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Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 11 October, 2019 11:19AM
This is the branch that Dale had requested if one should wish to discuss Lovecraft's internal tension between the spiritual and the material in his worldview. I'd like to introduce the idea that the spiritual (I'm using this as a handy label to include the magical, the mysterious as opposed to granular materialism) exists perhaps as a remnant of "childhood wonder".

I'll admit up front that I find modern materialism to be the most satisfying foundation for my interface with life. This is to say, very simplistically, for sake of clarity, that every situation requiring a workable solution, or barring that, a new course of action, has had its best solution spring from the material, analytical approach, rather than the spiritual.

This is to say, that living in the world that presents itself to me, daily, for damned near 72 years now, I've had optimal success by taking the materialist approach. And I'll define "success" in this instance as "meeting personal goals for deep and lasting satisfaction."

This is not to say that the spiritual in mankind does not exist, but rather it is a separate domain in which the hypothetical is unlimited by practical constraints.

As I write this, now, before my morning triple brevé has fully taken hold, I see the sub-elements of the topic broadening before us--expanding like nebulae in the void--faster than we can discuss it, making it hard to form a meaningful exchange. But perhaps we might start by considering aspects of the following.

Assuming that the spiritual view, as represented by the putative views of Machen or Blake, exists and is accepted as either an alternate reality, or a complementary aspect of daily life, what *is* it, exactly? From whence did it arrive, and what is its nativity in the psyche of mankind?

I can see the possibility of strongly differing opinions, here, and I do not mean to ascribe some form of absolute superiority to one aspect or the other: I'm not purporting that the base materialistic view is superior to the spiritual, the magical, the mystic--or vice versa. But they come from different places, and serve differing needs, I feel pretty certain.

Your opinions, fellow-readers?

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 11 October, 2019 12:24PM
I think HPL saw materialism with horrific clarity, and saw that it could not be a foundation for much of anything. He wrote fiction more to escape from it than to embody it. But the tension between materialism and his aesthetic preferences does indeed influence his fiction.

I am not a materialist. You don't say you are one either. But you do say that materialism is the most satisfying foundation for your interface with life. That is meaningless to me. Materialism, as I understand it, is incapable of supporting any philosophic basis for any system of value, and therefore cannot recommend one approach to life over another.

You mention childhood wonder. This is one of the many aspects of the human experience (like consciousness, morality, or any sense of purpose, sense of value, or sense of satisfaction) that cannot be validated by materialist philosophy. By the foregoing, I do not mean that materialism cannot explain these things, or explain them away. I merely mean it cannot endow them with any validity or value. Certainly, materialism can say nothing about the value of a literary work.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 11 October, 2019 01:05PM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I think HPL saw materialism with horrific clarity,
> and saw that it could not be a foundation for much
> of anything. He wrote fiction more to escape from
> it than to embody it. But the tension between
> materialism and his aesthetic preferences does
> indeed influence his fiction.
>
> I am not a materialist. You don't say you are one
> either. But you do say that materialism is the
> most satisfying foundation for your interface with
> life. That is meaningless to me. Materialism, as
> I understand it, is incapable of supporting any
> philosophic basis for any system of value, and
> therefore cannot recommend one approach to life
> over another.

I've mentioned so many times before that I see the world as material that I didn't want to be repetitive.

Nor do I consider materialism or spiritualism/mysticism as a sort of club or church, where one is a member. It's merely the shorthand for describing the basis for which one views the majority of interactions of daily life. I see daily transactions as being rooted in the material world, following physical motivations once they are translated from thought to action. The "thought" part might be considered to be a manifestation of the mystical, or at least the impetus for the initial physical action.

>
> You mention childhood wonder. This is one of the
> many aspects of the human experience (like
> consciousness, morality, or any sense of purpose,
> sense of value, or sense of satisfaction) that
> cannot be validated by materialist philosophy.

Right!

A good question is: does morality as a concept exist outside of the human psyche?

And one might look at the converse: perhaps there is no such validation possible for such as morality, unless it's as an offshoot of a successful evolutionary process.

> By
> the foregoing, I do not mean that materialism
> cannot explain these things, or explain them away.
> I merely mean it cannot endow them with any
> validity or value.

