Friday, 30 April 2010

Post#149 My Thoughts on Lovecraft - a Companion to that of Retarius

Nietzsche once wrote that philosophy is just another form of auto-biography, or words to that effect. This is also true, I suspect, of literature, though some perhaps more than others. I’m thinking specifically of the work of H. P. Lovecraft, which reveals, intentionally or not, so much about him.

Do you know anything of his life, that strange, horribly claustrophobic existence he led with his aunts and his mother, above all, his mother, in Providence, Rhode Island, living through ever downward spirals of gentile poverty and psychological tension to outright breakdown?

I suspect that, in the end, the death of his mother in 1921 came as something of a relief to him, if my reading of his 1933 story, A Thing on the Doorstep, is correct. Edward Derby, the protagonist, a weak-willed character, very much in the shape of Lovecraft himself, professes shock-as the author did himself-at the death of his mother-but afterwards this initial emotional purge “…he seemed to feel a sort of grotesque exhilaration, as if of a partial escape from some unseen bondage.” Later he would write to one of his friends that “My health improved vastly and rapidly, though without any ascertainable cause, about 1920-21.” He is giving away much more than he suspects.

What do I think of Lovecraft as a writer? This is a difficult question for me, conjuring up some quite mixed emotions. He is not my kind of writer; his prose is far too flowery, bombastic and overblown for my taste. For me he is to the craft of words what Antonio Gaudi is to architecture; grotesque, over-decorated and over-ornate. Consider this passage from The Call of Cathulu, generally reckoned to be one of his best stories;

The Thing cannot be described-there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immortal lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled. God! What wonder that across the earth a great architect went mad, and poor Wilcox raved with fever at that telepathic instant? The Thing of the idols, the green sticky spawn of the stars, had wakened to claim his own…After vigilations of years great Cathulu was lose again, and ravening for delight.

I simply can’t read that without laughing!

In essence Lovecraft’s prose is like an overstuffed Victorian drawing room; a place where one longs for a breath of crisp air. I contrast him with Maupassant, whose style is taught, precise and stark, a real economy of words that makes the overall effect of his horror story, The Horla, that much the greater.

Yet, for all that, there is a quality to Lovecraft uniquely his own. His ideas on science and life in general were old-fashioned, even for his own time, but there are still deep wells, perhaps even new modes of understanding. Above all, his pseudomythology, expressed in the so-called ‘Cathulu Mythos’, shows a universe where people are not at the centre, and where the gods, such as they are, care nothing for human existence, which is a mere incident in the great cycles of creation…and of destruction.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Post#148 H.P. Lovecraft

I just read most of a collection of stories by Howard Phillips Lovecraft an author I'd heard much of and read nothing. Writers whose work I've enjoyed have often reverentially referred to him in their notes and I was interested to see what the mentor's quality was.

It was fascinating stuff and I discovered that Western Australia features in the story, The Shadow Out of Time. At 22 degrees, 3' 14" South latitude and 125 degrees, 0' 39" East longitude is supposed to be the remains of an ancient city established over 150 million years in the past by a non-human race. He introduces it through a letter from a correspondent whose address is 49 Dampier Street, Pilbarra. This is a conflation of the name of the town of Dampier and the Pilbara region (including a still-common misspelling).

I also found the foundations of many of the themes to be found in later science fiction; ancient aliens, alien possession, reanimation of the dead, lost languages and scripts. There's an interesting yarn called The Colour Out of Space which prefigures The Blob...a meteor-borne infestation.

Although generally admirable, Lovecraft has a style which, when you read a lot of his work at one hit, becomes unintendedly funny. The words "horror", gruesome", "hideous" and suchlike are liberally spread through every story; he seemed to think that using these terms would induce the described tremors in the reader; I felt they broke the spell by being constantly noticeable. In his honour I produce the following tribute:

"In that year of 1932 I worked in an architect's office in Arkham with Ashley Clarkson-Smythe. My prospects seemed good but a most hideous event soon destroyed my nerves. I entered the office one morning in unwitting good cheer and opened the top-left drawer of my draughtsman's desk and beheld a most abominable spectacle. I was confronted by a sight of such nefandous and abyssal cruelty that I was hard-pressed to restrain myself from uttering a demented scream.

