Flotsam: A Hodgepodge Ending in Lovecraft

1. I try to hunt up simple, straightforward points where ideas make contact with reality in order to judge their truth or falseness. Preferably reality I can see for myself, or which is at least clear and concrete enough to be resistant to rhetoric.

For instance, a question that occurred to me this week: has anyone ever successfully bred a given species to the point where the new breed is unable to sire fertile offspring with the original branch, but can sire fertile offspring in its own, new branch?

If yes, then natural selection is a viable way to bring about new species, at least in principle. If no, then it isn’t and the theory of natural-selection driven macro-evolution is simply false whatever else may be said of it.

I would legitimately like to know which is the case, though I strongly suspect that if this had ever happened, the newly-created species would be as famous and talked about as Dolly the sheep. Still, I’m not well-versed in scientific literature, so it might be so.

2. Another example: What is the Earth’s climate *supposed* to be like at the moment, and how did you determine this?

3. Something occurred to me the other day:

You have a wheelchair-bound old man who, through cunning, high-position, and unscrupulousness takes advantage of the desperation and fear of people facing hard times in order to seize control of more and more of the community and ultimately re-make it in his own image. While those fighting against him use local institutions, relationships, and entrepreneurial spirit to prove they don’t need his ‘help’.

Is Mr. Potter a caricature of FDR?!

(Seriously, I highly doubt it, though both Capra and Stewart were conservatives. Especially since Potter being in a wheelchair was only due to the arthritis-stricken Lionel Barrymore being cast in the role. Still, I can’t help finding the parallels amusing)

4. Something to keep in mind when discussing how and why a given piece of work appeals to someone or doesn’t, why it’s popular or not, is that there are two sides of the equation: the content of the work and state of the audience. It’s a question of harmonizing the composition of the work with the composition of the reader / viewer: almost like getting medicine right, where you have to make sure the chemical composition of the medicine interacts with the chemical composition of the body in such a way that it will do what it’s supposed to do in most cases (though it will almost certainly not interact the same way in all cases, because everyone has different factors going into their bodily composition, which is why we have government-mandated legal shields rigorous long-term testing).

Anyway, whether a given story ‘hits a note’ with people is dependent, in part, on what the people themselves bring to the table. Something to keep in mind while writing: what kind of person would this story appeal to? What ‘elements’ are your trying to react with in a person?

5. This is also why some stories are gigantic hits when they first come out and then fade to obscurity or become punchlines later on. Their success was not due primarily to whatever merits they have as stories, but due to the surrounding cultural or social factors present in the audience. The Billy Jack films are a good example of this, becoming massive hits at the time by tapping in the youth zeitgeist of the moment, while now they’re almost forgotten because that particular geist ist abgefahren.

I think you can tell what this means for much of today’s film woke, even those that make money.

6. I think I’ve said this at some point, but any list of the greatest American writers that does not include H.P. Lovecraft is immediately suspect. Not just for his drippingly-rich prose and titanic imagination, but also just in terms of sheer influence. When you look at science-fiction horror stories that have had any kind of impact, you can see Lovecraft’s fingerprints everywhere (Alien, the works of John Carpenter, Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead, Half-Life, etc.).

The only branch of that particular tree that really evades it (sometimes) would be cyber-horror, like The Terminator (though it would not at all surprise me to find a Lovecraftian ancestor there as well). Lovecraft’s general approach is “some ancient, almost-forgotten nightmare is uncovered in the modern, scientific world, exposing an entirely new and horrible understanding of reality”. ‘Cyber-horror’ is more “we’ve created something brand new…and it’s far worse than anything that’s come before.” Past-focused versus future focused.

7. I’ve even heard rumors – though I haven’t yet been able to confirm it – that Prof. Tolkien himself was an admirer of Lovecraft’s work, and that his influence even found its way into Middle Earth: e.g. the ‘nameless things’ that gnaw the Earth in the deep places, of which Gandalf will ‘bring back no word of them to darken the light of day.’ Creatures like Shelob and Ungoliant also have a Lovecraftian tone to them, in their weird, ancient, utterly destructive and almost otherworldly nature.

I would like to find out for sure whether it’s true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me much.

2 thoughts on “Flotsam: A Hodgepodge Ending in Lovecraft

  1. Actually, the proper question in 1 is a good deal more basic than that. What you should be asking is, “Do we even have a rigorous definition of ‘species’ – or, more generally, ‘taxon’?” Because evolution is supposed to be a theory about how there came to be a diversity of species in the world; obviously, if we haven’t yet defined the fact, we can’t properly theorize about the origin. (And interfertility, while it may provide a hint as to the proper definition, can’t be the essence of the thing itself, unless we’re prepared to say that the concept of taxa doesn’t apply to bacteria.)

    The trouble, of course, is that any such definition would require, at minimum, a general understanding of how nucleotide sequences correspond to protein structures, so as to be able to determine a priori which gene sequences couldn’t co-exist in the same undifferentiated life-form. And, unless something truly revolutionary has happened since I last checked, we, the human race, do not presently have such a general understanding. (Which makes it feel rather surreal to watch people talking about being on “the cutting edge of biotech” or whatever. I suppose I should be used by now to people breathlessly claiming revolutionary expertise in a field about which neither they nor anyone else on Earth knows the literal first thing, but the fact is that it never ceases to astonish me – and, I might add, rather to unsettle me as well. It’s like watching someone who’s never read Euclid try to project something into n-dimensional space; you can’t help feeling that, if his whole neighborhood isn’t devoured by the Great Old Ones, it’ll be a mercy beyond any of our deserts.)

    (Which leads me neatly to the other comment I wanted to make. Would it amuse you very much to know that, when I saw the title of this post, my first reaction was, “I wonder which Lovecraft story he thought had a hodgepodge ending”?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • You mean to say that certain people claim expertise in knowledge that the human race doesn’t actually posses yet? I am shocked. Shocked!

      Excellent points, much appreciated, especially the one regarding how little we actually know about the relation of the genome to the creature as a whole.

      I selected the question I did mostly because it’s easy to grasp even for a layman and nicely binary: “Eventually, diverging species won’t be able to reproduce together, so if a species – whatever that means – is in fact diverging then at some point the child group should stop being able to have fertile offspring with the parent group while still being able to reproduce itself. Has this ever been shown to happen?”

      There are other problems that are much more objectively damning, not to mention your point about the whole question being underdefined, but I wanted something simple and clear that doesn’t require any scientific training to understand. Non-scientific types are liable to not see the problem with ‘so what *is* a species?’ or even to deny that the question isn’t answered (probably fall back on “well, I can’t define it, but scientists surely can!”).

      (Well, ‘Rats in the Walls’ kind of ends in a hodgepodge of insane ramblings: “Shall a Norrys hold the lands of a de la Poer…It’s voodoo, I tell you…that spotted snake…”)


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