This makes sense to me. I don't tend to see any real absolute validity or value for anything--only that which is arbitrarily assigned by a conscious being.

In short, value is only meaningful to a conscious entity, and what's more, the value, if any, differs not only from individual to individual, but from circumstance to circumstance. So it's a sort of functional validity, and it may not include you, nor be applicable by you, except as we agree to share.


> Certainly, materialism can say
> nothing about the value of a literary work.

No, of course not. Nor are materialism and mysticism mutually exclusive in the human experience. So far, I'm playing around with the idea that they are essentially separate domains, with appropriate applicability in each respective domain.

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 11 October, 2019 01:25PM
I like the way we seem to be working towards a focus on the sense of wonder.

That gets to something important in what's at stake in a discussion like this. Here are some propositions.

1.Some people do have experiences of wonder, awe, beauty. These may come from experiences of nature (not necessarily grand vistas), erotic love,* philosophical contemplation, religious adoration, etc.

2.Many of the people who have such experiences feel that they experiences are "true" in some sense and "meaningful."

[a]Of these people, some may hold that the experiences are subjective and idiosyncratic and that they don't prove anything about the way things really are. This I would take it was H. P. Lovecraft's idea. He might feel joy when he beheld a sunset vista of old roofs and steeples. But he would say that, while he prized such experiences, they were not pointers to some supersensible reality. They were not really more meaningful than the sight of an earthworm that died in a rain-puddle on an asphalt street. For him, the universe is all there is and it is, in principle, wholly explicable, as nothing but an inevitable motion of mindless factors.

Other people hold that these experiences are not only choice moments in their personal histories, but are believed to be pointers to a greater reality on which they rest. The sensible and transitory can make manifest the eternal and supersensible.

3.I'm probably going to write, in this discussion, as an adherent of 2b above. I'm going to call this the Platonist understanding. Authors who seem to me to be relatively close (certainly as compared to Lovecraft) to this Platonist view would include Arthur Machen, Dante, Milton, William Blake, William Wordsworth, perhaps Walter de la Mare, &c.

(Side note: I'm an orthodox Christian, but I'm sure that many Platonists are not Christians. For the Christian, there is an eternal, supersensible realm, from which God, the Logos, the eternal source of meaning and of being, became incarnate, embodied under the categories of the sensible, transitory world. He the Changeless presumably had to pare his nails, certainly napped, etc. I think it would be good for present purposes if I, and others pro or con, tried to avoid getting the discussion into questions specifically relating to religious doctrines. I have put my cards on the table, but henceforth mean, here, as I said, to write basically as a Platonist.)

4.I see Lovecraft as a "divided" man because on one side he valued so much those experiences of beauty. J. D. Worthington years ago gave me an essay by Peter Cannon on "sunset imagery" in Lovecraft. It was really good. On the other side, Lovecraft was committed to what I think may be fairly called a futilitarian philosophy, according to which he determined, in advance of any further experience, that the cosmos was meaningless, that the delight you may feel in what you see is due to excitation of your nerve endings and the associations you bring from your personal history, and so on. These experiences can never mean that materialist necessitarianism is inadequate, in his view. This, then, made him inwardly divided. I suppose that Lovecraft would even have admitted this and said that man's existential situation is such that such division is the best he can do. Thus, paradoxically, a man may possess [i]integrity[i] [b]by
acknowledging and living with a permanent state in which that which he loves, he knows to be meaningless and unworthy of love, that which he values he knows to be valueless, that which stirs his "spirit" can do no such thing because his "spirit" is nothing but an epiphenomenon of mindless, meaningless movements in matter. Lovecraft's patron philosopher would, I suppose, have been Democritus to the Plato of Machen et al.

Plato is a good philosopher for those who have had, and value as really meaningful, the experience of the sense of wonder. Unfortunately, while I have read several of the dialogues, I haven't read the Theaetetus, which is where his famous remark about philosophy beginning with wonder is from, I believe.

I have read his Symposium, Republic, &c., which have some relevant material that perhaps I'll bring in later. I should emphasize that I'm not necessarily going to be all that concerned specifically with what Plato wrote, though. We're talking "Platonism" in a fairly loose sense.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 11 Oct 19 | 01:37PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 11 October, 2019 02:51PM
Sawfish Wrote:
> I've mentioned so many times before that I see the
> world as material that I didn't want to be
> repetitive.

