Sunday, January 22, 2006

Addressing Lovecraft's Elitism

My last comment on "Lovecraft's elitism" has prompted several of you to write me.

To be fair to the man's life, we must discuss in this blog the impact of Lovecraft's deep paranoia with "others" and his elitism. We would necessarily call it racism, today, but American society was rife with racial and bigoted tensions. Even T.R. (Teddy Roosevelt) has memoirs with epithets contained. The Edwardian age was not enlightened - and evidence shows that American post-modernism still struggles with racial and ethnic harmony. Before we cast a stone at HPL, I ask you to examine your glass house.

Casper Kelley sends this extract along for the community to ponder.


[From: Lovecraft Studies #40 "The Subway and the Shoggoth"]

"The story remains a gauge of Lovecraft's obsessions through his exploitation of the subway...
But shoggoths, the plastic shoggoths, are Lovecraft's central invention connected with subways, and to discover the meaning of the subway we need to say more about the meaning of the shoggoth. Certainly it carries connotation of the Hebrew suffix -oth, a plural ending as in Sabaoth or Yuggoth, "which has a sort of Arabic of Hebraic cast, to suggest certain words passed down from antiquity in the magical formulae contained in Moorish and Jewish manuscripts" (SL V.386 {Arkham House Letter Collection}); a shoggoth may not be individual -- it is legion. In addition, "shog" is a common English word that Samuel Johnson records: "to shake; to agitate by sudden interrupted impulses." the Oxford English Dictionary notes other meanings, "to rouse from sleep", "to upset", "to, walk ride or move with a succession of bumps or jerks", or "to go away, begone"; and cites Shakespeare's line in Henry V, "Will you shog off?" (2.1.42). ...

"As Will Murray has shown ("The Trouble with Shoggoths" 37-38), the immediate occasion of Lovecraft's shoggoth was Clark Ashton Smith's description in "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros: of a black, "semiliquescent" creature that either serves or incarnates the toad-god Tsathoggua, a description that uses words capable of triggering Lovecraft's own antisemitic language: "What unimaginable horror of protoplasmic life, what loathly spawn of the primordial slime had come forth..." (Smith 74) -- it could well have seemed to Lovecraft reading these words that what he had seen in the streets and subways of New York had suddenly taken concrete form."


Thanks Casper!

Lovecraft suffered his share of trauma being thrust into poverty as a teenager. He certainly inherited some of his bigotry from family - sociologists teach us that much of racism is taught by culture. Still, as in the exposition of He (see thread archives) and in the use of shoggoths and "that Innsmouth look", HPL despised "others" in a colllective sense and described them in caricaturish manner. They disrupted his antiquarian imagination, his idealism, and thus - I believe - led him to cosmic nihilism. If only the educated elite were worthy, that they were few in number and fading fast, then it follows that mankind is unworthy and will be exterminated by those greater than man. Like all men, HPL had to create devils and gods to fit his worldview.

(Tommorrow: John T. O'Connor's perspective on HPL in his time.)

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