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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

DON'T BRING ME THE HEAD OF H.P. LOVECRAFT!

... is what over 2,500 petitioners said regarding the World Fantasy Award's use of HPL's image for their award. As a result the administrators of said award have decided to abolish the use of H.P. Lovecraft as an image for said award. 




But though they won't have HPL's head to kick around any more at WFA, in a symbolic sense Lovecraft has been "beheaded" in terms of his reputation. All of the writers who are cited in the linked article-- none of whom I have read, incidentally-- are of one mind in showing righteous horror at Lovecraft's opinions of persons he deemed inferior. (This, by the way, was not confined purely to all those who fall under the rubric "People of Color," for HPL expressed dislike of certain nationalities generally regarded as "dominantly Caucasian," such as Poles and Italians.)

While some of the writers who petitioned for the award-change doled out a few piddling accolades as to HPL's importance in the scheme of things, all of them were united in stating that he should no longer be allowed to represent the face, or one of the faces, of a prestigious fantasy award. In his place, a more current writer, Octavia Butler, has been announced as a substitution. Significantly, Butler is not only female, as her first name indicates, but a black SF-writer whose work also deals with race, albeit in ways that are much more acceptable to current readers-- more on which later.

As I've never paid any attention to the World Fantasy Awards in the past, I have no burning desire to see HPL remain its image now and forevermore. I do think that the reasons cited in the article are all extremely banal, bearing a strong resemblance to the arguments of the Huddites, in that both groups would like to think that art correlates with the artist's adherence to progressive politics.

I posted this on CBR Community:

the critic Barton Levi St. Armand... doesn't excuse HPL's racism, but he observes-- unlike the smugly righteous [Noah] Berlatsky [given a link at the thread's outset]-- that HPL's racism was tied in to his horror about any kind of broken boundaries-- between life and death, human and alien, and so on.

I may give St. Armand's book a re-read in future to be sure I've done it justice, but I feel some relief to see that at least some of the posters on CBR are able to consider the possibility that HPL's inarguable ethnicity-revulsion may have played a role in the unique, hyper-alienated consciousness that gave rise to the Cthulhu mythos.


On a related matter, I pointed out that the petitioners undermined their own conviction in the superiority of Butler's work by bringing race into the matter:

I haven't accused Butler of trying to pass as anything but herself; my accusation is directed at the anti-HPL campaigners. Joshi mentions Ellen Datlow and Daniel Jose Older as two of the more influential figures, but I've not been able to find any online statements by Datlow. Older, however, has had no hesitation about linking his critique of HPL's craft and his criticism of HPL's racism.
It would be interesting to see whether or not Older's criticism of HPL's craft would have gained quite so much traction had he Older not "played the race card," but now we'll never know. Because Older (among others) insisted that HPL's racism tainted all of his accomplishments, I think it very likely that the WFA representatives chose Butler in order to take the spotlight off themselves.

Are there other POSSIBLE readings? Sure. It's POSSIBLE that the complaints of Older and others simply made the WFA reps sincerely guilty for the abuses of white privilege, and they rushed to correct the abuse by giving belated attention to someone whose gender and race *might* have marginalized her more in other time-periods. One can certainly read things that way, and I can't prove otherwise. But I can *suspect* that the motivations may not have quite so noble.
I suppose Older considers it a win no matter how he got it.


More on these matters later, perhaps.

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