Sorry. I recognized your nym, but I don't really keep track of people's philosophies.

> Nor do I consider materialism or
> spiritualism/mysticism as a sort of club or
> church, where one is a member.

Nonetheless, if we could agree on a definition of "materialist", it becomes possible to say, for instance, that HPL was a member of the class of people called "materialists"; and that Machen was not. IIRC HPL espoused materialism in his essays (though this is perhaps not so cut and dried in his fiction).

I assumed, of course, that we were discussing materialism in the philosophic sense. HPL was not a materialist in the sense that his life was focused on the accumulation of material possessions. Rather the reverse, I'd say.

> A good question is: does morality as a concept
> exist outside of the human psyche?

Morality, as I understand it, involves the belief in something external to the human psyche. So if morality does not exist outside the human psyche, then it is a delusion.

Of course, language is flexible, and "morality" need not be defined as narrowly as I define it. But if you define it more broadly, you are using the same word to describe ideas that are fundamentally different. "You should not do that" means (usually) something fundamentally different from "I subjectively dislike what you are doing."

> And one might look at the converse: perhaps there
> is no such validation possible for such as
> morality, unless it's as an offshoot of a
> successful evolutionary process.

Well, most would agree that our physical senses have some connection, however, imperfect, to external reality. Most would also agree, I suppose, that our physical senses are the offshoot of an evolutionary process. Most would see this as no contradiction, as the accuracy of our perceptions might well be a survival benefit, fitting into the "survival of the fittest" aspect of evolutionary theory.

One materialist theory regarding the moral and/or religious sense, is that evolution endowed us with certain delusional perceptions and/or beliefs, presumably because, in some contexts, a fully accurate view of reality is not a survival benefit.

Ok. Could be. Sure.

But as a non-materialist, I don't think it follows that moral perceptions are meaningless or devoid of truth value, even if one starts with the premise that they evolved as part of an evolutionary process.

> No, of course not. Nor are materialism and
> mysticism mutually exclusive in the human
> experience. So far, I'm playing around with the
> idea that they are essentially separate domains,
> with appropriate applicability in each respective
> domain.

Okay. But how do we steer this discussion back to the topic of literature? Or do we?

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 11 October, 2019 03:38PM
Sawfish wrote, "I see daily transactions as being rooted in the material world, following physical motivations once they are translated from thought to action. The 'thought' part might be considered to be a manifestation of the mystical, or at least the impetus for the initial physical action."

I don't know if this is the place to get into these matters, but I think what you say points to a key problem for the materialist philosophy, that a materialistic explanation of consciousness is elusive, and yet one doubts that a "solution" is to be found in writing off consciousness as an illusion or something (though there's at least one philosopher who has been willing to pay that price; I forget her -- I think the philosopher is a woman -- name).

You've used the word "mystical," but for some readers, like me, that word suggests something more specific than what I take you to mean. From your point of view, I'm a "mystic," but from the way I use the word, I would hesitate to say that I remember ever having had a "mystical" experience.

I'd say that consciousness, imagination, thought are not necessarily "mystical," but that they are "elusive" for materialism.

You can observe my brain, but you can't observe my mind (unless, perhaps, you are telepathic).

So we have this dimension of experience that by its nature can't be "observed" objectively. We have a situation in which there is ever-growing knowledge of the brain, while the mind, or consciousness, baffles us.

There are also, btw, some bizarre observations of the brain that may surprise us. I'm not going to get my copy right now, but Rupert Sheldrake has some pertinent remarks in The Science Delusion. As I recall, he wrote about a brilliant student of math whose brain, however, was little more than a thin film surrounding a reservoir of water inside the skull.

[www.theguardian.com]

If we keep discussing consciousness, I'm bound to bring in Owen Barfield.

But yes, do we want to return the focus to literature -- and biography -- specifically Lovecraft's? Is there agreement that Lovecraft was fundamentally a divided person?



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11 Oct 19 | 03:51PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 11 October, 2019 04:09PM
On Lovecraft: Does his literary taste manifest the division I've been referring to?

