Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters

I first heard about H.P. Lovecraft when I was reading the classified ads in the back of the Washington City Paper, at least 20 years ago. Somebody was looking for science-fiction writers, but they didn’t want people who just liked Star Trek; they wanted stuff more along the lines of H.P. Lovecraft.

I looked at that name and thought, “Hmm, that sounds interesting. Wonder what’s so special about him?” No, actually, being in my early twenties, what I thought was, “I need to be as cool and hip as possible. I need to find out who this Lovecraft guy is, and then I’ll act like I always knew who he was, so I’ll be in the know and my social status will increase exponentially.”

So I said to myself, “I’ll have to check that out.” That meant I wasn’t going to do anything. My natural laziness has overcome my tendency toward pretentiousness many a time. I promptly forgot about HPL and probably never thought about him again for the next 20 years, until a couple summers ago, when I was helping the Maynard Public Library weed out books that no one had checked out in the past two years. I came across Lord, and I thought, “Lovecraft, Lovecraft . . . Where have I heard that name before?” I tossed dozens of books in big brown dumpsters that fall, but this one I saved. I’ll be damned if I know why.

Since there seem to be a couple people out there who’ve taken an interest in my jottings on Theobald (Lovecraft’s name for himself), I’ve included some below. Unless you see something in quotes, these are my interpretations of HPL’s observations. In the spirit of the amateur press movement that gave Lovecraft a reason to live, I invite you to disagree strenuously with these interpretations, or whatever you want to do.

p. 54 – beginnings of postmodernism? “Our philosophy is all childishly subjective—we imagine that the welfare of our race is the paramount consideration, when as a matter of fact the very existence of the race may be an obstacle to the predestined course of the aggregated universes of infinity.”

Morality – “False, loose pleasures are not happiness at all, and are invariably compensated for by misery, the certain result of wide deviation from the normal.”

Happiness—last sentence: “In short, most of us have no hope of happiness, nor should we waste our energy in striving for it, since it is all but unattainable.”

p. 55, 2nd graf—Goes to hear a speaker urging temperance. Experiences horror, fascination at common folk: “ . . . scarcely less interesting than the speaker were the dregs of humanity who clustered about him.”

Priggishness—“ . . . even in the open air, the stench of whiskey was appalling.”

p. 56—2nd graf—more on postmodern leanings: “In your world, man is the center of everything . . .”

p. 57—chastises someone for viewing man through a simplistic dichotomy of selfishness v. selflessness, leaving out the population that simply wants to know thing as they are, not as one would like them to be

long discourse on truth—if truth does not matter, then neither does the dichotomy mentioned above

p. 58 – has a strange dream, but doesn’t think it really happened. “I recognize a distinction between dream life and real life, between appearances and actualities.”

—not interested in good or bad, just in what is

p. 59 religion—sees no proof of a mind and will like his own at work running the universe. Does not believe in an entity that would take particular interest in Earth above all other planets

p. 60 morality—the science of reconciling humans to the forces surrounding them; religion deifies and personifies those forces. Other than that, religion and morality have nothing in common. “I am intensely moral and intensely irreligious.”

morality predated Christianity and is superior to it—morality is not the essence of religion

honest thinkers seek explanations for what they see; the church promotes untruths, explanations that cannot withstand close scrutiny

p. 61 “Life is a comedy of vain desire . . . those who strive are clowns.” – the mighty and the meek both kick the bucket—it makes no difference what you accomplish—helped him deal with feelings of failure.
—a boy winning at marbles is equal to Octavius at Actium (sounds a little like Kundera on Hitler)

p. 62 despite failure, he didn’t become cynical—not exactly. He decided to help people instead. “What matter if none hear of my labours, or if those labours touch only the afflicted and the mediocre?”

Something like empathy, even if there is still a good-sized dash of condescension in the mix.

(Karen Horney talks about this too, why we torture ourselves striving for greatness when most of us will never achieve it; how we should aim to maximize our talents and abilities instead of trying to fit some popular conception of success and achievement.)

Cautions against participation, urges detachment. I can’t agree with that. That seems to conflict with his belief in the previous entry that we should know things as they really are. I don’t like a lot of the things I see going on around me. I had a lot of preconceived notions about how life in Boston would be before I moved here. I have seen nearly even one of those expectations dashed, and for a while there, I wasn’t sure if I could handle just how far from the ideal life had taken me. My sense of disappointment nearly pushed me from a lifelong neurosis into a full-on psychosis, until I decided it was healthier to accept things as I knew them to be all along. I now realize that the Clash never ruled the world; neither will the Replacements reunite to share power with Howard Dean, the Archies and Peter Tork; neither will I have 12 wives who will wait on me hand and foot, with an ever-shifting cast of “guest” wives thrown in keep things interesting. That last delusion has particular staying power, I must say.

I also realize that it may be a long time before more than 30 people visit this blog in one day consistently, and an even longer time before I get a story published, much less finished.

63—first appearance of the n-word, used as casually as if he were talking about restaurants, as in, “We have quite a few restaurants here.”

63-64—starts harping on the superiority of the “Teutonic” race, ticking off a list of people with or without Teutonic blood

64-65—knows his poetry stinks. Blames it on being a sickly kid who missed a lot of school and devoured the family library collection of Pope, Addison and Dryden. Calls himself “ . . . a relic of Queen Anne’s age.”

66—warns all “bards” to be themselves. Henry James said the same thing (was it in The Art of the Novel?)

Grateful for compliments on Dagon. Tells what inspired it.

69—discovers Lord Dunsany, 1919.

71—1936: still likes Dunsany, but more measured, less wide-eyed in his appreciation. Individual works may seem weak, he says, but taken together, they transport the reader to a different place and time.

72—more on Dunsany: cosmic disillusion, desperate effort to retain fragments of wonder

bad dreams: “night-gaunts”

dreams of gravedigging

76—worries that turning dreams into stories is a form of plagiarism. I had similar qualms myself at one point. Actually, I worry that all my dreams are just regurgitated TV shows. What’s worse, now when I shut my eyes, I see Web sites scrolling up a screen.

77—another dream; sounds like Frankenstein or Re-animator; post-Civil War

78—dream explained: he had just read Frankenstein and Ambrose Bierce

another dream: a monster from outer space lands in Providence (maybe the Farrelly Brothers can do that one)

81—1st mention of Nyarlathotep as a nightmare

82-83—says he’s never been in love

83-84—mother goes to stay with sister after contracting illness

writing releases nervous energy

84—mother dies. He shows no emotion but cannot sleep or work.