The "Cthulhu Cult" and the Massacre in Santa Fe, Texas, USA
[Note: In line with its work of investigation of deviant, pseudoreligious activity throughout the world, the Centre for Islamic Pluralism here reposts an article by our founder, Ashk Sylejman, on an item of fascist ideology that has surfaced in the tragedy allegedly wrought by a Greek Orthodox Christian fanatic, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, in Santa Fe, Texas. Pagourtzis professed to be an adept of the "Cthulhu cult." We are aware of the evil consequences of Orthodox Christian ideology in the Balkans and elsewhere, and call on U.S. and other authorities to treat this variety of extremist incitement as seriously as they treat radical Islam. But we are used to the warnings advanced by our Ashk being ignored. -- Zana]
Review of H. P. Lovecraft Tales.
Library of America, 850 pages, $35
The appearance of a volume of Tales by the pulp fantasy author H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) in the Library of America has been met with unpredictable reactions, especially in conservative journals. Michael Dirda, the editor of The Washington Post Book World, enthused about it in The Weekly Standard of March 7, leading with the declaration, "No full understanding of modern literature is possible without taking [Lovecraft] into account."
John J. Miller, the otherwise perspicacious contributor to National Review, wrote in The Wall Street Journal of March 15, describing Lovecraft's stories as "strangely engrossing ... contain[ing] many elements that will be familiar to fans of The Da Vinci Code." Should we expect that some day Dan Brown's absurd, offensive pastiche of Catholic theology and history will also find a place in the Library of America—which was conceived as an American equivalent of the French Pléiade, and includes works of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman, as well as our outstanding literary stylists?
Regrettably, it was left to Laura Miller, of Salon.com, to point out the ultimate scandal of Lovecraft's choice for inclusion in the distinguished series. Miss Miller noted that Edmund Wilson, who should need no introduction, branded Lovecraft a "hack" guilty of "bad taste and bad art"—but also that no work of Wilson, one of our most important authors, is to be found on the Library of America's roster.
Who was Howard Phillips Lovecraft? An underemployed recluse who lived in Providence, Rhode Island, he invented an alternative cosmology inhabited by gigantic, malign, and incomprehensible creatures with crudely invented names like Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth, which are said to have preceded life as we know it in tenancy on earth. In addition, the exemplars of the "Cthulhu Mythos" are responsible for architectural and other technological artifacts beyond the understanding of any human being, and have the bad habit of interfering with human life in mysterious but frightening ways.
Subtle Lovecraft was not; he never used one word when a score suggested themselves to him. His stories always evince overwriting of a kind that disappeared with the pulp genre in which it flourished. A victim of Lovecraftian monstrosity is described, in his story "The Lurking Fear," as "lost in infinitely abysmal earth; pawing, twisting, wheezing; scrambling madly through sunken convolutions of immemorial blackness."
Some have been drawn to these absurd confabulations out of radical distaste for the "ordinary history" in which normal folk believe. In addition, the "counterfactual" biology, mathematics, and physics of the Lovecraftian universe are catnip to those drawn to secret societies and hidden histories, but who would never frequent an occult or mystical bookshop.
Dirda and Miller both deserve credit for indicating the subtextual strains of Judeophobia and white supremacy in Lovecraft's stories, which are fully revealed in his correspondence. Much of his work represents a sublimation of his anxiety over "contamination" of the Anglo-Saxon, Protestant New England with which he deeply identified, by Jews, nonwhites, and Catholics. Thus, in "The Call of Cthulhu," the reappearance of a monster dweller at the bottom of the Pacific produces nightmares and other psychic disturbances, including "New York policemen ... mobbed by hysterical Levantines," and vile, orgiastic rituals in the vicinity of New Orleans by "hybrid spawn" and "mongrel celebrants." Racial mixing lurks, if one may borrow the term, in the background of some of his most famous stories, such as "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," in which residents of a Massachusetts village are found to have mated with fish, resulting in physical and mental degeneration.
Lovecraft enjoys a spurious reputation for serious research in theosophical and other spiritual topics. The falsity of this pose is to be found in his abuse of the Jewish Kabbalah and its Hebrew vocabulary—in which he becomes a less benign version of the pop singer Madonna, decades before she decided to annex esoteric Jewish traditions to her striptease act. At the conclusion of his novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a demoniac figure "bellow(s) out a terrible formula: "PERADONAIELOHIM, ADONAIJEHOVAH, ADONAISABAOTH, METRATON... ."
In reality, as anybody with the slightest real knowledge of mystical Judaism knows, the first particle of this "formula" (after the Latin per, or by) is the phrase "the Lord our God," taken from a basic Hebrew prayer, the Shema; the second is a misuse of the sacred name of the Creator, YHVH; the third is another Hebrew religious term, meaning "Lord of Hosts," and the fourth is a clumsy, erroneous rendering of Metatron, the highest of the archangels (a curiously modern-sounding word possibly derived from Greek). Lovecraft's knowledge of such topics was superficial to an extreme, and such scribbling must be considered extremely offensive to religious Jews.
Lovecraft has been compared with Jorge Luis Borges, whose parallel-universe stories were based on a spectacular literary gift, a healthy imagination and serious scholarship in Jewish and Islamic traditions. Lovecraft possessed none of these, and the parallel is ridiculous. The recluse of Rhode Island had a certain unique perception of human credulity—I admit to having quoted the opening lines of "The Call of Cthulhu": "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents." But a classic he was not, and certainly not an author worthy of standing beside Franklin, Hawthorne, Henry James, and others in our canon. At this rate, we may soon see editions of Zane Grey and Mickey Spillane included in the American pantheon.