Matt Ruff's "Lovecraft Country," where the horror is racism (not racist)


#1

[Read the post]


#2

Ruff’s characters shine as active protagonists in their own story who have lives…

So, nothing like Lovecraft then.


#3

The book sounds very very interesting. I’m not 100% sure if it’s the kind of book i want to read, but i’ll keep it in mind… you never know. But i like the fact that the author instead of ignoring Lovecraft’s racism he brings it front and center. I’ve always thought it ironic that people celebrate Lovecraft’s writing but happily gloss over his racism as a thing of the times, like a racist grandparent… “oh grandpa, don’t mind him… he’s old fashioned”.


#4

I’ve always thought the argument that racism was kind of at the heart of Lovecraft’s horror was interesting - fear of the Other, fear of the Not Understood, fear of the Alien, fear of intelligence and education and knowledge leading to madness and instability. “Don’t learn about other people,” it suggests, “they might be fish-people. Be ignorant, it’s safer that way.”

One of the reasons I thought this was an interesting way to look at it is because it suggests that racism and fear/horror/ignorance are intimately linked, that to have one is to have the other. All this angry racism then is embedded not in arrogance or judgement, but in a terror.

That suggests that one of the most powerful ways to fight racism is to dispel fear. Which can be hard for those of us who fight racism to acknowledge sometimes. When someone makes a racist comment, I want them to feel opprobrium, shame, and judgement, so that they don’t do it again. But what might be more effective is to somehow find the root of fear that germinates this racism-sprout, and to sever it with compassion and safety.

The idea that the response to “Affirmative action is reverse racism!” is not “You’re a dipshit,” but rather “What are you so scared of?” is a powerful one.


#5

Knowing about Lovecraft’s life, it’s easy to see what made him a racist. How he was pretty much a hermit and how foreigners represented change, which he didn’t like and feared. But to give him credit, he was changing towards the end of his life. He went out more, met people and was frankly becoming less of a racist.
I must admit that I get annoyed when people simply lump his entire life under “he was a racist pig” and ignore everything else. But that’s just my problem.


#6

They’re mostly scared of losing a future job to a supposedly less qualified (sigh, always “less qualified” in their minds) racial minority applicant. Another unreasonable fear. Never mind I guess that the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action have been white women.

Also, to the rest of your great comment: Too true!


#7

Wouldn’t say all racism is linked to fear, there’s always the colonialist attitude of superiority over the poor, but a vast majority I’m sure. Maybe on a more individual level racism is built on fear and on a societal level there are some other aspects.


#8

He was always pretty active. He was a bookish child, but went out a lot as a grown man. Mostly to the museum, but he had a little “personal tour” of New York he liked to take friend from out town on.

On the up-side of the racist focus: at least no one’s fixating on his sex life. (This does remind me though that I want to find his ex-wife Sonia’s letter where she says (and I paraphrase, of course), “I love him, but boy did his mother mess with his head.”)


#9

To me, this just points toward a basic universal income.

If you don’t lose your house and your ability to feed yourself because some other applicant got the job instead of you, there’s much less of a reason to be scared of it!

That’s waaaaay Off Topic, but it points to how racism is often much more toxic and virulent among the poor and working class than it is among the rich (who are secure enough that there’s little fear).


#10

Didn’t the pilgrims come to america more to be able to persecute, not to escape persecution?


#11

The thing I love about Lovecraft is that he created a fantasy world parallell to our own, within which racism actually makes sense. That is, he was trying to produce works that encapsulated and spread his racist agenda, but instead - unwittingly, I suppose - produced an absurd send-up of racist paranoia, and a window into the kind of insanity that dogs racists.

If an idea required the addition of deep-sea-lizards-from-outer-space, then it’s probably back to the drawing board.


#12

#13

I think it was both. The English government did have waves of suppression at religious minorities, especially those focused on the “purity” of the church. Doesn’t mean they weren’t raging assholes when they arrived on these shores.


#14

Wow. You’d identified the problem and potential solution with my in-laws in three sentences


#15

Too much internet. Not sure if sarcasm.


#16

They came to America because they tried Holland first and were worried their kids were becoming too damn Dutch.


#17

Could think of his works as a magnifying glass that brought into focus the absurdity of the fear within racism that has always been there. Probably since the time of the proverbial cavemen where one caveman said “I wonder what that big growling thing wants” while the other caveman was disappearing in to the horizon and determinately not looking back.


#18

I kinda feel bad for him. His whole family had serious mental health problems and I wonder if his ideas about race were formed in some way through that.


#19

Lovecraft was himself undoubtedly racist – this is a guy with a pet cat named Niggerman, after all – but I find the arguments that most or all of his works are therefore inherently racist to be pretty ridiculous. If you’re starting off with the goal to find racism in his writing, sure, you’re going to find parallels in creepy fish people or flying lizard/bug creatures or floating insanity-inducing bubble gods. But you’ll find just as many parallels if you decide to find racism in the Oz books.


#20

The one that is always touted as being evidence of his racism ends with the protagonist being rather accepting of the stand in for minorities.