Brian Evenson: Song for the Unraveling of the World

If reason is not a chimera, then it must resolve this problem: how to disengage, amid the factual beings given in experience, that which, adequate to beings as such, is not itself contingent?

—Quentin Meillassoux

CaptureWhat if our life was a mere shadow of a Greater Nightmare, and we but the enactment of its dark intentions? That we are a contradiction, a veritable alien thing amid the sleep walkers of this planetary realm of organic madness is apparent to almost anyone with a inkling of intelligence. Yet, there are those who wander through life as if it were perfectly normal, that it was all planned out ahead of time, each of us a mere particle or semblance of some indefinable blueprint long ago bargained for in the distant reaches of the pre-cosmic abyss. Others seeking only the safety net of security and certitude have fallen into cages of religion or philosophy that offer certain consolations and deliverances from the absolute contingency of the world, believing they can master and control their destinies with Reason and Knowledge. Like shadows in a timeless void we pretend we are real when in truth we are not even unreal, but mere allusions and echoes of some former realm that has all but been shattered by the cosmic catastrophe within which we find ourselves. A speculative thinker of our era, Quentin Meillassoux terms this absolute contingency – within which we move and have our being, a hyper-chaos; or, as he puts it “absolute time” itself. As he states it:

What do I mean by this term? To say that the absolute is time, or chaos, seems very trite, very banal. But the time we discover here is, as I said, a very special time: not a physical time, not an ordinary chaos. Hyper-chaos is very different from what we call usually “chaos”. By chaos we usually mean disorder, randomness, the eternal becoming of everything. But these properties are not properties of Hyper-Chaos: its contingency is so radical that even becoming, disorder, or randomness can be destroyed by it, and replaced by order, determinism, and fixity. Things are so contingent in Hyper-chaos, that time is able to destroy even the becoming of things. (Time Without Becoming 25)

This notion of time being able to destroy the becoming of things reflects the strangeness I find in a series of tales in Brian Evenson’s new collection Song for the Unraveling of the World. 

In the title tale of the Evenson’s collection we discover a Father whose five year old daughter has gone missing. The details of the story are simple and bare: the father has kidnapped his own daughter from his (ex?) wife, brought her to a safety-house (or, so he thinks!), provided her with toys, dolls, and all the possible comforts he could. He falls asleep listening to a song he assumes she is singing herself to sleep by through the thin wall between their rooms. He awakens to find her gone, her room secured from the outside; her bed and room strangely unused and a circle of her new things distributed around the bed like some unusual ritual had been performed with her as the star attraction. He searches the home, then the neighborhood, bars, the town… he finds nothing, nothing at all. He calls his ex-wife and discovers she does not have the daughter. He sits down again in his home and stares at a tv broadcasting only pure static as if from some alternate reality. As he thinks to himself:

It had not been his fault, he told himself. Sometimes things just happen and you can’t do anything about them. Just as with the scar on Dani’s temple—that had not been, when you considered it logically, his fault. It had simply been bad luck. (SUW 32-33)

We discover that he’d taken the daughter without thought, it had been a mistake, but that now that he had he’d built a safe haven against the very real world of Law and Society, against the powers of reality. He’d lived in his home with his daughter as if in a pure zone of freedom. He’d bolted the doors, boarded up the windows, isolated himself and his daughter from the world. For a year he lived this way as if that might just be enough time to escape the real burden of his choices. But that was all over now, his hopes of return, of redemption, of his wife’s forgiveness, of living ever happily after with his daughter. All gone.

And then the song started up again, the song from his daughter’s room, a strange and disquieting song in a language not quite of this world. He carefully pries open the door hoping to find here there, but finds nothing, nothing at all. He asks himself the question: “What does it mean to me?” He’s broken the ritual circle, laid down on his daughter’s bed, listening, thinking, hoping against hope that she will return: “He lay there, trying to feel some sign of his daughter’s presence. All he could feel was his own ungainly self.” (SUW 35)

As he is laying there contemplating the past, present, and possibilities of a future he will again as: “What does it mean to me?” This repetition without an answer of a question of meaning in a meaningless universe brings us back to that notion of absolute contingency. As Drago thinks to himself:

What does it mean to be me? He had lived, it seemed to him, several lives, and when he strung them together they didn’t seem to make any kind of chain. Whatever continuity was supposed to be there seemed to have dissolved and he didn’t know how to get it back. Even in just the last two years, there had been a life where he and his wife had been together and had been happy, followed by a life where he had been alone and miserable, followed by a life with just him and his daughter, followed by this life now, the one that was now beginning. What did it all add up to? Nothing. Merely four separate existences. He wasn’t the same person in any of them. Or rather, in the first three he was three different people. For this life, the newest one, it was still too early to say what, if anything, he was. (SUW 35-36)

