The Call of Cthulhu

 

 

What’s the point of H P Lovecraft?

We’d laugh at him when we were growing up: ape his funny yokel accents, shake our heads at his racism, sneer at his propensity to stack adjectives; it was a way of excusing ourselves our own racism and snobbery, I guess.

That’s the thing: we who are closeted behind the barricades of the western world are not as distant from the attitudes expressed in the stories of H P Lovecraft as we might like. You can say, “I didn’t choose this,” or, “I won’t do this,” but some of those ideas are embedded into the structure of our language, disguised as ‘common sense’ or patriotism. H P Lovecraft reveals what lies beneath the deep-seated and intractable issue of racism: revulsion and a refusal to face the truth.

He’s also one of very few writers to find an original approach to describing the Real; what’s written isn’t always willed by its writer in the absolute sense, and connotation can be as important as denotation to artistic longevity.

Michel Houellebecq – writing before his own talent and notoriety made him famous – makes a good case for H P Lovecraft’s creative importance in H P Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (translated into English by Dorna Khazeni in 2005 and republished by Gollancz in 2008): it is fundamentally an existentialist argument – one about how Lovecraft combined lyricism and delirium to reveal a deeper truth about human estrangement:-

“I perceived with horror that I was growing too old for pleasure. Ruthless Time had set its fell claw upon me, and I was 17. Big boys do not play in toy houses and mock gardens, so I was obliged to turn over my world in sorrow to another and younger boy who dwelt across the lot from me. And since that time I have not delved in the earth or laid out paths and roads. There is too much wistful memory in such procedure, for the fleeting joy of childhood may never be recaptured. Adulthood is hell.”

Colonial powers refuse to face the truth about their impact on the world not because they are old but because they are infantile: that’s my position, at least. Umberto Eco does a great job of summarising the issue in his article on Ur-Fascism: what is presented as rational is in fact deeply irrational. Here’s a quotation from one of Lovecraft’s letters I found in Howard Ingham’s review of the film Jug Face (2013):-

“As for the Nazis – of their crudeness there be no dispute, yet in many ways the impartial analyst cannot help feeling a certain sympathy for some phases of their position. They are fighting, in their naive & narrow way, a certain widespread & insidious mood of recent years which certainly spells potential decadence for the western world – & one can’t help respecting that however ugly & even dangerous some of them may appear to be. Hitler is no Mussolini – but I’m damned if the poor chap isn’t profoundly sincere & patriotic, it is to his credit rather than otherwise that he doesn’t subscribe to the windy flatulence of the idealistic ‘liberals’ whose policies lead only to chaos & collapse.”

The basis of racism is fear; I think we need to get deeper into this fundamental truth rather than turn away from it. Unconscious impulses require creative understanding.

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The song “Whateley” comes from the album We Bake Our Bread Beneath Her Holy Fire by Thumpermonkey.

Issue 2

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“Imagine the perplexity of a man outside time and space, who has lost his watch, his measuring rod and his tuning fork.”

Alfred Jarry
Exploits and Opinions of Doctor Faustrall Pataphysician



Issue 2 of Machineries of Joy is dedicated to the Nørwegian Surreal and includes contributions from:

Colin Beaver
Elizabeth Lovegrove
Jeanette McCulloch
John Rose
Matthijs Holter
Ole Peder Giæver
Ralph Lovegrove
Steve Dempsey
Tore Nielsen

Here is the PDF:

Nørwegian Surreal

Creative Agenda

Social media has turned into a game of dodge the 200 Word RPG Challenge entry, so I haven’t been online quite as much. Judging begins on April 26th (Wednesday), so I’ll probably release Issue 2 of Machineries of Joy on Monday or Tuesday. It’s on roleplaying games from the Nørwegian Surreal and includes work from the following array of wonderful people:

Colin Beaver
Elizabeth Lovegrove
Jeanette McCulloch
John Rose
Matthijs Holter
Ole Peder Giæver
Ralph Lovegrove
Steve Dempsey
Tore Nielsen

City of Eyes
“City of Eyes” by John Rose

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Mad, Bad or Dangerous to Know?

