Item description for H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houellebecq & Stephen King...
Overview Required reading for anyone interested in the origins of horror fiction, the author takes the reader inside the mind of this unparalleled artisan of terror and the macabre, building on his adoration for Lovecraft to craft a compelling account of the author's life and legacy.
In this prescient work, Michel Houellebecq focuses his considerable analytical skills on H. P. Lovecraft, the seminal, enigmatic horror writer of the early 20th century. Houellebecq's insights into the craft of writing illuminate both Lovecraft and Houellebecq's own work. The two are kindred spirits, sharing a uniquely dark worldview. But even as he outlines Lovecraft's rejection of this loathsome world, it is Houellebecq's adulation for the author that drives this work and makes it a love song, infusing the writing with an energy and passion not seen in Houellebecq's novels to date. This book is indispensable reading for anyone interested in Lovecraft, Houellebecq, or the past and future of horror.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 0.75" Width: 5.5" Height: 8.5" Weight: 0.74 lbs.
Release Date May 1, 2005
Publisher McSweeney's, Believer Books
ISBN 1932416188 ISBN13 9781932416183
Availability 0 units.
More About Michel Houellebecq & Stephen King
Michel Houellebecq is a French novelist, poet, and literary critic. His novels include the international bestseller The Elementary Particles and The Map and the Territory, which won the 2010 Prix Goncourt. He lives in France.
Reviews - What do customers think about H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life?
An Immoral Book. Aug 24, 2008
When I was given a copy of this book I was thrilled; as I read it I grew impatient, then frustrated, and finally angry. Mr. Houellebecq is a good writer and an interesting if not rigorous thinker. Thus I am obliged to give the book two stars rather then the one I suspect it actually deserves.
Simply put, in this book Lovecraft is subjected to an extremely biased and in the end insulting reading in order to justify Mr. Houellebecq's preconceptions and asinine philosophy. In the end, the book comes across as the expression of extremely juvenile negativity masked in in a load of pretentious mumbo-jumbo. There is good and valuable French hyper-intellectualism -- this is a prime example of the other kind.
Despite what one reviewer wrote, Lovecraft's correspondence was far more central to the man himself than his fiction -- not to diminish the importance of his fiction, but when trying to understand Lovecraft it's important to consider what he expressed to those he cared for in addition to the works harvested from his exquisite fantasy life.
Lovecraft's letters reveal a man with a genuinely sweet nature, one who was lonely and in desperate need of human contact. The racism so frequently commented on is negated implicitly by his behavior and explicitly in his letters toward the end of his life. Lovecraft was a man who clearly dealt with many physical and emotional ailments and he grew as a human being throughout his life in spite of and in reaction to those difficulties.
To use Lovecraft as the poster child for callow nihilism (there is nihilism I can respect; I did not find it here) is either the result of incompetent research, malice, or a sort of moral laziness in which one's intended statement is more important than the facts at hand -- and in which the truth about a worthy man who spent his life struggling with his limitations is regarded as collateral damage.
I suspect the latter.
this is one to buy Aug 1, 2007
I could have done without the comments of Stephen King who wouldn't recognize a tight story line if one fell on his head...and I would have chosen The Terrible Old Man and The Color Out of Space even though they are not "great texts"...but this is by far the best mini-biography on Lovecraft yet. It reminds me of Lovecraft Remembered, a series of vignettes by the people who knew him, and it avoids the Derleth whitewash that followed his death in 1937. Lovecraft is proto-horror, and my main regret with him has always been that he spent so much time writing letters to the detriment of his story output. If he hadn't, though, we might never have gotten Conan the Barbarian or Psycho, who knows?
Lovecraft: 20th Century Poe Jul 21, 2005
Michel Houellebecq is the ultra-hip author of fashionably deconstructive modern French novels, so what interest would he have in a dead American writer consigned by many to the despised catgory of "pulp"? It turns out that Houellebecq is a big fan of American horror; among the writers he cites in this excellent short book are Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch, two disciples of Lovecraft. "H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life" is a very satisfying read. Houellebecq escapes the jargon and theory of most modern literary criticism and simply delivers the goods: a passionate explication of Lovecraft's life and work which makes sense and gives you a new appreciation for the Bard of Unnameable Terror. It's fitting that Stephen King provides the introduction, because this book is very much in the spirit of his own landmark book Stephen King's Danse Macabre.
