Reanimating Lovecraft: Racism and Ontological Terror in Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom.

Kumler, David. "Reanimating Lovecraft: Racism and Ontological Terror in Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom.Aeternum: The Journal of Contemporary Gothic Studies, vol. 8, no. 1, 2021, pp. 45-60.

While H. P. Lovecraft is known for pioneering the genre of cosmic horror and for his philosophy of cosmic pessimism, he is also remembered by many for his virulent racism. Contemporary writers of Lovecraftian fiction have often attempted to deal with this mixed legacy by centring concerns about racism within their own work. It is common, however, for writers to treat racism as largely a matter of personal prejudice, which fails to account for the role of race in structuring reality itself and, as a result, misreads the role that racism plays in Lovecraft’s work. This article takes up Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, a work of contemporary Lovecraftian fiction that stands apart in its account of race. By treating racism as not simply a matter of prejudice but, rather, as a persistent structure grounding western rationality, LaValle reveals race to be, itself, a matter of cosmic horror. LaValle’s approach to contemporary Lovecraftian fiction both subverts and extends the project of cosmic horror while delivering a profound critique of both Lovecraft’s racism and the problem of racism more generally.

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