My understanding is that his favored century was the 18th. So he liked the idea, I suppose, of common sense, of coffee-house culture, of writing poems in regular couplets as Pope did, of measure and harmony in all things, of appreciation of "nature and nature's laws," and so on, presided over by an enlightened monarch. But his imagination responded even more warmly to the literary reaction against this Augustan world; with this side of his personality, he was drawn passionately to the Gothic and authors in that tradition such as Poe. I have read little of his poetry, but my understanding is that a lot of it is 18th-century pastiche, other than the Fungi from Yuggoth and a few individual poems that are not representative of the bulk of his verse. His fiction, however, is certainly on the Gothic side.

Point taken? : )



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11 Oct 19 | 04:22PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 11 October, 2019 04:57PM
Platypus Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish Wrote:
> > I've mentioned so many times before that I see
> the
> > world as material that I didn't want to be
> > repetitive.
>
> Sorry. I recognized your nym, but I don't really
> keep track of people's philosophies.

Right, but there are other readers of this, and the previous thread from which it branched, and it was for them, mostly.
>
> > Nor do I consider materialism or
> > spiritualism/mysticism as a sort of club or
> > church, where one is a member.
>
> Nonetheless, if we could agree on a definition of
> "materialist", it becomes possible to say, for
> instance, that HPL was a member of the class of
> people called "materialists"; and that Machen was
> not. IIRC HPL espoused materialism in his essays
> (though this is perhaps not so cut and dried in
> his fiction).


>
> I assumed, of course, that we were discussing
> materialism in the philosophic sense. HPL was not
> a materialist in the sense that his life was
> focused on the accumulation of material
> possessions. Rather the reverse, I'd say.

Yes. In the philosophical sense. The cosmos is made up of matter.

>
> > A good question is: does morality as a concept
> > exist outside of the human psyche?
>
> Morality, as I understand it, involves the belief
> in something external to the human psyche.

But requiring a human psyche to envision it, right?

Or are you supporting the idea that morality exists independent of rational consciousness?

> So if
> morality does not exist outside the human psyche,
> then it is a delusion.

Yes. It seems that way.

>
> Of course, language is flexible, and "morality"
> need not be defined as narrowly as I define it.
> But if you define it more broadly, you are using
> the same word to describe ideas that are
> fundamentally different. "You should not do that"
> means (usually) something fundamentally different
> from "I subjectively dislike what you are doing."

Frequently they are functionally identical, I've found, unless accompanied by a persuasive rationale.
>
> > And one might look at the converse: perhaps
> there
> > is no such validation possible for such as
> > morality, unless it's as an offshoot of a
> > successful evolutionary process.
>
> Well, most would agree that our physical senses
> have some connection, however, imperfect, to
> external reality. Most would also agree, I
> suppose, that our physical senses are the offshoot
> of an evolutionary process. Most would see this
> as no contradiction, as the accuracy of our
> perceptions might well be a survival benefit,
> fitting into the "survival of the fittest" aspect
> of evolutionary theory.
>
> One materialist theory regarding the moral and/or
> religious sense, is that evolution endowed us with
> certain delusional perceptions and/or beliefs,
> presumably because, in some contexts, a fully
> accurate view of reality is not a survival
> benefit.
>
> Ok. Could be. Sure.
>
> But as a non-materialist, I don't think it follows
> that moral perceptions are meaningless or devoid
> of truth value, even if one starts with the
> premise that they evolved as part of an
> evolutionary process.

That's correct. Moral perceptions , and hence, tenets, could be completely congruent with practical requirements for individual survival. So they'd reflect material necessities, but not from empiricism, but as an article of faith that may have been founded originally on empiricism.

Cultural prohibitions against certain degrees of incest may be an example.
>
> > No, of course not. Nor are materialism and
> > mysticism mutually exclusive in the human
> > experience. So far, I'm playing around with
> the
> > idea that they are essentially separate
> domains,
> > with appropriate applicability in each
> respective
> > domain.
>
> Okay. But how do we steer this discussion back to
> the topic of literature? Or do we?

Hah! Good one!

I'll desist. I tend to wander a lot.

