The Call of Cabbage

Even the most cursory internet search for HP Lovecraft is likely to uncover a fresh-to-the-searcher article or discussion of his racism: he was objectively racist; he was a product of his time; he was more racist than his time; he was a racist but his works aren’t; and so forth. I suspect the broad questions of cultural relativism might never be answers satisfactorily, but what if he objectively wasn’t racist? What if he was actually anything but prejudiced?

Many defences of Lovecraft (whether defending the whole of his life or suggesting a change in beliefs as he matured) point out that he married a Jewish woman. And many refutations of these defences point to a continued racism-by-metaphor in his later works. Whichever stance a reasonable person takes on the issue, there does appear to be a conflict. But, what if his behaviour is utterly consistent?

Another charge often levelled against Lovecraft is that his work isn’t very good; that his prose is a little purple or otherwise flawed. What if that is deliberate? What if the racism is supposed to look a little clunky, so that readers would feel it was overdone? If we view it as a stance taken for effect, then it is no longer inconsistent with his marriage.

Of course, there is too much evidence of prejudiced expression outside of his fiction to make this a simple attempt at parody; this is a life lived with prejudices displayed. But it is also a life that seemed most unsuccessful; another deliberate performance?

This is too great an endeavour for someone seeking social justice; but it fits a prophet, Bodhisattva, or other person committed utterly to spreading spiritual truth. What if the tales of alien entities threatening humanity are not a metaphor for other races? What if racism is a metaphor for alien threat?

In parallel with odd races, the Mythos is filled with past lives and time travelling. What if racism is a defence against interaction with the true Other left over from the time when we might encounter alien creatures easily that impacts other interactions as a side-effect? Children almost always have a much stronger dislike of bitter foods than adults, not because bitterness itself is harmful to the growing body but as a protection against poisoning; a protection that fades as the mind matures. What if racism is a similar defence on another level?

What if Lovecraft was trying to show us the absurdity of reducing an entire group to a single horrific Other without destroying the very necessary awareness that some entities exist that are psychically dangerous? Or even further, by showing certain heroes (such as Carter) interacting positively with the true Other while most did not, show that the only difference between a psychic poison and a psychic medicine is context.

was Lovecraft seeking to free us from the very prejudices he is accused of displaying?

Almost certainly not, but I hope this has entertained.

analogies between

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4 thoughts on “The Call of Cabbage

  1. Interesting thought experiment. HPL’s alien entities may have shared psychological roots with his racism, but I don’t think he meant them to be metaphors for human Others. I gather (from L. Sprague DeCamp’s biography) that his letters and early amateur journalism efforts displayed unvarnished negative attitudes toward non-white and other ethnic groups. These attitudes were modified later in life, but I don’t think they went underground to emerge in the form of the Mi-Go or the star-headed denizens of Antarctica. And anyway, he found the latter’s scientific attitudes, even in extremis, to be admirable. Now the Shoggoths, on the other hand…

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    1. It’s tricky to tell what in HPL’s work is symptomatic and what’s correlative. The Shadow over Innsmouth is fairly easy to read as a story about the horror of mixing races; however, I could easily believe he didn’t set out to write a metaphor for mixed marriage.

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      1. Well, yes, you’re right. Shadow over Innsmouth and Dunwich Horror are among the few of his stories that even hint at sexual relations, and of course in both cases it’s human/alien. There’s been endless speculation about HPL’s sexuality, of course, and then there was his failed marriage… Psychoanalyzing dead writers can be fascinating but in the end it’s impossible to be sure. Thanks for the opportunity to exchange ideas on this.

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