One side effect of twentieth century modernity has been the decentering of the human body as a critique of humanism. From Kafka’s vast bureaucracies to Celine’s industrial war machine, this critique has been stripping the human body of its privileged status as (a marker of) the measure of all things. While much of popular culture has continued to operate within the confines of an older humanism, its insistence on individual bodies exercising heroic or tragic agency has rendered it, to its detractors, an escapist response to high culture’s sobering anti-humanism. Some strains of popular culture, however, have worked to translate the larger modernist project into the vernacular of popular genres. Though the murder mystery depends on the bloodied corpse of the victim at its core, the police procedural tends to displace that body in favor of institutional and procedural structures exceeding individual agency (e.g. The Wire). Similarly, the war film has produced an anti-humanist strain in which the soldier’s abject body has been erased, just as human agency has been attenuated, in favor of the elaboration of structures and procedures (Catch-22, Dr. Strangelove). As in the police procedural and the war films, abject bodies are at the heart of the horror genre. As one specific branch of this genre, Lovecraftian horror has been celebrated for its anti-humanist stance (Eugene Thacker, Mark Fisher, Michel Houellebecq). Unlike the police procedural and the war film—both of which struggle with the erasure of the body from their conceptual framework, framing it, tragically or ironically, as the cost of modernity—Lovecraftian horror presents a pop-cultural version of anti-humanism unwilling to make this bargain. Despite the decentering of the human as a broader category in Lovecraft’s work, abject bodies still abound. Assessing Lovecraft’s work in light of this idiosyncrasy is the goal of this presentation.
About the speaker
Steffen Hantke has edited Horror, a special topic issue of Paradoxa (2002), Horror: Creating and Marketing Fear (2004), Caligari’s Heirs: The German Cinema of Fear after 1945 (2007), American Horror Film: The Genre at the Turn of the Millennium (2010), and, with Agnieszka Soltysik-Monnet, War Gothic in Literature and Culture (2016). He is also author of Conspiracy and Paranoia in Contemporary American Literature (1994) and Monsters in the Machine: Science Fiction Film and the Militarization of America after World War II (2016).