Review of Weird Realism (Graham Harman)

LoveCraft: Allusive writing’s true elder god

What happens when masterful explication meets Lovecraft’s madly crafted alternate reality? Apparently, this book. Graham Harman, in an almost magical subversion of all preconceived notion of horror’s place in the literary mythos, makes the vital case for Lovecraft being one of the great stylistic fiction writers of the twentieth century, as far from the world of pulp as, say, Ray Bradbury.

He begins his investigation by discussing such philosophical greats as Husserl, Hume, and Kant, and the way they showed themselves either as thinkers who created or destroyed gaps, and how these gaps apply to Lovecraft’s work, before moving on to the idea of literalizing Lovecraft. Harman quickly establishes the importance of a guilt-edged paraphrase, for any paraphrase falls short of the original work. Harman terms this “ruination” and believes it particularly cruel when applied to Lovecraft, who remains almost constantly allusive in his horrific procedurals. To close the opening philosophical jaunt, Harman deftly supports a case for four object/quality pairs in the tensions of philosophical ontography. Space, time, eidos, and essence, all applicable to Lovecraft passages. Harman believes Lovecraft to be “strangely attuned to the four basic tensions of ontography, and that this suffices to make him poet laureate of object-oriented philosophy.”

Nowhere before might the encapsulation of Lovecraft as deeply more than a cult horror writer see its moment in the sun. Surely, one cannot read Harman’s treatise on Lovecraft’s formidable body and not come away thinking that perhaps H.P. might have filled finer shoes than any writer in his genre up to that point.

An investigation on par with quantico

The midsection of the book provides a massive delineation of Lovecraft’s impressive stylistic force and literary skill. And for all the literary analysis on the market, I have hardly seen a more careful, tactful exegesis. Harman closely sifts through 100 unique passages from a selection of Lovecraft’s indisputably revered fictions to make a case that “Lovecraft writes stories about the essence of philosophy,” and in this mission, becomes the elevator that H.P.’s fiction always deserved.

Far from deadening the writing in the perversity of over-examination, Harman’s combing inspires the reader to return to Lovecraft’s work, to find the seeds of greatness before glossed over. Truly, Lovecraft, through this treatise, is fairly shown as a master of atmosphere and adjectival insertion. Nonetheless, Harman remains willing to hear the voices of dissonance, calmly flouting most of their attacks. Yet, for all his obvious appreciation of H.P., he remains objective, especially when applying his analysis to one of the final inclusions, admittedly a weaker effort. While providing Lovecraft a throne, Harman smartly admits the man also hit the toilet on occasion. Nonetheless, H.P. is shown to be eons beyond a writer of merely pulp horror.

Following the midsection of analysis, Harman caps the project by discussing Lovecraft’s weird realism and how the notions of fusion and fission inform his creation of impending doom, otherworldly creatures, and environments.

conclusion

Repeatedly, as an archetypal expression, Harman mentions the idea of Cthulhu being endlessly more than a mixture of dragon, octopus, and human, as a Humean analysis might conclude. Lovecraft consistently performs a linguistic prestidigitation in how he alludes with enough concreteness to rightfully scare our hearts, but, at his best, never gives too much away. And Harman, through his wisdom, helps us see this. About this book, it could be said to be part philosophy, part literary analysis, part wellspring of why a writer works. While that wouldn’t be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing, it can only hint. Harman makes me want to read more Lovecraft. When it comes to analysis, that ought to be the measure of a critic’s greatness.

Weird Realism is published by Zero Books

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