Complete Stop (2008), an oil painting by Gregory Thielker from his Under the Unminding Sky series.
• For Halloween last year I watched a very poor copy of a BBC Play For Today production, Robin Redbreast, a piece of rural horror by John Bowen which received a single screening in 1970. That poor copy—black-and-white, timecoded, multi-generation video—has been circulating for years, so it’s good to know that the BFI will be releasing Robin Redbreast on DVD in time for this year’s Halloween. This might be news enough but the following month the BFI also releases Leslie Megahey’s stunning adaptation of Schalcken the Painter in a dual DVD/Blu-ray edition. I wrote a short review of the latter film last October.
• Mixes of the week: August Sun High from The Advisory Circle, and John Wizards’ Quietus Mix “African music, R&B and chamber pop, filtered through gentle electronic arrangements that cross-pollinate with South African house, Shangaan electro and dub”.
• A trailer has surfaced for The Counselor, a film by Ridley Scott from an original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy. Trailers are too spoilerish so I’m refusing to watch it but for those interested Slate has the details.
Luckhurst makes an admirable attempt to link Lovecraft’s most frustrating writing tic to this theme of the unknown when he claims that Lovecraft’s “catachresis”—deliberate muddling of language through the use of mixed metaphors and the like—is a tool he uses to bolster the atmosphere of futility in the face of “absolute otherness.” The trauma of encountering something so far outside the realms of imagination triggers a collapse of logic in the language itself.
Cate Fricke reviews The Classic Horror Stories of HP Lovecraft, a collection from Oxford University Press edited by Roger Luckhurst.
• “Contemporary audiences found it too weird, too wonky and even borderline distasteful…” Xan Brooks goes looking for the locations from Powell & Pressburger’s 1943 film, A Canterbury Tale.
• Two songs from Julia Holter’s forthcoming album, Loud City Song: World and Maxim’s I. Also unveiled this week: Evangeline, a new track by John Foxx & Jori Hulkkonen.
• Have Ghost, Will Find: Colin Fleming on William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki, The Ghost Finder.
• At PingMag: Urban Calligraphy: Turning the Streets into Big, Loud Canvases.
• Sex, Spirit, and Porn: Conner Habib talks to Erik Davis.
• Serendip-o-matic: Let Your Sources Surprise You
• The Pronunciation of European Typefaces
• Twilight (2004) by Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd | Luminous (2009) by John Foxx & Robin Guthrie | Cling (2011) by Robin The Fog
4 thoughts on “Weekend links 172”
I’ve never been terribly put off by Lovecraft’s outbursts of admittedly awkward purple prose for similar reasons, though I’ve never heard the idea laid out in such an articulate manner.
Indeed, a number of his stories that unfold gradually, follow a slow burn, such as The Nameless City, The Doom that Came to Sarnath, Hypnos, The Temple, or Dagon suffer relatively few collapses of logic or language capacity because in their cases Lovecraft took his time in applying the fatal weights to his usual prototype character’s psyches instead of lobbing them all on at once.
I like these stories of his much better than his more ‘strictly-Mythos’ material. More mystery about them, perhaps aided by the diminished presence of your typical dogmatic Mythos requirements. His characters, if still rather abstract, almost seem to have more variation about them in these intermediate-period stories.
Its more amusing than anything else, since though he wrote of horror and inhumanity in abundance, Lovecraft himself was a relatively harmless psychotic, his often questionable sentiments tempered by an extremely pacifistic disposition, but to my mind the most unique protagonist Lovecraft assumed a point of view from while still managing to write a relatively controlled story, was that Nazi submarine captain in ‘the Temple’.
Perhaps I should go back and re-read some of those stories and see if I missed anything. Though there can be little doubt regarding some of Lovecraft’s prejudices, I wouldn’t have pegged him for harboring sympathies with Nazis either. I admit though, I do not know as much about him as most who’ve read the bulk of his stories. When an author takes such a brazenly metaphysical and unearthly approach, I am often uninterested in the more mundane details of their daily lives. So, I’ve never read any of his always popular books of letters, or any the handful of semi-biographical works surrounding him.
