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"Whisperer in Darkness" -- why not a fave?

lynnfredricks

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#21
The same can be said for "The Dunwich Horror" in that the Old Ones there are presented as having much too "human" motivations, and the concept of evil is made too simplistic as a result.
One consideration is that the narrators and witnesses are not entirely reliable, though not necessarily dishonest. Try to apply the Sapir Worf hypothesis to this, in that each character is perceiving something and interpreting through the lens of their own experience. To some, the alien nemesis appears to have a human motivation, but that motivation could be merely an interpretation.
 
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#22
One consideration is that the narrators and witnesses are not entirely reliable, though not necessarily dishonest. Try to apply the Sapir Worf hypothesis to this, in that each character is perceiving something and interpreting through the lens of their own experience. To some, the alien nemesis appears to have a human motivation, but that motivation could be merely an interpretation.
Yes, that is a possibility... but not likely one which Lovecraft intended in such cases. Generally, he was quite careful to make a narrator unreliable enough so that that doubt was built into the text, leaving a nice ambiguity to the interpretation. In these, however, we are not given any such and, considering how painstaking HPL was about such things... it seems very much imposing such an interpretation on the text to salvage a faulty story rather than letting the tale itself actually work as it is written....
 

lynnfredricks

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#23
Yes, that is a possibility... but not likely one which Lovecraft intended in such cases. Generally, he was quite careful to make a narrator unreliable enough so that that doubt was built into the text, leaving a nice ambiguity to the interpretation. In these, however, we are not given any such and, considering how painstaking HPL was about such things... it seems very much imposing such an interpretation on the text to salvage a faulty story rather than letting the tale itself actually work as it is written....
Annnnnnd how about a "for instance"? :)
 
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#24
I'm not quite sure what sort of example you're looking for, but I assume it's the "unreliable narrator". Well, the most obvious is Castro's story in "The Call of Cthulhu" (or, for that matter, that of any of the cultists in any such story), as he is both ignorant (in the sense of scientifically illiterate) and has a vested interest in thatr view of the "Old Ones" and Cthulhu; but he also used the device in such tales as "The Tomb" -- which increases the ambiguities, or at times outright contradictions, flatly stated in the text, such as Dudley not, according to witnesses, ever entering the tomb -- and "Dagon", but also "The Hound", "Herbert West -- Reanimator", "The Thing on the Doorstep"*, etc. In any case where he used such a device, he was careful to use language which would in and of itself raise at least a slight doubt in the attentive reader's mind as to the reliability of what was being said. As he put it in his letters, the thing about a weird tale is that it is important to pay close attention to such detail, as close attention as (to use his analogy) a crooked attorney would in devising a story for a witness to tell in front of a judge and jury. It may not entirely convince, but it has to be enough to cause the reader to suspend his belief in our understanding of the natural world enough to allow for that frisson (something that any hint of unreliability, as opposed to an understandably fraught emotional reaction, would undermine); whereas building a feeling of unreliability in a narrator's statements must have equal care to play on that ambiguity; an ambiguity which was his trademark in so many of his works, and which builds a different, but equally powerful, sort of tension (e.g., "Polaris", where we are left in considerable doubt about whether what he is experiencing is a mental breakdown, dream, or ancestral memory -- a point which has great importance in the interpretation of the story and in fact in the philosophical issues, such as the nature of the universe, raised by that tale).

In "The Whisperer in Darkness", we are not given that in the text, nor any hint of it. While it certainly seems highly unlikely that someone could remember with such detail a lengthy document as that letter from Akeley, it should be remembered a) that Wilmarth had read and reread it numerous times, and b) that such eidetic memories have actually been documented; they are rare, but they do exist. Thus such a thing is scarcely outside the realm of the possible. It may not have been handled quite convincingly (even though Lovecraft has him reiterate how much pride he takes in that memory), which is a flaw; but it does not violate any known principle of reality, either.

*I am thinking more of Derby's story here rather than the overall narrative.
 

lynnfredricks

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#25
I thought we'd talk about a crumb or two and here you've served up a veritable buffet of examples.

