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N THE STORIES OF NEW ENGLAND SPECULATIVE FICTION WRITER HOWARD
Phillips Lovecraft, characters seem incapable of the objective detachment requisite to an aesthetic judgment. When confronted with natural spectacles that ought to give rise to a feeling of the sublime, for instance, they are too entangled in the web of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror to contemplate the vast expanses of nature in a manner that would see the humanity in them uplifted.1 The land surveyor in “The Colour out of Space” takes no pleasure in observing the infinite expanse of the night sky upon his return from his first visit to the valley west of Arkham, where the ominous “blasted heath” is located: “[He] vaguely wished some clouds would gather, for an odd timidity about the deep skyey [sic] voids above had crept into [his] soul” (“Colour,” 55). After he hears Ammi Pierce’s story about the spot, moreover, his fear drives him to “hurr[y] back before sunset to [his] hotel, unwilling to have the stars come out above [him] in the open” (56). Even the grotesque fails to inspire a disinterested contemplation in Lovecraft. In “The Dunwich Horror,” his characters are too fearful of the monstrous human-alien spawn they must face to engage aesthetically the spectacle of its ritualistic chanting at the top of a mountain: “The weird silhouette on that remote peak must have been a spectacle of infinite grotesqueness and impressiveness, but no observer was in the mood for aesthetic appreciation” (“Dunwich,” Dunwich 194). As I hope to make evident in the ensuing analysis, his characters are equally incapable of the detached and life-affirming judgment of the beautiful. The inability of Lovecraft’s protagonists to perceive phenomena with the kind of objective distance demanded by the aesthetic gaze originates in their enmeshment in “cosmic horror,” a devastating experience which rouses a fear far exceeding that of merely dying. In death, our finite, individual being ceases to be, yet we can find comfort in our awareness that our cultural heritage is of
Vol. 19, No. 3, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts Copyright © 2008, International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts.
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value and that the community we leave behind will survive us. Lovecraft’s characters cannot find solace in these thoughts, since the horror they face is an index of the meaninglessness of the human condition. The origins of cosmic horror are to be found in two aspects of Lovecraft’s personal philosophy which he elaborates upon in his essays and correspondence: his adoption of a mechanistic materialist view of life and his position as a self-described “cosmic indifferentist,” both of which divest human life of telos.2 Accordingly, it has become commonplace in Lovecraft scholarship to affirm that his antihumanistic creation narrative asserts that our social bonds, religious beliefs, and cultural achievements are not only irrelevant if considered from outside the limited scope of human affairs, but are based upon a false understanding of the cosmos and of our place in it. “Lovecraft’s major fictional themes,” observes Donald Burleson in a statement that succinctly sums up this prevailing critical stance, “form a sort of conceptual web, interlacing to provide a potential for expression of the one major idea that always emerges; […] self-knowledge, or discovery of one’s own position in the real fabric of the universe, is psychically ruinous” (Burleson 137). To cite two exemplary cases from Lovecraft’s fiction, according to the bas-reliefs found in the Antarctic alien city in “At the Mountains of Madness,” humanity is the accidental byproduct of scientific experiments conducted by aliens who colonized the earth long ago. Furthermore, if the fate of the time-travelling Great Race of super-aliens in “The Shadow out of Time”—beings far superior to us who nevertheless cannot escape the doom of their civilization—is any indication, cosmic horror presages the annihilation of our human way of life. Cosmic horror therefore amounts to an experience of the cataclysmic horror that the human subject experiences once it cognizes the finitude of its existence and realizes that, contrary to a humanist view which posits human life as intrinsically meaningful in relation not only to itself but to the cosmos, there is neither anything distinctive nor significant about being human. In spite of the explicit disavowal of the affirmative scope of humanism concomitant to Lovecraft’s fiction, many of his stories foreground one of our highest cultural achievements: art. Steven J. Mariconda’s descriptive survey of the transcendent scope of artifacts in Lovecraft, which makes reference to Lovecraft’s aesthetic pronouncements in his letters to defend the idea that, in his fiction, art enables “us to see reality as it truly is” (12), offers a starting point to any discussion of art in Lovecraft’s work. While I agree with Mariconda that art serves to further the aims of Lovecraft’s mechanistic materialist view of existence, rather than focusing on what art communicates to the viewer, I approach the question of art’s function in Lovecraft from the opposite perspective: What do characters’ responses to art suggest about human subjectivity in Lovecraft? In an effort to answer this question, I endeavor to elucidate, on the one hand, what the experiencing subject projects onto a
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given representation when it engages with a work of art and, on the other, the critical function such a subjective attribution serves in Lovecraft’s poetics of cosmic horror. Specifically, I maintain that a cursory overview of some of the most notable examples of ekphrasis in his tales suggests that art always assumes a pragmatic function: characters interact with such cultural products by investing them with the latent power to act. As the emblematic example of the aforementioned bas-reliefs in “At the Mountains of Madness” illustrates, art’s formal properties denote some type of secret, abject meaning that characters are compelled to discover. Often this hidden significance is allied to human degeneracy and the leitmotif of the devolution of the species central to Lovecraft’s œuvre, themes whose race and class implications have been explored in recent scholarship.3 In my view, the affective power that art commands in Lovecraft—its sacred, ritualistic function—is intrinsic to characters’ viewing of art works with what David Freedberg calls the gaze that “enlivens,” even when the object in question is neither anthropomorphic nor figurative. I contend, moreover, that the pragmatic function the gaze assumes in Lovecraft is by no means accidental, since it is a symptom of the pivotal role art plays in his mythos: to heighten and concentrate the mood of cosmic horror. Before turning our attention to Lovecraft’s fiction, it is worth considering in some detail the context of Freedberg’s notion of the enlivening gaze elaborated in The Power of Images. First and foremost, Freedberg argues that the highly cultivated and dispassionate response to visual culture that is the aesthetic constitutes a form of repression. In examining what lies beneath this type of evasive response to images, he endeavors to confront and shed some critical light on what some have denigrated or mystified by means of epithets such as “irrational, superstitious, or primitive” (xxi). Freedberg’s historical survey of our reactions to a wide and varied array of art forms, ranging from funeral effigies, votive and religious pictures, wax images, and canonical works of high art to pornography, reveals that it is inherent in our cognitive faculties to seek out meaning in any kind of visual representation beyond its purely formal attributes. The subversion of the western discourse of privilege that asserts the pre-eminence of the aesthetic gaze is one of the most significant aspects of Freedberg’s argument. In establishing that all art is pragmatic, he neutralizes one of the founding principles employed by conservative art historians to distinguish “primitive” or “low” art from “sophisticated” or “high” art, in which the latter pairing is perceived as culturally superior to the former since it allegedly inspires a disinterested, objective, self-reflexive, and what Freedberg characterizes as an eviscerated response from the viewer. Freedberg holds, in agreement with Gadamer, that all images function like objects of religious veneration. He explains that in sacred art, an elision occurs in which the viewer skips over the gap separating the signifier and the signiJOURNAL OF THE FANTASTIC IN THE ARTS
