Friday, 30 September 2016

HAWTHORNE AND LOVECRAFT: TWO WHO RODE THE TIGER

                    
Nathaniel Hawthorne


Americans are supposed to be energetic. After all, we “went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between” because of our relentless drive for expansion and profit. The American caricature, so idolized and reviled throughout the world, is a loud creature with a fondness for action and a devotion to extolling the virtues of thinking big and making quick money. According to Louis Hartz, author of The Liberal Tradition in America,irrational Lockeanism” is our prevailing credo, with both liberals and conservatives essentially agreeing on the soundness of liberal democracy and global capital. A good Cold War liberal, Hartz (and generations of leftists after him) believed that a genuine and unique American right did not and could not exist. The left has all the best ideas, after all.

Besides unquestioned egalitarianism and “muh free markets” shibboleths, the other facet of the American mind is the preference for progress, for changing things in the here and now without first consulting tradition. “History is bunk” was said by a powerful American, while to most “tradition” is just another meaningless word. As a species, contemporary Americans are unusually detached from their own forefathers.

Given this, the act of exiting from life, especially from the marketplace and the social sphere, can be construed as a counterrevolutionary act in the United States. This is not to say that our beta male gamers are some sort of trad vanguard. Nothing could be further from the truth, for our own hikikomori are mostly driven by fear, sloth, and pharmaceuticals. They are engaged in nothing but a self-indulgent withdrawal. There is, however, an all-American way of “riding the tiger” that can be copied by those rightists who wish to leave the modern world.

*************

Subtitled “A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul,” Baron Julius Evola’s Ride the Tiger lifts its title from an East Asian expression that denotes the idea that “if one succeeds in riding the tiger, not only does one avoid having it leap on one, but if one can keep one’s seat and not fall off, one may eventually get the better of it.” For Evola’s purposes, the act of riding the tiger is what spiritual aristocrats must do in order to survive in the modern world, the so-called Kali Yuga, without being corrupted by it. Rather than directly oppose the tides of our sick, venal world, the “essential thing is not let oneself be impressed by the omnipotence and apparent triumph of the forces of the epoch.” 

These forces have a short shelf life, while tradition can last forever so long as men practice it.

In the case of American letters, two men—H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne—rejected their own epochs through isolation. In the case of Hawthorne, the self imposed exile lasted almost ten years. During that time, Hawthorne lived and wrote in relative seclusion, often choosing to publish anonymously. Remembering this time years later, Hawthorne would write: "I have not lived, but only dreamed about living.” From his room in the family’s home, which he called his “owl’s nest,” Hawthorne wrote against time and even the wishes of the American reading public. Even after he achieved a modicum of fame outside of his native New England, Hawthorne famously said in a January 1855 letter to his publisher, William D. Ticknor:
"America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash—and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed. What is the mystery of these innumerable editions of the Lamplighter, and other books neither better nor worse?—worse they could not be, and better they need not be, when they sell by the 100,000."
Much of Hawthorne’s initial unpopularity was almost entirely due to his darkness—his masculine way of writing about darkness. “Young Goodman Brown” and The Scarlet Letter are not cheery works and do not appeal to the modern masses, most of whom were forced to read them in high school. But much like Donald Trump’s supposedly “dark” and “scary” acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Hawthorne’s body of work tells a fundamental truth about America—it, like the rest of human society, is drenched in state-sponsored evil and sin. 

As the descendant of John Hawthorne, the only judge who never apologized for his role in the Salem witch trials, Hawthorne knew the Puritan mind well. In some ways Hawthorne even embraced Puritanism, especially as a way to refute the popular transcendentalism of his own age. Despite repetitions of “self-reliance” and meaningful independence, the transcendentalists were in truth slippery Unitarians who believed that humanity could be perfected. Such thoughts are anathema to the real right, for ideas of that ilk can quickly become communistic.

Puritanism, on the other hand, was and is a sort of alt Protestantism—a Christian sect devoid of superficial, “feel good” messages and instead replete with rational intolerance. The Puritans saw life as nothing more than a painful existence totally dedicated to glorifying their covenant with God. More importantly for Hawthorne, the Puritans and their stern religion were native to New England, and as such their ideas and their descendants had rightful claims to American life, politics, and culture. America, in many ways, is an offshoot of the Puritan model.

While far from a Puritan and certainly not a believer in the Christian concept of original sin, Lovecraft similarly understood that New England and the United States were founded by Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and as such American culture is essentially English. 
"It is the spirit of England, transplanted to a soil of vast extent and diversity, and nourished for a time under pioneer conditions calculated to increase its democratic aspects without impairing its fundamental virtues. It is the spirit, of truth, honour, justice, morality, moderation, individualism, conservative liberty, magnanimity, toleration, enterprise, industriousness, and progress—which is England—plus the element of equality and opportunity caused by the pioneer settlement."
H.P. Lovecraft
Although it’s a thoughtcrime to recognize this today, it is undoubtedly true that our country’s English settlers gave us our laws, our folkways, our customs, and our language. Furthermore, when it comes to assimilation, the immigrants who have the easiest time are either English or come from similar cultures (see: Northern Europe). The English, especially the Puritans, may have also bequeathed to America a fondness for the macabre tale. Lovecraft notes in “Supernatural Horror in Literature” that “Wherever the mystic Northern blood was the strongest, the atmosphere of the popular tales become most intense.” In Hawthorne and Lovecraft’s New England, “Evil…appears on every hand as a lurking and conquering adversary.” As such, the fount of American history and tradition is also the seat of American horror.

Supernatural or “weird” horror cannot compete with reality, however. Lovecraft, an ardent materialist, knew this well. For him, true horror was New York City, with its teeming hordes of foreigners, many of whom felt no reason to become Americans in any meaningful sense. “He,” which is arguably Lovecraft’s most biographic story, is about a sleepless wanderer who flees home to “the pure New England lanes” after receiving a hellish vision of an apocalyptic New York populated by “yellow, squint-eyed people…robed horribly in orange and red, and dancing insanely to the pounding of fevered kettle-drums, the clatter of obscene crotala, and the maniacal moaning of muted horns…” 

Unfortunately for Lovecraft, who really did return to his native Providence after his disastrous sojourn in Brooklyn, the pure, Yankee New England of his birth no longer existed. As Michel Houellebecq writes in H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, Providence’s immigrant population was there during Lovecraft’s childhood, but his sheltered (and highly reclusive) childhood and adolescence kept his world extremely closed. After New York however, Lovecraft could not longer ignore or “unsee” these masses. It is no wonder that his darkest and most cosmically nihilist stories come from this period.

Like Hawthorne, Lovecraft spent many years away from "life." After suffering a nervous breakdown and dropping out of high school, Lovecraft retreated inward for five years and rarely left his modest home until after dark. For the most part he dreamed. This is the New England way of riding the tiger. 

This option will always be available and certain rightists, especially those without iron constitutions, may find this option the most palatable. Hopefully the majority on the right will not follow this lead. Indeed, most of us would be better served to follow Hawthorne and Lovecraft in the act of creating art that stands against the modern world. These men are still read today because they understood primal fear as well as primal truth. As sinful and fallen as America is, its Anglo-Saxon traditions are worthy of maintaining.


 

No comments:

Post a Comment