This book is a translation into Japanese of H.P. Lovecraft: Contre le monde, contre la vie, the French author Michel Houellebecq’s critical biography of the American science-fiction horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The writer, Houellebecq, has published a number of controversial works, including Platform (2001), a novel dealing with sex tourism. More recently, his novel Submission (2015) has garnered much attention, with a near-future setting in which an Islamic regime has arisen in France. Meanwhile, one could describe him as a writer whose speech and conduct, such as his repeated criticism of Islam, are problematic. The first edition of H.P.Lovecraft: Contre le monde, contre la vie was published in 1991, making it Houellebecq’s first book. Many works by Lovecraft, the subject of this critical biography, have been translated into Japanese, so there may be some among you who have heard the name, or who have even read his work.
The first section of the book begins with the words, “Life is disappointing and full of misery. It would be pointless, then, to write more realist novels. In general, we know already what we have to endure in reality, and have little desire to learn any more of humanity.” Taking the “moderate” view of literature as being that, with novels or other forms of literature, it is important to approach the reality of life and portray it as compellingly or realistically as possible, then Houellebecq has expressed a position in diametric opposition to this right from the start. According to him, “When one loves life, one doesn’t read… access to the artistic universe is more or less reserved for those who are a little tired of life.” From such a starting point, Houellebecq’s description follows the creative secrets of Lovecraft as he “plays the role of the loser every time” in life, and goes on to construct wonderfully imaginative nightmare worlds, and mythical worlds inhabited by monsters that transcend humanity.
There may be many readers who would disagree with Houellebecq’s position. Stephen King, who has written an introduction for the book, also questions whether life is really “disappointing and full of misery,” and “Lovecraft’s supposed disinterest in sex and dismissal of Freud.” One might notice, in the first place, the paradox of the book itself taking the critical biography form to depict Lovecraft’s “life.” But, this example included, the book can be described as offering many (sometimes provocative) openings for a reconsideration of the relationship between art and “life,” or the “world.”
(Written by HOSHINO Moriyuki, Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences / 2019)