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Hauntological weirdness

Those of you with a peculiarly antiquarian or literary turn of mind might enjoy this odd essay from China Miéville on Lovecraft and various other strains of strangeness in fantastical fiction. I liked it because it’s got lots about tentacles, and also snipes at Eagleton.

This must be insisted upon for the heuristic edges of the Weird and the hauntological – and indeed of other fantastic categories – to stay sharp. Hence the importance of ‘Geek Critique’, which rebukes, say, Terry Eagleton when he blithely discusses the ‘rash of books about vampires, werewolves, zombies and assorted mutants, as though a whole culture had fallen in love with the undead’;(25) because whatever the merits of the rest of his argument, only two of those figures are undead, and they are all different. Teratological specificity demands attention. And, granting the controversial position that ghosts are teratological subjects, such specificities are nowhere more different and important than between Weird and hauntological.

Others who dislike ornate verbosity may not care much for it at all, and that’s OK.

Comments

  1. says

    No matter what people think of Lovecraft or other related horrors, we as a nation can agree that the next person to write a vampire book in which they a) sparkle or b) are romantic, gets a smothered in honey and left for the ants.

    H.P. Christ

  2. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    Heh, I’m in the middle of reading Miéville’s Kraken (on recommendation from someone on TET, sorry, I forgot who it was). A lot of love for tentacles.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    Eagleton sounds like one of those pseudo-intellectual snobs who like to tell us “philistines” in smug, patrician tones how they “don’t read fiction” or that that sci-fi, fantasy, or horror can NEVER be considered “literature.”

  4. Azkyroth says

    Why is it good that Terry Eagleton is being sniped anyways?

    1. see the post immediately above yours.
    2. see here.

  5. says

    we as a nation can agree that the next person to write a vampire book in which they [...] are romantic, gets a smothered in honey and left for the ants.

    No Louis/Lestat slash even?

  6. caseyo says

    I’ve always found it interesting that the fan base of Lovecraft, in which I include myself, has such a large overlap with the free thought and/or atheist community. It seems counterintuitive because the more popular of his stories are, if anything, anti-rationalist. They revolve around the fact, as laid out in the first paragraph of The Call of Cthulhu, that there are things in the universe that humans are not meant to know, that these things will drive you insane because of the depth of the knowledge. That seems to go against everything that folks here are for.

  7. says

    #5

    Since that version Eben has added a maniacal laugh as a coda to the song. And if you’re in the San Diego area, Eben Brooks and Allison Lonsdale appear together at Lestats on Adams Ave the third Saturday of the month.

    Where to China’s essay; I found it a bit much to get through, I way assay it again later.

    One weird creature people tend to overlook is Ursula, from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. A cephalopod lower body tis true, but the climatic battle between her and Prince Eric is straight out of Call of Cthulhu.

  8. llewelly says

    caseyo | 23 December 2011 at 3:32 pm :

    They revolve around the fact, as laid out in the first paragraph of The Call of Cthulhu, that there are things in the universe that humans are not meant to know, that these things will drive you insane because of the depth of the knowledge. That seems to go against everything that folks here are for.

    It’s simple, really. We wish we were in truth possessed by terrible secrets that would Drive Men MAD and cause insanity to rampage across the world!

    I’ve always found it puzzling as well – even more puzzling when you realize how racist and sexist Lovecraft was.

  9. ikesolem says

    That was worth wading through, just for the photo of the octopus crawling over the skull.

    However, I think Lovecraft just tapped into the ‘fear of the unknown’ – the outer reaches of space and the deep ocean basins being the home of his curiously archaic and hoary creatures.

    As far as racism and sexism, that was the norm in the early 20th century – ever read Jack London’s work on genocidal bacteriological warfare against China? I’m guessing not:

    “And so perished China,” writes Jack London at the end of his genocidal fantasy. After the victorious nations divide up the land among themselves, they agree to ban these ‘laboratory methods of warfare.’ Clearly, such total wars could be waged only against the ‘yellow peril’, not against white people.” – P.D. Smith – Doomsday Men (2007)

    Eugenic race fantasies were a staple of early 20th century America – like Nazi Germany, California sterilized thousands of ‘genetic undesirables’ during that era, a fact that has been removed from all U.S. history textbooks, just as the extensive collaboration between Wall Street and Nazi industrialists in the 1930s has been removed.

    This was the era of Darwinian racial superiority doctrine, after all – and yes, you have to confront it, because the fundamentalist religious freaks use this historical fact (the Darwin-eugenics-Nazi tie-in) as a basis for attacking modern evolutionary science in general.

    Modern evolutionary theory, of course, repudiates such “master race” fantasies.

    Having said that, take a look at Lovecraft’s “The Street”, a strange bit of justification for ethnic cleansing and genocide, if there ever was one. On the other hand, he wrote another story condemning German submariners to the nightmare depths of Cthulu’s ocean, so go figure. Then he killed himself – clearly, a complicated individual.

  10. says

    They revolve around the fact, as laid out in the first paragraph of The Call of Cthulhu, that there are things in the universe that humans are not meant to know, that these things will drive you insane because of the depth of the knowledge.

    That’s cool as all hell though. So it might really be a perverse wish, like llewelly said. Or it might just be catchy; the meme of knowledge that will break your brain is minimally counterintuitive.

    Bonus: the stories are about gods — which we like to talk about — but the god worshipped by the dominant culture here is conspicuously absent from the pantheon of gods which are known to exist. Those which exist are either malicious or indifferent to human life. The universe really is out to get us, and it’s “weirder than we can suppose.”

  11. caseyo says

    His racism and sexism was pretty bad and much of what he wrote definitely had an anti-miscegenation theme. His constant talk of batrachian races and mongrel people was pretty bad compared even to other authors of the same time. I don’t think the times excuse it, especially because it regularly pops up in his stories, as opposed to London who rarely was explicitly racist. All that said, I am a fan of much of his work.

  12. Stacy says

    Then he killed himself

    No, he didn’t. He died of cancer (of the small intestine) or its complications.

    I think one reason he appeals to skeptics is that he played with the notion of deity. An atheist himself, he created gods that were indifferent or actively hostile to humanity.

  13. John Morales says

    ikesolem:

    However, I think Lovecraft just tapped into the ‘fear of the unknown’ – the outer reaches of space and the deep ocean basins being the home of his curiously archaic and hoary creatures.

    No, it was more than that — it was the fear of the realisation* of the utter cosmic existential insignificance of humanity — we delude ourselves into thinking we somehow matter.

    * Cognition, to borrow Scientology-speak.

  14. Azkyroth says

    This was the era of Darwinian racial superiority doctrine, after all – and yes, you have to confront it, because the fundamentalist religious freaks use this historical fact (the Darwin-eugenics-Nazi tie-in) as a basis for attacking modern evolutionary science in general.

    There was, I believe, some association between eugenics ideas in other countries and abuse of Darwinian ideas, but the Nazis were decidedly anti-evolution. Do your homework.

  15. Azkyroth says

    I don’t recall Lovecraft being particularly overtly sexist, actually. He mostly just didn’t deal with women at all.

  16. Midnight Rambler says

    Bonus: the stories are about gods — which we like to talk about — but the god worshipped by the dominant culture here is conspicuously absent from the pantheon of gods which are known to exist.

    There are different ones in the various stories – some, like Cthulu’s ilk, are not necessarily “gods” per se but hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings that humans take for gods. Nyarlathotep, on the other hand, is depicted as ruling over “the puny gods of Earth”, implying that some gods worshipped by humans might be real, but aren’t actually of significance on the godly scale.