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fied, the materiality of the image and what it represents. In other words, viewers’ desire causes them to conflate the prototype, either the god or spirit depicted in the image, and its representation, thereby perceiving what is absent as present in the image. When not stifled by the cultural repression demanded by the aesthetic gaze, our act of viewing seeks to make the figure in a representation real, as in sacred art. We treat it, desire it, and engage with it as though it were incarnate: “The imagination that lingers is the imagination that reconstitutes, and reconstitution is constantly referred back to the representation and projected onto it, so that the mind not only sees the mental image but strives towards materiality and investment with life” (Freedberg 420). This is precisely how characters interact with art in Lovecraft; in a manner similar to iconodules who worship sacred idols, their imaginations always linger over the artifacts they discover, especially when the objects in question are tied to any one of the alien entities that populate his fiction. The sexual potential implicit in the tension that arises between an image and the enlivening gaze is undeniable: “Any suggestion of the sexual, or any perception of sexual potential, is likely to enhance the strain to enlivenment and possession” (Freedberg 360). In emphasizing this point, Freedberg’s analysis necessarily draws attention to the ideologically masculine striving to possession and domination that informs all attempts to understand an image in a western context (318), a striving that is surreptitiously at work in Lovecraft, particularly in a text such as “The Picture in the House.” Our gaze’s investment of the image with life occurs, moreover, even with non-figurative and abstract genres of representation. In his examination of violent displays reported against abstract works of art, Freedberg observes that all of the motives given by iconoclasts to justify their destructive actions possess one underlying basis: “It is not simply a fear of what is represented; it is a fear of the object itself” (418). Significantly, the terror that abstract art rouses in certain viewers has the same subjective ground as the apprehension that figurative works elicit. It is linked with “the fear of the senses that arises from the fetishizing gaze” (Freedberg 419). This dynamic plays a key function in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” for instance, where Futurist architecture,4 a high modernist genre that western viewers are accustomed to intellectualizing, inspires horror as a results of characters’ imputing it with a malevolent agency. The masonry of the once submerged alien city of R’lyeh, whose proportions correspond to “abnormal, non-Euclidian” geometry, “swallowed up” one of the crewmen and inspires “something very like fright” in its viewers (“Cthulhu,” 150–1). The implications of Freedberg’s argument are therefore integral to the subversiveness of Lovecraft’s aesthetics of cosmic horror, since in his fiction the culturally determined distinction between high and low art in western aesthetic discourse dissolves as a result of the common ground shared by the
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responses that art elicits from sophisticated and uneducated viewers alike. Rather than inciting an intellectual reaction from the cultured viewer, ekphrasis in Lovecraft makes evident that the formal properties of art provoke an emotional outburst which, as a consequence of its sensible basis, is analogous to that experienced by the uncultured who perceive the objects in question as sacred art. To elaborate upon this idea, I divide my analysis of ekphrasis in Lovecraft into two parts. First, I will explicate the role of art in “Pickman’s Model,” “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” “The Haunter of the Dark,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and “The Call of Cthulhu,” stories which are exemplary in terms of their dramatizations of the protagonists’ engagement with varying forms of artistic representations. In illustrating that all classes of people in Lovecraft’s fiction view such cultural products with Freedberg’s enlivening gaze, my aim is to expound on the efficaciousness of art in concentrating the effect of cosmic horror. Second, I will turn my attention to “The Music of Erich Zann” and “The Picture in the House,” two texts that offer unique articulations of the perversity of the drive to enlivenment, in an effort to lay bare cosmic horror’s compelling, dehumanizing force. A standard example of “daemoniac portraiture” [sic] (“Pickman,” 18) in Lovecraft that incites the enlivening gaze is found in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” The portrait of Joseph Curwen, a Salem witch from the seventeenth century and a maternal ancestor of the protagonist, Charles, elicits dread from the story’s more impressionable characters. Ward’s mother deems the portrait inherently “unwholesome” (“Dexter Ward,” 155) and counsels her husband to burn it. As is commonplace in Lovecraft, the subtext of devolution plays a significant part in the effect of cosmic horror linked to the art work in question. Its uncanny resemblance to Charles, whereby “the physical contours of Joseph Curwen had found precise duplication after a century and a half” in the young Ward, is described by the narrator as “some trick of atavism” (155). Although the hint of genetic regression can in part explain the portrait’s disagreeable character, it fails to account for its power over the viewer: instead, it is the picture’s eyes that ensure its efficacy. The narrator remarks that the picture’s eyes “had a sort of wish, if not an actual tendency, to follow young Charles Ward as he moved about the room” (162). In the mind of the viewer, the eyes of a figurative representation offer “the clearest and most obvious indications of the vitality of the represented figure” (Freedberg 415). By means of the observer’s attribution of liveliness to the portrait’s eyes, including the imputed malignancy of its stare, Lovecraft therefore dramatizes a universal and trans-historical motif of the enlivening gaze prevalent in responses to iconography. The narrator’s ascription of agency to the portrait during its disintegration upon Ward’s summoning of Curwen by ancient alchemical procedures, moreover,—its “peeling clear off the wood, curling tighter and tighter, and finally crumbling into small bits with what must have been malignly silent sudJOURNAL OF THE FANTASTIC IN THE ARTS
