Saturday, 28 August 2010

Does this post remind you of anyone?

What strange and unnatural wonders lurk within the vastness of the World Wide Web, the human mind can only shudder at, and turn away in awe. For to linger, to ponder, to look with full daylight vision upon the immensity - that, truly, is to invite madness. I know, for I have looked and seen. I have offered up my very soul - my words, that is, which are the diaphanous raiment of my soul - to the irrevocable judgement of that stupendous megabrain which few can truly comprehend, and ineluctable Truth has been revealed to me.

It was this afternoon, in a fallow moment, as I picked idly through the rich offerings of my feedreader, that I came upon a post by Longrider. That famous blogger had, by what route I can only guess at (though he claims to have had it from Nourishing Obscurity) been directed towards this presumptuous website, which demands the tribute of a sample of prose and offers, in return, an assessment of its literary resonances. It claims, in short, to tell you who you write like.

Longrider reports that every time he offered up his prose the program responded with the name of a different author. He writes, in the opinion of the machine, like Kurt Vonnegut, like William Gibson, like Arthur C Clarke and like Mario Puzo. Perhaps Longrider is an inconsistent scribbler. But though my scepticism was engaged by the system's inability to provide Longrider with a clear literary model, it would, I reasoned, have been wholly unscientific of me to pass up the opportunity to give it something of my own to chew on. So I tried with one of my most recent posts; and the unholy website informed me that my prose resembles that of an obscure early 20th century horror writer named Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

I was, I confess, disappointed; I had been hoping for Gibbon or, at the very least, Macaulay. So I tried again with a post of which I was inordinately proud. H.P. Lovecraft. Something taken at random from 2007, when the blog was in its first flush of youth. Lovecraft. Something about sex. Lovecraft. Something about Rowan Williams. Lovecraft again.

Every damn piece I entered was allegedly Lovecraftian is style, if not content. But then, needing a control (for by this point I was getting decidedly suspicious) I entered something by another blogger, whose style, I considered, somewhat resembled my own.

David Foster Wallace, spake the oracle.

It was uncanny. Unnerving. Either some improbable statistical fluke was in play, as when a coin tossed twenty times comes up heads without fail, or - and at this a horrid, crepuscular sensation crept upon me like some frightful other-worldly insect - it was true. I gave up. My reason gained its inevitable victory over my self-delusion. It was true. I could no longer deny it. I write like Lovecraft. Perhaps I am Lovecraft, reborn. Or perhaps his undead spirit even now guides my hands from some desolate region beyond the boundaries of time and space.

It is strange, though. I am no Lovecraftian. I pay little attention to the sage of Providence, whose fantastical imaginings have inspired dense pseudo-scholarship and role-playing games, things wholly alien, alas, to my sensibility. I have read his stories rarely and with little enthusiasm. His prose struck me - strikes me still - as overblown and somewhat ridiculous. Cthulhu does not call to me. My sleepless thoughts do not wander through the weird, ghost-haunted streets of Arkham Massachusetts. The Necronomicon remains a closed book. I tremble not at the horrid, illimitable vastness of the spaces between words, where for eons unnameable blasphemous Things have waited in darkness for their hour to come. I prefer Martin Amis.

So whence the Lovecraftian taint? More to the point, can anyone tell me if I really do write like Lovecraft - and, if so, is there anything I can do about it?

I've just sent this post through the system. Ironically, it came out as copybook Tolkein....

Just joking. It was H.P. Bloody Lovecraft again. But at least this time I was ready for it.