Lovecraft and the Unknown

In the truest fashion of Danielewski/Zampano/Johnny Truant to list every single influence that House of Leaves could possibly have to the point of exhaustion, pulp author and father of ‘weird fiction’ H.P. Lovecraft gets mentioned alongside horror writers Stephen King and Ann Rice, authors with much higher regard in popular consciousness. Such is the way it always is in regards to name-dropping Lovecraft, who perennially hangs on the edges of obscurity, influential to many but criminally under-read. What fans he has recognize him as changing the landscape of Gothic horror in the 1920’s-30’s, from the intimate mystery of ghosts and the worldly supernatural to a lanscape vast, cosmic and terrible, in which human existence is rendered meaningless within the scope of otherworldly events. “Lovecraftian” as a term is often used to describe the nature of the House in fan writings and reviews, and “The Navidson Record” itself takes the trope structure of many of Lovecraft’s horror tales: the slow, dreadful dawning awareness, the confrontation with the unnameable and unknown, madness and self-destruction in the face of the true, miniscule nature of humanity. In particular I would recommend At the Mountains of Madness for further reading, as it mirrors House of Leaves’ exploratory themes in the face of, surprise, a bottomless chasm and an unknown, seemingly malevolent presence.

It was the Unknown in the vastest sense that fascinated Lovecraft, it is the root of fear itself. Admittedly, House of Leaves is a frightening read, not just in the sense of “The Navidson Record’s” ripping horror narrative but simultaneously in the reflections of Zampano’s and Johnny Truant’s diseased minds. The Unknown is all that is beyond human understanding, what by its very definition cannot fully be explored and categorized. All that lies down that hallway and staircase is madness and solitude, whether attempting to explore the House as William, the text as Johnny, or the novel as a reader. What the text manages to accomplish is a kind of post-modern take on Lovecraft, where the book itself becomes the sickness, the Unknown. Not unlike Borges and hypertext, Lovecraft was writing about this language of fear but the text itself, with its overwrought, academic/poetic language, does not demonstrate in the same way that House of Leaves manages to do. The text becomes a performance of madness that immediately affects fear, leaving the reader, like William Navidson and so many of Lovecraft’s protagonists, ultimately alone in a vast, black, terrifying world.


~ by benjyblanco on April 17, 2010.

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