This is a really interesting article over at Nightmare Magazine by Simon Strantzas. I don’t particularly agree with it in his definition of what constitutes a weird tale (I prefer Mieville’s notion of the uncanny vs. the abcanny) and he seems to take cosmic horror as the defining feature of the weird tale rather than it being a facet of the weird.
“Weird fiction of this[the pulp adventure] sort seems to have had its birth in America, bursting onto the scene from Lovecraft’s pen. The exploration of the cosmic indifference (at best; malignance at worst) melded with the adventure story suits the mindset of the new world, whose mythology gravitates to philosopher-explorers.”
I don’t even think HPL would agree with this as he seemed to place himself into the wider cannon of the weird along with Machen, Blackwood, et al.
In the article Strantzas tries to delineate the ‘strange’ tale from the ‘weird’ tale. A distinction that I’m not sure is possible with the definitions that he gives.
“These are tales where the otherworld isn’t as much known as it is hinted at, and rather than explore the philosophies of our shared existence, the strange is more interested in the psychology of our individual lives. If the weird is cosmic, the strange is micro-cosmic, investigating the universe within our psychological existence.
It’s these feelings of disconnection that form the primary power of the strange tale, and from where it draws the bulk of its emotional power. Real life moments of loss, despair, and depression wreak a certain kind of havoc on us and can quite literally distort our comprehension of the world as we experience it. In many ways, this distortion and that of the strange’s dream-logic overlap, allowing the strange to become a proxy and providing readers the opportunity to directly confront their turmoils. That being said, it would be irresponsible to suggest the readers are then able to prevail against these forces, for with the strange no one really comes out ahead. Those that survive are ultimately scarred by the experience—which may be the most realistic and lifelike of all horror’s punishments. Existential wounds follow both the protagonists and the reader long afterward, which plays in stark relief to the weird and its sudden onset of temporary madness in the face of the impossible.”
Now to me this seems as though it would fit squarely within the realm of the weird tale as written by Schulz, Kafka, Cisco, and others. It sounds, to me, like Strantzas is describing weird fiction as influenced by the surrealist movement.
I don’t know, perhaps we do put too much emphasis on the cosmic horror aspect of the weird (which is no surprise being as HPL looms so large in the field) which may, or may not, be to the detriment of the wider weird. Personally I find the diversity of the weird to be extremely appealing. I love being able to slip from one tale of epic cosmic terror to a more subtle tale that teases at the frayed edges of what it is to be human.
Either that or I should, perhaps, not think about these sorts of thing before I’ve had my morning coffee…