The Unnamable in Lovecraft and the Limits of Rationality For the ...

The Unnamable in Lovecraft and the Limits of Rationality For the ...

The Unnamable in Lovecraft and the Limits of Rationality For the ...


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Massimo Berruti<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Limits</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>Rationality</strong><br />

<strong>For</strong> <strong>the</strong> American writer <strong>and</strong> poet Howard Phillips <strong>Lovecraft</strong> (1890-1937) <strong>the</strong> issues posed by<br />

philosophy <strong>and</strong> rationality, especially those on language <strong>and</strong> knowledge, reveal as very challeng<strong>in</strong>g<br />

topics. In <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s writ<strong>in</strong>gs, both <strong>the</strong> fictional <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> philosophical/autobiographical ones, <strong>the</strong><br />

notion <strong>of</strong> “rational language” is pre-em<strong>in</strong>ent, <strong>and</strong> it is upon this specific question that I would like to<br />

address most <strong>of</strong> my reflections, though it is <strong>of</strong> course impossible to neatly separate <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s<br />

views on language from those on rationality <strong>and</strong> reason tout court. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s personality is<br />

particularly complex: though he repeatedly def<strong>in</strong>es himself as a materialist, a positivist, a rational<br />

“<strong>in</strong>differentist”, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> bases <strong>of</strong> his philosophy undoubtedly move from a rationalistic, even<br />

positivistic, background, none<strong>the</strong>less his literature stages a potent attack aga<strong>in</strong>st <strong>the</strong> powers <strong>of</strong><br />

rationality, allegedly able to account for <strong>the</strong> universe <strong>and</strong> for humank<strong>in</strong>d’s position <strong>the</strong>re<strong>in</strong>. Besides<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>matic <strong>and</strong> representational aspects <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se attacks to rationalism (as <strong>the</strong>y may be retrieved <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> tales composed under <strong>the</strong> Dunsanian <strong>in</strong>fluence, as well as <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> “dream cycle”), it is aga<strong>in</strong>st <strong>the</strong><br />

pretence <strong>of</strong> rational language (<strong>and</strong> consequently knowledge) to expla<strong>in</strong> <strong>and</strong> account for reality that<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s literature addresses its most crucial critical efforts. Significantly, terms like<br />

“unnamable”, “nameless”, “unexpla<strong>in</strong>ed”, “unutterable”, “unmentionable”, etc., abound <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s prose <strong>and</strong> poetry. Why he is so concerned, <strong>in</strong> his fantastic <strong>and</strong> horror writ<strong>in</strong>gs, with <strong>the</strong><br />

limits <strong>of</strong> rationality as displayed by language, is <strong>the</strong> question I am go<strong>in</strong>g to address <strong>in</strong> this paper.<br />

Not merely <strong>Lovecraft</strong> makes ample use <strong>in</strong> his fiction <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> terms reported above, but he even titles<br />

two <strong>of</strong> his tales “<strong>The</strong> Nameless City” (1921) <strong>and</strong> “<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong>” (1923). Here I will focus my<br />

reflections on <strong>the</strong> latter.<br />

“<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong>” (1923)<br />

<strong>The</strong> importance <strong>of</strong> this tale <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s oeuvre is testified also by <strong>the</strong> presence <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> character<br />

R<strong>and</strong>olph Carter, <strong>the</strong> author’s alter-ego that is protagonist <strong>of</strong> a group <strong>of</strong> five tales. In “<strong>The</strong><br />

<strong>Unnamable</strong>”, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> is able to connect his philosophical reflections on <strong>the</strong> limits <strong>of</strong> language<br />

with those on <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>ory <strong>and</strong> practice <strong>of</strong> weird fiction. Already at <strong>the</strong> outset, R<strong>and</strong>olph Carter, <strong>the</strong><br />

narrator, poses <strong>the</strong> topic on which <strong>the</strong> tale is construed: “We were sitt<strong>in</strong>g on a dilapidated<br />

seventeenth-century tomb <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> late afternoon <strong>of</strong> an autumn day at <strong>the</strong> old bury<strong>in</strong>g-ground <strong>in</strong><br />

Arkham, <strong>and</strong> speculat<strong>in</strong>g about <strong>the</strong> unnamable” 1 . <strong>The</strong> tale <strong>in</strong> fact features two characters, R<strong>and</strong>olph<br />

Carter <strong>and</strong> his <strong>in</strong>tellectual antagonist, Joel Manton, discuss<strong>in</strong>g at length <strong>the</strong> character <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

supernatural <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> unexpla<strong>in</strong>able, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> suitable surround<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>of</strong> a bury<strong>in</strong>g-ground <strong>in</strong> Arkham,<br />

while dusk <strong>and</strong> f<strong>in</strong>ally night are approach<strong>in</strong>g. Right after <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>cipit, <strong>the</strong> narrator re<strong>in</strong>forces <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong>me <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> tale by claim<strong>in</strong>g that he has made “a fantastic remark about <strong>the</strong> spectral <strong>and</strong><br />

unmentionable nourishment which <strong>the</strong> colossal roots must be suck<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> from that hoary, charned<br />

earth”. <strong>Lovecraft</strong> tries here, ironically, to assume <strong>the</strong> position <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> detractors <strong>of</strong> weird fiction,<br />

those <strong>in</strong>dividuals who claim his literature is not a worth effort: Carter’s <strong>in</strong>terlocutor <strong>in</strong> fact claims<br />

that “.. my constant talk about ‘unnamable’ <strong>and</strong> ‘unmentionable’ th<strong>in</strong>gs was a very puerile device” 2 .<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s goal is to demonstrate that this rationalist criticism totally fails to grasp <strong>the</strong> true nature<br />

<strong>of</strong> weird literature, its potential momentous importance <strong>in</strong> deal<strong>in</strong>g with epistemic questions, as well<br />

as with <strong>the</strong> issues posed by rationality <strong>and</strong> human language. Joel Manton <strong>in</strong> fact states that “We<br />

know th<strong>in</strong>gs… only through our five senses or our religious <strong>in</strong>tuitions”, add<strong>in</strong>g that “it is quite<br />

impossible to refer to any object or spectacle which cannot be clearly depicted by <strong>the</strong> solid<br />

1<br />

“<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong>”, <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> 2004, 83. My Italic.<br />

2<br />

Ibid. My Italic.<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Limits</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>Rationality</strong> Page 1 <strong>of</strong> 20

Massimo Berruti<br />

def<strong>in</strong>itions <strong>of</strong> fact or <strong>the</strong> correct doctr<strong>in</strong>es <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ology” 3 . Accord<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>Lovecraft</strong>, for <strong>the</strong><br />

rationalist/positivistic view <strong>of</strong> life “only our normal, objective experiences possess any aes<strong>the</strong>tic<br />

significance” 4 , <strong>and</strong> “it is <strong>the</strong> prov<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> artist not so much to rouse strong emotion by action,<br />

ecstasy, <strong>and</strong> astonishment, as to ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong> a placid <strong>in</strong>terest <strong>and</strong> appreciation by accurate, detailed<br />

transcripts <strong>of</strong> everyday affairs” 5 . But existence <strong>and</strong> experience are also made <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> “mystical <strong>and</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> unexpla<strong>in</strong>ed”, which does not, <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>, entail a belief <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> supernatural: reason is not<br />

capable to account for so many phenomena, but from this does not necessarily ensue <strong>the</strong> necessity<br />

<strong>of</strong> a belief <strong>in</strong> a superior or div<strong>in</strong>e order – a position that would configure as no less dogmatic than<br />

<strong>the</strong> one it opposes - <strong>the</strong> bl<strong>in</strong>d faith <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> unlimited powers <strong>of</strong> reason. Human reason is simply not<br />

properly <strong>and</strong> sufficiently equipped <strong>in</strong> order to expla<strong>in</strong> everyth<strong>in</strong>g occurr<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> nature.<br />

What <strong>Lovecraft</strong> claims <strong>in</strong> “<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong>” <strong>and</strong>, more broadly, <strong>in</strong> his whole literature <strong>and</strong><br />

philosophy, is that <strong>the</strong>re is a third way, between <strong>the</strong> “rational” <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> “supernatural” explanation <strong>of</strong><br />

non-natural phenomena: <strong>the</strong> way <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> “unnamable”, <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> rationally “unexpla<strong>in</strong>able”, which does<br />

not entail any supernaturalism. <strong>The</strong> attitude <strong>of</strong> reason is that <strong>of</strong> consider<strong>in</strong>g all th<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>and</strong> feel<strong>in</strong>gs as<br />

fixed dimensions, properties, causes, <strong>and</strong> effects: <strong>the</strong> rationalist attitude can not, however, betray its<br />

<strong>in</strong>tellectual honesty, thus it recognizes that o<strong>the</strong>r sensations <strong>and</strong> feel<strong>in</strong>gs exist, that show a far less<br />

geometrical, classifiable, <strong>and</strong> workable nature. But reason simply draws an arbitrary l<strong>in</strong>e <strong>and</strong> rules<br />

out <strong>of</strong> court all that cannot be experienced <strong>and</strong> understood by <strong>the</strong> average human be<strong>in</strong>g. Thus,<br />

reason is sure that noth<strong>in</strong>g can be really “unnamable” – <strong>the</strong> unnamable does not exist. Most, if not<br />

all, <strong>of</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s literature aims at demonstrat<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> opposite: <strong>the</strong> unnamable does exist, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

correct th<strong>in</strong>ker should humbly recognize it as it is, i.e. as <strong>the</strong> epitome <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> limits <strong>of</strong> rationality.<br />

This is why <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s literature is replete <strong>of</strong> references to “unnamable” <strong>and</strong> “unmentionable”<br />

events, experiences, locations, sensations: his effort is to metaphorically give voice to <strong>the</strong><br />

unpreparedness <strong>of</strong> our human epistemic equipment (<strong>and</strong> primarily <strong>of</strong> our language) to cope with all<br />

is “unexpla<strong>in</strong>able” <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> universe (<strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>in</strong> fact does not hate ei<strong>the</strong>r knowledge or reality. One<br />

way <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>terpret<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>mes <strong>in</strong> his stories is to believe that “<strong>Lovecraft</strong> is not deplor<strong>in</strong>g<br />

knowledge, but ra<strong>the</strong>r, man’s <strong>in</strong>ability to cope with it” 6 ). Thus <strong>in</strong> “<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong>”, even from <strong>the</strong><br />

l<strong>in</strong>guistic viewpo<strong>in</strong>t it is clear how <strong>Lovecraft</strong> is <strong>in</strong>terested <strong>in</strong> stag<strong>in</strong>g an attack aga<strong>in</strong>st rationality:<br />

<strong>the</strong> narrator R<strong>and</strong>olph Carter states that “I was soon carry<strong>in</strong>g my thrusts <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> enemy’s own<br />

country” 7 , <strong>and</strong> thus he starts his “counter-attack” aga<strong>in</strong>st Manton’s arguments (those <strong>of</strong> a<br />

conventional rational m<strong>in</strong>d). <strong>The</strong> whole tale functions as <strong>the</strong> denial <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> tenets <strong>of</strong> reason: <strong>in</strong> order<br />

to do so, <strong>the</strong> tale does not simply discusses reason <strong>and</strong> its limits (l<strong>in</strong>guistic <strong>and</strong> philosophic levels),<br />

but actually represents how rationality can be defeated by actual events (<strong>the</strong>matic level). Carter<br />

criticizes Manton’s objection to supernaturalism <strong>in</strong> literature by reveal<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>coherence <strong>of</strong> this<br />

position: <strong>the</strong> bl<strong>in</strong>d faith <strong>in</strong> reason sometimes hides a belief <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> supernatural much fuller than that<br />

<strong>of</strong> those writers, like <strong>Lovecraft</strong>, who conceive supernatural stories, s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong>ir writ<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> a<br />

supernatural story does not absolutely entail actual belief <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> reality <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> events <strong>the</strong> story<br />

portrays: weird literature is primarily fiction, is metaphorical, not a faithful description. And thus it<br />

may happen that <strong>the</strong> same “rationalists” that despise <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>volvement <strong>of</strong> supernatural <strong>the</strong>mes <strong>in</strong><br />

literature <strong>the</strong>n believe <strong>and</strong> have faith <strong>in</strong> God, <strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong> course anyone who believes <strong>in</strong> an omnipotent<br />

God <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> div<strong>in</strong>ity can scarcely object to <strong>the</strong> depiction <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> supernatural <strong>in</strong> fiction. Thus <strong>in</strong><br />

this tale, <strong>in</strong> ways we are go<strong>in</strong>g to exam<strong>in</strong>e, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> expresses a very important philosophical <strong>and</strong><br />

aes<strong>the</strong>tical awareness on his part: that <strong>the</strong> aes<strong>the</strong>tic acceptance <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> supernatural <strong>in</strong> fiction is much<br />

more preferable to <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>tellectual acceptance <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> supernatural <strong>in</strong> religion.<br />

Carter beg<strong>in</strong>s his denunciation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>coherence <strong>of</strong> Manton’s rationalist position by counterattack<strong>in</strong>g<br />

his <strong>in</strong>terlocutor, “actually clung to many old-wives’ superstitions… beliefs <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

3<br />

Ibid.<br />

4<br />

Ibid.<br />

5<br />

Ibid.<br />

6<br />

Mosig 105.<br />

7<br />

“<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong>”, <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> 2004, 83.<br />

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Massimo Berruti<br />

appearance <strong>of</strong> dy<strong>in</strong>g persons at distant places, <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> impressions left by old faces on <strong>the</strong><br />

w<strong>in</strong>dows through which <strong>the</strong>y had gazed all <strong>the</strong>ir lives. To credit <strong>the</strong>se whisper<strong>in</strong>gs…. argued a<br />

capability <strong>of</strong> believ<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> phenomena beyond all normal notions; for if a dead man can transmit his<br />

visible or tangible image half across <strong>the</strong> world, or down <strong>the</strong> stretch <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> centuries, how can it be<br />

absurd to suppose that deserted houses are full <strong>of</strong> queer sentient th<strong>in</strong>gs, or that old graveyards teem<br />

with <strong>the</strong> terrible, unbodied <strong>in</strong>telligence <strong>of</strong> generations? And s<strong>in</strong>ce spirit, <strong>in</strong> order to cause all <strong>the</strong><br />

manifestations attributed to it, cannot be limited by any <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> laws <strong>of</strong> matter; why is it extravagant<br />

to imag<strong>in</strong>e psychically liv<strong>in</strong>g dead th<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>in</strong> shapes – or absence <strong>of</strong> shapes – which must for human<br />

spectators be utterly <strong>and</strong> appall<strong>in</strong>gly ‘unnamable’?” 8 .<br />

After this <strong>and</strong> fur<strong>the</strong>r <strong>the</strong>oretical discussion on what <strong>the</strong> “unnamable” might be, Carter moves to<br />

illustrate <strong>the</strong> plot <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> tenets <strong>of</strong> his own meta-fictional tale, “<strong>The</strong> Attic W<strong>in</strong>dow”, that aroused so<br />

much disconcert <strong>and</strong> despise <strong>in</strong> his detractors. Carter claims he based <strong>the</strong> tale on a true story, that <strong>of</strong><br />

a strange creature, half human <strong>and</strong> half monster, liv<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> attic <strong>of</strong> a deserted house <strong>in</strong> Arkham, at<br />

<strong>the</strong> time when <strong>the</strong> latter was a Puritan village. This monster was said to have killed many humans,<br />

<strong>and</strong> its image reflected itself on <strong>the</strong> w<strong>in</strong>dow <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> attic where it was liv<strong>in</strong>g. In his tale Carter<br />

reported <strong>the</strong> story <strong>of</strong> a boy who <strong>in</strong> 1793 went to explore <strong>the</strong> monster’s attic, <strong>and</strong> was later found<br />

shriek<strong>in</strong>g maniacally, half <strong>in</strong>sane, unable to retell what he actually saw <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> attic. To re<strong>in</strong>force his<br />

argument, Carter reveals to Manton someth<strong>in</strong>g that was not told <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> tale: Carter himself went to<br />

visit <strong>the</strong> cursed attic <strong>in</strong> Arkham (<strong>the</strong> same town where <strong>the</strong>y live <strong>and</strong> are now discuss<strong>in</strong>g), <strong>and</strong> he<br />

found some scattered bones <strong>and</strong> a skull belonged to a creature totally monstrous <strong>and</strong> non-human (he<br />

