With HBO’s Lovecraft Country based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name offering a new episode each week, and Black Americans and protestors being shot and villainized as speakers at the Republican National Convention and pundits at Fox News call for more “law and order” (i.e. targeting Black Americans and the #BlackLivesMatter movement), it’s time to consider another recent novel that has combined cosmic horror and Jim Crow America: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle.
These photos from the kenoshanews.com show American citizens last night marching and calling for action to address yet another shooting of a Black American that begs any explanation (Jacob Blake shot seven times in the back at point-blank range as he enters his car). For many Americans, the horror show that is on display at the very least brings up “conflicted feelings” about the past, present and future of this country. For other Americans, this is exactly what they want–repression and suppression of non-whites. Victor LaValle dedicates his novel The Ballad of Black Tom with these words, “For H.P. Lovecraft, with all my conflicted feelings.”
The conflict lies with a fan of supernatural horror or cosmic horror, like LaValle, relishing the fear-inducing world of Lovecraft, while at the same time being repelled by Lovecraft’s racist and xenophobic writings, such as On the Creation and The Street. The first work, a poem, is referred to and discussed in Lovecraft Country, and is one of the ways that the novel and series mix the reality of America’s history and its fascination with horror.
This conflicted and worried state of mind looks to me much like Dave Palumbo’s imagining entitled The Old Ones Return. Along with Covid-19 and Hurricane Laura, this is a world many Americans find themselves occupying these days. Especially given the bright lights and phones shining on America’s ongoing racist culture with demonstrations following the murder of Black American citizens by the police and the deeply woven narratives of white supremacy speaking loudly throughout law enforcement and the very political body of this country . . . such as the “Thing in The White House’s” Republican National Convention warning us about non-whites in the suburbs. Oh my God! Could it be true? Yes “The Thing in The White House” appears to be a character who has stepped right out of H.P. Lovecraft’s racist and xenophobic America bringing its cult and minions in order to submerge the world in fear and hate . . . while making money.
Recent articles such as We Can’t Ignore H.P. Lovecraft’s White Supremacy by Wes House, Reframing The Racism In “The Call Of Cthulhu” by Morgan Davie, H.P. Lovecraft: Misanthropy And The Anthropocene by Rich Will, American Dread: Alan Moore And The Racism of H.P. Lovecraft by Bobby Derie chart the deep prejudices held by Lovecraft, yet also held by many if not a majority of Americans throughout the country’s history including contemporary times . . . as in now.
Ah yes, Cthulhu Rising by DevCS. So, I’m going to share my musings on LaValle and Lovecraft over a few postings along with views of America’s history of discrimination and segregation up close and personal with America’s literary traditions of being horrified by ourselves and what we’ve done. But first, as way of a prologue, my definition of how horror fiction works for me, especially cosmic horror, in the context of these postings.
What Nick Cave gave perfect word to in this classic from The Boatman’s Call was already vaguely in my head as nine year-old sinking my head into Edgar Allan Poe’s The Man Of The Crowd, The Black Cat, The System Of Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether and Hop-Frog. Much of the fascination I had with the world Poe revealed to me connected to the fear I experienced negotiating family tensions, bullies at school and indifferent teachers. People did awful things to me and to each other. People purposely hurt anyone they could given a chance. People contained such malice inside them that when it welled-up and then burst forth, often they weren’t aware what was happening because of the degree the irrational had taken over. And for some, the problem was that the abstracted and rational had taken charge. And what I learned in school from books and lessons only secured me in the knowledge that the real monsters could never protect me from the other real monsters, and quite possibly I was a monster too. And as I write this Nikole Hannah-Jones has tweeted:
Black man with no weapon walks away from Kenosha police and is shot 7 times in the back. White teen with assault rifle who just shot 3 people and KILLED 2, walks by Kenosha police with his gun & they offer him a water and he gets to go home. No greater summary of America exists.
Key to the experience of horror lies in reading or watching people trapped in a world which wants to destroy them through as much suffering as possible. But what happens when the reader of cosmic horror looks up from their page or away from their screen and finds the world they’re living in with the same intentions? I’ll leave you with Billie Holliday.