View Full Version : Lovecraft and atheism

01-11-2004, 05:34 PM
Following on from some remarks of Infinite Thought's on the Satanist sorry Catholic thread....

Few human beings have managed to be atheists.

Nietzsche's parable of the 'Death of God', it should be remembered, was aimed not at the theists, but at 'those who did not believe in God.' It is they who mock the madman for proclaiming God's death... why is this important? Why is the madman concerned with something that is of no consequence, that every educated person takes for granted?

But Nietzsche very well knew that these 'educated people', these advocates of 'modern ideas' were very far from having processed the implications of the most important event in human history. The erasure of God meant the evacuation of every existing human value, it meant thinking of human beings, as Nietzsche tried to, as dying animals on a doomed planet, as a cosmic accident of no more significance or meaning than bacteria growing on a toilet bowl.

Who could live (with) that thought? Not Nietzsche himself, whose breakdown was surely precipitated by his failure to rise to the challenge of being a 'positive nihilist', to create a new human entity capable of living in and with this terrible vacancy. Living in it --- and still affirming life.

One of Nietzsche's keenest readers was H. P. Lovecraft. The genius of Lovecraft was to have constructed a fictional system which, however fantastic, was utterly devoid of supernaturalism and which was unstinting in its rejection of the Aristolean-theistic-vitalistic conception that life, and particularly human life, is of special value. Like the Freud of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Lovecraft retreats from Nietzsche's priapic vitalism (what, as John Gray says, is Nietzsche's hymning to the efflorescent creativty of life if not Christianity in another form?) to Schopenhauer's withering pessimism.

I would urge everyone to read the translation of Houllbecq's Contre le Monde, Contre le Vie, at <a href=http://blog.urbanomic.com/undercurrent/archives/houellebecq-lovecraft.rtf>Undercurrent</a>. The following section is particularly noteworthy for our purposes:

'Lovecraft knows there’s nothing to this world. And he plays the role of the loser every time. In theory as in practice. He has lost his childhood, he has equally lost his faith. The world disgusts him, and he sees no reason to suppose that things could be presented otherwise, by looking on the bright side. He considers all religions equally compromised by their ‘saccharine illusions’, rendered obsolete by the progress of scientific knowledge. In his periods of exceptional good humour, he will speak of an ‘enchanted circle’ of religious belief; but this is a circle from which he feels, in every way, banished.
Very few will have been at this point of saturation, penetrated right to the marrow by the absolute void of every human aspiration. The universe is merely a chance arrangement of elementary particles. A transitory image in the midst of chaos. Which will end with the inevitable: The human race will disappear. Other races will appear, and disappear in turn. The heavens are cold and empty, traversed by the faint light of half-dead stars. Which, also, will disappear. Everything disappears. And human actions are just as random and senseless as the movements of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, fine sentiments? Pure “victorian fictions”. There is only egotism. Cold, undiluted and dazzling.
Lovecraft is well aware of the depressing nature of these conclusions. As he wrote in 1918, “all rationalism tends to minimize the value and importance of life, and to diminish the total quantity of human happiness. In some cases the truth could cause suicide, or at least precipitate a near-suicidal depression.”
His atheistic and materialist convictions would not change at all. They were reprised in letter after letter, with an almost masochistic delectation.

Of course, life has no meaning. But neither does death. And this is one of the things that chills the blood when one discovers Lovecraft’s universe. The death of his heroes has no meaning. It brings no relief. It doesn’t bring the story to a conclusion, not at all. Implacably, HPL destroys his characters without suggesting more than the dismemberment of a puppet. Indifferent to their wretched comings and goings, the cosmic fear continues to grow. It expands and articulates itself. The Great Cthulhu arises from his slumber.
What is the Great Cthulhu? An arrangement of electrons, like ourselves. The terror of Lovecraft is rigorously materialist. But it is strongly possible, from the free play of cosmic forces, that the Great Cthulhu has at his disposal a force and a power of action considerably superior to ours. Which is not, a priori, anything especially reassuring.'

Yes, yes.. this is atheism.

