“The Universe Doesn’t Care. This Is Not Punishment, But Rather It Is Appreciation…” Celebration, Commiseration and Concern in Providence #10

“I will tell the audient void. . . . I do not recall distinctly when it began, but it was months ago. The general tension was horrible. To a season of political and social upheaval was added a strange and brooding apprehension of hideous physical danger; a danger widespread and all-embracing, such a danger as may be imagined only in the most terrible phantasms of the night.”

- Nyarlathothep, H.P. Lovecraft

In a sense Providence’s tenth issue is about celebration. This being thematically shown in its depictions of ritual, closure and offering or thanks. Further to this the narrative content is in itself also a cause for celebration. One reason being the sense of schadenfreude when Black finally realises just what he has gotten himself into. I understand this may paint me as cruel in some eyes, but Moore also counterpoints this with moments where we also empathise with our perplexed protagonist. When we rejoin him, Black is, at the very least, intellectually besotted with Lovecraft, with whom he appears to be spending much of the winter months. When Lovecraft professes his strong homophobia and antisemitism, I couldn’t help but feel for Black who must have received this bigotry as a double whammy of rejection. Burrows talent for expression is once again exemplary in his portrayal of this exchange.

The sense of overwhelming panic Black experiences towards the issue’s close is also something I cannot help having great sympathy for. Through the closing conversation between Lovecraft and Black, and Black’s desperate letter to Malone, Moore and Burrows cleverly evoke a sense of genuine palpable anxiety. A sensation I often feel. One could argue it is crafted so perfectly that the reader almost has a panic attack themselves. One might forget one is reading a work of fiction as one’s self unites with Black’s in a sense of helpless dread. This of course isn’t the first time we may have experienced such dread. Events in the series’ second, fifth and sixth issues are definite parallels and are just as evocative.

In magic panic or great fear is a route to gnosis or magical consciousness. So in a way it seems quite logical that, much in the same way it had done so in these prior instances, this state of mind is accompanied by Black making contact with some otherworldly agency. Finally aware and fully overwhelmed Black, frozen cannot flee from this intrusion as he has done before. He is quite literally swallowed up. Much like Brears own encounter with Johnny Carcosa in Neonomicon this is depicted as a moment of thanks and celebration. In this instance however Johnny is given to prostrating before Black as much as he was given to revering Brears.

This in itself is a defining quality and therefore an appealing aspect of Moore’s take on the Mythos. As and when humanity makes contact with such eldritch beings in Lovecraft’s original work they are rarely so communicative let alone so accommodating. When such instances do occur they are often a form of obscuration or misdirection. The true aim of which is soon revealed. Randolph Carter’s encounter with Nyarlathothep towards the end of Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, or Wilmarth’s conversation with the supposed Akeley in The Whisperer In Darkness, being examples that immediately spring to mind. In Providence and indeed Neonomicon‘s case we have instances of exposure. Both physically and in terms of plot. If there is any hesitancy or hostility over these proceedings then it is purely on Black’s part.

Another sense of celebration is found in this issue when we finally realise the fate of Black’s commonplace book. His various encounters, meditations and musings thereupon are to provide Lovecraft with the inspiration for his near entire body of work. True this accentuates the sense of unoriginality or plagiarism often leveled at Lovecraft, but this is purely within the frame of Alan Moore’s hyperreal take on Yog Sothothery. Indeed, by doing so he cements the idea of Lovecraft translating very real events and also validates the prophecy of the Messenger and the Redeemer, with Black’s journal being quite literally the message. By clothing these events in fiction Lovecraft will actually guarantee them a greater power and endurance than if they were taken as fact. What is interesting to note is that the reader, or at least the reader familiar with Lovecraft, shares the exultation of the shadowy otherworldly beings and their agents more than we sympathize with our perpetually tortured protagonist.

Speaking of Black, recently I had been reading fellow Sequart contributor Greg Carpenter’s book The British Invasion. Within the pages of this wholly entertaining and worthwhile read it is revealed that Neonomicon was originally only written to pay off a tax bill. At first I was saddened that a work I enjoyed and admired could perhaps be seen as a throwaway piece. To be fair however Neonomicon is a pretty sick little book. At a glance it appears to be some simple narrative dressing and amusing conceits to frame some pretty repugnant sexual violence (comparisons with The Killing Joke are made at the reader’s discretion and/or indulgence). Providence however seems to be Moore’s attempt to really contribute something to the Mythos. In a way Moore’s role as a writer mirrors the journey of Black. Black leaves a place wherein he writes merely to pay the bills and embarks on a journey that will hopefully result in a masterpiece.

