the comfort of being eaten
Lovecraft’s set-ups are much more horrifying than the spaces he generates from them. The repetitive elements of the mythos act as a sort of refamiliarisation of that which has been deeply defamiliarised by the set-up. By the end of “Dreams in the Witch House”, for instance, a substitution has taken place. The human condition of being alive in a highly debatable space–a space the mathematical underpinnings of which seem to suggest something so undependable about our structures of perception that all we can do is struggle to reaffirm them–has been replaced by the condition of being alive in a threatening but clearly structured universe. The “imagined” replaces the real as a real. The new space isn’t entirely heimlich. It still trails some of the mystery implied by the set-up. But it has become describable, despite Lovecraft’s typical insistence that it isn’t. This is less an intensification of than a relief from the terror of the Witch House. In the same way, the moment the eponymous Colour Out of Space begins to act in a structured fashion, to feed itself and make its escape from our side of things, it ceases to undercut anthropocentric definitions and becomes a reassertion of them; the universe, though weird, is seen to operate on–or at least to be describable by–understandings we already possess. The discomfort of the unknowable is replaced by the comfort of being eaten by a creature with perfectly recognisable motives. Substitution of a false real is the disappointment of most generic fantasy: once the author has ushered us through an exhilaratingly scary liminal space, in which anything might be possible, new norms arrive and everything becomes ordinary again. The suggestion that things are not what they seem is always more exciting than the alternative provided. We wish we were back in the condition of not knowing. I do, anyway.
–reblogged from September 11, 2007
“Substitution of a false real is the disappointment of most generic fantasy: once the author has ushered us through an exhilaratingly scary liminal space, in which anything might be possible, new norms arrive and everything becomes ordinary again.”
If I had a study and my lintel was wide enough I’d burn this over my door. Instead I tried writing this down with a stick in the ashes of our fire pit but it blew away before I was halfway through.
I’d be tempted to replace fantasy with fiction. Still, words to consider and recall. Thank you (twice) for them.
Your post, and what drives it, hits me like Rimbaud’s “…clash of icicles against the stars.” It’s a genuine pity so many readers seem unable to tolerate ambiguity and awesomeness (in the original sense of that vandalized word).
Here’s something I’d really love to read – the annihilation experience as dictated by Jenny Diski’s real ghost.
One might not want to be carried off by night-gaunts (with their long tickling fingers oh god) but once one understands what they are and what they do they become just another hazard to avoid like drunk drivers or terrorists or rabid raccoons. And even if like meteorites they can’t reasonably be avoided at all, their fixed regular behavior is in the end reassuring.
I think HPL probably understood this too because of his frequent narrative insistence that some ultimately described-in-full-detail phenomenon was indescribable or incomprehensible. It’s just that for many of his cosmic horror pieces he was unable to plot a consistent course between the scylla and charybdis of total illogic and rationalized explanation.
IMO writing fantastic or horrifying settings without any logic to them at all is virtually meaningless and conveys only superficial affect. The trick I suppose is to combine ineffability and a sense of inevitability without ever dropping the veil. Certainly the Kefahuchi Tract conveys that kind of feel….
This puts words to something I’ve been feeling having just read two books that cross Lovecraft/horro and racism: _Lovecraft Country_ (Matt Ruff) and _The Ballad of Black Tom_ (Victor LaValle). In both, the “weird” begins as it often does, uncanny, mysterious, unsettling, but it gets crossed ultimately with racism, or found to have racist sources. And what then happens is that the fear or unease just turns to anger. It’s wonderful in the way that certain kinds of “evil” or “weird” can work against one another.
There’s a scene in Lovecraft country where a woman’s house is being haunted, and she’s running around from room to room in a typical “haunted house” set up, being chased by the ghost. But when she see a racial slur written in steam on amirror, her fear turns to rage, and suddenly we’re in a completely different story. And you can actually feel that disappointment of the otherwordly becoming so ordinary and banal in the characters (as well as in my own reaction). It’s done for a much different and much more ethical effect. More to be said, but this was perfect. Thank you!