In the drawer was an artefact of a fiendish and inhuman mind. I can barely force myself to describe it - but I must! (The reader has, by now, suspected the nature of the atrocity.) Some filthy, perverted, daemon-possessed thrall of dark powers and worshipper of contumacious and strifeful gods had performed an abomination of the kind only hinted at in the Necronomicon of the mad Arab, Abdul AlHazred. The thrice-accursed villain had bent my favourite paper-clip!!"

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Post#147 Nick the Giant Killer (Anastasia speaks on Nick Clegg)

Do the boys and girls in Oz get news of the current political jinks in England? Here is my personal assessment of the most recent episode in our national soap opera. :-)

The British people like an underdog; they always have. We warm to the little person, the abject outsider, something foreigners will never understand about us. Who but the British would have taken a failure, an embarrassing failure, like Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards to their hearts? He’s a joke, yes, but he is our joke!

Now he’s joined by another; he’s joined by Nick Clegg, the little man, the underdog and –dare I say it? – the colourless mediocrity. Still, he has new admirers after he appeared as Jack the Giant Killer in the recent telly debate. I didn’t watch the whole thing, merely edited highlights, so I’m not really in a position to comment on all aspects of his performance as a debater.

I attend debates in the Union, though, and often vote for a motion that I happen to disagree with because I was impressed by the skill of a particular speaker. There is no harm in that. But the government of this country is a much more serious matter than a Union debate. If people are to be swayed by the ‘Mark Anthony factor’ they really do need to stop and think, think not about the man but the ideas. And the ideas embraced by Clegg and his party are, in my estimation at least, a real danger to this country.

I’ll come on to this in a moment, First let me say a word or two about the debate itself, the dynamics of this futile exercise. I think it’s worth reminding people that we do not have a presidential system in this country: we vote for the party, not the leader. In the circumstances of this gladiatorial contest Clegg, no matter what, was bound to have come out at an advantage.

The reasons for this are simple: people are still alienated from mainstream politics in the hangover from the expenses scandal, so the outsider was always a favoured bet over the chief contenders. That he spoke well merely added to this advantage. That Gordon Brown took on the part of Uriah Heep, ever so ‘umbly trying to ingratiate himself with Clegg added to it still further. This was the worst part of all, the part that made me cringe with embarrassment, the way in which the haggard, tired-looking Prime Minister tried to flirt with the Corporal – “I agree with Nick; Nick agrees with me.” The man is obviously so desperate to hang on to power, no matter what it costs. A deal with the Liberal Democrats offers him one way of doing this.

I am convinced, no matter how much Clegg denies it, that a hung Parliament will mean a Lib-Lab pact; that a hung Parliament will mean ‘voting reform’, which essentially means tinkering with our political system to the permanent advantage of the Liberal Democrats; means that we will never have strong and stable government again; means that we will bring back to permanent power a party that last won an election a hundred years ago. Now is the time for those swayed by the Clegg factor to look long and hard at just exactly what he and his muddle-headed party represent.

So you want to vote for the Liberal Democrats? I take it, then, that you are in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament, joining the Eurozone, becoming part of a European super state, removing the right of this country to opt out of European regulations on justice and home affairs, granting citizenship to illegal immigrants, an increase in air passenger duty to levels that would make travels by ordinary people all but impossible, committing the country to a green energy policy that would effectively mean a return to a pre-industrial economy, and a property tax, supposedly on the ‘wealthy’, but one that would inevitably be extended downwards as a Lib-Lab government shrunk the economy of Britain?

If we are unable to make up our minds in a decisive fashion on 7 May that’s what we will get, at least to some degree, as Brown and Clegg haggle over the distribution of power and the price of office. Vote Liberal Democrat by all means, vote for the suicide of this nation.

All great fun. :-))

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Post#146 Dead Meat on a Merry-Go-Round (U.S. Foreign policy and a small moral.)

