Friday, August 2, 2013

Lovecraft and Cosmic Dread (2 August 2013)

“Of such great powers or beings there may be conceivably a survival... a survival of a hugely remote period when... consciousness was manifested, perhaps, in shapes and forms long since withdrawn before the tide of advancing humanity... forms of which poetry and legend alone have caught a flying memory and called them gods, monsters, mythical beings of all sorts and kinds... “
 -        Algernon Blackwood

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
  -       H.P. Lovecraft, from The Call of Cthulhu (1926)

As I’ve said in an earlier blog, I have been intrigued by the Lovecraftian mythos for some time, now.  I’d heard about Lovecraft over the years, and took him to be – by reputation – a genius of poetry and prose that moved the horror genre way beyond Poe and other 19th century writers.  But when I first read HPL last year, I was let down; with the stories themselves on one level, but also with the way in which Lovecraft limits the human mind and makes the universe out to be a forbidding place.  The early stories I read seemed very sophomoric; they were filled with gross generalizations; the prose lacking descriptive concreteness and specificity.  The narrator seemed to assume that the reader would be frightened just by being told that he or she should be afraid of what was confronting the characters in the story.  “Oh, there’s something unbelievably scary here; you’d better go insane!”  Really?