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Author Topic: The 'racist Lovecraft' thread  (Read 54311 times)
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« Reply #75 on: April 20, 2012, 08:09:03 AM »

I think WOrld War II would have changed everything in this regard. The horrors of the Holocaust would tempt him to begin writing bright and cheery children's adventure stories, or take up Hallmark greeting card inscriptions, since he would never be able to match in fiction the horror man inflicted upon man in real life.

If he lived beyond WWII, I see him promoting African decolonization and home-rule governments. He would protest--in his own way, of course--the Viet Nam war as an imperial enterprise. If he continued to write fiction, I see him as eventually sort of entering the same stable of "new wave" of science fiction/whatever writers, celebrated in the late 1970s/early 1980s by Heavy Metal and associated subculture mouthpieces, including Dick and Ballard. I see him perhaps experimenting briefly with LSD and peyote, and then foreswearing them as dangerous gateways to realms of the pysche better left unconscious. In the late 1960s, because of these experiences, he would speak (actually write) out against Tim Leary's chemical cult. By 1975 he would be living abroad somewhere, Switzerland maybe? ...maybe somewhere else in Europe, probably some place with a warmer climate, where he would become a local celebrity and eccentric and eventually a sort of living national treasure in his adopted country of exile.
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« Reply #76 on: April 20, 2012, 08:28:12 AM »

Lovecraft and racism is a tough issue - tough because the man himself so heavily evolved in his views over his short life that it's almost unfortunate that he left behind artifacts of his earlier intolerence.  In 1919 when the Street was written, HPL was a young, naive budding writer with no real sense of his own literary identity.  At that time his politics would be described as anachronistic - he was practically a monarchist. 

At that time in American history the KKK was a fairly commonplace social club, President Woodrow Wilson was an avowed racist and public supporter of the Klan, Jim Crow was in full swing, immigration and urban migration was rapidly changing the face of America, and the rise of the USSR with its early goal of global Communism was scaring the crap out of conservative white America.  Stories like the Street merely represent HPL as a product of his time.  It has to be taken in context with a film like Birth of a Nation.  Let's not forget that in 1919 the Civil Was was still a recent memory; the children of Civil War vets were running the country's biggest institutions. 

The HPL of 1919 WAS NOT the HPL of 1936.  That HPL was a socialist and a man who had drastically softened his views.  His own personal views appear to have followed the trend of a large number of Americans who began their lives with a racist upbringing.  I'd say the man was probably slighly MORE racist than the average New Englander, but a heckuva lot LESS racist than the average Southerner. 

Now here is where I'm going to commit blashphemy.  I actually kinda LIKE the Street.  Not BECAUSE of it's racism (I'm about as left-leaning as a man can get and my politics reflect that and in the interest of full disclosure I am 1/8th African-American) but IN SPITE of it.  I like it because it shows HPL's evolving trend as a writer.  I think it's really the first time he finds a bit of his own voice in his genre.  Instead of being Poe or Dunsany, he's turned the tool of the weird tale in the direction of addressing what he views to be a very contemporary political issue.  For that reason, I think the story is an important artifact of his fiction, regardless of its distasteful sentiment.  Sadly, I think it gets too easily passed over in Lovecraft scholarship for that reason.   
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« Reply #77 on: April 22, 2012, 11:29:54 AM »

Lovecraft and racism is a tough issue - tough because the man himself so heavily evolved in his views over his short life that it's almost unfortunate that he left behind artifacts of his earlier intolerence.  In 1919 when the Street was written, HPL was a young, naive budding writer with no real sense of his own literary identity.  At that time his politics would be described as anachronistic - he was practically a monarchist. 

At that time in American history the KKK was a fairly commonplace social club, President Woodrow Wilson was an avowed racist and public supporter of the Klan, Jim Crow was in full swing, immigration and urban migration was rapidly changing the face of America, and the rise of the USSR with its early goal of global Communism was scaring the crap out of conservative white America.  Stories like the Street merely represent HPL as a product of his time.  It has to be taken in context with a film like Birth of a Nation.  Let's not forget that in 1919 the Civil Was was still a recent memory; the children of Civil War vets were running the country's biggest institutions. 

The HPL of 1919 WAS NOT the HPL of 1936.  That HPL was a socialist and a man who had drastically softened his views.  His own personal views appear to have followed the trend of a large number of Americans who began their lives with a racist upbringing.  I'd say the man was probably slighly MORE racist than the average New Englander, but a heckuva lot LESS racist than the average Southerner. 

Now here is where I'm going to commit blashphemy.  I actually kinda LIKE the Street.  Not BECAUSE of it's racism (I'm about as left-leaning as a man can get and my politics reflect that and in the interest of full disclosure I am 1/8th African-American) but IN SPITE of it.  I like it because it shows HPL's evolving trend as a writer.  I think it's really the first time he finds a bit of his own voice in his genre.  Instead of being Poe or Dunsany, he's turned the tool of the weird tale in the direction of addressing what he views to be a very contemporary political issue.  For that reason, I think the story is an important artifact of his fiction, regardless of its distasteful sentiment.  Sadly, I think it gets too easily passed over in Lovecraft scholarship for that reason.   