Issue 2 of Machineries of Joy, a fanzine on roleplaying games from the Nørwegian Surreal, has doubled in size but I’m now halfway through laying it out. The main image is the character sheet for a hack of Tarot-horror game Psychosis (Charles Ryan, John Fletcher, 1993) called Infernal Desire Machines. I’ve just reread Steve Dempsey’s riotous-but-playful critique of “creative agenda” Tbilisi: it’s inspired by Georgian Dada and is a lot of fun. John Rose has supplied another collage for Steve’s game. It’s beautiful.

Fictoplasm 2/03

Fictoplasm is a podcast about turning fiction into roleplaying games.

Ralph Lovegrove and I chat about Angela Carter’s wonderful novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman in the third episode of its second series:-

http://www.fictoplasm.net/podcast/episode-203-the-infernal-desire-machines-of-doctor-hoffman-by-angela-carter/

There’s also this great episode from the first series in which Ralph chats to Dave Morris and Tim Harford about the Lyonesse trilogy by Jack Vance:-

http://www.fictoplasm.net/podcast/xmas-episode-01-lyonesse-by-jack-vance/



 

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The Squatter in the Loft

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That the was name of the story on which SF writer Jane P Richards was working in our game of Left Coast last night.

It’s a great game: brief, full of flavour and very playful about the long-mooted relationship between madness and creativity. The set-up procedures are a little intense – lots of lists and things to remember – but part of the game in themselves, really; once we got going, we found it easy to play into the themes and out the other side.

The Squatter in the Loft was a tale of a soldier returning from Vietnam with a magician from the medieval city of Angkor Wat living in his head. It was a thinly-veiled portrayal of Jane’s annoying neighbour Elliot Spangler and it quickly emerged that Jane had (a) failed to get the story published and (b) been reduced to selling a “slice-of-life” series of pieces on Elliot to the nearby San Francisco Examiner; this, in turn, had attracted the attention of the FBI, who had sent agent Felix Hamilton to pose as her new landlord.

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Meet Elliot Spangler.
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Jane understands Elliot much more clearly now.

Space Monkey’s performance as Elliot Spangler was hilarious and Simon and I struggled to hold it together. We agreed that it felt like the pilot of some tripped-out sitcom and we’ll probably return for another episode.

A nefarious combination of train strikes and work and childcare commitments are wreaking havoc with our group at the moment and it felt good to be playing again. Back to Trail of Cthulhu next, as we finish off events in London before moving onto the wonderful Dreamhounds of Paris.

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The Mephisto Waltz


The Mephisto Waltz eschews the traditional approach to a story of the supernatural – much of the tension of which comes from not knowing to what extent it is true or by what means it is making itself felt to the otherwise rational sensibilities of its protagonists – in favour of colourful effects, fancy dress and lurid dream sequences. The film has all of the allure and none of the ambiguity of the subgenre of folk Horror from which it inherits its visual register: a black dog wears the latex face of a man, California socialites enjoy Sex unrestrained by the bourgeois confines of marriage and a soft-focus female-only nudity extrudes decorously onto the screen at opportune moments. Where the typical “folk horror” set-up might involve an isolated location at which apparently-outmoded beliefs announce themselves through some violent or supernatural event, one of the form’s late-1960s variants reverses the metropolitan person adrift in a landscape motif to bring the Fantastika of the old country to the City, often via a secret society of witches or Satanists. The success of Rosemary’s Baby (1967), adapted from the novel by Ira Levin, set the tone for this slow-burn urban alternative: the more gradual the crescendo of its narrative, the greater the impact of its final scene. The Mephisto Waltz swaps the tension of not quite knowing for the drama of not knowing what might happen next. It is easy to see why the film failed at the box office and easy too to see why it has since gained a cult following:-

