Sunday, June 1, 2014

from S. T. Joshi's new blog

 Above is HPL's silhouette, by Perry, a Black sidewalk artist.  From I Am Providence, Vol. II, page 587:  "On July 2 Sonia and Lovecraft took a trip to Coney Island, where he had cotton candy for the first time.  On this occasion Sonia had a silhouette of herself made by an African American named Perry; Lovecraft had had his own silhouette done on March 26.  This silhouette has become very well known in recent years, and its very faithful (perhaps even a little flattering) rendition has caused Lovecraft's profile to become an icon..."

People often ask me how I can so admire, even love, H. P. Lovecraft when he was such a wretched bigot, so anti-Semite and racist and homophobic.  We are, in so many instances, who we were raised to be.  That doesn't excuse our weaknesses and faults, and sometimes we are able to transcend our origins and be, absolutely, our radical selves.  In regard to his ignorant racism, Lovecraft was no so fortunate.  When he was very young he wrote, for the entertainment and to win the approval of his mother and aunts, a poem "On the Creation of Niggers," and it is this poem (which he never had publish'd) that has so enraged modern Internet critics of Lovecraft that they seem to want to dismiss Lovecraft entirely because of it.  In so doing, they themselves behave like intolerant bigots.

S. T. has addressed this is his new blog, posted to-day.  I am quoting from it without his permission (it's late and he's probably gone to sleep).

"There appears to be a growing tendency among certain commentators (I will not call them critics or scholars, for they clearly seem to be neither) on Lovecraft's racism to the exclusion of just about every other facet of his life, work, and thought.  This itself is a curious cultural phenomenon, but the upshot is a severe distortion of the overall thrust of his philosophy and his literary work.  Why, I wonder, do we not focus on Lovecraft's atheism; his remarkable conversion from political conservatism to moderate socialism; his keen appreciation of natural beauty; his antiquarianism; his travels up and down the Eastern Seaboard (and, more generally, his philosophy of travel--i.e., the role of travel and the new stimuli it engenders upon the creative imagination); his sharp analyses of contemporary political, social, and cultural tendencies?  All these things seem to me to be much more significant, both to his thought and to his work, than racism.

"A recent writer (who will remain nameless, for I do not wish to give publicity to his screed) has chimed in on the issue, claiming that virtually the entirety of Lovecraft's fiction focuses on racism, xenophobia, and so forth.  This writer has apparently replied entirely on secondary sources for his assertions and done no original research into Lovecraft's life or thought; and on its face his assertion is preposterous.  Here are the facts:

     --In the totality of Lovecraft's surviving letters, I would be surprised if racial issues are
        addressed in more than 5% of the text--perhaps no more than 1% of the text;
     --Not one of Lovecraft's friends--and dozens of them wrote accounts of their association with him--
        has ever stated that Lovecraft uttered any racist sentiment in their presence;
     --There are perhaps only five stories in Lovecraft's entire corpus of 65 original tales  ('The
        Street,' 'Arthur Jermyn,' 'The Horror in Red Hook,' 'He,' and 'The Shadow over Innsmouth')                         that have racism as their central core; and in several of these, the racist element is expressed
        indirectly, symbolically, or metaphorically;
     --Several of Lovecraft's tales of hereditary degeneration (e.g., 'The Lurking Fear,' 'The Rats in the
        Walls') depict aristocratic white families suffering the degeneration.

"The writer of the article concludes by considering Bryan Moore's splendid bust of Lovecraft and claiming that the inscription should read: 'H. P. Lovecraft / Racist and Anti-Semite / Also wrote stories.'  The writer may think this a clever witticism, but it can quickly be turned against him.  A fair number of authors and other figures can be shown to have serious deficiencies in their personal lives or philosophies."

S. T. then goes on to name some, such as Poe, CAS, REH, Hemingway and others.  S. T. concludes, "I trust you see my point.  It is, in short, a tad risky to judge figures of past historical epochs by the standards of our own perfect moral, political, and spiritual enlightenment.  Difficult as it might be to comprehend, people of the future might make similar judgments on us!"

In America, racial segregation was enforced in the United States military until 1948.  Shirley Temple wasn't allowed to dine with co-star Bo Jangles in racially segregated Hollywood cafeterias.  America schools in the South weren't desegregated until the bleedin' 1960s.  American racism kicked in to a new high with the election of our first Black president.  When asked what was the one question that he could ask Lovecraft, S. T., a dark man, replied, "I'd ask, why were you racist?"  It seems illogical to Lovecraft's biographer, who has come to know HPL intimately, that a man otherwise so intelligent could, in this one instance, be so stupid.

I celebrate what is good and brilliant about H. P. Lovecraft.  I came to love his personality in the 1970s from reading the volumes of SELECTED LETTERS published by Arkham House.  I admire HPL as an excellent writer, as the author, above all others, who has blessed me with my own creative existence.  As one of partial Jewish heritage, I vomit on Lovecraft's anti-Semitism.  As an In-Your-Face Queer, I spit at his loathing of effeminate men.  Love Live We Queens!  As an artist who is as obsess'd as he was with writing weird fiction that is as close to Art as my puny talents can make it, I bow before him and kiss his titan toe.

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