Review of "H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life" by Michael Houellebecq

Michael Houellbecq’s (pronounced “Wellbeck”) Against the World, Against Life is a literary manifesto. Neither a literary biography nor an annotated anthology, Against the World is rather a vehicle for spreading the Lovecraftian voice in literature. Lovecraft’s writing style, and not just his written thoughts, are held up as examplars for all future writers. We should be so lucky.

H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life

Some deeper words are below the fold, but to keep your attention I’ll say a few words about sex and money. Or rather, Houelbecq’s interpretation of Lovecraft’s odd view of sex and money. Sex is never directly referenced in anything Lovecraft wrote, and has only two purposes in his universe: as a vehicle for the propagation of the human species (hardly a worth cause) or (infinitely worse) a vehicle for miscegenation. Money is known only by its absence: the declining fortunes of late ancestors which allow the narrator some measure of intellectual freedom.

Many critics of Lovecraft argue that the position of sex and wealth in Lovecraft’s work are merely the author’s quirks, and that Lovecraftian fiction can be written that incorporate different views. Houelbecq would disagree, and quotes Lovecraft (page 58):

“When I contemplate man, I wish to contemplate those characteristicks that elevate him to a human state, and those adornments which lend to his actions the symmetry of creative beauty. ‘Tis not that I wish false pompous thoughts and motives imputed to him in the Victorian manner, but that I wish his composition justly aprais’d, with stress lay’d upon those qualities which are peculiarly his, and without the silly praise of such beastly things as he holds in common with any hog or stray goat.”

If the point is unclear, a second point is given on the same page: I do not think that any realism is beautiful.

Against the World meditates mainly on eight stories that Houllebecq calls the “great texts”:

  • 1926’s The Call of Cthulhu,
  • 1927’s The Colour out of Space,
  • 1928’s The Dunwich Horror,
  • 1930’s The Whisperer in the Darkness,
  • 1931’s At the Mountains of Madness,
  • 1932’s Dreams of the Witch-House,
  • 1932’s The Shadow over Innsmouth, and
  • 1934’s The Shadow out of Time
  • These great texts serve as a deliberate rejection of reality. In every one, the real world is revealed to be terrible and those who are truly protected and loved do not know about it. Decline is everywhere, but the lucky do not know about it. The fortunate live only in nostalgia. Witness the Norwegian wife in the Call of Cthulhu, and the unlucky star-headed things who awoke At the Mountains of Madness.

    Against the World also addresses Lovecraft’s racism. And Lovecraft was a racist in the true sense. His hierarchy seemd to be headed by Anglo-Saxons, then other north-western Europeans, then “Italico-Semitico-Mongoloid” (Italian, Jewish, and/or Asian) persons, and lastly blacks. Yet Lovecraft’s racism was odd, as it centered on his fondness for the Puritan rejection of humanity. He saw no people in history more determined to separate themselves from Creation as the pilgrim settlers. No people, it seemed to him, were more clean or hygienic than those who did not wish to be people.

    H.P. Lovecraft was a philosopher and a writer of literature, and is perhaps best complemented by C.S. Lewis. Lovecraft’s stance against the world and against life is nearly identical to the mission of the National Institute of Coordinate Experiments from Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. And Lovecraft and Lewis agreed on the nature macrobes — the larger, stronger, and smarter creatures which must exist if the universe is hospital to life: they would be against us, in the way that we are against flies. Ultimately, what separates Lovecraft from Lewis, who recognize the failure of time and space to exist at a human scale, is Christianity. God grace to flesh is central to the Christian faith, but Lovecraft, like Jonah, consciously rejects it because of what such grace implies.

    Patrons of Lovecraft’s art have never had it so good. Many of his stories and poems are available online, and descriptive works (such as The Annotated HP Lovecraft) are now on the market. Even the Library of America has a pretentious Tales edition of some of the great works. Against the World is a brilliant addition to this companions of the literature.

    H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life is a beautiful defense of Lovecraft, quirks and all. Anyone who has felt drawn to the world that HP wrote into existence — R’lyeh, Innsmouth, Arkham, and all the rest — should buy this book.

