I recently listened to your Randolph Carter episode and was hoping to ask you guys to talk a little bit more about the issue of authorial knowledge and character knowledge you brought up in the episode. You talked about how you didn't think that Lovecraft even knew what was down in the tomb and that the story suffered from that. In a certain sense I can understand this because if you, the author, don't know what is going on there is no way to describe it. Lovecraft, however, lives in this realm. His whole modus operandi is talking about horrible monsters that are beyond mortal ken. There must(?) be a real sense in which Lovecraft doesn't know what any of his deities really are. They are metaphysical impossibilities. And yet, this is what Lovecraft is known for, the indescribable, the ineffable.
That being said, I think what my actual question is, why, in a case like this, is it important for the author's knowledge to surpass the characters knowledge. Wolfe, for example, knows more about the world than Severian does, but Wolfe's world is, fundamentally, understandable. It is divinely ordered and metaphysically (and scientifically, for that matter) explicable. Lovecraft's world, however, is not. But this is where the core, I think, of Lovecraft's horror lies. It lies in the fact that his world is fundamentally unknowable and beyond human comprehension, because if one truly unknowable thing exists, then everything is truly unknowable. Thus, Lovecraft is an interesting case because his stories depend on talking about something that really is not understandable by neither him, his characters, nor his readers.
You guys also asked if there was ever a well done story in which both the author and the character had very little knowledge of what was going on. I think that Kafka's stories might fit this description. I don't think, for example, that Kafka knows why Gregor has turned into a big bug, but the story works nonetheless. In fact, I heard that Kafka would write his stories and then take them to people he thought were smarter than him and ask them to tell him what they were about. But in this, both Kafka and Lovecraft are alike. The point of Kafka's stories was the not knowing and the absurdity and existential horror that came out of that unknowability of what the hell was going on.
@brandon.budda, Thanks for the keen remarks. You are right, I think, in that Lovecraft hadn't fleshed out his ideas yet when writing The Statement of Randolph Carter. I was too quick pointing to his Cosmicism.
'Knowing more than your characters' is one of the first lessons in writing class I think (however, experimenting with this notion CAN lead to nice things: Haruki Murakami is known for writing things he himself cannot and will not fully understand).
When I write a story myself, there always are 'creeping things into it' which I didn't foresee and not always understand immediately. Often I think about these things: what are they doing in my tale? sometimes I use such subconscious ideas to further give the tale meaning by enlarging them into a story motiff.
Hey @James Pepe , this is a fantastic question. I'm not sure that it's important that Lovecraft knows why the thing in the tomb is in the tomb in Randolph Carter. I think it's important that he has some idea of what it is in order to convey the sense of cosmic horror or dread in a way that a reader can gnaw on for a little while. He does this excellently, for instance, in The Rats in the Walls, or even in The Festival.
In Kafka's writing (and thanks @brouwpieter for sharpening some of this), we're often given a what without a why and asked to buy in to that world. Kafka makes excellent use of the readers 'suspension of disbelief' where he describes a material world, something multiple characters in the world experience as objective, though maybe beyond understanding, so that the readers have an easier buy in.
If we can take Absurdism as the belief that everything is contingent rather than necessary, something like Metamorphosis takes something we take as necessary to the world and makes it something that could be otherwise. It shifts consciousness to an alien body without the need for the reader to know how the consciousness has grown a new body or been removed from its own body. The story is about the consequences of such a removal.
I'm not sure that Lovecraft has fully worked out his approach to the indifference of the Universe to humankind (either as an individual or a species) as early as Randolph Carter. So his writing feels exploratory to me, rather than edited and fully descriptive. That's not to say there's anything inherently wrong with exploratory writing. However, having something in mind that could contribute to a character losing their mind, their memories, or going otherwise insane from something they encountered, something that could conceivably enter reality as we know it, would serve to sharpen some of Lovecraft's descriptions of the effects of "cosmic horror" on his characters.
In other words, it's important for me to have a sense that the author's knowledge surpasses the character's knowledge of events in a story (whether it does or does not) because I believe it's the author's job to craft an illusion for a reader, the way a magician does for an audience, rather than be entertained by making the illusion itself.
Funny how Kafka again and again pops up when I read and think about weird/Lovecraftian tales. I notice that many Lovecraft fanatics also like Kafka (like myself) and there are lots and lots things written comparing these two writers, while their style of writing and their settings are wildly different.
Of course Lovecraft's philosophical idea of 'comicism' hinges on the idea of the unknowable (in that HUMAN thought cannot understand al that is hidden or not hidden from us in this universe/multiverse or whatever - and that that's ok: 'The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.').
According to Camus, Kafka is really absurdist: the main characters are just accepting the absurd world in which they are living (they are 'absurdist' heroes: accepting the not-knowing or impossible, instead of going insane or commiting 'philosophical suicide', like looking away, ignoring it or believing in some god or such that could explain it).
So, both writers are dealing with the unknowable. But where Lovecraft describes the horror of it, Kafka just writes it down in some fatalist way (not really taking it serious either - he was known to laugh about his own tales) - Kafka is somehow 'beyond' the horror. Of course, the READER may feel horrified by reading Kafka's tales.
Haha, you also should look at this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yg4fze5re_0 (well at least interesting is the notion of Lovecraft looking for the horror in the 'beyond', where Kafka was looking for it in ourselves).