Free Speech, or Vomiting into the Liberal Abyss

Last week there was a brouhaha in the horror fiction community when known fascist David A. Riley (the A is important as there is another genre writer called David Riley who is, by all accounts, a good egg) was appointed to sit on the jury of the upcoming Stoker awards held by the Horror Writers Association(HWA). I wasn’t initially going to write anything about this latest incident as once members of the HWA were made aware of this enough of them raised objections that the matter was resolved. It wasn’t resolved neatly but that’s by-the-by and I’ll talk about that another time maybe.

What has inspired me to put fingertips to keys is a couple of things. Firstly the bleatings of liberals and those who consider themselves ‘libertarians’ (in the American sense of the word) in support of both Riley’s right to hold whatever beliefs he chooses and his right to be an active part of the horror community with those beliefs. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth about ‘free speech’ and ‘social justice warriors’* who were oppressing the community and who were ‘the real fascists’.

Secondly it was an interview with David A. Riley on the blog of on David Dubrow, a writer from the USA. I get the feeling that the interview was supposed to show that Riley isn’t a fascist and that us lefties are just getting our knickers in a twist and are all crazy. It did neither of these things.

In this post I want to discuss, hopefully, briefly (and amusingly, to me anyway.) some of these positions before then looking at the Curious Case of David A. Riley itself. So, I would like to present to you: ‘Free Speech, or Vomiting into the Liberal Abyss’.

*incidentally, did you know that the term was originally used by us lefties to mock the twitterati and tumblrites who obsess over the virtual world yet do nothing in the real world? I really hate that right wing cocks have stolen it from us so now I’m simply reduced to swearing at people like that.

Free Speech,
or Vomiting into the Liberal Abyss

I

Gazing into the Abyss

The liberal looks down upon those engaged in revolutionary and radical political activity from its vantage point high above upon the moral high ground. From its lofty position it see that it can attain the perfect balance between opposing viewpoints, it can find the middle ground, as, to the liberal, all points of view are equally valid. They merely need to be weighed and balanced in order to evaluate what they contain that is of value. To the liberal, the pinnacle of pseudo postmodern expression, there is no right and no wrong. There is only ever the middle.

What the liberal does not see from its intellectually elevated position is that the high ground from which it issues its decrees, the summit upon which it wrings its hands, is naught but a pile of rotting corpses.

The liberal pontificates and presents itself as the voice of reason whilst irrationally defending the irrational and sowing the seeds of its own demise.

The liberal is inherently reactionary.

II

The Grand Theatre of Ideas

In the imaginings of the liberal ideas exist in a vacuum, a void, an abyss, that is completely disconnected from real life. In this black liberal expanse ideas are shouted into the echoing nothing never to reverberate against anything, nor affect anything that exists outside this peculiar social exceptionality. As ideas float around this liberal space-time they are all of equal value and deserve equal space to be heard. Ideas are equal in their inconsequentiality to the liberal.

III

The Sad, Sorry, Sight of Real Life

Unfortunately for the liberal their Grand Theatre of Ideas is as much a myth as any afterlife or Platonic ideal. Ideas are formed by people and as people act upon ideas so ideas act upon people. Some ideas add to the general happiness of the world. Ideas like: “It’s good to help one another”, or “we should cover ice cream in chocolate and tequila”. Ideas like these improve the world and make the world a nicer place in which to live. They serve to mitigate the harsh realities of getting by in a capitalist society.

Other ideas serve only to increase the amount of suffering in the world.

IV

Speech as Action, Words That Burn Books

When certain ideas are seen to be socially acceptable, or even mainstream, then those who hold to those ideas gain the courage to act upon them. When newspapers carry stories supporting those ideas then those words, those ideas, will be acted upon. Without the ideas then there are no actions. Without the words spreading those ideas then actions do not spread. The ideas lead to words which lead to bombed out pubs, beaten people, and murdered kids.

V

Maintaining the Balance, at No Cost

The liberal believes that it is working tirelessly to maintain the balance of society. So that, when the day comes to pass, the feather weighs the same as the swastika. The liberal will stand bravely in defence of those who seek to do ill to the world, who wish to spread ideas of hatred and death. The liberal will stand bravely against those who ask that they not suffer hatred and death.

VI

Tolerance is a Weapon Wielded Against the Workers

We must tolerate the intolerable proclaims the liberal. We must tolerate even the most odious of ideas and individuals. The workers must never act to defend themselves against ideas of suffering and pain. They must suffer all the tribulations of tolerance with stoicism and a stiff upper lip so that the liberal may look down upon its domain in contentment. Safe from the woes below, high upon its mountain, green with fleshy putrescence.

VII

Self Defence is Oppressive

The liberal, ever fearful of anything outside the middle, sees all that is not of itself as equal and indistinguishable. For the liberal, left is as good as right as it careers blinkered down the central reservation of life. An act of self defence is as heinous as the instigating act of violence. Luke Skywalker is as bad as Darth Vader the moment he picks up the lightsabre on Tatooine. The anti-fascist fighter of the Warsaw Ghetto no different to the Nazi troops bombarding them with shells. All is equal, all is equivalent. The liberal strips all context from that which it observes and claims this as philosophical insight. The liberal would counter the terrorising of families and communities with strongly worded letters penned behind curtains drawn tight to the world.

