Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Alien in Lovecraft's Writing

[Suicide Bomber Ant]
What people thought they saw were organic shapes not quite like any they had ever seen before … but those who described these strange shapes felt quite sure that they were not human … nor, said the witnesses, could they have been any kind of animal … pinkish things… with crustaceous bodies bearing vast pairs of dorsal fins or membranous wings and several sets of articulated limbs, and with a sort of convoluted ellipsoid, covered with multitudes of very short antennae, where a head would ordinarily be … Abridged passage from: Whisperer in Darkness, H P Lovecraft

Much has been written about Lovecraft describing worlds of nihilistic cosmicism and madness. Not enough has been said that he was profoundly influenced and affected by a sense of alienness. Prompted by his hometown, Providence, being inundated by immigrants during his lifetime, he experienced bouts of xenophobia. This translated into describing other worldly invasions with insidious intent. The above passage is but one example.

Very different from emerging scientifiction, which tended to have a futuristic and positive direction with a sense that modernism would bring about radical changes for the better. Slogans in the 40's and 50's such as "Better Living Through Chemistry" did not run into issues until science fiction writers began to grapple with population explosion, cold war and atomic warfare, and environmental chemical toxicity. Essentially, the aliens seen in SF were personified as a different kind of "us". Not so in Lovecraft's xenophobic aliens. He strove to make them so alien as to not be "us".

Therefore, Lovecraft often cast aliens in characteristics of what he might have called vermin. He used traits of frogs, squids, snakes, rats, insect wings, and voices that could not be reproduced by human vocal chords, and other characteristics. However, he rarely included the most alien group of all – insects – and most notably ants.

Noted expert, Dr. Edward O. Wilson, and his followers have written much on ants. They are the single challenger to us as environmental agents of change on the Earth. They out number our nearly 7 billion individuals by ten-thousand-fold or more. We live by various forms of individual expressions of visual, written, and oral communication whereas they are individually expendable, and live by chemical communications and some types of geo-positional system orientations. They are as different from our lives as Lovecraft's characters are, and it is a shame he did not live to understand how different they are from us.

I highly recommend a book I'm reading right now, Adventures Among Ants, Mark Moffett, University of California Press.

NPR interview:

1 comment:

OpenPhotoNum said...

Hi Chris you should also read the book from "OUR" ;0) frenh ants specialist and sci-foi writter : Bernard Werber




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