20 Aug It’s your birthday H.P. Lovecraft
I was recently interviewed and someone asked me about Lovecraft and I was going to send the following answer, but I didn’t because I decided I didn’t want to discuss Lovecraft in an interview because my feelings were too complicated. Here is what I would have said.
I started reading Lovecraft as a teenager and I just had a blast with him. He was…like a secret handshake because even though he had been translated into Spanish he was still a cult writer so part of the fun was trying to find more stuff from him, digging through books, looking for footnotes. And since there was no Wikipedia it became detective work. So of course if you met someone who liked him or if you shared him with others there was something special there.
As to the other part, Lovecraft’s racial concerns: one thing that I do not like when people talk about Lovecraft is that they seem to portray him as an isolated case. Like, if we get this rid of this ONE racist author everything will be okay when the whole field had a lot of issues at the time. Eugenics was doing very well in the United States when Lovecraft was alive. And this is not a justification that he’s “a man of his time, let’s leave it at that” but it is way too EASY to think that if we can kick Lovecraft to the curb all problems are solved. It also makes us feel very smug because, haha, aren’t we so much better than this dude nowadays?
Sometimes I feel we can’t see the forest for the Lovecrafts. I remember reading Frankenstein for example and there’s a quote, in the part where the monster is learning English, wait:
“My days were spent in close attention, that I might more speedily master the language; and I may boast that I improved more rapidly than the Arabian, who understood very little and conversed in broken accents, whilst I comprehended and could imitate almost every word that was spoken.”
Which there you go, even a monster can learn ESL better than an Arab. And then there’s a part where Shelley remarks on Safie’s Turkish father, who is obviously a bad person but since Safie looks really white, well, she’s a Good Arab who has assimilated into European culture.
You read Dracula and you really get the vibe that Stoker is complaining about these weird Eastern Europeans who are here to take our women. But, I’ve written a vampire story inspired by Dracula. I’ll probably write something inspired by Shelley at some point. I think that the way to deal with issues in a problematic text is to engage with it. I am, for example, fascinated by things like bad Gothic novels from the 60s, the movie Showgirls, certain Harlequin novels, pulp fiction, cheap horror movies, stuff you might say no decent feminist woman of colour should touch but it is precisely because all this stuff produces so many questions and reactions in me that I keep going back to it.
But…this is why I didn’t send this answer: I’m not very comfortable in the Lovecraft community right now. There are things that are said that rub me like a little grain of sand. Only I’m not an oyster so I don’t produce a pearl as a result. It just rubs and rubs and leaves you raw.
I have abandoned most of the Lovecraft groups and communities I used to be a member of. I was just too tired.
There was one community where some of the members would post erotic images of women and octopuses (or maybe squid, something with tentacles). If a woman complained about this, saying she was uncomfortable, she was told she was too soft and that freedom of expression trumps everything. Even though, as far as I can recall, Lovecraft does not feature women in erotic postures with tentacles. I left. Several other women left. Later we whispered amongst ourselves saying how uncomfortable we were. Many never said anything, they just left. I did speak and after being ignored I left.
There was another group where a member said something racist, something along the lines of “maybe Lovecraft was right about minorities.” Maybe he didn’t realize there are members like me who are minorities, maybe he spoke in haste. The fact that I and only one other person seemed upset about this casual comment caused me to leave the group. Quietly. I just left.
There are other incidents, other stories I could tell you. Suffice to say I’ve just left other venues, stopped following people, etc.
You may say: well, they don’t have to cater to you. They don’t. So I leave.
You may say: you are too thin skinned. Maybe I am, but it’s my skin. Not yours. I know what it feels like when the grain rubs against it.
You may say: this only happens online. But 98% of my interactions with other fans are online. I don’t attend cons every year.
You may say: this happens in other fandoms. It does. It doesn’t improve my mood.
Maybe you might say: NOT all Lovecraft fans. Which is true. Leeman Kessler, who runs Ask Lovecraft, is charming and sweet and witty. Scott R Jones’ puts out really nice books and I would love to have lunch with him one day. Many men and women in the community are creative, talented and generous.
But I find myself distancing myself more and more from the ‘community’ as a whole for the sake of my sanity.
Fandom is touted as a safe space. A space where the geeks and freaks can come together. I haven’t found this to be true in more than one instance.
I have no solutions, I can’t tell you what or if you should do anything about this.
This is simply how I feel on Lovecraft’s birthday.