I agree with Castro being an excellent unreliable narrator. He presents a story of a future appearance of Cthulhu, but its within a framework of knowledge that resonates with western characters like the Inspector (and the narrator). I am surprised you didn't mention Zadok Allen from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, who despite being a fountain of information is still an easily bribed old drunk - the sort of person that HPL himself would dislike and distrust.

Something Ive been giving some thought to recently is to consider unreliability outside of just the "witness" characters, like Castro and Zadok, but also in other sources of information.

"The Whisperer in Darkness" is an interesting one for that because the narrator believes he was, at one point, speaking with one of the Mi-go pretending to be Akeley. He also seems more sane than insane after his experience. He is certain by the end that the Mi-Go lied about their intentions, but we are never really certain why the are there in Vermont. Is it really to get some special metals, or is that a cover story (maybe for their human contacts) when they are really here to fill up brain cannisters?

Consider also the world view shaking revelations of forbidden books, which many narrators read and often come to believe as true, later.

We get presented with one witness after the next, and their narratives are derived in some part based on things they likely do not know from first hand experience, but are imparted from other sources which in turn may not be trustworthy sources after all. The cultists know of a future apocalypse in which R'lyeh rises and Cthulhu takes over (nicely paralleling the rise of an Anti-Christ), but how accurate is that? We do get a taste in III. The Madness from the Sea, but we know it wasn't the end times (maybe just a fire drill?) when Cthulhu takes his stroll.

The inherent unreliability of any "truth", layered on top of other layers of "truth", gets revealed seemly to ensure that the actual truth is not ever knowable, but suggests the horrible. It is too wrapped up in a lie in a lie in a lie. And so the information becomes more seemingly mythic and "mystical".
 
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#26
Some interesting points. First -- I almost put Zadok on that list but, having already pulled out several examples, felt that any more would be overkill. But yes, I agree that one has to sift what he reveals very carefully, and even then may end up with a severely distorted view of the truth. (Incidentally... it is rather more doubtful that HPL would distrust such a person later in life than when he was younger. His experiences with friends, acquaintances, and correspondents who drank taught him a few lessons about the realities of such and, while he was still nauseated, apparently, by the smell of the stuff, and never liked it being around, he also knew that this prejudice was not necessarily reasonable on his part. There is, for example, the case of E. Hoffmann Price and Harry Brobst, who visited HPL with a six-pack of beer. He accepted it, as consumption of beer was once more legal, but was still a bit uncertain of it, asking them "But what are you going to do with so much of it?" To which the reply was: "Drink it. It's only three bottles apiece." After which he watched -- granted, with some concern, and more than a little scientific curiosity -- as they did so. He certainly remained friends with each to the day of his death. (There is also some speculation that Zadok may have been based, at least on part, on his old amateur colleague, Jonathan Hoag, to whom he wrote several birthday poems.)

As for the whole "insane" bit... that is something that I have long come to distrust when brought into the discussion of Lovecraft's characters. Very few, I would venture to assert, are in any way "insane"; almost none once he got past his early works, and even there it often more a question of shattered nerves than any sort of actual mental disease. That many of his characters experience a levering out of the core of their beliefs about the nature of reality cannot be denied, and that this effects their reactions permanently afterward is also quite likely. But they remain sane, if anything (to use one of his perceptive phrases on such) "supersane", because they have had the veils surrounding reality ripped violently away, and seen it nakedly. And, as in its mythic counterparts (whether what is unveiled be the Magna Mater or Jahweh), this is a blighting experience, making of the recipient of such knowledge an outsider forevermore. (Hence Burleson's contention that the confrontation in "The Outsider" remains the perfect symbol for Lovecraft's narrators.) Lovecraft himself addressed this in an early letter to his young friend Alfred Galpin, in discussing "Hamlet's madness". If you wish to get a very clear view of how he viewed such things, and the distinction drawn above, seek out the volume Letters to Alfred Galpin, pp. 48-50; the version included in the Selected Letters has been cut quite a bit.

