Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lovecraft's legacy

  • Luc Sante discources on H.P. Lovecraft at The New York Review of Books.
Just in time for Halloween, a scholar takes on everyone's favorite Gothic [over]writer:
...Lovecraft's work is essentially unfilmable, not because his special effects are too gaudy or too expensive to translate to the screen, but because they are purely literary. Lovecraft was bookish in an extreme, almost parodistic way. He may not have worn a fez or been able to afford a wing chair, but he assumed the archetype of the nineteenth-century man of letters (Wilson calls him "a literary man manqué") with his circle of disciples, the roughly 100,000 letters he wrote to them (and he was only forty-seven when he died), the preciously archaic language in which he expressed himself (almost always using "shew" in preference to "show," for instance), the humid cultivation of in-jokes that migrated from the correspondence to the stories and were perpetuated in stories by the disciples, and the carefully tended aura, if quite self-aware, of "forbidden knowledge."

In other words, he was a nerd. He was a nerd on a grand scale, though— a heroic nerd, a pallid, translucent, Mallarméan nerd, a nerd who suffered for his art. His art consisted exclusively of conveying horror, and in this his range was encyclopedic. As a setting for his horror he built a whole world—a whole universe, with a time-span measured in eons—which others could happily continue furnishing indefinitely. His horrors themselves are, with a few unhappy exceptions, described loosely and suggestively enough that in effect they present a blank screen on which the reader can pro-ject whatever visual imagery is most personally unsettling. This explains the seeming paradox of an exceedingly bookish writer enjoying a legacy that is to a very large degree extraliterary. As a supplier of instruments for the cultivation of horror he was custom-tailored for the suggestible fourteen-year-old boy, and the number of fourteen-year-old boys—some of them chronologically rather older, a few of them even female—is continually on the increase.

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