Cosmicism and what does it all mean Elwood?
Clearly Lovecraft’s cosmic horror and weird tales have had a far reaching influence and appeal with modern audiences — the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival now in its 21st year is a physical manifestation of that appeal. But why is that?
Lovecraft’s philosophy of cosmicism centers around the tenet that there is no recognizable divine presence in the cosmos, and that humans are insignificant in the unknowing and uncaring reaches of intergalactic space. Yet this festival attracts an audience of seemingly polar opposites (Christian & Satanist, liberal & conservative, gay & straight, etc.) who might be philosophically incompatible with this. How is it that Lovecraft’s work acts as a catalyst bringing together such seemingly diametrically diverse individuals? This has fascinated me over the last 21 years of the festival.
One might view Lovecraft’s cosmicism as simply the cherry on top of the 1920’s nihilist zeitgeist sundae when seeing Lovecraft’s rumination, “The human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure ‘Victorian fictions’. Only egotism exists.” This idea is clearly not a new one and strongly echoes, for me, the sentiments of the poem “Ozymandias” by Shelley.
Given all of this, you might conclude upon casual inspection that Lovecraft would be cold and unfeeling to his fellow man. This is not the case as Lovecraft was gregarious (even with women), traveled to visit friends, and was generous in helping many young writers of his day. More clearly in 1936 he had this to say, “I used to be a hide-bound Tory simply for traditional and antiquarian reasons — and because I had never done any real thinking on civics and industry and the future. The depression — and its concomitant publicisation of industrial, financial, and governmental problems — jolted me out of my lethargy and led me to reëxamine the facts of history in the light unsentimental scientific analysis; and it was not long before I realized what an ass I had been. The liberals at whom I used to laugh were the ones who were right — for they were living in the present while I had been living in the past. They had been using science while I had been using romantic antiquarianism. At last I began to recognise something of the way in which capitalism works — always piling up concentrated wealth and impoverishing the bulk of the population until the strain becomes so intolerable as to force artificial reform.” What! Lovecraft was evolving into some form of socialist near the end of his life! The more I learn about Lovecraft the more interesting and complex a human being I find him to be.
So what does it all mean, Elwood? Perhaps cosmicism is just a way of celebrating our own humanity, brief though it may be. Perhaps the realization that we are insignificant will make us all be more sympathetic and tolerant to our fellow man. Perhaps people are just not wearing enough hats! What do I know? I am just another collection of atoms. Talk to the esteemed S.T. Joshi for a more learned and scholarly view, or read his multi-volume series I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft.
So let’s raise a glass to the HPLFF (now that it is old enough to drink) and celebrate an event that has enabled us all to be together under one cosmic roof. Viel Glück, meine Freunde, auch wenn Sie nur ein Sandkorn im kosmischen Ozean sind!
About the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival®
The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival ® & CthulhuCon™ promotes cosmic horror, and weird tales through cinematic adaptations by professional and independent filmmakers, as well as special events, author readings & signings, panel discussions, musical performances, and much more. The festival was founded in 1995 by Andrew Migliore in the hope that H.P. Lovecraft would be rightly recognized as a master of gothic horror and his work more faithfully adapted to film and television. American author H.P. Lovecraft is known for his sub-genre of horror science fiction that emphasizes cosmic horror: a combination of the fear of the unknown, and the realization of man’s insignificance with respect to the cosmos. Fritz Leiber called Lovecraft “a literary Copernicus” because Lovecraft shifted the orientation of horror away from man and his little world to the cosmos.
About the Author
Andrew Migliore is author of Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft and founder (and the original director for 15 years) of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival® and CthulhuCon™. During daylight hours he is Vice President of Engineering.