Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Meteors, Marx, and Lovecraft

It is seldom that an intersection of meteors, Marx, and Lovecraft occurs. Or maybe not. Ray Huling, recently posted an article on The Escapist titled, "When the Sky Comes out of the Ground" that brings these three things together. For those who have not read it, I suggest you do. Some of the interesting points it makes is that Lovecraft wrote allegories of science, and that by making a recent meteorite impact into something "Lovecraftian," the event has become "unreal." Similarly, he connects Pravda's reporting of the incident with the propagandist version of an allegorical retelling of the event (my words, not his). This links us back to Karl Marx who attempted to reveal the "reality" behind historical progress. Okay, maybe "reality" is too strong of a label; perhaps "truth" is better? I'd imagine Foucault would disagree (I'll not bring him into this).

So now you're probably wondering What is he posting about? The answer is the connection between fiction and history and reality (and I suppose a meteorite). I'll try to make it brief. Marx claimed that history as it had been written was something of a fraud -- it revealed "progress," but the "progress" in reality was submission to a social/economic order. That is oversimplifying Marx, but we don't need to get into a discussion of dialectics. So Pravda comes along, and being a vehicle for the former Soviet Union (a rather unMarxist state), it reveals the "truth." Normally this is done by pointing out flaws and failures and falsehoods in Capitalist states. Or, in other words, telling a "Marxist" allegory about "reality." In case you're wondering where the meteors come in, read about it in Pravda -- the claim is that a meteorite that fell in Peru was a U.S. Spy satellite.

At last, we move Lovecraft, who wrote allegories of science. Although, I'd say he thinly veiled the "science" of his day. He seemed to fear of the degeneration of the human species, which the "science of eugenics" placed at the feet of the interbreeding of various races (think "Aryan" being the superior race of Lovecraft's day, and all others inferior). Eugenics was one of the predominant "sciences" during Lovecraft's life, and perhaps the most lacking in scientific method, study, and data. It was an allegory in itself. This means that Lovecraft was twice removed from the topic he thought to be the "truth." (For those unaware, the United States had a very active eugenics program in the early 20th century).

But what does this have to do with the film The Matrix, you ask? (a very insightful question). What I'm adding to this mix is that the film, The Matrix, used allegory to speak about the "truth," or what the writers deemed the truth. Some people called it propaganda. With its tubes, wires, cables, and tentacled machines, combined with the fear of computers designing "reality," Lovecraft is readily found. And the dominant alienated labor theme brings Marx into the film. But it didn't have a meteorite.

All of this leads to one path, and it is an old one: fact and fiction can be allegorical. Ray Huling makes the point in his article that the materialist roots of Pravda and Lovecraft are now used today to deny reality, rather than reinforce it -- enter The Matrix: it looks real, but it is artificial reality. That is one of the birthmarks of our era (sometimes termed "postmodern"). "Better than real" is the slogan. The simulation is much more entertaining than the real world. In fact, where is there room for "truth" in such a system? Maybe there is only space enough for a "New and Improved Truth." But that implies there once was a Truth.

So was the meteorite in Peru filled with alien space germs? Or was it a spy satellite, poisoning everyone with radiation? Or did the collision send underground toxins into the air, making those in the area sick? I guess we are left to pick our own "truth," and move through our own "reality," sharing it with those who agree. At the very least, we know that fact is sometimes fiction, and fiction is sometimes fact. That has to be comforting in itself.


Charles Gramlich said...

I don't know much about the meteorite but will have to check it out. AS for the Matrix, I think it struck such a chord because there really is a metaphorical truth in it. It's defintely one of my favorite movies.

Jeff Edwards said...

I am not sure if I've ever thought of the Matrix as Lovecraftian. I think of the movie in terms of Buddhism and that's one of the reasons I enjoyed the first film so much.


William Jones said...

Charles - I have seen your point argued many times. It is one of the fundamental theories of fiction - the works connect in some manner with the reader and inspire/invoke emotions.

Jeff - The film certain has Buddhism in it, along with many other elements. Consider "Trinity" as a name, and Neo being a "Christ figure." Trinity is found in room 303, while Neo (respelled ONE) is in room 101. It is a story filled with rebellion, or maybe just simulated rebellion. :)

As for the Lovecraftian connection, it is distant. Other than the tangles of cables and squid-like machines, there is a problem with reality, or the perception of reality, and a worry about the "truth" (very Lovecraftian). But I wouldn't say the film is overtly Lovecraftian. I'd only say that that it perhaps has some cultural inspiration.