David A. Riley

Now, to Mr David A. Riley.

David A. Riley is a fascist. He was a member of the extreme right wing group, The National Front (NF), which he left in the early 80s. He has, since then, done and said nothing to imply that he has cast aside his old ideology and has, as point of fact, said things that imply that he still holds these beliefs.

Before I go further I want to admit that yes David A. Riley is, in the grand scheme of things, of little concern to the wider world.  He’s a small time horror writer in the world of the genre small presses. However the small time horror genre press is a growing scene, and one that, if it wishes to continue to grow, needs to be open and inclusive. This can’t be the case if odious people like David A. Riley are tolerated and even defended by people within the community. The tolerance of fascists like Riley by the community is effectively saying that community does not want people of colour, Roma/Travellers, queers, trans-people, Jews, nor trade unionists involved as these are all people that are absolutely despised by fascists. Why would I want to sit in a room with someone who would see me and mine dead? Why would anyone?
Now I’ll go through some of the points from the interview with David A. Riley over on David Dubrow’s blog. Here’s the link should you want to go and see quite how insipid the questions and answers were before continuing. http://davedauthor.com/2016/04/20/interview-with-david-a-riley/

On the subject of the National Front Riley says:

I joined in 1973. At that time it was widely viewed as a patriotic nationalist party with serious concerns about the high numbers of immigrants who were coming into the UK at the time. Amongst its members were a number of retired senior servicemen from the Armed Forces, clergymen, teachers and other professionals.

At that time  John O’Brien, a supporter of Enoch Powell, had just left as leader as the party had effectively come under the control of former members of the Greater Britain Movement John Tyndall and Martin Webster. Webster is on record as saying, in 1972, that they were setting up a “well oiled Nazi machine.” Webster who was at this meeting (LINK) with Riley in 1981.

When asked about current membership of the NF he says:

I resigned in 1983 and have not been involved since.

Well, this (LINKantisemitic bile was published in August 1983. So, given the long history of the NF with Nazism, Riley’s association with one of the main Nazis within the leadership of the NF and quotes like this

Lovecraft’s anti-semitism, it should be noted, was not based upon a well-researched knowledge of the part played by certain wealthy Jewish financiers, but on plain physical repugnance. The limitation, therefore, of his appreciation of what motivates Zionism, which he never mentions, is considerable.

I find Riley’s claims to have been unaware that he was a member, regional organiser, and parliamentary candidate for a Nazi party to be risible.

When asked if he is a fascist he replies:

No.  It’s an easy label to flash around, usually by those who are fascists themselves, particularly from the left. Fascists don’t believe in free speech and try to suppress it for their opponents. I have never in my life tried to do that. They are also prepared to use physical violence against their political opponents. I was never involved in anything like that. I would add that during the time I was involved in the party any member who associated with a neo-nazi group, either in Britain or overseas, faced expulsion. This, I can confirm, was enforced.

This is clearly tripe as the leadership of the National Front was composed of Nazis like Tyndall and Webster. The NF has also never been afraid of using violence against their opponents nor against instigating it when they did things like march through the largely black area of London, Lewisham, in 1977. When Riley was a fully fledged member and organiser for the party.

When Riley is so clearly lying about his past, when he is seen still supporting extreme right wing groups like Ataka, when he is still posting on nationalist websites, why the hell would we believe that he is no longer a fascist? He patently still holds to his beliefs and therefore should be shunned by any who want the weird/horror fiction world to grow and flourish.

Bollocks to David A. Riley. Bollocks to Fascism.

Some links for reference.

John Tyndall

Martin Webster

National Front

Greater Britain Movement

More on Riley’s Fascist past and present

 

Follow On, Boys

Follow on, boys
follow on
With the rattling dust
of bones pro patria
follow on.

An angel with
a sword of flame and cries of war.
Lion, bloodied and rampant, by her side.

Follow on, boys
Follow on
Beat back the desert’s spread
With fist and coward cry
Follow on.

Forget for now
That I, Enheduanna, was and
words, healing, and numbers were my gift

Follow on, boys
Follow on
For you know me well
For love, boys, strike me down
Follow on.

Totally No Homophobe

In which I laugh at a bigot and then get all shirty about the new-new-new left.

Bigots make me laugh sometimes, they really do. I’ve lost count of the amount of conversations I have had over the years that have panned out almost exactly thus:

Bigot: *”Something racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty”*
Me: “Um, dude, that’s a bit kinda, you know, racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty”
Bigot: “How dare you call me racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty! I just believe *something racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty*”
Me: …

So the following quote from author John C Wright -an author who was part of the Sad Puppy slate for this year’s Hugo awards- made me guffaw no end. The Sad Puppy slate was an attempt by a bunch of right wing bigoted fuckboys to game the nominations for the awards. They did this on account of feeling that heterosexual white males are an oppressed group in our society who are under represented in the fields of Fantasy and Science Fiction… seriously. The comment was made by Wright on the discussion thread below the absurd apology to the racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty community for a comment made by one of their employees on her personal Facebook profile. You can read about the whole fracas here. Anyway, the comment.

