Monday, 25 August 2014

A Row About Lovecraft

The World Fantasy Award is a little statuette of H.P. Lovecraft, who was intensely racist. Some people think this a bad thing and want to change the award. Others claim Lovecraft's racism was no big deal at the time and that we shouldn't just a writer of the inter-war years by modern standards anyway. I disagree with this - to me, as an admirer of Lovecraft, racism is obviously central to his artistic world-view. If they don't change the award now, they'll only have to repeat this debate in few years when a sufficiently high-profile writer rejects it, or refuses to be nominated in the first place. But someone says it far better than me here. Well done David Nickle (an author new to me) for summing things up so well.
The legacy of racists like Lovecraft is still very much in play in contemporary society, from the Obama birthers to the Ferguson cops and most points between... and the discussion as to how to contain that legacy is far from over. In a perverse way, Lovecraft's retrograde views on race may be his most socially relevant contribution to 20th century weird literature... not as an advocate of his views, not by any means, but as an example of where we've been and what too many of us still share, an opportunity to critique those views through the lens of cosmic horror and alien gods. 

5 comments:

knobgobbler said...

Then I suppose we should change ALL the awards that bear an artist's name or image... because most of them that are worth a damn also have some nasty badness to them of some form. Poe wasn't exactly and abolitionist... Picasso and Dali were complete bastards to the women in their lives.
It seems more about wanting to bury/whitewash the past... pretend that we ourselves are so much more enlightened and 'evolved'. Pointing at the 'racist' and 'misogynist' somehow reassures us that we can't ever be those things... which is just a delusion. Seems better to recognize them for what they are/were that to expunge them and pretend they don't matter.

valdemar said...

Have you read Nickle's piece?

knobgobbler said...

Yes and I disagree with him, at least in making racism so central to Lovecraft's writing. I think ALIENATION is the core... of which his racism and atheism are facets. Lovecraft is not a man who is comfortable in his changing world (and he lived in a time of enormous alterations).
I think Joshi, who I'm not ordinarily a fan of, has some very good rebuttals to Mr. Order's fervent desire to alter the award.

Aonghus Fallon said...

I'm on holidays at the moment, with limited internet access, so couldn't watch the video, but the controversy does raise interesting questions (for me, anyhow) as to when an artist's more dubious traits become an issue. People might buy Michael Jackson's albums, but have genuine reservations about - say - naming a children's hospital after him. In other words, people will give credit where credit is due, while still have reservations about a particular artist's private life, to the extent that they will want to define the *kind* of recognition they feel he is entitled to. I think this is fair enough. Lovecraft has a definite niche in the annals of speculative fiction, but I think his questionable views mean using his image for something like the World Fantasy Award is in poor taste. Why? Because the implication is that Lovecraft is representative of fantasy authors as a whole and this will carry some negative connotations. An award in his image, for authors who are fans and imitators of his work? Funnily enough, I think this might be OK, as what they are celebrating about Lovecraft is a lot more specific - ie, the particular oevre he created - and thus not open to myriad other interpretations.

That said, I'm not a Lovecraft fan, so maybe I'm biased!

Aonghus Fallon said...

Oops. Must have pressed the wrong button! I've just read Nickle's article. He's clearly in a more difficult position, being a Lovecraft fan! I had no idea racism featured so prominently in Lovecraft's actual work: I only ever read three or four his stories and found them so hilariously bad I never bothered reading any more.
In Lovecraft's defence, none of the stories were racist. At least, as far as I can recall - it was a long time ago.

I guess another good reason for not having the bust in Lovecraft's image would be the fact that he's not really a fantasy author (I wouldn't classify him as such, anyhow) but an author of the supernatural and the weird.