What’s in a Name?: H.P. Lovecraft, Unnameable Horror, and Fear of the Unknown
Naming is power. Most schoolchildren know the faerytale “Rumpelstiltskin,” in which the queen is able to break Rumpelstiltskin’s power over her when she discovers his true name. In folklore, learning a demon’s true name gives one power over them, but one should never speak a faery’s true name lest they be offended. When we can name something, we can define, trammel, and control it. Conversely, when we cannot name something, it becomes not only unnameable but unknown.
In his famous essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” H. P. Lovecraft says, ‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” His short story “The Unnameable” encapsulates this idea. However, it is a theme Lovecraft explored in other works and which even appears in the unpronounceable names he assigned to the figures in his Cthulhu Mythos.
In this Olio we will not only discuss how Lovecraft incorporated the unnameable in his own work, but also how his conception of horror as the unnameable influenced other writers such as Stephen King and how it persists in the horror genre to this day. Additionally, I plan to touch on the different ways that various incarnations of the “unnameable” (such as women, sex, racial/cultural differences, Queerness, etc.) have been treated as sources of horror in Lovecraft’s and other’s works.
Join us at Lovecraft’s in the East Village to celebrate the release of Narragansett’s Unnameable Black Lager and all things horror!
Teacher: Jaime Weida
Jaime Weida is an Assistant Professor in the English department at Borough of Manhattan Community College where she teaches courses on Science Fiction, Queer Literature, Women in Literature and Shakespeare. She earned her PhD on science and mythology in modern literature at the graduate Center and also holds a masters degree in physics and a BA in astrophysics.
Two complimentary beers provided by Narragansett! $15
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