Dear Peter D, and all of you who claim Irene Gallo’s statement was true–

You are saying things you know or should know to be untrue, and you should be deeply ashamed for letting your emotions out of control, tempt you to dishonesty, and for yielding to that temptation.

I am not unrepentantly homophobic. I am nothing of the kind. It is a lie.

I follow the Catholic teaching on same sex attraction and how one deals with it. In public, I have heaped scorn on those who use a children’s cartoon, one I loved, to insinuate their pro-perversion propaganda in a cowardly and craven way.

I have no hate, no fear, nothing but respect for homosexuals.

You and people like you who use the false cloak of compassion for homosexual to lure them into ruining their lives, you are the ones for whom I have no respect. You are the ones who hate them; you are the one who urge them down ever darker paths.

One of my family members committed suicide because he pursued the homosexual lifestyle you and yours continually urge him and poor souls like him to pursue.

You are the ones who offer a drunk a drink before he gets behind the wheel of a car, and when Christian urge sobriety, you claim our motive is fear and hatred for the drunk, not prudence and compassion.

He abandoned my stepsister when she was six years old, and my step brother when he was four.

Your evil, vile, repulsive philosophy of pure selfishness is what I hate, not the homosexuals you use as a shield for that philosophy.

As for the other lunatic assertions of Irene Gallo that you now leap to claim are true —  misogynist? neo-nazi? I wonder what St Mary and St Maximillian Kolbe would say if either thought me their enemy.

Racist?I wonder what my daughter, who was born in Chinese to parents who abandoned her, would say if I were racist.

Another one of my family members was wounded in World War Two, awarded a Purple Heart for his efforts in liberating a Nazi death camp.

You know nothing of me, nothing of my life, nothing of what I have known or suffered. Irene Gallo make statements beyond false: they were reckless with hatred, whereas I have ever spoken of her with gratitude and respect for the wonderful illustrations and compositions with which her department adorns the books she and I sell.

I am only the writer. The book is a team effort. Irene Gallo is a member of the team. She has apologized for her lies, and I accept her apology.

I would like you, sir, to do the same, and never dare to libel me again. When you do not know whereof you speak, close your mouth.

John C Wright

(LINK)

Now; have you ever seen such a perfect example of the complete lack of self awareness that near defines the racist/sexist/homophobic/twatty individual? Without missing a beat he skips merrily from “I’m not homophobic” to “Homosexuals are all perverts”. It’s a thing of beauty to see something like this and I think that we should all take a moment to appreciate quite how splendid Mr Wright’s comment truly is.

Have you done appreciating? Good. If you want to read a bit more about the most recent hoo-ha stirred up by  the racist/misogynist/homophobe Theodore Beale (the voice of the oppressed straight white male majority) then Jim Hines has a good wee overview here. If you want to read more about the whole Sad Puppy affair then I’m afraid that Google will have to be your friend as I really cba to trawl through the morass that is the SFF scene looking for you. Oh, what the hell, go on then. Click here for more info.

😉

Anyway, I don’t normally pay that much attention to the world of SFF or online fandom or the shit squalls that regularly erupt there as a) It’s bad for my blood pressure and b) I find it incredibly frustrating the amount of effort that people put into online ‘activism’.

The term “social justice warrior” should be a badge of honor, but it’s been defiled by the endless internet war raging between the insufferable fringes of tumblr and reddit. And no, I am NOT saying both sides are the same here; obviously the actual bigots are worse. But let’s not forget that we have to be GOOD, and not just better than them. (Comment by the artist)

The sentiment expressed here by Red’n’Black Salamander on Deviant Art illustrates quite well the frustration felt by many of those on the left who are actually engaged in political activities -or who used to be as is the case with myself. The posturing and showboating that has evolved in the online world, and has in recent years spilled over into the, for the most part, more liberal parts of political activism has had a really deleterious effect on the left. Where people on the left should be focussed on what unites us, us here referring to the working class rather than the left in general (lol, as if that’s going to happen), as workers -the foundations from which we can build the new society- we now see attempts to stratify through definition the working class under the guise of intersectional analysis. An intersectional analysis is a useful tool to have in one’s box if one is studying Sociology or writing academic papers but in the real world it doesn’t translate well, not well at all. In fact one of the reasons that I began my abstention from generalised political activity was the emergence of this approach -along with the increasing popularity of privilege politics- as I saw early on that the praxis that would develop from this approach would inevitably see a return to the embarrassing  ‘hierarchy of oppressions’ which permeated the radical politics of the 1970s/80s (before my time -I’m not that old!).

