August 30, 2013

"Lovecraft is a bad writer." Oh yeah?

Came across this wearisome recapitulation of the doctrinaire belittlement of Lovecraft as a "bad writer," a racist, etc. via Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Seeking to assess the "badness" of writing as a discrete quality unrelated to the ideas expressed or whatever cultural engagement with them that it instigates reflects an impoverished view of literature and art and is also quite easy to do with most writing, of any quality, if you have a mind to. There certainly are writers who produce gorgeous, flawlessly engineered sentences, and Lovecraft isn't one of those, particularly in the context of our modern/post-modern aesthetic. But beyond the mechanics of sentence building, I think in most cases people would agree that the "ideas" are part of the "writing." The style must be in service of something, and that something is really the meat of the thing.

I'd also take issue with the notion that the subsequent use of the Cthulhu mythos produced great works of art that are obviously superior to the stories that originally iterated it, by virtue of being freed from the burden being expressed in the awful writing of a racist. The author gives no examples, but I've read pretty much everything there is to read in this secondary and tertiary corpus and seen all the movies as far as I know and I can't think of one that works as well as the original stories. The ungainly, retrograde, mannered style is in fact part of why it works. It's a unique blend of pseudo-18th Century language filtered through Poe and 19th Century anthropology and the clich├ęs and tropes of gothic/Romantic supernatural horror, all clashing with radical scientific materialism and a view of the universe as utterly uncaring and harsh (and a thousand other things that foster the effect, no doubt.) You may not like bits of the complex, or you may like none of it and find yourself wondering "why on earth isn't he Neil Gaiman?" and that's perfectly valid, but it is part of the "writing," whether you like it or not. What is writing, if not that?

Bottom line is, if you're critiquing style and writing by "staring at the shape of the text" and blanching when, from this distance, you see no dialogue: you're doing it wrong.

Posted by Dr. Frank at August 30, 2013 06:30 PM