It is also interesting to note that, while in his earlier career he built more and more of that mythology, in his later years (particularly following "The Mound") he began, as Robert M. Price has noted, "demythologizing" his entities and their significance, while at the same time emphasizing the inability of human beings to assimilate the truth without casting it in the poetic mold of myth. As a lifelong lover of mythology yet also one imbued with an intensely clinical perspective, he realized the war between these two aspects of human nature very well indeed, and in fact this became one of the themes of his later work; or, rather, one of the more openly stated themes, whereas before it had itself been handled more often by filtering through the poetic imagination. (It is interesting to note that Cabell forms something of a parallel on this point, as he sets forth this dichotomy and the importance to human well-being of myth and Romance, making it one of the major themes of his entire corpus, particularly of the Biography of the Life of Manuel. On a side note, it has always struck me as a pity that Lovecraft so disdained Cabell as a mere humorist when, in fact, the two of them often dealt with the same themes, had many passages which echoed the thought of the other, and when, in fact, for all his ironies, Cabell was indeed "digging down" to the subsoil of tragedy and loss underlying life throughout; in fact, I would argue, that the recognition of the irresoluble nature of the conflict of this fact with human emotions and aspirations formed the very basis of his irony, which, in turn, he used to enhance the recognition of this dichotomy and its impact on the emotions of his readers.)
 

lynnfredricks

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#27
"Drink it. It's only three bottles apiece." After which he watched -- granted, with some concern, and more than a little scientific curiosity -- as they did so. He certainly remained friends with each to the day of his death.
Yes, he relaxed his views as he himself experienced more of life, tasted more hardship. Even though he might have relaxed a bit around drinking, I don't imagine that HPL would have condoned Zadok's undignified manner.

As for the whole "insane" bit... that is something that I have long come to distrust when brought into the discussion of Lovecraft's characters. Very few, I would venture to assert, are in any way "insane"; almost none once he got past his early works, and even there it often more a question of shattered nerves than any sort of actual mental disease.
They are for the most part "insane" in that they know and believe things that are entirely unknown and unacceptable to society.

It is also interesting to note that, while in his earlier career he built more and more of that mythology, in his later years (particularly following "The Mound") he began, as Robert M. Price has noted, "demythologizing" his entities and their significance, while at the same time emphasizing the inability of human beings to assimilate the truth without casting it in the poetic mold of myth.
Yes, likely because that's the only way they could possibly assimilate these truths - by recasting them within an existing schema of knowledge, pantheon, and the like. Likewise, also the inverse, that known mythologies may have roots in unacceptable truths.
 

Extollager

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#28
"As a lifelong lover of mythology yet also one imbued with an intensely clinical perspective, [Lovecraft] realized the war between these two aspects of human nature very well indeed, and in fact this became one of the themes of his later work" -- Compare a passage in something C. S. Lewis wrote about himself in Surprised by Joy, Chapter 11. Lewis was an ardent lover of Norse mythology, of some of the great Romantic works, etc. He writes:

"Such...was the state of my imaginative life; over against it stood the life of my intellect. The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow 'rationalism.' Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless. The exceptions were certain people (whom I loved and believed to be real) and nature herself. That is, nature as she appeared to the senses," etc.
 

lynnfredricks

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#29
Lewis was an ardent lover of Norse mythology, of some of the great Romantic works, etc. He writes: "Such...was the state of my imaginative life; over against it stood the life of my intellect. The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow 'rationalism.' Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless. The exceptions were certain people (whom I loved and believed to be real) and nature herself. That is, nature as she appeared to the senses," etc.
That's an interesting parallel with HPL, but he's left out in that quote his religious beliefs. Much as HPLs work demonstrated his materialist views, CS Lewis, at least in the Narnia books, did so even more obviously.
 

Extollager

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#30
At the time of which Lewis was writing, his beliefs were pretty close to Lovecraft's. You can compare published letters of Lewis deriding Christianity with letters of Lovecraft. It's not that hard to imagine the young Lewis, if circumstances had permitted, as another protégé of Lovecraft, who was eight years older than CSL and had a number of young friends. In his mid-teens, Lewis had rejected the Christianity in which he was raised, and didn't affirm Christianity till his early 30s. There are some interesting parallels between the two authors (e.g. their appetite for long walks,* their copious letter-writing, their enjoyment of reading), and also some "parallels" that are, I suppose, merely "fortuitous" (e.g. both men married Jewish-American divorcées). A very big difference between them was that Lewis had a brother who was a great friend throughout his life while HPL was an only child. Lovecraft's father died while HPL was a boy, while Lewis's father was an often irritating presence in his life for years. Lovecraft experienced strong aesthetic delight over the sight of sunsets from the vantage of of an observer looking out over an old city, while what Lewis called "Joy" or sehnsucht was a key element in his imaginative and emotional makeup -- something I wish more readers who aren't interested in the man's faith would learn about.

