Lovecraft's prose is empurpled, histrionic, so over the top that it is therefore perfect for capturing what he sought to capture: the immensities of time and space (especially as compared to our fragile and foreshortened human vistas), the menace of unknowable things lurking in deep places, the folly of dabbling in arcana beyond our ken, the indifference of the universe to the fate of humankind.
The lobster & canary were reminded of how apposite Lovecraftian prose can be while reading the newspaper this Sunday morning. The lead story in the "Week in Review" section of the New York Times is "Lessons from Chernobyl for Japan" by Ellen Barry. (Click here for the full story.) Of course, I am not saying that Ms. Barry has consciously adopted Lovecraftian language to describe the ongoing travails of Chernobyl; she may never have read Lovecraft, for all we know. The point is that some events defy our sense of scale and mock our ability to respond, pushing us to linguistic extremes in our attempts to describe-- with Beckett perhaps representing the absurdist, stripped-down end of the spectrum, and Lovecraft the fevered, rococo opposite. And just as Beckett's mode is part of our linguistic armory-- even for writers who may have never read End Game-- Lovecraft's idiom is likewise a part of our shared toolkit.
From one of the first paragraphs in Barry's report:
"Water cannot be allowed to touch the thing that is deep inside the reactor: about 200 tons of melted nuclear fuel and debris, which burned through the floor and hardened, in one spot, into the shape of an elephant’s foot. This mass remains so highly radioactive that scientists cannot approach it."
These lines could be straight out of "The Dunwich Horror," The Shadow out of Time, or At the Mountains of Madness.
Making this passage all the more eldritch (to use a word so favored by the Gentleman from Providence), the workers at Chernobyl call the structure enveloping the reactor "the sarcophagus."
As Barry notes, a nuclear meltdown "is a problem that does not exist on a human time frame." We are here confronting the mind-breaking trajectories Lovecraft laid out in, for instance, "The Whisperer in Darkness" and "The Color out of Space."
Barry evokes the eerie emptiness of the deserted bedroom community for Chernobyl's workers:
"... wallpaper has slipped down under its own weight and paint has peeled away from apartment walls in fat curls. Ice glazes the interiors. On a residential street, where Soviet housing blocks tower in every direction, it is quiet enough to hear the sound of individual leaves brushing against branches.
The wild world is gradually pressing its way in...[...] ...wild boars and foxes had begun to take shelter in the abandoned city..."
Echoes here of Lovecraft's decaying town of Innsmouth, with a deformed secret at its core, and of other ruins populating his work.
So there dwells a monstrous mass within its hastily erected tomb at Chernobyl, and we face a similar entombment possibly at Fukushima. Like the inhuman Cthulhu dreaming in his stone house, a force manifesting on planes outside those humans readily grasp. Cthulhu, central figure of the Lovecraftian Mythos, whose half-life dwarfs our understanding. As Lovecraft put it, in one of his most famous lines:
"That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die."