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Old 04-28-2017   #391
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Re: Octavia E. Butler against Lovecraft (World Fantasy Award).

Quote Originally Posted by Ancient History View Post
"The Shadow over Innsmouth" can (and in some cases, is) read as a fable of miscegenation, only substituting a fantasy race for a real-world ethnicity - which was a very common literary substitution.
As a simple textural fact neither story cites miscegeneration as a cause of the biological and moral decay they depict. Specifically interpreting them as being against race mixing and then morally condemning them based on that interpretation is on par with Evangelical Christians condemning Pokemon because they see parallels between the game and (what they imagine to be) occult practices. Older and others aren't talking about differing interpretations; they're flatly stating that these stories have racist plots.

So far as using alien and mythological beings as a metaphor for race, the trope came to fore only after WWII and was used - so far as I know - against racial prejudice at a time when neither censors nor wider audiences were as sympathetic to civil rights issues. Projecting this back on Lovecraft is anachronistic.

Quote Originally Posted by Ancient History View Post
Lovecraft's era does not justify or excuse his racism.
The Horror at Red Hook was extremely well received on publication and was once one of his most widely anthologized stories. Moral justification is a hazy matter, but my point was solely that he didn't have to engage in "dog whistles" because his views were mainstream - he was alive when the Hays Code specifically banned depicting interracial relationships in films. Note that I specified "nearly always" because The Horror at Red Hook at least does explicitly portray miscegeny as an evil.

Quote Originally Posted by Ancient History View Post
Colonial fiction in particular made "the Other" tribe exotic, alien, and possibly baneful or dangerous - and when folks like Edgar Rice Burroughs made the leap to Sword & Planet stories, they might have made the "tribes" ten feet tall with green skin and more arms, but they were still basically following the same tropes as Colonial fiction, only in a more fantastic setting. Lovecraft's "races" - especially the Deep Ones - definitely partake of this. As do Star Trek's Vulcans, Tolkien's Orcs & Elves, etc. It's become a trope of fantasy & science fiction, and Lovecraft was operating in the nebulous ground between the two.
Quite frankly, the civilizations and peoples encountered by European explorers were alien, exotic, and often dangerous. This is, of course, from a European perspective, but I never understood what other perspective Europeans were supposed to have. Either way, both pulp and mainstream writers were inspired by the accounts of exploration from the likes of James Cook, Mungo Park, Teddy Roosevelt etc. But Lovecraft - and this is why I say that such interpretations are a rough fit - was not a writer of space operas or wandering swords and sorcery cycles that took inspiration from the Age of Exploration. There's peripheral mention of voyages and jungle expeditions in the background, but when Lovecraft leaves home the setting is typically desolate and inhuman - the high ocean, the desert, or the antarctic. The civilizations encountered are extinct. Thematically, he's tapping fear of ghosts, demons, and ancient gods far more than fear of exotic peoples.
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Old 04-29-2017   #392
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Re: Octavia E. Butler against Lovecraft (World Fantasy Award).

Quote Originally Posted by Speaking Mute View Post
As a simple textural fact neither story cites miscegeneration as a cause of the biological and moral decay they depict.
They don't have to. The idea of rural degeneration from inbreeding was also prolific during Lovecraft's lifetime, and he makes clear references to that in "The Lurking Fear," "The Dunwich Horror," and "The Shadow over Innsmouth" - but in the latter two stories, the very human horror of inbreeding ultimately takes back seat to the much more cosmic horror of cosmic miscegenation.

Quote
Specifically interpreting them as being against race mixing and then morally condemning them based on that interpretation is on par with Evangelical Christians condemning Pokemon because they see parallels between the game and (what they imagine to be) occult practices.
I have no idea what you're on about, because that is not something I or anyone else said.

Quote
Older and others aren't talking about differing interpretations; they're flatly stating that these stories have racist plots.
Daniel Jose Older is ignorant. I wrote the book on the subject (quite literally) and I can say unequivocally that Lovecraft used elements of racialist beliefs in his stories. "Racist plot" is a bit of a stretch, except perhaps for "The Street" (which is a kind of nativist fable).

