Mocktober: A literary appreciation of the subliminal and sublime
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should venture far.”
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulu
Lovecraft was a teetotaler who did most of his writing in the 1920s, publishing for the most part in the aptly named pulp magazine Weird Tales. He was pen pals with Robert E. Howard, the guy who created Conan the Barbarian.
Lovecraft’s stories typically dealt with strange, malevolent trans-dimensional beings who manifested themselves on the Earthly plane by means of metaphysical transubstantiation: Ancient sunken idols come to life and rise out of the sea to smite puny men, or grisly alien creatures crossbreed with degenerate rustics to create unholy hybrids with evil plans. The narrator has often barely escaped madness after witnessing horrific events and tells his tale as a warning to those who would plumb the depths of consciousness or seek knowledge of occult realms. Lovecraft did his best to make his readers afraid of their own shadows, in other words, and he often succeeded. Of course there are those who think he wasn’t just kidding around.
So here’s a tip of the glass to old Howard Philips Lovecraft, the master craftsman of Mocktober literature. Long may his tentacles wave.
“I mean, after all; you have to consider we’re only made out of dust. That’s admittedly not much to go on and we shouldn’t forget that. But even considering, I mean its sort of a bad beginning, we’re not doing too bad. So I personally have faith that even in this lousy situation we’re faced with we can make it. You get me?”
—Philip K. Dick, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
Dick was a science-fiction writer who wrote some of the greatest novels of the ‘60s while gobbling prescription amphetamines and living in nearly abject poverty in the Bay Area. Fairly late in his career he had either a temporal lobe stroke, a post-dental surgery painkiller-induced hallucination, or a genuine religious experience that he spent the rest of his life trying to explain to himself in rational terms.
Part of his experience involved encounters with an entity he referred to as VALIS, Vast Active Living Intelligence System, and also as Zebra because he believed that this entity manifested itself through nearly subliminal manifestations in what he called the trash strata. To Dick’s way of thinking and perceiving, God or VALIS or Zebra would be most likely to manifest itself to the human psyche through the arrangement of seemingly random events and elements in the mundane surroundings of the workaday world. In Dick’s world, the challenge for the average citizen is sorting out which events are actually random and which are manifestations of a cosmic intelligence trying to forge a communicative link with human awareness. If there is a better Mocktober day activity, Culture Vulture doesn’t know what it is.