Monday, January 05, 2009

Harrison on Lovecraft via Houellebecq...Oh Dear.

A word of warning - this is something of a reactive post and as such probably not one that is not carefully considered to say the least. So something I'll likely return to as and when time permits.

Now down to business. To say I was rather disappointed with M. John Harrison’s recent review of the Lovecraft on the Guardian’s website is something of an understatement. It's not that I object to criticism of Lovecraft; rather it is Harrison’s (quite frankly lazy) reduction of Lovecraft’s considerable contribution to the literature of the weird to a piece of cod Freudianism : Lovecraft’s work represents in Harrison’s eyes ‘a last desperate clutch at the undependable maternal skirt’ and Lovecraft’s cosmicism consequently rendered as ‘ the terror and disappointment of not being the universe's favourite child’. This sweeping and ill-considered evaluation based, it seems, on a quote of Lovecraft’s (‘adulthood is hell’) taken from Houellebecq. Indeed, it is Houellebecq who (implicitly) seems to come in for most praise in the review as the ‘rehabilitator’ of Lovecraft.

Sadly, Harrison seems to have been bedazzled by a new (and in my mind often insubstantial) trend in Lovecraft scholarship which is emerging from within a relatively small group of contemporary academic philosophers. A trend which also seems to treat as unimportant or trivial many of the pre-Houellebecq academic engagements with the Lovecraftian milieu (especially those that are not informed by an impenetrably obscurantist category of poststructuralist Marxism). A point I shall return to when I get around to revising my ‘missing’ post.

In any case, Harrison ultimately deems Lovecraft’s work escapist. I’m somewhat ambivalent on this point; more worrying though is Harrison’s own views that escapism in the literature of the weird and the fantastic is politically irresponsible (bloody hell man - thats what hobbies are for!). Not only does this come off sounding very close to the preachiness of middle-class Guardian-reading liberals who are all too ready to lay the responsibility of any number of social ills at the feet of Grand Theft Auto, but by telling us that we should be spending our time more productively seems in its own way to reproduce some of the core values of capitalism.

2 comments:

  1. Having just read Harrison's piece online... it's not quite on a par with Edmund Wilson's railings against 'childish escapism,' IMO; Harrison seems to feel some of the emotional pull of Lovecraft's work--the review is entitled "Weird, but wonderful," after all--and he has some insight,
    (for example in saying the stories that work the best are frequently those that explain the least). But the last paragraph: all of a sudden Harrison seems to remember where he is--The Guardian, OMG--and tacks on this pseudo-Freudian tosh about maternal skirts. It left me feeling slightly baffled if anything. If were a new reader considering whether to buy the Gollancz collection I would have difficulty deciding if this was a tentative recommendation or a definitive thumbs-down.

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  2. I'm not sure a poststructuralist critique of a work as escapist is at all intelligible–escape from what, exactly?

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