The Mephisto Waltz

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Tank Girl


Earth’s drought-stricken water supply of 2033 is monopolized by “Water & Power”, led by Villain Kesslee (McDowell), a militarized corporation which first captures Tank Girl (Petty) and her young friend Sam (Ramsower) and then puts Tank Girl and in-house Transportation-expert Jet Girl (Watts) to work luring a troublesome band of Genetically-Engineered Mutants known as “Rippers” – made by combining the DNA of humans and kangaroos – out into the open. Tank Girl makes the acquaintance of a modified M5A1 Stuart tank (“The sheer size of it!” she exclaims, fondling the gun-muzzle, “I’m in love!”) and the resulting confrontation sees the Rippers wound Kesslee – subsequently restored in suitably lurid fashion as a Cyborg – and Tank Girl and Jet Girl escape by tank and by plane respectively. They follow a lead to Sex club Liquid Silver where the Madame (Magnuson) intends to put pre-pubescent Sam to work servicing the depraved desires of paedophile Rat Face (Pop). The duo humiliate the Madame and the other occupants of the club by making them perform Cole Porter’s Let’s Do It (1928) at gunpoint, whereupon Water & Power soldiers storm the impromptu song-and-dance number and recapture Sam. Tank Girl and Jet Girl discover the desert hide-out of the Rippers and inveigle themselves into their affections by taking part in a Jazz-poetry inflected Religious festival and, despite the suspicions of Ripper T-Saint (Ice-T), are trusted by the Rippers to use their vehicles to seize a shipment of Weapons intended for Water & Power – but this proves to be a trap. Kesslee reveals that Tank Girl has been bugged all along and informs her that child protégé Sam is trapped in a pipe of rapidly-filling water. A comic book-style fight ensues and Tank Girl short-circuits Kesslee’s cybernetic rigging by injecting him with one of his own weapons: a handheld hypodermic capable of turning blood into water:-

Tank Girl

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Six Great Films (about the Patriarchy by the Patriarchy)



  • 1. The Dark Knight Rises
    One of the most unsettling films I’ve ever seen. My partner loved it. “I like his car,” she says. “But… it’s about the supremacy of fascism,” I splutter. “Yeah,” she smiles, “I like his torso too.” That old Sylvia Plath line from ‘Daddy’ comes to mind: every woman loves a fascist. Scary but instructive.
  • 2. Destry Rides Again
    Ooo, it’s Jimmy Stewart in a tight-fitting cowboy suit. But hang on, he won’t use his gun. What does his gun symbolise? Yup. Meanwhile, Marlene Dietrich’s singing: “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have”. I think we know, don’t you? It’s gayer than Top Gun.
  • 3. Get Carter
    Michael Caine’s niece is raped on film for the purposes of pornography. (Try not to cry.) His response is to fight the patriarchy with the tools of the patriarchy: violence, intimidation and murder. Then he dies. John Osborne mooches about in an unconvincing neck-beard. One of the bleakest and most truthful films ever made.
  • 4. Solaris
    Planetary scientist Kris Kelvin is haunted by his suicidal girlfriend. What does she represent? Guilt, an imaginary family, the epistemology of science itself; he’s separated subjects from objects, thoughts from feelings, in pursuit of data. Men are like that. He gets found out.
  • 5. Blue Velvet
    Masterpiece: I dare you to disagree. If you have to rape your mother to get it up, we’re all in trouble. And yet… all those robins together at the end: and those firemen at the beginning. Is that the patriarchy getting it together? It’s clear we’ll need a woman’s help to achieve that.
  • 6. Mad Max: Fury Road
    A film that wears its symbolism on Charlize Theron’s sleeve: bullet farms, corrupt bloodlines, threatening baroque skies. The leads underplay their roles to bring the background into the foreground: the old family structures have broken down and the big guy makes no sense anymore. Slow down: this is home.