Friday, September 5, 2014

'non-supernatural cosmic art' vs. Sensucht: H. P. Lovecraft's God-Shaped Hole

‘The time has come when the normal revolt against time, space, & matter must assume a form not overtly incompatible with what is known of reality—when it must be gratified by images forming supplements rather than contradictions of the visible & measurable universe.  And what, if not a form of non-supernatural cosmic art, is to pacify this sense of revolt—as well as gratify the cognate sense of curiosity?’

-H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, Selected Letters 295-6, cited in Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew, Editor, The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters (2014), Ashgate Publishing, Surrey, p. 391 in the article ‘Lovecraft, Monsters In’ by S. T. Joshi, who comments:

‘This view makes it evident that Lovecraft was seeking to go beyond traditional supernatural horror and more in the direction of the new genre of science fiction.’ (ibid.)

But such a move would still be a potently hybridised science fiction literature, one that pulls in different directions, since it is still rooted in ‘revolt’, which could be understood as the bent in humans toward anti-reductionism.  At most, this would mean Lovecraft was yearning toward a philosophically non-reductionist form of materialism in which to express his obvious mysticism.  The likes of Graham Harman’s Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (2012) help elucidate this.  But this hybridisation could also signal a fundamental tension in Lovecraft between a sort of Lewisian sense of Sensucht, a longing for the transcendent, and a principled and intuitive drive toward sheer, closed, non-divine immanentism.  Either way, though Lovecraft may have professed a desire to head in a ‘scientific’ (not to mention ‘scientistic’) and explicitly atheistic materialist direction, he was no Dawkins-esque cavalier reducer.  It seems obvious to me that mysticism ran deep in Lovecraft, a ‘spiritual’ sort of impulse that he embraced, guarded, and cultivated, even if he also sought to be as thoroughly non-supernaturalist as he could be.  And it also seems to me that this ‘spirituality’, though it follows in the footsteps of many spiritualities that seek naturalistic closure without divine remainder, couldn’t resist expressing itself through pantheons of deities, through a genuine sense of worship and outward and ‘upward’ supra-spatiotemporal projectionism of deity-manufacture.  In short, Lovecraft seems to have exhibited as well as anyone the ‘god-shaped hole’ so prevalent and prominent in human psychology and activity.