What if they'd met while they were young men? It is easy for me to imagine a quick attraction on the basis of things they could talk about. I'm not sure the friendship would have lasted given Lovecraft's tendency to focus on horror in his reading and writing; Lewis would probably have felt that Lovecraft was missing a great deal indeed. Also, I wonder how Lovecraft would have felt about Lewis's very keen mind -- I think Lovecraft was used to associating with men who were markedly inferior to him; who of his buddies was as intelligent and (within his limits) cultivated as HPL? I don't mean just the fellows he hung out with sometimes, but even people he knew just as correspondents. Robert E. Howard was hardly in the Lovecraft league. I'm not insinuating that Lovecraft wouldn't have been capable of friendship with someone who was his equal or even superior, but as far as I know he never had the chance.**

But both Lewis and Lovecraft surely liked their circle of friends -- another important similarity.

Which doesn't have much to do with "Whisperer"? Wellll, I could make a stretch and say that I think there is a depiction of developing friendship between Akeley and Wilmarth. I mean, it's hardly a bromance, but it seems to me that the story does get across a developing relationship that may reflect Lovecraft's capacity for forming friendships.

The above's a quickish comment and I might have to fix some nuances at least if I were writing more formally...

*I believe that's true for HPL, though I might not be able to document it easily.

**Lewis liked debate and was faculty sponsor of the Oxford Socratic Club, which featured guest speakers to talk on topics such as "Is God a Wish-Fulfillment?," "Are There Any Valid Objections to Free Love?," "Can Science provide Our Ethics?," "The Grounds of Modern Agnosticism," "Life and Matter," etc. Speakers included Iris Murdoch!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socratic_Club

Lewis said, by way of clarifying the need for the Socratic: “In any fairly large and talkative community such as a university, there is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into ‘coteries’ where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.”

I don't see Lovecraft as in this league, frankly, although he might have put on more intellectual muscle if he'd had sparring partners who were better equipped. I don't mean to sound snooty towards HPL -- I do honestly think (from what I know, or what I think I remember) that Lovecraft didn't get into extended debates with anyone who was his equal; someone like an adolescent August Derleth couldn't have challenged him the way Lewis could have. HPL might have been uncomfortable in a group of Oxford undergrads and dons. What do you think?
 
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lynnfredricks

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#31
Lovecraft experienced strong aesthetic delight over the sight of sunsets from the vantage of of an observer looking out over an old city, while what Lewis called "Joy" or sehnsucht was a key element in his imaginative and emotional makeup -- something I wish more readers who aren't interested in the man's faith would learn about.
I don't know if his sense of sehnsucht is as remarkable as his religious journey, though it is interesting. Normal human beings experience similar base emotions, but those emotions also exist within a cultural frame and context. In Japanese for example, the term "hansei" isn't exactly "self reflection" in English.

I don't see Lovecraft as in this league, frankly, although he might have put on more intellectual muscle if he'd had sparring partners who were better equipped. I don't mean to sound snooty towards HPL -- I do honestly think (from what I know, or what I think I remember) that Lovecraft didn't get into extended debates with anyone who was his equal; someone like an adolescent August Derleth couldn't have challenged him the way Lewis could have. HPL might have been uncomfortable in a group of Oxford undergrads and dons. What do you think?
You are probably right. HPL emulated a formal classical education and he was extremely well read, but Id expect that he'd run up against those whose classical education was institutionalized and therefore he'd trip over some topics (though likely more than hold his own on popular scientific theories).
 
