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The Horrors of the Oriental Space and Language in H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

Steffen Wöll EMAIL logo

Abstract

In H.P. Lovecraft’s horror novella “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (1936), the incursions of ‘exotic’ cultural and religious practices result in an isolated New England community’s moral and genetic degeneration. This article traces the story’s depictions of Orientalized Others and hybrid identities to themes of spatial transgressions as well as distortions of language and western rationality. In colonial times, when it functioned mainly as an outlet for accumulated domestic issues and tabooed fantasies, the Orient appeared as a safe space that could be conjured or ignored at will. Accelerating industrialization, globalizing trade, imperialism, and the advent of modernity diminished the epistemic and spatial distance needed to uphold these fantasies. This abating distance, the article suggests, is where Lovecraftian themes of the monstrous take hold by establishing an American variant of Orientalism that perforates the boundaries between whiteness and Otherness through the lens of nonwhite immigration during the first decades of the twentieth century.


Corresponding author: Dr. Steffen Wöll, Leipzig Research Centre Global Dynamics (ReCentGlobe), Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 1199, Leipzig University, Nikolaistr. 6-10, 04109Leipzig, Germany, E-mail:

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Published Online: 2020-11-16
Published in Print: 2020-11-26

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