Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Call of Cthulhu

There is a quote from a Lovecraft story that casts skepticism on the supposed awesomeness of complete knowledge. It reads like this:

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

Styles like these are often found in fiction. The Indiana Jones movies always end with the title character taking one step less than his enemies toward knowledge. Like, no, don't look at what's in the Ark. Or don't reach too far for the Grail. Or don't hang around for the Aliens to tell us their secrets. Even in the great comic cosmic epic, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, we are told quite plainly that survival in a universe of this size depends on us not having a sense of perspective. Perhaps such styles are commentaries on human development, the critical cries of writers who have not yet learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Lovecraft, however, does it best. He romanticizes ignorance. He imagines terror and ruin behind the doors on which God should have put better padlocks. But look closely. Lovecraft’s narrator longs for a closed door only after he has had a look. It is the revelation of horror that halts his quest for knowledge. He has sailed the sea of infinity and turned back on a search for less troubled waters. Cioran says that anyone who kills themselves does so too late. So it is with anyone who has turned away from epiphany, revelation or answer. So, even if the narrator is right, his warning falls either on naive and deaf ears or those who hear clearly and sadly know to share the sentiment. On such a read, pessimism is synonymous with knowledge and ignorance is the unsatisfied desire for itself.

Mostly, I wish I never opened the door to Lovecraft’s ridiculous and flagrantly racist fiction. But, as with so many pained vistas of reality into which I have gazed, it is too late. Welcome, dark age.

1 comment:

VentCover said...

I should have warned you about that shit man..