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Article  H P Lovecraft: The philosopher?

C C Offline

EXCERPTS: None of his contemporaries, nor perhaps even Lovecraft himself, could likely have imagined the influence he would come to exert over literature and thought as the 20th century progressed. [...] But his influence is not limited only to literature. His more enduring influence may be as a philosopher.

This might come as a surprise since Lovecraft was, first and foremost, a writer of the weird tale, and he would have said as much himself. But underneath those weird tales was a distinctive philosophical project, one that can reveal as much about our anxieties today as about those of a man living in Providence in the early 20th century.

[...] Lovecraft’s thought is often obscured in his tales, and must be pieced together from various sources, including his poetry, essays and, most importantly, his letters. Lovecraft wrote an estimated 100,000 during his life, of which around 10,000 have survived. Within this substantial non-fictional output, the volume of which dwarfs his fictional writing, Lovecraft expounded the philosophical concerns – whether metaphysical, ethical, political or aesthetic – which he claimed underpinned his weird fiction. These tales, he wrote, were based on one fundamental cosmic premise: ‘that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large’.

[...] in the 21st century, Lovecraft has been resurrected as a philosopher again and again. ... But what did Lovecraft the philosopher think, in his own words? In his letters, he referred to his philosophy as ‘cosmic indifferentism’, which he also called ‘cosmicism’.

He derived the three main tenets of this doctrine – materialism, determinism, atheism – from the work of philosophers and scientists writing between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, George Santayana and T H Huxley were all on the reading list; so too were Ernst Haeckel’s The Riddle of the Universe (1899) and Hugh Elliot’s Modern Science and Materialism (1919).

Lovecraft also embraced the ancient atomists (Democritus and Leucippus) and Epicureans (Epicurus and his Roman disciple Lucretius). And he read The Color Line: A Brief in Behalf of the Unborn (1905) by William Benjamin Smith, which would have reinforced the stubborn xenophobia and racism inculcated by his upbringing.

Although Lovecraft’s views on race were antiquated even while he was alive, and seemed to denote a lack of attention to philosophical currents of his day, his philosophy is otherwise surprisingly holistic and unified, combining metaphysics, ethics and aesthetics.

As an absolute determinist, Lovecraft’s metaphysics describes an infinite universe in eternal predetermined motion: ‘each human act,’ he wrote, ‘can be no less than the inevitable result of every antecedent and circumambient condition in an eternal cosmos.’ This left no room for teleology, the notion that the universe is moving towards some pre-ordained goal, or that humans and other species are evolving for some purpose.

His determinism was accompanied by a strict materialism that, in line with the views of many of his contemporaries, made the immaterial – the soul and spirit – inconceivable. These views shaped the nightmarish figures in his tales, which are not apparitions or spectres, the ‘supernatural’ beings of conventional horror writing, but materially real horrors that only appear supernatural because of humanity’s inability to comprehend their true nature.

However, though Lovecraft may have aligned with some of the philosophical currents of his age, he developed a pointedly pessimistic worldview shared by few of his contemporaries... (MORE - missing details)
Magical Realist Online
Determinism doesn't necessarily entail pessimism imo. For one thing there is no basis for blame or moral judgement or guilt. All actions are the outcome of preceding causes, and they could not be otherwise because there's no freewill. We are all on this ride thru life and locked into whatever must be. There's a sort of comfort in that view. Also, whatever will be will just unalterably be, so there's no use worrying about it or regretting it afterwards. Act or don't act. It's all meant to be in the end. Ironically there's a certain feeling of freedom in that belief.

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