Houellebecq asserts that Lovecraft's kindly, reclusive, poverty-stricken life was "exemplary" because it was integral to the vision of his work. That is, he wrote as a protest against life as we live it, the old "human condition". Someone once said "the negative, by contrast, suggests the other" and Lovecraft's dark mythology is a satire of, and pessimistic comment on the mythologies we live by. Included in this volume are two of Lovecraft's more mind-blowing stories; "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Whisperer In Darkness." If the "cult of Cthulhu" was a twisted opposite of, and challenge to Christianity, then reading these stories makes you rethink exactly what it is you believe in and why. Lovecraft shouted "No!" to the seeming cruelty of the cosmos, and as King argues, gave space for attentive young readers to lick their wounds before engaging once again in the next battle of life. Houellebecq deals with Lovecraft's racism and Antisemitism, revealed in his letters published after his early death, by comparing him to Louis-Ferdinand Celine, the great French black comedy novelist who was also guilty of bigotry. Houellebecq demonstrates that fear was at the heart of their similar world views, not merely fascism, and that fear sharpened their work. "Those who love life don't read books or see movies" is a questionable statement by Houellebecq, but it contains a grain of truth. We read in part to take us out of this world and into alternative ones. Lovecraft is tremendously influential; the movie "Alien" is mostly an elaboration on his themes and method of attack. Houellebecq's little, readable book is a welcome addition to the small list of really enjoyable contemporary literary criticism.
Flawed, but exhilarating Jul 13, 2005
Very rarely do we see the likes of a Michel Houllebecq--darling of the 21st century's aggressive postmodern nihlism, controversial writer both in the United States and France, champion of the "new" hedonistic revolt (is there really such a thing?)--join hands with the decomposed but very much alive likes of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the legendary misfit of Providence.
"Life is useless and disappointing", writes Houellebecq, and beginning from this premise attempts to tie such morbidly sacred short stories as "The Call of Cthulu" and "The Whisperer in the Darkness" in with what he envisions as the call of the true poet, "the creation of an entirely alternative world to this one". Championing Lovecraft's life (more than his work) as an example of unparalleled existential defiance, he sees similarities between himself and the pulp writer who told us quite directly that we are nothing but floating electrons, gaseous entities destined to perish in a meaningless universe. It goes without saying that Lovecraft himself was never as outspoken as Houllebecq, and that his quiet skepticism regarding all human hope is at almost complete odds with the French icon's exhibitionism.
Still, there is something to be found here that is not to be found at all in the miles of scholarly toilet paper and mediocre biography heaped up HP since his death. This is an impassioned attempt to understand the man who, like Kant, was suspected of not being fully human. Lovecraft's tragic and reclusive plight in life, composed mostly of literature and his own doomy imaginings is in Houllebecq's eyes worthy of the most profound veneration. Rather than saying the great Nietzschean "Yes" To Life", Lovecraft uttered a "No" without weakness or complaint. His racism is recognized by Houellebecq for what it really was: a reviling of ALL things human, particularly that which sticks out from the standard heaps of flesh with any marked characteristic. How everything went wrong almost consistently for Lovecraft in every aspect of his external life is given excruciating exposure. I'd call this less of a "study" and more of a manifesto for hardline misanthropes. (The introduction by Stephen King seems out of place at first glance, but strangely enough fits right in as one gets into the meat and potatoes of Houllebecq's rant.) Included are what Houllebecq considers Lovecraft's most telltale work: "The Call of Cthulu" and "The Whisperer in the Darkness".