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denness” (“Dexter Ward,” 174, emphasis added)—further encourages the conflation of the representation with the thing represented in the mind of the observer by suggesting that the picture and the old sorcerer are interchangeable. Charles’s finding of, among other things, Curwen’s old diaries, a coded text containing the formulae that make possible the summoning of his ancestor, as well as the key to the cipher inside “a cubical recess […] which must have lain directly behind the head of the portrait” (156) is anything but a gratuitous narrative detail. In aiding Charles to uncover the means of bringing Curwen back to life—a pursuit that ensures Charles’s own destruction, since the now-reconstituted Curwen kills him and usurps his identity—the portrait reinforces the spectator’s enlivening gaze. In “Dexter Ward,” art therefore functions as a gateway through which characters experience cosmic horror. Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model,” in which the artist, Richard Upton Pickman, paints grotesque, ghoulish creatures possessing human traits, also explores the motif of art as a form of destructive revelation. Despite “the profound art and profound insight into nature” (“Pickman,”13) of which Pickman is capable, the scientific realism of his style rouses such revulsion from viewers that the local Museum of Fine Arts, the voice of the established artistic community, rejects his works even as donations. Pickman’s inner circle, comprised of erudite, upright men such as the narrator, Thurber, a “middle-aged and decently sophisticated” art critic (22), and Reid, an amateur pathologist, also shun him. As the photograph Thurber recovers from Pickman’s studio confirms, the horror of the latter’s work lies not solely in its content, but in the fact that his images are derived from live models. In being linked to New England witchcraft, a motif that, in Lovecraft’s myth cycle, is allied to scientific discovery and the alien gods who populated the earth prior to human habitation, Pickman’s art boasts of cosmic significance. It is an index, moreover, of the dark secret of the artist’s, and by extension, humanity’s, tainted genetic heritage: “He was, in all his gradations of morbidity between the frankly nonhuman and the degradedly human, establishing a sardonic linkage and evolution” (19).5 Most importantly, when faced with the “awful, blasphemous horror, and the unbelievable loathsomeness and moral foetor [that] came from the simple touches quite beyond the power of words to classify”; when confronted by Pickman’s skill in “daemonic portraiture,” whereby “the nauseous wizard had waked the fires of hell in pigment, and his brush had been a nightmare-spawning wand” (18–19); even the urbane viewer, represented by Pickman’s colleagues, cannot look upon his work with the objectifying gaze common to an aesthetic contemplation of art. The narrator’s confession about his fascination with Pickman’s work is telling: “I never elsewhere saw the actual breath of life so fused into a canvas” (23). Even without knowing that Pickman’s models really exist, his friends’ loathing of his work and their subsequent avoidance of PickJOURNAL OF THE FANTASTIC IN THE ARTS
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man reveal that they, however educated, look upon his canvases with the gaze that enlivens. In other words, they conflate the representation and the thing represented, thereby attributing to Pickman’s paintings the kind of evocative powers inherent in sacred art. Thurber’s phobia of the subway offers the most poignant example of the powerful effect that the enlivening gaze commands in this text. Although his dread develops shortly after he realizes that Pickman painted from live models, it is triggered initially by his viewing of a work aptly titled Subway accident, in which “a flock of the vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb through a crack in the floor of the Boylston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform” (20). From an emotive standpoint, Pickman’s images cause spectators to feel such intense revulsion that they rouse one of their most basic instincts: self-preservation. Thematically, moreover, his work compels viewers to contemplate the possibility that only chance has spared them from confronting in waking life hordes of hideous, intelligent, and antagonistic beings that normally populate nightmares. Pickman’s canvases thus force the onlooker to acknowledge the vulnerability of human life. In reducing the educated subject’s experience of art to a primal instinct and communicating a worldview that undercuts the primacy of human beings, Pickman’s art therefore serves as a focal point for Lovecraft’s nihilistic notion of cosmic horror. In Lovecraft’s fiction, portraits are not the only art forms that compel a pragmatic response. Attributed magical properties by the viewer, art objects often function as talismans. In the tower of the now abandoned yet accursed church where a malevolent cult called Starry Wisdom once congregated in “The Haunter of the Dark,” the narrator recounts how Robert Blake, the story’s protagonist, finds an object referred to as the Shining Trapezohedron suspended inside a small box whose artistry and peculiarity underscore the value of the object it contains: “He noticed odd bas-reliefs on the strange open box of yellowish metal […] the figurings [sic] were of a monstrous and utterly alien kind; depicting entities which, though seeming alive, resembled no known life-form ever evolved on this planet” (“Haunter,” 102, emphasis added). The Trapezohedron itself is described as an object so perfect that the viewer, Blake, cannot discern whether it is a work of art or a work of nature: “The four-inch seeming sphere turned out to be a nearly black, red-striated polyhedron with many irregular flat surfaces; either a very remarkable crystal of some sort, or an artificial object of carved and highly polished mineral matter” (102). This confusion about its origin enhances its efficacy as a magical object: the Trapezohedron’s creation, be it natural or alien, exceeds human abilities. Its formal properties, moreover, denote its evil purpose and captivate Blake: “This stone, once exposed, exerted upon Blake an almost alarming fascination […]. Just why it took his attention he could not tell, but something in its contours carried
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a message to his unconscious mind” (102, emphasis added). Once he gazes into it, he is mesmerized; the now “unmistakably glowing stone” (105) haunts him:
Blake choked and turned away from the stone, conscious of some formless alien presence close to him and watching him with horrible intentness. He felt entangled with something—something which was not in the stone, but which had looked through it at him—something which would ceaselessly follow him with a cognition that was not physical sight. (104)
In this text, art acts as a portal of sorts, a mediatory object between the innocent observer and the menacing alien god. The act of viewing awakens the will of the entity and consequently functions as a ritual summons. Invariably, gazing upon the object spells Blake’s doom. Do the Shining Trapezohedron’s suggestive powers drive Blake mad, or had he accidentally beckoned an interstellar demon by looking at it? Lovecraft’s noncommittal narrator leaves it up to the reader to decide. Either way, the coruscating Trapezohedron cannot be viewed with the objective detachment of the aesthetic gaze. It induces the viewer’s submissiveness to its alleged evil qualities. By appealing to Blake’s senses, it takes hold of his unconscious and stirs him to action (as his repeated sleepwalking episodes reveal). In “The Haunter of the Dark,” cosmic horror therefore arises from a vulnerability we all share as embodied subjects and that, according to Freedberg, underlies both our fear of images and our impulse to deface them: humanity’s susceptibility to enslavement by the senses.
