H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (book, Michel Houellebecq, 2009)


From Death Ray #18.

FOUR STARS

Author: Michel Houellebecq

Publisher: Gollancz

H.P. Lovecraft’s work and mind dissected by another novelist with a dark worldview, introduced by Stephen King, no less.

If you want further proof of H.P. Lovecraft’s fear of life, look no further than French novelist Houellebecq’s magnificent essay. No great lover of the world himself (here he describes life as “painful and disappointing”), Houellebecq is closer to the common experience of humanity than Lovecraft. He acts a bridge between the recluse of Providence and ourselves, and what insights he offers us.

Lovecraft was nervy, stifled and afraid. He disdained everyone and everything, regarded himself as a gentleman, and cleaved as hard as he could to an outmoded code of behaviour but, as Houellebecq reveals, it was Lovecraft’s time in New York that challenged his belief that he could remain genteelly detached, and transformed his incipient racism (all too common by the day’s standards) into a burning phobia. It was only this that allowed him to create his “great texts”. His mighty creative engine ran on fear and hatred.

This is not an apology for Lovecraft, but an argument in favour of negative human emotions being essential to great art. Lovecraft’s own certainty that civilisation would be overwhelmed by its animal urges is presented in an entirely racist manner, but it reveals to us our own wider fears about materialistic culture: should we stop and think, we are terrified that it means absolutely nothing at all.

There is more to it, of course, Houellebecq makes an interesting point about the role of architecture in Lovecraft’s work, and speaks of the author’s abhorrence for expressions of vitality in general. What he does not make much of is Lovecraft’s retreat from all things carnal, as King says in his introduction, we also have a Freudian “three ring circus” in Lovecraft’s work if we care to look. The book also contains Lovecraft’s ‘The Whisperer in the Darkness’ and ‘The Call of Cthulhu’.

Did you know?

Against the World, Against life (published in 1991 as Contre le monde, contre la vie, brilliantly translated by Dorna Khazeni), is an important work. We can’t recommend it more. King makes a mistake in his introduction, however. He says that Lovecraft influenced the weird British writer William Hope Hodgson, but despite the similarities, Hodgson wrote his bizarre stories while Lovecraft was young and trapped in a peculiar post-adolescent lethargy; he was dead well before Lovecraft had written his “Great Texts”.

 

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