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So far as using alien and mythological beings as a metaphor for race, the trope came to fore only after WWII and was used - so far as I know - against racial prejudice at a time when neither censors nor wider audiences were as sympathetic to civil rights issues. Projecting this back on Lovecraft is anachronistic.
You're thinking Civil Rights-era New Wave science fiction, stuff like the classic Star Trek episode "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield," but the roots of depictions of fantasy and science fiction races are in the racialist depictions and scientific racialism of the 1890s-1930s - Arthur Machen's "Little People" and J. R. R. Tolkien's "Orcs" share a common literary ancestry in racialist categorizations of "Mongoloids" for example - and Lovecraft was aware of that in the case of Machen, because he wrote about it at some length in his letters and it influences some of his depictions of, for example, the Eskimos in "The Call of Cthulhu."

You could make the argument that Lovecraft's use of "white apes" in "Arthur Jermyn" was also a cagey allusion to having a black ancestor (since it was a very common pejorative to describe black people as ape-like at the time, which Lovecraft himself did - for example, in "Herbert West--Reanimator"), although in that case I think it's more coincidental, since HPL was riffing off of Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan setup.

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The Horror at Red Hook was extremely well received on publication and was once one of his most widely anthologized stories.
I don't know what point you're trying to support, but the fact that the story was anthologized doesn't really counter the fact that being born in a place and time where racism was prevalent doesn't mean you automatically become a racist. Lovecraft was friends with folks like James F. Morton, who was an early member of the NAACP and wrote on the "curse of race prejudice." Racism was certainly widely accepted, but it was by no means universal.

Quote
Moral justification is a hazy matter, but my point was solely that he didn't have to engage in "dog whistles" because his views were mainstream - he was alive when the Hays Code specifically banned depicting interracial relationships in films. Note that I specified "nearly always" because The Horror at Red Hook at least does explicitly portray miscegeny as an evil.
I think you're under the misapprehension; "dog whistle" suggests that Lovecraft was deliberately concealing one interpretation so that only those who were attuned to his hints would get it - this is not an argument that I, and as far as I'm aware (and I've read a lot of Lovecraft litcrit at this point) that anyone, has ever made. I am not suggesting that Lovecraft hid sub rosa racist subtext into his plots and stories; I am saying that Lovecraft was informed by and incorporated elements of racialist thought into his stories.

It's a matter of intent. Except where Lovecraft specifically says "I intended such-and-such with this story," everyone has to guess at what he means beyond the plain value of the words. At the same time, we can clearly see elements of racialist thought in his fiction - "Arthur Jermyn" for example, has the genealogical aspect of the storytelling, the biological determinism with traits that grow more severe (rather than more dilute) generation after generation (in echo of the Kalikak study), the facial angle index reference to early attempts to quantify race, etc. The issue for interpretation, then, is the finer points of what Lovecraft meant or could have meant - and the ambiguity and points for discussion are in large part one of the reasons his horror is so effective. We today still struggle with questions of "what is human?" - where does the Ape Princess fall on that scale? The fact that people in the 1920s were asking "what is human?" about black people is just a bit of kerosene on the fire. Lovecraft never came out and said "Oh yes, it was all an allegory for having a black ancestor" - and maybe he never intended it in that way at all; but the author's intent is unknown to us. The interpretation is still valid.

And interpretations change over time. Some are more valid than others - either because of the details of the story or because there is more supporting evidence for it - Older is particularly ill-informed, and I wouldn't take any of his interpretations at face value.

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Quite frankly, the civilizations and peoples encountered by European explorers were alien, exotic, and often dangerous.
Dude, we're talking stuff like Allan Quartermain's She or the lost white civilization of the week in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels; The Yellow Danger by M. P. Shiel and Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu. We are not in the real of realistic-but-slightly-sensationalized other here, we're talking straight up racist stereotypes.