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 12 October, 2019 07:54AM
I think Lovecraft was materialist (I refer to its first meaning, that of philosophically regarding the Universe as being wholly mechanical, not its second meaning, that of hoarding material belongings) intellectually, especially when communicating with others in letters and speech, to give a respectable and stable impression of himself. But in "spirit", or the transcendent level under his conscious intellect, in his personal approach to life and in his art, he was spiritual. In his helpful and generous treatment of others (see many of his letters), he was also being spiritual.

I suppose spiritual qualities, to some degree, could be deduced to subtle chemical and physical functions, in other words being materialistic actions and reactions, part of the mechanical world, being those of the finer, more sensitive strains of living in our biological flesh. And being in flow and harmony with the body's fine-tuned functions and desires, assenting personal pleasure and wellbeing, choosing to draw positive energy, from such things as for example, selecting finer food, a pleasant living climate and temperature, being where our cultural roots are and near our relatives, and choosing harmonious aesthetic surroundings through balanced forms and pleasantly vibrating colors; and perhaps through dreaming, which could be said to be a form a planning for a better future. And being in harmony with the cosmic laws, using the particular body we have been given to its fullest function, rather than struggling against the natural order. Some of these needs for more subtle things of harmony may be too subtle for the intellect to understand, but we know them by intuition and they are present in our subconscious; and so while the appreciation of a sunset over old rooftops perhaps could be called a "spiritual" sensation, or at least a non-materialistic sensation, Lovecraft probably still rationalized it as a materialistic experience on a finer level. I don't quite remember, but I think he discusses such things in his letters.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 12 Oct 19 | 08:11AM by Knygatin.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 October, 2019 12:20PM
My understanding from what I have read by Lovecraft and from some excellent discussions, years ago, with J. D. Worthington, is that Lovecraft would have endorsed these remarks from geneticist Francis Crick:

"You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." You are nothing but a pack of neurons." (My underlines.) These neurons are not evidence of a Creator, or of some other source of intelligent design. They are the inevitable outcome of countless (to us), random atomic events, and of the tendency of mutations that happen to be favorable for reproduction to persist and pass on what appears to be "information" but is really no such thing; it's just molecules that happen to work a certain way.

This is an expression of scientism, which the late scholar of religions Huston Smith called the "world's littlest religion." Scientism is a faith; it's a resolution to believe in a certain way. It may appear to provide a convincing answer to some of life's problems (e.g. Why do bad things happen to innocents? It sure looks like we live in a vast, utterly uncaring universe that is not aware of us). It also means that the things that seem to us (till we learn scientism) to be meaningful, to be "signals of transcendence," are no such thing; they are as finally meaningless as the dead earthworm in the rain puddle on the asphalt street.

Now I think this is what Lovecraft believed, and yet he was also sensitively alive to some forms of beauty and so on. His commitment to materialism required him to deny the apparent value he sensed in those experiences, to write that off as just a quirk of his personality, such that really the person who evidently did not see the beauty, feel the wonder, was no worse off, except perhaps subjectively, than himself. From Lovecraft's point of view, the person who was subjectively content and happy, whatever his way of life, was just as well off as the other. You couldn't be a consistent materialist and yet say that Lovecraft at his happiest (perhaps relishing a beautiful sunset, and, a couple of hours later, spending a late evening with a good telescope and a clear sky) was any different from, any better off than, a hypothetical person absorbed by a virtual reality device, lying in a filthy bed swarming with bugs and rank with feces. In either case their neurons are being stimulated so that, subjectively, they feel content. Lovecraft's horror at the VR addict I have postulated would, he would need to say, be merely the inevitable result of what happen to have been his subjective history and his biochemistry, etc.; really, the VR addict is not in a horrible state. Lovecraft might be willing to make a story of something like this because he liked to write horror stories and could count on most readers being disgusted and appalled. But from his own point of view, really it doesn't matter. It wouldn't matter if all mankind went mad from some cataclysmic revelation of the Old Ones. It could happen, it might not happen, it doesn't matter; Lovecraft has made his peace with a cosmos wherein love and intelligence don't finally matter, even though that cosmos might seem to matter to some transient matter-energy units that we call human beings for in infinitesimal moment.