Houellebecq's Lovecraft: The Unbeliever in Pursuit of the Unspeakable. Jun 27, 2005
I discovered this book while rummaging around on the net, trying to find an in-print edition of Marcel Schwob's translation of `Hamlet'. It was a happy accident, because I've wanted to read some Houellebecq for a while, and a serious literary analysis of Lovecraft is long overdue. H. P. Lovecraft (HPL) may well be the most easily and unjustly ignored major American literary figure. Lovecraft is the grandfather of modern horror and a major influence on all genres of speculative fiction. He not only showed the way through his writings, but also shared his skills with a large circle of correspondents, which included many authors. In addition, his creations were so rich and compelling that authors have continued to work within and add to his `Cthulu Mythos'. However, although Lovecraft gets kudos for dismissing the supernatural from horror and for rejecting the idea of the human-centered universe, he is also crowned with titles like "The Best Bad Writer Ever" (and this is from an admirer of sorts). At the other end of the spectrum are cultish fans who mindlessly worship him. Very few authors have been so unfortunate in their friends and defenders. Houellebecq is the first worthy champion I've seen ride into the lists to challenge us to consider Lovecraft as a real writer.
Houellebecq focuses on the sources of inspiration for Lovecraft and their impact on his creations and his narrative style. He seeks to show that Lovecraft's distinct voice derives from his psychology and biography. Dreams, racism, a minimalist personality and a crippling bonanza of paranoias, delusions, and depression are the raw material for the analysis (Lovecraft is our answer to Artaud and Jarry). This is the first time I've seen someone really emphasize the importance of dreams as a source for Lovecraft's stories. Even so, I don't think Houellebecq goes far enough-Lovecraft is often mocked for piling up and overusing such meaningless adjectives as `unspeakable', a practice he discouraged when advising other writers. This contradictory practice (noted by Houellebecq and many others) is probably the result of trying to convey the actual experience of the dream without distorting it or adding to it. Houellebecq makes the point pretty thoroughly that images of racial pollution and degeneration power a lot of HPL's stories, but it's worth noting that while the horror writer talked a good racial game, he didn't really walk the walk. He married a Jewish Ukrainian and worked briefly on a propaganda book for the Italian government. These represent three races he claimed to despise. Lovecraft insisted on living as if he were a member of the landed aristocracy, in spite of his dire poverty. Thus, Houellebecq points out that Lovecraft insisted on writing almost entirely for his own pleasure, which may also explain why he didn't always adhere to generally accepted rules of good rhetoric in fiction. He knew what his audience wanted. This attitude also seems to have offended some of the professional writers who have studied Lovecraft and deride his amateur pretentions (maybe they're jealous of a true maverick who stuck to his ideals).
Houellebecq makes two interesting observations about HPL's characters. The first is that they tend to be precise observers, scientists and artists, whose personalities are so diminished that they serve largely as a means for conducting their high voltage sensory experiences directly to the reader without any insulation or interpretation. The other is that a viewpoint character's presence is sometimes so diminished that the reader loses the identification or feeling of presence necessary for maintaining a sense of fear, ironic in a purported horror story. Besides showing the effectiveness of juxtaposing trained observers and insane events, Houellebecq claims that this aspect of his subject's style is a consequence of the author making his viewpoint characters alter egos. Although that is certainly possible, I think it's likelier an adaptation from Poe, who used the same technique. Poe is most effective when his characters are clinically describing their own madness, but Lovecraft's characters must stay sane when the world goes mad. Even the apparent alter egos may have literary antecedents, Lovecraft may have borrowed the character type from de Maupassant, whose story `The Horla' has many ideas that Lovecraft assimilated into his own oeuvres. It's even possible that he modeled his own personality from literary figures. My last couple comments about Poe and de Maupassant highlight the only major weakness that I found in Houellebecq's work, a failure to explore the effect that Lovecraft's sources had on his stories. Lovecraft was a diligent scholar of fantasic literature and was heavily influenced by several writers, notably those I've already mentioned, and Lord Dunsany.
Probably a lot of people who read Houellebecq's essay won't have read any Lovecraft. He's certainly not everyone's cup of tea. However, if you want to see what Houellebecq is talking about there are three essential stories: (1) `The Mountains of Madness', and (2) `Shadow Over Innsmouth', and (3) `The Color Out of Space'. I would suggest that people who want to see his greatest fantasy work (this aspect of his work falls outside of the scope of Houellebecq's study) should also read `The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath". I read Houellebecq's study in a French edition, his language is so transparent and his argument so clear, that I'm sure the English translation is quite servicable.