Now, I’m not saying that straight white dudes don’t have it slightly easier than everyone else -we live in a society where the ruling class have fostered racism, sexism, and homophobia for centuries to suit their own ends- but the portrayal of heterosexuality, whiteness, or maleness as privileges has the effect of turning our focus away from the things we should be fighting -oppression, injustice, capitalism and class society- onto those things that we can not, and should not, fight -ourselves. The privileges identified by those who take an intersectional approach are unlike the privilege that 99% of the population think of when they hear the term: economic privilege. Unlike economic privilege these privileges can be neither given up nor adopted –no matter how hard some may try– and so, in practical terms, all a focus on them can do is turn introspection into a form of faux activism. It also has the effect of making those with the privileges the centre of attention -which is probably why it is so popular with white middle class kids- rather than the people experiencing the various manifestations of oppression.

These privileges, as I said, can not be fought as they are things that are, by their nature, inherent. What can be fought is oppression. It is possible to fight racism, transphobia, sexism, homophobia and so on because they are social, not individual, issues. That fight is hard though (if it was easy they wouldn’t call it struggle would they?) and it involves actively participating in political work through which these oppressions need to be challenged as a matter of course. If you’re fighting lay-offs or attacks on working conditions, for example, then you want all in the workplace to stand together as that is what makes us, the working class, strong. You don’t want to only stand alongside straight white dudes on the picket line -you want everyone regardless of sex, race, gender, or sexuality standing alongside one another. It is actual political activity like this that breaks down the walls of bigotry that the ruling class rely upon to keep us divided. That requires actual real world work though, it’s far easier to call someone a *ist shitlord on the internet though and get your ego stroked by a bunch of Facebook likes and retweets.

This lot knew the score.

Now, to segue wildly back towards the topic of the Puppies and internet shit squalls, people like John C Wright and Theodore Beale serve a social purpose. They are there to be mocked and to have the piss taken out of them. That is their purpose and that is the full extent of that purpose. Engaging with them in any way beyond this is a distraction from engaging in actual political activity -something that suits them and their ilk down to the ground- and creating a society that has solidarity at its heart and which therefore would be a place unwelcoming of those who would seek to undermine that solidarity. If that’s what a person wants rather than merely wanting to have their ego stroked.

When people like the Puppies pipe up, as they inevitably will, just point, laugh, and carry on not buying their books.

 

___

Now Available as an ebook

Click to Buy for £1 (or more if you like)
Click to Buy for £1 (or more if you like)

David A. Riley

HP Lovecraft was a bigoted piece of shit. He wrote wonderful stories and created a whole genre of cosmic horror/weirdness that has had an invaluable impact upon the genre/horror literature of the 20th-21st Centuries but he was still a bigoted piece of shit. It may well be true that his views were advancing somewhat as he got older but as his life was unfortunately cut short we will never know quite how much his views were changing.

For the vast majority of fans of HPL his personal views are problematic as they simply do not sit well with people living in the 21st Century. HPL is however dead as a doornail. He is, to paraphrase Monty Python, an ex-bigot. Were he alive today I don’t think I would read his work as I wouldn’t feel especially comfortable supporting someone who held such vile opinions of me and my friends -it is for this reason that I have never read Orson Scott Card.

I have, over the last couple of years, made a number of friends -albeit mediated by social media, in the weird fiction community and it seems that the vast majority are of a definite progressive bent. They are leagues ahead of old HPL in their view of the world and the people that inhabit it. Which I found to be really heartening, that people were able to appreciate HPL’s work and to build the weird fiction literary community into an inclusive place of diverse creativity. As China Mieville said: The best thing about the New Weird is we have less fascists. This is most certainly true and it is something to be celebrated.

However there is always going to be someone trying to ruin it for everyone and this time it is the English author and publisher David A. Riley. David A. Riley is an author of horror/weird fiction who is rather well known in the UK genre scene. He is also an unrepentant Neo-Nazi who was at one point the North-West organiser for the National Front -a gang of street fighting boneheads who wish to nail the swastika to the Union flag. They are the lowest of the low. Riley has also stood for election for the National Front on a number of occasions and continues to spout his vile opinions on people of colour on various British National Party (a more successful offshoot of the National Front) web forums. He is also responsible for penning a vile article (link) praising HPL’s racism.

david a riley

I found Riley’s page on Facebook earlier today and checked to see how many mutual friends I had with him. I only had 13 but that’s 13 too many so far as I’m concerned. All of my mutual friends were American publishers, writers, and editors -with one British exception. I find it highly likely that not one of these people on my friends list had any inclination as to Riley’s fascist affiliations. After all why would non-political people or people from the other side of the Atlantic be aware of someone’s affiliation with a Nazi group in another country? So I made a polite post tagging my mutual friends and within about 10 minutes 13 mutual friends had dropped to 7. That made me happy. A couple of people who saw the post didn’t remove Riley however -that could just be down to not being at a computer and doing shit on Facebook can be really fiddly from a mobile phone. So hopefully it will drop again soon. I’m also assuming that the others simply haven’t seen the post so hopefully they will pick up on this through other friends and will drop him like the swastika draped piece of shit that he is.

