The writer of erotica and H.P. Lovecraft share very similar methods and goals. Both have a favored scene or scenario they return to again and again. For this essay, we shall examine Lovecraft's many stories focused on subterranean locations. Cemeteries, dark tunnels built by no human hand, and cavernous swamps, are all places that feature strongly in Lovecraft’s work. For Lovecraft, the underground places are not just places where things rot and decay, but places where secret knowledge may be found. A kind of hideous revelation awaits those who plunge down into the lightless depths. Lovecraft repeatedly proclaims his love for a civil culture, the culture of gentlemen, of a society dedicated to learning and the humanities, of politeness and distance. Yet his writing reveals a seething undercurrent to his personality. One obsessed with bodily decay, with the infinite mutations of the physical form, of landscapes of disease and abnormalities. A wonderland of plague pits and decomposing corpses, Lovecraft describes them as a pornographer would describe an orgy of young nubile vixens. Lovecraft kept returning and returning to the lightless abysses of the earth beneath our feet. Graveyards, grottos, underground lakes, and sacred chambers bring Lovecraft returning again and again. The Statement of Randolph Carter, The Rats in the Walls, The Festival, The Hound, The Horror at Red Hook, and others all fetishistically return to the sunless depths.
Some of Lovecraft’s more harsh critics describe Lovecraft’s writing as overwrought and too adjective filled. But when Lovecraft enters these abysmal depths, he enters into a kind of ecstasy, shown through language, a literary delirium of nightmare and panic. Why did Lovecraft enter into these states when describing inhuman abominations and bleak landscapes of bones and rot? These places to him were…erotic. He would return again and again to the fetishized place of secret inner pleasure. His narrators all plead how such knowledge of such places must be withheld, how just knowing about these whispered secrets was enough to damn a person who looked too deep into the mysteries. His characters flee in horror from half-human creatures and alien shapes barely seen in the shadows. But the secret here, the final mystery of all of Lovecraft’s mysteries, is that he desires the darkness, the nightmare, the other, to penetrate him to the core. He plays a game with the reader, and with himself. To protest at the awfulness of it all, all the while taking one more peek closer, one more touch of the strange, one more visit into the unutterable realms of derangement.
In The Shadow over Innsmouth, the narrator after fleeing for most of the tale actually becomes one of the half-human half-fish hybrids. In The Haunter of the Dark, Robert Blake keeps returning to the ancient church and, against all reason, seems to desire to want to be absorbed by the shadowy presence in the steeple. And The Music of Erich Zann haunts the dreams and inner life of the student whose life forever changed after he first heard the mad viol player in the dark of night, the student finds himself trying to discover his way back to the music and the viol player. This desire for a cherished doom is hinted at, not in every story, but in enough that it colors his entire oeuvre. This desire seems to be not a conscious problem Lovecraft is trying to work out, but it does seem to… reveal itself in his work and maybe is a secret he has not come to terms with, It is in his more interesting work, where the evil is not to be banished, it is realized that it is a desired thing, something to transform the banality of life with, to allow yourself to be corrupted by, to be forever altered, that Lovecraft is at his best and his work is most revealing.
Black-clad men and women in leather, whips and shackles, the smell of sweat and semen. These are the archetypal images of the pornographer. In Lovecraft, the dream imagery is extremely worked out and personal to him. Strange flesh quivering in the shadows, figures wearing masks resembling human faces to hide the unknown horror beneath, landscapes of bone both human and inhuman, underground lakes that have never seen the sun surrounded by fungal shores lined with lichen and slime. These are the dreamlands Lovecraft fantasies in. A kind of charnel paradise he escapes to in his dreams. Or maybe a uterine fantasy? The underground as womb? A birthing ground of horror? The horrors of the body and of the crowds terrify him. So in his dreams he perverts the body and the crowds, he corrupts and disfigures them. The once familiar body becomes a monstrous other, unknowable and alien. The crowd becomes an infestation, overtaking and altering landscapes into their own image. Everything familiar is put at a distance and made strange. Your body, your home, and your loved ones, all become alien and sinister. Lovecraft recreates the universe in his own image of self-disgust and panic. In a sense, Lovecraft sees himself as alien, as abhorrent, his characters are not fleeing from some menace from beyond space, they are fleeing from themselves. There is this really interesting interplay between sadism and masochism in his works. In some of his stories, he favors the unutterable monstrosity, in some he favors the weak-willed victim. Both are roles Lovecraft relishes playing in his perverse psychodramas of horror and the other.
Why do Lovecraft’s characters return again and again to the abysmal darkness? Why tease out the eons cursed abominations, flee for safety, only to retreat back, playing a kind of game with them? Why does Lovecraft himself obsessively return to the rotten earth riddled with wormholes and fetid underground swamps of his literary world? The same reason de Sade returns to the hidden chateau's where one can hear the cracks of whips in the air and the screams of young maidens. The same reason Sacher-Masoch returns to the bottom of his mistress's heel. The same reason Bataille returns to kisses that taste of rat and his dying goddesses. But both horror and the erotic, are not meant to be explained. They are meant to be cherished, to be enjoyed, in secrecy, in darkness. So let us end this essay by saying for those who enjoy Lovecraft's work, Ligotti's work, Campbell's work, Tuttle's work, I would recommend trying your hand at Mirbeau's The Torture Garden, Reage's The Story of O, or Robbe-Grillet's A Sentimental Novel, and see if you don't find a similar pleasure in their darknesses.