Finally we have another blink and you miss it reveal or piece of subtext. Previously I had written about the potential for Moore to redefine the role of the feminine within the Mythos. With the (re)appearance of Johnny Carcosa’s mother in recent issues and her central role to some kind of rite in this issue, the suggestion is that she holds a very high office in some form of the Stella Sapiente. If not the highest. Indeed while it’s slightly more patriarchal branches of both low and high standing seem only to bring forth conduits or vessels, she has borne a god.

Beyond the legacy of the writing of Lovecraft, and it’s adherents, nothing much is seen in the Courtyard and Neonomicon of the results of the more patriarchal branches’ work. If anything their lofty intellectual pursuits would appear to decay into nothing more than a group of subterranean swingers. Johnny, and his mother for a time, continue to endure having influences of their own. One could argue that Brears’ pregnancy is the result of the more patriarchal branches influence. However this would appear to be more accident rather than design. Furthermore she seems to be striking out alone with Johnny’s blessing. So in a way, pending any further sequels, which with Moore’s imminent retirement seem unlikely, the feminine is triumphant.

Sadly, in our world this does not appear to the case. Providence, and these articles on it were written almost in tandem with the United States Presidential campaign. I’m sure I have alluded to or explicitly mentioned the darkness we potentially faced. I’m certain I quoted Lovecraft discussing the potential of a new dark age. Naively certain that such a thing could not happen. Indeed when I first began drafting this particular article the election itself seemed a long way off. I myself seemed confident that decency and sanity would prevail. That however has not been the case. We are slowly tumbling into a world of tangible darkness, the most unacceptable type of madness. The antisemitism, homophobia and racism we had previously condemned in Lovecraft now seems a perfectly reasonable outlook for a sadly all too significant proportion of the population. One can’t help but wonder how Lovecraft would view the modern socio-political landscape? Would he, being contemporaneous, view it with a certain jaded horror or would his more problematic characteristics feel a certain sense of vindication?

Though it is not entirely clear there is a light through all this mire, and though we feel it we are not alone. However, a great many of us are as shaken and as traumatized as Black himself. Just when we feel we have had our fill of horror a new day brings a new transgression against not ourselves and our loved ones but all other lovers of beauty and of freedom. Black’s realisation, and no doubt eventual demise in the next few issues, now carry less a sense of schadenfreude and more a sense of being an analogy of our own.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Having spent his college years filling his head with the eccentricities reading The Invisibles would David Whittaker is perpetually amazed and grateful for the chance Sequart gave him. He views his contributing role as the opportunity to nurture and hone his craft while celebrating the comic medium and sharing it's interpretation and importance. To that end he ensures its endurance by sharing his love of this unique marriage of art and literature not only with anyone willing to read his work but also with his nine year old daughter and three year old nephew.

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5 Comments

  1. It’s interesting. I never really hated or even so much as disliked Robert Black. The truth is, a lot of the selfish, ugly things he’s done are pretty much the same thing that every other human being — in some way — has also done at some point in their lives. Even his most scathing, cruel thoughts are simply written away in his Commonplace Book. I’m not excusing them. What happened with Lily was awful and even he knew that, but there were other social homophobic factors in what went down.

    The horrible irony is that what happened to Lily was just one more spur to get him to leave a job he very clearly hated: that otherwise maintained his income. Black never sought to become a novelist for the money. The money would have been nice, but I think deep down he wanted to do something great. He sought something. Obviously not just for his lost love that he betrayed, but because something in him called to it.

    And unfortunately for him, it answered.

    His final meeting with Lovecraft was brutal for two reasons. First, the revelation that this intellect he respected and nearly worshiped was an antisemite and a homophobe. But the second was that he, and in some cases we as the reader-audience, were lulled into this false sense of security and warm camaraderie in Providence and the world, only to have that sense of anxiety and horror slowly ooze in when Black realized that his hallucinations or psychological manifestations had actually happened. That sickening, clammy, palpitating feeling is all too familiar and you describe it well David,

    Also I also got the feeling that The Courtyard and in particular Neonomicon are of a different quality than Providence. The Courtyard was a prose story adapted from Moore by Antony Johnston and then of course Jacen Burrows. Neonomicon … did feel almost tacked on and with spectacle, though I do think its horror has some merit while it also feeds into Moore’s need to use rape as a plot device of said horror: a sense of violation of which Providence is definitely not immune.

    But Providence has so much research behind it. So much attention to period detail. I remember when in one of the previous issues, Moore talked about then-governor Coolidge and how he took advantage of civil disorder caused by a strike by an attempt at a police union and the resulting chaos of calling in the National Guard to propel himself towards the Presidency. It’s not so much prophetic when you look at the States now in 2016 as it’s, unfortunately, a timeless issue with humanity.

