Initial Reaction to My H.P. Lovecraft & Racism Post
For anyone interested, there are active discussions about my Lovecraft & Racism post over at the message boards on Shocklines.com and Thomas Ligotti Online. The feedback so far is mostly negative: a chorus of: “Who cares, it doesn’t matter what he did in his private life!” and then a few posts rushing forward to the “But he married a Jewish woman!” defense.
Of course, the difficulty with HPL is that the racism doesn’t stop at the shores of his private life — it extends out to the ocean of his fiction. Sometimes in a subtle/undercurrent sort of way, but often in an explicit, impossible-to-ignore way. Over and over. I agree that art has to be evaluated separately from the artist, but in the case of HPL this doesn’t offer any “out”, because if you separate the art from the artist you’re still left with racism littered throughout the very art itself.
During the course of the discussion at Shocklines it was brought up that Poe was — in fact — quite a racist, too (something I wasn’t aware of when writing my original post). It was also brought up that Poe’s racism is particularly evident in his seldom-read novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
While the news of Poe’s racism is disappointing, it’s worth noting that it seems to have been rather limited in its expression in his fiction. It’s possible for a 21st century person to read a representative collection of Poe’s horror stories and come away completely ignorant of his feelings on the matter. In stories like “The Black Cat”, “The Mask of the Red Death”, “The Tell-Tale Heart” “Berenice” and “William Wilson, racist themes simply don’t emerge (at least, by my reading). One can’t say the same when reading a similarly representative collection of HPL. So I think my original point stands — Lovecraft wasn’t just “a man of his time”, because the sheer volume and magnitude of racism and antisemitism in his fiction implies an obsession with white supremacy unmatched by other authors. Poe (for example) had other obsessions, as did several other authors in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Regarding the “But he married a Jewish woman!” defense, I plan to address this in the next blog post. If you want to see a preview of what I’ll be discussing, take a gander my most recent Shocklines and Ligotti Online message board posts.
Throughout all of this, I want to repeat a sentiment I voiced in my initial post — I’m not saying Lovecraft should be tossed from the canon. Lovecraft’s work in the field of cosmic horror paved the way for many of that subject’s most riveting practitioners. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. I just think it’s time for the horror genre to take a good, long look at the tub and come to terms with the fact that there’s an awful lot of bath water.