Lovecraft’s prose and racial attitudes receive continual attention today simply because more people have been forced to look at his stories, people who in the past would have happily dismissed them. The volume in that review is from the Oxford University Press, not a cheap genre publisher, so it can’t be demised as trash. There’s two points I usually make:
First is that there is an evolution of his attitudes if you read the stories closely. Lovecraft died at the age of 47; the early stories were written by a younger man who’d led a very sheltered life and was projecting his insecurities (and prejudices) outwards. As he grew older his stories became longer and started to shift from horror and revulsion to science fiction and the conveying of a sense of awe. The aliens in At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Out of Time are presented (in the end) in a sympathetic light, as fellow intelligent beings (in ATMOM he says something like “They may have been aliens but they were still men!”); anyone seeing the xenophobia as a persistent, unchanging thing needs to take this into account. The Sprague de Camp biography shows an evolution in his often contradictory attitudes. For a while in the 1930s he was praising Hitler for being a force against Communism which he loathed; later on he was dismissing the Nazis for being anti-art and anti-science. All the while he was a supporter of Roosevelt.
Second point is that there’s still a prejudice (for want of a better word) towards a baroque prose style among both genre and non-genre readers. In the genre world there’s a common feeling that too much labour at the sentence level slows down the story; in the literary world there’s a common feeling that the use of too many adjectives is a sign of bad taste. I’ve little patience with either of these strictures. Both imply that there’s only one way to write fiction well, even though the consensus for how good fiction is written has never been fixed, and varies from one writer to the next. In addition to style being the vehicle for the unspoken elements of a narrative, style is also the hallmark of a writer’s personality. When Lovecraft was alive there were plenty of writers working for Weird Tales who produced decent “good taste” prose; few people remember them or read their work today. Clark Ashton Smith over-saturated his prose for the same reason Lovecraft did: to create a rich and lurid atmosphere. I always compare this to drawing: think of the micro-details in Harry Clarke’s work compared to an anodyne magazine illustration of the 1920s. Some of us would rather have the excess than the alternative. As Picasso once said (and I never tire of quoting this): “Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.”
Agreed. Yes, most of what you said reminds me of what I’d stated before regarding my not feeling inclined to read much of biographical material regarding many of the traditional artists I admire. Besides the story references, I knew absolutely none of the facts you just pointed to about Lovecraft. Even the case of an artist who believes quite literally in the subjectivity/objectivity of their work being interchangeable and living their life in a manner that matches their convictions, perhaps, an Austin Osman Spare, for instance, I still am seldom interested in their personal lives.
Often with artistic types, revelations seem to suddenly occur to someone when they are embroiled in some unremarkable daily affair that would strike anyone else as being utterly mundane, trivial, or childish. It may be useful to some, but for me, placing so much focus on how a talented individual set about doing something in a way that not only I couldn’t do, but in many cases, in a way that only that individual in question would seem capable, makes me feel as though I am missing the point. I suppose Spare’s unique draughtsmanship would be as good example as any regarding talent that cannot be conventionalized.
Going back to the previous point though, I suppose I can no longer say Picasso is completely useless to me. I do appreciate it when someone states in a very succinct manner something I hold as true, since in writing, I have no ability to be succinct unfortunately.
Speaking of this in particular, I am glad you mentioned Clark Ashton Smith. He is actually probably my favorite of all the weird fiction-associated writers. Although many complain about Lovecraft’s verbal pyrotechnics, I think it is irresponsible of them to condemn the technique itself. As you said, it is a very powerful means of conveying an atmosphere of some sort. And in Smith’s case, by the time he was a seasoned writer, he used the over-saturated approach with a technical grace that never fell into any of the pitfalls that occasionally plagued Lovecraft.
Now I am curious. Here and there I hear tales of old and in-progress pictures of yours that you’ve kept hidden thus far. Sketches for At The Mountains of Madness or accompanying paintings for The Wild Boys and the like. Have you ever done anything Smith-related? Now would probably be a little late in the game for anything of that nature. However, if the impossible-were-possible and there was someone else out there who drew now, as you did during your involvement with Reverbstorm (which is fantastic by the way), that hypothetical person could work wonders with Smith’s feverish world.
Regarding other projects, I did have plans years ago for something based on At the Mountains of Madness but all I’ve ever done was a single drawing which appears here in an earlier post. Although I keep doing new Lovecraft-related things now and then, these days I’d prefer to do something else. In the 1980s there was little Lovecraft illustration around, today we’re inundated with it.
CAS would be a better candidate, and I’ve also had the idea of a Zothique portfolio but that again is just a vague idea. The Wild Boys portfolio does exist in bits and pieces, however, so that’s liable to actually turn into something sooner. The past few months have been really busy so I’ve not had much free time (although I did manage to write two short stories…) but I’ll be getting back to that soon. Burroughs still remains largely unillustrated so his work feels like fresh territory.
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