<strong>the</strong>n buried <strong>the</strong> bones <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> cemetery nearby <strong>the</strong> monster’s dwell<strong>in</strong>g). Not yet truly conv<strong>in</strong>ced by<br />

Carter’s arguments, nor defeated by his “attacks”, Manton, <strong>the</strong> voice <strong>of</strong> reason, “granted for <strong>the</strong><br />

sake <strong>of</strong> argument that some unnatural monster had really existed, but rem<strong>in</strong>ded me that even <strong>the</strong><br />

most morbid perversion <strong>of</strong> Nature need not be unnamable or scientifically <strong>in</strong>describable” 9 . Though<br />

admir<strong>in</strong>g Manton’s clearness <strong>and</strong> persistence, Carter does not give up <strong>in</strong> his attempts <strong>and</strong>, while <strong>the</strong><br />

two are still sitt<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> cemetery fac<strong>in</strong>g an old deserted house <strong>and</strong> darkness gradually falls, tells<br />

Manton fur<strong>the</strong>r revelations, collected among old people: legends <strong>of</strong> “monstrous apparitions more<br />

frightful than anyth<strong>in</strong>g organic could be; apparitions <strong>of</strong> gigantic bestial forms sometimes visible <strong>and</strong><br />

sometimes only tangible, which floated about on moonless nights <strong>and</strong> haunted <strong>the</strong> old house, <strong>the</strong><br />

crypt beh<strong>in</strong>d it, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> grave”. <strong>Lovecraft</strong> goes fur<strong>the</strong>r <strong>the</strong> simple mention <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se legends, <strong>and</strong><br />

poses a question at <strong>the</strong> core <strong>of</strong> his literature: is it truly possible to describe, through rational<br />

language, <strong>the</strong>se oddities <strong>of</strong> Nature, <strong>the</strong>se unnamable horrors, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>cursions <strong>of</strong><br />

Outsideness/Alterity <strong>in</strong>to our realm that <strong>the</strong>y reveal? Is <strong>the</strong> human be<strong>in</strong>g l<strong>in</strong>guistically <strong>and</strong><br />

epistemically equipped to face <strong>the</strong> unnamable? Carter adds: “So far as aes<strong>the</strong>tic <strong>the</strong>ory was<br />

<strong>in</strong>volved, if <strong>the</strong> psychic emanations <strong>of</strong> human creatures be grotesque distortions, what coherent<br />

representation could express or portray so gibbous <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong>famous a nebulosity as <strong>the</strong> spectre <strong>of</strong> a<br />

malign, chaotic perversion, itself a morbid blasphemy aga<strong>in</strong>st Nature? .. would not such a vaporous<br />

terror constitute <strong>in</strong> all loathsome truth <strong>the</strong> exquisitely, <strong>the</strong> shriek<strong>in</strong>gly unnamable?” 10 . In front <strong>of</strong><br />

Carter’s press<strong>in</strong>g attacks, Manton’s rationalist attitude weavers: won by curiosity <strong>and</strong> shivers <strong>of</strong><br />

terror, he asks Carter <strong>the</strong> fatal question: “I’d like to see that house, Carter. Where is it? … I must<br />

explore it a little”. Carter’s answer is quite <strong>the</strong>atrical but surely effective: “You did see it – until it<br />

got dark”. <strong>The</strong> house <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> monster had always been ly<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> front <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

conversation, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> tomb where Carter buried <strong>the</strong> bones <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> monster is just <strong>the</strong> one on which<br />

Manton is sitt<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

From this moment onwards, <strong>the</strong> tale ab<strong>and</strong>ons its meta-fictional nature <strong>and</strong> becomes descriptive:<br />

Manton starts shriek<strong>in</strong>g loud, <strong>and</strong> he <strong>and</strong> Carter are actually attacked by an unrecognizable creature<br />

– that is deceptively easy to identify with <strong>the</strong> creature <strong>of</strong> Carter’s tale. When <strong>the</strong> two characters<br />

8 Ibid.<br />

9 Ibid., 86.<br />

10 Ibid, 86-87.<br />

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wake up, <strong>the</strong>y f<strong>in</strong>d <strong>the</strong>mselves <strong>in</strong> a hospital <strong>and</strong> do not remember anyth<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> what happened at <strong>the</strong><br />

cemetery after Manton’s cry: <strong>the</strong>y are heavily wounded, Manton with cuts <strong>and</strong> Carter with<br />

contusions left by a split ho<strong>of</strong>. Manton knows more than Carter, but he reveals to <strong>the</strong> physicians he<br />

<strong>and</strong> Carter were attacked by a vicious bull – though <strong>the</strong> animal is a difficult th<strong>in</strong>g to place <strong>and</strong><br />

account for. But after <strong>the</strong> doctors leave, Manton, <strong>the</strong> voice <strong>of</strong> reason now completely converted,<br />

whispers <strong>the</strong> truth to Carter: answer<strong>in</strong>g Carter’s question “Good God, Manton, but what was it?<br />

Those scars – was it like that?”, imply<strong>in</strong>g “Was it <strong>the</strong> monster <strong>of</strong> my tale?”, Manton states: “No – it<br />

wasn’t that way at all. It was everywhere – a gelat<strong>in</strong> – a slime – yet it had shapes, a thous<strong>and</strong> shapes<br />

<strong>of</strong> horror beyond all memory. <strong>The</strong>re were eyes – <strong>and</strong> a blemish. It was <strong>the</strong> pit – <strong>the</strong> maelstrom – <strong>the</strong><br />

ultimate abom<strong>in</strong>ation. Carter, it was <strong>the</strong> unnamable!” 11 .<br />

This tale aptly shifts its <strong>the</strong>oretical <strong>and</strong> philosophical discourse on rationality <strong>and</strong> its limits to <strong>the</strong><br />

actuality <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> concrete events <strong>in</strong>volv<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> characters. <strong>The</strong> <strong>the</strong>me is thus perfectly balanced, <strong>and</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> limits <strong>of</strong> rationality are discussed under both <strong>the</strong> l<strong>in</strong>guistic <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> factual level. <strong>The</strong> situation is<br />

anyway more complex than it seems, s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>the</strong> philosopher adopts a balanced position<br />

towards rationality, striv<strong>in</strong>g to avoid any form <strong>of</strong> dogmatism: he does not believe that reason must<br />

be totally discarded (he is not a spiritualist) – <strong>in</strong> fact, his mechanistic materialism relies upon <strong>the</strong><br />

texts <strong>of</strong> modern th<strong>in</strong>kers such as Thomas Henry Huxley, Ernst Haeckel (<strong>The</strong> Riddle <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Universe), <strong>and</strong> Hugh Elliott (Modern Science <strong>and</strong> Materialism), <strong>and</strong> will later <strong>in</strong> his life embrace<br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>ories <strong>of</strong> E<strong>in</strong>ste<strong>in</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong> advanced astrophysicists such as Planck, de Sitter, <strong>and</strong> Heisenberg.<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s peculiar use <strong>of</strong> reason is what I would like to call a relativistic or an “<strong>in</strong>strumental” one<br />

– s<strong>in</strong>ce rationality is perhaps better understood just <strong>in</strong> this way, as an <strong>in</strong>strument man has at his<br />

disposal <strong>in</strong> order to live better <strong>and</strong> to achieve knowledge: for <strong>in</strong>stance, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> employs<br />

rationality <strong>in</strong> order to attack <strong>the</strong> “supernatural” idea <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> existence <strong>of</strong> a spirit <strong>and</strong> a soul beyond<br />

materiality, <strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong> an afterlife. Anyway we have here to pay attention: <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s reliance on<br />

rationality is never <strong>the</strong> dogmatic one <strong>of</strong> an absolute faith (if it were so, he himself would fall <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

“supernaturalism” he strives to fight). S.T. Joshi, <strong>the</strong> foremost worldwide <strong>Lovecraft</strong>ian scholar,<br />

clarifies on this po<strong>in</strong>t: “How did <strong>Lovecraft</strong> ‘know’ that <strong>the</strong>re is no life after death?” 12 – he simply<br />

“shed belief <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> absolute certa<strong>in</strong>ty <strong>of</strong> scientific discovery <strong>and</strong> based all his arguments – on <strong>the</strong><br />

existence <strong>of</strong> God or <strong>the</strong> soul, on survival after death, on <strong>the</strong> place <strong>of</strong> humanity <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> universe – on<br />

probability. This belief <strong>in</strong> probability – i.e., a belief as to <strong>the</strong> ‘is or isn’tness’ <strong>of</strong> th<strong>in</strong>gs… as derived<br />

from <strong>the</strong> most up-to-date f<strong>in</strong>d<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>of</strong> science would serve as <strong>the</strong> foundation for <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s<br />

metaphysics for <strong>the</strong> rest <strong>of</strong> his life”. 13<br />

Of course <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>oretical views expressed <strong>in</strong> “<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong>” bear some implications on both<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s literature <strong>and</strong> philosophy, which are strictly <strong>in</strong>terconnected s<strong>in</strong>ce one is <strong>the</strong> expression<br />

<strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> outcome <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r (it is not by chance if S. T. Joshi regards <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s works as<br />

“expressions <strong>of</strong> a dist<strong>in</strong>ctive philosophy ra<strong>the</strong>r than as fiction <strong>in</strong>tended merely to horrify” 14 ). Thus<br />

now I would like to focus especially on <strong>the</strong> effects <strong>the</strong> views illustrated above have on <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s<br />

literature, <strong>in</strong> both his <strong>the</strong>mes <strong>and</strong> his treatment <strong>of</strong> rational language, s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>Lovecraft</strong> was primarily a<br />

fiction writer <strong>and</strong> only <strong>in</strong> second <strong>in</strong>stance a philosopher: he dealt more directly with words than<br />

with ideas.<br />

As far as <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>matic aspect is concerned, <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s attack on rationality reaches his probably<br />

most conv<strong>in</strong>c<strong>in</strong>g peak when it stages (literarily, i.e. metaphorically) <strong>the</strong> defiance <strong>of</strong> scientific laws<br />

as widely accepted as, for <strong>in</strong>stance, those <strong>of</strong> Euclidean geometry. <strong>The</strong>se passages are those which,<br />

simultaneously, represent <strong>the</strong> irruption <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> creatures <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> dimensions <strong>of</strong> Outsideness, <strong>of</strong> a<br />

realm <strong>of</strong> pure Alterity, <strong>in</strong>to our own dimension or “reality” (Dase<strong>in</strong>). <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s literature <strong>in</strong> fact<br />

11<br />

Ibid., 89.<br />

12<br />

“In Defence <strong>of</strong> Dagon <strong>and</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s Philosophy”, <strong>in</strong> Joshi 2003, 79.<br />

13<br />

Ibid., 79-80.<br />

14<br />

“In Defence <strong>of</strong> Dagon <strong>and</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s Philosophy”, <strong>in</strong> Joshi 2003, 75.<br />

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critically discusses <strong>the</strong> notion <strong>of</strong> “reality”: <strong>in</strong> particular, both what we humans truly mean by this<br />

term, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> ontologic status <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> external referent to which this word normally refers. How can<br />

<strong>the</strong> world we <strong>in</strong>habit be “real”, if every now <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>n burst <strong>in</strong>to it <strong>the</strong> realm <strong>of</strong> dream, <strong>the</strong> outposts<br />

<strong>of</strong> Outsideness?<br />

“<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu” (1926)<br />

“<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu”, a sem<strong>in</strong>al tale <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s “mythos” literature, serves very well <strong>the</strong><br />

purpose to illustrate <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s attack on rationality, both from a <strong>the</strong>matic <strong>and</strong> a l<strong>in</strong>guistic<br />

st<strong>and</strong>po<strong>in</strong>t.<br />

A short summary <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> plot <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> tale is necessary <strong>in</strong> order to develop fur<strong>the</strong>r discussion. <strong>The</strong><br />

subtitle <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> tale (“Found Among <strong>the</strong> Papers <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Late Francis Wayl<strong>and</strong> Thurston, <strong>of</strong> Boston”)<br />

announces that <strong>the</strong> text is an account written by Thurston <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> strange facts he assembled, both<br />

from <strong>the</strong> papers <strong>of</strong> his recently deceased gr<strong>and</strong>-uncle, George Gammell Angell, <strong>and</strong> from personal<br />

<strong>in</strong>vestigation. Angell, a pr<strong>of</strong>essor at Brown University <strong>of</strong> Providence, USA, had collected several<br />

peculiar pieces <strong>of</strong> data. First, he had taken extensive notes <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> dreams <strong>and</strong> artwork <strong>of</strong> a young<br />

sculptor, Henry Anthony Wilcox, who had come to him with a bas-relief he had fashioned <strong>in</strong> his<br />

sleep on <strong>the</strong> night <strong>of</strong> March 1, 1925. <strong>The</strong> sculpture is <strong>of</strong> a hideous.look<strong>in</strong>g alien entity, <strong>and</strong> Wilcox<br />

had reported that <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> dream that had <strong>in</strong>spired it he had repeatedly heard <strong>the</strong> words “Cthulhu<br />

fhtagn”. This had piqued Angell’s <strong>in</strong>terest, for he had encountered <strong>the</strong>se words (or sounds) years<br />

before, at a meet<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> American Archaeological Society, <strong>in</strong> which a New Orleans police<br />

<strong>in</strong>spector named Legrasse had brought <strong>in</strong> a sculpture very much like Wilcox’s <strong>and</strong> claimed that it<br />

had been worshipped by a degraded cult <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Louisiana bayou which had chanted <strong>the</strong> phrase<br />

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”. One <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> cult members had pr<strong>of</strong>fered a<br />

translation <strong>of</strong> this utterance: “In his house at R’Lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dream<strong>in</strong>g”. Legrasse had<br />

also <strong>in</strong>terviewed one cultist, a mestizo named Castro, who had told <strong>the</strong>m that Cthulhu was a vast<br />

be<strong>in</strong>g that had come from <strong>the</strong> stars when <strong>the</strong> earth was young, along with ano<strong>the</strong>r set <strong>of</strong> entities<br />

named <strong>the</strong> Great Old Ones; he was buried <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> sunken city <strong>of</strong> R’Lyeh <strong>and</strong> would emerge when <strong>the</strong><br />

“stars were ready” to reclaim control <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> earth. <strong>The</strong> cult “would always be wait<strong>in</strong>g to liberate<br />

him”. Thurston scarcely knows what to make <strong>of</strong> this material, but <strong>the</strong>n by accident he f<strong>in</strong>ds a<br />

newspaper clipp<strong>in</strong>g tell<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> strange events aboard a ship <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Pacific Ocean; accompany<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

article is a picture <strong>of</strong> ano<strong>the</strong>r bas-relief very similar to that fashioned by Wilcox <strong>and</strong> found by<br />

Legrasse. Thurston goes to Oslo to talk with <strong>the</strong> Norwegian sailor, Gustaf Johansen, who had been<br />

on board <strong>the</strong> ship, but f<strong>in</strong>ds that he is dead. Johansen has, however, left beh<strong>in</strong>d an account <strong>of</strong> his<br />

experience, <strong>and</strong> his diary – reported by Thurston’s words – shows that he <strong>and</strong> his fellow sailors had<br />

actually encountered <strong>the</strong> dreaded Cthulhu as <strong>the</strong> city <strong>of</strong> R’Lyeh emerged from <strong>the</strong> bottom <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

ocean as <strong>the</strong> result <strong>of</strong> an earthquake; but, presumably because <strong>the</strong> stars are not “ready”, <strong>the</strong> city<br />

s<strong>in</strong>ks aga<strong>in</strong>, return<strong>in</strong>g Cthulhu to <strong>the</strong> bottom <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ocean. However, <strong>the</strong> mere existence <strong>of</strong> this<br />

titanic entity is an unend<strong>in</strong>g source <strong>of</strong> unease to Thurston, because it shows how tenuous is<br />

mank<strong>in</strong>d’s vaunted supremacy upon earth. Thurston probably ends dy<strong>in</strong>g – we <strong>in</strong>fer this from <strong>the</strong><br />

subtitle <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> tale, <strong>and</strong> all evidence makes us believe that <strong>the</strong> cultists have killed both him <strong>and</strong><br />

