The Lovecraft Ezine hosted a brilliant discussion about HPL, his racism, and the WFA last night. As ever, due to time zones, I was unable to watch the show live but managed to watch it this morning. I was, again, impressed with the level of discourse on such an emotive subject and I said as much on the Ezine message board with a small contribution to the debate.
Just watched the show. Great to see a friendly and level headed talk about HPL and racism. I wish I had been able to join in but I would like to make a wee contribution if I may.
When it comes to HPL I would place him within the Modernist literary tradition, especially his later works, and so his views were in keeping with certain segments of that tradition. I’m thinking here people like Ezra Pound and David Jones who were out and out Antisemites and, in the case of Jones, actual fascists.
Of course they were all writing in a time of great political and social upheaval. We have the background of the First World War, the Russian, Spanish and German revolutions, the rise of fascism in Italy, Spain and of National ‘Socialism’ in Germany. The conflict between US and European workers and bosses was as explosive and violent as ever. It was a time of very firm ideological stances coming into direct conflict with one another.
For this reason it is unsurprising that we see contemporary writers falling into these broad left/right dichotomies. For every Pound/Jones/Lovecraft with objectionable reactionary opinions there was an Orwell or a Steinbeck.
I think that what acknowledging and understanding HPL’s bigotry gives us, when we read his work, is an insight into the intimate and emotional core of this bigotry that was manifest in many people -not just HPL. His feelings of fear with regards the ‘other’ and anything that was outwith his understanding of the world via his WASP upbringing come through in more ways that the simple crude racism we see in Redhook or Call of Cthulhu. We see the alien other as something that is beyond the ken of civilised people. We see it as something that is overwhelming and unstoppable. A fear that is manifest in the more forthright writings of many racists and fascists. A fine example of this is the Rivers of Blood speech by notorious British racist Enoch Powell. His talk of an inevitable race war which will see black people slaughtering white could quite easily be fictionalised into a story of impending doom from anywhere outwith civilisation.
Of course, one doesn’t have to read HPL, or any other author, in this manner. It is perfectly possible, and entirely legitimate, to enjoy his work as masterful pieces of horrific and fantastic literature. Being ignorant of his bigotry in no ways detracts from the tales. Being aware of it and understanding it however allows for one to choose *how* they wish to read them. I personally will sometimes read the stories with a critical eye and attempt to gain an insight into early 20th Century culture through the eyes of HPL. Much in the same way that when I was reading Classical Civilisation at university I would read Hessiod and Homer to gain insight into the culture in which the writers lived. Other times (most if I’m to be honest) I will read them as great stories for entertainment.
I do think that this discussion is important and, as others have said, it is one that we will continue to have as more people become aware of HPL and his work. That the discussion is cropping up more and more frequently is a good sign, especially for those of us who wish to have more people to write weird fiction and more people to read it. It means that the bastard child of genre literature is beginning to forge its own way in the 21st Century in the way that SF and Fantasy have been doing in recent decades.
I would also like to bring this fantastic collection to people’s attention. Never Again: Weird Fiction Against Fascism and Racism edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane. It has some brilliant stories and all the profits go to groups working to do away with bigotry.
And finally. A quote from New Weird Maestro China Mieville. “The good thing about New Weird is that we certainly have less fascists.”
Well, ‘small’ for me. Maybe not for Facebook. 😀
Here’s the show and below are a few more comments on things brought up by the panel during the discussion.
Pete mentioned that many of the current awards have rather embarrassing origins: the Hugo of the Hugo awards regularly ‘forgot’ to pay his writers, the Booker was started by a company that built its profits on slave plantations, the Poe is named after a man who married his 13 year old cousin and so on. He said that if we are to go after the WFA for its connection to HPL and his bigotry then we should go after them all. I can see his point here but the difference, especially with the Booker, is that we are a part of the community that issues the World Fantasy Award. We are not readers/writers of mystery or mainstream fiction. We are of the fantastic. Because of this is is to be expected that we should have a vested interest in the WFA and the community within which it exists. Joe and Matt were both of the opinion that it was entirely up to the WFA committee whether or not it should change. At the end of the day that is strictly true but as the award is part of wider fandom it is only right that fandom has an input into the award.
I do feel that if this debate, the wider one, had begun by someone pointing out that HPL is no longer as relevant to the field of fantasy as he used to be when the various genres of Horror/Fantasy/Science Fiction were more closely linked than I don’t think we would be seeing this brouhaha. However because it concerns the man’s bigotry it has gotten people’s back up. This has been, from what I can tell, exacerbated by the attraction of the supposed internet ‘social justice warriors‘ who seem to thrive off one upping one another with how outraged they can be in the various online fora. These folk really get my goat as I have only ever come across them in the online world. Despite years, and years of political activity including anti-racist work I have never seen or heard of any of these people. Like the racist trolls they see everywhere they seem to only exist online. This cartoon sums them up quite nicely.
It is a crying shame that these individuals are so loud. In an age where the vast majority of human debate is carried out online these people get far more attention than they deserve. The fantasy author Will Shetterly has written about them quite extensively and whilst I don’t agree with him on a lot of things he is right about the internet Social Justice Warrior.
Another thing that came up briefly in the discussion was that Centipede Press are releasing a version of The Drowning Girl by Caitlin Kiernan. I’ve been excited by this since I first heard that they were working on it and so imagine my disappointment when I go to have a look at the Centipede website. $250!!!!!! $250! 😥 There is no way on Earth that I could possibly justify spending that much money on a book at the moment. Poverty, and therefore capitalism, suck monkey balls. It really does.