Likewise, the “queer foreign kind of jewellery” (“Shadow,” 309) associated with the degenerate Innsmouth residents in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” are no mere ornaments to be appreciated with the detached gaze requisite to a judgment of the beautiful. As a token of their evocative powers, whose effects are similar to the Trapezohedron’s upon the unsuspecting Blake, the jewelry items in question manage to rouse strong emotions in the narrator of “Innsmouth” simply by means of “bald and prosaic” “fragmentary descriptions” (“Shadow,” 310). Prior to having observed them first-hand, he confesses that “something about them seemed so odd and provocative that [he] could not put them out of [his] mind” (310). His first encounter with one of the pieces is no less emphatic. The “unearthly splendour” and “opulent phantasy [sic]” of the tiara the narrator observes in the display room at the Newburyport Historical Society, whose “untraditional designs” were “chased or moulded in high relief on its surface with a craftsmanship of incredible skill and grace,” cause him to “gasp” (311). He confesses that “the longer [he] looked, the more the thing fascinated [him]”; moreover, “in this fascination there was a curiously disJOURNAL OF THE FANTASTIC IN THE ARTS
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turbing element” for which he cannot account, and whose source “resid[ed] in the pictorial and mathematical suggestions of the strange designs” (311). In other words, the tiara’s formal elements, the patterns on its surface, resist a merely objective appreciation and inspire a primal, instinctive reaction from the viewer:
The patterns all hinted of remote secrets and unimaginable abysses in time and space, and the monotonously aquatic nature of the reliefs became almost sinister. Among these reliefs were fabulous monsters of abhorrent grotesqueness and malignity—half ichthyic and half batrachian in suggestion—which one could not dissociate from a certain haunting and uncomfortable sense of pseudo-memory, as if they called up some image from deep cells and tissues whose retentive function are wholly primal and awesomely ancestral. At times I fancied that every contour of these blasphemous fish-frogs was overflowing with the ultimate quintessence of unknown and inhuman evil. (311–12, emphases added)
The gaze that enlivens—driven by the narrator’s yearning to find meaning in the formal attributes of the tiara—assigns a significance so terrible to this object that, rather than rousing the higher, cognitive faculties of the mind necessary to an aesthetic judgment, it awakens a primitive, archaic fear in the viewer whose origin is to be found in the “deep cells and tissues” of his viscera. As a further testament to the jewelry’s pragmatic purpose, the tiara serves a ritualistic function in the cult of the mutant members of The Esoteric Order of Dagon: “The clergymen—or priests, or whatever they were called nowadays—also wore this kind of ornament as a head-dress” (323). As indexes of the moral and physical corruption of the Innsmouth people, the unique pieces of jewelry act as a focal point of cosmic horror. They symbolize the covenant between the monstrous, immortal creatures of the deep and the Innsmouth inhabitants, who were compelled, in exchange for the valuable gold ornaments, to interbreed with the aquatic fiends and worship their god Dagon. Evidently, the narrator’s response to the jewelry fails to be universal in light of his ensuing mutation into a humanoid fish creature, a plot twist that identifies him as a direct descendant of the Innsmouth folk and therefore establishes a primordial connection between the objects and his unconscious. Nevertheless, if, as Freedberg claims, the drive to enlivenment—our susceptibility to sensual stimulus and our need to attribute meaning to form—is a universal human trait, the narrator’s reaction to the Innsmouth jewelry falls in line with the operations of the gaze discussed so far, and is representative of the kind of pragmatic response art always elicits in Lovecraft’s fiction. “The Call of Cthulhu,” a text in which another alien fetish object figures at the centre of the intrigue, presents the most forceful example of how art in
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Lovecraft’s work rouses a spontaneous, intuitive response from educated and simple-minded viewers alike. The miniature sculpture in question, “of exquisitely artistic workmanship,” represents Cthulhu, a monstrous, anthropomorphic, winged, squid-like interstellar alien worshipped as a god by “degenerate Esquimaux” and “men of a very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally aberrant type” (“Cthulhu,” 134, 135, 139). As would be expected according to the conventional approach to art history decried by Freedberg, so-called “primitive” people are the most susceptible to viewing art with the enlivening gaze: the statuette’s worshippers were found amidst an orgiastic frenzy, naked, “braying, bellowing, and writhing about a monstrous ring-shaped bonfire; in the centre of which, revealed by occasional rifts in the curtain of flame, stood a great granite monolith […] on top of which, incongruous in its diminutiveness, rested the noxious carven statuette” (138). However, the usually reserved, learned men react no less emphatically when viewing the miniature idol, in light of the restraints imposed upon them by the demands of decorum: “One sight of the thing had been enough to throw the assembled men of science into a state of tense excitement, and they lost no time in crowding around him to gaze at the diminutive figure” (133). Likewise, the narrator, Mr. Angell, who can be counted among the educated viewers as a result of both his lineage (he is the great nephew of a deceased Brown University professor) and punctilious organization of Professor Angell’s research notes, describes the statuette in such a way as to attribute inherent iniquity to its formal attributes: “No recognized school of sculpture had animated this terrible object,” it seemed “instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy,” and “the aspect of the whole was abnormally life-like” (134, emphases added). Moreover, in speaking of the illegible characters along the base of the idol, Mr. Angell affirms that “they, like the subject and material, belonged to something horribly remote and distinct from mankind as we know it; something frightfully suggestive of old and unhallowed cycles of life in which our world and conceptions have no part” (134, emphases added). In evoking cosmic horror in all classes of viewers, the sculpture in “The Call of Cthulhu” operates in a manner similar to the other art objects discussed thus far and further establishes the notion that, in Lovecraft’s fiction, the formal attributes of art resist the disinterested, intellectualizing gaze of aesthetic contemplation even in the purportedly most “refined” viewer. Whereas an analysis of ekphrasis in the aforementioned stories underscores both the drive to enlivenment that characterizes protagonists’ engagement with art in Lovecraft and the complicity of this facet of art’s pragmatic operation in his notion of cosmic horror, in the final two texts I will discuss, “The Music of Erich Zann” and “The Picture in the House,” the perversity of the fetishizing gaze assumes singular proportions, enabling the art works in question to occupy an instrumental role in the degradation of the human subject comparable to that of the mummified simian remains in “Facts ConcernJOURNAL OF THE FANTASTIC IN THE ARTS
