11/22/09

Houellebecq on Lovecraft


Here's Michel Houellebecq on H.P. Lovecraft, from H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (Believer Books):

Life is painful and disappointing. It is useless, therefore, to write new realistic novels. We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don’t care to know any more. Humanity, such as it is, inspires only an attenuated curiosity in us. All those prodigiously refined “notations,” “situations,” anecdotes… All they do, once a book has been set aside, is reinforce the slight revulsion that is already adequately nourished by any one of our “real life” days.

Those who love life do not read. Nor do they go to the movies, actually. No matter what might be said, access to the artistic universe is more or less entirely the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world.

The universe is nothing but a furtive arrangement of elementary particles. A figure in transition toward chaos. That is what will finally prevail. The human race will disappear. Other races in turn will appear and disappear. The skies will be glacial and empty, traversed by the feeble light of half-dead stars. These too will disappear. Everything will disappear. And human actions are as free and as stripped of meaning as the unfettered movement of the elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, sentiments? Pure “Victorian fictions.” All that exists is egotism. Cold, intact, and radiant.


Lovecraft was well aware of the distinctly depressing nature of his conclusions. As he wrote in 1918, “all rationalism tends to minimalize the value and the importance of life, and to decrease the sum total of human happiness. In some cases the truth may cause suicidal or nearly suicidal depression.”

A traditional novel may be usefully compared to an old air chamber deflating after being placed in an ocean. A generalized and rather weak flow of air like a trickle of pus ends in arbitrary and indistinct nothingness.

Lovecraft, by contrast, places his hand forcefully on certain parts of the air chamber (sex, money…) from which he wishes to see nothing escape. This is a technique of constriction. The result, in the areas he chooses, is a powerful gush, an extraordinary efflorescence of images.


It's probably not necessary to say that I loved this book, even when I didn't necessarily agree with Houellebecq. His somewhat more accomplished version of Howard Philips Lovecraft is undoubtedly the version that I prefer; would that he were the Lovecraft that wrote Houellebecq's "Great Texts."