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Posts Tagged ‘H.P. Lovecraft’

Baronial Colonials, and Other News

August 18, 2016 | by

The alligator insignia of “The Calcutta Pococurante Society.” Image via the Public Domain Review.

  • I’ve never understood the appeal of mixed martial arts—too often it features, as Matthew Shen Goodman puts it, “an unending barrage of increasingly indistinguishable bald men and cornrowed women with terrible tattoos throwing the same one-two into a low kick and wrestle-fucking each other into the fence.” But maybe we’re watching it for the storytelling? Or maybe not: “MMA’s drama tends to be somewhat undercooked and boring, or terrifying and repulsive: incidents of domestic violence; hyping fights with xenophobic slurs (please, Conor and Joanna, stop telling your Brazilian opponents to go back to the jungle or that you’ll ransack their villages on horseback) or intense narratives about face-punching for Jesus/America/family legacy. There are a few fighters who thrive on being death spirits personified (Robbie Lawler, for example, who soberly told a broadcaster he takes people’s souls on Atlanta local television), but an actual story is often lacking, as are characters. This makes for difficult viewing, given how many fights there are, and the fact that you usually have to pay to watch, as well as the time spent sitting through ads for MetroPCS and new appetizers at Buffalo Wild Wings.”
  • Everyone knows that Netflix’s Stranger Things pays homage to eighties-era horror and sci-fi, but if you want to be a real asshole at the next party you go to, you can insist that its roots go much, much deeper, back to Lovecraft and an earlier tradition of speculative fiction: “The idea—central to Stranger Things—that the unnatural is weirder, more widespread, and therefore scarier than the state of nature dates back at least to 1927, when H. P. Lovecraft published a short story called ‘The Colour Out of Space.’ It’s about a meteor that lands on a farm in rural Massachusetts. A strange life-form is buried within the meteor, and it soon leaches into the soil. The farm’s plants begin to glow in shades ‘unlike any known colors of the normal spectrum.’ The animals, too, begin to move in unnatural ways. Eventually, the life-form takes a concrete shape. It begins to move about, stalking the farmer and his family and turning their bodies into a kind of living ash. Of the meteor, the narrator concludes, ‘It was nothing of the earth, but a piece of the great outside.’ ” 
  • Before fat shaming was a thing, there was Roald Dahl, peppering his books with gluttons and the many objects of their gluttony. As Annalisa Quinn writes, food in Dahl’s work is uniquely fraught: “If you look closely, the danger inherent in food is everywhere. There’s the dinner party in ‘Taste,’ Dahl’s chilling adult short story in which the host bets his gourmand guest that he won’t guess the provenance of the wine (the prize: his daughter); the chocolate Xanadu of Willy Wonka, where handling food the wrong way subjects you to contortions and tortures; and the dripping, voluptuous peach that kills James’ aunts. He entices us and then shows us what happens if we succumb: derision, loss of bodily autonomy, death.”
  • Calcutta in the early nineteenth century was full of British fat cats cooling their heels in various exotic locales. Joshua Ehrlich looks at 1833’s Calcutta Quarterly Magazine, which includes a bizarre supplement mocking a fictitious group called the “Calcutta Pococurante Society” for its indulgent ways: “The members’ wandering dinner chat, peppered with lines of poetry and elements of the occult, is not the kind of thing modern readers are used to seeing in print. Nor is it obvious why past readers should have wanted to … It is striking, meanwhile, how little the text is concerned with India or Indians … The aloofness of the British transplants, their dislocation from their surroundings, seems part of the satire … At the Society’s dinner, even local ingredients are rendered in French on the menu. The members discuss almost exclusively Western politics, philosophy, and literature. On the rare occasions when the east enters the scene, it does so obliquely and fancifully, for instance in the decoration of the Society’s meeting place: ‘a Turkish tent of white silk … Ottomans of pale Blue and Gold … a profusion of Purple Velvet drapery.’ The everyday experience of life in India is relegated to outside the tent-flaps.”
  • While we’re on the British empire: Zimbabwe’s Harare City Library boasts a new Doris Lessing Special Collection, commemorating the thirty-five hundred books she gave to the library after her death. Lessing had a special history with the place, as Percy Zvomuya writes: “Lessing lived in Southern Rhodesia between 1925 (when she was six) and 1949 … The independent Zimbabwe that Lessing returned to in the 1980s was a different country from the Southern Rhodesia she left in 1949, which had declared her a ‘prohibited immigrant’ when she went back in 1956. She described it as an ‘awful place’ in one interview. ‘Only someone who’s lived in these dreadful colonial places will understand why. They are so dead and narrow and stultifying. If you are living in that kind of society where a small number of people are oppressing a great many, they become obsessed by the fact, and they talk about nothing else, day and night. And I always think of Goethe, who said, if you are going to keep a man down in the ditch, you are going to have to get into the ditch with him.’ ”

Lovecraft Ghostwrote for Houdini, and Other News

March 18, 2016 | by

Houdini with an elephant, 1918.