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#32
Briefly: On the subject of equals (or even superiors) in such areas, there was certainly James Ferdinand Morton, who had for a very long time (and may still, for all I know) quite a lengthy entry in Who's Who for America; he earned both a bachelor's and Master's simultaneously from no less an institution than Harvard University; and was a considerable intellectual force for many years (also an avid proponent of racial equality and the like). He and HPL frequently had lengthy debates on a number of topics, at least one side of which may be seen from the volume Letters to James F. Morton, published fairly recently. (Lovecraft did not often retain letters from correspondents once he had answered them, unless they particularly interested him in the long term or he had some other pressing reason for such retention; space simply didn't allow him to do so. Hence, we have Lovecraft's side of the correspondence but very little of Morton's. We do, however, have other writings of JFM's, though little of this is currently in print.)
 
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#33
Yes, he relaxed his views as he himself experienced more of life, tasted more hardship. Even though he might have relaxed a bit around drinking, I don't imagine that HPL would have condoned Zadok's undignified manner.
Oh, I'd agree with that... though, again, in later life, while still finding such mannerisms to be somewhat distasteful, he came more and more to see them as "characters", just as he did an increasingly wide range of people. (There is, for instance, his letter to his aunt complaining about how he could never have such an experience on a bus in New England as he had in the South... said experience being a "sing-along" in which the entire group of passengers joined, along with a couple of fellows playing their musical instruments. And, yes, HPL was one who joined in, and apparently quite enjoyed the experience....)

They are for the most part "insane" in that they know and believe things that are entirely unknown and unacceptable to society.
And that, too, is to some degree dubious. There have been a many who had beliefs and practices which were "unacceptable to society", yet only the ignorant (or, at best, the common laity, who are frankly ignorant in such matters) would refer to them as "insane" because of this. Nor is this what is commonly being referred to when people talk about how what HPL's characters experience drives them insane. They are saying that they are quite literally driven mad, and such is simply not the case. It is not only an extremely loose reading, but downright demonstrably wrong. Here is the pertinent passage from that letter to Galpin (though I highly recommend looking up the entire discussion for context and clarification on any points, as well as further aspects of the argument he poses):

[...] I find in Hamlet a rare, delicate, & nearly poetical mind, filled with the highest ideals and pervaded by the delusion (common to all gentle & retired characters unless their temperament be scientific & predominantly rational -- which is seldom the case with poets) that all humanity approximates such a standard as he conceives. All at once, however, man's inherent baseness becomes apparent to him under the most soul-trying circumstances; exhibiting itself not in the remote world, but in the person of his mother & his uncle, in such a manner as to convince him most suddenly & most vitally that there is no good in humanity. Well may he question life, when the perfidiousness of those whom he has reason to believe the best of mortals, is so cruelly obtruded on his notice. Having had his theories of life founded on mediaeval and pragmatical conceptions, he now loses that subtle something which impels persons to go on in the ordinary currents; specifically, he loses the conviction that the usual motives & pursuits of his life are more than empty illusions or trifles. Now this is not "madness" -- I am sick of hearing fools & superficial criticks prate about "Hamlet's madness". It is really a distressing glimpse of absolute truth. But in effect it approximates mental derangement. Reason is unimpaired, but Hamlet no longer sees any occasion for its use. He perceives the objects & events about him, & their relation to each other & to himself, as clearly as before; but his new estimate of their importance, and his lack of any aim or desire to pursue an ordinary course amongst them, impart to his point of view such a contemptuous, ironical singularity, that he may well be thought a madman by mistake.
This may seem a pedantic point, but I think it is a vital one when it comes to the understanding of Lovecraft's work. As with Hamlet, his characters (save for such as are noted above) are, if anything, more sane (in the sense of being able to accept and assimilate the unvarnished truth) than those around them, who needs must hold onto the illusion of their (humanity's) importance in the scheme of things. They have so thoroughly come to terms with the truth that they see these tinsel illusions and everyday practices for the hollow things they are -- to use a trite term, a "whistling past the graveyard" -- and this is simply something they cannot feel compelled to do, as to do so would be intellectually dishonest and a sham. As a result, they are tragically set off from the rest of humanity, condemned to be forever alone in the most basic, irreducible manner imaginable. Whatever else they may be, the very last thing which may be said of them is that they are in any way "mad" or "insane". The characters within the tale may well see them in that light, but no reader who is paying attention, and certainly no one who is describing or analyzing their stories, should use such terms, as they are completely false and misleading. To do so is to inevitably subvert the point at the very heart of Lovecraft's work.