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ing the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” Upon cognizing that the decrepit, mummified remains of a female white ape were none other than those of a female forbear from whom he was directly descended, Jermyn confronts both the moral licentiousness of his ancestor who procreated with the ape and the bestial foundation of his genealogy. In an analogous manner, protagonists in stories like “Music” and “Picture” face the debasing notion of human nature’s iniquity. Through the vehicle of art, these texts therefore highlight another important aspect of Lovecraft’s pessimistic, anti-humanist view of existence central to cosmic horror alluded to in the previous stories under consideration: not only is human life insignificant in the cosmos, but our humanity is intrinsically corrupt. In “Music,” the spellbinding melodies that the German musician Zann draws from his viol are what compel a pragmatic response from the spectator. The title character’s “highly original genius” in composition gradually “fascinated” the educated narrator, a university “student of metaphysics” (“Music,” 85). The latter “often […] heard sounds which filled [him] with an indefinable dread” (88). In other words, the narrator’s reception of Zann’s playing can be classified as neither detached nor objective. Contrary to the banal show tunes Zann must play as a member of “a cheap theatre orchestra” (84), moreover, his late-night viol improvisations are not intended for an audience’s appreciation, indicated by his hostility and evasive attitude towards the narrator upon discovering that the latter had overheard his music. The taboo aspect of Zann’s original compositions further seduces the listener, fuelling his drive to enlivenment, that is, his desire not only to hear more of Zann’s work, but to ascribe significance to what he plays. While “Music” cannot be classified as an example of ekphrasis in the strict sense of the term since it features the verbal representation of an aural rather than a visual representation, this shift in focus from the visual to the acoustic dimension of art in Lovecraft suggests that the notion of the enlivening gaze, the human impulse to engage with a representation as though the object or idea depicted was present in the object, is not restricted to sight. When speaking of Lovecraft’s work, the notion of the “gaze” must therefore be expanded beyond the merely visual to encompass our engagement with auditory stimuli. More to the point, although Freedberg limits his discussion to the visual, “The Music of Erich Zann” nonetheless calls attention to what he identifies as the apprehension of the senses to which the fetishizing gaze gives rise (Freedberg 419). What does the narrator witness in Zann’s music, or, put another way, what does his “fetishizing ear” imagine to be present in Zann’s improvisations? Two notional sets pertaining to Paris and Germany, respectively, offer important clues. Although the city wherein the story takes place remains unidentified, the narrator’s descriptions of its streets, the mention of a river (the Seine?), and two proper names cited in the text, “Rue d’Auseil” and the landlord
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“Blandot,” point to Paris. This is significant: the connotation of Paris as a centre of high culture highlights the importance of aesthetics in “Music.” Coupled with the metaphysical implications of the German references explicit in the identity of Zann and the narrator’s choice of academic discipline, the centrality of aesthetics suggests that the evocative power of Zann’s art is metaphysical. Its force rests in its original exploration of ontological and epistemological limits. Thus, from the narrator’s perspective, a position decidedly colored by the expressive critical paradigms of Romanticism that emphasize the notion of genius and take art to be symbols of the noumenal realm, the viol player’s existence coincides with his music. What, in Freedberg’s terms, amounts to the narrator’s innate, human desire to invest Zann’s abstract compositions with meaning leads him to interpret the viol player’s original music as the negative, that is to say, symbolic, presentation of Zann’s noumenal self. The narrator’s unreliable characterization undercuts the Romantic paradigm of correspondences implicit in his understanding of Zann’s art, making evident the impossibility of such a coincidence between the signifier (the unique sounds emitted by the viol) and the signified (Zann’s noumenal self): “That my memory is broken, I do not wonder; for my health, physical and mental, was greatly disturbed throughout the period of my residence in the Rue d’Auseil” (“Music,” 83). His inability to locate the “Rue d’Auseil” on any map, modern or otherwise, and to find the street once he escapes the spectacle of what the reader is given to understand as Zann’s final improvisation further discredit his account. What the unreliable narrator perceives in Zann’s music, therefore, is Lovecraft’s nihilistic view of existence, or an artist’s doomed endeavor to assert his humanity by creative means. Zann’s viol is a talisman endowed with agency, as its personification reveals: “Zann’s screaming viol now outdid itself, emitting sounds I had never thought a viol could emit” (“Music,” 91). Nevertheless, the viol is no match for the omnipotent void that parodies every original note it produces: “I thought I heard a shriller, steadier note that was not from the viol; a calm, deliberate, purposeful, mocking note from far away in the west” (89, emphasis added). The narrator’s fetishizing ear thus witnesses the failure of Zann’s music to ward off the life-crushing void of the cosmos, whose radical alterity exceeds presentation: “The blackness of space illimitable; unimagined space alive with motion and music, and having no semblance of anything on earth” (90, emphases added). In spite of the story’s status as the dream-wish of a delusional philosophy student who yearns to observe a dramatization of the ideas he studies, in rousing the unreliable narrator’s enlivening ear, art frames and intensifies Lovecraft’s cosmic horror in “Music.” The metaphysical battle that Zann fights on a nightly basis against what lies outside his curtained attic window offers a tragic parable of the human condition that underscores the finitude and vulnerability of human beings in a mechanistic materialist universe. Even in a
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man of “supreme genius” (89) like Zann, originality, an index of our humanity according to Idealist, metaphysical views of being such as those the narrator no doubt studies, can be exhausted. As Zann flounders and for the first time “play[s] the work of another composer” (89), his humanity is degraded and parodied: “The player was dripping with uncanny perspiration and twisted like a monkey” (89, emphasis added). He then dies and becomes an object in the eyes of the narrator: “That glass-eyed thing in the dark” (91, emphasis added). In “Music,” insofar as the pragmatic function of art reveals the devastating, dehumanizing force of cosmic horror, the story stands alongside the previous texts under consideration. Zann’s tale is nevertheless singular in the Lovecraft canon for the radical perversity it attributes to the gaze: “Music” not only reveals the expansive scope of the drive to enlivenment beyond the merely visual, but reverses its operation. If the enlivening gaze usually attributes agency to an inanimate object and thereby elevates both its status and that of its creator,6 in “Music” the personification of the viol and the subsequent objectification of Zann ineluctably demonstrate that, in Lovecraft, where human art is concerned, the effects of the gaze (or ear) that enlivens lead to the denigration of the art work and to the debasement of the human being who created it. Cosmic horror therefore arises not only from Zann’s failure to defend his individuality against the oppressive void of the cosmos, but from the narrator’s participation in his downfall. Put another way, despite our humanitarian aims such as the “kindness” the narrator feels towards Zann’s “physical and nervous suffering” (87), we are equally driven by a destructive, treacherous impulse inherent in our humanity and expressed through the enlivening gaze, which is at once complicit in and an assistant to the allengulfing nothingness of Lovecraft’s universe. If, in “Music,” art concentrates the effect of cosmic horror by revealing that the enlivening gaze’s perversity originates in our intrinsic, human complicity in the destructive scope of Lovecraft’s cosmicism, in “The Picture in the House” art heightens cosmic horror by giving prominence to the sexual context of the yearning to possession that underlies the operation of the gaze. To be explicit, I contend that “Picture” recounts a perverse, homoerotic seduction scene, mediated by the image on plate XII of the sixteenth-century travel narrative Regnum Congo. The old Puritan, whose vigorous reaction to the picture of the Anzique cannibal butcher shop can be likened to that customarily elicited by pornography, seeks to seduce and consume the hapless narrator. In “Picture,” ekphrasis not only reveals that the old man suffers from a form of sexual perversion that can be termed “homo-necro-anthropo-phagi-philia,” one who is sexually stimulated by eating the flesh of a member of the same sex, but, more importantly, in keeping with the revulsion of the self as an incarnate, desiring being that grounds cosmic horror, ekphrasis underscores that the potential for such an abhorrent deviation is innate in our human constitutions.
