Discovering Crypt(o)spasm – Gary J. Shipley: The Madness of Abstract Horror

Discovering Crypt(o)spasm: The Madness of Abstract Horror; or, A Pessimist’s Labyrinth of Laughter

I am reading the book I am always reading: Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet.

-Gary J. Shipley, Interview with David F. Hoenigman

As I’m reading through Gary J. Shipley’s Crypt(0)spasm which recently was rereleased I began seeking some trace of its madness, a penchant of its epileptic thrust into a cataleptic disgruntlement, a mere morsel of sense from the dark diver’s corporeal agon – something, anything, that might bring me a dribble, here or there, out of the millions and millions of bits of data crunched by the googlemeister machines and threaded display tags of monstrous inveiglements, that could assuredly spawn and generate some semblance or preparation, some tribute or defamation of this grand and impossible nightmare of a work. To my dismay the work of Mr. Shipley – one of those that Thomas Ligotti – that corrupter of the young and old alike, would deem a Connoisseur of the Pessimist’s Dark Art is barely visible in the cultural limelight, much less entrenched in the daft anarchy of trivia and inane knots of intellectual fare one typically discovers on the net; rather he seems to have gone down into the declivities where fellow agonists of the corruption follow the trail into madness and despair,  the lair and shadowed circle of compeers who seek not the famed exigencies of the tribe of light, but rather of the impossible excess of that abyss from which nothing will ever – and, I say, ever return. But does this dismay Mr. Shipley? Doubtlessly, not. Like many of us he is knowing of his (non)place in the social lights – a mere surface tension of disreputable intelligence, rather than a site of gaming wit and intellect as one will find in his extravagant divagations and crepuscular nocturnes. It’s as if the liberal press in some great consort of suspicion has gone to great lengths to filter and silence such works as Shipley and other pessimistically inclined purveyors of our dark estate, who generate with such equanimity and calculated risk the artifacts of disillusionment and the grotesquerie of twisted enlightenment, publish for the select few. And, yet, it is in such texts as these that those who seek a worthy guide into the intricacies of the unbinding from illusions, those very wary readers who slip nightly into the interminable zones of abject horror: – abstract layers where the analytical and continental mind thrive in the interstices of a forlorn universe of multiplicity, would find in the thermospasms of conjectured confabulation the unbinding circuits of madness and death that generates the energetic creativity that is our catastrophic universe and the glory of our literature of terrors and awakenings to the insane truth.

Shipley in a recent interview tells us that “[f]iction, for me, then, is like an extended thought experiment, but a thought experiment in which style and form are as much themes as they are expositional tools. In short, the difference is that between explaining and showing – which is not to say that there can be no overlap”.

I found one review on Fanzine by David Peak who mentions an email he received from Gary concerning his request about the said work, which as I’m reading it seems not only worthy of being the successor of many of the great modernist and postmodernist works – too numerous to mention, but to take on that crypto(de)logical and spasmatic world of farcical interpretability of 10,000 flowers of non-readers who will never ever delve into the endless mazes and doubled-gin loops and rhizomes of this beast of a labyrinth where a message… a sign, a null word or focal point into Oblivion and Annihilation – a last word on all that is Impossible must in its inexistence exist: that ambiguous paradox of the monstrous thing we are… and are not…

David Peak received this one moment of sanity from said Mr. Shipley:

“Crypt(o)spasm explores the idea of the novel as an impossible object. Its themes are myriad and drunken, sprawling and wretched and philosophic—and then the inescapable synonymy of the final two. It gives us death as it takes it away. And there are herds and there are individuals: zeros piled up end on end on top of zeros. Questions are asked of men living out their own thought experiments. Answers are lived in consecutive intervals sucked of death while framed in its disappearance. A coded message is hidden and then revealed. Others are buried, their insides clogged, and they are not found. The book is ill with itself.”

Which stands to reason as unreasoning madness, and yet as we discover in Peak’s fananalyzer:

When I asked him about his background, Gary responded, “Although the distinction is by no means unequivocal, I started off very much in the analytic camp, but have since cultivated just as much interest in the continental and theory side of philosophy, my stylistic concentrations having mutated along the way. I guess everything I write comes from a place of what you might call philosophical confusion: paradoxes, seemingly unavoidable dead-ends of thought, intellectual contrivances, the physical potential of the abstract, intractable lacunas, and all of it growing steadily murkier—which is also, every now and then, those same things becoming clearer.”

As he said to David F. Hoenigman in another interview asked, Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?  Shipley responded, saying: “Borrowing a fragment from Heraclitus, I’d say one of the key messages is that “[t]he hidden attunement is better than the obvious one.” I am celebrating enigma as an end in itself, an all-pervasive telos: the tangled spine of metaphysics, morality and aesthetics – enigma as driving force and (hidden) end. Like Heraclitus, I too write in the hope that my words will not be taken only in one sense (that which is most apparent), but that their variant senses will open up new, and possibly more rewarding, territories.”