Quote
But Lovecraft - and this is why I say that such interpretations are a rough fit - was not a writer of space operas or wandering swords and sorcery cycles that took inspiration from the Age of Exploration. There's peripheral mention of voyages and jungle expeditions in the background, but when Lovecraft leaves home the setting is typically desolate and inhuman - the high ocean, the desert, or the antarctic. The civilizations encountered are extinct. Thematically, he's tapping fear of ghosts, demons, and ancient gods far more than fear of exotic peoples.
Except for the descent into K'n-Y'n in "The Mound" (very Pellucidar-esque), the Yellow Peril elements in "The Call of Cthulhu," the Deep Ones in "The Shadow over Innsmouth," the lizard-beings in "In the Walls of Eryx" (with Kenneth Sterling), the lizard-beings in "The Nameless City", Surama and his gang in "The Last Test" (with de Castro), the Elder Things and Shoggoths in At the Mountains of Madness...etc. Lovecraft doesn't often go full lost-city-in-the-jungle mode, but he was definitely informed by, and to some extent operating within those familiar pulp parameters - he just wasn't an action story writer, and his "heroes" were not going to end up with the delectable but exotic native girl at the end of it.

Keep in mind: I am not dissing Lovecraft when I call him a racist, or saying that his stories have racist elements in them. Those are facts, not a put down, and they are facts that make a lot more sense when you understand them within the context of his time and literary tradition and medium.

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Old 04-29-2017   #393
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Re: Octavia E. Butler against Lovecraft (World Fantasy Award).

Quote Originally Posted by James View Post
Remember when he said white people invented the idea of ghosts being harmful?
I don't know the context, but isn't this a relatively common notion? I am speaking of respected scholars like Claude Lecouteux, with the idea that ghosts of the departed being prevalently dangerous is a European idea and a relatively recent one at that (coming from judeo-christian basis, according to people like him).

I think that it is also common to ascribe malevolent spirits from Asian culture to colonial European influence. Like how in Philippines, Aswang superstition has it basis in Church's demonization of wise women/priestesses.
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Old 04-29-2017   #394
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Re: Octavia E. Butler against Lovecraft (World Fantasy Award).

Quote Originally Posted by Hidden X View Post
I don't know the context, but isn't this a relatively common notion?
Ghost stories are the closest subject I have to anything resembling expertise, and I have never heard it before, and given literally everything I have ever heard the guy say has reeked of gibbering opportunist idiocy I'm not inclined to be charitable and suspect he has a well-sourced historical rationale for this.

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Old 04-29-2017   #395
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Re: Octavia E. Butler against Lovecraft (World Fantasy Award).

Quote Originally Posted by Hidden X View Post
[
I think that it is also common to ascribe malevolent spirits from Asian culture to colonial European influence. Like how in Philippines, Aswang superstition has it basis in Church's demonization of wise women/priestesses.
This is long debunked...
https://www.aswangproject.com/babayl...ive-deception/
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Old 04-29-2017   #396
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Re: Octavia E. Butler against Lovecraft (World Fantasy Award).

It gets tricky when discussing ghosts, demons, spirits, faeries etc. They get all mixed up and a term like Yokai seems to lump them together sometimes.

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Old 04-29-2017   #397
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Re: Octavia E. Butler against Lovecraft (World Fantasy Award).

Quote Originally Posted by Ancient History View Post
Quote
The Horror at Red Hook was extremely well received on publication and was once one of his most widely anthologized stories.
I don't know what point you're trying to support, but the fact that the story was anthologized doesn't really counter the fact that being born in a place and time where racism was prevalent doesn't mean you automatically become a racist. Lovecraft was friends with folks like James F. Morton, who was an early member of the NAACP and wrote on the "curse of race prejudice." Racism was certainly widely accepted, but it was by no means universal.

Quote
Moral justification is a hazy matter, but my point was solely that he didn't have to engage in "dog whistles" because his views were mainstream - he was alive when the Hays Code specifically banned depicting interracial relationships in films. Note that I specified "nearly always" because The Horror at Red Hook at least does explicitly portray miscegeny as an evil.
I think you're under the misapprehension; "dog whistle" suggests that Lovecraft was deliberately concealing one interpretation so that only those who were attuned to his hints would get it - this is not an argument that I, and as far as I'm aware (and I've read a lot of Lovecraft litcrit at this point) that anyone, has ever made. I am not suggesting that Lovecraft hid sub rosa racist subtext into his plots and stories; I am saying that Lovecraft was informed by and incorporated elements of racialist thought into his stories.