Yes, likely because that's the only way they could possibly assimilate these truths - by recasting them within an existing schema of knowledge, pantheon, and the like. Likewise, also the inverse, that known mythologies may have roots in unacceptable truths.
On that I would agree, only adding that this goes hand-in-hand with the point he reiterates over and over again: that humanity simply cannot accept the truth of an universe where we are nothing more than another form of biological energy, no more and no less important than mosquitoes or viruses or the dinosaurs. We may be able to take it in on the most superficial intellectual level, but few (certainly not humanity as a whole, as the continued acceptance of even the most barbaric aspects of religious thought and superstition by so many shows) can accept such knowledge "down on the bone". We need our illusions to maintain our feeling of life's importance and significance, even to ourselves as individuals. (Look at the vast number who simply cannot tolerate the atheist view that there may be no form of god, feeling that, without such, there is no point to anything and therefore no reason to hold to any moral or ethical standard if that of their religious upbringing or accepted belief is not "objective" and therefore ultimately authoritative) It's a grim view of humanity that Lovecraft paints, but I am very much afraid it is an accurate one.
 

Extollager

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#34
I recognize James Morton's name, J. D., and might once upon a time have been able to say something about who he was; but perhaps you could tell us a little more about him and the principal topics of discussion and debate between him and HPL and when those occurred.
 

Extollager

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#35
Lynnfredricks, you might be interested in an earlier series of discussions on HPL's philosophy. Not surprisingly, they seem to have ended with the participants where they were to begin with -- but you might, even so, enjoy taking a look.

I started the three discussions, but didn't own copies of HPL's letters and essays, so I was pretty much going on my memories of when I'd delved into some material that I didn't have at hand. I allude somewhere in these exchanges to an article that I thought I might write on HPL's philosophy, but (talk about "failure of a project") I determined that it would need more reference to HPL's own nonfictional writings than I was prepared to bring to bear. The article never came off. (It would have been intended for Pierre Comtois's Fungi.)

Btw, another problem with the proposed article would have been that of approach.
From what J. D. says, HPL seems to have been at pains to keep up with science as available to an intelligent layman. Lovecraft wanted his thought to be based on science. But there've obviously been developments in scientific knowledge since the man died in 1937! So then an article writer who proposes a critique of the man's thought should think about whether to "play fair" and evaluate HPL's thought in terms of the knowledge available at the time (he can't be faulted for not knowing what wasn't known in the mid-1930s); or one can try to extrapolate from the man's principles and, when criticizing his thought, try to conceive of what debate moves he might make today if he had access to current materials. I wasn't prepared to try to sort all this out. However, having conceded something here, I'll also say that I think the basic philosophical issues probably remain as they were.

What was I arguing for, against Lovecraft? The enduring validity of mind and, so, of the real dignity of human beings as opposed to Lovecraft's agenda of belittling mankind. Lovecraft's agenda is essentially reductive -- human beings are nothing but..., human sentiment is nothing but..., and only a few can bear really to believe and know that it's all nothing but. I think this reductivism remains quite deeply entrenched in the attitudes of many educated people. But, as a teacher of Shakespeare and Milton, Wordsworth and Dostoevsky and others, I hope my students come rather to recognize the truth that human existence and the universe are saturated with meaning -- not just that something may be meaningful to me (subjectively), but that the perceptions of the great poets at their best, and of many of us in more or less fugitive moments, are at least glimpses of what truly, enduringly is.*

https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/528635/ I think there's a valid objection here to a very common notion.

https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/528636/ -- I've done some further reading since starting this thread and would probably modify it in the light of Malcolm Jeeves's Minds, Brains, Souls, and Gods.

https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/528637/ -- My remark here "Clearly this is a long way from Lovecraft's outlook. His whole project depends on our conceiving ourselves as having no essential connection with the cosmos in any way" is inappropriate since in the second thread I criticize HPL for thinking that all thought is an epiphenomenon of natural processes. What I should have said more clearly is that Lovecraft seems committed to belittling mankind, insisting on human insignificance -- when (given the quantum insight into the interpenetration of observer and manifest universe) it is obvious that human beings must be highly significant; no universe to study without an observer, etc.

