What is Lovecraftianism?

Some of you may have heard me use the term “Lovecraftianism” at times. Though people usually understand what I mean by that without an explanation, I thought I’d give a short explanation anyhow.

Lovecraftianism is Cosmic Horror

A while back, I wrote a post about horror author H.P. Lovecraft and of his “cosmic horror” stories. Lovecraft created anti-mythical / maltheistic stories where human beings not only don’t have a special relationship with reality, but that reality is actually hostile to us.

In a typical Lovecraft story an investigator will discover some intriguing detail that seems out of place, perhaps a finely carved statue of ancient origins but advanced technology. The investigator looks into this anomaly and he discovers some awful truth about reality. This often takes the form of discovering that an ancient god is going to awaken and enslave us, devour us, or breed us.

Now that the investigator knows the truth he can never be as peace again. He might commit suicide, go insane, or just live out his days knowing too much and hoping the worst does not happen while he is still alive.

Lovecraftianism is Purely Hypothetical

“Lovecraftianism” is a hypothetical world view –- for I take it as a given no sane person would actually be a Lovecraftian in practice –- where the truth about reality is so horrible that, if really understood, it would negatively impact one’s wellbeing. In short, it’s a reality where the truth can have a negative value and a delusion is preferable.

Why do I bother with this hypothetical worldview when no one (outside of asylums anyhow) really believes in it? Think of it as a reference point for comparison purposes. In theory there is nothing logically inconsistent with Lovecraft’s cosmic horror because there is no logic reason why life should be worth living. There is not even a logical reason why truth should be a good thing. So I often find it useful to compare a point of view to the Lovecraftian worldview. For example, before one writes of Scientology as harmful (though I’m sure it is) one should probably ask if perhaps it’s not at least better than Lovecraftianism.

But more importantly, Lovecraftianism vividly reminds us that even belief in the universal value of truth (and knowledge) is itself an act of faith. We cannot dispense with faith.

Theism and Lovecraftianism

I find it curious – in a good way – that Lovecraftian’s don’t really exist. Whereas the vast majority of human beings in the world or that have ever lived chose to believe in the existence of the Divine, even atheists usually deny the Lovecraftian worldview. Even those that don’t deny Lovecraftianism in word still effectively deny it in deed. So at a minimum, this shows us that belief in God is a real human passion rooted deeply in our humanity. To me, this makes our beliefs in the Divine worthy of serious consideration.

Lovecraftianism vs. Nihilism or Existentialism?

Is Lovecraftianism just Nihilism or Existentialism under a different name? Well, probably yes.

The problem is that those words don’t quite capture what I mean by “Lovecraftianism.” For one thing, Kierkegaard’s existentialism is nothing like Lovecraftianism. It was full of real hope in God. Even the more pessimistic Nietzsche (who eerily suffered a Lovecraft-style mental breakdown – I assume unrelated to his philosophy) often offered a level of hope by foreseeing a future of Ubermensch that would accept reality as it is, horrifying parts and all. Other existentialists, such as Camus, imagined one taking hope in just existing, even if the existence seemed unbearable and futile. [1] By comparison, Lovecraftianism assumes there is no hope at all, so knowing the truth can’t save you. Knowledge is only power if there is some realistic chance you can act upon it. Lovecraft’s stories often assumed there was not.

Nihilism comes closer to the mark, since potentially it denies all morality or meaning in our lives. But some Nihilists, such as (if he even counts) Nietzsche, still had some level of hope and placed value on the truth of Nihilism. Therefore, Nihilism is focused on meaning vs. meaninglessness whereas Lovecraftianism is focused on truth vs. untruth or, in other words, the value of truth. It’s probably safe to say that if there were real Lovecraftians, they’d also be a type of Nihilist. But real Nihilists (if indeed real Nihilists exist) are not necessarily Lovecraftians because they still find value in knowing “the truth.”

Notes

[1] I am thinking of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus where he imagines the poor Sisyphus who defies the gods and puts Death in chains only to find himself cursed to roll a rock up a hill every day and then have to repeat it again every day for forever. Camus imagines him “happy” in this futile work.

13 thoughts on “What is Lovecraftianism?

  1. I don’t see Lovecraft as pessimistically as you do or even as a viable philosophy. His works are more about a literary style than how a person can view the world. Its not even that unique. Read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and compare it to his works. He has combined science and his view of pre-historic religion with the Gothic tradition. The greatness of what he writes is less about how hopeless the universe is, although I can see where that idea comes from for those who read him, and more the development of a modern myth that tries to feel ancient. Unlike Scientology, he didn’t intend to create a religion, but he did want to create something epic and lasting. Its arguable if he actually succeeded, but he does have a following in the horror genre.

  2. Jettboy,

    I presume that there are no Lovecraftians. So H.P. Lovecraft was not a Lovecraftian.

    I’m just borrowing his name because his Mythos captures the right feel for the hypothetical point of view being expressed — that of one where truth can have negative value. I am not claiming Lovecraft believed in it. Or, if he did pay lip service to the view sometimes, he didn’t always act as if he did.

  3. Geoff,

    I would not consider the Adjustment Bureau to be Lovecraftian. It about determinism and freedom of choice. Knowing the truth didn’t even have negative value and in fact had positive value in the end. It was also quite hopeful.