There is absolutely no place for the vile hatred of groups like the National Front and individuals like David A.Riley in any civilised society. Especially not when that society is seeing the worst attacks on public services and quality of life since the Second World War. There are people killing themselves because of the poverty they are being forced into by the government and groups like the National Front seek to weaken us farther by setting us against ourselves by peddling their racist hatred into the world.

Fuck fascism and fuck David A. Riley.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

A little while ago I was having a discussion with someone over on the Lovecraft Ezine message board where I posited that it is perfectly possible to have a multiplicity of readings of a work of art and that it is also possible, desirable even, for an individual to be able to read a work in different ways. This was, of course, in relation to the racism in the work of Lovecraft and how it informed his cosmic horror. I recently came across a piece by Adolph Reed on the films Django Unchained and The Help which came out in 2013. In the article Reed also discusses the previous year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. In the article Reed analyses the films and their appeal to liberals on their supposedly anti-racist credentials.

Now I never read Beasts of the Southern Wild through the lens of racial politics in the US and more of a fairy tale fantasy with contemporary trappings. The story of the film is told through the eyes of a small child living in extremely harsh circumstances and has a focus on the stories she uses to interpret and understand the events unfolding around her. Adolph Reed however reads it as a valorisation of poverty and as a form of poverty porn for liberal types with a penchant for “social justice”.

Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, which also received startlingly positive responses from nominal progressives, marks the reactionary vector onto which those several interpretive strains converge. It lays out an exoticizing narrative of quaint, closer-to-nature primitives living in an area outside the south Louisiana levee system called the Bathtub, who simply don’t want and actively resist the oppressive intrusions—specifically, medical care and hurricane evacuation, though, in fairness, they also mark their superiority by tut-tutting at the presence of oil refineries—of a civilization that is out of touch with their way of life and is destroying nature to boot. The film validates their spiritually rich if economically impoverished culture and their right to it. (Actually, the Bathtub’s material infrastructure seems to derive mainly from scavenging, which should suggest a problem at the core of this bullshit allegory for all except those who imagine dumpster-diving, back-to-nature-in-the-city squatterism as a politics.) Especially given its setting in south Louisiana and the hype touting the authenticity of its New Orleans-based crew and cast, Beasts most immediately evokes a warm and fuzzy rendition of the retrograde post-Katrina line that those odd people down there wouldn’t evacuate because they’re so intensely committed to place. It also brings to mind Leni Riefenstahl’s post-prison photo essays on the Nilotic groups whose beautiful primitiveness she imagined herself capturing for posterity before they vanished under a superior civilization’s advance.

Beasts of the Southern Wild stands out also as a pure exemplar of the debasement of the notion of a social cause through absorption into the commercial imperative, the next logical step from fun-run or buy-a-tee-shirt activism. The film’s website, has a “get involved” link, a ploy clearly intended to generate an affective identification and to define watching and liking the film as a form of social engagement. There’s nothing to “get involved” with except propagandizing for the film. But the injunction to get involved pumps the idea that going to see a movie, and spending money to do so, is participating in a social movement.

Adolph Reed: Django Unchained, or, The Help: How “Cultural Politics” Is Worse Than No Politics at All, and Why

I hadn’t looked at the film that way before and, on reading this, it is entirely obvious that this is one of the effects of the film. Now I’m not from the US and so am blissfully, for the most part, unaware of the cultural setting in which something like this is presented. So for me the film was, as I said above, a beautiful dreamy fairy tale set amid a backdrop of gruelling poverty. Now, thanks to reading Reed, I have a deeper understanding of the work and can place it more firmly in the cultural morass which produced it. I can however still enjoy the movie as a dreamy fairy tale told and filmed beautifully. I don’t see any real contradiction between enjoying a work for its aesthetic and entertainment achievements and being able to analyse it critically.

That’s not to let all works of film and art off the hook however. Sometimes a film or book is so totally devoid of aesthetic and entertainment value that all that remains is the critical analysis which identifies the piece of shit for exactly what it is…

(Seriously, watch this. It’s one of the best film reviews ever 🙂 )

 

Kids Today eh?

What is it with kids today eh? With all their Snapchats and video games and YouTubers. It’s like they don’t care about the world around them or about the things going on in it. Isn’t it?

Warning, the above video is full of the colourful British vernacular which some viewers may find offensive.

“Who’s side are you on?”

“We live in the 21st Century, don’t be a racist cunt!”

Well said. Very well said indeed.

Lovecraft and the WFA

The Lovecraft Ezine hosted a brilliant discussion about HPL, his racism, and the WFA last night. As ever, due to time zones, I was unable to watch the show live but managed to watch it this morning. I was, again, impressed with the level of discourse on such an emotive subject and I said as much on the Ezine message board with a small contribution to the debate.

Just watched the show. Great to see a friendly and level headed talk about HPL and racism. I wish I had been able to join in but I would like to make a wee contribution if I may.

When it comes to HPL I would place him within the Modernist literary tradition, especially his later works, and so his views were in keeping with certain segments of that tradition. I’m thinking here people like Ezra Pound and David Jones who were out and out Antisemites and, in the case of Jones, actual fascists.