It's a matter of intent. Except where Lovecraft specifically says "I intended such-and-such with this story," everyone has to guess at what he means beyond the plain value of the words. At the same time, we can clearly see elements of racialist thought in his fiction - "Arthur Jermyn" for example, has the genealogical aspect of the storytelling, the biological determinism with traits that grow more severe (rather than more dilute) generation after generation (in echo of the Kalikak study), the facial angle index reference to early attempts to quantify race, etc. The issue for interpretation, then, is the finer points of what Lovecraft meant or could have meant - and the ambiguity and points for discussion are in large part one of the reasons his horror is so effective. We today still struggle with questions of "what is human?" - where does the Ape Princess fall on that scale? The fact that people in the 1920s were asking "what is human?" about black people is just a bit of kerosene on the fire. Lovecraft never came out and said "Oh yes, it was all an allegory for having a black ancestor" - and maybe he never intended it in that way at all; but the author's intent is unknown to us. The interpretation is still valid.
But Lovecraft's intentions are known. First, he was a modern fantasy writer, and a basic premise of modern fantasy is that fantastic situations are primarily intended as literal depictions of events. There are obviously some genre writers and works that root themselves in symbols and allegory, but Lovecraft just wasn't one of them. When Lovecraft is describing humans breeding with extraterrestrial beings, the whole of his aesthetics and dedication to genre fiction weighs in that he's writing about literal extraterrestrial beings rather than engaging in race metaphors.

Furthermore, the reason that I keep bringing up the publication of The Horror at Red Hook is to point out that if Lovecraft had really desired to scare his readers using miscegeny there were few social consequences that would have stopped him from doing so as literally and frequently as he used incest. He could have easily filled Innsmouth and Arkham with hundreds of Heathcliffs. On the other hand, authors who did engage in extended metaphors had identifiable political, social, or religious motives for treating their chosen subjects obliquely. If anyone had actually delivered evidence that Lovecraft was deliberately concealing alternate interpretations, I might actually respect the notion that his fiction had a thematically racist subtext - but the best argument in this direction is De Camp style meditations that Lovecraft's aliens were a subconscious, xenophobic projection.

If this were a classroom discussion of literary interpretation, I also wouldn't object to "equally valid interpretations" - but in this case, I've been personally confronted and ostracized by people for appreciating Lovecraft. Butler, Arnason, Older, etc weren't/aren't pushing for a postmodernist reading of Lovecraft.

Finally, nothing I've said implies that Lovecraft's racism was morally justified by his historical context - I don't see why I have to state this at length, but when I refer to how racist the wider public was in Lovecraft's era I'm only noting that Lovecraft's politics wouldn't have subjugated him to the same backlash we now see for authors like Orson Scott Card (or Lovecraft today). This is a descriptive statement, and one that you actually support when you list far more popular racist authors from the general time period.
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Old 04-29-2017   #398
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Re: Octavia E. Butler against Lovecraft (World Fantasy Award).

Quote Originally Posted by Speaking Mute View Post
But Lovecraft's intentions are known. First, he was a modern fantasy writer, and a basic premise of modern fantasy is that fantastic situations are primarily intended as literal depictions of events. There are obviously some genre writers and works that root themselves in symbols and allegory, but Lovecraft just wasn't one of them. When Lovecraft is describing humans breeding with extraterrestrial beings, the whole of his aesthetics and dedication to genre fiction weighs in that he's writing about literal extraterrestrial beings rather than engaging in race metaphors.
Again the author's intent is not applicable to the interpretation of their work. Your assertion on the 'basic premise of modern fantasy' is just bull####. I wouldn't say that Lovecraft went out of his way to use symbolism and allegory - and in fact wasn't fond of the kind of psychosexual symbol-searching favored by some critics - but deliberation on his part is not necessary to read in symbols or allegory into his fiction.

Quote
Furthermore, the reason that I keep bringing up the publication of The Horror at Red Hook is to point out that if Lovecraft had really desired to scare his readers using miscegeny there were few social consequences that would have stopped him from doing so as literally and frequently as he used incest.
That...does not follow. Leaving aside the raped women in "The Horror at Red Hook," there's no connection between what you just said and your conclusion.

