dependence becomes such that machines will be using the men – modelling them to their essentially efficient & absolutely valueless precision of action and thought…perfect functioning, without reason or reward for functioning at all.

H.P. Lovecraft
Letter to James F. Morton, November 19, 1929

dead Cthulhu waits dreaming

December 2, 2017

Cthulhu

The main thing about HP Lovecraft is his too-muchness; he never uses three adjectives when five will do, but he writes words that haunt the memory: “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” My recall of the multiplication table is shaky but those words disquiet me today as freshly as when I first read them.

Where did dead Cthulhu come from? Why did he rise up from the murky depths of Lovecraft’s mental ocean? I say it’s because there is a need for him and the rest of the maestro’s monsters. Why is there such an appetite, such a hunger for scary stories and films? I think there is a primal horror in us. From where? From the Big Bang when Something came out of Nothing? From the nothingness we must become at life’s end? I don’t know, but I know it’s there and we like to dress it up with a bolt through its neck or a black rubber alien suit; or as Cthulhu. Get a load of this: “A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings”, with elements of “an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature”, “but it was the general outline of the whole that made it most shockingly frightful”. Close your eyes and try to imagine this creature of non-Darwinian evolution. Just the look of this bozo is already a major horror, and we’re not even into the story yet. While he’s dead and dreaming in his house at R’lyeh (“Dun Foamin”?) his Cthulhuvibes are spreading worldwide and causing strange rites and observances here and there. Lovecraft is not everybody’s mug of Ovaltine but I have always found him horribly cosy.

Russell Hoban
H P Lovecraft
The Guardian Newspaper 14th May 2011