02-11-2004, 04:24 AM
I don't see why the "death of god" should be a bar to spirituality or a basic sense of ethics. For instance, many people experience something "spiritual" while dancing or listening to music, and they feel more connected to others. Not all the time, but often enough. This, to my mind, is the primordial reality. The explanation is merely explanation. Why do we feel "spiritual" while dancing? Why do we feel more connected to "what is"? We don't know, but we do . . . . Similarly, most of us enjoy "giving" to others, especially to people whom we like. And we recognize "giving" to others as noble. And we feel gratitude toward those who help us out, etc, though sometimes tinged with resentment. We have a basic sense of the noble and the base, of right and wrong. We then try to articulate these basic realities, the reality of a spiritual sense, the reality of an ethical sense, etcetera. And it is in trying to articulate, to explain, that we enter into contradiction, both with ourselves and against others who perhaps have a different ethical sense or spiritual sense than we do . . . . But just because all explanations break down doesn't deprive the world of meaning. We still feel spiritual while dancing, we still admire noble gestures . . . . And if certain morbid natures are prone to contemplate the vast emptiness of the universe, the shortness of their lives, the apparent fact that men are reducible to matter, etc, then so be it. Men may be entirely reducible to matter, but that reduction, which occurs in thought, is a secondary phenomenon. The primordial realities are the spirituality we have while dancing, the admiration we feel for noble gestures, the boredom we feel with everyday life, the loneliness we sometimes feel, etc, etc == our moods

02-11-2004, 05:12 AM
I don't feel spiritual when I'm dancing, but then I never feel 'spiritual'. I don't know what this means beyond some vague feeling of hey man I feel connected with the cosmos, y'know...

But, as Deleuze rightly says, all arguments from experience are bad and reactionary. This is the case because the philosophical issue is the Kantian transcendental one: i.e.what are the preconditions for my experience? What has to be in place in order for me to have it?

The idea that 'man' (sic) is matter is 'thought' and therefore secondary has it the wrong way round. The experience of spirituality, like all human experiences, is totally secondary, a random epiphemonenal consequence of certain accidental combinations of matter. Whatever you 'feel' is not 'the reality of being' but a hyper-local phenomenal effect of random bio-chemical interactions.

It is not pathological to reflect on mortality and finitude. If there is anything interesting and unique about human beings it is, as Kierkegaard and Sartre maintained, precisely our capacity for such 'morbid' reflections... for not being caught up in the carnal present like other animals..

See my post on <a href=http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/004187.html>hyperstition</a> on Eyes Wide Shut for more on this...

(Course it's not insignificant that the critique of the pleasure principle/ Garden of Delights comes from Puritan Protestants such as Poe, Kierkegaard and Burroughs ... Catholicism is of course a cult of intoxication, i.e. Dionysian, i.e. Satanic ... because what Satan wants, as I argue <a href=http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/004322.html> here</a>, is for you to identify yourself with your organism and its pleasures. The anti-gnosis of hedonic intoxication.)

02-11-2004, 05:37 AM
(1) didn't mean to suggest that it's pathological to reflect on death & human finitude == "certain morbid natures" was ill-advised expression . . . . in fact, i was trying to invoke heidegger by referring to the primordial reality of moods, or the primordial fact of what we see as "noble" and "good" -- and obviously heidegger would not discount the validity of thinking about death, radical finitude, etc

and again, in a heideggerian vein (or what i take to be a heideggerian vein), the view that matter is primary and "moods" merely the result of chemical reactions is the scientific view, a view that is had only by pulling back from what we experience or live directly

nor would i deny that some find dancing spiritual and others not == indeed, this goes to yet another "primordial" or "pretheoretical" reality of life, namely, that we encounter many different human types and natures, with different experiences, different preferencs, different ways of articulating what they believe, etc, even if at the end of the day we're all reducible to dust

(2) i'm actually sympathetic to the Body w/o Organs position (and that's what i try to be, at least some of the time), though that may not be apparent from previous posts of mine regarding "Passion of Christ" and Foucault's "History of Sexuality" . . . .

more on this later, as my roommate is about to kick me off his computer

02-11-2004, 05:53 AM
but i suppose my original point is that we (or those who came before us) arrived at the thought of God by trying to unfold, make sense of, and articulate our preconceptions, gut reactions, moods. and one of the paths that articulation took was to arrive at God. and the speeches/poems about God proved persuasive for a time, but now have lost their sway . . . . so, if today we no longer believe in God or gods, why not simply return to the only world that matters, the only world that is, the "world of appearances," where some things appear good and others bad, some things noble and some things base. where some things appear uncontestable, others hotly in dispute, where some feel spiritual while dancing, others decidedly not, and where no one really knows what the term "spiritual" means, but continue to resort to the word because it suits the experience ------ call me "the last man," but why does the death of God matter if we have the world of appearances (the pre-theoretical world)?????

02-11-2004, 10:04 AM
if thats atheism i'm finding a faith!

that 'standing in the cold hard light of science' stuff doesn't do it for bobby bisto. it's like intellectual machismo.