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Notwithstanding Lovecraft’s penchant for inventing rare books, Regnum Congo actually exists. The first edition was written in Italian by Philippo Pigafetta, who based his version on the account provided by Oduardo Lopez, a Portuguese traveler. The Latin version with the De Bry illustrations to which Lovecraft makes reference was published in Frankfurt in 1598. Mention of the Anziques occurs sporadically throughout the text since their territory shared a border with the northern part of the Congo. Plate XII accompanies Pigafetta’s recounting, in chapter 5, of what he qualifies as their barbarous cannibalistic practices.7 Unlike other artworks in Lovecraft, therefore, plate XII owes its evocative force to its status as a real image found in an authentic document that, contrary to writings such as the notorious Necronomicon or the R’lyeh manuscripts that appear in Lovecraft’s myth cycle, exists in the world outside of his imaginary universe. Since the factual existence of the text and of the illustrations that accompany it preclude their facile dismissal as merely fictional inventions, in other words, both the actions that plate XII depicts and the hold the image has on the old man pose a danger to all of humanity—that is, to anyone possessing a susceptibility to arousal by sensible stimulus and the cognitive drive to impute meaning to representations. While pornography cannot be defined objectively since it is dependent upon subjective criteria that are informed by the viewer’s cultural context as well as his or her personal idiosyncrasies, Freedberg explains that “if one has not seen too many images of a particular kind before, and if the particular image infringes on some preconception of what should be or is not usually exposed (to the gaze), then the image may well turn out to be arousing” (352). Lovecraft’s description of plate XII underscores a pivotal aspect of the image’s power, particularly over white, western viewers: “The especially bizarre thing,” according to the narrator of “Picture,” “was that the artist had made his Africans look like white men—the limbs and quarters hanging about the walls were ghastly, while the butcher with his axe was hideously incongruous” (“Picture,” 122). In portraying white instead of black men as the victims and perpetrators of cannibalism, the latter cannot be easily dismissed as alien to western culture. The narrator’s genealogical scholarship, fluency in Latin, and familiarity with rare sixteenth-century travel narratives place him among the erudite class, whose members ostensibly ought to possess the self-mastery requisite to viewing the illustration on plate XII with the objective detachment characteristic of an aesthetic judgment. Nonetheless, he succumbs to the image’s spell. Although the narrator stops short of outright personifying the Regnum Congo, his enlivening gaze leads him to describe the old man’s search for the image of the Anzique cannibals in terms that attribute agency to the book and suggest the Yankee’s mounting excitement: “[The old man’s] fumbling hands, though seemingly clumsier than before, were entirely adequate to their mission. The
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book fell open, almost of its own accord and as if from frequent consultation at this place, to the repellent twelfth plate” (“Picture,” 122, emphases added). The pornographic subtext in this description implies that, from the narrator’s perspective, the book reacts to the old man’s lustful, agitated touch as would a whore who, by exposing herself, entices a man to sexual abandon. Given that the sexual charge of plate XII captures the gaze of the cultured, self-possessed narrator, who, in his description, obliquely admits to the image’s pornographic appeal, it is not surprising to discover that it exerts a devastating influence over the simple-minded Puritan. First, in addition to plate XII’s assimilability by white, western viewers, the Puritan’s poverty and illiteracy presumably preclude his exposure and attendant desensitization to a wide array of potentially disturbing cultural material. This exacerbates his vulnerability to the suggestiveness of the appallingly explicit scene depicted on plate XII. Second, the contrast that arises between his cognition of the image as the illustration of a moral taboo’s defilement and the utilitarian proscriptions on the body demanded by his creed, which compelled the repression of any pleasure derived from the senses, further compounds his receptiveness. When considered in unison, these factors galvanize his imagination and awaken an irrepressible urge in him: “Thet feller bein’ chopped up gives me a tickle every time I look at ’im—I hev ta keep lookin’ at ’im—see whar the butcher cut off his feet? Thar’s his head on thet bench, with one arm side of it, an’t’other arm’s on the graound side o’the meat block” (“Picture,”122). Overcome by a desire he had until then never experienced, the old Puritan confesses his emotions to the anxious narrator: “Thet picter begun ta make me hungry fer victuals I couldn’t raise nor buy—here, set still, what’s ailin’ ye?—I didn’t do nothin’, only I wondered haow ’twud be ef I did […]” (123). His obsession with the illustration on plate XII is so great that even the tactile stimulation he experiences when he handles the Regnum Congo is enough to arouse him sexually: he turns its pages “lovingly” and his “speech grew a trifle thicker and his eyes assumed a brighter glow” as he leafs through it to plate XII (121–22). The fascination plate XII exerts over the old man impels him in turn to coax his visitor to participate in his perversion by asking him to decipher the Latin inscriptions the book contains. In positioning a pornographic image between the guileless narrator and the lecherous old man, “The Picture in the House” therefore presents the reader with a nefarious homoerotic seduction scene in which the former unwittingly assumes the role of the victim and the latter plays the part of the sexual predator. The excitement of the chase manifests itself in the old man’s “abnormally ruddy” face and “inexplicably keen and burning” eyes, as well as in his guarded approach of his intended victim: “[His] tread was heavy, yet seemed to contain a curious quality of cautiousness” (120). In contrast, the speaker reacts to the old man’s presence in the manner of