Of course they were all writing in a time of great political and social upheaval. We have the background of the First World War, the Russian, Spanish and German revolutions, the rise of fascism in Italy, Spain and of National ‘Socialism’ in Germany. The conflict between US and European workers and bosses was as explosive and violent as ever. It was a time of very firm ideological stances coming into direct conflict with one another.

For this reason it is unsurprising that we see contemporary writers falling into these broad left/right dichotomies. For every Pound/Jones/Lovecraft with objectionable reactionary opinions there was an Orwell or a Steinbeck.

I think that what acknowledging and understanding HPL’s bigotry gives us, when we read his work, is an insight into the intimate and emotional core of this bigotry that was manifest in many people -not just HPL. His feelings of fear with regards the ‘other’ and anything that was outwith his understanding of the world via his WASP upbringing come through in more ways that the simple crude racism we see in Redhook or Call of Cthulhu. We see the alien other as something that is beyond the ken of civilised people. We see it as something that is overwhelming and unstoppable. A fear that is manifest in the more forthright writings of many racists and fascists. A fine example of this is the Rivers of Blood speech by notorious British racist Enoch Powell. His talk of an inevitable race war which will see black people slaughtering white could quite easily be fictionalised into a story of impending doom from anywhere outwith civilisation.

Of course, one doesn’t have to read HPL, or any other author, in this manner. It is perfectly possible, and entirely legitimate, to enjoy his work as masterful pieces of horrific and fantastic literature. Being ignorant of his bigotry in no ways detracts from the tales. Being aware of it and understanding it however allows for one to choose *how* they wish to read them. I personally will sometimes read the stories with a critical eye and attempt to gain an insight into early 20th Century culture through the eyes of HPL. Much in the same way that when I was reading Classical Civilisation at university I would read Hessiod and Homer to gain insight into the culture in which the writers lived. Other times (most if I’m to be honest) I will read them as great stories for entertainment.

I do think that this discussion is important and, as others have said, it is one that we will continue to have as more people become aware of HPL and his work. That the discussion is cropping up more and more frequently is a good sign, especially for those of us who wish to have more people to write weird fiction and more people to read it. It means that the bastard child of genre literature is beginning to forge its own way in the 21st Century in the way that SF and Fantasy have been doing in recent decades.

I would also like to bring this fantastic collection to people’s attention. Never Again: Weird Fiction Against Fascism and Racism edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane. It has some brilliant stories and all the profits go to groups working to do away with bigotry.

AMAZON USA  AMAZON UK

And finally. A quote from New Weird Maestro China Mieville. “The good thing about New Weird is that we certainly have less fascists.”

Well, ‘small’ for me. Maybe not for Facebook. 😀

Here’s the show and below are a few more comments on things brought up by the panel during the discussion.

Pete mentioned that many of the current awards have rather embarrassing origins: the Hugo of the Hugo awards regularly ‘forgot’ to pay his writers, the Booker was started by a company that built its profits on slave plantations, the Poe is named after a man who married his 13 year old cousin and so on. He said that if we are to go after the WFA for its connection to HPL and his bigotry then we should go after them all. I can see his point here but the difference, especially with the Booker, is that we are a part of the community that issues the World Fantasy Award. We are not readers/writers of mystery or mainstream fiction. We are of the fantastic. Because of this is is to be expected that we should have a vested interest in the WFA and the community within which it exists. Joe and Matt were both of the opinion that it was entirely up to the WFA committee whether or not it should change. At the end of the day that is strictly true but as the award is part of wider fandom it is only right that fandom has an input into the award.

I do feel that if this debate, the wider one, had begun by someone pointing out that HPL is no longer as relevant to the field of fantasy as he used to be when the various genres of Horror/Fantasy/Science Fiction were more closely linked than I don’t think we would be seeing this brouhaha. However because it concerns the man’s bigotry it has gotten people’s back up. This has been, from what I can tell, exacerbated by the attraction of the supposed internet ‘social justice warriors‘ who seem to thrive off one upping one another with how outraged they can be in the various online fora. These folk really get my goat as I have only ever come across them in the online world. Despite years, and years of political activity including anti-racist work I have never seen or heard of any of these people. Like the racist trolls they see everywhere they seem to only exist online. This cartoon sums them up quite nicely.

It is a crying shame that these individuals are so loud. In an age where the vast majority of human debate is carried out online these people get far more attention than they deserve. The fantasy author Will Shetterly has written about them quite extensively and whilst I don’t agree with him on a lot of things he is right about the internet Social Justice Warrior.

Another thing that came up briefly in the discussion was that Centipede Press are releasing a version of The Drowning Girl by Caitlin Kiernan. I’ve been excited by this since I first heard that they were working on it and so imagine my disappointment when I go to have a look at the Centipede website. $250!!!!!! $250! 😥 There is no way on Earth that I could possibly justify spending that much money on a book at the moment. Poverty, and therefore capitalism, suck monkey balls. It really does.

