The Importance of Going Overboard: On Lovecraft and Rauan Klassnik

by on Mar.26, 2013

I posted that quote about Lovecraft earlier today and since then I’ve been thinking about his work and what it means by going “overboard.” In Lovecraft it most certainly has to do with the monsters. The fact that they actually come along. They are too much there. In the classic “The Call of Cthulhu” for example, there is all of this frame-narrative build-up, but then the actual Cthulhu actually shows up, floats out of his under-sea sleep.

This is the essence of bad taste, of going overboard, in a modernist paradigm based on absence. Perhaps the paradigmatic work of modernism in this regard is Waiting for Godot, in which obviously Godot never comes. I read so many poems about absence, what never shows up, poems as build up. These poems know that it would be crass to actually have Godot show up the way Cthulhu shows up.

(When I said this to Joyelle, she pointed out that while Godot doesn’t show up, those other two figures show up with the dog-and-pony show, and I think that’s why Beckets’ play is awesome. Perhaps also the way Godot is so absent his presence becomes overwhelming. Maybe Godot is a bad example, but it’s all I can think of right now.)

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I remember in a workshop I was in more than 10 years ago, one student turned in a poem in which there were a lot of boxes – or something like it – opened and there was finally nothing inside. I objected saying I thought life wasn’t like that; there’s always something that wrecks things, gets in the way, blots things up. The class had no idea what I was talking about. So maybe that’s why I am still thinking about this, why I am playing around with this notion in my new book Haute Surveillance, which is about a scary black man that may or may not show up, about soldiers that explode into obscenity seemingly out of his absence, about a “Father Voice-Over” who has to be pinned to a corpse, an expresident who speaks through a throat-machine etc.

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This tasteless “too-much-ness” is certainly at work in Rauan Klassnik’s work, in his new book Moon’s Jaw even more than his first book Holy Land. The poem on the back of the book is well chosen because it seems to be about this issue of too-much-ness vs transcendence and absence:

I am no one. I am nothing. But I start to glow: & to thrum. I am blown up w/light. I am draped in every tree. All the shores are dead w/me.

I love how this poem seems a struggle, a tension between the tasteles too-much-ness and the tasteful transcendence, imagined, absence: At first he’s absence but then he is drawn into the poem (beginning to glow); then he moves toward absence, though in the crassly violent way (blown up – but with the “light” of tasteful poetry), and the result is not absence but too much presence: pieces everywhere, “draped” like cloth, “dead” with art.

6 comments for this entry:
  1. David Applegate

    “The Moon’s Jaw” is totally overboard, it excels at being excessive. Lots of sex-mess, bodies, violence, etc.

    Maybe because of the word ‘overboard,’ your post reminded me of Tennyson’s “The Kraken” where the monster surfaces in the last line and instantaneously dies. The presence and absence of the beast are commingled in such a way that presence = death. It’s almost a threat!

    & Beckett (from “First Love”): “The living wash in vain, in vain perfume themselves, they stink.” Yes, much more tasteful to address the transcendent, imagined, absent… presence offends the senses.

  2. Johannes

    Good point about Beckett – as soon as I wrote that I was like, this is the worst example I could possibly come up with…

  3. Phil

    Is the chthonic always “too much” because of its terrestriality? It’s actual exteriority as opposed to the utter interiority of transcendence?

  4. Johannes

    That does open a line of thought that I am interested in. You want to write a post about it? / Johannes

  5. Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle

    H.P. Lovecraft Against the World Against Life

    I’ve never gotten through any of Houellebeqc’s novels but his unsung book on Lovecraft is one of the best I’ve read on anything. Hot thought, a driving page-turner written exceedingly well, it belies Mike’s self-satisfied sexism, smug sardonic smirk ‘n swat at the collapsing Left, his distressed designer depression, fatuous fascistoid fatalism and snarky signature sales-oriented cynicism serving solely to make him feel swell.

    This book was recommended to me by the artist Rosemarie Trockel * while we walked through Paris, and if that sounds elitist you can bet your ass yes—that stroll was heaven. (Shoulda heard what she told me about fainting spells . . . )

    Having grown up in New England what I love most best ‘bout H P Lovecraft is his haunted houses and spooked land which still today hang true to his gloom.

    * I’d never heard of it before or since.

    XO G C-H A.K.A The Crypt Keeper

  6. Johannes

    Agreed. I love the book about Lovecraft but I’ve never gotten through any of H’s novels. / Johannes