I think this is a fair statement of HPL's commitments, and a demonstration of his dividedness. I suspect he would agree and say that, things being as they are, dividedness permitted him to live with a kind of integrity: he admitted both sides of his inner life. Whether this was always really good enough for him, I don't know. He might have had to wrestle with the matter more if it were not for his having a supply of admirers to whom he could expound his materialism once again. I'm sure that he enjoyed doing that, and that it might possibly have helped to quieten faint, faint whispers of misgiving, if such there were.

This contrasts with Machen's view, which I will probably develop here later, although there's much of what I would say already there in the Hieroglyphics thread.

Incidentally, C. S. Lewis, as a young man, had a period in which his belief was very close to Lovecraft's. "The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-sided sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow 'rationalism.' Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless. The exceptions were certain people (whom I loved and believed to be real) and nature herself. That is, nature as she appeared to the senses. I chewed endlessly on the problem: 'How can it be so beautiful and also so cruel, wasteful and futile?'… I was so far from wishful thinking that I hardly thought anything true unless it contradicted my wishes."



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12 Oct 19 | 12:27PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 12 October, 2019 02:42PM
Interesting to read the contrast between your descriptions of Lovecraft vs Lewis.

My present worldview, which I've held for maybe 40 years or so, is uncannily close to the way you portray Lovecraft's: nothing really matters, in a cosmic sense.

Now, it may matter to the individual engaged in a hypothetical situation, but this quickly attenuates as one distances one's self from the individual involved. So this demonstrates that the reaction to the situation is subjective in nature.

I'd postulate that Lovecraft, as you describe his outlook, was relatively comfortable with his worldview, while Lewis was at core a reluctant, and perhaps temporary, materialist. This may stems from an early religious upbringing, which I never had--don't know about Lovecraft.

But for me, the key to being able to deeply enjoy an aesthetic experience--like coming down the long grade from the northern border of Yellowstone, into Montana--in what is consistent with a "spiritual" manner is that while nothing that you do or think matters in the universe, neither does that disquieting and humbling realization matter.

Nothing matters, ultimately, but this does not necessarily inspire individual hopelessness--in fact it liberates one to undertake kind and positive, and indeed ephemeral and transient, actions purely for one's *own*, untainted satisfaction.

--Sawfish

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Platypus (IP Logged)
Date: 12 October, 2019 06:17PM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Platypus Wrote:
> > Morality, as I understand it, involves the belief
> > in something external to the human psyche.
>
> But requiring a human psyche to envision it,
> right?
>
> Or are you supporting the idea that morality
> exists independent of rational consciousness?

I'm saying that what the human mind perceives (or imagines it perceives, or hallucinates, if you prefer) is something independent of itself, and I think, probably, superior to itself.

Freud hints at this, I think, when he separates the "superego" from the "ego". The mind perceives what Freud calls the "superego" as something independent of, and higher than, what the mind perceives as the self (the "ego" or the "I"). But Freud was, I think, a materialist, so naturally he considers this perception largely delusion. What the "ego" thinks it perceives is an illusion created by another aspect of the human mind. Or so Freud would say, I think.

Materialism, as I think you would agree, ultimately leads to a form of moral nihilism, where moral propositions have no real truth value.

But all I am suggesting is that one can avoid moral nihilism by choosing to believe that one's moral senses reflect (however imperfectly) an external reality. Similarly, one can avoid other forms of nihilism by choosing to believe that one's physical senses reflect external reality.

The nature of this external reality is another question. A Christian, and I suppose a polytheist as well, would say that it is both conscious and rational. I'm not too familiar with the eastern concept of "Karma" so I'm not sure if it is perceived as conscious or rational, but I do sort of have the impression that it is perceived as a force in the universe that is external to the self.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 12 Oct 19 | 06:30PM by Platypus.

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 October, 2019 06:21PM
Thanks, Sawfish.

I tried an experiment, of rewriting three of Lewis's sentences.

"The two hemispheres of Lovecraft's mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-sided sea of poetry and myth; on the other a materialist 'rationalism.' All that he loved he believed to be subjective; all that he believed to be real he thought meaningless."

So I have wondered what could have happened if these two had met under some appropriate circumstances, sometime in the 1920s. Lewis was around eight years younger than Lovecraft.