Pr<strong>of</strong>essor Angell, s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong>ir knowledge <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> existence <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu’s sect represented <strong>of</strong> course a<br />

danger for its survival.<br />

It is especially with Johansen’s description <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> city resurfaced <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> middle <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Pacific,<br />

that <strong>the</strong> description <strong>of</strong> Outsideness reveals as a bold gesture <strong>of</strong> defiance aga<strong>in</strong>st human rationality.<br />

R’Lyeh is described as <strong>the</strong> prototype <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> geometrical paradox, <strong>the</strong> triumph <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> impossible<br />

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angles, <strong>the</strong> supreme ga<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g substance <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> possibility <strong>of</strong> all <strong>the</strong> most impossible laws 15 . Thurston,<br />

comment<strong>in</strong>g upon Johansen’s diary, states that<br />

“Without know<strong>in</strong>g what futurism is like, Johansen achieved someth<strong>in</strong>g very close to it when he spoke <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> city; for<br />

<strong>in</strong>stead <strong>of</strong> describ<strong>in</strong>g any def<strong>in</strong>ite structure or build<strong>in</strong>g 16 , he dwells only on broad impressions <strong>of</strong> vast angles <strong>and</strong> stone<br />

surfaces – surfaces too great to belong to any th<strong>in</strong>g right or proper for this earth, <strong>and</strong> impious with horrible images <strong>and</strong><br />

hyerogliphics. I mention his talk about angles because it suggests someth<strong>in</strong>g Wilcox had told me <strong>of</strong> his awful dreams.<br />

He has said that <strong>the</strong> geometry <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> dream-place he saw was abnormal, non-Euclidean, <strong>and</strong> loathsomely redolent <strong>of</strong><br />

spheres <strong>and</strong> dimensions apart from ours. Now an unlettered seaman felt <strong>the</strong> same th<strong>in</strong>g whilst gaz<strong>in</strong>g at <strong>the</strong> terrible<br />

reality” 17<br />

Thus, <strong>in</strong> this ideal parallel between dream <strong>and</strong> reality, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> highlights how <strong>the</strong> “non-<br />

Euclideity” <strong>of</strong> R’lyeh’s geometries gives rise to a sense <strong>of</strong> Outsideness, <strong>of</strong> “abnormality” 18 , which<br />

rem<strong>in</strong>ds <strong>the</strong> reader <strong>of</strong> ultra-terrestrial spheres <strong>and</strong> dimensions.<br />

In R’Lyeh anyth<strong>in</strong>g may happen, not a s<strong>in</strong>gle pr<strong>in</strong>ciple <strong>of</strong> Euclidean geometry is respected: o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

laws are at stake, laws that <strong>the</strong> human m<strong>in</strong>d is not able to grasp, not even to imag<strong>in</strong>e. And <strong>the</strong>refore<br />

it may happen that where a concavity appears, to a second glance a convexity shows itself:<br />

“.. <strong>in</strong> those crazily elusive angles <strong>of</strong> carven rock where a second glance shewed concavity after <strong>the</strong> first shewed<br />

convexity” 19<br />

This image orig<strong>in</strong>ates a complex epistemological question: does <strong>the</strong> defect detected by <strong>the</strong><br />

human eye lie <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> observed object, or ra<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> observer’s eye? In o<strong>the</strong>r words, this change <strong>of</strong><br />

condition <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> angle from concavity to convexity has an objective nature (R’Lyeh’s has <strong>the</strong>n a<br />

vary<strong>in</strong>g geometry), or is it a fault <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> observ<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>strument, i.e. <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> human eye which, means<br />

used by a defeated reason, <strong>in</strong>capable to assimilate an alien geometry, can not grasp its essence, <strong>and</strong><br />

at each glance “sees” someth<strong>in</strong>g different? <strong>The</strong> first hypo<strong>the</strong>sis appears by far <strong>the</strong> most fasc<strong>in</strong>at<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

<strong>and</strong> maybe it would make even more disturb<strong>in</strong>g, unconceivable <strong>the</strong> Outsideness <strong>of</strong> R’Lyeh’s<br />

geometry. Yet I believe that <strong>the</strong> second is <strong>the</strong> most likely: it is <strong>the</strong> human eye that does not possess<br />

<strong>the</strong> physical <strong>in</strong>struments capable to send to <strong>the</strong> bra<strong>in</strong>s any sensory impressions referable to a<br />

rational scheme <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>terpretation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> observed object 20 .<br />

In R’Lyeh <strong>the</strong> impressions <strong>of</strong> a “wrong” geometry, totally conflict<strong>in</strong>g with Euclidean elementary<br />

notions, like for <strong>in</strong>stance those <strong>of</strong> horizontality <strong>and</strong> verticality, multiply:<br />

“It was […] like a great barn-door; <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>y all felt that it was a door because <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ornate l<strong>in</strong>tel, threshold, <strong>and</strong> jumbs<br />

around it, though <strong>the</strong>y could not decide whe<strong>the</strong>r it lay flat like a trap-door or slantwise like an outside cellar-door. As<br />

Wilcox would have said, <strong>the</strong> geometry <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> place was all wrong. One could not be sure that <strong>the</strong> sea <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> ground<br />

were horizontal, hence <strong>the</strong> relative position <strong>of</strong> everyth<strong>in</strong>g else seemed phantasmally variable” 21<br />

15<br />

Impossible, it goes with <strong>the</strong> word, accord<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>the</strong> human rational canons. But <strong>the</strong>y are simply one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> possible<br />

perspectives on reality: on a cosmic scale, everyth<strong>in</strong>g, besides than relative, is possible.<br />

16<br />

I suspect that Johansen’s choice was unavoidable: it is not by means <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> human language, i.e. <strong>the</strong> language <strong>of</strong><br />

reason, that it is possible to fully describe what rational is not. Man can only rely on “impressions”, or to establish terms<br />

<strong>of</strong> comparison with what he already knows, like <strong>the</strong> futurists’ art here mentioned by Thurston.<br />

17<br />

“<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu”, <strong>in</strong> COC, 165-6. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s Italics.<br />

18<br />

A recurr<strong>in</strong>g issue <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>. <strong>The</strong> non-Euclideity <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> build<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> dead city buried under <strong>the</strong> ice aga<strong>in</strong>st which<br />

explorers Dyer <strong>and</strong> Danforth run up <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> novel At <strong>the</strong> Mounta<strong>in</strong>s <strong>of</strong> Madness (1931) is described like this: “<strong>The</strong>re were<br />

geometrical forms for which an Euclid could scarcely f<strong>in</strong>d a name – cones <strong>of</strong> all degrees <strong>of</strong> irregularity <strong>and</strong> truncation;<br />

terraces <strong>of</strong> every sort <strong>of</strong> provocative disproportion; shafts with odd bulbous enlargements broken columns <strong>in</strong> curious<br />

groups” (MM, p.51).<br />

19<br />

COC, p.166.<br />

20<br />

It is frankly quite hard to expla<strong>in</strong>, with <strong>the</strong> words <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> human-rational language, <strong>the</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>ian conception <strong>of</strong><br />

Outsideness. And this does noth<strong>in</strong>g but confirm <strong>the</strong> author’s assumption that it is an ”alterity” irreducible to rational,<br />

l<strong>in</strong>guistic canons <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>terpretation.<br />

21<br />

COC, p.166. My Italics.<br />

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<strong>The</strong> frequent h<strong>in</strong>ts to a “variability” <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> relative position <strong>of</strong> each object <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> city maybe<br />

represents a clue <strong>in</strong> favour <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> first hypo<strong>the</strong>sis I discussed a few l<strong>in</strong>es above: that <strong>the</strong> geometry <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> place is not settled, is <strong>in</strong> a sense chang<strong>in</strong>g, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> city is a sort <strong>of</strong> city <strong>in</strong> progress. It is hard<br />

even to imag<strong>in</strong>e how this could really “be”: but after all this is just <strong>the</strong> aim that <strong>Lovecraft</strong> proposes<br />

to himself, this is <strong>the</strong> essence <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>ian Outsideness: to shock human episteme, depict<strong>in</strong>g<br />

someth<strong>in</strong>g so deeply “o<strong>the</strong>r” that <strong>the</strong> human m<strong>in</strong>d can not only describe it 22 , but not even imag<strong>in</strong>e it.<br />

And aga<strong>in</strong>, when one <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sailors falls from <strong>the</strong> obelisk that rises on Cthulhu’s tomb,<br />

“Johansen swears he was swallowed up by an angle <strong>of</strong> masonry which shouldn’t have been <strong>the</strong>re; an angle which was<br />

acute, but behaved as it was obtuse” 23<br />

<strong>The</strong> sheer mention <strong>of</strong> an angle, that our sight would def<strong>in</strong>e acute, that <strong>the</strong>n behaves as obtuse is<br />

someth<strong>in</strong>g so unconceivable for <strong>the</strong> human m<strong>in</strong>d that, if she tries to imag<strong>in</strong>e it, fails, can only “see it<br />

at work”: <strong>and</strong> at that po<strong>in</strong>t only a fate <strong>of</strong> madness opens up for her.<br />

When <strong>the</strong> monstrous portal <strong>of</strong> Chtulhu’s crypt opens at <strong>the</strong> sailors’ sight, show<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>the</strong> world <strong>the</strong><br />

Horror resurfac<strong>in</strong>g from His sleep, once aga<strong>in</strong> its movements defeat <strong>the</strong> laws <strong>of</strong> perspective <strong>and</strong><br />

geometry 24 :<br />

“In this phantasy <strong>of</strong> prismatic distortion it moved anomalously <strong>in</strong> a diagonal way, so that all <strong>the</strong> rules <strong>of</strong> matter <strong>and</strong><br />

perspective seemed upset” 25<br />

I will now move to <strong>the</strong> l<strong>in</strong>guistic aspect <strong>of</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s attacks aga<strong>in</strong>t rationality, as <strong>the</strong>y appear<br />

<strong>in</strong> “<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu”. S<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong> manifestations <strong>of</strong> Outsideness do not conform to rational laws –<br />

as <strong>the</strong> Euclidean ones – this <strong>of</strong> course implies that also <strong>the</strong> language employed by <strong>Lovecraft</strong> must<br />

adapt itself to <strong>the</strong> object it <strong>in</strong>tends to portray. <strong>The</strong>re are two ways <strong>in</strong> which language may perform<br />

this task: one way is that adopted by <strong>the</strong> Modernisms <strong>of</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s age, that <strong>of</strong> rarefaction <strong>and</strong><br />

aridity (Ste<strong>in</strong>, Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Hem<strong>in</strong>gway), <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r is <strong>the</strong> one <strong>Lovecraft</strong> chose.<br />

How does <strong>Lovecraft</strong> express <strong>the</strong> ”alterity” <strong>of</strong> language, how language is able, <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s<br />

literature, to discuss its own limits, as <strong>in</strong> a metadiscourse? Above I highlighted how, if <strong>the</strong> object <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> observation is “o<strong>the</strong>r”, <strong>the</strong> human m<strong>in</strong>d is not capable to conceive <strong>and</strong> rationalize it: <strong>the</strong>refore<br />

her <strong>in</strong>terpretative canons, first <strong>of</strong> all language, do not possess <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>struments suitable to describe<br />

<strong>the</strong> Outsideness, at which <strong>the</strong>n one can only h<strong>in</strong>t, allude. Already <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> passages reported above it<br />

is possible to see how <strong>the</strong> writer tries hard not to ever provide an image too sharp, clear <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

object that from time to time embodies <strong>the</strong> Outsideness: for <strong>in</strong>stance <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>of</strong>ten uses words or<br />

22<br />

See Stefan Dziemianowicz: “It is literally an unspeakable horror because <strong>the</strong> human vocabulary is <strong>in</strong>adequate for<br />

describ<strong>in</strong>g it. <strong>Lovecraft</strong> holds up Cthulhu <strong>and</strong> R’lyeh as a mirror <strong>in</strong> which we view <strong>the</strong> reflection <strong>of</strong> our ignorance when<br />

confronted with <strong>the</strong> Unknown. <strong>The</strong> unique effect he reaches for here is not so much fright, but a sort <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>tellectual<br />

shock”: Stefan Dziemianowicz , “On ‘<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu’”, LS n.33, Fall 1995, p.34-35.<br />

23<br />

COC, p.167. My Italic.<br />

24<br />

<strong>The</strong> manipulation that, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> descriptions <strong>of</strong> R’Lyeh, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> operates on <strong>the</strong> laws <strong>of</strong> geometry <strong>and</strong> architecture is<br />

an effective <strong>in</strong>strument <strong>of</strong> artistic yield <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Outsideness. See Kirk Sigurdson: “In ‘<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu’, architectural<br />

detail perpetrates an actual manipulation <strong>of</strong> form on <strong>the</strong> reader. […] we […] witness one <strong>of</strong> Johansen’s crew push<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> vast door above Cthulhu’s lair. We ask ourselves how a man was able to budge <strong>the</strong> immense stone. A fair question.<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong> only alludes to <strong>the</strong> possibilities, allow<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> narrator an <strong>in</strong>sight <strong>in</strong>to an account <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> journal entry, which<br />

<strong>in</strong>fers, ‘<strong>the</strong> geometry <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> place was all wrong’. <strong>The</strong> <strong>in</strong>ference as to <strong>the</strong> strange nature <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> architecture is vaguely<br />

exp<strong>and</strong>ed by <strong>the</strong> after-thought, ‘One could not be sure that <strong>the</strong> sea <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> ground were horizontal, hence <strong>the</strong> relative<br />

position <strong>of</strong> everyth<strong>in</strong>g else seemed phantasmally variable’. S<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>ference is meant to allude to cosmic<br />

consequences, more than subtle manipulations <strong>of</strong> Gothic architecture are needed. Even <strong>the</strong> simplest geometrical ‘given’<br />

(<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sea’s natural horizontal plane) is upset by <strong>the</strong> variability <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> cosmic architecture. Manipulation <strong>of</strong> form at this<br />

decisive climax serves its purpose well. Burke’s notion <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Sublime is strategically evoked where most needed.<br />

Disorientation, brought on by a skewed perception <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> architectural elan at work, allows <strong>Lovecraft</strong> to successfully<br />

execute his aes<strong>the</strong>tic <strong>of</strong> outsideness”: Kirk Sigurdson, “A Gothic Approach to <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s Sense <strong>of</strong> Outsideness”, <strong>in</strong> LS<br />

n.28, Spr<strong>in</strong>g 1993, p.31-32. My Italics.<br />

25<br />

COC, p.167.<br />

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locutions as “it was like, <strong>the</strong>y could not be sure, impressions, suggests, <strong>in</strong>stead <strong>of</strong> describ<strong>in</strong>g…”,<br />

which convey <strong>the</strong> sense <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> impossibility <strong>of</strong> an objective/direct description, proceed<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>stead to<br />

a cont<strong>in</strong>uous “speech through comparison”. It is as if <strong>Lovecraft</strong> admitted <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>capability <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

human language to describe <strong>the</strong> Outsideness, <strong>and</strong> proceeded just to compare 26 its manifestations to<br />

someth<strong>in</strong>g known, reassur<strong>in</strong>g for <strong>the</strong> human m<strong>in</strong>d. <strong>The</strong> impossibility <strong>of</strong> a description is pla<strong>in</strong>ly<br />

stated by <strong>the</strong> author at <strong>the</strong> moment <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> cosmic climax par excellence: <strong>the</strong> re-emerg<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu<br />

to sun light, prelude to His blasphemous, Second Advent:<br />

“<strong>The</strong> Th<strong>in</strong>g cannot be described – <strong>the</strong>re is no language for such abysms <strong>of</strong> shriek<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> immemorial lunacy, such<br />

eldritch contradictions <strong>of</strong> all matter, force, <strong>and</strong> cosmic order. A mounta<strong>in</strong> walked or stumbled” 27<br />

