The Foreign Colossus

But one ought to be warned in advance that all life in New York is purely artificial and affected—values are forced and arbitrary, mental fashions are capricious, pathological, or commercial rather than authentic, and literary activity and conversation are motivated by a shallow pose, a sophistical concealment of ignorance, and a morbidly charlatanic egotism and cheap assertiveness far removed from the solid aesthetic intensity which ought to underlie a life of art and letters. New York has, by force of sheer wealth and glitter and advertising, captured the reputation of a literary capital, but it is not a true one in the sense that Boston once was. The “aesthetes” of New York are less interested in art and beauty than in themselves; and their smart badinage and discussion savour much more of psychological exhibitionism and social gesture than of actual artistic insight, vision, and devotion. It is a case of inferior people trying to be conspicuous somehow, and choosing art as a form of ballyhoo more convenient and inexpensive than business or evangelism or sword-swallowing. Of the genuine flow of life, or the sincere recording of life and dreams which is literature, I can discern scarcely a trace. Whatever of value is produced there is merely the outcropping of things elsewhere nourished—except of course in the case of those few real native New Yorkers who survive in sadness from the dead and lovely old city that was; the gracious, glamorous elder New York of dignity and poise, which lies stark and horrible and ghoul-gnawed today beneath the foul claws of the mongrel and misshapen foreign colossus that gibbers and howls vulgarly and dreamlessly on its site.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Donald Wandrei, Lovecraft describes New York as a dead city, incapable of authentic artistic expression.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Donald Wandrei.” 10 Feb. 1927. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 197-201.

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The Blight of Modernity

To the southern New-Englander entering Vermont for the first time there is a sense of mystic revivification. On the towns of the lower coast the blight of mutation and modernity has descended. Weird metamorphoses and excrescences, architectural and topographical, mark a menacing tyranny of mechanism and viceroyalty of engineering which are fast hurrying the present scene out of all linkage with its historic antecedents and setting it adrift anchorless and all but traditionless in alien oceans. Swart foreign forms, heirs to moods and impulses antipodal to those which moulded our heritage, surge in endless streams along smoke-clouded and lamp-dazzled streets; moving to strange measures and inculcating strange customs. All through the nearer countryside the stigmata of change are spreading. Reservoirs, billboards, and concrete roads, power lines, garages, and flamboyant inns, squalid immigrant nests and grimy mill villages; these things and things like them have brought ugliness, tawdriness, and commonplaceness to the urban penumbra. Only in the remoter backwoods can one find the pristine and ancestral beauty which was southern New-England’s, or the unmixed signs of that continuous native life whose deep roots make it the one authentic outgrowth of the landscape. There are traces enough to allure and tantalise, but not enough to satisfy. With our keenest pleasure and satisfaction is mixed a certain melancholy; for it is upon the ghost of something beloved and departed, rather than upon the thing itself, that we gaze. Our own country and history seem subtly dissolving away from us, and we clutch frantically at the straws and symbols through which our imaginations may momentarily recall and recapture a past which is really our own.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Vermont—A First Impression,” Lovecraft describes the ways in which industrialization and immigration have reshaped the state of Vermont.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Vermont—A First Impression.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 13-5.

 

The Slums

They took me slumming, where gaunt walls of brick
Bulge outward with a viscous stored-up evil,
And twisted faces, thronging foul and thick,
Wink messages to alien god and devil.
A million fires were blazing in the streets,
And from flat roofs a furtive few would fly
Bedraggled birds into the yawning sky
While hidden drums droned on with measured beats.

I knew those fires were brewing monstrous things,
And that those birds of space had been Outside
I guessed to what dark planet’s crypts they plied,
And what they brought from Thog beneath their wings.
The others laughed—till struck too mute to speak
By what they glimpsed in one bird’s evil beak.


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Pigeon-Flyers,” Lovecraft describes an urban slum, whose evil residents practice occult rituals.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Pigeon-Flyers.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 84.

Impressions of New York

Here exist assorted Jews in the absolutely unassimilated state, with their ancestral beards, skull-caps, and general costumes—which makes them very picturesque, and no nearly so offensive as the strident, pushing Jews who affect clean shaves and American dress. In this particular section, where Hebrew books are vended from pushcarts, and patriarchal rabbins totter in high hats and frock coats, there are far less offensive faces than in the general subways of the town—probably because most of the pushing commercial Jews are from another colony where the blood is less pure.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt Lillian D. Clark, Lovecraft describes his impressions of a community of Orthodox Jews.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 29-30 Sept. 1924. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 63-76.

Rejecting the Melting Pot

No anthropologist of standing insists on the uniformly advanced evolution of the Nordic as compared with that of other Caucasian and Mongolian races. As a matter of fact, it is freely conceded that the Mediterranean race turns out a higher percentage of the aesthetically sensitive and that the Semitic groups excel in sharp, precise intellection. It may be, too, that the Mongolian excels in aesthetick capacity and normality of philosophical adjustment. What, then, is the secret of pro-Nordicism amongst those who hold these views? Simply this—that ours is a Nordic culture, and that the roots of that culture are so inextricably tangled in the national standards, perspectives, traditions, memories, instincts, peculiarities, and physical aspects of the Nordic stream that no other influences are fitted to mingle in our fabric. We don’t despise the French in France or Quebec, but we don’t want them grabbing our territory and creating foreign islands like Woonsocket and Fall River. The fact of this uniqueness of every separate culture-stream—this dependence of instinctive likes and dislikes, natural methods, unconscious appraisals, etc., etc., on the physical and historical attributes of a single race—is too obvious to be ignored except by empty theorists.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft explains why he resents immigrants from outside of the Anglosphere.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To James F. Morton.” 18 Jan. 1931. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 266-80.

