I'm just going to do this and get it our of the way with and then we can all move on.
Having a child is fucking nuts. In many ways the biggest problem with that there science is that it only notionally demystifies things that no fucker understands. Like you know, I could mutter a few words about how the Sun works or quote you the theory of special relativity, but ultimately it would be laughable to say I understood either of those things even slightly.
Just so evolution: of course I believe in evolution, but people are stupendously blasé when they say things like that. It is totally insane that some single-celled goo – and I have no idea how that got there – spent millions of years of trial and error gradually changing into a plethora of notably more sophisticated things. Everyone should be freaked out by evolution, all the time.
Anyway, I think me and Rachael were always pretty clear we wanted a baby. We 'knew' what would happen. But the reality of your partner's body changing so drastically just really rams home the insane high technology that the passage of an amount of time I cannot even begin to comprehend has bestowed upon us. I'm not going to blah on about it all, but the final trimester you really feel the baby's presence in a way that I feel like people who haven't been through it probably don't quite understand: he moves, he kicks etc, and it's impossible to not be aware there is a third person there. I think one reason people are hardwired to love their children is that they spend at least a couple of months regarding their child as a sort of benignly enigmatic blob whose antics kind of grow on them. It's very very different to that first trimester nerviness/illness and second trimester 'I'm pregnant, *shrug*' thing.
So that's something. Labour is mad too, the body triggering this once or twice in a lifetime chain reaction to expel the baby. Rachael's was essentially short but painful: you hear all these people talking about, like, three-day labours but her body really got involved: when our bemused phone calls actually brought the midwife round to our flat after six hours of contractions, she was astonished to discover that Rachael was pretty much good to go and actually asked if she wanted to have the baby at home. She did not, and an ambulance - complete with a plentiful supply of gas and air – was duly summoned and we were 'blue-lit' into the hospital.
So the labour happened and finished and we're given little baby Janek for the first time, and it's astonishing. He is swaddled up with a little hat on his head, and his eyes are open just a crack, and his eyeballs are moving warily from side to side. As time goes on, his eyes open more but his eyes keep doing the side to side thing. He has never done this since. But he looks for all the world EXACTLY what somebody whose entire experience of the universe is being suspended upside down in a sac of amniotic fluid would be when confronted with the reality of all this other shit. At the time it was just fascinating and relieving and etc but in retrospect this was clearly the greatest moment of my life.
I absolutely 100% love him: it's probably not worth breaking this down too much, BECAUSE I JUST DO, but on one level his sheer helplessness has to be a factor – if the entire population of the planet aged six months or above were wiped out, I assume the rest of the human race would be gone in a week. Whereas if babies popped out clued up and good to go, they'd surely be less endearing. It is weird and interesting to think how little he will bear resemblance to his current state in just a few months, let alone 16 years. I am terrified for him, and endlessly fascinating by him, and I wonder how this will change with time. As I write now I persuaded Rach to go to bed a couple of hours again and Janek is still lying in the travel car seat we bought him home in on. At this age he doesn't do much more than eat and sleep, and he has been sleeping for a while, making little wuffling noises and boxing the air a bit. He is clearly dreaming, but what could he possibly be dreaming about, I wonder, when he has so little source material to go on? I am delighted by him and afraid for him and very happy this has all happened.
Friday, 20 March 2015
I am now so incredibly old that I feel like it may have been over 20 years ago that I first heard of HP Lovecraft. I was an enthusiastically vicarious enjoyer of computer games – my parents seemed to have rather savvily realised that I was basically just as happy reading about them as actually playing them – and I think I probably read about the 1993 game Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Comet in some games magazine or other, and you know, the name stuck, a bit – who was this Cthulu? And why was he calling?
Two decades later, I finally read some of his work after seeing the hipster theatre smash Pomona – which has some explicit, if arguably not very Lovecraftian nods to Lovecraft – having got home and loudly said 'I would quite like to read some Lovecraft' to my wife, who miraculously pulled out an unread copy of Penguin's 'The Call of Cthulu and Other Weird Tales'.
For whatever reason, after reading that that I decided to read every single extant, finished piece of adult fiction he ever wrote, which is arguably a pretty weird thing to do given that I thought some of it was pish, but given the slenderness of his body of work I figured I might as well and that it's done now and I can move on.
I have decided to write a little blog summarising things that I have learned, and to both mark and draw a line under this episode in my life. I thank you.
That cat could write!