 

Lovecraft’s Bust (fnar fnar)

It seems that the issue of the World Fantasy Award being a bust of H.P. Lovecraft is continuing to weave its way across the magical interwebs of the Fantasy/SF/Horror communities. Tor.com have an article about the discussion, and indeed there are 80+ comments on that article alone, and the discussion continues on Facebook and elsewhere (Tor.com are also having a re-read of HPL which will be running for months to come, you should definitely check it out). I recently commented on the blog of Daniel José Older who started the petition to have the award changed to a bust of Octavia Butler and blogged about this myself a couple of weeks ago. Whilst I can understand the reaction of some of HPLs fans, among whom I count myself, to the idea of changing the award to something else. It must seem to some that changing the award’s physical form would be somehow stripping HPL of his well deserved status as a giant in the world of fantastic literature. I don’t, personally, feel that this is the case. I do however think that changing the form of the award is rather important for a number of reasons. Primarily I don’t think that it is right that an author who would have been despised by HPL, be they Black, Jewish, Portuguese, Eastern European, or any of the other non-WASPs that Lovecraft expressed contempt for – both in his writing and in his personal communications, that they should be offered a likeness of him as an award. This goes beyond a lack of sensitivity and into seemingly mocking these great authors who are bestowed with the award. Secondly Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a white middle class American man. He is not representative of either the creators nor fans of fantastic literature as a whole. Equally Octavia Butler, as a black American working class woman, isn’t representative of the community. No individual author could be as the community is, despite protestations to the contrary, extremely diverse. This is the World Fantasy Award that we are talking about here remember. Not the American Fantasy Award. To be honest I think that it is a bit of a joke calling it the World Fantasy Award as it would be better named the ‘English Speaking World’ Fantasy Award but that’s for another blog post.

One of the points that I have seen raised recently against the changing of the bust was that, with regards Lovecraft’s racism, he was ‘of his time’ and that his opinions were the norm. As I have pointed out in my earlier post about his racism this is simply not the case. In my earlier post I point out that the radical worker’s organisation the Industrial Workers of the World were busy organising against racists like the Ku Klux Klan and breaking down the barriers of racism (for a good example of this see the film Matewan which is based on actual events). I would like to add to this that it wasn’t just groups like the IWW that weren’t racists, and that actively combated racism, but also writers – Lovecraft’s literary peers, who were not racist. At least not to the extent that HPL was. John Steinbeck and Arthur Miller were both strident anti-racists. As was George Orwell – to the point that he took up arms against fascism in Spain during the 1930s. I’m sure that, were I to take a short amount of time, I could probably name a hell of a lot more writers who expressed views completely counter to HPL who were living and writing at the same time and in the same, or a similar, culture.

It may be raised that Lovecraft felt himself a man out of time, that he was born into the wrong generation and, given his racist views, I would probably agree. However I was recently reading a collection of short stories by Ambrose Bierce and I encountered none of the racism that can be easily detected in HPLs works. Bierce may use words that shock today – references to niggers or negroes, casual references to slaves and so on. But with Bierce we can say that he most definitely was a man of his time, he was writing in the mid-1800s. His language may have been racist but in it we detect none of the viciousness that comes through in HPL’s work. This is the rub for me. When I encounter certain sections of his writing the shock at what he has just said can drop me out of the story in a way that it doesn’t in the writing of someone like Bierce.

“ He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms that I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life – but the world holds many ugly things. ”

HPL describing the body of an African American man in Herbert West – Reanimator

“the prisoners all proved to be men of a very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally aberrant type. Most were seamen, and a sprinkling of negroes and mulattos, largely West Indians or Brava Portuguese from the Cape Verde Islands, gave a colouring of voodooism to the heterogeneous cult. But before many questions were asked it became manifest that something far deeper and older than negro fetishism was involved. Degraded and ignorant as they were, the creatures held with suprising consistency to the central idea of their loathsome faith.”

Description of the “mongrel” cultists in The Call of Cthulhu

Call of Cthulhu is one of my favourite Lovecraft stories, it is a masterful piece of modernist pulp writing and his narrative style in the piece is utterly fantastic, as is his prose. Which is probably why the pieces of the text such as the one quoted above are so jarring. It’s like reading a work by Virginia Woolf only to have her all of a sudden have a paragraph long rant about the darkies before getting back to telling her tale. It may be true that HPL’s bigotry lessened as he got older, this is certainly the case according to Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi, and so it is a real shame that he died early. It is a shame as we will never see how he would have developed his mythos and I really do think that his writing, for a modern reader at least, would certainly have benefited from a softening of his views on race and genetics.

If you want a more in depth look at the ‘man-of-his-time’ defence of Lovecraft you should head over to Nicole Cushing’s blog and read this piece which goes into much greater detail than I am willing to here. (And while you’re there you should pick up her novellas Children of No One and I am the New God. They’re frickin awesome.)