  • Today in long-lost manuscripts commissioned by prominent escape artists: an expansive essay by Lovecraft called “The Cancer of Superstition” (sounds nuanced, doesn’t it?) was found among the memorabilia from a defunct magic shop. Apparently Harry Houdini conceived the project, which was, as its title suggests, a screed against every aspect of the superstitious: “Houdini had asked Lovecraft in 1926 to ghostwrite the treatise exploring superstition, but the magician’s death later that year halted the project, as his wife did not wish to pursue it … The document explores everything from worship of the dead to werewolves and cannibalism, theorising that superstition is an ‘inborn inclination’ that ‘persists only through mental indolence of those who reject modern science’ … ‘Most of us are heathens in the innermost recesses of our hearts,’ it concludes.” Christopher Hitchens would be proud.
  • In which Anakana Schofield enters the job market only to find that it’s been overrun with hyperbole and the bloated, dead, “aspirational” language of advertising: “I can’t save lives or fix broken pipes: I need a job with the potential for staring into space or reading Pinget on the side—a car park attendant seemed ideal. I found an advert online and immediately entered a car park of excessive adjectives. The parking lot attendant they were looking for needed to ‘Be a trail blazer … Be Bold, Open-minded & Entrepreneurial.’ I was puzzled. How does one ‘blaze a trail’ handing out change and scanning parking stubs and visa cards through a drafty hut window? … I left that car park with the new understanding that the language of recruitment has gone up several octaves but since I negotiate language for a living, I was undeterred. The next advert included the promising phrase ‘a front line ambassador’ … ”
  • America doesn’t need vacuous words like bold and open-minded. America needs y’all. “It sounds elegant, warm, and inviting. It offers both economy and an end to second-person ambiguity. Teach it in schools across the country. Mouth it to babies. Put it on end-of-grade tests … The possibilities are endless, and a simple substitution could actually solve a real problem in modern English that will only grow as we continue to examine how gender works in language. It could provide a better and gender-neutral word. It could relieve “you” of the impossible task of ostensibly functioning in so many roles, and maybe even along the way ease some of the regional and racial stigmatization of language and slang.”
  • Talking to Zadie Smith, Darryl Pinckney looks at the effect of memoirs like Margo Jefferson’s Negroland on the conventional narrative of black achievement: “I think one of the things Margo Jefferson’s marvelous memoir does is remind us that classed aspiration was at one time a radical act or a radical mode for black people, because white people didn’t want you to leave the plantation. They didn't want your barbershop to succeed. They didn’t want you to go to college. They didn’t want you to have Latin in college because they violated what DuBois called ‘personal whiteness.’ It wasn’t until the late fifties with the E. Franklin Frazier book Black Bourgeoisie that all this was demonized, that black middle class. DuBois also raked everyone over the coals for wanting to play golf instead of wanting to be in the NAACP. And then in the sixties, middle-class life became an optic of scorn anyway. So blacks were doubly scorned, for ‘trying to be white,’ which was a deep insult because these people had found a way to be black, and that wasn’t respected at all.”
  • Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s 1949 novel Cré na Cille was widely regarded as an Irish Gaelic masterpiece—so why are we only now seeing an English translation? “For almost seventy years, Ó Cadhain’s greatest work remained inaccessible to nearly all Irish readers, because it was written in Irish Gaelic, a language vanishingly few of them speak, and it had never been translated into English … Sáirséal agus Dill, Ó Cadhain’s publisher, took concrete steps toward putting out a translation. In the early nineteen-sixties, a contract was sent to a young woman who’d submitted a sample translation as part of an open contest. (A letter from the woman’s mother eventually came back: her daughter wouldn’t be able to finish the translation, she wrote, as she’d just entered a convent.) Sáirséal agus Dill next tried to entice the poet Thomas Kinsella to translate the book; though he was honored they’d considered him, Kinsella wrote in a 1963 letter, he was ‘sure it would be a very difficult job, especially since we’re talking about Cré na Cille. It’s not an exaggeration to say it would take years.’ ”

Paperbacks for the Patriarchy, and Other News

September 1, 2015 | by

The perfect way to kick off your fall?

