The Lovecraft series continues with a novel and more ruminations on Lovecraft. I should add that, while the Amazon link takes you to the edition I read, Wilson scholar Gary Lachman, whose blog you’ll find on the lists of blogs I follow, wrote an introduction to a new edition.
Raw Feed (2005): The Mind Parasite, Colin Wilson, 1967.
In his preface, Wilson recounts his history with H. P. Lovecraft.
His first encounter was entirely provoked by the similar title of a Lovecraft collection, The Outsider and Others with his own first work, the non-fiction The Outsider. Wilson initially found Lovecraft a sick, pessimistic recluse who weakly turned away from the world he was alienated from, taking vengeance on it in “gloomy fantasy”.
While he doesn’t come right out and say it, this seems to back up S. T. Joshi’s contention that Wilson found Lovecraft a pessimistic (Lovecraft would have said indifferent) materialist to be the polar opposite in temperament to Wilson and reacted accordingly. Wilson proceeded to put forth this view in his The Strength to Dream “in which Lovecraft figures largely.”
Later, Wilson came to see Lovecraft as one of those rare, obsessed outsiders doomed by circumstances of economics, not able to give free reign to his powers unlike more famous outsiders like Shelley, Keats, and Byron. He speculates that a financially independent Lovecraft would have given free rein to his curiosity and produced less horror and more fantasy like “The Shadow Out of Time” or “The Call of Cthulhu”. A richer Lovecraft would have had more time and energy, probably would have produced more fiction, and, if it was well received by those he respected, he would have continued to write it.
However, I don’t buy that he would not have had more physical horror elements like necrophilia (only present in a Lovecraft-Eddy collaboration) and cannibalism.
Wilson compares Lovecraft to the Marquis de Sade and notorious serial killers who concoct horrific fantasies because they are bored. I don’t think that’s the case with Lovecraft. He was interested in a lot of things and rarely seemed bored. He was genuinely interested in horror and the imaginative escape from the physical limits of reality that fantasy accorded.
Wilson talks about some of the thematic issues he hopes to address in the novel, its inspirations (including the film Forbidden Planet), and immodestly calls a scene in the book a tour de force. He also talks about how the novel came about from a challenge by Lovecraft partisan August Derleth to do better after Wilson criticized Lovecraft’s fiction.
The novel itself was my first exposure Wilson.
Perhaps his more famous sociological and psychological works are worthwhile, but I was unimpressed with this rather dull novel.
It fails as a Lovecraft pastiche. Granted, that probably was not its intent even though it uses the Lovecraftian devices of telling the story through documents and even a narrator to whom bad things might have happened (he disappears at the end though its not the result of foul play but, heavily implied, his transcendence to a new level) as well as making explicit references to Lovecraft’s deity Tsathoggua. Lovecraft himself, Kadath, “The Call of Cthulhu”, and, in connection with the ruins of Karatepe, and Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time”. August Derleth also gets mentioned.
But Wilson’s style is turgid; he stops too long to bore us (almost as if proving he can do a story with lots of math — though I didn’t check the math) with details of telekinetically moving the moon into the sun; he takes too long to give us a plot of humans discovering their superhuman powers. Wilson’s friend A. E. van Vogt would have covered the same ground much more effectively.
This work is an attempt to use some of the ideas of Lovecraft in an extremely unLovecraftian way.
Wilson, in his first exposure to Lovecraft, was turned off by his pessimism, his alleged hatred of life. Where Lovecraft’s story talk of hideous life and the balm of ignorance and never mentions the possibility of human transcendence, much less the gaining of superhuman powers by pseudo-occult means, Wilson gives us a tale of a man initiating himself into Nietzschean superhumanness.
Wilson’s narrator comes off as a bit of a creep with his ultimate disgust for the majority of mankind who he regards as stupidly unimaginative. He belongs to the elite .5% who can and will climb to godhood — which is just what he does at story’s end.
His disgust for man is palpable towards the end though he doesn’t contemplate wholescale murder of mankind’s majority. Lovecraft may not have felt he had much in common with the bulk of people and also regarded them as unimaginative, but his letters do not reflect as much of a disgust with the bulk of man as we sense in Wilson’s narrator.
And, of course, the whole plot is a violation of the materialism Lovecraft held.
Wilson may try to wrap his plot up in pseudoscience (perhaps the reason for little bits on radioactive dating and astronomy), but his constant quoting of romantic writers and philosophers (as if a mere poetic quote can automatically be assumed to have the weight of science), the grabbag of occult ideas from Rhine’s ESP experiments to Horbiger’s history of Earth capturing successive moons, to mention (before Graham Hancock) of the alleged mysteries of Tiahuanaco to lunar influences on human behavior to Dunne’s notions of time and the mind to mention of mescaline merely bored me with a representative example of late-1960s mystical ideas of human transcendence and the “powers of the mind” — here, as in all mysticism, rationalized with analogy, the mind being likened to an undiscovered country we must take possession of and drive out the squatting mind parasites.
I wonder how original this all seemed even in 1967.
I think I might detect a bit of influence of this novel on Jane Lindskold’s “A Dreaming of Poets” in the notion of certain people serving as amplifying agents for nefarious Cthulhoid deities.
Even the fostering of war by the mind parasites reminded me, if my memory is correct, of Fortean (and Charles Fort is mentioned in this novel too) Eric Frank Russell’s superior Sinister Barrier. I have no idea if Wilson read that before writing this novel.)
There’s also an-oh-so 1960s’ notion of a United Africa on a military par with Europe and the US — who oddly don’t have NATO anymore. 1967 also seems a bit late to still be mentioning jungles on Venus.
Now I think that Wilson meant some of this stuff tongue in cheek like the moon catacylsm stuff, but there is no humor here for a work whose preface says is partly parodic and tongue in cheek.
Certainly not a book I would recommend.
S. T. Joshi says, in his biography of Lovecraft, that Wilson was one of those promising intellectuals whose career got sidetracked. There are interesting bits and speculations here, even some truisms on psychology. I assume these are vestiges of the younger, more interesting Wilson that wrote the acclaimed The Outsider.
Wilson speculates that the human race, in its increasing scientific knowledge of the world and ability to provide material necessities and comfort, became like a family who had lost its providing father (i..e God). It didn’t know what to do with its freedom, had lost the structure of others giving it orders and providing structure, had no purpose. Hence the increase in suicide and murder and mental illness. (I would question if any of those went up that much — given the questionable nature of the stats gathering — though I suspect serial killing and murder by children has.) But I agree that, starting in the 1800s, some sort of spiritual malaise began to show up in European civilization.
More reviews of Lovecraft related material is on the Lovecraft page.