<strong>The</strong> Abom<strong>in</strong>ation become actual can not be described. Once aga<strong>in</strong>, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> resorts to a<br />

comparison – that has by now acquired celebrity among <strong>the</strong> scholars <strong>of</strong> his literature – to h<strong>in</strong>t at <strong>the</strong><br />

Creature: a mounta<strong>in</strong> that walks 28 . <strong>The</strong> metaphor appears almost clumsy, if not banal: but it is an<br />

effective one, s<strong>in</strong>ce it exactly depicts what happens to human language, to appear clumsy <strong>and</strong> banal,<br />

when it tries to describe <strong>the</strong> unnamable, Outsideness, “what should not be”, that overwhelms it 29 .<br />

<strong>The</strong>re is moreover a whole series <strong>of</strong> l<strong>in</strong>guistic signals adopted by <strong>the</strong> narrator <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> effort to<br />

express a sort <strong>of</strong> chaos <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> language, that counterbalances <strong>the</strong> chaos <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> knowledge. In front <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> unfold<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Outsideness, not only reason surrenders, but also her ma<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong>strument <strong>of</strong><br />

expression: human language, <strong>in</strong> particular <strong>in</strong> its forms <strong>of</strong> verbal communication.<br />

<strong>For</strong> <strong>in</strong>stance, <strong>the</strong> name itself <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> priest <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> aliens, Cthulhu, s<strong>in</strong>ce its first apparition <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> tale<br />

is presented as a notable “source” <strong>of</strong> Outsideness. In fact as head<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> his papers, Pr<strong>of</strong>essor Angell<br />

spells it <strong>in</strong> very pla<strong>in</strong> <strong>and</strong> dist<strong>in</strong>ct characters, <strong>in</strong> order to avert every <strong>in</strong>correct <strong>in</strong>terpretation <strong>of</strong> such<br />

a queer name, which so evidently does not spr<strong>in</strong>g from <strong>the</strong> canons <strong>of</strong> any human language:<br />

“What seemed to be <strong>the</strong> ma<strong>in</strong> document was headed ‘CTHULHU CULT’ <strong>in</strong> characters pa<strong>in</strong>stak<strong>in</strong>gly pr<strong>in</strong>ted to avoid<br />

<strong>the</strong> erroneous read<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> a word so unheard-<strong>of</strong>” 30<br />

26<br />

Stefan Dziemianowicz remarks <strong>in</strong> effect that “… similes <strong>and</strong> double-negatives are employed throughout <strong>the</strong> story to<br />

describe what th<strong>in</strong>gs are ‘like’ or ‘unlike’, without actually say<strong>in</strong>g what <strong>the</strong>y ‘are’. By avoid<strong>in</strong>g direct description,<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong> leaves it up to <strong>the</strong> reader’s imag<strong>in</strong>ation to fill <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> miss<strong>in</strong>g details. What appears to be evasiveness on his<br />

part, however, actually is skillful preparation to establish <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>adequacy <strong>of</strong> st<strong>and</strong>ard description to capture <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong>describable horrors to come”: Stefan Dziemianowicz , “On ‘<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu’”, LS n.33, Fall 1995, p.32. My<br />

Italic.<br />

27<br />

COC, p.167. My Italic.<br />

28<br />

Ano<strong>the</strong>r, highly significant, example <strong>of</strong> “description” <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu’s Outsideness through comparison is noticeable<br />

when Johansen-Thurston tell <strong>of</strong> how He, hav<strong>in</strong>g realised that Johansen <strong>and</strong> ano<strong>the</strong>r sailor escaped Him on board <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

Alert (<strong>and</strong> yet after hav<strong>in</strong>g killed o<strong>the</strong>r three sailors with some blows with <strong>the</strong> paws), “slavered <strong>and</strong> gibbered like<br />

Polypheme curs<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> flee<strong>in</strong>g ship <strong>of</strong> Odysseus” (COC, p.168): so Cthulhu’s behaviour, not only His physical aspect,<br />

are not directly describable <strong>and</strong> necessitate a comparison, <strong>the</strong> “classicism” <strong>of</strong> which would seem to subside <strong>the</strong> Myth<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong> is mould<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> his tale <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> reassur<strong>in</strong>g channel <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> imitation <strong>of</strong> a much more ancient <strong>and</strong> well-known<br />

Myth. But <strong>the</strong> author, far from <strong>in</strong>sert<strong>in</strong>g himself <strong>in</strong> a consolidated trend like that <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Classic Myth, has no fear <strong>of</strong><br />

comparison <strong>and</strong> immediately, s<strong>in</strong>ce this first occurrence <strong>in</strong> “<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu”, attributes to his own Myth a mark <strong>of</strong><br />

potent orig<strong>in</strong>ality: “<strong>The</strong>n, bolder than <strong>the</strong> storied Cyclops, great Cthulhu slid greasily <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> water <strong>and</strong> began to<br />

pursue with vast wave-rais<strong>in</strong>g strokes <strong>of</strong> cosmic potency”: Ibid., my Italic. Thus Cthulhu does not restrict Himself to<br />

curse whom mocked Him with shrewdness <strong>and</strong> rapidity: He throws Himself <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> water <strong>and</strong> pursues him, <strong>and</strong> will not<br />

subside until His thirst for blood is quenched. <strong>The</strong> Myths have changed, <strong>and</strong> above all <strong>the</strong>y seem to have grown up,<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong> appears to mean.<br />

29<br />

As a testimony <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> impossibility <strong>of</strong> a description, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> resorts to a highly evocative <strong>and</strong> at <strong>the</strong> same time<br />

pompous, rhetoric <strong>and</strong> magniloquent language: symbol <strong>of</strong> a rationality that can not analyse <strong>the</strong> phenomenon with<br />

analytical coldness, but is forced to use hyperboles, over-elaborate excesses which conflict with <strong>the</strong> straightforwardness<br />

<strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> schematism <strong>of</strong> a scientific description (as, for <strong>in</strong>stance, those <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Modernist writers <strong>of</strong> his time): “…It<br />

lumbered slobber<strong>in</strong>gly <strong>in</strong>to sight <strong>and</strong> grop<strong>in</strong>gly squeezed Its gelat<strong>in</strong>ous green immensity through <strong>the</strong> black doorway <strong>in</strong>to<br />

<strong>the</strong> ta<strong>in</strong>ted outside air <strong>of</strong> that poison city <strong>of</strong> madness”: COC, p.167.<br />

30<br />

COC, p.141. My Italic.<br />

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<strong>The</strong> name “Cthulhu” 31 clearly evokes a phonetics <strong>and</strong> a morphology alien if compared to those<br />

<strong>of</strong> any human language: as regards <strong>the</strong> correct pronunciation <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> word, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> jotted down<br />

manifold notes <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> course <strong>of</strong> his life, all conta<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g slightly different <strong>in</strong>formation. <strong>The</strong> author’s<br />

friends have always provided conflict<strong>in</strong>g details <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong>formation too. It is likely that <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s<br />

def<strong>in</strong>itive statements about <strong>the</strong> word, its mean<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> pronunciation, are to be found <strong>in</strong> a letter<br />

dat<strong>in</strong>g back to 1934:<br />

“… <strong>the</strong> word is supposed to represent a fumbl<strong>in</strong>g human attempt to catch <strong>the</strong> phonetics <strong>of</strong> an absolutely non-human<br />

word. <strong>The</strong> name <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hellish entity was <strong>in</strong>vented by be<strong>in</strong>gs whose vocal organs were not like man’s, hence it has no<br />

relation to <strong>the</strong> human speech equipment. <strong>The</strong> syllables were determ<strong>in</strong>ed by a physiological equipment wholly unlike<br />

ours, hence could never be uttered perfectly by human throats… <strong>The</strong> actual sound – as nearly as human organs could<br />

imitate it or human letters record it – may be taken as someth<strong>in</strong>g like Khlul’-hloo, with <strong>the</strong> first syllable pronounced<br />

gutturally <strong>and</strong> very thickly. <strong>The</strong> u is about like that <strong>in</strong> full; <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> first syllable is not unlike klul <strong>in</strong> sound, hence <strong>the</strong> h<br />

represents <strong>the</strong> guttural thickness” 32<br />

<strong>The</strong>refore <strong>the</strong> sequence <strong>of</strong> letters “Cthulhu” is noth<strong>in</strong>g but an approximation, not a faithful<br />

reproduction, <strong>of</strong> what reproducible is not: an extraterrestrial, “o<strong>the</strong>r” sound, that human phonatory<br />

organs, just like <strong>the</strong> phonetic transcription, can only try to imitate, to simulate exploit<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong><br />

(limited) means available 33 . Not only <strong>the</strong>re exist entire universes besides ours, entire civilizations<br />

<strong>and</strong> liv<strong>in</strong>g species <strong>in</strong>f<strong>in</strong>itely more evolved than ours: <strong>the</strong>re exist also languages completely “o<strong>the</strong>r”<br />

<strong>and</strong> unassimilable to human l<strong>in</strong>guistic systems 34 . <strong>The</strong> Outsideness becomes more <strong>and</strong> more<br />

disturb<strong>in</strong>gly articulate, complex, unsettl<strong>in</strong>g for <strong>the</strong> human race, that <strong>Lovecraft</strong> would like to make<br />

reflect about <strong>the</strong> absolutely relative position that she occupies <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> cosmic scheme <strong>of</strong> th<strong>in</strong>gs.<br />

All <strong>the</strong> utterances <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> alien language reported <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> tale contribute to <strong>the</strong> achievement <strong>of</strong> this<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>ian aim. <strong>For</strong> example, <strong>the</strong> huddle <strong>of</strong> sounds “Cthulhu fhtagn” is described <strong>in</strong> this way by<br />

Wilcox, who hears it emerg<strong>in</strong>g from <strong>the</strong> depths <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> submerged R’lyeh dur<strong>in</strong>g his dream :<br />

“Hieroglyphics had covered <strong>the</strong> walls <strong>and</strong> pillars, <strong>and</strong> from some undeterm<strong>in</strong>ed po<strong>in</strong>t below had come a voice that was<br />

not a voice; a chaotic sensation which only fancy would transmute <strong>in</strong>to sound, but which he attempted to render by <strong>the</strong><br />

almost unpronounceable jumble <strong>of</strong> letters, ‘Cthulhu fhtagn’” 35<br />

31<br />

About <strong>the</strong> choice <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> name ‘Cthulhu’ <strong>Lovecraft</strong> does not provide detailed explanations. Yet it is not proved that<br />

such a name is merely <strong>the</strong> result <strong>of</strong> chance or <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> free exercise <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>ian imag<strong>in</strong>ation. As a curiosity, I<br />

mention William Neff ‘s <strong>in</strong>terpretative hypo<strong>the</strong>sis: “<strong>The</strong> ‘Cthulhu’ term might be a relic <strong>of</strong> a childhood <strong>in</strong> a proper<br />

home <strong>in</strong> Providence at <strong>the</strong> turn <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> century. <strong>The</strong> word bears some similarity to a certa<strong>in</strong> type <strong>of</strong> decorative art. In late<br />

Victorian times various forms <strong>of</strong> glassware came <strong>in</strong>to vogue as part <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Art Nouveau movement. <strong>The</strong>y resemble <strong>the</strong><br />

movement <strong>of</strong> water – milky, cloudy, bubbly, swirls – long sweep<strong>in</strong>g serpent<strong>in</strong>e l<strong>in</strong>es or octopoid shapes for decorative<br />

vases. <strong>The</strong>se were manufactured <strong>in</strong> Scotl<strong>and</strong> <strong>and</strong> termed ‘Clutha’ or ‘Cluthua’ ware. <strong>The</strong>se terms are from old Gaelic,<br />

<strong>and</strong> are related to ‘cloud’ or ‘cloudy’, as <strong>in</strong> ‘cloudy waters’ or aqueous-appear<strong>in</strong>g glassware. <strong>The</strong> name is thought to<br />

derive ultimately from an old word for <strong>the</strong> river Clyde. <strong>The</strong> Whipple parlour was up on <strong>the</strong> artistic trends <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> day […]<br />

one wonders whe<strong>the</strong>r Whipple V. Phillips might have put <strong>in</strong> a few pieces <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> latest glassware, with oceanic-look<strong>in</strong>g<br />

design”: “Correspondence”, <strong>in</strong> LS n.22-23, Fall 1990, p.67. Whipple V. Phillips was <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s beloved maternal<br />

gr<strong>and</strong>fa<strong>the</strong>r, who for a young Howard took substantially <strong>the</strong> fa<strong>the</strong>r’s place, until 1904, year <strong>of</strong> Whipple’s death.<br />

32<br />

Letter to Duane Rimel <strong>of</strong> 23/7/1934 [SL V, 10-11]. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s Italics.<br />

33<br />

An analogous reflection applies to <strong>the</strong> name <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sunken city, “R’Lyeh”. At first <strong>Lovecraft</strong>, when writ<strong>in</strong>g a draft <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> tale, had rendered <strong>the</strong> name <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> city with <strong>the</strong> word “L’yeh” (Letter to his aunt Lillian D. Clark, 14-19/11/1925:<br />

ms., JHL).<br />

34<br />

<strong>The</strong> attempt on <strong>the</strong> worshippers’ part to identify Cthulhu with “humaniz<strong>in</strong>g” appellations is part <strong>of</strong> this process <strong>of</strong><br />

anthropomorphization <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> alterity: by “…<strong>the</strong>ir use <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> pronouns ‘he, ‘him, <strong>and</strong> ‘his’ to describe a creature who<br />

clearly fits no human measure <strong>of</strong> gender, <strong>the</strong> cultists’ conceptualization <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> Old Ones is crude<br />

anthropomorphism, an attempt to reduce <strong>the</strong> unknowable to terms human be<strong>in</strong>gs can underst<strong>and</strong>”: Stefan<br />

Dziemianowicz , “On ‘<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu’”, LS n.33, Fall 1995, p.34. My Italic.<br />

35<br />

COC, p.143. My Italics.<br />

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Thus <strong>the</strong> alien language is not only unpronounceable for <strong>the</strong> human phonatory organs, but <strong>the</strong><br />

“voice” itself utter<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> blasphemous sounds is not even def<strong>in</strong>able a voice, but a “chaotic<br />

sensation”: after all, <strong>the</strong> reader earlier <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> tale is already told <strong>of</strong> how <strong>the</strong> aliens did not use voice,<br />

but just telepathic transmission <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>formation <strong>and</strong> thoughts. It is <strong>the</strong>refore <strong>in</strong>terest<strong>in</strong>g to read what<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong> writes <strong>in</strong> a later tale, “<strong>The</strong> Dunwich Horror” (1928), when referr<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong>comprehensible cries <strong>of</strong> Wilbur Whateley’s monstrous tw<strong>in</strong> bro<strong>the</strong>r – born by <strong>the</strong> carnal union <strong>of</strong><br />

a woman, Lav<strong>in</strong>ia Whateley, <strong>and</strong> an alien entity, Yog-Sothoth:<br />

“It is almost erroneous to call <strong>the</strong>m sounds at all, s<strong>in</strong>ce so much <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir ghastly, <strong>in</strong>fra-bass timbre spoke to dim seats <strong>of</strong><br />

consciousness <strong>and</strong> terror far subtler than <strong>the</strong> ear; yet one must do so, s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong>ir form was <strong>in</strong>disputably though vaguely<br />

that <strong>of</strong> half-articulate words” 36<br />

Aga<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong> “<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu”, <strong>the</strong> narrator Thurston writes about <strong>the</strong> “om<strong>in</strong>ous syllables which<br />

can be rendered only as ‘Cthulhu’” 37 , but it is above all with <strong>the</strong> transcription <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> chant that<br />

Cthulhu’s adorers raise to <strong>the</strong> Great Old One that <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>adequacy <strong>of</strong> human language to reproduce<br />

<strong>the</strong> sounds <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> morphology <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> alien tongue pla<strong>in</strong>ly reveals itself:<br />