You might also enjoy:

https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/528595/


*My own belief is Christian, but I think that, to get as far as I'm referring to here, one might not necessarily have to be "religious." Whether one can remain, indefinitely, able to see and live this truth, and not be a religious person or indeed a Christian, I don't know, but that is not a topic for a Lovecraft forum, I suppose! I mean to argue no further than that -- as against reductivism -- Platonists and others are right.

In our time, the Lovecraftian view appears to come under the heading of "reductive materialism" or even "eliminativist materialism." It has advocates. It also has opponents.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Materialism
 
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lynnfredricks

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#36
And that, too, is to some degree dubious. There have been a many who had beliefs and practices which were "unacceptable to society", yet only the ignorant (or, at best, the common laity, who are frankly ignorant in such matters) would refer to them as "insane" because of this.
I should have been more specific - the protagonists through experience have a new world view that's no longer compatible with the society of the average Christian New Englander of the 20s, at least from the perspective of HPL of the average. This is not necessarily true of our own more enlightened, pluralistic society of today's America (yeah, don't laugh) that has a different set of measurements for determining sanity, that strips away more of the moralistic definitions of sanity.
 

lynnfredricks

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#37
Lynnfredricks, you might be interested in an earlier series of discussions on HPL's philosophy. Not surprisingly, they seem to have ended with the participants where they were to begin with -- but you might, even so, enjoy taking a look.
Ill check them out, thanks.

From what J. D. says, HPL seems to have been at pains to keep up with science as available to an intelligent layman. Lovecraft wanted his thought to be based on science. But there've obviously been developments in scientific knowledge since the man died in 1937! So then an article writer who proposes a critique of the man's thought should think about whether to "play fair" and evaluate HPL's thought in terms of the knowledge available at the time (he can't be faulted for not knowing what wasn't known in the mid-1930s); or one can try to extrapolate from the man's principles and, when criticizing his thought, try to conceive of what debate moves he might make today if he had access to current materials. I wasn't prepared to try to sort all this out. However, having conceded something here, I'll also say that I think the basic philosophical issues probably remain as they were.
I did read HP Lovecraft: The Decline of the West by STJ and that was quite informative and enjoyably readable.

The point about playing fair - well yes. He was a product of his time and just like running a great DOS game, its fair to judge its value when run in emulation mode. I think any serious reader of HPL feels the pain when HPL gets made a target for not conforming to <fill in the blank> modern views. But then (and I believe STJ mentions the 70's being the tolerance barrier) I don't think any historical figure can really stand up to that.
 
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#38
I think you make a serious mistake in seeing Lovecraft as quite such a reductionist. True, he was very much interested in dismantling the overweening sense of pride human beings have in merely being human beings as if that were something special from any view save that of human beings; but at the same time, he, too, valued that human feeling of importance in life because he recognized that it is important to have something of the sort in order to make life bearable, let alone enjoyable. And, in fact, he brings out this point time after time in his letters, stressing the importance of traditionalism for himself (which, as Joshi has argued, is completely valid) as well as for others (which, again, Joshi has pointed out is invalid, as others may have other bases for finding value in life). But even with the centrality of traditionalism to his own feeling of placement, he did recognize, and at time address, other means of finding meaning in life, and he himself stressed that he found so many things interesting and enjoyable that he seldom felt life was void of joy or meaning for him; he just felt that this was a very humanocentric view rather than an objective one. I don't recall the exact wording, but one such instance was in a letter to, I think, Elizabeth Toldridge, in which he remarks that, in the end, the strangest place of all is that which lies beneath our very feet... meaning that, despite all our knowledge, there is mystery and wonder in abundance if we only know how to recognize it.

