- The Age of Lovecraft ed. by Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
edited by Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2016. 268 pp., illus. Trade, paper. ISBN: 978-0816699247; ISBN: 978-0816699254.
In the 1920s and 1930s H.P. Lovecraft's horror stories appeared regularly in pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Astounding Stories, yet they gradually fell into obscurity following the death of the author and the decline of the pulp market. It wasn't until the 1980s that S.T. Joshi began to edit a series of scholarly journals (Lovecraft Studies, Lovecraft Annual, Studies in Weird Fiction, and Weird Fiction Review) that brought Lovecraft's work to the attention of literary critics. His stories have since reached a wider readership through numerous reprint editions, and in 2005 his work was even included in the prestigious Library of America series, which presented him as the modern successor to Edgar Allan Poe. In recent years the popularity of his work has grown even more thanks to comic, radio, film and television adaptations as well as games and popular music, which have made Lovecraft's name a household word—even among people who never read him.
If we are now living in the "age of Lovecraft," as Carl H. Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock argue in their new anthology, then this is due not only to his tremendous popularity but also to the surge of interest in his work among contemporary theorists and philosophers—particularly in the field of posthumanist studies, where his work has been embraced for its antihumanism or postanthropocentrism. This aspect of his work was first recognized by French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, whose 1980 book A Thousand Plateaus praised Lovecraft for illustrating the "process of being as becoming—becoming animal, becoming monster, becoming other than a fixed and finished human subject" (p. 7). However, the contributors to Sederholm and Weinstock's anthology appear to have been more directly inspired by Graham Harman's 2012 book Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy, which described Lovecraft as the progenitor of object-oriented ontology—a philosophical view that "posits a universe in which there is something in objects that always escapes knowing and in which human beings exist equally with other things" (p. 5). Many of the essays support and extend Harman's argument, such as Weinstock's "Lovecraft's Things: Sinister Souvenirs from Other Worlds," which argues that Lovecraft's fiction is set in an "enchanted world . . . in which the line between subject and object becomes muddled and obscured" (p. 63). This results in a confusion of ontological states, as people "are treated like or become things" (p. 63) and objects "exhibit agency, they intermesh with the human, they prompt reconsiderations of where the line between human and nonhuman actually falls, and compel a reconsideration of the place of human beings in the universe" (p. 76). Brian Johnson's "Prehistories of Posthumanism: Cosmic Indifferentism, Alien Genesis, and Ecology from H.P. Lovecraft to Ridley Scott" makes a similar argument by comparing Lovecraft's stories to the Alien film series, which both illustrate "the breakdown of human exceptionalism" (p. 104) by depicting "a cosmos that was at once indifferent and (for that very reason) menacing" (p. 109).
Perhaps the most troubling and controversial aspect of Lovecraft's work is its explicit and often extreme racism. Lovecraft's biographers confirm that he was extremely disturbed by the influx of immigrants coming to America, and many of his stories reflect his fear that racial miscegenation was contributing to the degeneration of the Anglo-Saxon race. While early critics attempted to either ignore Lovecraft's racism or dismiss it as simply a product of his time, French writer Michel Houellebecq's 1991 book H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life famously argued that his work was inextricably linked to his racist world view, and an understanding of the former was impossible without a consideration of the latter. Several of the essays in Sederholm and Weinstock's anthology attempt to address this issue by arguing that Lovecraft's antihumanism undermines his racist agenda. For example...