“What, <strong>in</strong> substance, both <strong>the</strong> Esquimau wizards <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> Louisiana swamp-priests had chanted to <strong>the</strong>ir k<strong>in</strong>dred idols<br />

was someth<strong>in</strong>g very like this – <strong>the</strong> word-divisions be<strong>in</strong>g guessed at from traditional breaks <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> phrase as chanted<br />

aloud:<br />

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” 38<br />

<strong>The</strong>refore human language can only try “to guess at”, to make hypo<strong>the</strong>ses about what <strong>the</strong> alien<br />

one is communicat<strong>in</strong>g, even only at <strong>the</strong> level <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> mere l<strong>in</strong>guistic signifier, bas<strong>in</strong>g on <strong>the</strong> sole<br />

<strong>in</strong>strument <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> rational language that, perhaps, can be applied to <strong>the</strong> cacophony from <strong>the</strong> outer<br />

world: <strong>the</strong> pauses <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> chant<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> s<strong>in</strong>gsong which, presumably (but <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>ference may be<br />

totally arbitrary: ano<strong>the</strong>r case <strong>of</strong> chaos/chance <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> language), mark <strong>the</strong> subdivisions between<br />

words.<br />

<strong>The</strong> term <strong>of</strong> our language that better expresses <strong>the</strong> l<strong>in</strong>guistic chaos represented by <strong>the</strong> alien<br />

words is perhaps “cacophony” 39 , that “mad cacophony” 40 symbol <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> moral chaos which <strong>the</strong><br />

alien civilization st<strong>and</strong>s for. And a fur<strong>the</strong>r pro<strong>of</strong> that this is a real l<strong>in</strong>guistic chaos is provided by <strong>the</strong><br />

use, <strong>in</strong> a passage <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> tale, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> makes <strong>of</strong> a word highly significant on this regard,<br />

“gibberish”:<br />

“… he [Wilcox] related startl<strong>in</strong>g fragments <strong>of</strong> nocturnal imagery whose burden was always some terrible Cyclopean<br />

vista <strong>of</strong> dark <strong>and</strong> dripp<strong>in</strong>g stone, with a subterrene voice or <strong>in</strong>telligence shout<strong>in</strong>g monotonously <strong>in</strong> enigmatical senseimpacts<br />

un<strong>in</strong>scribable save as gibberish. <strong>The</strong> two sounds most frequently repeated are those rendered by <strong>the</strong> letters<br />

‘Cthulhu’ <strong>and</strong> ‘R’lyeh’” 41<br />

36 DH, p.195. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s Italics.<br />

37 COC, p.147.<br />

38 COC, p.150. My Italics.<br />

39 Carlo Pagetti remarks that <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>the</strong> language <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> monsters is “made <strong>of</strong> bestial <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong>comprehensible<br />

sounds, <strong>of</strong> cacophonic sequences <strong>of</strong> consonants”, <strong>in</strong> which “<strong>the</strong> cacophony, <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>dist<strong>in</strong>ct cry is <strong>the</strong> most tangible<br />

expression <strong>of</strong> that bl<strong>in</strong>d <strong>and</strong> bestial universe that always appears to be go<strong>in</strong>g to submerge man” (“L’Universo Impazzito<br />

di H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>”, <strong>in</strong> Pagetti 93-94. My translation from Italian). Exp<strong>and</strong><strong>in</strong>g on this <strong>the</strong>me, Giuseppe Lippi remarks:<br />

“This ‘deformation’ <strong>of</strong> language <strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong> its rethorical figures is <strong>the</strong> fasc<strong>in</strong>at<strong>in</strong>g means by which <strong>Lovecraft</strong> makes us slide<br />

<strong>in</strong> a totally alien universe. In this way <strong>the</strong> syntax <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> words ‘implode’ like every o<strong>the</strong>r diurnal value; <strong>the</strong> speech<br />

becomes a chaotic anti-logos, expression <strong>of</strong> madness. A clear image <strong>of</strong> this is <strong>the</strong> language <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> monstrous entities,<br />

parody <strong>and</strong> extreme distortion <strong>of</strong> that <strong>of</strong> man […] <strong>The</strong> ‘negativity’ <strong>of</strong> this reversed language is <strong>of</strong> course <strong>the</strong> quality that<br />

allows us to load it with a new <strong>and</strong> paradoxical mean<strong>in</strong>g. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s mythical universe is a universe <strong>of</strong> language, <strong>and</strong><br />

through language it operates a last, def<strong>in</strong>itive overturn<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> our supposed ‘rational’ universe”: “Il triplice fasc<strong>in</strong>o di<br />

H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>”, <strong>in</strong> H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>and</strong> A. Derleth, 222-223. My translation from Italian.<br />

40 COC, p.152.<br />

41 COC, p.143-4. My Italics.<br />

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Thus once more <strong>the</strong>re is an absolute uncerta<strong>in</strong>ty, which does not allow to discrim<strong>in</strong>ate <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

l<strong>in</strong>guistic chaos that takes place: is it a “voice” or an “<strong>in</strong>telligence” to utter <strong>the</strong> unpronounceable<br />

sounds? What is <strong>the</strong> real l<strong>in</strong>guistic signifier (to say noth<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> mean<strong>in</strong>g, that places itself on a<br />

superior level <strong>of</strong> comprehension, even more unatta<strong>in</strong>able for <strong>the</strong> human m<strong>in</strong>d) <strong>of</strong> such sounds, s<strong>in</strong>ce<br />

<strong>the</strong> words “Cthulhu” <strong>and</strong> “R’Lyeh” can do no more than approximat<strong>in</strong>g, simulat<strong>in</strong>g such sounds 42 ?<br />

<strong>The</strong>se questions are <strong>and</strong> have to rema<strong>in</strong> unanswerable, consistently with <strong>the</strong> aes<strong>the</strong>tic aim <strong>Lovecraft</strong><br />

pursues: to depict cosmic Outsideness, a “reality” unknown <strong>and</strong> unknowable to man, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>refore<br />

undescribable under all its aspects, not merely with reference to its <strong>the</strong>mes <strong>and</strong> “contents” but also<br />

to its l<strong>in</strong>guistic render<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

“Dagon” (1917)<br />

Countless are <strong>the</strong> possible examples <strong>of</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s narratives stag<strong>in</strong>g – sometimes mercilessly –<br />

<strong>the</strong> defeat <strong>of</strong> human rationality <strong>and</strong> rational language when forced to cope with irruptions from<br />

Outsideness. Each <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>m adds some new <strong>in</strong>sight to our discussion on <strong>the</strong> limits <strong>of</strong> rational<br />

language. In <strong>the</strong> tale “Dagon” (1917), <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s discourse on rationality is made even more<br />

complex by <strong>the</strong> author’s attempt to demonstrate that <strong>the</strong> loss <strong>of</strong> reason, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> fall <strong>in</strong>to madness,<br />

lead to <strong>the</strong> discovery <strong>of</strong> truth. Here <strong>Lovecraft</strong> does not limit himself to attack<strong>in</strong>g rationality: he<br />

moves fur<strong>the</strong>r, <strong>and</strong> claims that it is only through <strong>the</strong> utter negation <strong>of</strong> rationality, i.e. through<br />

<strong>in</strong>sanity, that man atta<strong>in</strong>s superior knowledge.<br />

“Dagon” features an unnamed protagonist (<strong>the</strong> abundance <strong>of</strong> unnamed characters <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s<br />

fiction can be now seen under new light after our reflections on <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s lack <strong>of</strong> faith <strong>in</strong> rational<br />

language <strong>and</strong> def<strong>in</strong>itions), who suffers a shipwreck <strong>in</strong> an unknown isl<strong>and</strong>, that he later discovers is<br />

populated by an obnoxious slimy creature. <strong>The</strong> protagonist undergoes a slow descent along a<br />

promontory, a descent that gradually puts at risk his mental sanity, his rationality, <strong>and</strong><br />

metaphorically st<strong>and</strong>s for a “descent” <strong>in</strong>to madness, that reaches its climax through <strong>the</strong> physical<br />

descent <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> narrator <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> chasm where <strong>the</strong> “stupendous” monster appears, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> sight <strong>of</strong><br />

which he now, dur<strong>in</strong>g his recollection <strong>in</strong> pseudo-tranquillity, states he def<strong>in</strong>itely went mad: he is <strong>in</strong><br />

fact approach<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> edge <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> threshold between <strong>the</strong> comfort<strong>in</strong>g “reality” <strong>and</strong> Outsideness, <strong>and</strong><br />

even only a furtive glance at <strong>the</strong> alterity beyond it condemns <strong>the</strong> viewer. <strong>The</strong> shipwreck experience,<br />

as experience <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> threshold, is <strong>the</strong>refore analyzable as an anatomy <strong>of</strong> go<strong>in</strong>g mad.<br />

<strong>The</strong> path toward madness—conceived by <strong>Lovecraft</strong> not <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> conventional sense, but as<br />

revelatory experience—beg<strong>in</strong>s when <strong>the</strong> narrator, unaware <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> cosmic significance <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

experience he is go<strong>in</strong>g to undergo, tries to rationalize it, i.e. starts to th<strong>in</strong>k, 43 tries to make <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong>terpretation <strong>of</strong> his experience tally with <strong>the</strong> clues <strong>of</strong> rationality. On <strong>the</strong> third day <strong>of</strong> drift, <strong>the</strong><br />

42 All <strong>in</strong> all, even <strong>the</strong> mere attempt, made by man, to imitate <strong>the</strong> sound <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> alien language is a source <strong>of</strong> horror,<br />

because it <strong>in</strong>dicates <strong>the</strong> level <strong>of</strong> bestiality to which <strong>the</strong> human be<strong>in</strong>g may descend <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> biological scale. In fact “<strong>The</strong>re<br />

are vocal qualities peculiar to men, <strong>and</strong> vocal qualities peculiar to beasts; <strong>and</strong> it is terrible to hear <strong>the</strong> one when <strong>the</strong><br />

source should yield <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r” (COC, p.152. My Italic). S. T. Joshi remarks: “Aliens – extraterrestrials for <strong>the</strong> most part<br />

– naturally <strong>in</strong>spire horror (at <strong>the</strong> outset, at any rate) largely for <strong>the</strong>ir mere physical difference from human be<strong>in</strong>gs -<br />

tentacles, rugose cones, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> like. But <strong>Lovecraft</strong> reserves his greatest sense <strong>of</strong> loath<strong>in</strong>g when he f<strong>in</strong>ds aliens do<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> sort <strong>of</strong> th<strong>in</strong>g only human be<strong>in</strong>gs should do. One suggestive remarks is <strong>in</strong> ‘<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu’: ‘<strong>The</strong>re are vocal<br />

qualities peculiar to men, <strong>and</strong> vocal qualities peculiar to beasts; <strong>and</strong> it is terrible to hear <strong>the</strong> one when <strong>the</strong> source should<br />

yield <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r’. Here <strong>the</strong> context is that <strong>the</strong>se be<strong>in</strong>gs have renounced <strong>the</strong>ir humanity <strong>and</strong> descended to a bestial level”:<br />

Joshi 1990, 200.<br />

43 Dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> lonesome drift, “<strong>For</strong> several hours I sat th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g or brood<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> boat” (“Dagon”, <strong>in</strong> D 15).<br />

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narrator realizes that “<strong>The</strong> odour <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> fish was madden<strong>in</strong>g” 44 : here is <strong>the</strong> adumbration <strong>of</strong> a<br />

nightmare l<strong>and</strong>, even <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> literal sense <strong>of</strong> “created by nightmare.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> l<strong>and</strong> where <strong>the</strong> narrator gets ashore is <strong>in</strong> fact a nowhere, a territory whose “objectivity”<br />

cannot be corroborated by any rational grasp: it is not charted on maps, it is made <strong>of</strong> an eruption <strong>of</strong><br />

blackish <strong>and</strong> slimy volcanic earth, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> midst <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Pacific Ocean. Nobody knows <strong>of</strong> it, not even<br />

<strong>the</strong> rescuers <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> American ship who get him out <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> scrape. It is a non-extant l<strong>and</strong>, escap<strong>in</strong>g<br />

every attempt <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>terpretation/rationalization/significance. Fur<strong>the</strong>r contribut<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>the</strong> build<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> a<br />

“progression” <strong>of</strong> madness, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> reveals that <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> l<strong>and</strong><strong>in</strong>g-place <strong>the</strong> distances, <strong>the</strong> sizes <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

l<strong>and</strong>scape elements, are not those a rational m<strong>in</strong>d could expect. <strong>The</strong> narrator’s notion <strong>of</strong> space starts<br />

to waver: “That night I encamped, <strong>and</strong> on <strong>the</strong> follow<strong>in</strong>g day still travelled toward <strong>the</strong> hummock,<br />

though that object seemed scarcely nearer than when I had first espied it” 45 . When he f<strong>in</strong>ally<br />

reaches <strong>the</strong> promontory, he realizes that it is much higher than it appeared at a distant view: “By <strong>the</strong><br />

fourth even<strong>in</strong>g I atta<strong>in</strong>ed <strong>the</strong> base <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> mound, which turned out to be much higher than it had<br />

appeared from a distance” 46 .<br />

In <strong>the</strong> nightmare l<strong>and</strong> he is visit<strong>in</strong>g, noth<strong>in</strong>g is truly as it appears 47 : it is a dream-l<strong>and</strong>. <strong>Lovecraft</strong><br />

was <strong>of</strong>ten obsessed by <strong>the</strong> hypo<strong>the</strong>tical notion <strong>of</strong> perspectives that do not match with man’s sensory<br />

experience <strong>of</strong> reality, with his three-dimensional glimpse on <strong>the</strong> world, because <strong>the</strong>se perspectives<br />

make rationality waver <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong>duce it to acknowledge its cosmic epistemological <strong>in</strong>adequacy: one<br />

may recall, for <strong>in</strong>stance, <strong>the</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>ian concern for <strong>the</strong> non-Euclidean geometry <strong>of</strong> “<strong>The</strong> Trap”<br />

<strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> immense monstrous dwell<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>of</strong> his aliens (as we saw not only <strong>in</strong> “<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu,”<br />

but for <strong>in</strong>stance <strong>in</strong> At <strong>the</strong> Mounta<strong>in</strong>s <strong>of</strong> Madness too), or his concern with <strong>the</strong> image <strong>of</strong> oblique<br />

perspectives. 48<br />

<strong>The</strong> territory attracts <strong>the</strong> narrator toward madness, ga<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g life as a character, lit by <strong>the</strong> unreal<br />

moonlight: this set <strong>of</strong> halluc<strong>in</strong>atory l<strong>and</strong>scape elements <strong>in</strong>duces <strong>the</strong> narrator to <strong>the</strong> descent <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong><br />

abyss (which is both geographic <strong>and</strong> existential). In fact <strong>the</strong> narrator feels he is “carried on” by a<br />

superior, uncontrollable force 49 .<br />

<strong>The</strong> discovery <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> obelisk at <strong>the</strong> bottom <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> chasm represents, <strong>in</strong> its unveil<strong>in</strong>g an<br />

halluc<strong>in</strong>at<strong>in</strong>g truth about <strong>the</strong> orig<strong>in</strong> <strong>of</strong> mank<strong>in</strong>d, a fur<strong>the</strong>r, dramatic (even if not conclusive) attack<br />

aga<strong>in</strong>st <strong>the</strong> character’s rationality – here symbolically reflect<strong>in</strong>g everyone’s rationality; but <strong>the</strong><br />

narrator’s rationality, though waver<strong>in</strong>g, still tries hard to f<strong>in</strong>d a satisfactory explanation: “<strong>For</strong><br />

despite its enormous magnitude, <strong>and</strong> its position <strong>in</strong> an abyss which had yawned at <strong>the</strong> bottom <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

sea s<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>the</strong> world was young, I perceived beyond a doubt that <strong>the</strong> strange object was a wellshaped<br />

monolith whose massive bulk had known <strong>the</strong> workmanship <strong>and</strong> perhaps <strong>the</strong> worship <strong>of</strong><br />

liv<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g creatures” 50 . <strong>The</strong> monolith becomes <strong>the</strong> symbol <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ancestral memory <strong>of</strong><br />

mank<strong>in</strong>d (as <strong>the</strong> sea from which <strong>the</strong> monster emerges is <strong>the</strong> cradle <strong>of</strong> our species, symbol <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

womb where life orig<strong>in</strong>ated, receptacle <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> atavistic memory), a memory that one would like to<br />

