De l'imaginaire dans vos oreilles
|ABOUT YOUR last book, Kraken--when I think of squid gods and the end of the world, I think of H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft is obviously a big influence for you, but, of course, Lovecraft was also terrifically racist. When you approach someone as an inspiration who also has very problematic politics, how do you deal with that? |
I'VE WRITTEN a lot about Lovecraft, and I've thought a lot about Lovecraft and his racism. There is a whole body of theoretical investigation relating to Lovecraft and starting to really take on the extent to which racism is a fundamental structuring dynamic of his work.
My own feeling is that I want to have it both ways--because I don't think it's good enough for those of us on the left to say, "I really love this writer and their politics are irrelevant." I don't think they are irrelevant at all. I think if you're loving loads of writers, and every single one of them is a fascist, then there's something at least to be investigated.
But at the same time, I also think it's perfectly possible, as Trotsky famously did with Louis-Ferdinand Céline, to tremendously admire a writer's work, while being very critical of the horrible politics that went into that work.
I don't think there's a contradiction there. I think you can think that the Heart of Darkness is an amazing piece of work, and also accept that it's a piece of work where the power of it is predicated in part on the silencing of any African voices. It is a work structured by a particular kind of racism. If it had been less racist in that way, it might have been much better politically, but it would have lost something as a piece of fiction. Now, it might have gained in other ways.
It's one of the uncomfortable things we have to just accept. The power of these works is not coterminous with their political simpatico-ness. But it's perfectly possible to theorize that and work it out. That's one of the things I like about critically engaging with fiction--it allows you to both understand the sources of that power, without exonerating them.
I think Lovecraft is an astonishing visionary writer, and the source of his vision, in many cases, is race hatred. Now what do you do with that? Do you say, "I'm not going to read any of his stuff"? Do you say, "I'm impressed by the power of his ecstatic vision." I am. Understanding that it comes from a really horrendous place is a way of saying that I'm not surrendering to those politics, but I'm also not denying what, in Michel Houellebecq's words, raised him to the level of poetic trance, and it was race hatred.
I don't think it's impossible to have it both ways. You can read fictions symptomatically, which is and an important thing to do. But it always has many things going on. To understand the source of something and to denigrate it doesn't necessarily mean turning your back on its power as well.