[Paleopsych] NYT: Houellebecq on Lovecraft

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Houellebecq on Lovecraft
April 17, 2005

Houellebecq on Lovecraft


    PART biographical sketch, part lofty pronouncement on existence and
    literature, the caustic French novelist Michel Houellebecq's new book,
    H. P. LOVECRAFT: Against the World, Against Life (Believer
    Books/McSweeney's, paper, $18), is an encomium to Lovecraft, a writer
    whose style couldn't be much less like his own. Houellebecq's novels
    (''The Elementary Particles,'' ''Platform''), with their deadpan prose
    and obsession with sordid transactions, scarcely resemble Lovecraft's
    rococo evocations of ancient gods and immense, dripping creatures.

    In this book, Houellebecq rhapsodizes over Lovecraft's grandiloquent
    excesses, his scientific precision in describing his horrors'
    architecture and biology, and the gale-force tone that makes him a
    kind of Sade without sex (or, as Houellebecq notes, money; Lovecraft's
    fiction fastidiously avoids mentioning either). Dorna Khazeni's
    translation is padded out with two fine Lovecraft stories and an
    off-the-cuff introduction by Stephen King.

    Near the end of ''H. P. Lovecraft'' (available early next month),
    Houellebecq points out the terrified racism for which many of
    Lovecraft's great themes are metaphors: WASP-y heroes corrupted by
    aliens, hybrids and half-castes that obviously require destruction. He
    quotes a Lovecraft letter shuddering at ''monstrous and nebulous
    adumbrations'' made up of ''degenerate gelatinous fermentation.''
    Things from another world? No -- the ''Italo-Semitico-Mongoloid''
    population of the Lower East Side.

    Houellebecq argues that ''there is something not really literary about
    Lovecraft's work'' -- that it's more like mythology. But Lovecraft's
    Cthulhu mythos operates on a bait-and-switch basis, promising the
    sublime (as in the famous opening line of ''The Call of Cthulhu,''
    about ''the inability of the human mind to correlate all its
    contents'') and delivering the disgusting. In Houellebecq's own
    fiction, that kind of nihilistic betrayal is the way of the world.
    He's as obsessed with writing about money and sex as Lovecraft was
    with repressing them, but toward the same end: finding a corrupting
    vileness at the heart of everything.

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