By the way, years ago -- it doesn't seem to have survived as a digital file -- I gathered together Lewis's remarks, from his excellent letters, etc. -- on weird fantasy, and compiled them udner the tongue-in-cheek title "'Supernatural Horror in Literature' by C. S. Lewis," which appeared in Pierre Comtois's 'zine Fungi. If, sometime in the 1920s, Lewis and Lovecraft had compared notes on their reading in this genre, there could have been some interesting exchanges. The chief thing that comes to mind in this connection is their enthusiasm for Algernon Blackwood. Curiously, I have found no compelling evidence to suggest that Lewis had ever heard of Arthur Machen! In the 1920s, Machen was more popular in the US than in England, I believe.

However, Lewis's library, as catalogued after his death, contained a collection of Machen's horror stories and the unsatisfactory novel The Secret Glory. But I suspect these were books that came into Lewis's library thanks to his marriage to the American Joy Davidman Gresham.

Anyway -- a bit of a digression here, which I hope might be of interest. I'll have to see, though, if I can dig up the story that Lewis projected, around this time, based on a nightmare, which, as I recall, sounds like it could have been a minor HPL tale. (CSL never wrote it, I believe.)

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Oldjoe (IP Logged)
Date: 12 October, 2019 07:17PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Incidentally, C. S. Lewis, as a young man, had a
> period in which his belief was very close to
> Lovecraft's. "The two hemispheres of my mind were
> in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a
> many-sided sea of poetry and myth; on the other a
> glib and shallow 'rationalism.' Nearly all that I
> loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that
> I believed to be real I thought grim and
> meaningless. The exceptions were certain people
> (whom I loved and believed to be real) and nature
> herself. That is, nature as she appeared to the
> senses. I chewed endlessly on the problem: 'How
> can it be so beautiful and also so cruel, wasteful
> and futile?'… I was so far from wishful thinking
> that I hardly thought anything true unless it
> contradicted my wishes."


Dale, this is a very interesting quotation from C.S. Lewis. Which of his works is this taken from?

Re: Lovercraft and materialism (new branch from the Hieroglyphs thread)
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 October, 2019 07:31PM
Here's the Lewis horror story idea that I mentioned. I could see Lewis's "play" as being the basis for a story in Weird Tales, not necessarily a very Lovecraftian one, more run of the mill for that magazine.

Lewis and his friend A. K. Hamilton Jenkin (who became author of books about Cornwall) had the idea of writing a shocker play. Lewis's diary for May 1923 says they were "almost seriously " thinking about writing it.

"It is to turn on the idea of a scientist who discovers a means of keeping the brain and motor nerves alive in a corpse by means of injections. The victim is kept in cold storage but occasionally allowed a turn around the house, wearing a mask: the scientist tells people he is a poor fellow whose face was badly smashed in the war. He is always sitting over fires and complaining of being cold and always being chased away by the scientist for obvious reasons.
"The hero and heroine find the corpse lying in a box room in its coffin packed in ice: but there will be a long leading up to the moment at which they realise that the corpse upstairs and the figure they have seen wandering about the house are one and the same. The heroine of course has been designed as the scientist's next victim: the play turns on her escape" [All My Road Before Me, p. 238].

Lewis later recorded (12 Sept. 1923) having had a "most horrible dream. By a certain poetic justice it turned on the idea which Jenkin and I were going to use in our shocker play: namely that of a scientist discovering how to keep consciousness and some motor nerves alive in a corpse, at the same time arresting decay, so that you really had an immortal dead man. I dreamed that the horrible thing was sent to us -- in a coffin of course -- to take care of.

"D [the mother of Lewis's friend Paddy Moore, who had been killed in the war] and Maureen [Paddy's sister] both came into the dream and it was perfectly ordinary and as vivid as life. Finally the thing escaped and I fancy ran amuck. It pursued me into a lift in the Tube in London. I got away all right but the lift man had seen it and was terribly frightened and, when I saw how he was behaving, I said to myself, 'There's going to be a terrible accident in this lift.'" Then Lewis woke up (pp. 266-267).

So we could imagine the conversation that Lewis and Lovecraft might have had if, in 1923, Lovecraft had somehow managed to arrive in England and meet Lewis. (I think it's more likely that HPL would have gone to England than that Lewis would have gone to America.)

That lift accident. Did the scientist die in it? Did the hero and heroine?



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 12 Oct 19 | 07:35PM by Dale Nelson.

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