One of the ends of the Yeatsian work is the end of idolatry, but it is does not seek the end of idols. In that lies part of its distinctive character. This is where the Yeatsian material may find a proper complement in the Lovecraftian, because there, too, we find the image raised up even as idolatry is made into a figure of utter monstrosity. They are thinking through a similar thought, albeit from rather different ends.
This is how we’re going to live from now on – surrounded by the swirl of strange and terrible weather, never quite knowing when the great black wall of it will shift and slam into us. AGAINST THE DAY will remain relevant, because it’s the picture of every minute of every day from now on. Amazing things, every single different kind of story we can imagine, and the altitude thrill of constantly being on the edge of bubbling fatal chaos.—Warren Ellis
I have read this review three or four times now and I can tell I am trying to get at something in it. It may come down to this quote. Let me walk through my responses to it.
With the discussion of fate and destiny out of the way, let’s get back to the topic at hand. The way in which Lovecraft attempts to delimit the Necronomicon’s destiny to the literary sphere suggests a general discomfort with that destiny but an inability to sever himself from it. Not only did he make use of the text throughout his work, but he proceeded to expand its scope, putting it into communication with the literary occultism of his fellow writers, both explicitly and implicitly. Its literary fate becomes a root system, through which its destiny survives and along which it is able to flare up.
Before springing too quickly into an occult consideration of the Necronomicon, I want to take some time to discuss its fictional and literary context. This won’t be anything fancy (though it will be long), just some descriptive account of how it tends to appear, the way those uses change over time, and some biographical / historical context for those changes.
Below I have gathered together the few snippets of the Necronomicon that Lovecraft wrote and wove into his stories. Where interjections like “he read” divided an excerpt from the Necronomicon, I deleted the interjection without placing an ellipsis in the quotation to mark its absence.
This is the first of two notebook posts containing Lovecraft’s mentions of the Necronomicon. While a few very minor mentions were excluded, most all of them should be included here. This is all quotation, no commentary; I’m saving that up for some lengthier posts.
I know, this is one of those topics that is difficult to get at. The various efforts to give concrete form to the Necronomicon have created a discursive Scylla and Charybdis. On the one side, you find those who accept that the appearance of the text in Lovecraft’s fiction serves a prophetic role, calling out to the occultists who would give it concrete form. On the other side, you have those invested in its fundamentally literary character dismissing such efforts as, at best, a really weird and potentially schizophrenic sort of fan service.
That dilemma is actually useful for me, though. It repeats in miniature the tension I have been gesturing at between aesthetic and occult modernity. In the last post on this topic, I put forward the notion that what the artist often does is provide the occultist with a sensibility, a manner of seeing and understanding, that provides the occultist with a window into a previously less visible (or perhaps previously inaccessible) spiritual network. Here I want to suggest that the Necronomicon defines a key element of that.
To do this, I will need to position the Necronomicon in its fictional context, as a literary element that serves as a locus of occult associations. It does more than just conjoin disparate elements, but links them into a potent talismanic image. It is as a subtle talismanic force rather than a text that I want to seek out the nature of the Necronomicon.
With this in mind, let’s turn to the Necronomicon as it H. P. Lovecraft uses it within his work. I will break this discussion into three or four posts. The first two posts are just notebook posts that lay out the various appearances of the Necronomicon in Lovecraft’s work. The first post gathers together mentions of the text while the second post gathers together the quotations from the text that Lovecraft composed.
From there, the post(s) will proceed to analyze that material and examine it against its occult horizon.
I keep hammering on about this connection between modernity as a literary sensibility and modernity as a spiritual/religious/occult one. I’ve admitted that I have more a sense of how not to talk about it than I do of how to talk about it. It seems like what I need is a figure I can pore over easily–I love Benjamin and I’m enjoying Baudelaire, but that is too far-removed from what I know to provide a ready handle. Which, well, makes me think about H. P. Lovecraft.