HP Lovecraft was a racist, and I think this is important to bring up because his racism is really fundamental to how he conceived of horror; a large number of his fears are things that we actually live with every day and get by with just fine. Turns out that a lot of people are at least partially aware that they have a forebear who is a bastard or a total freak. While it’s easy to point to other writers of the time and talk about their problems —
Like Arthur Machen? Probably had problem with women
— they aren’t nearly as directly related to the type of horror that author made. But Lovecraft’s horror, across almost all his stories are about encounters with an other, with inscrutable motivations that do not align with his. They are not about monsters that are cruel on purpose but about things that behave in a way so utterly indifferent to you that they regard nothing about you as having meaning but your potential digestion.
I have opinions on what traits a work has that make it Lovecraftian. It doesn’t need ornate or elaborate prose, it doesn’t need tentacles, it doesn’t need space or bugs or even the infinite scope of the cosmic. Lots of his stories weren’t and didn’t. What drives the heart of all Lovecraftian narratives was indifference.
Cthulhu does not hate you, Chthulu does not care about you. What hate exists in him is for the reality itself that works the way it does, frustration at his political position as high priest of a mad god that again, does not know or care about you. It is the scope of the antipathy that forms the foundation of Lovecraftian horror.
How do you explain colonialism?
I mean I know how I explain colonialism. I do so from the position of a person inside colonialism, beneficiary of colonialism, able to dispassionately describe the movements of ships and the political exchanges between countries. I can — and by default do! — think of colonialism as a thing that England did to the world. I know it’s not just England – almost all of the nations in Europe were colonial powers, and pretty much just Germany sat that one out because they didn’t exist during most of the era of colonialism. But it still is something where I can look at Australia, around me, and think of it in terms of ‘England put this here,’ and even if there are a series of injustices that put us here, it is still ultimately, the work of empires.
I am not in a position of power in the Empire. I am not a dominant power, but I am privileged, and part of how is that the world that colonialism shaped shaped itself, generally for the benefit of people who share my signifiers. In this regard, it is easy for me – easiest! – to treat colonialism as a thing that happened and it was this organisation of systems and it’s inhuman and terrible but I can just refer to it that way. You know, it’s a thing.
It was a thing.
I mean it’s kinda still a thing…
… but the way it’s described, as if the bulk of what it involved is a movement of blocks of a system. It is an anodyne and impersonal system, even though it is immensely cruel.
I don’t have a Colonised Person perspective. I mean I literally do – I exist in this place as I do because of sequential waves of colonised people being pushed around by the colonising system, but the people in my situation are the ones who were being exported from the heart of the empire. But I don’t live on a reservation. I don’t live in a housing comission. I don’t live in a space where the lineage of my history is a way of life that I have never known was destroyed and taken away from my forebears who would have given it to me, who would have raised me. I am pretty much exactly where Industrial England would have wanted me to be – I’m not quite as good a worker as they want, I’m not as Christian as they want, but I’m pretty much where that system wanted me to be.
Sadly, the thing I think of as the best example I can give of this mindset, of pivoting from this place where I’m sitting, is the movie Pocahontas. It was a conversation I had with Fox, on a podcast, about how the arrival of the colonists in New England was.
They were there to unravel themselves upon the land. They were there to convert what they saw into what they knew. They didn’t care about how things were here, they weren’t interested in that. They wanted to dig up the ground, strip the trees, push the people out, and turn what they found into what they left.
Their people would make claims about the way the world works, but not explain them. They would proffer things to you in exchange for things, and then those exchanges resulted in more of this unfurling, this transformation. Some – I mean functionally all – of the people were needlessly violent. They would say nice things, they would make deals, they would promise concessions and then they would ignore those deals and more, more, more of this cloud of what they were rolls out across reality.
In Shagghai, a story in the Lovecraft mythos by Lin Carter, the story describes the people of a world that Lovecraft called Chag-Hai. They were called the Shan, and they summoned a creature, a dreadful worm, for a reason that doesn’t matter – it was a giant worm, and when they couldn’t control it, and banish it, they just erected a pyramid over it, decorated with runes, a massive monument that they hoped would be enough for it. But down, down, down the worm went, and it started to eat the world, from the inside out.
Where they couldn’t see.
And didn’t have to look.
Lovecraft didn’t know what the colonialism of his life was doing. He didn’t realise it, because of course, he couldn’t. He was too close, he couldn’t see the shape of earth because he was standing on it, so small and insignificant. His work, his racism, his opinions, were all contrbutors to it – he was literally encouraging the rightness, the normacy of violent and terrible ongoing operations of colonialism. Lovecraft was afraid of a vast, indifferent engine that consumed people thoughtlessly in the name of an ongoing inscrutable benefit that no human mind could ever accept beyond a cultish worship.
The Doom of Shagghai eats, and nobody is okay with that, unless they have convinced themselves that its eating is an inherent good. The wealth bestowed by the ongoing action of colonialism, the harm of colonialism, was beyond anyone’s need. You can tell, because the people doing the impoverishing and maximally benefitting from it keep doing it and have gotten to the point of just stockpiling giant piles of money that don’t do anything, just in case they get a good idea.
The eating is the point.
The eating is good, actually.
The engine of colonialism, in which Lovecraft was a processing, straining, sanitising, exulting agent, was not a dispassionate sliding block or flowing dotted line of transferring information.
It was a digestion.
It is a digestion.