02-11-2004, 02:20 PM
beleifs about the world correspond with states of mind/being, moods. they are projections. they are 'arguments' for experience, they are experience transmuted into belief, irrational or otherwise, consistant or otherwise. low self-esteem, depression, paranoia, fear, aggression, the sense of entitlement, the sense of disenfranchisement, the snse of belonging, the sense of alienation, all have their parralell systems of thought and belief.these complexes of experience(sensation) and its intellectual co-dependent belief, each reinforcing, amplifying and sustaining the other, have real life effects governing expectations of, actions in and towards and responses to the world, scoiety and the individuals who comprise it. they impose values, goals, courses of action, answers to moral dilemmas, etc on the indivuals under their influence.
and yet they are arbitary and changeable and may bear only a tangential relationship with reality. belif in any one of these 'reality tunnels'* to the exclusion of all the others leads to a closing down of possiblitys, a cutting off of avenues of thought and feeling, it involves a retreat from infinity to finitude, volition to obedience.
blahbalh etcetc
*took that from somewhere, can't remember where.

03-11-2004, 01:50 PM
Two queries -

belif in any one of these 'reality tunnels'* to the exclusion of all the others leads to a closing down of possiblitys, a cutting off of avenues of thought and feeling, it involves a retreat from infinity to finitude, volition to obedience.

But would you agree with the statement that one can't help but 'believe' in any one of these reality tunnels? That infinity can't be faced, that we need to place our foot somewhere and thus limit ourselves?

And to mark k-punk: how can experience/feeling (if this is how they are grouped in your account) and thought/gnosis be separated? What's the difference between these two, in other words? Or is this such an obviously, gratuitously, intuitively answerable question that it needs no answer?

Jamie S
04-11-2004, 11:49 AM
Both Nietzsche's conception of The Death of God and the Lovecraftian take on atheism that you describe share the assumption that the Human OS is both capable of understanding 'meaning' and deeply needful of 'meaning'. Now, I am what you'd probably call an atheist-vitalist, but it seems to me that what the Human OS actually is, is a machine for generating meanings. We may be "a cosmic accident of no more significance or meaning than bacteria growing on a toilet bowl.", but we are utterly different from those bacteria or any other "dying animals" in that we both need and can easily create a meaningful context for our own existence.

So we have a panoply of belief systems, personal philosophies etc., etc. Once you step out of the circle of your own fire and encounter other meaning-systems, it becomes a question of choice, not necessity. Uttunul or Jehovah or whatever.

Atheism(s) are just a number of different meaning systems. I agree with Luka that the scientific rationalist position isn't specially attractive, but there are many other Human OS meaning routines and subroutines running all the time. I think my point is, contra Nietzsche and Mark is that it's easy to be an atheist.

I found this quote on the sleeve of Cymande's first album yesterday after reading this thread. "...music for the man who finds in life a reason for living..." which I think says it better than I could.

(This begs all sorts of questions about agency of thought of individuals vs societally held beliefs and i guess this comes across as a free-market, individualist take on belief, which wasn't my intention. May have to think again.)

05-11-2004, 01:59 PM
I think my point is, contra Nietzsche and Mark is that it's easy to be an atheist.

Reminds me of something I was thinking while reading echo friendly's posts in the 'Mark K-P and the Catholics' thread.

What is this "it's easy" business? I don't find it easy if I think about it. But perhaps this is just because nothing is easy, if you think about what you are doing. Action is blind.

As is rather nicely illustrated by a quotation that is given in Walter Benjamin's "Some Reflections on Kafka" (the quote is from Arthur Standey Eddington's The Nature of the Physical World):

I am standing on the threshold about to enter a room. It is a complicated business. In the first place I must shove against an atmosphere pressing with a force of fourteen pounds on every square inch of my body. I must make sure of landing on a plank travelling at twenty miles a second round the sun - a fraction of a second too early or too late, the plank would be miles away. I must do this whilst hanging from a round planet head outward into space. [...] The plank has no solidity of substance. To step on it is like stepping on a swarm of flies. Shall I not slip through? [...]

Verily, it is earier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a scientific man to pass through a door. And whether the door be barn door or church door it might be wiser that he should consent to be an ordinary man and walk in rather than wait till all the difficulties involved in a really scientific ingress are resolved.

Though perhaps what the k-punk side of the debate is about is something more than what is easiest. It seems to be pursuing the difficult question - the Frankenstein-task of combining 'thought' and 'action'; or for Nietzsche, the pursuit of philosophy (often the mark of dissatisfaction) with the belief in the value of life.