This notion of the enigma was once described eloquently by V.S. Naipaul in his The Enigma of Arrival (after a painting by Chirico of that name): It was a violent book—not violent in its incidents, but in its emotions. It was a book about fear. All the jokes were silenced by this fear. And the mist that hung over the valley where I was writing…

Nor did it occur to me that it was also an attempt to find a story for, to give coherence to, a dream or nightmare which for a year or so had been unsettling me. In this dream there occurred always, at a critical moment in the dream narrative, what I can only describe as an explosion in my head. It was how every dream ended, with this explosion that threw me flat on my back, in the presence of people, in a street, a crowded room, or wherever, threw me into this degraded posture in the midst of standing people, threw me into the posture of sleep in which I found myself when I awakened. The explosion was so loud, so reverberating and slow in my head that I felt, with the part of my brain that miraculously could still think and draw conclusions, that I couldn’t possibly survive, that I was in fact dying, that the explosion this time, in this dream, regardless of the other dreams that had revealed themselves at the end as dreams, would kill, that I was consciously living through, or witnessing, my own death. And when I awoke my head felt queer, shaken up, exhausted; as though some discharge in my brain had in fact occurred.1

The explosion is the message that seems to sit there in the abyss like a piece of the primordial puzzle, a hint to the enigma of one’s self and one’s mysterious origins in the mad machine of unbounded time… I am barely into this enigmatic tale by Shipley, yet already I feel that disquieting nausea, the desperate attunement of my inner experience, the deathly appurtenances of an inexplicable enigma at the core of my own darkness rising to meet this challenge that is the Impossible message hidden in the labyrinth of this abyss… Crypt(o)spasm… the convulsive ecstasy of an intemperate thought, an abstract horror of efficient and transparent shudders awaiting any and all who dare enter its mad halls. One could say of Mr. Shipley’s oeuvre what Fernando Pessoa – or, one of his alterinhabitants, said in the pages of The Book of Disquiet: In these random impressions, and with no desire to be other than random, I indifferently narrate my factless autobiography, my lifeless history. These are my Confessions, and if in them I say nothing, it’s because I have nothing to say. Those who assume that the nothingness of things means emptiness or void as positive usually think of some depleted experimental bottle of quantum energy brought into a vacuum which is the opposite of nothing and nothingness… the truth, if such a thing exists, is that the void is less than nothing and is a fullness, a plenum, a Pleroma of pure energy – a spasm or even thermospasm of energetic darkness full of sound and fury ready to explode upon all that is and is not, an inexistent power to ignite a cosmic catastrophe. The negative in pessimism is the acknowledgement of a realism that sees into things rather than merely registering their obvious positive feature sets and sensual properties gathering the dust motes of our ordinary perceptions. Shipley’s opus negative offers you a disquieting movement into that catastrophic inner experience of those moments at the edge of our cosmic catastrophe wherein the dark light that generated this corruption consumed itself in utter despair and madness, dying among the embers of an illusive thought, an enigma that still remains… impossible.

As he says to David Peak about the strange and mysterious character, Charles – the author of this catastrophe,

I wanted Charles to be hiding more than his hundreds of Nabokovian plums; I wanted him to be encrypting a secret message (one secret even to himself), away from all those prying eyes, a message that would guide him, act as prompt and voice when his own had deserted him. I wanted to open up another opportunity for the book to exist as pretence, its only being there to hide this voice, this coded message.

The notion of pretense coming from Anglo-French pretensse – “the putting forth of a claim,” which in our time of degradation has turned toward the dark and pretentious bowdlerized inflection of false or hypocritical; as if the author was a mere fabricator of illusions rather than their satirist, a workman of misguided direction, a slip-shoe trickster and slide-of-hand artist of lesser festivals of absence and post-structuralist cynicism and despair rather than a pessimist of that stark realism that shoots the gap between the false claims and those that hit the mark between the eyes. No. One will not find the shibboleths of a tone-deaf maestro here, but rather embark on a sound voyage in-between abstract thought and the sensual immersion in the hellish paradise of our current malaise.   

This BOOK is in apposite relation to those secular reversals of SACRED SCRIPTURES of which Stéphane Mallarmé was either the end game victor or the primal instigator (see: Quentin Meillassoux’s, The Number and the Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarme’s Coup De Des as a recent investigation). That whole tradition of farcical works of which James Joyce or a John Barth or a jesting insomniac’s dream Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace) are but the blipscreen testsessions, the black box algorithmic hot toppers and mathematical spin whims of broken universes…  If one were a Pessimist (which I am!) this is the work for you – which is probably why it is not mentioned by all those mainstream liberal progressive optimists of the good life, those dime novel critics who sport the flavor of the day in trite anecdotes of moral warmth and cuddly doodles on the NY Times Readers list or other well-known nonthought systems  of the status quo imbecility. This is not the tomb of thought, but rather the burial ground of your illusions, a site where time and space enter the quantum brain and churn the Milky Way of Dreams into Nightmares… where one begins to twist into that enfolding labyrinth of enigma and mystery and wander interminably or awaken from the madness that is one’s suborned cage of desires; or, the wanderings of the intractable life one leads in the voidic zones of our present fragmentation. Either way one must accept the challenge, enter the corridors of impossible dreamscapes and nightmare villages, surrender to the abysmal carnival of dark thoughts, and discover one’s own Ariadne thread out of the illusory world of your confounded self… let the festival of catastrophe begin:

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Buy Crypt(o)spasm

Visit Gary at his site: The Prosthetics

Interview here with David F. Hoenigman


  1. V. S. Naipaul. The enigma of arrival: a novel (Kindle Locations 1503-1511). Vintage Books.

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