July 13, 2006

Scarcely to be described in words

Dreams from the Witch House by H. P. Lovecraft

I don't mean to add H. P. Lovecraft as an obsession of this blog alongside Raj Kapoor, but he has, like the Bollywood master, become a recent interest. It does seem to be his moment, since he has pretty much entered the canon. He has a volume in the Library of America. I read this book as a respectable Penguin Classic with Fuseli's Nightmare on the cover. I've been an sf fan pretty much my whole life, but still reading something as a Penguin Classic that started out in Weird Tales and Astounding Magazine is unexpected.

There are two ways to describe Lovecraft by way of comparison. The first is that he was halfway between Poe and Borges. From Poe comes the horror, and from Borges comes the bibliophilia, the feeling of being trapped in an imaginary library. However, Lovecraft also reminded me of Huysmans' Against Nature. He is a Decadent writer born a generation too late and writing for the pulps. He despises all modern life, but unlike Huysmans, aestheticism is not a way out. No drinking of "yellow teas brought from China into Russia by special caravans" for him. At the bottom of everything are ancient malevolent alien entities as far above us as we are above the amoebas.

Of course, it's very hard to describe what is billions of years ahead of us on the evolutionary chain. So Lovecraft often finds it very hard to describe his vision with any sort of photographic exactness. ("Certain altars and stones suggested forgotten rites of terrible, revolting, and inexplicable nature.") In writing about what cannot, and should not, be imagined, Lovecraft set himself an artistic bar that he couldn't reach. The truly successful Lovecraft story would drive the reader mad.


Post a Comment

<< Home