The Impossible Erasure of Self

In his discussion of Roland Torpor’s horror novella, The Tenant, Thomas Ligotti will compare the division of Insider/Outsider. The Insider believes herself to be substantial and of value, and has the right to impose their egotistical power over all those they deem Outsider’s. The main character of this novella Trelkovsky has moved into an apartment just vacated by a dying woman, and over the course of the tale is hounded by the daemonic citizens of a private hell who live in the apartment building and believe him, unlike themselves to be no one and nothing. Ligotti describes this feeling of being an Outsider:

“Anyone who is marked as being outside of the group is fair game for those who would assert their reality over all others. Yet they, too, are nobodies. If they were not, their persecutions would not be required: They could pass their lives with a sure mindfulness of their substance and value. But as any good Buddhist … could tell you, human beings have no more substance and value than anything else on earth. The incapacity to repose alongside both the mountains and the mold of this planet is the fountainhead of the torments we wreak on one another. As long as we deny a person or group the claim to be as right and as real as we are, so long may we hold this dreamlike claim for ourselves alone. And it is the duty of everyone to inculcate a sense of being empty of substance and value in those who are not emulations of them.”1

Colin Wilson once described the Outsider as a social problem, a “hole-in-corner” man. Describing the anti-hero of Henre Barbusse’s L’enfer he says of the Outsider:

He has ‘no genius, no mission to fulfil, no remarkable feelings to bestow. I have nothing and I deserve nothing. Yet in spite of it, I desire some sort of recompense.’ Religion…he doesn’t care for it. ‘As to philosophic discussions, they seem to me altogether meaningless. Nothing can be tested, nothing verified. Truth—what do they mean by it?’ His thoughts range vaguely from a past love affair and its physical pleasures, to death: ‘Death, that is the most important of all ideas.’2

The ancient Gnostic’s of certain sects would through a form of negative devaluation reverse Socrates’ credo of “Know Thyself”, and begin a process of unnaming, of slowly and methodically erasing all the names within oneself that others seemed to attach to one’s Self as substantive and having value. This was the central dictum of those ascetic and libertine creatures of the gnosis: a knowledge not of what is, nor of what is not; but rather of the nameless and unknown that remains when all names have been erased. This emptiness – a vastation of horror and awareness not of being or self, but of that silence that is greater than all thought of self or value.

In his Theory of Religion Bataille once stated of this impossibility:

“Everything invites one to drop the substance for the shadow, to forsake the open and impersonal movement of thought for the isolated opinion. Of course the isolated opinion is also the shortest means of revealing what the assemblage essentially is-the impossible. But it has this deep meaning only if it is not conscious of the fact. This powerlessness defines an apex of possibility, or at least, awareness of the impossibility opens consciousness to all that is possible for it to think. In this gathering place, where violence is rife, at the boundary of that which escapes cohesion, he who realizes cohesion realizes that there is no longer any room for him.”3


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 198). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Wilson, Colin. The Outsider (Kindle Locations 250-256). Diversion Books. Kindle Edition.
  3.  Georges, Bataille. Theory of Religion. Zone Books (June 29, 1992)