The Unplumbed Depths of Lovecraftian Philosophy

H. P. Lovecraft’s interests mark him as one of the most scientifically engaged writers of fiction in the first half of the twentieth century. His works demonstrate an awareness of Einsteinian and quantum physics, Freud and psychoanalysis, astronomy, chemistry and the question of progress. He also wrote over a hundred articles dealing almost exclusively with these themes. Despite this, Lovecraft’s importance in the context of the history and philosophy of science has largely been overlooked.

A few examples of this kind do exist, such as S.T. Joshi’s “H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West”, which attempts to place Lovecraft in the tradition of Oswald Spengler’s critique of progress. Overall, however, there has been little written on this topic in any concentrated way, and what has appeared has generally been dominated by the writings of Joshi.

Lovecraft’s philosophy of science has been much maligned by narrow interpreters who see in his exultation of the unknown an anti-scientific nostalgia and an unhealthy, morbid fascination with madness and human frailty. While by the end of the 20th century Lovecraft’s fiction had developed a cult following, this interest and the substantial cultural capital afforded by it has seen little reflection in academic circles, partly, one thinks, for this very same reason.

My recent interests have lead me to a comparison of Lovecraft’s sense of “Cosmic Horror” with Einstein’s description of “Cosmic Religion”. Given Lovecraft’s knowledge of Einstein this connection is tantalizing, more so because of the work I have been doing on science and the uncanny. All three of these concepts are closely related, and are worthy of much further consideration.

Links of Interest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._T._Joshi

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._P._Lovecraft

A Canadian film that interweaves Lovecraft’s life and literature: “Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft”.

If you can get a plushy of it, it must be important:

http://www.toyvault.com/cthulhu/plush_cthulhu.html

Nelson, Victoria 2001 The Secret Life of Puppets. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

A Beautiful Animism

For me the beauty and the wonder of the movie Wall-e comes from the way in which it is able to instill the fundamentals of life and fellow-feeling in what seems to the human observer to be an inanimate object. While it is undoubtedly CGI, I had the feeling when first watching it that I was observing puppets in motion.

Puppetry as an art is both ancient, and, like many ancient things, deeply under-appreciated. It, and its sibling claymation, has been steadily fazed out because of improvements in computer graphics that see the material construction of cast/scenes to be an unnecessary and complicated expense.

But there is something to be said of the joy of animism in making the inanimate animate through these forms. That a puppeteer could pick up something seemingly dead and with a few skillful motions give it life and personality seems to me to have a powerful effect upon the imagination.

A greater appreciation of the personality of things would do much to ameliorate the culture of waste and refuse that refuses to adhere to environmental responsibilities. Yet when it comes time for me to throw away some old jacket, or sell some long possessed relic of my childhood, I am often struck with the feeling that I am leaving behind a companion rather than a belonging.

No doubt this view is the height of eccentricity, but such foolishness may well save us in time.

For More Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_play
http://www.mermaidtheatre.ns.ca/ (An excellent puppetry theater currently on tour across America)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dark_Crystal

Clark Ashton Smith


Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) was a self educated poet, sculptor, painter and writer who spent almost the entirety of his life living in a small cabin in Auburn, California. While supporting himself by picking fruit and cutting wood, Smith taught himself French and Spanish, and read encyclopedias and dictionaries to expand his knowledge of a world he seldom traveled in.

It’s hard finding Smiths writing in most bookstores, but the website The Eldritch Dark has done a wonderful job of presenting his creative output. I have long admired Smith’s works and contribution to uncanny literature, and would not have known anything about him if it wasn’t for this delightful find.

Of course, not everyone would agree with me. Smith was in conscious opposition to the realist litterature of his day, and often expressed frustration when critics would chastize his work for not being another reproduction of Hemingway. His fantastical worlds, their ambivalent moralities and cosmic scope, his enjoyment of concepts of reincarnation, mysticism, the evil or indifference of higher intellects and the ultimate finitude of human activity won him few friends in the polite society of letters in 20th century American literature.

But that does not seem to be what he was really after anyway.

My own story, The Gray Men of the Desert of Dust, was originally written as an homage to the first work by Smith that I ever read. The Abominations of Yondo, while not Smith’s finest work, captured my imagination with its arcane use of language and atmospheric qualities. Indeed, readers looking for character-driven plots may be disappointed by his style. His protagonists tend to be archetypal, and his female characters too often find themselves in the old duality of the maiden or the witch. Yet I prefer to treat each work as an exquisite painting, and am little troubled by this.

For new readers I would certainly recommend The City of the Singing Flame, The Empire of the Necromancers, The Disinterment of Venus, The Chain of Aforgomon and The Ghoul to get a feel for what Smith was all about.


For More Information:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clark_Ashton_Smith

Serge Sunne, Time, Identity and Otherness

I know very little about the artist Serge Sunne. He is Latvian, but I don’t think he’s gained a wide enough circulation yet to attract the kind of theorizing and speculation given to more popular artists.

Since discovering his works I have quickly become enamored with their strange depictions and surreal sense of the uncanny. Sunne seems to enjoy playing with concepts of identity, otherness, and time in his works in ways that I have not seen before.

“Another Holy Mother”, the title of the above picture combines an unsettling union of the Virgin Mary with the Baby Jesus with an entirely unworldly subject whose motherly embrace is a nightmare of its entangled, strangely disproportionate limbs. The contrast is made even more complete by the addition of the halos around the two figures, whose pale, almost feeble light contrast so sharply with the darkness of their bodies.

Then there is the question raised by many of his pieces: When will the future get old? One example can be seen in the derelict ghost spaceship at the bottom of this post. Few artists I know have really focused on a little explored theme in science fiction: when the new gets old, then ancient, the half-forgotten. Sunne’s “Abandoned Space Port” is another example of this lovely juxtaposition of an almost unfathomable futurity clashing with some sense of deep time.

For More Information:

http://www.sunne.in/

http://www.artmajeur.com/?go=artworks/display_list_artworks&login=sergesunne

http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/stuart/StudentArt/ast_id/56065

https://www.facebook.com/serge.sunne

The Atomic Heart of Japanese Robotics

Japanese culture has been one of the major “alternative” imports into the west for the past several years. Their view of A.I. and humanoid robots is refreshingly different from that of the western traditions of Frankenstein, the Christian Golem (unlike the Jewish Golem), and the Matrix.

One of my earliest introductions to the east and robotics was in the form of Astro Boy, the boy with the atomic heart. I was too young to see it at the time, but the show must have clearly resonated with its Japanese audience, the only people who have actually had atomic weapons used against them. It’s hard to overstate the effects that this historical event seems to have had on the Japanese relationship to technology, and their desire to give it a human face in literature, art, and reality.

It is even more interesting juxtaposed, as it often is, to the Japanese dystopia in which the machines often take on a more human character than the humans themselves. Take for instance the manga Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro, for which the question of humanity is an overarching theme. The main character is a human brain in a mechanical body, while several of the characters are human brains stored in computer chips and placed within human bodies. Questions of essential personality, indeed, essential humanity, get even more tangled in the light of amnesia, intentional and not, dream worlds, multiple personalities and the concept of storing human memory.

Despite the manga’s occasional turn to what I call “splorching” (excessively pressurized human gore often seen in Japanese media) and often taboo subject matter, the series still has a lot of heart to offer curious readers.