44<br />

Ibid., 16. My Italic.<br />

45<br />

Ibid.<br />

46<br />

Ibid.<br />

47<br />

Aga<strong>in</strong>: “I began to see that <strong>the</strong> slopes <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> valley were not quite so perpendicular as I had imag<strong>in</strong>ed” (D 16-17). Of<br />

course <strong>the</strong> recurrence <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>me <strong>of</strong> appearance <strong>and</strong> perspective on reality aga<strong>in</strong> raises <strong>the</strong> complex issue <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>ian epistemology, <strong>and</strong> its most strik<strong>in</strong>g question: is it <strong>the</strong> human eye that is unable to grasp <strong>the</strong> true (<strong>and</strong><br />

potentially “graspable,” by more powerful senses) objectivity <strong>of</strong> reality, or is it reality that, <strong>in</strong>tr<strong>in</strong>sically, escapes<br />

explanation <strong>and</strong> holds a chang<strong>in</strong>g, mutable nature? Is <strong>the</strong> fault <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> observer, who is unable to see, or <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> object <strong>of</strong><br />

observation, which escapes Sight <strong>and</strong> form?<br />

48<br />

See Stephen K<strong>in</strong>g: “<strong>Lovecraft</strong> was struck by <strong>the</strong> horror <strong>of</strong> wrong geometry; he wrote frequently <strong>of</strong> non-Euclidean<br />

angles that tortured <strong>the</strong> eye <strong>and</strong> hurt <strong>the</strong> m<strong>in</strong>d, <strong>and</strong> suggested o<strong>the</strong>r dimensions where <strong>the</strong> sum <strong>of</strong> a triangle’s three<br />

corners might equal more or less than 180°. Contemplat<strong>in</strong>g such th<strong>in</strong>gs, he suggested, might be enough <strong>in</strong> itself to drive<br />

a man crazy. Nor was he far wrong; we know from various psychological experiments that when you tamper with a<br />

man or woman’s perspective on <strong>the</strong>ir physical world, you tamper with what may actually be <strong>the</strong> fulcrum <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> human<br />

m<strong>in</strong>d [. . .] this fasc<strong>in</strong>at<strong>in</strong>g idea <strong>of</strong> perspective gone haywire”: K<strong>in</strong>g 1993, 324-25 (my Italics).<br />

49<br />

“Urged on by an impulse which I cannot def<strong>in</strong>itely analyse” (D 17)<br />

50 D 17.<br />

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remove as a testimony <strong>of</strong> our degrad<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> contemptible orig<strong>in</strong>s: <strong>the</strong> narrator takes a look on<br />

mank<strong>in</strong>d’s past, to withdraw immediately from his observation po<strong>in</strong>t, sickened but also amazed by<br />

<strong>the</strong> revolutionary cognitive perspective that bursts upon his Sight.<br />

<strong>The</strong> narrator would withdraw his glance because, as an oblique perspective, <strong>the</strong> one that opens at<br />

<strong>the</strong> sight <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> monolith, it fills him with new sensations, impossible to express with <strong>the</strong> words <strong>of</strong><br />

rational language. 51 <strong>Rationality</strong>, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> verbal language that is its primary means <strong>of</strong> expression,<br />

declare <strong>the</strong>mselves defeated <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> face <strong>of</strong> this truth: <strong>the</strong>y cannot seize it, because it overcomes any<br />

attempt at rational <strong>in</strong>terpretation, rides roughshod over it, <strong>and</strong> humiliates it. But despite this, <strong>the</strong><br />

spell prevails, <strong>in</strong> a s<strong>in</strong> <strong>of</strong> hybris that is <strong>the</strong> turn<strong>in</strong>g po<strong>in</strong>t that causes <strong>the</strong> subsequent doom <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

narrator: he throws a second glance toward Memory, as most <strong>Lovecraft</strong>ian characters do, frightened<br />

as <strong>the</strong>y are by <strong>the</strong> abysses <strong>of</strong> truth loom<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> front <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir quest, but none<strong>the</strong>less driven by <strong>the</strong><br />

irrepressible desire <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> survey, by a scientific zeal that pushes <strong>the</strong>m beyond <strong>the</strong> threshold, toward<br />

damnation: “Dazed <strong>and</strong> frightened, yet not without a certa<strong>in</strong> thrill <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> scientist’s or<br />

archaeologist’s delight, I exam<strong>in</strong>ed my surround<strong>in</strong>gs more closely” 52 . It is <strong>the</strong> second glance on<br />

Memory that dooms man, s<strong>in</strong>ce it br<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>the</strong> comprehensive discovery <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> “outer” reality,<br />

metaphorically embodied by <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>scriptions on <strong>the</strong> monolith: <strong>the</strong> awareness <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> truth gradually<br />

seeps <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> narrator, <strong>in</strong> an irreversible path towards madness.<br />

He ponders <strong>the</strong> hieroglyphics <strong>and</strong> bas-reliefs <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> obelisk: his rationality is break<strong>in</strong>g down, he<br />

cannot describe <strong>the</strong> forms <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> figures carved on <strong>the</strong> bas-reliefs (<strong>the</strong>y look like an oblique<br />

perspective, not match<strong>in</strong>g with <strong>the</strong> cognitive model adopted by <strong>the</strong> human m<strong>in</strong>d to seize <strong>the</strong><br />

mean<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> reality: reason would not bear recollection, sanction<strong>in</strong>g its epistemological defeat): “Of<br />

<strong>the</strong>ir faces <strong>and</strong> forms I dare not speak <strong>in</strong> detail; for <strong>the</strong> mere remembrance makes me grow fa<strong>in</strong>t” 53 .<br />

Human reason cannot know all <strong>the</strong> knowable, but only <strong>the</strong> reality that falls under restricted human<br />

viewpo<strong>in</strong>ts: those <strong>of</strong> sensory experience, <strong>of</strong> tri-dimensionality, i.e. just a small component <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

vast “cosmos at large,” <strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong> all <strong>the</strong> conceivable reality (<strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>n, “potentially exist<strong>in</strong>g” reality,<br />

s<strong>in</strong>ce for <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>the</strong> truth value <strong>of</strong> imag<strong>in</strong>ation is by no means <strong>in</strong>ferior to that <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> senses).<br />

In “Dagon”, <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s attack aga<strong>in</strong>st rationality is even more disturb<strong>in</strong>g than <strong>in</strong> “<strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong><br />

Cthulhu”: he not merely stages <strong>the</strong> defeat <strong>of</strong> language as an <strong>in</strong>strument <strong>of</strong> reason, but also <strong>of</strong> a sense<br />

– Sight, as ano<strong>the</strong>r means reason employs to <strong>in</strong>terpret reality <strong>and</strong> rationalize it. <strong>The</strong> f<strong>in</strong>al blow for<br />

reason is <strong>in</strong> fact <strong>in</strong>flicted only by <strong>the</strong> vision <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> abom<strong>in</strong>ation, which overshadows <strong>the</strong> glance,<br />

makes it fade, <strong>and</strong> turns <strong>of</strong>f every light, s<strong>in</strong>ce it makes <strong>the</strong> Memory current. It is as if <strong>the</strong> object <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> observation defeated, through its violent impact on reason, <strong>the</strong> glance itself that is launched on<br />

it: <strong>the</strong> observed does violence to <strong>the</strong> observer, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir roles are reversed. <strong>The</strong> observed, i.e.<br />

Memory becom<strong>in</strong>g actual, prevails by its violence, primarily visual, on every attempt <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

observer to <strong>in</strong>corporate it <strong>in</strong>to his own conceptual system. <strong>The</strong> narrator looks <strong>in</strong>to his DNA <strong>in</strong><br />

search for <strong>the</strong> genes he needs to bear <strong>the</strong> vision, <strong>and</strong> his defeat does not lie <strong>in</strong> his <strong>in</strong>capability to f<strong>in</strong>d<br />

<strong>the</strong>m, but just <strong>in</strong> his recogniz<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong>m. <strong>The</strong> vision <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hideous creature revitalizes <strong>the</strong> fund <strong>of</strong><br />

ancestral Memory that <strong>the</strong> narrator has always been carry<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>side, without ever be<strong>in</strong>g aware <strong>of</strong> it:<br />

it is just when Memory becomes actual <strong>and</strong> “visible” that doom is marked for mank<strong>in</strong>d, because it is<br />

<strong>the</strong> Memory <strong>of</strong> an unutterable past that <strong>the</strong> human species believed to have been wiped out from its<br />

DNA, but <strong>the</strong> genes <strong>of</strong> which, resistant to every voluntary form <strong>of</strong> repression, <strong>the</strong> vision is able to<br />

restore to light.<br />

<strong>The</strong> “actualized” image <strong>of</strong> Memory kills <strong>the</strong> glance, contextually condemns to madness: reason,<br />

which uses not only language but also Sight to organize reality <strong>in</strong>to rational <strong>in</strong>terpretative rules,<br />

now has lost its ma<strong>in</strong> <strong>in</strong>strument, <strong>the</strong> eye demolished by <strong>the</strong> vision. It is a bl<strong>in</strong>d(ed) reason,<br />

<strong>in</strong>capable <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>corporat<strong>in</strong>g reality <strong>in</strong>to her conceptual system: only madness rema<strong>in</strong>s (<strong>the</strong> terribly<br />

pithy “I th<strong>in</strong>k I went mad <strong>the</strong>n” 54 ).<br />

51<br />

“A closer scrut<strong>in</strong>y filled me with sensations I cannot express” (D 16).<br />

52<br />

Ibid., 16.<br />

53<br />

Ibid., 18.<br />

54<br />

Ibid.<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Limits</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>Rationality</strong> Page 13 <strong>of</strong> 20

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<strong>Lovecraft</strong> none<strong>the</strong>less does not fail to exam<strong>in</strong>e fur<strong>the</strong>r <strong>the</strong> delicate question <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> “loss <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

eye”: dur<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> halluc<strong>in</strong>atory chaos <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> f<strong>in</strong>al vision, <strong>the</strong> author def<strong>in</strong>es <strong>the</strong> apparently horrible<br />

creature as “a stupendous monster <strong>of</strong> nightmares” 55 . By means <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se peculiar lexical choices,<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong> raises at least two basic questions:<br />

By “<strong>of</strong> nightmares,” he compels <strong>the</strong> reader to wonder about <strong>the</strong> epistemic nature <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

whole story: reality or dream?;<br />

By “stupendous”, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> anticipates a l<strong>and</strong>mark <strong>of</strong> his most mature poetics, that <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

mythos tales. “Stupendous” bears also <strong>the</strong> mean<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> “marvelous, extraord<strong>in</strong>ary,” referr<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>the</strong><br />

idea <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> fasc<strong>in</strong>ation exerted by <strong>the</strong> unknown <strong>and</strong> by <strong>the</strong> quest <strong>of</strong> a hideous truth: most <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s characters are terrified by <strong>the</strong> object <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir quest <strong>and</strong> by <strong>the</strong> truths that step by step are<br />

unveiled, but <strong>the</strong>y cannot stop <strong>the</strong> quest, s<strong>in</strong>ce at <strong>the</strong> same time <strong>the</strong>y undergo <strong>the</strong>ir irresistible,<br />

hypnotic charm.<br />

In “Dagon”, <strong>the</strong> attack aga<strong>in</strong>st rationality <strong>in</strong>volves not only Sight <strong>and</strong>, as we will see, language,<br />

but also a third <strong>in</strong>strument <strong>of</strong> reason: Memory. From <strong>the</strong> moment <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> vision, only a dest<strong>in</strong>y <strong>of</strong><br />

madness is left for <strong>the</strong> narrator: he starts laugh<strong>in</strong>g, s<strong>in</strong>g<strong>in</strong>g at <strong>the</strong> top <strong>of</strong> his voice, <strong>and</strong>, above all, not<br />

remember<strong>in</strong>g anyth<strong>in</strong>g: <strong>the</strong> vision <strong>of</strong> ancestral Memory <strong>in</strong> shreds makes a clean sweep <strong>of</strong> his own<br />

rational memory, <strong>the</strong> ultimate effect <strong>of</strong> annihilation. Two levels <strong>of</strong> memory exist: once drawn from<br />

that <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> ancestral Memory, it does not exist any more as memory, vision, reason. It is only<br />

Noth<strong>in</strong>gness, co<strong>in</strong>cid<strong>in</strong>g with <strong>the</strong> loss <strong>of</strong> spatial-temporal coord<strong>in</strong>ates: <strong>the</strong> narrator cannot remember<br />

where, when, <strong>and</strong> how he got out <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> chasm, how he rega<strong>in</strong>ed <strong>the</strong> boat, how <strong>and</strong> by whom he was<br />

rescued. He undergoes a complete deconstruction <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Self, a loss <strong>of</strong> Self-mean<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong> his<br />

human dimension, physical as well as existential. Only <strong>the</strong> experience <strong>of</strong> ancestral Memory is left,<br />

not as an <strong>in</strong>strument for knowledge (we will see that knowledge deriv<strong>in</strong>g from this Memory has no<br />

coherent relevance among <strong>the</strong> human be<strong>in</strong>gs who believe <strong>the</strong>y have removed <strong>the</strong> ancestral genes<br />

from <strong>the</strong>ir DNA), but only as <strong>in</strong>strument for damnation.<br />

At this po<strong>in</strong>t a new descent takes place: if, before, <strong>the</strong> physical descent <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> chasm co<strong>in</strong>cided<br />

with <strong>the</strong> existential one <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> Mäelstrom <strong>of</strong> madness, <strong>the</strong>re now exists only <strong>the</strong> metaphorical<br />

descent toward <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>evitable conclusion, suicide. By now <strong>the</strong>re is only room for “delirium”:<br />

nobody believes <strong>the</strong> narrator because he is testimony <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> removed Memory, which no human<br />

be<strong>in</strong>g would be disposed, <strong>and</strong> not even capable if not through <strong>the</strong> Vision beyond <strong>the</strong> threshold (<strong>and</strong><br />

so, <strong>in</strong> his turn, through <strong>in</strong>sanity), to recognize as his own. <strong>The</strong> narrator, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> world <strong>of</strong> “light” <strong>and</strong><br />

conventional reason is now just a madman, whom nobody believes; but he still naively tries to get<br />

<strong>in</strong> touch with an anthropologist. His New Reason, Madness, i.e. awareness <strong>of</strong> Truth, makes a last<br />

attempt, because <strong>in</strong> him conventional reason is by now ext<strong>in</strong>ct; but once <strong>the</strong> threshold has been<br />

crossed, nobody can believe him <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> world where <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r reason, <strong>the</strong> conventional one, rules.<br />

He receives only derision <strong>and</strong> sneers: “Once I sought out a celebrated ethnologist, <strong>and</strong> amused him<br />

with peculiar questions regard<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> ancient Philist<strong>in</strong>e legend <strong>of</strong> Dagon, <strong>the</strong> Fish-God; but soon<br />

perceiv<strong>in</strong>g that he was hopelessly conventional, I did not press my <strong>in</strong>quiries” 56 .<br />

<strong>The</strong> conventional world <strong>of</strong> three dimensions, <strong>of</strong> Euclidean geometry, <strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> five senses, can<br />

receive <strong>the</strong> narrator’s account with noth<strong>in</strong>g but “contemptuous amusement” 57 : this is <strong>the</strong> fate <strong>of</strong> one<br />

who has crossed <strong>the</strong> threshold search<strong>in</strong>g for knowledge <strong>and</strong> obta<strong>in</strong>ed damnation. But for <strong>Lovecraft</strong><br />

Madness is Truth, which can be secured through shipwreck: here a physical one, as well as<br />

existential, with a scheme that will recur <strong>in</strong> his mature works—always through drift <strong>in</strong> deserts,<br />

ancient ru<strong>in</strong>s, ice, <strong>the</strong> abysses under <strong>the</strong> ocean, man gets <strong>in</strong> touch with <strong>the</strong> Truth beyond <strong>the</strong><br />

threshold. This is not madness conventionally conceived: <strong>Lovecraft</strong>, though liv<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> threedimensional<br />

world, always takes <strong>the</strong> viewpo<strong>in</strong>t from beyond <strong>the</strong> threshold, constantly ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g a<br />