  4. Jettboy: The reason I love Lovecraft and find his fiction so terrifying is precisely because of the chaos and hopelessness. Rules and laws not only don’t matter in his world, they are utterly insignificant compared to the ancient evils of his imagination. Serial killers and monsters from outer space are still bound by logic and physics: Lovecraft’s horrors, not so much. All fun make believe, of course.
    Two side notes: 1) Nietzche went mad and died due to syphilis. He had a bad habit of visiting women of ill repute. 2) My wife and I once had a discussion about Lovecraft in the cafeteria of the Boston temple. We may be the only people to have ever uttered the name of dread Cthulhu in an LDS temple.

  5. Yeah, the two elements of Lovecraft that stood out for me were that there was nothing you could do about it (hopelessness) so knowing the truth didn’t help and ultimately had a negative impact on a person’s life.

    The formula was mixed around a bit, of course. When the feds raid Innsmouth they did, at least temporarily, delay the problem. But he still ends with little doubt that our greatest weapons meant very little to the Deep Ones. They both outnumbered the humans and had more advanced technology. Often the only thing stopping us from being wiped out is that we just aren’t worth the bother since we aren’t aware of our tenuous position anyhow. (e.g. Whisper in the Dark.)

    Likewise, in Call of Cthulhu, they did manage to turn back Cthulhu temporarily. But it was just a matter of time before Cthulhu awoke and caused all of humanity to revel in cruelly destroying one another. So even the most “hopeful” examples left no hope in the long run. Humans were an insignificant part of reality and our horrifying doom is 100% assured.

  6. I wouldn’t call Nietzsche pessimistic, certainly not nihilistic. He considered himself as attempting to establish meaning in a universe without inherent meaning for humans. He thought of himself as a yea-sayer, as someone who held back against the abyss that constitutes a reality without God. ‘A blesser have I become and a Yea-sayer: and therefore strove I long and was a striver, that I might one day get my hands free for blessing.’ He ‘revaluated’ values, he did not leave want to leave his readers valueless.

    Couple of bits about Cthulu:

    Scary Christmas song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ftld7Ohojg&feature=related

    Funny send up of Mormon ad with Cthulu twist:

  7. Bro Jones,

    afaik, the idea that N. contracted syphilis from a prostitute is just an idea. I don’t find it likely that he was sleeping with prostitutes – though it’s possible. He had a squeamishness about sex, and most human contact, really. His very limited history with women included only a poor relationship with his mother and sister – both of whom he loathed (his sister would, after a fashion, sell a very constrained version of his thought to the Nazis) – and Lou Salome. The relationship with Salome was short lived, and ended with her in a relationship with one of his few friends, Paul Ree. Salome was later the lover of the poet Ranier Marie Rilke and a friend of Freud.

    For an excellent look at the “biography” of his ideas, this is your read:
    http://www.amazon.com/Nietzsche-Philosophical-Biography-R%C3%BCdiger-Safranski/dp/0393323803/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1306644788&sr=8-1

  8. Huh, thanks for the further info on Nietzsche. Hadn’t read him since high school, and was just going on what my teacher had said about him. (Always a dangerous prospect.) Also thanks for the Necronomicon video–outstanding stuff. :)

  9. Thomas,

    That’s the problem with labels. They are approximate at best. You are probably right that Nietzsche isn’t a Nihilist himself. But if you were to look up Nihilism, you’ll find Nietzsche mentioned prominently as at least developing the idea. Perhaps there isn’t such a thing as a true Nihilist any more than there is such a thing as a true Lovecraftian. If one were a Nihilist they’d likely want to wrap it up as a positive in some fashion and thereby create a paradox that would make them not really a full Nihilist after all.

  10. Yeah, Bruce,

    I wouldn’t say that he helped develop nihilistic ideas, but he was certainly read by nihilists. Nietzsche is comprehensive – kind of like the Bible – he has statements and even trends of thought that can be highlighted as needed by those who want to be use him as an authority. The central thrust of his thought is optimistic and not nihilistic, in my educated opinion. Read that wikipedia article much more closely, as it outlines quite well N’s response to nihilism.:)

  11. Thanks for the clarifications Thomas. I made a small edit to my post to make it clear Nietzsche was used by Nihilist and arguably isn’t one himself. The wikipedia article makes it sound like he developed Nihilism as a concept but was not necessarily describing himself.

  12. Hey Bruce, I doubt you’ll ever respond to this, based on the age of this thread, but, I’m a Lovecraftian. and you should know, we’re actually about as common as satanists. I’m not talking about the Esoteric Order of Dagon, or the Cult of Cthuhlu (although both of those organizations do exist, and are exceedingly evil). I mean I believe that the Deep Ones, and the Ancient Old Ones, and everything in between is a terrifying, horrifying reality. A lot of people don’t understand how a group of people can choose to believe in something so hopeless and terrible. It’s hard to explain, but it involves a passion of the occult, and a deep, deep desire to know the truth, no matter how awful the truth is. I own a copy of the Necronomicon (it’s actually pretty easy to get, its about $70 on ebay) and we believe that it truly was written by the mad arab, and that all of Lovecraft’s writings are simply extracted or inspired from it. So there you go, just wanted to widen your horizon.

    P.S. Yes we are generally uneasy and scared of the dark. Seriously.

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