HP’s racism then was not of its time and it does stand in the way of him gaining wider appreciation for the genius that he was in his fashioning of tales of the fantastic. That, to me, is reason enough for the World Fantasy Award to be changed. If we add to that the fact that the bust of any writer is not going to be representative of either the current community or the tradition of fantastical tale telling then there is really no way that it can not be changed.

PS: I don’t think that I really have to state that I am a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft and regard him as a ground breaking genius, a giant in the world of the fantastic and macabre. I don’t want to run him down or sully his name. I just think that the World Fantasy Award should be inclusive of everyone within the weird and wonderful community of fantastical and speculative literature.

ETA: David Nickle has also written about this today.

The Old Racist from Providence

Phenderson Djeli Clark has a cracking article over on Media Diversified looking at the racism of old HPL and the refusal of some amongst the Lovecraftian fandom to acknowledge his virulent racism.

Now, I’ve always known that HP Lovecraft was racist. Reading The Horror at Red Hook when I was a teenager made sure of that.  Horror at Red Hook aside I never really thought much about it as, in his other works, the racist commentary seemed to be little other than the sorts of thing that were, to my knowledge, common parlance in the 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond. I guess I simply attributed them to him being ‘of his time’.

That argument is utter rubbish however when one considers that this was also a time when groups like the Industrial Workers of the World were actively campaigning against racism and against groups like the Klan. The workers of the I.W.W. were equally as ‘of their time’ as HPL and yet they did not express such vile opinions of people.tumblr_m1vn4dSiVt1rp5l6oo1_400

I was, until about ten minutes ago, completely unaware of quite how extreme HPL’s racism was. To be honest I was shocked and I’m not one that’s easily shocked by racism or other bigoted language.

Of course they can’t let niggers use the beach at a Southern resort – can you imagine sensitive persons bathing near a pack of greasy chimpanzees? The only thing that makes life endurable where blacks abound is the Jim Crow principle, & I wish they’’d apply it in N.Y. both to niggers & to the more Asiatic type of puffy, rat-faced Jew. Either stow ‘em out of sight or kill ‘em off – anything so that a white man may walk along the streets without shuddering nausea.–Letter from Lovecraft to A.E.P. Gamwell, February 1925.

Seriously HPL. WTF? O_o That’s a whole lotta racism for so few words.

I’ve always been aware that I really wouldn’t have liked HPL as a person. He was conservative, racist, and an admirer of Adolf Hitler. Me and such people tend to only have brief and rather confrontational relationships at the best of times. How then can I balance my love for the guy’s literature against what I know of him as a person?

There is a particular SF writer from Utah who had a film starring Harrison Ford in the pictures recently. The film looked like it was a good bit of fun and the book is supposed to be a classic. I, however, can’t bring myself to read it nor to watch the film. The reason for this is that the author in question is a virulent homophobe. More than just being an outspoken homophobe he actively promotes an agenda of discrimination by funding homophobic advocacy organisations. Because of this any money I give him through purchasing his book or the DVD of his film goes towards promoting his hatred of people who love the ‘wrong’ gender. Fuck that. I could just download the film or the ebook. But then I would, if I enjoyed them, feel the need to tell other people about them. I know what I’m like and I don’t want to advertise for someone like this.

So what’s the difference with HPL?

Well, to put it bluntly.

He’s dead.

He is an ex-racist.

A former bigot.

He’s passed on, deceased, his metabolic processes are now history(fill in the rest of the Dead Parrot Sketch til you get bored).

His non-corporeal nature means that he can’t be actively engaged in promoting bigotry and hatred. It also means that he can be held up as a fine example of a person who creates great art also being an utter moron, as well as being an example of the barbarity of the conservative and racist mindset.

If HPL were alive today I doubt that I would read him. So I guess I’m glad that he’s dead. 😀 I’m also glad that as Weird Fiction has developed this reactionary bigotry has been left by the wayside. As China Mieville said, the good thing about the New Weird is that we have a lot less fascists. I heartily agree.

 

 

The Comedy Bigot!

I discovered a whole new category of Facebooker today. I’ve not been using Facecrack for a while as I’m really snowed under with Uni work(3 days til my dissertation is to be handed in, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!) but I had to log in after my partner, C, pointed this out to me. Her Ma had posted a wee rant about the Royal Family wanting to exterminate all badgers for… well.. reasons and so there was a brief conversation about how utterly awful the Royal Family are, which they are, when all of a sudden some random pops up and decided to bring immigrants into it. To a bit of a collective

I mean, people were discussing Bovine TB(the reason for the Royal bloodlust) and all of a sudden some plum is trying to blame immigrants. This kinda tickled me as the image I had in my head was of a bunch of people sat around a table discussing something completely unrelated to immigrants when some wee pinhead pops up and simply says “immigrants” before scuttling off chuckling that they had done their bit to keep Britain British(or some such nonsense). I’m sure that in other situations other comedy bigots will likely try and randomly bring up homosexuality, teh wimminz, or whatever else floats their particular bigotry boat. It’s the randomness that amuses me. 😀

Anyway, I found it funny so I thought I would share. 🙂

Comedy-Bigot-1