Le horreur cosmique

hpllibrio.jpgI’ll be in Paris this week so some French-related postings are in order.

Michel Houellebecq’s HP Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (which I still haven’t read) has been in the news again recently, with a number of reviews appearing in UK newspapers and magazines, most of which present the by-now rather tired spectacle of reviewers who normally wouldn’t give any of this nasty pulp stuff a second thought having to take Lovecraft seriously because Houellebecq is a serious author. (“He’s a bad writer!” they bleat. And Lou Reed is a bad singer; you’re missing the point, you fools.) The Observer last week had one of the better ones. Last year the Guardian published an extract from Houellebecq’s book.

Curious how often it requires the French to make the Anglophone world look anew at marginalised elements of its own culture; Baudelaire championed Edgar Allan Poe, it was French film critics who gave us the term “film noir” when they identified a new strain of American cinema and the Nouvelle Vague writers and filmmakers were the first to treat Hitchcock as anything other than a superior entertainer. The French have always liked Lovecraft so it was no surprise to me at least when Houellebecq’s book appeared.

Oddly enough, the only association I’ve had so far with French publishing is the use of my 1999 picture of Cthulhu’s city, R’lyeh, on the cover of a reprint of HPL stories from Houellebecq’s publishing house (above). Something I’ll be looking for in Paris if I have the time will be more of Philippe Druillet‘s Lovecraft-inflected work. Druillet has been working with the imagery of cosmic horror since the late 60s and even illustrated the work of William Hope Hodgson, one of HPL’s influences and an English writer the broadsheet critics have yet to hear about. Take a look at these pictures for stories written before the First World War then go and look at some stills from the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. What was once the preserve of Weird Tales and other pulp magazines is now mainstream culture.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Davy Jones
Charles Méryon’s Paris

Arnold Böcklin and The Isle of the Dead

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Another favourite painting for many years and Böcklin’s most well-known work.

Arnold Böcklin (1827–1901) produced several different versions of the painting. All versions depict an oarsman and a standing white-clad figure in a small boat crossing an expanse of dark water towards a rocky island. In the boat is an object usually taken to be a coffin. The white-clad figure is often taken to be Charon, and the water analogous to the Acheron. Böcklin himself provided neither public explanation as to the meaning of the painting nor the title, which was conferred upon it by the art dealer Fritz Gurlitt in 1883. The first version of the painting, which is currently at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, was created in 1880 on a request by Marie Berna, whose husband had recently died.

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