55 Ibid.<br />

56 Ibid., 19.<br />

57 Ibid.<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Limits</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>Rationality</strong> Page 14 <strong>of</strong> 20

Massimo Berruti<br />

veiled scorn<strong>in</strong>g smile toward reason <strong>and</strong> its conventional perspectives (how can we not notice it,<br />

here <strong>in</strong> “Dagon,” <strong>in</strong> that ”hopelessly conventional” attitude <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> amused ethnologist?).<br />

Before <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>evitable end<strong>in</strong>g, <strong>the</strong> last threshold this time toward salvation <strong>and</strong> oblivion, <strong>the</strong><br />

narrator still dreams flashes <strong>of</strong> Memory, <strong>of</strong> unmentionable truths: he keeps hav<strong>in</strong>g visions <strong>of</strong><br />

“Beyondness,” <strong>of</strong> Truths whose awareness is <strong>in</strong>compatible with survival because conventional<br />

reason is unable to “metabolize” <strong>the</strong>m: “I cannot th<strong>in</strong>k <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> deep sea without shudder<strong>in</strong>g at <strong>the</strong><br />

nameless th<strong>in</strong>gs that may at this very moment be crawl<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> flounder<strong>in</strong>g on its slimy bed [. . .]. I<br />

dream <strong>of</strong> a day when <strong>the</strong>y may rise above <strong>the</strong> billows to drag down <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir reek<strong>in</strong>g talons <strong>the</strong><br />

remnants <strong>of</strong> puny, war-exhausted mank<strong>in</strong>d—<strong>of</strong> a day when a l<strong>and</strong> shall s<strong>in</strong>k, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> dark ocean<br />

floor shall ascend amidst universal p<strong>and</strong>emonium” 58 .<br />

<strong>The</strong> Language <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Limit<br />

Shipwreck is <strong>the</strong> experience <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> rarefy<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> language <strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong> its capacity to convey mean<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

Word, as Sight, fades away as <strong>in</strong>strument <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> conventional reason, it cannot be <strong>in</strong>terpreter <strong>of</strong><br />

reality anymore, at a tw<strong>of</strong>old level:<br />

language can no more “translate” <strong>the</strong> external reality, or represent <strong>the</strong> “objective”<br />

world;<br />

language can no more express <strong>the</strong> depth <strong>of</strong> feel<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>and</strong> sensitiveness.<br />

Concern<strong>in</strong>g this second feature, perhaps <strong>the</strong> most appall<strong>in</strong>g, it may be useful to quote a passage<br />

from Stephen K<strong>in</strong>g’s Different Seasons, <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>cipit <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> tale entitled “<strong>The</strong> Body.” <strong>The</strong>se words<br />

celebrate <strong>the</strong> defeat <strong>of</strong> language <strong>in</strong> its attempt to convey feel<strong>in</strong>gs, its progressive dry<strong>in</strong>g up <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

face <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> mystery <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>st<strong>in</strong>cts:<br />

<strong>The</strong> most important th<strong>in</strong>gs are <strong>the</strong> hardest th<strong>in</strong>gs to say. <strong>The</strong>y are <strong>the</strong> th<strong>in</strong>gs you get ashamed <strong>of</strong>,<br />

because words dim<strong>in</strong>ish <strong>the</strong>m—words shr<strong>in</strong>k th<strong>in</strong>gs that seemed limitless when <strong>the</strong>y were <strong>in</strong><br />

your head to no more than liv<strong>in</strong>g size when <strong>the</strong>y’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it?<br />

<strong>The</strong> most important th<strong>in</strong>gs lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like l<strong>and</strong>marks to<br />

a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you<br />

dearly only to have people look at you <strong>in</strong> a funny way, not underst<strong>and</strong><strong>in</strong>g what you’ve said at all,<br />

or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were say<strong>in</strong>g it. That’s<br />

<strong>the</strong> worst th<strong>in</strong>g, I th<strong>in</strong>k. When <strong>the</strong> secret stays locked with<strong>in</strong> not for want <strong>of</strong> a teller but for want<br />

<strong>of</strong> an underst<strong>and</strong><strong>in</strong>g ear (K<strong>in</strong>g 1982, 293)<br />

This is probably what happens to <strong>the</strong> narrator <strong>in</strong> “Dagon”: no ear is able to listen to his tell<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

no m<strong>in</strong>d is disposed to receive his truth, save with derision. What K<strong>in</strong>g describes as “<strong>the</strong> worst<br />

th<strong>in</strong>g,” <strong>the</strong> want for a ear to listen, leads <strong>the</strong> narrator even to suicide: <strong>the</strong> shipwreck experience<br />

assumes <strong>the</strong> form <strong>of</strong> a tragedy <strong>of</strong> solitude, a solitude lived not only dur<strong>in</strong>g his drift, but also, <strong>and</strong><br />

perhaps especially, after, when com<strong>in</strong>g back <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> cosy, rational world where it is not possible<br />

anymore ei<strong>the</strong>r to reconstruct <strong>the</strong> human relationships exist<strong>in</strong>g before <strong>the</strong> shipwreck or ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong><br />

“normal” relationships with his fellows.<br />

How does <strong>the</strong> rarefy<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> language due to <strong>the</strong> shipwreck experience f<strong>in</strong>d expression?<br />

It is necessary to conceive <strong>the</strong> shipwreck as <strong>the</strong> experience <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> limit: on <strong>the</strong> edge, along <strong>the</strong><br />

razor blade, one hovers between life <strong>and</strong> death, between sanity <strong>and</strong> madness. <strong>The</strong> narrator’s<br />

experience is <strong>the</strong> practice <strong>of</strong> an equilibrist, <strong>in</strong> a dimension where <strong>the</strong> opposites live toge<strong>the</strong>r: death<br />

is life <strong>and</strong> vice versa (<strong>in</strong> fact <strong>the</strong> narrator <strong>in</strong> “Dagon” has to die a fictitious death to have life,<br />

58 Ibid.<br />

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Massimo Berruti<br />

because his life <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> conventional world for him is <strong>the</strong> real death), sanity is madness (appear<strong>in</strong>g as<br />

a madman to <strong>the</strong> conventional world, he has reached <strong>the</strong> true sanity, <strong>the</strong> true knowledge: <strong>and</strong> here is<br />

<strong>the</strong> paradox, <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> wak<strong>in</strong>g world <strong>the</strong> only sane ones are <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>sane).<br />

<strong>The</strong>n, shipwreck as experience <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> opposites <strong>and</strong> one that displays its doubleness, only<br />

apparently contradictory, also from a l<strong>in</strong>guistic viewpo<strong>in</strong>t, by means <strong>of</strong>:<br />

<strong>the</strong> rarefy<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> language, com<strong>in</strong>g to border on aphasia;<br />

<strong>the</strong> redundancy <strong>of</strong> language, apparently explod<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to magniloquence.<br />

<strong>The</strong>y are opposite procedures, but certa<strong>in</strong>ly not contradictory because oriented to <strong>the</strong> same goal, i.e.<br />

to express <strong>the</strong> want <strong>of</strong> Self <strong>and</strong> Sense <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> language’s loss <strong>of</strong> competency <strong>in</strong> produc<strong>in</strong>g mean<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong> chooses <strong>the</strong> second procedure, stag<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> <strong>the</strong>atrical performance with baroque prose:<br />

language does not seem to vanish or rarefy; on <strong>the</strong> contrary, it flourishes <strong>in</strong> mannerist baroques. His<br />

is a rich <strong>and</strong> complex style, basically hypotactic, redundant <strong>in</strong> adjectives, <strong>of</strong>ten resort<strong>in</strong>g to a<br />

lexicon magniloquent <strong>and</strong> t<strong>in</strong>ged with archaisms (consistent with his fondness for <strong>the</strong> British poets<br />

<strong>and</strong> essayists <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> eighteenth century). <strong>Lovecraft</strong>ian prose has been <strong>of</strong>ten criticized as affected by<br />

a peculiar disease, adjectivitis, i.e. <strong>the</strong> persistent recourse to qualify<strong>in</strong>g adjectives, <strong>in</strong>terpreted as a<br />

flaw <strong>of</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> as a writer. But <strong>the</strong> resort to this harvest <strong>of</strong> qualify<strong>in</strong>g adjectives was nei<strong>the</strong>r<br />

fortuitous nor a symptom <strong>of</strong> a supposed stylistic <strong>in</strong>eptitude; it corresponded to precise <strong>and</strong><br />

conscious goals: <strong>in</strong> truth, <strong>the</strong>y are qualify<strong>in</strong>g adjectives that actually do not qualify at all, nor add<br />

mean<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>the</strong> speech, nor build new senses, <strong>the</strong>y are just a sterile accumulation. <strong>The</strong>y are above all<br />

synonyms, <strong>the</strong> juxtaposition <strong>of</strong> which is a sign <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> flar<strong>in</strong>g up <strong>of</strong> language, which acknowledges<br />

its <strong>in</strong>ability to bear new issues <strong>of</strong> knowledge <strong>and</strong> a reliable viewpo<strong>in</strong>t on reality. This proliferation<br />

<strong>of</strong> adjectives has <strong>the</strong> same aes<strong>the</strong>tic goals as aphasia: between <strong>the</strong> absence <strong>of</strong> words <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir<br />

excessive accumulation, <strong>the</strong>re is no pragmatic difference, <strong>the</strong> purpose is <strong>the</strong> same. Language gets<br />

nowhere, as an eng<strong>in</strong>e that goes out <strong>of</strong> phase, keeps on turn<strong>in</strong>g but does not set <strong>the</strong> car <strong>in</strong> motion,<br />

i.e., out <strong>of</strong> metaphor, does not impr<strong>in</strong>t mean<strong>in</strong>g to <strong>the</strong> speech. Also <strong>the</strong> frequent resort to lexical <strong>and</strong><br />

syntactical archaisms is a stylistic expedient consistent with <strong>the</strong> purpose: <strong>the</strong> use <strong>of</strong> archaisms, <strong>the</strong><br />

wreck <strong>of</strong> a past epoch <strong>of</strong> Memory <strong>and</strong> Language, sanctions <strong>the</strong> epistemological <strong>in</strong>adequacy <strong>of</strong><br />

modern language to express “reality.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> challenge <strong>Lovecraft</strong> launches is aga<strong>in</strong> very provocative: to write a literature that builds a<br />

non-rational language, <strong>in</strong> order to give voice to <strong>the</strong> truth that <strong>in</strong>sanity unveils. On this regard<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s literature operates a Copernican revolution: that <strong>of</strong> consider<strong>in</strong>g language not as an<br />

<strong>in</strong>strument <strong>of</strong> reason anymore, but as an <strong>in</strong>strument <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>sanity. Thus <strong>Lovecraft</strong> creates <strong>the</strong> language<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>sane, an accumulation <strong>of</strong> words <strong>and</strong> subord<strong>in</strong>ate clauses that always say <strong>the</strong> same th<strong>in</strong>g:<br />

that <strong>the</strong>re is noth<strong>in</strong>g to say, because it is not by <strong>the</strong> rational-conventional language that truth can be<br />

signified. Its proliferation <strong>of</strong> words is used to hide <strong>the</strong> absence <strong>of</strong> words, to stem <strong>the</strong> silence, to<br />

express <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>capacity for fac<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> abyss. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s is a scream<strong>in</strong>g silence: his language seems<br />

to shout, consolidat<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> victory <strong>of</strong> rational th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g over <strong>the</strong> territories <strong>of</strong> “reality,” even its<br />

capacity to signify <strong>the</strong> truth, but it is no more than a house <strong>of</strong> words built on silence—it is silence. It<br />

is <strong>the</strong> shout <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>sane, <strong>of</strong> one who has crossed <strong>the</strong> threshold <strong>and</strong> lost sanity (“I th<strong>in</strong>k I went mad<br />

<strong>the</strong>n” 59 ).<br />

Examples <strong>of</strong> this rhetorical technique <strong>of</strong> ”adjectival accumulation” can be found almost<br />

everywhere <strong>in</strong> “Dagon”: “<strong>The</strong> region was putrid with <strong>the</strong> carcasses <strong>of</strong> decay<strong>in</strong>g fish, <strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r<br />

less describable th<strong>in</strong>gs which I saw protrud<strong>in</strong>g from <strong>the</strong> nasty mud <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> unend<strong>in</strong>g pla<strong>in</strong>. Perhaps I<br />

should not hope to convey <strong>in</strong> mere words <strong>the</strong> unutterable hideousness that can dwell <strong>in</strong> absolute<br />

silence <strong>and</strong> barren immensity” 60 . I would emphasize <strong>the</strong> word “unutterable” as an example <strong>of</strong> how<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> language itself becomes, meta-l<strong>in</strong>guistically, a means to express its own <strong>in</strong>adequacy to<br />

59 Ibid., 18.<br />

60 Ibid., 15.<br />

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atta<strong>in</strong> from <strong>the</strong> unatta<strong>in</strong>able, to describe <strong>the</strong> object beyond <strong>the</strong> threshold. It is <strong>Lovecraft</strong> himself<br />

acknowledg<strong>in</strong>g that his lavishness <strong>in</strong> baroque <strong>and</strong> complex descriptions <strong>and</strong> his efforts to “utter <strong>the</strong><br />

unutterable” are va<strong>in</strong>: <strong>the</strong> only possible result for language is to deflagrate, to go crazy <strong>in</strong> its turn,<br />

because it is applied to an object that cannot be told nor described: <strong>in</strong> “Dagon” <strong>the</strong>re are plenty <strong>of</strong><br />

words that refer to this <strong>in</strong>effability <strong>of</strong> experience (“unknown goal . . . immeasurable pit or canyon . .<br />

. fathomless chaos . . . unfashioned realms” 61 ). This is <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>effability <strong>of</strong> which <strong>Lovecraft</strong> had<br />

warned <strong>the</strong> reader already at <strong>the</strong> beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g, caution<strong>in</strong>g him that he would not be able to completely<br />

underst<strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> mean<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> story, not because <strong>of</strong> an <strong>in</strong>tr<strong>in</strong>sic fault on <strong>the</strong> reader’s part, but<br />

because <strong>of</strong> an <strong>in</strong>adequacy <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> language used by <strong>the</strong> narrator <strong>in</strong> describ<strong>in</strong>g it: “When you have<br />

read <strong>the</strong>se hastily scrawled pages you may guess, though never fully realise, why it is that I must<br />

have forgetfulness or death” 62 . Here language is used as a lie: it feeds on harvests <strong>of</strong> words without<br />

mean<strong>in</strong>g, deflagrates go<strong>in</strong>g out <strong>of</strong> phase, <strong>and</strong> tells a story that actually (<strong>the</strong> language itself states it)<br />

is <strong>in</strong>effable <strong>and</strong> cannot be told. So each story that claims to tell <strong>the</strong> “truth” is false (it is not through<br />

<strong>the</strong> human-rational language that truth could be told), even more so that <strong>of</strong> “Dagon,” which is<br />

portrayed as <strong>the</strong> outcome <strong>of</strong> a halluc<strong>in</strong>atory experience lived by a narrat<strong>in</strong>g “I” addicted to drugs,<br />

ambiguous <strong>and</strong> unreliable. <strong>The</strong> voice <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> protagonist starts up a fa<strong>in</strong>t, <strong>in</strong>sufficient effort <strong>of</strong><br />

approximation to reality: as K<strong>in</strong>g ma<strong>in</strong>ta<strong>in</strong>s, language dim<strong>in</strong>ishes emotions, shr<strong>in</strong>ks to no more than<br />

liv<strong>in</strong>g size what seemed limitless <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> narrator’s soul, <strong>and</strong> this is <strong>the</strong> true reason why readers, s<strong>in</strong>ce<br />