I would challenge the notion that HPL was a 'socialist'.  He was a New Deal Democrat, and while maybe the closest the United States has  got to a 'socialist' government, but there are also critiques of New Deal policies who argued that it shared similarities with fascism, particularly Mussolini-type corporatism.

Lovecraft wrote that he favored:

". . . a kind of fascism which may, whilst helping the dangerous masses at the expense of the needlessly rich, nevertheless preserves the essentials of traditional civilization and leaves political power in the hands of a small and cultivated (though not over-rich) governing class largely hereditary but subject to gradual increase as other individuals rise to its cultural level."  (Selected Letters, vol. IV, p. 93.)

A couple of his stories talk about the future (or past) societies as being socialist-fascist.  Lovecraft seemed to fear that socialism and communism would, rather then protect higher, traditional culture, lead to a mass proletariatization of society, a leveling down rather then a bringing up of the masses.   

If HPL lived longer, I could see him rejecting outright fascism following WW2 (he was, after all, a patriot).  I could see him supporting the right-wing of the democratic party (the anti-civil rights/dixicrat wing) and being in favor of intervention in Vietnam.  These positions would have been mainstream and 'patriotic' those days, it's only now that the civil rights battle has been won and we get to look back at those backwards times to say how bad it was.
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« Reply #78 on: February 07, 2014, 07:07:40 PM »

Hey look, it's the mandatory thread about Lovecraft's racism! ...and it's dead! Quick, my defibulator! And...CLEAR!

I actually find Lovecraft's racism, strident as it was, pretty pedestrian. It's not as troubling to me as his fascism. He believes that the cultured elite should rule all and the ignorant masses kept underheel, but exactly where and how to draw that line, who to raise up and who to stomp down, doesn't seem to worry him.

That he himself would be unlikely to come down on the right side any such line of scrimmage never seems to occur to him. "Well bred gentleman," or not, between his physical frailty, his inability to complete school or hold down a steady job, and his history of mental illness, any cold impartial "scientific" regime would probably see him as one of the less desirable elements who should be repressed for the sake of society as a whole. His intelligence, cultured air and natural curiosity would have been unlikely to balance out the cost of taking care of him.

I don't know...maybe part of his nostalgia for long-gone days came from the fantasy that, as a born gentleman, he SHOULD have had those advantages which democracy robbed the aristocracy of; servants, income from hereditary vassals, a degree of awe and respect from the peasantry, and freedom to pursue culture for it's own sake...

...None of this speculation is really about him. He died in 1937. He doesn't care. It's all about us. He didn't live to see the full horrors that fascism and Hitler would unleash on the world. We hope it would have changed his mind about a few things. But maybe it wouldn't. We'll never know. So we have to reconcile the brilliant, cheeky, cat-loving aethete who wrote all these astounding stories we love so much...with the fascist who declared how much he liked Hitler and thought Mussolini's fascist Italy would result in a cultural rebirth and renaissance.

That's OUR burden, not his.
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LambethWarp
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« Reply #79 on: February 08, 2014, 05:01:11 PM »

Ahh, *this* thread! Again...

On the topic of the older HPL being a "socialist"...well, maybe he was, maybe he wasn't (I'm still on Vol I of I Am Providence), but that's certainly not incompatible with his (still) being a racist - even if a less rabid racist than he was as a young man. A lot of prominent intellectuals in the early 20th century were both radical socialists and firm supporters of eugenics. It was by no means considered a paradoxical combination of ideologies.
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TheIdiotsLantern
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« Reply #80 on: February 08, 2014, 06:05:23 PM »

Don't get "socialism" confused with "communism." In Socialism, private ownership still exists, and everyone is rewarded according to the degree of their contribution to society. It advocates equal access to necessities to allow for self-actualization. And in theory at least, socialism could exist alongside currently existing political systems and class distinctions.

..naturally, when we actually saw "socialism" in action, it didn't quite work out that way. But in 1920, those things hadn't happened yet. Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, and numerous other important writers and thinkers of the time were avowed socialists. The socialism doesn't bother me as much as the authoritarianism...
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LambethWarp
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« Reply #81 on: February 23, 2014, 02:08:10 PM »

Don't get "socialism" confused with "communism."

I think communism can be considered a form of socialism. In early Soviet ideology, communism was an ideal; it was what socialism would become when it had spread all over the world. Hence you had a Communist Party that formed the regime in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - i.e., it was the USSR, not the USCR. Stalin later changed this by introducing the doctrine of "Communism in one country".

Though I dunno how relevant this is to left-leaning thinkers in the USA in the '20s and '30s.
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TheIdiotsLantern
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« Reply #82 on: February 23, 2014, 09:20:09 PM »

A lot of things got CALLED "socialist" that actually were not. See "National socialist party" which kind of meant the opposite of "the collective ownership of the means of production, universal access to necessary resources, and the continued existence of private property and rewards granted to individuals based on their contribution to society." "Communism" abolishes private property and allots resources based on an individuals need. It's a more extreme form of socialistic ideology.