    Houllebecq doesn’t much address Christianity — that last paragraph was more addition — but he does add some more thoughts on literature and life. The commandment, “Attack the story like a radiant suicide; utter the great NO to life without weakness; then you will see a magnificent cathedral, and your senses, vectors of unutterable derangement, will map out an integral delirium that will be lost in the unnameable architecture of time,” can be assembled from Against the World’s chapter headers, as the book’s prologue (by Stephen King) points out.

    H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life is available for $12.24 from

    Other reviews are particular. Rick Kleffel emphasizes Houllebecq’s line, “Absolute hatred of the world in general, aggravated by an aversion for the modern world in particular. This summarizes Lovecraft’s attitude fairly accurately.” Lee Rourke ties the book into Hollebecque’s own writing style, and his run-ins with French censors. Emerald City compares Lovecraft to Tolkein while pointing out the book’s flaws. Dr. Pedro Blas Gonzalez advocates Against the World even for those who have never read Lovecraft. Michael Crisco pens a passionately critical attac on Houellebecq that misses the point, I think, but is still worth reading.

    Lastly, for those considering buying the book, translator Robin Mackay posted a draft translation on his blog (pdf).)

    iPod Reloaded, Part II: Broken, Fixed, Upgraded

    Last time, I mentioned that I was sending in my iPod to service to iFixiPodsFast. I heard about iFiPF from a comment at Geek Technique, and their price for upgrading my iPod mini to an 8 GB flash-memory machine was about half what a new 8 GB flash iPod Nano costs. Additionally, I was cut a $20 discount in return for “a little word of mouth,” so I thought blogging my experience with the company was fair. Well, yesterday USPS delivery confirmation reported the package arrived safely…

    And today I got the following message:

    I noticed when I opened it up that a chip fell out. I then figured out that your logic board wasn’t working correctly (wasn’t recognizing the replacement flash drive)… well needless to say I found the part where the chip had fallen off and soldered it back on and the iPod is working so far. I still have to test it out further to make sure that it will work correctly but regardless I just wanted to email you and let you know why this process was taking a while (normally your iPod would have shipped yesterday)

    So my machine is more broken than I thought it was. But the work looks the work’s been done. I appreciate iFixiPodsFast‘s quick service and communication. Hopefully I’ll soon my jamming to my crazy tunes again.

    I’ll keep you updated.

    iPod Reloaded, a tdaxp series
    1. A Shot in the Dark
    2. Broken, Fixed, Upgraded
    3. It works!

    An Odd Dream

    I dreamt I was on a game show similar to the Amazing Race. We were in the United States, in a small town that seemed very familiar. I thought I knew the name of the town in the dream, but now that I am awake I cannot place it.

    We needed a ride to someplace in the country, but we did not have our own transportation and it looked hard to arrange it. Somehow we spied my grandfather there, and the task ended up having nothing to do with in the countryside. My grandfather could either redecorate a a building to look like a schoolhouse/courtroom (I knew the task’s name in the dream, but can’t remember it know. Something like “Legal Eagle” or something), or else my grandfather could do another task across the street at the whitewashed firehall. My grandpa started walking at an angle across the state, but I saw that it was hard for him to walk so encouraged him to do the task that was nearer.

    The room was dark as he started working, but as it continued the room became well lit.

    He went to work, and we were about done before the other team arrived. I went across the room to a stage/closet (I can’t remember if it changed in the dream or I merely walked from one to the other) to airbrush some paint. We were done, and I say my aunt and her granddaughter (my cousin). My cousin and I recited the Hail Mary (the only words of the whole dream I remember, and which was odd as neither are Catholic). We were asked to stay for dinner, but we responded that we had to continue with the race.

    Eastern Icons and Catholic Art

    Phoicon has joined the team over at Amendment Nine, and his second post takes a shot at this humble blog:

    Dan, the author of the blog TDAXP, was a favorite of Federalist X’s. I have no idea why. I’ve visited Dan’s blog often. The vast majority of what he has to say is completely incomprehensible, though there is a good deal of the Catholic guilt thrown in so it isn’t all incomprehensible to me I suppose.

    and, more interestingly, at my Easter message

    Not religiously correct?