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a timorous quarry bracing itself for a confrontation. He “disliked” the discretion in the old man’s footsteps “the more because the tread was heavy,” and “the appearance of this man, and the instinctive fear he inspired, prepared [the speaker] for something like enmity” (120). The pronounced distinction between the coarse masculinity of the Yankee’s physical appearance and the effeminate civility of his demeanor betrays his malevolent intentions. His obsequious manner, conveyed through his “thin, weak voice full of fawning respect and ingratiating hospitality,” surprises the speaker as a result of its “uncanny incongruity” with his disheveled dress and imposing stature (120). In a manner similar to the “devious” path that brought the speaker to his abode, the old man’s servile deportment is nothing more than a deceitful strategy he employs to put the narrator at ease and conceal his blood lust. From a naïve perspective, the Yankee’s “aboundingly good humour” and “feverish geniality” (121) can be explained as a lonely man’s enthusiasm at the prospect of enjoying the rare pleasure of company. However, the circuitous references the old man makes in passing to his previous interpreters’ fates as well as his “obnoxious” proximity (122) when the credulous narrator translates a passage from Latin to English underscore the Yankee’s unwholesome designs upon the scholar in “Picture.” The old man’s intent to kill and eat him becomes manifest in the justification he provides for his unusually old age: “They say meat makes blood an’ flesh, an’ gives ye new life, so I wondered ef ’wund’t make a man live longer an’ longer ef ’twas more of the sam—” (123). The enlivening gaze transforms the old Puritan. In light of the “equal wonder and respect” his “countenance and physique” (120) initially inspire in the narrator, Lovecraft makes possible the inference that he may once have been a virtuous man. However, his present condition as a homosexual vampire, preying on the flesh and blood of other men to prolong his sordid life, corroborates the speaker’s intuitive revulsion or “instinctive fear” he felt upon meeting him (120). In “Picture,” art, as conveyed through ekphrasis, heightens the effect of cosmic horror by serving as the focal point through which can be perceived the commonalities Lovecraft establishes among three landscapes: the Congo and its surrounding regions, as described by a Eurocentric travel narrative recounting a white man’s encounter with what sixteenth-century Europe steadfastly considered to be uncharted territories of extreme barbarism; the narrator’s peregrinations in the ostensibly familiar, bucolic backwoods of New England; and the old Puritan’s ultimately debasing confrontation with the unexplored depths of his unconscious. The approximation Lovecraft draws among these topographies has far-reaching implications. In defamiliarizing the New England countryside, Lovecraft not only makes modern Americans out to be as ignorant of their own country as Lopez and Pigafetta were of the Congo and its environs, but also ascribes to that area a capacity to produce horrors equal to, if not more harrowing than, those imputed to Africa by Europeans. These
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two interconnected aspects are manifest in the psycho-sexual drama between the narrator and the old Yankee, a conflict that betrays, moreover, two commonplaces in Lovecraft’s fiction: an unyielding condemnation of modern society and a fear of atavism. In the characterization of the old Yankee, the masculine, brute force of the antediluvian Puritan settler assumes supernatural proportions as a result of his unnatural longevity. In contrast, Lovecraft depicts modern society, represented by the narrator, as too gullible, effeminate, and weak to confront what he identifies as the bestial and decadent nature of its common origins. Against the supernatural power that the old Yankee symbolizes, only an elemental force of nature of apocalyptic proportions—“the titanic thunderbolt of thunderbolts” (“Picture,” 118)—can champion the cause of the narrator and protect him (and, by extension, what he stands for— culture, modernity) from being devoured by its own primitive and degenerate foundation. In retrospect, upon reading the tale to its end we are compelled to agree with the speaker, when, at the very beginning of his narrative, he had decried Puritanism, the moral foundation of American society, as inherently savage and bestial. The sexual connotations that the enlivening gaze attributes in “Picture” to the tribal scene portrayed on plate XII amount to a travesty of an intrinsic human drive: the depiction of human flesh as food makes literal the metaphor of incorporation associated with sexual acts involving penetration, equating them with the literal ingestion of the body of the desired. Thus, in giving its adherents no permissible outlet to express natural, human instincts, the Yankee’s faith compels instead both a perversion of those impulses and a subversion of moral strictures. Lovecraft’s view of Puritanism’s decrees as aberrant and inhuman is further emphasized by means of a pun on “taste”: “[The Puritans] were forced by their rigid code to seek concealment above all else; so that they came to use less and less taste in what they concealed” (“Picture,” 117, emphasis added). From the vantage point afforded by the story’s theme, one could say that the narrator implicitly categorizes cannibalism in terms of the consumption of food that is unpalatable, “of bad taste,” and condemns it for being an act “in bad taste,” that is, for its inability to obtain, hypothetically, the common assent of all that an aesthetic judgment demands. In approximating the cultural practices of the backwoods of New England with those of the Anziques as observed by sixteenth-century European explorers, ekphrasis in “Picture” therefore provides a scathing censure of Puritanism by suggesting that its doctrines not only increase its followers’ susceptibility to sensory stimuli, but, in inducing a deviation of innate human instincts, inadvertently transforms them into perverts. It is a critique, moreover, that is complicated by Lovecraft’s tacit agreement, explicit in the permutations of art in his fiction examined in this essay, with the iconoclasm that grounds Protestantism’s proscriptions against idolatry.