As for the discussions with Morton... well, to be frank, it has been a very long time since I went through most of the letters to Morton in the Selected Letters volumes, and I've yet to do more than dip into that recent volume of the correspondence with Morton alone (which is, as far as such volumes go, a rather large tome), so I'm afraid I'm not in a position to go into this in any detail, sadly. The other element of it is that, because each of them had such wide-ranging interests, the subjects discussed, and the debates between them, ranged over an enormous number of subjects, making any summary of even what I recall at this remove more than a little difficult. As time goes on, I will attempt to get into this particular volume more, and relay anything I think may be of interest; but as you know, time has become increasingly limited for me that past few years, and I no longer see any chance of that being reversed in the foreseeable future -- a situation which I cannot help but deplore, as it has practically left me no time for my researches, writing, or much of anything except work and a brief bit of relaxation reading just before bed. Even the few posts I manage to have here cut seriously into my sleeping time on most occasions. (I do not say this to ask for any pity, but simply as realistic explanation of why my responses to such discussions -- things in which I frankly take a great deal of delight -- have become so sporadic and attenuated. Which, incidentally, also addresses why I have not been able to respond properly to your very interesting post of a few days ago, which I hope to do in the near future.)
 

Extollager

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#39
I think you make a serious mistake in seeing Lovecraft as quite such a reductionist....
We've already noted the dividedness of HPL's mind. On the one hand the rationalist commitment to mechanistic materialism, on the other the capacity for a sense of wonder and the cherishing of such moments; but as regards the real meaning of things the futilitarianism of the former trumps the fleeting and idiosyncratic pleasure of the latter. Whatever pleasure he feels from the contemplation of certain traditions or the aesthetic experiences he's had, these are ruled out as having any meaning as clues or signs to reality.

A commitment to mechanical materialism means that the "higher" must always be explained in terms of the "lower." The things (e.g. love) that some human beings have valued most are products of social factors, dependent on biology, i.e. chemistry, i.e. physics. Of course really there is no "higher" or "lower," just the brute grinding on of meaningless physics. It's reductionism all the way down. "Mind," if it should be said really to exist at all, is founded entirely on non-rational matter and is nothing but matter in one of its forms and effects.

But mind precedes matter; as Owen Barfield put it pithily, "interior is anterior." The traditional understanding to which I adhere, and which is not specifically Christian, is that while for some practical purposes we may evaluate the effects on a fallible human organism of things that are inferior to itself (hence the importance in all religions of some form of "asceticism" or disciplining of the "flesh"), the meaning of things must be discerned meta-physically; the lower is understood with reference to the higher. This understanding is coeval with human existence. It has been (it is said) debunked by evolution, but if the non-religious community were more aware of the discussions in the religious community/ies, the former would find that first-rate minds (John Polkinghorne, Mary Midgeley, etc.) have full cognizance of evolution without regarding the facts as requiring materialism/physicalism, which indeed has stubborn problems (e.g. relating to consciousness). Discussion of such matters would take us too far from Lovecraft to be appropriate for this thread, I suppose. The traditional view helps us, if it does nothing else, to understand our literary heritage, since that view is assumed by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, etc., pretty much everyone till the 20th century except for the ancient Greek materialists I suppose. This goes also for non-Western literature.

Cf. this passage:

------The symbolism of religion is based on a picture of the physical world which is common to all men, and not on the highly specialized and mentally elaborated picture presented by modern science, which is by no means common to all men, and in no way invalidates their common experience, but as it grows more abstruse is ever less immediately present to their consciousness. … The religions make use of a symbolical language simply because it is impossible to speak of certain truths, and those by far the most important of all (being “metaphysical” in the real sense of the word) in any other language. (Lord Northbourne, Looking Back on Progress, p. 38)-----

For Lovecraft, religious/poetic/imaginative language can be only (at best) a pleasant diversion for those who need and want it. The symbols or "signs" can't be signs of something really true, any more than his own happy aesthetic experiences can be. Those are excitations of his senses that his organism experiences as pleasant, and the memories thereof and perhaps writings about them may be pleasing, but they cannot really mean anything as opening up the possibility of a meaningful universe. It's reductionism all the way down.

Thanks for your indulgence of my digressions on a thread devoted to "The Whisperer in Darkness." Anyone interested in more might check sociologist Peter L. Berger's A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural (the title may create expectations different from the analysis Berger's really up to), e.g. pp. 59ff on "signals of transcendence" in quite "ordinary human experience. He gets at the idea of the "lower" and "common" as participating in, and so pointing to, the higher and transcendent.
 
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