In one of my favourite episodes of Red Dwarf, the crew encounter a Justice Field. It keeps order aboard a prison ship by reversing the effect of any hostile act and applying it to the aggressor. In one scene Lister is being attacked by a bad guy and uses this to his advantage, allowing the attacker to beat himself to bits by assailing Lister. When he's on his last legs and trying to strangle Lister, Lister considerately helps him to fit his hands around Lister's neck. As the bewildered baddy is choking, the Cat, who hasn't caught on, appears behind him with a shovel and, ignoring Lister's frantic gesticulations, gives the bad guy the good news with it. Cat's eyes roll back and he falls backwards, unconscious.

It's an analogy that occurred to me in connection with United States foreign policy:

In the beginning the U.S. supported Batista in Cuba. Then they supported Fidel Castro because he purported to be U.S. - friendly. They supported the Shah in Iran because he was a bulwark against communism. When the revolution came they found a regime in place which hated them and responded to their sequestration of Iranian assets by taking embassy staff hostage. This humiliated them and caused them to support Saddam Hussein's war against Iran. Coincidental with their agitation against the Iranian Islamic regime they provided support to the Islamic mujahideen in Afghanistan...because they were resisting Soviet occupation.

Meanwhile, back in the Iran-Iraq War, the U.S. blind-eyed the supply of materials and equipment to Saddam to further his chemical and biological weapons research. (This led to the cartoon, years later, showing an American spokesperson waving papers in the air and shouting: "We know Saddam has weapons of mass destruction - we have the receipts!!") At this point, things become complicted. In Nicaragua the U.S. had supported the dictator Somoza...because he was anti-communist. He was overthrown by the Sandinista rebellion which was belatedly revealed as communist, in the same style as Fidel. The U.S. Congress wouldn't fund the Contras, the anti-communist Nicaraguan rebels. At this point, a gentleman named Oliver North had a brainstorm. He was trying to obtain the release of American hostages in Lebanon (more hostages - the others in Iran had been released years before) and decided to sell the Iranian regime weapons for use against Saddam. The profits were then used to fund the Contras. This was published to the world in the form of the Iran-Contra Scandal and made North a new career as a television personality. This all took place during the late 1970's and mid-1980's during the tenure of Presidents Carter and Reagan. By 1990, George Bush (Senior) had decided that a small victorious war against the Panamanian despot, Manuel Noriega, would buff his image so the generalissimo (formerly a U.S. protege) was deposed and incarcerated in the U.S. Noriega was accused, among other things, of drug trafficking...a charge also levelled against the CIA and North.

In 1989, the Soviets threw in the towel in Afghanistan and the U.S. lost interest in the place. Then came the civil war between the warlords/former mujahideen. This ended in 1996 with the emergence of an even more fundamentalist Islamic faction which had been nurtured in Pakistan; the Taliban (Scholars). Once victoious, they began a campaign of social reform which provoked the Iranian government to accuse them of giving Islam a bad name! They harboured the terrorists of Al Qaeda who attacked the United States in 2001 and provoked the invasion of Afghanistan by the U.S. and its allies. Now, back in Mesopotamia, Saddam had run out of kudos with the U.S. in August 1990. he had attacked Kuwait and occupied it. Saddam had been too enthusiastic with the weapons of mass destruction and had been making menacing noises at Israel. As this coincided with the petering-out of his war with Iran and the end of his usefulness as a goad against the ayatollahs, the balance tipped against him. He was called a "Hitler-figure" and beaten back behind his palisade. Then began a twelve-year siege which ended with his ouster in 2003 and eventual hanging. Now, way back in 1988, the Iranians (I believe) had bombed a Pan American Airlines aircraft, probably in retaliation for the destruction of an Iranian civilian airliner by a U.S. warship. The original published suspicion was that Syrian agents, acting on behalf of the Iranian regime, had recruited a PLO bomb engineer to make the bomb used in this attack. As the U.S. needed the cooperation of Syria during the 1990/91 Iraq war they developed a scenario to place the blame on Libya for the Pan Am bombing. They never thought that Gaddaffi would call their bluff by allowing his agents to be put on trial...but he wrongfooted them and did just that. One was acquitted, the other's conviction continues to be disputed...

ENOUGH ALREADY!!! Hell, I can't remember half this stuff, let alone make sense of it.

So where is the moral, if any? The enemy of my enemy is probably my enemy? Here's my formula for avoiding rude surprises in foreign dealings:

Do as you would be done by...and trust no one.