<strong>the</strong>y have at <strong>the</strong>ir disposal only <strong>the</strong> “l<strong>in</strong>guistic” expression <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> experience <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> narrator (<strong>and</strong><br />

basically do not grasp much <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> real nature <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> halluc<strong>in</strong>ations, emotions, <strong>and</strong> tortures that <strong>the</strong><br />

character lives <strong>in</strong> his <strong>in</strong>wardness), are not able to comprehend thoroughly <strong>the</strong> reasons for <strong>the</strong> f<strong>in</strong>al<br />

choice to end his endurance <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> hopelessly conventional world.<br />

“Recognition”<br />

F<strong>in</strong>ally, I would like to add a fur<strong>the</strong>r element <strong>of</strong> complexity to <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s discussion on <strong>the</strong><br />

limits <strong>of</strong> rational language, namely that concern<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> ways <strong>in</strong> which language may “say” <strong>the</strong><br />

deity. This new example, excerpted from <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s poetic production, fur<strong>the</strong>r testifies that <strong>the</strong><br />

<strong>in</strong>terest his literature shows towards l<strong>in</strong>guistic issues is not a perfunctory one: <strong>in</strong> fact it <strong>in</strong>volves not<br />

only prose, but also poetry. I refer <strong>in</strong> particular to <strong>the</strong> fourth sonnet <strong>of</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s poetic cycle<br />

Fungi from Yuggoth (1929-30), a poem called “Recognition”:<br />

<strong>The</strong> day had come aga<strong>in</strong>, when as a child<br />

I saw - just once - that hollow <strong>of</strong> old oaks,<br />

Grey with a ground-mist that enfolds <strong>and</strong> chokes<br />

<strong>The</strong> sl<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g shapes which madness has defiled.<br />

It was <strong>the</strong> same - an herbage rank <strong>and</strong> wild<br />

Cl<strong>in</strong>gs round an altar whose carved sign <strong>in</strong>vokes<br />

That Nameless One to whom a thous<strong>and</strong> smokes<br />

Rose, aeons gone, from unclean towers up-piled.<br />

I saw <strong>the</strong> body spread on that dank stone,<br />

And knew those th<strong>in</strong>gs which feasted were not men;<br />

I knew this strange, grey world was not my own,<br />

But Yuggoth, past <strong>the</strong> starry voids - <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>n<br />

<strong>The</strong> body shrieked at me with a dead cry,<br />

And all too late I knew that it was I!<br />

61 Ibid., 16.<br />

62 Ibid., 14.<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Limits</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>Rationality</strong> Page 17 <strong>of</strong> 20

Massimo Berruti<br />

This poem claims that “<strong>The</strong> day had come aga<strong>in</strong>, when as a child” (1-2) <strong>the</strong> narrator saw an altar<br />

<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> woods, <strong>and</strong> that “It was <strong>the</strong> same” (5). <strong>The</strong> octet <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> quatra<strong>in</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> sestet describe a<br />

“natural temple” or “grove” sememe, converted by negativiz<strong>in</strong>g words <strong>in</strong>to a threaten<strong>in</strong>g world <strong>of</strong><br />

horror. <strong>The</strong> mention <strong>of</strong> “a ground-mist that enfolds <strong>and</strong> chokes” (3), <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> “sl<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g shapes which<br />

madness has defiled” (4), <strong>of</strong> “herbage rank <strong>and</strong> wild” (5), <strong>of</strong> “unclean towers up-piled” (8) <strong>and</strong> <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> altar as a “dark stone” (9) all <strong>in</strong>volve conventional natural temple elements transformed by<br />

negative qualities. In this descriptive system <strong>the</strong> altar serves as threshold – as <strong>the</strong> locus <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

transfer from <strong>the</strong> worshippers to <strong>the</strong> god. <strong>The</strong> sonnet def<strong>in</strong>es <strong>the</strong> god <strong>the</strong> “Nameless One” (7), an<br />

expression, as we saw, very significant <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s literature <strong>and</strong> philosophy, <strong>and</strong> that here ga<strong>in</strong>s<br />

a peculiar complexity, s<strong>in</strong>ce it can be loaded with several different mean<strong>in</strong>gs. It may refer to:<br />

1) <strong>the</strong> religious taboo aga<strong>in</strong>st say<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> name <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> deity;<br />

2) <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>adequacy <strong>of</strong> language to describe <strong>the</strong> deity from Outsideness;<br />

3) <strong>the</strong> sheer <strong>in</strong>ability to recognize <strong>the</strong> deity’s identity, thus valoriz<strong>in</strong>g its quality <strong>of</strong><br />

unknownness.<br />

All <strong>the</strong>se connotations emphasize <strong>the</strong> sheer Outsideness, or o<strong>the</strong>rness, <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> deity. <strong>The</strong> “unclean<br />

towers piled-up” (8) from which “a thous<strong>and</strong> smokes / Rose” (7-8) appear here as a duplication <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> altar’s threshold-function.<br />

But as well as open<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to an o<strong>the</strong>rworld through <strong>the</strong> altar, <strong>the</strong> natural temple’s world itself<br />

becomes an o<strong>the</strong>rworld <strong>in</strong> this sonnet. Like it was for “Cthulhu”, here <strong>the</strong> name “Yuggoth” clearly<br />

exemplifies this world as o<strong>the</strong>rworld. <strong>The</strong> name has <strong>in</strong> fact an odd sound-shape <strong>and</strong> graphemic<br />

shape: not many polysyllabic words <strong>in</strong> English end with <strong>the</strong> /-ath/, /-oth/, <strong>and</strong> /-ith/ characteristic <strong>of</strong><br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s co<strong>in</strong>ed names, <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> consonant /y/ beg<strong>in</strong>s a relatively small number <strong>of</strong> words. <strong>The</strong><br />

former graphemic co<strong>in</strong> should conjure up associations with <strong>the</strong> Hebrew-derived terms <strong>of</strong> occultism,<br />

valoriz<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> word as an o<strong>the</strong>rness-word, while <strong>the</strong> second co<strong>in</strong> merely adds to <strong>the</strong> strangeness<br />

connotation through its rarity.<br />

As a matter <strong>of</strong> fact, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>of</strong>ten claims to have <strong>in</strong>vented such names <strong>in</strong> order to convey <strong>the</strong><br />

“flavour” <strong>of</strong> foreign <strong>and</strong> remote sources, especially Arabic, Hebraic, Oriental, Celtics, or even nonhuman.<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s words below can be useful not only to expla<strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> orig<strong>in</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> word<br />

“Yuggoth”, but also <strong>of</strong> all <strong>the</strong> o<strong>the</strong>rworldly names <strong>of</strong> his literature, <strong>in</strong>clud<strong>in</strong>g Cthulhu:<br />

“As to those artificial names <strong>of</strong> unearthly places <strong>and</strong> gods <strong>and</strong> persons <strong>and</strong> entities – <strong>the</strong>re are different ways <strong>of</strong> co<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong>m. To a large extent <strong>the</strong>y are designed to suggest – ei<strong>the</strong>r closely or remotely – certa<strong>in</strong> names <strong>in</strong> actual history or<br />

folklore which have weird or s<strong>in</strong>ister associations with <strong>the</strong>m. Thus ‘Yuggoth’ has a sort <strong>of</strong> Arabic or Hebraic cast, to<br />

suggest certa<strong>in</strong> words passed down from antiquity <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> magical formulae conta<strong>in</strong>ed <strong>in</strong> Moorish <strong>and</strong> Jewish<br />

manuscripts. O<strong>the</strong>r syn<strong>the</strong>tic names like ‘Nug’ <strong>and</strong> ‘Yeb' suggest <strong>the</strong> dark <strong>and</strong> mysterious tone <strong>of</strong> Tartar or Thibetan<br />

folklore. Dunsany is <strong>the</strong> greatest <strong>of</strong> all name-co<strong>in</strong>ers, <strong>and</strong> he seems to have three dist<strong>in</strong>ct models – <strong>the</strong> Oriental (ei<strong>the</strong>r<br />

Assyrian or Babylonian, or Hebrew from <strong>the</strong> Bible), <strong>the</strong> classical (from Homer mostly), <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> Celtic (from <strong>the</strong><br />

Arthurian cycle, etc.) […] I myself sometimes follow Dunsany’s plan, but I also have a way strictly my own – which I<br />

use for devis<strong>in</strong>g non-human names, as <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> localities <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong>habitants <strong>of</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r planets […] <strong>The</strong> sounds ought not to<br />

follow any human language-pattern, <strong>and</strong> ought not to be derived from – or adapted to – <strong>the</strong> human speech-equipment at<br />

all. In o<strong>the</strong>r words, <strong>the</strong> whole design ought to be alien to both <strong>the</strong> ideas <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> tongue <strong>of</strong> mank<strong>in</strong>d – a series <strong>of</strong> sounds<br />

<strong>of</strong> different orig<strong>in</strong>s <strong>and</strong> associations, <strong>and</strong> capable only <strong>in</strong> part <strong>of</strong> reproduction by <strong>the</strong> human throat <strong>and</strong> palate <strong>and</strong><br />

mouth. Just how far, <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong> what direction, such a sound-system ought to differ from human speech, must <strong>of</strong> course<br />

depend on how far <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong> what direction <strong>the</strong> imag<strong>in</strong>ary users are represented as differ<strong>in</strong>g […] Usually my stories<br />

assume that <strong>the</strong> non-human sounds were known to certa<strong>in</strong> human scholars <strong>in</strong> elder days, <strong>and</strong> recorded <strong>in</strong> secret<br />

manuscripts like <strong>the</strong> Necronomicon, <strong>the</strong> Pnakotic Manuscripts, etc.. In that case I likewise assume that […] ancient<br />

authors <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>se manuscripts gave <strong>the</strong> non-human names an unconscious twist <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> direction <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong>ir own respective<br />

languages – as always occurs when scholars <strong>and</strong> writers encounter an utterly alien nomenclature <strong>and</strong> try to represent it<br />

to <strong>the</strong>ir own people” 63<br />

63<br />

Letter to Duane W. Rimel, 14/2/1934 [SL IV, 386-387]. My Italics.<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Limits</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>Rationality</strong> Page 18 <strong>of</strong> 20

Massimo Berruti<br />

In <strong>the</strong> same epistle, <strong>Lovecraft</strong> underscores that, <strong>in</strong> spite <strong>of</strong> what “realistic” writers claim, it is<br />

certa<strong>in</strong>ly pr<strong>of</strong>itable to <strong>in</strong>troduce <strong>in</strong> a fictional work an <strong>in</strong>vented word, co<strong>in</strong>ed carefully associat<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>the</strong> proper sources:<br />

“Many realists violently object to <strong>the</strong> practice <strong>of</strong> us<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong>se co<strong>in</strong>ed names, averr<strong>in</strong>g that it gives a childish effect to <strong>the</strong><br />

stories concerned. I can see <strong>the</strong>ir po<strong>in</strong>t, but do not th<strong>in</strong>k <strong>the</strong>ir objection can be applied <strong>in</strong>discrim<strong>in</strong>ately. Carelessly,<br />

<strong>in</strong>judiciously co<strong>in</strong>ed, or excessively used artificial names do ra<strong>the</strong>r cheapen a tale; but it is certa<strong>in</strong>ly advantageous now<br />

<strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong>n to <strong>in</strong>troduce a co<strong>in</strong>ed word which has been shaped with great care from just <strong>the</strong> right associational sources” 64<br />

It is however beyond doubt that <strong>Lovecraft</strong>’s fondness for <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>vention <strong>of</strong> odd, exotic- or aliensound<strong>in</strong>g<br />

proper names is pursued coherently with his aes<strong>the</strong>tic <strong>of</strong> vagueness <strong>and</strong>, above all, <strong>of</strong><br />

“distanciation”: when a fictional realm displays names as Yuggoth, Thog, Nyarlathotep <strong>and</strong><br />

Azathoth, as those labell<strong>in</strong>g its geography <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong>habitants, <strong>the</strong> ma<strong>in</strong> aes<strong>the</strong>tic impression aroused <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>terpreter is that <strong>of</strong> a pr<strong>of</strong>ound “distanciation” <strong>and</strong> “o<strong>the</strong>rwordl<strong>in</strong>ess”.<br />

References<br />

K<strong>in</strong>g, Stephen. Different Seasons. 1982. Rpt. New York: Signet, 1983.<br />

-----------------. Danse Macabre. London: Warner Books, 1993.<br />

Joshi, S. T. <strong>The</strong> Weird Tale. Aust<strong>in</strong>, TX: University <strong>of</strong> Texas Press, 1990.<br />

--------------. A Subtler Magick: <strong>the</strong> Writ<strong>in</strong>gs <strong>and</strong> Philosophy <strong>of</strong> H. P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>. Gillette, NJ:<br />

Wildside Press, 1999.<br />

--------------. Primal Sources. Essays on H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2003.<br />

Leiber, Fritz. “A Literary Copernicus” (1949). In Peter Cannon (ed.), <strong>Lovecraft</strong> Remembered. Sauk<br />

City, WI: Arkham House, 1998.<br />

Lippi, Giuseppe. “Il Triplice Fasc<strong>in</strong>o di H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>”. In <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>and</strong> Derleth.<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong>, H.P. Selected Letters. A. Derleth <strong>and</strong> D. W<strong>and</strong>rei eds. 5 vols. Sauk City, WI: Arkham<br />

House Publishers, Inc., 1965-1976.<br />

------------------. <strong>The</strong> Dunwich Horror <strong>and</strong> O<strong>the</strong>r Tales. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1984.<br />

------------------. At <strong>the</strong> Mounta<strong>in</strong>s <strong>of</strong> Madness <strong>and</strong> O<strong>the</strong>r Novels. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House,<br />

1985.<br />

------------------. Dagon <strong>and</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r Macabre Tales. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1986.<br />

------------------. <strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu <strong>and</strong> O<strong>the</strong>r Weird Stories. New York, NY: Pengu<strong>in</strong> Books,<br />

1999.<br />

------------------. <strong>The</strong> Dreams <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> Witch House <strong>and</strong> O<strong>the</strong>r Weird Stories. S.T. Joshi ed. London:<br />

Pengu<strong>in</strong> Classics, 2004.<br />

64 Ibid., 388.<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Limits</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>Rationality</strong> Page 19 <strong>of</strong> 20

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<strong>Lovecraft</strong>, H.P., <strong>and</strong> Derleth, August. Il Guardiano della Soglia. Roma: Fanucci Editore, 1977.<br />

<strong>Lovecraft</strong> Studies. West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, <strong>and</strong> New York: Hippocampus Press<br />

(issues 42-43).<br />

Mosig, Dirk Y. “H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>: Myth-Maker” (1976). In S.T. Joshi (ed.), H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>: Four<br />

Decades <strong>of</strong> Criticism. A<strong>the</strong>ns: Ohio University Press, 1980.<br />

Pagetti, Carlo. Cittad<strong>in</strong>i di un Assurdo Universo. Milano: Editrice Nord, 1989.<br />

Abbreviations<br />

COC: H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>, <strong>The</strong> Call <strong>of</strong> Cthulhu <strong>and</strong> O<strong>the</strong>r Weird Stories.<br />

D: H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>, Dagon <strong>and</strong> o<strong>the</strong>r Macabre Tales.<br />

DH: H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>, <strong>The</strong> Dunwich Horror <strong>and</strong> O<strong>the</strong>r Tales.<br />

JHL: John Hay Library, Brown University (Providence, RI, USA).<br />

LS: <strong>Lovecraft</strong> Studies.<br />

MM: H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>, At <strong>the</strong> Mounta<strong>in</strong>s <strong>of</strong> Madness <strong>and</strong> O<strong>the</strong>r Novels.<br />

Ms.: manuscript.<br />

SL: H.P. <strong>Lovecraft</strong>, Selected Letters, 5 vols. In <strong>the</strong> body <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> text <strong>the</strong> follow<strong>in</strong>g system <strong>of</strong><br />

quotation has been adopted: ‘SL, progressive number <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> volume (from I to V), number <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

page(s) <strong>in</strong> which <strong>the</strong> quoted passage is reported’.<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Unnamable</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>Lovecraft</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Limits</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>Rationality</strong> Page 20 <strong>of</strong> 20

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