'The Shadow Over Innsbrook', 'The Colour Out of Space' and 'The Whisperer in Darkness' are the best horror stories, maaaaaaaybe even the best short stories that I have ever read. This despite 'The Shadow' being about, like, fishmen, 'The Colour…' not even much actually happening, and 'The Whisperer' being one of those stories where everyone is so inept at self-preservation that you're holding back a burning desire to have 'a word'. But they are magnificent, I think to a large extent works of psychogeography, reclaiming New England as a sort of liminal hinterland where supernatural and science fiction are blurred and where Lovecraft uses America's age almost virtuosically – because a decaying two-centuries-old colonial town or city isn't something we have in Britain, because we have no real sense that there were things here before us, whereas in America you absolutely know that. I guess ultimately Lovecraft's whole 'thing' is rooted in mankind's insignificance/transience and the new world – which was 100 years newer back then – is a better illustrative model for our temporal insignificance than, I dunno, Egypt. Or York. Also he could also write about trees very well. And 'The Shadow Over Innsbrook' has a really good chase scene.
Except not about dreams!
Some of his writing is inescapably pish, and it was an occasionally slightly masochistic experience reading through multiple Penguin collections of his work as it was kind of the same deal each time - the really good stuff at the end (if he'd lived another ten years etc…) the early, pre-Cthulu Mythos stuff is a bit more like conventional horror but largely decent. And then dear me: sort of a third to halfway through depending on the book, there are these staggeringly flouncy stories about posh men having florid adventures in the sort of ridiculous fantasy lands that make Tolkien's Middle Earth look like something out of Kes. Apparently it was all written under the influence of some guy called Lord Dunsany, who was presumably a total arsehole. The only alright one is The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. which is so mental that it sort of carries it off, partly because it was written at the point where his writing was transitioning to sci-fi and just generally getting a lot better, partly because at points he appeared to be taking the piss quite heavily (there is an awful lot about heroic armies of cats).
Everyone – EVERYONE – is always like 'HP Lovecraft was a massive racist', which is at the very least one of my excuses for not bothering with his letters etc. Is his fiction writing racist? Er, I mean, kind of, I wouldn't so much say he was explicitly pro-white as explicitly anti everyone else. He talks about 'degenerate negroes' and in the occasional vision of the future, the earth is always ruled by an impossibly cruel etc Asian empire. But he doesn't have many bad guys of colour, and does have some minor good guys of colour – I'm sure he was really very racist as a person, but his work is at the very least not so racist that it's a problem (it's interesting, by the by, that we demand fairly stringent moral standards from living artists - is there a maximum we would tolerate from a dead person, provided they hadn't left a Hitler-style legacy of grief?).
I'll tell you who might be aggrieved, mind: Eskimos. Having lived in Canada back when Canadians were still nice I know that's not a very PC word, but I use it because it's amusing the Lovecraft insists on calling the Inuit peoples 'Esquimaux', an archaic French spelling. There is something funny about this, but even funnier how they crop up very occasionally as a sort of byword for pure, prehistorical evil and apocalyptic cults. He basically seems to think that they were the most evil bastards on the entire planet. I would think literally the only reason for this is that they live in the sort of desolate places that Lovecraft liked to imagine to be concealing relics of alien civilisations, but still, the notion that the worst people on the entire planet are Eskimos is a pretty chucklesome trope.
History's greatest footnote
In the form you are reading it, this is the worst point ever, though I will update it into brilliance one day, but in 'The Thing On the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories' (my copy is packed away at the moment due to house move gubbins), editor ST Joshie has made a footnote in the story 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward' to say that the birthday of one of the characters in it is the same as one of Lovecraft's friends, only Lovecraft was wrong about his friend's birthday... this FURTHER links to a note about an entire paper/essay called something like '[Friend X's birthday] and why HP Lovecraft was wrong about the date'. This is delightful, in that a) why would the date of his friend's birthday be interesting enough to Lovecraft to work into a story? b) while I have no idea as to its length, how in hells is it possible that there was enough mileage in this misapprehension for somebody to write an entire essay? I'm sure there's a really boring answer to both of these things, which is why I fully intend to never find out.
Despite his sci-fi stuff being his best stuff, I can't really bring myself to read his sonnets cycle 'Fungi from Yuggoth' (srsly) but I'm in principle pretty happy about its existence.
Errrrrr, so there you go, probably I should have done something terribly clever and written this up in the style of a Lovecraft story but whatever. I have completed Lovecraft, this was my book report.