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Finally, in a manner similar to Curwen’s portrait, Pickman’s canvases, the Shining Trapezohedron, the queer Innsmouth jewelry, the statuette of Cthulhu, and Zann’s music, ekphrasis in “Picture” reveals that art serves as a vehicle for the exploration of the human psyche’s inner depths. In reflecting back to the observer the desire he projects onto a given representation through the enlivening gaze—a desire whose sensory basis characterizes it as perverse in Lovecraft—art points to the origin of cosmic horror: the human self as a finite, embodied, and instinctually-driven being whose existence serves no purpose. In staging a historical document at the centre of the drama and, more importantly, a real illustration compelling to both schooled and uninformed classes of viewers alike, “Picture” enmeshes the reader in Lovecraft’s cosmic horror by alerting us to the possibility that, in spite of the ontological distance that separates us from the narrator’s plight (he is a fictional construct who exists in language whereas we are incarnate subjects), we too can fall prey to the dangers of the enlivening gaze. The enumeration and brief analysis of the aforementioned texts is by no means meant to be exhaustive, and there are other stories I could have mentioned to examine the pragmatic function of art in Lovecraft. For instance, in “The Temple,” the small carved ivory head that the German submarine crew find on the body of a dead foreign sailor serves an indexical function similar to that of the jewelry in “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Instead, I hope to have drawn attention to the intimate connection shared by art, the effect of cosmic horror, and the nihilistic, anti-humanist perspective of Lovecraft’s fiction. Ekphrasis in Lovecraft makes evident that, as a vehicle facilitating the human subject’s coming into self-knowledge—a knowledge that simultaneously degrades the human self and our culture—art both focuses and intensifies cosmic horror by capitalizing on our vulnerability to sensory stimuli and on our inherent impulse to ascribe meaning to form.
I elaborate on the impossibility of an experience of the sublime in Lovecraft’s fiction in “‘Cosmic Horror’ and the Question of the Sublime in Lovecraft.” 2 For an explication of these terms, see Lovecraft’s letters in H. P Lovecraft: . Selected Letters 1925–1929, as well as S. T. Joshi’s “Lovecraft’s Ethical Philosophy” and A Dreamer and a Visionary: Lovecraft in His Time. 3 See Paul Buhle, Maurice Lévy, and Michel Houellebecq. 4 “Without knowing what futurism is like, Johansen achieved something very close to it when he spoke of the city” (“Cthulhu,” Dunwich 150). 5 In a twist of fate hinted at by Thurber that underscores the perversity of art in Lovecraft’s fiction, this “sardonic linkage” between human beings and monsters
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becomes a fact in “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” a tale published a year later in 1927. The reader finds out that Pickman had transformed into a ghoul, explaining, retrospectively, the nature of his disappearance and his obsession with miscegenation (“Dream-Quest,” 338). 6 Freedberg points out that the iconoclastic stance adopted by Muslims and Protestants can be explained in their belief that “the maker of the image arrogates creative powers to himself of which only God is in possession” (86). 7 According to S. T. Joshi and Peter Cannon in their ninth annotation of “Picture” in More Annotated H. P Lovecraft, Lovecraft had first-hand knowledge of neither the . Regnum Congo nor the De Bry illustrations, gleaning his account of the text from Thomas Huxley’s essay “On the History of Man-Like Apes” and his conception of plate XII from an incomplete reproduction of it appended to Huxley’s essay. Nonetheless, the function of plate XII in “Picture” does not depend upon Lovecraft’s intimate knowledge of either the Regnum Congo or the De Bry brothers’ original image, since he merely exploits, by means of ekphrasis, the perverse imaginative associations the idea of a cannibal butcher shop evokes.
Buhle, Paul. “Distopia as Utopia: Howard Phillips Lovecraft and the Unknown Content of American Horror Literature.” H. P Lovecraft: Four Decades of . Criticism. Athens: Ohio UP 1980. 196–210. , Burleson, Donald. “On Lovecraft’s Themes: Touching the Glass.” An Epicure in the Terrible: a Centennial Anthology of Essays in Honor of H. P Lovecraft. Ed. David E. . Schultz and S. T. Joshi. London: Associated University Presses, 1991. 135–147. Freedberg, David. The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response. Chicago: Chicago UP 1989. , Houellebecq, Michel. H. P Lovecraft: Contre le monde, contre la vie. New York: . Rocher, 1999. Joshi, S. T. A Dreamer and a Visionary: Lovecraft in His Time. Liverpool: Liverpool UP , 2001. ——. “Lovecraft’s Ethical Philosophy.” Lovecraft Studies 21 (1990): 24–39. Joshi, S. T., and Peter Cannon. Ninth Footnote to “The Picture in the House.” More Annotated H. P Lovecraft. New York: Dell, 1999. 16. . Lévy, Maurice. “Fascisme et Fantastique, ou le Cas Lovecraft.” Caliban 7 (1970): 67–78. Lovecraft, Howard Phillips. At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels. Ed. S. T. Joshi. Sauk City: Arkham, 1985. ——. “The Call of Cthulhu.” 1926. The Dunwich Horror and Others. 125–154. ——. “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” 1927. At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels. 107–234.
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316 · Vivian Ralickas ——. “The Colour out of Space.” 1927. The Dunwich Horror and Others. 53–82. ——. “Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” 1926–1927. At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels. 306–407. ——. The Dunwich Horror and Others. Ed. S. T. Joshi. Sauk City: Arkham, 1982. ——. H. P Lovecraft: Selected Letters 1925–1929. 5 vols. Ed. August Derleth and . Donald Wandrei. Sauk City: Arkham, 1968–76. ——. “The Haunter of the Dark.” 1935. The Dunwich Horror and Others. 92–115. ——. “The Music of Erich Zann.” 1921. The Dunwich Horror and Others. 83–91. ——. “Pickman’s Model.” 1926. The Dunwich Horror and Others. 12–25. ——. “The Picture in the House.” 1920. The Dunwich Horror and Others. 116–124. ——. “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” 1931. The Dunwich Horror and Others. 303–367. Mariconda, Steven J. “H. P Lovecraft: Art, Artifact, and Reality.” Lovecraft Studies . 29(1993): 2–12. Ralickas, Vivian. “‘Cosmic Horror’ and the Question of the Sublime in Lovecraft.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 18.3 (2007): 364–398.
In making reference to David Freedberg’s idea of the gaze that “enlivens,” elaborated in The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of Response (1989), to explain both the nature and the dynamics of the reactions art elicits from Lovecraft’s characters, this essay seeks to elaborate on a hitherto unexplored aspect of Lovecraft’s notion of cosmic horror: the pragmatic function art plays in his fiction. In laying bare our vulnerability to sensory stimuli and our inherent impulse to ascribe meaning to form, art concentrates Lovecraft’s anti-humanist effect of cosmic horror by eroding characters’ humanity and revealing the false foundations of their sense of identity.
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