S. T. Joshi Pulls Out of NecronomiCon to Avoid "Lovecraft Haters" and Discussion of Lovecraft's Racism
As many of you know, fans of H. P. Lovecraft gather each summer for a Providence, R.I. conference called NecronomiCon, named of course for the fictional Necronomicon, one of Lovecraft’s most famous creations. This year the run up to the conference has gotten a little hairy. S. T. Joshi, the preeminent scholar of Lovecraft, pulled out of the conference because he refused to appear in the same venue with people he describes as “Lovecraft haters” who want to devote time to evaluating the horror master’s record of racism. Joshi delivered an ultimatum, telling conference organizers to disinvite critics or lose him as a speaker. In such a context, his joke in his August 6 blog entry that questioning his opinions was tantamount to sacrilege—“Imagine anyone questioning my view of Lovecraft! The very idea is surely a kind of lèse-majesté, no?”—seems less like self-deprecating humor than a serious opinion masquerading as a barbed jest.
Conference organizers chose to lose Joshi as a speaker. They put out a statement on Facebook explaining the decision: “While we have no interest in promoting discussions that are unnecessarily negative, of Lovecraft or of any subject matter, we will always welcome critical discussion. So long as they do not serve to make others feel unwelcome or threatened and stifle other voices, we feel civil discourse is the only sensible approach.”
Joshi replied in a statement released to his online fan community (who knew there was such a thing?) that involved bizarre personal attacks against a number of individuals, beginning with Niels-Viggo Hobbs, the organizer of NecronomiCon, and extending to author Daniel José Older, one of the leaders of the charge a few years ago to remove Lovecraft’s image from the World Fantasy Award due to his racist writings, a move that Joshi loudly opposed at the time. This week Joshi had this to say:
[Hobbs] probably does not want this known, but prior to the 2015 convention he actually invited the odious Daniel José Older to participate in the convention. Imagine! This is pretty much like inviting the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan to an NAACP meeting. No doubt Niels would disingenuously say, “Oh, well, let’s give all sides of an issue a hearing.” But does anyone really believe that Older has anything intelligent or interesting to say about Lovecraft, or that he would use his appearance to do anything except make a spectacle of himself and kick Lovecraft in the pants? Or perhaps it is the case that Niels actually agrees with Older (and the many who think like him), and thinks of Lovecraft as nothing more than a “vicious racist”—and, presumably, a terrible writer.
Just consider for a moment the intemperate language Joshi uses to discredit the undeniable. H. P. Lovecraft was a racist. Lovecraft himself did not hide this fact and was in fact proud of it. Joshi himself wrote once that “There is no denying the reality of Lovecraft’s racism…”, so it seems quite odd that his private behavior and published discussions are at such odds with one another, seeming to formally understand the necessity of evaluating Lovecraft’s racism in his publications but acting informally as though it were an irrelevancy whenever it impinges on hagiography and the cult of personality he has tried to establish for Lovecraft, and of which he has appointed himself high priest.
(Disclosure: S. T. Joshi has cited my work and even provided my publisher with the title of my book The Cult of Alien Gods. He was friendly to me until I asked him for help connecting with publishers to place some of my analysis of Lovecraft and weird fiction, at which point, perhaps because I would have been seen as a rival rather than a supplement, he stopped speaking to me.)
Joshi went on to complain about the presence of weird fiction writer Scott Nicolay, whom he denounced as a “Lovecraft hater par excellence,” presumably because he participated in past NecronomiCon panels on Lovecraft and racism and also called for Lovecraft to be replaced as the face of the World Fantasy Awards. In his interviews, Nicolay has praised Lovecraft’s work and cited it as his entry point into weird fiction: “I still return to ‘The Dunwich Horror’ year after year. […] Lovecraft became the first writer whose works I sought out by name.” That doesn’t sound like a “hater” to me.
Joshi also attacked the conference itself as being beneath the time and talent of a great man such as himself: “But the fact of the matter is that this convention is small potatoes. It really makes very little difference who attends or what is said there. The course of Lovecraft studies will not be affected in the slightest by this event. […] I will be in Providence and expect to have a fine time there with a small number of people whom I like and admire.”
The whole thing is clearly fallout from Joshi’s upset at the World Fantasy Award choosing another statuette a few years ago. The language is almost identical. At the time, he complained about many of the same people, blasting one author after another who he said expresses respect for the Cthulhu Mythos or uses elements of Lovecraft’s fictional universe and then “turns around and kicks Lovecraft figuratively in the posterior” by refusing to join his cult of personality. I’m not sure what the repeated image of ass-kicking implies, but Joshi loves Lovecraft with the simple adoration of the child for whom Daddy can do no wrong, and he seems uncomfortable with others recognizing that Daddy is just a man of flesh and blood, not a superhero and a saint.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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