    Phoicon’s critique is direct, and well thought out:

    The drawing is in fact a mockery of Christ. It is laughing in the face of the resurrection. The artist undoubtedly was amused, like most easterners so cynically are, at the notion that the dead were raised. The Buddha-like hand gestures again show disdain for Christianity and certainly for the Orthodox faith. The whole thing is an abomination. One must wonder whether Dan posted the picture as an insult to Christians intentionally or just naively?

    Phicon seems to prefer a more Greek form of iconography:

    Icon of The Risen Christ


    Here is no faceless godhead, but a man. A strong man victoriously lifting the dead from their tombs. He has conqured death and is unblemished. Everyone is beneath him as he lefts the dead from their eternal slumber. This is Jesus, son of Man, winning the fight.

    Again, Phoicon chose is thoughts well. He is correct in his condemnation of the Byzantine artwork. But, I think, wrong in his negative criticism…

    The reason I chose to go with a work by He Qi was his stunningly beautiful painting of Saint Paul being called on the road to Damascus. The portrait is striking,

    The Calling of Saint Paul

    More unrealistic even that European renditions

    The Conversion of Saint Paul

    He Qi captures the moment in a foreign, stylized manner. He gives us not a photograph of what happened (in the manner that the Passion of the Christ gives a photographic account of the crucifixion) but something to remember it by.

    And this, something to remember by, is what we mean by “icon.” The cross and crucifixes, the depictions of Mary and the Saints, that the iconoclasts smashed where not powers and principalities apart from God, but rather tools to help us remember the life and death of Our Lord, the Queen of the Angels, and all those who follow him. Likewise, the family is an icon of the Holy Trinity, as the love that connects each person in the family reminds us of the Perfect Love connecting the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as three persons, in one God.

    Which brings us back to the icon that so enraged Phoicon

    Faux Iconography?

    Whether this art is an icon or not pivots on one point: does it help you remember the Resurrection of Our Lord. If yes, then it is an icon. If not, then it is not.

    This is true whether or not it embraces & extends Buddhism to its logical completion (indeed, the logical completion of all things): Love.

    Hear also: The episode Iconoclasm: What’s that?, from Rock Solid with Mark Shea, a podcast by Catholic Exchange.

    iPod Reloaded, Part I: A Shot in the Dark

    Well, it finally happened. After 20 months of loyal service, I dropped my iPod mini one too many times. Various errors came up, and troubleshooting quickly revealed that its harddrive had failed.

    I had got it cheap some time ago because Apple was transitioning from the (cheap, size-of-a-card-deck, hard-drive-driven) iPod MInis to the (more expensive, size-of-a-gum-pack, flash-memory-driven) iPod Nanos. Even after all this time, buying a new 4GB nano would be more expensive ($199) than what I paid for a mini ($149). Actually “upgrading” to an 8 GB nano ($249) would be as expensive as a 30 GB iPod.

    Happily, I came across Geek Technique and its series on replacing the iPod Mini’s harddrive with flash memory.

    Major Surgery

    From there i found iFix iPods Fast, and there $144 deal of a flash upgarde to 8GB, service, and warrenty. I wrote in confirming the price, and the owner solicited a $20 rebate in exchange for some press. So here it is, tdaxp iPod payola.

    What happens next? I’m not sure. I paid for shipping, paid iFixIpodsFast, and sent off my former iPod mini. Will my iPod come back, flash-based, double-sized, and longer lasting than ever before?

    A Happy Ending?

    Will it catch on fire and explode? Stay tuned, and find out!

    iPod Reloaded, a tdaxp series
    1. A Shot in the Dark
    2. Broken, Fixed, Upgraded
    3. It works!

    He is Risen

    If it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).

    When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

    But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

    “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ “

    Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8)

    Happy Easter!

    Review of "Forbidden City Cop"

    Forbidden City Cop‘s plot, such as it is, is of the evil Gum Kingdom’s quests to conquer the Chinese Empire. The simpleminded and friendly Emperor is no match for the clever Gum barbarians, and from the offer of a concubine to the capture of a space alien, the Emperor believes & accepts every Gum entreaty. It’s up to doctor who moonlights as an Imperial Bodyguard and inventor, Ling Ling Fat (“008”, Stephen Chow), to save the day.