  • Whatever you’re reading these days, it’s probably not as popular as Amish romance novels, which owe their meteoric rise, perhaps, to an old-fashioned yen for the patriarchy: “There’s no mistaking the potent commercial lure of the ‘bonnet books’—so called because of the young Amish women plastered on their covers. In less than a decade, bonnet titles have overtaken bestseller lists, Christian and non-Christian alike … these novels seldom offer fare any more lurid than a much-regretted kiss. Sex is always offstage, and mere carnal longing is usually mastered by the more powerful desire to do God’s will … their treatment of spiritual questions is itself oddly lustful, given their penchant for containing spiritual inquiry and experience within the strict bounds of faintly illicit-sounding modes of sectarianism and separatism.”
  • Bromance, mandels, mansplain, man-icure, man-purse, bro-hug, manscape, man-date: whither the explosion of Neologisms for Men™? We could laud these new words as evidence of a long overdue recovery: “A popular online collection of old photos shows how much American men used to casually touch each other: Victorian gentlemen posing with hands clasped; grizzled cowboys sitting with arms entwined, and a striking amount of lap-sitting. But such pictures from the middle of the twentieth century and later are rare.  The culprit is homophobia … It turns out that straight men’s need for intense, intimate relationships with each other never went anywhere, as evidenced by the ebullient burst of words celebrating it.”
  • Why, when we read, do some of us hear a voice in our head while others proceed in total quiet? And why, for that matter, did we ever begin reading in silence to ourselves, rather than aloud, to friends? “Silent reading had become the norm for educated readers by the fifteenth century but even four hundred years later, La Cagnotte, Eugène Marin Labiche’s 1864 comedy, mocks a farmer for reading a private letter aloud; the bumpkin retorts that he can’t understand what he reads unless he hears it … Recent neurological research questions whether silent reading actually is silent. Evidence grows that the brain interprets ‘silent’ reading as an auditory phenomenon.”
  • More art from Aidan Koch, whose portfolio lit up our Summer issue: her work will be on view next month at And Now, in Dallas.
  • Bored? Hang out with H. P. Lovecraft fans at the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast, why don’t you. And have a croissant while you’re at it. “In time, we were tapped to hit the buffet line, which snaked down the hotel’s corridor. ‘An ouroboros!’ exclaimed my neighbor, as we shuffled towards bacon and croissants. A sliver of fruit fell to the carpet. ‘The cantaloupe of Thoth!’ someone cried.”

The New Frontier for Art and Commerce, and Other News

October 31, 2014 | by

Container_Ship

Live and create here! Photo: Muhammad Mahdi Karim

  • If you’re like me, your otherwise successful ghost-hunting expeditions are often thwarted by matters of taxonomy: Was that a wraith you just saw or simply a type-two apparition? Wonder no more. (N. B., the type-two apparition “leaves behind appalling ectoplasm stains on wallpaper and soft furnishings.”)
  • Today in zingers and put-downs, we bring you Edmund Wilson on H. P. Lovecraft, 1945: “The only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art.”
  • Whither the artist residency? Say you’re a serious, industrious, diligent artist whose working life requires “solitude, beauty, the natural sublime, and global travel … extended stretches of time, free of any interruption, in order to create new work. All of this can be found on a container ship.” A new residency called Container gives artists the chance to work on just such a ship. (“Artists won’t have to live in a container,” the program hastens to add.)
  • And while we’re hithering and thithering: Whither Ethan Hawke, who seems finally to have escaped the long shadow of the nineties? “Ethan Hawke was once the mascot we did not ask for. He has become the one we deserve.”
  • To raise money for Freedom from Torture, seventeen authors—including Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Ken Follett, Hanif Kureishi, Will Self, Alan Hollinghurst, and Zadie Smith—are offering the rights to name characters in their new novels. (They call this an “Immortality Auction,” which implies that all the authors involved expect to have healthy readerships in the coming eons.)

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Christmas with Monte

December 13, 2012 | by

Up until the early spring of this year, I considered myself an absolute Christmas fiend. Not in the Grinch sense of breaking out the Boris Karloff accent and green grease paint and plotting how I might swipe presents, but rather trying to figure out, as early as possible, how best to immerse myself in a holiday that I loved like no other, in a typically over-the-top fashion. You know that person you read about, who bops his head along to Christmas songs on the oldies station—yes, Brenda Lee, you rock around that tree indeed!—the day after Thanksgiving, who insists on seeing Rudolph “live,” every year, because it’s just more real on TV than Blu-ray? I was that guy. Before I had occasion to become a different guy. And before I decided to spend this holiday season with M. R. James.

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On Tour with The Magnetic Fields: Part 1

March 27, 2012 | by

I’ve worked for the band the Magnetic Fields for the past ten years and have sold their merchandise on every tour since they released i, in 2004. Their latest tour, for their new record, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, began last week, and, as is my wont, I’ve been taking notes. After a warm and fuzzy show in Hudson, New York, the first completely positive experience in Philadelphia in recent memory, and a very quick trip to Minehead, England, for All Tomorrow’s Parties, the Magnetic Fields took the Tour at the Bottom of the Sea to Austin, Texas, for their first-ever appearance at South by Southwest, the juggernaut music festival that turns the entire city into a beer-and-taco-stained pair of jeggings. Half the band and crew flew in from New York, and the other half from Boston, meeting up in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport for the puddle jumper to Austin. We shared the plane with several members of the E Street Band, which made Sam Davol (cello) quiver with excitement. When we landed, the steamy Texas air relaxing our synapses, Sam asked E Street violinist Soozie Tyrell for her autograph, and I made a proclamation: in Austin, I was going to find a) Bruce Springsteen or b) Timmy Riggins, my very favorite fictional character on Friday Night Lights, played by heartthrob and Austin resident Taylor Kitsch. I find that wishes are more likely to come true when spoken aloud. Read More »

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