Into the Slums

Klei . . . proceeded to lead us into the slums; with “Chinatown” as an ulterior objective. My gawd—what a filthy dump! I thought Providence had slums, and antique Bostonium as well; but damn me if I ever saw anything like the sprawling sty-atmosphere of N. Y.’s lower East Side. We walked—at my suggestion—in the middle of the street, for contact with the heterogeneous sidewalk denizens, spilled out of their bulging brick kennels as if by a spawning beyond the capacity of the places, was not by any means to be sought. At times, though, we struck peculiarly deserted areas—these swine have instinctive swarming movements, no doubt, which no ordinary biologist can fathom. Gawd knows what they are—. . .—a bastard mess of stewing mongrel flesh without intellect, repellent to eye, nose, and imagination—would to heaven a kindly gust of cyanogen could asphyxiate the whole gigantic abortion, end the misery, and clean out the place.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Maurice W. Moe, Lovecraft describes, in racist terms, the people of Chinatown and calls for their extermination.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Maurice W. Moe.” 18 May 1922. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 175-83.

Rejecting Multiculturalism

But of course, the primary reason for such attempts is simply a sensible wish to keep every settled culture (Nordic or not) true to itself for the sake of the human values involved. No one wishes to force Nordicism on the non-Nordic—indeed, a real friend of civilisation wishes merely to make the Germans more German, the French more French, the Spaniards more Spanish, & so on.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend J. Vernon Shea, Lovecraft defends his views on race, ethnicity, and immigration, claiming that they are not the result of prejudice.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To J. Vernon Shea.” 25 Sept. 1933. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 4, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 245-59.

The Rolling Meadows All Neglected Lie

The village rings with ribald foreign cries;
Around the wine-shops loaf with bleary eyes
A vicious crew, that mock the name of “man”,
Yet dare to call themselves “American”.
New-England’s ships no longer ride the sea;
Once prosp’rous ports are sunk in poverty.
The rotting wharves as ruins tell the tale
Of days when Yankees mann’d the swelling sail.
The Indies yield no more their cargoes rare;
The sooty mill’s New-England’s present care:
The noisy mill, by foreign peasants run,
Supplants the glorious shipping that hath gone.
In arid fields, the kine no longer low;
The soil knows not the furrow of the plough;
The rolling meadows all neglected lie,
Fleck’d here and there by some foul alien’s sty.
The school no more contains the busy class;
The walls are down, the ruins chok’d with grass.
Within the gate-post swallows build their nests;
Upon the hill, the gentle master rests.
The mossy lane with briers is o’ergrown;
The bound’ry walls are shapeless heaps of stone,
And thro’ the mourning trees the winds in sorrow moan.


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “New-England Fallen,” Lovecraft describes, in racist language, the impact of industrialization and immigration on New England.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “New-England Fallen.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 385-8.

That Pandaemoniac Sight

And as he snarled the phrase under his breath he gestured anew; bringing to the sky a flash more blinding than either which had come before. For full three seconds I could glimpse that pandaemoniac sight, and in those seconds I saw a vista which will ever afterward torment me in dreams. I saw the heavens verminous with strange flying things, and beneath them a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with impious pyramids flung savagely to the moon, and devil-lights burning from unnumbered windows. And swarming loathsomely on aërial galleries I saw the yellow, squint-eyed people of that city, robed horribly in orange and red, and dancing insanely to the pounding of fevered kettle-drums, and the clatter of obscene crotale, and the maniacal moaning of muted horns whose ceaseless dirges rose and fell undulantly like the waves of an unhallowed ocean of bitumen.


DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “He” (1925), Lovecraft describes, in racist terms, his apocalyptic vision of the future.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “He.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 119-29.

A Maze of Hybrid Squalor

He had for some time been detailed to the Butler Street station in Brooklyn when the Red Hook matter came to his notice. Red Hook is a maze of hybrid squalor near the ancient waterfront opposite Governor’s Island, with dirty highways climbing the hill from wharves to that higher ground where the decayed lengths of Clinton and Court Streets lead off toward the Borough Hall. Its houses are mostly of brick, dating from the first quarter to the middle of the nineteenth century, and some of the obscurer alleys and byways have that alluring antique flavour which conventional reading leads us to call “Dickensian.” The population is a hopeless tangle and enigma; Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and negro elements impinging upon one another, and fragments of Scandinavian and American belts lying not far distant. It is a babel of sound and filth, and sends out strange cries to answer the lapping of oily waves at its grimy piers and the monstrous organ litanies of the harbour whistles. Here long ago a brighter picture dwelt, with clear-eyed mariners on the lower streets and homes of taste and substance where the larger houses line the hill. Once can trace the relics of this former happiness in the trim shapes of the buildings, the occasional graceful churches, and the evidences of original art and background in bits of detail here and there—a worn flight of steps, a battered doorway, a wormy pair of decorative columns or pilasters, or a fragment of once green space with bent and rusted iron railing. The houses are generally in solid blocks, and now and then a many-windowed cupola arises to tell of days when the households of captains and ship-owners watched the sea.


DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “The Horror at Red Hook” (1925), Lovecraft describes the heterogeneous character of Red Hook, a neighborhood in Brooklyn.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Horror at Red Hook.” The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2004, pp. 116-37.