To write is to reach, through a pre-existing impersonality...that point at which language alone acts, "performs", and not oneself...
Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author"
In case you've not heard, HP Lovecraft is no longer the model of the trophy for the World Fantasy Awards
, because he was manifestly a racist. Long-term readers of the blog will probably be able to guess at my views on this, and I don't particularly have any urge to sally forth into the lists of online debate over it, but I do think HP Lovecraft is a fascinating illustration of the way "the absence of the Author", as Barthes put it, "utterly transforms the modern text".
There are very few authors I can think of who, more than Lovecraft, embody the way in which a text can go through Barthes' process of "opening up". Anybody attempting to close his ouvre
off, to put a "stop clause" on it, by interpreting it as the product of a racist has to ignore the way it has been plucked from his grasp and transmogrified into something utterly different from anything he may have intended. We readers have created an extensive mythos which he never envisaged
and which still evolves and develops to this day. We have turned his ostensibly most terrifying creation into a child's stuffed toy
or a joke for crude political satir
e. We have re-worked his stories into terrible films
. Those of us who are Japanese
, Mexican or African
have recreated his work through our own cultural lens. We have flipped his male-centric universe
. We have based board games
and hard rock albums
on his stories. We have joked about Necrotelecomnicon
and created dishes like "Eggs Sothoth". We have mangled it and stomped all over it, smashed it up and put it back together, over and over and over again, and that process only seems to gather pace as Cthulhu in particular becomes a kind of internet totem or touchstone for nerd culture. Just as any Reader takes the text and interprets it in his or her own way, we as collective Readers have done precisely the same thing with HP Lovecraft's work as a text - writ large and to the extreme.
And players of Call of Cthulhu
, perhaps more to the point, individually and collectively do the same thing in miniature for every session they play. They run games set in Norway
and anywhere else in the world besides. They create new Old Gods, reinterpret existing ones, bastardise Lovecraft's stories and invent their own. They imagine themselves as black female Harvard professors, Chinese artists, Irish philosophers and English rugby players engaging in his world, and it doesn't matter in the slightest
because the text is now theirs
and not his.
The man himself was a bigot and an appalling one. But his work as a text is constituted by us and not him, in a myriad of ways limited only by the number of individuals who read it and the number of interpretations they give it.