‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’
This opening sentence from H.P. Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature almost sounds like a decree, echoing through everything else that he said. It encapsulates his relentless style, relishing human vulnerability, overwhelming emotional nuance with a scrutinising gaze while invoking the primordial to deny any hope of contradiction. It is perhaps telling that fear and not desire, for instance, is identified as mankind’s seminal emotion. Or if not desire, then why not ecstasy as Arthur Machen might have suggested?
Alan Moore’s Providence is an exploration of the modern mythologies of fear, tracing its many apparitions in the lineaments of Lovecraft’s vision. It is a subterranean voice reverberating through endless tunnels. It is Lovecraft’s imagined Looking Glass. Behind the distorting mirror the cosmos yawns, populated by Science’s nightmares, promising infinite fascination. It’s the fascination of the child who braves the cold to wonder at the stars. For the fear that permeates Lovecraft’s writing is not simply dread but is compelled by this fascination. Providence captures the perversity at the heart of Lovecraft; the fact that there is a suggestion of seduction and pleasure in unearthing the forbidden, of being led inexorably into unreason, descending the revelatory spiral to finally commune with and be unhinged by alien intelligences deep below.
A subterranean body stirs. After his lover’s suicide a reluctant hero sets out on a journey, however is he a detective or a somnambulist, a self-hypnotist perpetually returning to or searching for the scene of a crime? Yet what kind of crime could have been committed? A book threatens to be written. Secret societies linger like dormant contagions. Corrupted lineages hint at impossible couplings and births. Boundaries are unwittingly trespassed upon. Taboo and Transgression, the thresholds of both gods and demons haunt the margins of the protagonist’s initiation.
Is it a dream of finding love that lures our protagonist into his own Underworld again and again, descending the cellar stairs as in a recurring nightmare to speak with the custodians of the outer thresholds? Is it love that he hopes to salvage from fear, and through fascination transform fear into love, and death into life, in an act of forbidden alchemy, a homosexual twinning and doubling? We find a double of the waking world in dream’s mirror. The Other distorted within the glass. And what if we find that the mirror turns and keeps turning back and forth? Providence itself is a dreamt double of Lovecraft’s vision, refracting through geometries of alien memory, opening up ironic parallels and cosmic ironies. Space is folded by analogy, the chapel on the horizon suddenly encroaches and the dimensions of memory are warped. A star has fallen and contaminated the land.
Providence is also the memory of a land imagined and dreamed. Providence is the mapping of a myth … the geology of accursed and hidden strata. A land imagined as nightmare. This nightmare, this unease is traced in the land’s history, the lacunae and concealed ancestries of a space, of trees branching into mutations, hybrid embryos stirring in the fruit of the boughs, roots writhing beneath our feet. Here Lovecraft’s women are bestial creatures stalking caverns. Here witches cradle infant familiars and inhuman intelligences are accidentally awakened. Yet the bestial in that land is a sign of something returning; an atavistic remembering where fear can become a form of knowledge … of gnosis … of finding in fear’s heart a secret fascination; a mirror that turns from dream into waking if we dare touch it, for in dream the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is love, and the oldest and most secret kind of love is love of the Other.
This text copyright 2017 Stephen J. Clark