    And then there is another thought I want to end with while I still remember. Alan Moore wrote an introduction to The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft where he argued that Lovecraft’s horror tapped into America’s own socio-political horror of the unknown personified by racism, misogyny, and homophobia: how Lovecraft was just one of those sensitive to the undercurrents of the darkest part of America’s heart and even, through his writings, personified it for a time. And looking at contemporary times, I can see that nothing has really changed. It’s just timeless all over again. The sad thing is, honestly? Moore actually makes you sympathize and empathize with the Lovecraftian, with much of the non-human, more than humanity in this story. I really felt like Carcossa truly was rewarding him and appreciative of his efforts.

    I do wonder if that old woman is Carcossa’s mother and if he is a child of Nyralathothep or the Dark Man himself … or just a character from the King in Yellow mythos. So many thoughts. I think I will end them here for now. I look forward to Issue #11 coming soon and your thoughts on it.

    • Matt,
      Wonderful. Thank you.
      Part of my initial enjoyment of Providence was Black’s journey towards his inevitable comeuppance. This I have to say in hindsight was born of a judgement from a modern and more liberal outlook, where the things Black feels shame for and must hide are more widely accepted. Lovecraft’s antisemitism, homophobia and racism were taken as a quaint, eccentric given of the past without thinking of the wider implications to someone living in such times. Suddenly finding myself in a world where this seems to be a proudly flaunted norm makes me feel incredibly naïve.
      I feel like I am repeating myself but in the end Lovecraft was right. All the hedonic liberalism of my youth, that I was certain would be the norm for a new millennium only fuelled a reactionary movement that seems to have viewed it all as terrifying vista and has plunged us into a new dark age.
      Looking back over the magical texts of Peter Carroll for example, who describes the then dawning fifth aeon as either being set among the stars or in the ruins. Up till so recently I thought we were headed for the stars. I laugh now at such naivete, as a defence against the impending gloom. Naivete that Carroll, Lovecraft and even Nietzsche with his eternal recurrence -akin to your timelessness no doubt- seem to be mocking too.
      I’m not saying were headed to bleakness, its just the cyclical nature of things. “They” will always shit on “Us”. The difference is how brazen they are about it and how much we inevitably bite back. In a way we live in a state of perpetual quantum uncertainty. My resident nation is headed for Brexit though no-one seems to know quite what that means or how we will get there. While the state vector collapse that is the USA’s hinges on recounts/auditing and/or the electoral college, with Trump filling his dwindling coffers regardless.

      • I think that, in some ways, we are all Robert Black. We have internalized some social mores and unspoken assumptions, and we have taken our current paradigm for granted. All the time we laughed at Black, pitied, or even shouted at what we thought was his selfishness, or stupidity feels like a form of projection. He is a man, or was a man, in conflict with himself based on where he was and what he was doing.

        You can definitely apply that to the current clime developing. I was definitely more in line with laughing at naivety when I was younger and thinking it is all going to darkness anyway. However, now, I would say that if you want progress you need to keep at it and you need to do so not only through words, but through actions. With us, or least myself, it’s words that are my actions and I admit they aren’t much.

        Still, maybe that’s what Robert was thinking on some level. That his words could be, in some part, his actions to make up for what happened with Lily and to say something about his time as well as the gay community or subculture that existed back then. Marblehead was supposed to be a thin-veiled reference to the gay subculture of that time using the metaphor of ancient traditions and cultures which the protagonist was supposed to explore. But Robert found many of these metaphors to be truths in a very hard way.

        How many times does someone justify something horrible and explicable to themselves through rationalizations? Part of it is Lovecraftian narrative tradition, but it’s human nature. Human nature is Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, or at least you can argue that point.

        At one point on a website called Facts in the Case of Alan Moore’s Providence, I even wrote a post wondering just what Black’s Marblehead would have been like before Carcosa and the madness found him: what he could have done to make up for his own ignorance and fear: if he could have provided some hope and another place, even hidden, for people like him to feel represented or to know that someone out there gets what it feels like to be afraid and not feel alone.

        It turns out, I have so many thoughts on this comic and it brings out so many more.

  2. I’m often lurking over at Facts and have dropped links to it a few times in this series of articles. Could you point me the way towards your Marbleheads post?

    The way I figure it, the best way to navigate this uncertain future is to grow even deeper grass roots. The larger stages and theatres are not for us at the moment, except perhaps to remind “them” we aren’t quite all gone yet, and to let history know that such things were not unopposed.

    Have you read the Illuminatus Trilogy? If there is one good thing that can come out of the current climate it’s that that book has become incredibly relevant again. Particularly the appendix that deals with the cycles of time.

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