DISCUSSED: Nausea-Inducing Reality, Ultra-Violence, Crippling Depression, Cosmic Fear, Comforting Contamination, Founding Mythologies, Sherlock Holmes, Concentric Circles, Impermeable Man-Fogs, Rock Music

“Perhaps one needs to have suffered a great deal in order to appreciate Lovecraft…”

—Jacques Bergier

Life is painful and disappointing. It is useless, therefore, to write new realistic novels. We generally know where we stand in relation to reality and don’t care to know any more. Humanity, such as it is, inspires only an attenuated curiosity in us. All those prodigiously refined “notations,” “situations,” anecdotes… all they do, once a book has been set aside, is reinforce the slight revulsion that is already adequately nourished by any one of our “real life” days.

Now, here is Howard Phillips Lovecraft: “I am so beastly tired of mankind and the world that nothing can interest me unless it contains a couple of murders on each page or deals with the horrors unnameable and unaccountable that leer down from the external universes.”


Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937). We need a supreme antidote against all forms of realism.


Those who love life do not read. Nor do they go to the movies, actually. No matter what might be said, access to the artistic universe is more or less entirely the preserve of those who are a little fed up with the world.

As for Lovecraft, he was more than a little fed up. In 1908, at the age of eighteen, he suffered what has been described as a “nervous breakdown” and plummeted into a lethargy that lasted about ten years. At the age when his old classmates were hurriedly turning their backs on childhood and diving into life as if into some marvelous, uncensored adventure, he cloistered himself at home, speaking only to his mother, refusing to get up all day, wandering about in a dressing gown all night.

What’s more, he wasn’t even writing.

What was he doing? Reading a little, maybe. We can’t even be sure of this. His biographers have in fact had to admit that they don’t know much at all and that based on appearances it would seem that at least between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three he did absolutely nothing.


Then gradually, between 1913 and 1918, very slowly, the situation improved. Gradually, he reestablished contact with the human race. It was not easy. In May 1918 he wrote to Alfred Galpin: “I am only about half alive—a large part of my strength is consumed in sitting up or walking. My nervous system is a shattered wreck and I am absolutely bored and listless save when I come upon something which peculiarly interests me.”

It is definitely pointless to embark on a dramatic or psychological reconstruction. Because Lovecraft is a lucid, intelligent and sincere man. A kind of lethargic terror descended upon him as he turned eighteen years old and he knew the reason for it perfectly well. In a 1920 letter he revisits his childhood at length. The little railway set whose cars were made of packing-cases, the coach house where he had set up his puppet theater. And later, the garden he had designed, laying out each of its paths. It was irrigated by a system of channels that were his own handiwork, and its ledges enclosed a small lawn at the center of which stood a sundial. It was, he said, “the paradise of my adolescent years.”

Then comes the passage that concludes the letter: “Then I perceived with horror that I was growing too old for pleasure. Ruthless Time had set its fell claw upon me, and I was seventeen. Big boys do not play in toy houses and mock gardens, so I was obliged to turn over my world in sorrow to another and younger boy who dwelt across the lot from me. And since that time I have not delved in the earth or laid out paths and roads. There is too much wistful memory in such procedure, for the fleeting joy of childhood may never be recaptured. Adulthood is hell.”

Translated from the French by Dorna Khazeni


Look for the rest of this piece in Michel Houellebecq’s H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, a book-length study of Lovecraft, translated by Dornza Khazeni and published by Believer Books.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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A poet, essayist, and novelist, Michel Houellebecq is the author of three novels, The Elementary Particles (Les Particules élémentaires), Platform (Plateforme), and Whatever (Extension de la domaine de la lutte). He lives in Ireland.

Dorna Khazeni works as a translator from French and Farsi, and has translated stories by Abbas Kiarostami, Chris Marker, and the forthcoming essay by Michel Houellebecq on H. P. Lovecraft (for Believer Books). She is currently working on translating an oral history of Iranian cinema as remembered by filmmaker Farrokh Gaffary.

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