In theory, "socialism" is the perfect political system. The only catch is a hell of a catch 22: it takes for granted that PEOPLE are perfect. And perfect people don't exist. Which is why all attempts to implement any form of socialistic or communistic governments tended to end with fear, tyranny, famine, and misery.

Cool fact though: in 1934, when Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California, he did so on a socialistic platform that advocated worker ownership of their businesses, the production of goods for use and consumption, and other reforms. And he came very, very close to being elected; his opponents actually used a very immoral smear campaign to defeat him. So in the ruinous aftermath of the Great Depression, socialistic ideals had a lot of appeal.
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LambethWarp
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« Reply #83 on: February 26, 2014, 02:05:24 PM »

I'm not a historian, so please don't take anything I say as gospel truth or anything, but I think there's a reasonable case to be made for saying that Nazi economic policy was actually fairly socialistic before they came to power. I think they tried to forge a "third way" that was (economically, at any rate) to the left of the industrial capitalism that was the norm in most of Europe at the time but not as far left as Marxism (Nazism was avowedly anti-Marxist right from the start). But when the Nazis came to power in 1933 they had to move away from socialism in order to get industrialists and financiers onboard to gear up for war. Even after that, I think you could probably say that the Nazis remained economically to the left of the governments of virtually any modern capitalist country you care to name, in that the state kept a firm control on the economy.

This diagram is interesting:



Note that Hitler is more or less centrist with regard to economics, and certainly well to the left of Thatcher (I've seen a similar diagram which, correctly, puts Tony Blair - former British prime minister and leader of what was once the UK's socialist party - nearly as far right as Thatcher).

Of course all these things depend on a certain amount of personal judgement, there are many different ways to be 'right-wing' or 'left-wing' and individuals, parties or governments may have elements of both simultaneously.

With regard to German 'national socialism' in particular, I think they may have distinguished between "good, honest German capitalism" based on industry and farming, and "bad, dishonest Jewish capitalism" based on financial speculation.

Edit: I agree with your point that socialism/communism would be the perfect political system if people were perfect. Oddly enough I think a similar claim could be made for libertarianism. Both obviously have big flaws in practice. I tend towards social democracy when it comes to economics and libertarianism with regard to personal behaviour - unfortunately I live in the UK, which is rapidly approaching corporatism with regard to economics and is increasingly authoritarian with respect to personal freedom.
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TRSwain
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« Reply #84 on: March 02, 2014, 01:27:11 PM »

(I've seen a similar diagram which, correctly, puts Tony Blair - former British prime minister and leader of what was once the UK's socialist party - nearly as far right as Thatcher).

Are you kidding? Blair should be placed in exactly the same place as Thatcher with regards to economic policy. That whole New Labour thing was a bad joke. Blair was Thatcher's heir in a way most conservatives can only dream of.
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LambethWarp
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« Reply #85 on: March 02, 2014, 04:16:10 PM »

I don't think Blair was as economically to the right as the current UK government is. New Labour was certainly big-business-friendly but it was also a party of the big state. Spending on the NHS went up massively during the Labour years, having been gradually starved of funds by the preceding Tory government - just as the current 'coalition' government is doing.
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TRSwain
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« Reply #86 on: March 03, 2014, 10:25:43 AM »

I don't know, with the coalition government has returned the ever present Tory threat of the privatisation of the NHS. The difference is that this time they might actually be able to start the process and that's thanks, in large part, to certain policy changes instigated by Blair. The increased spending on public health during the New Labour administration could also be attributed to Gordon Brown, who was an oldschool labourite. Certainly Blair wanted to recast all of our public services in the mould of private business if not actually go all the way with privatisation himself.

He definitely differed from Thatcher and Cameron in his big government type views. And one thing I'm certain even Blair would never attempt, even with all his historic short-sightedness, is to suggest that we censor the internet to please a bunch of keening Daily Mail readers.

Anyway, sorry. This isn't a British politics thread so I should get off my soapbox and talk some Lovecraft. Has anyone here read HPL's letter conversations with Robert E Howard? I haven't myself but I bet that they're rife with incite into Lovecraft's fascist and/or socialist views since Howard was more or less an anarchist.
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LambethWarp
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« Reply #87 on: October 23, 2014, 10:03:52 AM »

Hey hey, reopening an old thread...

I haven't read any of Howard's letters (or HPL's, for that matter), in fact I know very little of Howard other than that he was a friend and correspondent of HPL's and killed himself at a tragically young age. However, from what I've read of the Conan stories, they are undeniably redolent of the racial preoccupations of a white man growing up in Texas in the early 20th century.

Interestingly, it's not as straightforward as HPL's instinctive superiority towards (and fear of) anyone who wasn't of WASP ancestry, as Howard was of Irish extraction himself, and this was at a time when white WASP Americans widely regarded the Irish as being somewhere in between blacks and 'proper' white people, so he could well have faced a certain amount of xenophobic prejudice himself (although nothing like the outright racism faced by black people, of course).
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« Reply #88 on: September 01, 2016, 10:26:24 AM »

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