Lecture 04 - Hybrid Life


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Fourth lecture for my students in English 192, "Science Fiction," summer 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.

Course website: http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/ta/m13/

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Lecture 04 - Hybrid Life

  1. 1. Lecture 4: Hybrid Life English 192 Summer 2013 8 August 2013 “Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species–if separate species we be–for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world." — H.P. Lovecraft, “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”
  2. 2. A few words on Alien as detective story
  3. 3. Epistemology, horror, and the search for knowledge
  4. 4. Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937) ● Best known for his stories of “cosmic horror,” particularly those associated with the fictional deity Cthulhu. ● Work – primarily short stories – was primarily published in pulp magazines, especially Weird Tales. ● Has been greatly influential on later 20th-century horror, science-fiction, and fantasy writers. Lovecraft in 1915.
  5. 5. “Cosmic horror” or “cosmicism” ● Lovecraft’s work often takes the position that humanity is insignificant to the universe as a whole (and the universe may in fact contain powerful entities that are hostile to humans). ● Common themes in his work that are implications of this position: ● Knowledge and understanding lead to madness. – Truth (the universe, its structure, its scale) is, in the final analysis, incomprehensible to humans. ● Humanity is influenced by non-human forces. ● Guilt and other effects of one’s decisions are heritable.
  6. 6. Community and homogeneity ● Communities in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” define themselves as racially and culturally homogeneous and by differentiating themselves from other racial and cultural communities. “His [Old Man Marsh’s] mother seems to have been some kind of foreigner—they say a South Sea islander—so everybody raised Cain when he married an Ipswich girl fifty years ago. They always do that about Innsmouth people, and folks here and hereabouts always try to cover up any Innsmouth blood they have in ’em.” (88) “horrible croaking voices exchanging low cries in what was certainly not English.” (117)
  7. 7. How do we read “Innsmouth”? “After all, the strangest and maddest of myths are often merely symbols or allegories based upon truth.” (101) “The insane yarn I was hearing [from Zadok Allen] interested me profoundly, for I fancied there was contained within it a sort of crude allegory based upon the strangeness of Innsmouth and elaborated by an imagination at once creative and full of scraps of exotic legend.” (106)
  8. 8. “No trials, or even definite charges, were reported; nor were any of the captives [from Innsmouth] seen thereafter in the regular gaols of the nation. There were vague statements about disease and concentration camps, and later about dispersal in various naval and military prisons, but nothing positive ever developed.” (86)
  9. 9. Sources of horror in “Innsmouth” ● Remember our thesis that horror arises from the transgression of implicit cognitive boundaries. ● Racial horror. – This is figured both in terms of cross-race and cross- species interbreeding. ● The horror of non-Christian religion. ● The horror of degeneration. ● The horror of self-discovery. ● Note that, quite often, more than one of these factors is in play at the same time.
  10. 10. The horror of paganism “the rumours of devil-worship were partly justified by a peculiar secret cult which had gained force there and engulfed all the orthodox churches.” (92) “Nothing I could have imagined—nothing, even, that I could have gathered had I credited old Zadok’s crazy tale in the most literal way— would be in any way comparable to the demoniac, blasphemous reality that I saw—or believe I saw.” (123)
  11. 11. Degeneration “Gawd knows they [‘the Innsmouth folk’]’ve gotten to be about as bad as South Sea cannibals and Guinea savages.” (90) “the clerk […] discouraged my going to such a dismal, decadent place. […] Innsmouth was merely an exaggerated case of civic degeneration.” (90) “Undoubtedly, the alien strain in the Innsmouth folk was stronger here [near the Manuxet river] than farther inland—unless, indeed, the ‘Innsmouth look’ were a disease rather than a blood stain, in which case this district might be held to harbor the most advanced cases.” (100)
  12. 12. The horror of self-discovery “Among these reliefs [on the tiara] were fabulous monsters of abhorrent grotesqueness and malignity—half ichthyic and half batrachian in suggestion—which one could not dissociate from a certain haunting and uncomfortable sense of pseudo-memory, as if they called up some image from deep cells and tissues whose retentive functions are wholly primal and awesomely ancestral.” (92) “Then the other shapes began to appear, filling me with nameless horror the moment I awoke. But during the dreams they did not horrify me at all—I was one with them, wearing their unhuman trappings, treading their aqueous ways, and praying monstrously at their evil sea- bottom temples.” (126-27)
  13. 13. Media credits The photo of H.P. Lovecraft (slide 2) is in the public domain because it was first published before 1923. Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/ a/a2/Howard_Phillips_Lovecraft_in_1915.jpg