Quote
If anyone had actually delivered evidence that Lovecraft was deliberately concealing alternate interpretations, I might actually respect the notion that his fiction had a thematically racist subtext - but the best argument in this direction is De Camp style meditations that Lovecraft's aliens were a subconscious, xenophobic projection.
You are aware that there is a difference between racist and racialist, right? And that a work can be informed by or influenced by racism without itself being an outright work of "Those people of another race are inferior to us! And want out women!" right? Because outside of a couple stories ("The Street," "The Horror at Red Hook," "Medusa's Coil") most of the racial elements in Lovecraft's fiction are not overt, they're details of the plot, background, and characterisation.

Quote
If this were a classroom discussion of literary interpretation, I also wouldn't object to "equally valid interpretations" - but in this case, I've been personally confronted and ostracized by people for appreciating Lovecraft. Butler, Arnason, Older, etc weren't/aren't pushing for a postmodernist reading of Lovecraft.
Sounds like you need a better class of friends.

Quote
Finally, nothing I've said implies that Lovecraft's racism was morally justified by his historical context - I don't see why I have to state this at length,
...because you were talking about moral justification.

Quote
but when I refer to how racist the wider public was in Lovecraft's era I'm only noting that Lovecraft's politics wouldn't have subjugated him to the same backlash we now see for authors like Orson Scott Card (or Lovecraft today). This is a descriptive statement, and one that you actually support when you list far more popular racist authors from the general time period.
The fact that Lovecraft could hypothetically have gotten away with publishing worse than he did in terms of race is not exactly a feather in his cap. The fact that other people held more extreme positions on race - publicly - does not excuse his own prejudices, but it does help to provide some context for understanding his life, beliefs, and fiction in that regard.

The crux of your argument seems to be "Well, Lovecraft could have published much worse, but he didn't, so we know that all interpretations of his work trying to find more racism than a surface-level reading of the text allows are bull####." That's false on its face - just because Lovecraft could have written worse doesn't mean he would have, and his intent is not clear - or important. There are multiple valid interpretations of Lovecraft's fiction; some have greater claim to justification for others, based on what we know of Lovecraft's life and what he said of his fiction.

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Old 04-29-2017   #399
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Re: Octavia E. Butler against Lovecraft (World Fantasy Award).

Quote Originally Posted by Speaking Mute View Post
Butler, Arnason, Older, etc weren't/aren't pushing for a postmodernist reading of Lovecraft.
Butler? Did she ever talk about Lovecraft? Unless you're talking about a different Butler?

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Old 04-29-2017   #400
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Re: Octavia E. Butler against Lovecraft (World Fantasy Award).

Quote Originally Posted by Ancient History View Post

Quote
Finally, nothing I've said implies that Lovecraft's racism was morally justified by his historical context - I don't see why I have to state this at length,
...because you were talking about moral justification.

Quote
but when I refer to how racist the wider public was in Lovecraft's era I'm only noting that Lovecraft's politics wouldn't have subjugated him to the same backlash we now see for authors like Orson Scott Card (or Lovecraft today). This is a descriptive statement, and one that you actually support when you list far more popular racist authors from the general time period.
The fact that Lovecraft could hypothetically have gotten away with publishing worse than he did in terms of race is not exactly a feather in his cap. The fact that other people held more extreme positions on race - publicly - does not excuse his own prejudices, but it does help to provide some context for understanding his life, beliefs, and fiction in that regard.

The crux of your argument seems to be "Well, Lovecraft could have published much worse, but he didn't, so we know that all interpretations of his work trying to find more racism than a surface-level reading of the text allows are bull####." That's false on its face - just because Lovecraft could have written worse doesn't mean he would have, and his intent is not clear - or important. There are multiple valid interpretations of Lovecraft's fiction; some have greater claim to justification for others, based on what we know of Lovecraft's life and what he said of his fiction.
That fact that you're actually arguing with me about what I'm saying should give you little bit of pause here. I can understand confusing a normative and descriptive case if someone just says "X died in a car accident because they weren't wearing a seat belt." - but when it's stated repeatedly that what they meant was the causal reading of the statement, that old Academic idea of the charitable reading is warranted even if you're not completely satisfied with the phrasing and grammar. If this is representative of how you go about your literary criticism then I can rest my case.

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