    Chow’s films are a combination of lighthearted physical comedy and commentary on culture. The recent Shaolin Soccer (2001) is a masterful example of this, combining the rise of an improbably sports team (a la The Longest Yard) with a realist examination of contemporary urban China. Forbidden City Cop is an earlier example of the same themes, deftly combining western imports (UFOs, the Academy Awards, spy thrillers) with traditional (ancient heroes, an Empire in distress) and contemporary (kung fu) themes.

    The only downside was the subtitles, sometimes hardly readable because of their positioning on the screen. Still, the film was funny and cute, and I recommend it. I rate it 8 / 10.

    Rent from Greencine. (Currently out of stock at Amazon.)

    Review of "Dark Days"

    Dark Days is an amazing movie, and thanks to DVD technology it’s even a better disk. Which this film. Watch these movies.

    The film “Dark Days” chronicles the lives of “home owners” living under the Amtrak tracks in New York City. For the past twenty or thiryy years abandond sections of the New York subway were used as housing by the homeless. In the dark drank tunnels, the residents had guard dogs, locked doors, and thanks to the soviet-style infrastructure of the subway, electricity. Residents ranged from the mentally fried, to thieves, to a man you can’t help rooting for. The documentary unexpectedly complicates as armed Amtrak police order the eviction of the hidden city. The ending is almost too cinematic to be true, though generally happy endings are dogged by the eventual deaths of three people you grow to know.

    A True Independent

    The “making of” documentary, called “Dark Days: The Making of A True Independent” tells the equally amazing story of how the work came to be. When the filmmaker says, “I wasn’t thinking of making a film at worst,” your first reaction is “of course…..” Then you learn that had never made a movie before, had never used film before, and had never short video before. I don’t want to ruin any of the incredible events from between the director hearing of the underground city to the multiple Sundance awards, because I want you to see for yourself.

    Dark Days and Dark Days: The Making of a True Independent are both incredible. Dark Days itself slows down a bit in the middle, so the 40 minute mark may be a good time to fire of the making-of featurette. Combined, both make two solid hours. I rate this film 9 / 10.

    Rent from Greencine. Buy from Amazon.

    Review of "A Prairie Home Companion"

    A pretentious train wreck of a good idea, A Prairie Home Companion is exactly like the film version of the radio show that it is. Only worse. While while A Prairie Home Companion is merely a pretentious few hours of nostalgia, the movie is a cavalcade of all that is perceived by stupid by a distant, out of touch elite.

    Radio like you’ve never seen it before. Or would want to.

    The idea behind A Prairie Home Companion, for those who haven’t visited Garrison Keiler‘s Lake Wobegon for themselves, is that one can somehow listen to a radio show from sixty-some years ago. Old style advertisement, music, and dramatic shorts make you think “this is clever” when you first hear it. Followed rapidly by “What else is on,” because A Prairie Home Companion is far better as a nostalgia trip than either a recreation of the world that was. Nor it is very funny. A laugh every fifteen minutes isn’t “funny.”

    In spite of these faults, the radio program at least knows what it is nostalgic for: late 1940s radio in the upper Midwest. The film only knows that it’s a show for “stupid” people, and that all such country bumpkins are alike.

    So one personality has a thick and painfully thick Minnesota accent. Two are cowboys, because presumably farmers and ranchers were coterminous in place and time. We have southern revival-style music mixed freely with paeans to specific Minnesota placenames. An “angel” walks with a soul singer, neither having much to do with the show’s sense of place.

    A Joke, but not a Funny one

    In A Prairise Home Companion, Hollywood presents up with a coalition-of-the-oppressed view of the past. Countryfolk are stupid, ignorant, and all the same. To complete the effect, throw in an arrogant businesslike Texan whose “eyes do not focus” and a suicidal sophisticate played by Lindsay Lohan. Yes, Lindsay Lohan.

    I give it five out of ten. If you’re into pain with occasional bursts of pleasure but don’t have a knife handy, A Prairie Home Companion is for you.

    Rent from Greencine. Buy from Amazon.