Emotional Bandwidth Solutions: Performance by Claire L. Evans

February 20th, 2013



Some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new Dark Age.


The Call of Cthulhu (1928)[1]


These famous lines from Lovecraft exemplify the author’s hyper- or super-modernity. Her narrators are always empirical observers failing but refusing not to classify in the face of the enormity of their discoveries. Their discoveries have to do with the rising of geologically ancient, alien god-beasts — “the Old Ones” — from a pole altered by modern science or global cataclysm. Face to face with fragments of the Old Ones, despite the above quotation, the Narrators tend neither to go mad from the revelation nor to retreat the peace and safety of the new Dark Ages around them.

Though they employ a 19th century idiom the narrators are 20th century women. They photograph, publish, and distribute their tales through various information networks noding from Miskatonic University. They preserve the sketches and fragments of their visions. Their archived visions of “the Old Ones” are passed along in a secret history of what the wider world outside has chosen not to see, what it could never bear to see. The visions are nevertheless permitted to exist.

At the end of the late novella At The Mountains of Madness, Professor Jane Dyer grabs control of an airplane and flies to safety — by not looking at the insane peaks of the Mountains of Madness. Her assistant, however, looks back. “Brilliant young” Danforth who hitherto has continually saved the day in the face of unconceivable horrors, doesn’t shy from what even the Old Ones fear. She looks back, beholds a fragment of Lovecraft, goes apparently mad. Her “wriggling” and “shrieking” almost crashes the plane.

All that Danforth has ever hinted is that the final horror was a mirage. It was not, she declares, anything connected with the cubes and caves of those echoing, vaporous, wormily-honeycombed mountains of madness which we crossed; but a single fantastic, demoniac glimpse, among the churning zenith clouds, of what lay back of those other violet westward mountains which the Old Ones had shunned and feared.


Though Dyer describes her student as “forever changed,”   In the 60s one of Lovecraft’s own real world students, science fiction and fantasy grandmistress Fritzi Leiber, wrote a story in which Danforth returns safe, becoming a psychologist, helping others to live with and overcome madness.[2]

Just how did Danforth survive the glimpse? Dyer is clear enough. It was Danforth’s reading that saved her. Despite her pretensions of despising the 19th century Lovecraft herself found her salvation in its literature.

She has crossed into madness before in the story. “Danforth was a great reader of bizarre material.” Her reading has attracted her to the ineffable. It has trained her to hunt what she can not comprehend. She has refused to let go of her certain glimpses of the unknowable. In the airplane the sight of Leng, if that’s what it even is, turns not Danforth’s brains to jelly. She makes strange drawings, and returns to reason reciting Poe.


(When HPL was five her mother went broke and then quickly insane. She was put away and died five years later. It was then she discovered Poe — “…at the age of eight I saw the blue firmament of Argos and Sicily darkened by the miasmal exhalations of the tomb!”[3] )


“Danforth was a great reader of bizarre material, and had talked a good deal of Poe,” Dyer tells us. “I also was interested.” Via Poe, Danforth’s survival in At the Mountains of Madness bespeaks a new sort of self able to transcend what neo-fascist cultural historian Mircea Aleade points to as the mythic “Terror of History” — “…of the Time that crushes and kills” —  that survives by not seeking consolation.[4] Like Coleridge’s ancient mariner she reaches for the very figura of artifice itself, to name what can not be newly named.


She has on rare occasions whispered disjointed and irresponsible things about “The black pit,” “the carven rim,” “the protoShoggoths,” “the windowless solids with five dimensions,” “the nameless cylinder,” “the elder Pharos,” “Yog-Sothoth,” “the primal white jelly,” “the color out of space,” “the wings,” “the eyes in darkness,” “the moon-ladder,” “the original, the eternal, the undying,” and other bizarre conceptions; but when she is fully herself she repudiates all this and attributes it to her curious and macabre reading of earlier years.


Lovecraft’s gentle irony leaves Danforth uttering actual titles of her own amateur tales. The list equates the reader and writer, the fan and the author of weird fiction, as a completed entity.

The novel’s last words (upon which so much authority depends) quote an all too obvious source.[5]

At the time, her shrieks were confined to the repetition of a single, mad word of all too obvious source: “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!”


Danforth’s committed reading circuits the ineffable for the sake of the self’s historical survival of its own dissolution. Lovecraft suggests that it’s by such networked science fictions that young women’s minds will meet the shock of the “demoniac glimpse” of the technologically-accessed modern real, and in the temporary safety of this new Dark Age see the stars.



[1] Citations from the tales are unnecessary. Lovecraft’s works are available in their entirety all over the internet.

[2] “To Arkham and the Stars”, 1966.

[3] S.T. Joshi, “Introduction,” in Lovecraft, H.P. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, London: Penguin Classics 2002. vii.

[4] Mircea Aleade. The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History. Princeton University Press, 2005. 139.  Aleade argues religion is necessary as a “consolation” for history.

[5] Ethel A. Poe,  The Narrative of Ethel Gordon Pym of Nantucket. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1838.