As if his life were itself a series of disjunctive episodes that did not connect or touch each other, as if each time-frame were part of some strange world of pure contingency without rhyme or reason; a world where time had suddenly become destructive, a power of ruin and erosion, entropy and decay, as if time were unraveling all around him. As if whatever we are as persons were not what we thought we were, but something else; and that nothing we’d been told about the continuity of self and world were true at all, as if the facticity of the world had suddenly vanished into thin air and been replaced by some strange form of hyper-chaos.

Late that night he awakens and sees his daughter just beyond the ritual circle, groggily he rises up and tries to reach her but is bound to the inside of the circle like a demon:

When he got out of bed and moved toward her, he found he could not cross the border of the circle. As if I’m a demon, he thought. He prowled along inside the circle, edging around the bed, looking for a way out. But there was no way out. (SUW 36)

In ritual magic such a space is a circle (or sphere, field) of space marked out by practitioners to contain energy and form a sacred space, or provide them a form of magical protection from demons or other alien entities.

Drago watches his daughter from within the circle, and she watches him in silence for a long while. Then she rises up and leaves him there without a word being exchanged. After she leaves the spell that kept him bound to the inside of the circle is broken, and he follows her down the stair. Suddenly everything changes, the front door shatters, two detectives and his wife enter and accuse him of atrocities unimaginable. His wife crying, clawing at him through the window, begging him to tell her what he’s done to their daughter. And just as he’s about to understand just what he doesn’t know and will never know…  he wakes up.

Most of us think the world is a safe place, a haven against the cosmic night of horror lurking just outside our green, green earth. We think we can master and control the forces of horror arrayed against us, dispel the darkness of the unknown with the wand of reason and science. Then something happens to disturb this illusion, something inexplicable happens to us or a loved one, something that we cannot explain with either rational thought or those so carefully tended notions of common sense and the pragmatic truth of what we’ve known as reality. We begin to question ourselves and the world, suspecting either something has gone wrong with our minds or that the world has shifted into a darker and more mysterious zone. We begin to look around us and question the very nature of our lives and of those we took to be our friends. Paranoia sets in and we begin to fear that something is wrong with the world in ways it never was before. It’s this sense of things being a little off that these tales of Brian reveal with such simple prose. A prosaic world that moves along as if everything is normal then suddenly veers off into strange zones of being we never knew existed before.

Brian’s tales lead us into those alcoves of nightmare that we’ve hidden from ourselves all these years. Dark recesses of being that open out onto that Greater Nightmare where anything is possible, and will at one time or another probably happen. It’s a realm where the very nature of our self-identity begins to unravel, a realm in which the world you’ve known suddenly dissolves and another more sinister one is revealed. For far too long we’ve allowed ourselves to live comfortable lives in our illusory realms of as if, telling ourselves that our shared world of work and play is the only world. It is not. There is another realm waiting in the wings, between the cracks and seams, just outside our normal awareness that at any moment may just pull the blinkers off your eyes and reveal itself for what it is. You cannot hide from it, you cannot run from it, it is this world we all share seen with other eyes than the one’s you’ve allowed to be shaped by normalcy. It is the real world, a world of horror and ecstasy situated no where more central than in your own sleeping mind. It is the nightmare land where your real life begins, a monstrous life that only now you begin to understand and realize is the only ever life you ever had and will be without end.

Brian’s tales open portals into and out of that nightmare land. Each tale giving a glimpse of its strange manifestations, hinting at more than revealing. Tales that shift from time-present to time-past, else into sidereal zones of being that seem to exist in some parallel time world just this side of hell. Vampyres in the western lands; skin-changers in some New York boutique; aliens from inter-dimensional chaos whose only telling mark is to leave us faceless; murderous psychopaths; secret sharers of darkness and change; the friendly next-door cannibal family;  paranoid filmmaker’s who discover unbidden truths; holes in deep space that harbor inhuman mysteries… the litany of horrors like a kaleidoscope revolve round and round in this collection leading the wary reader into realms where the mind begins to literally unravel and begin to dissolve in the darkness of inescapable abysses. This is Brian Evenson’s world of terror and beauty where anything can happen and most likely will…

There is more to tale I related, but I’m not going to reveal that to you just now. Not now, not ever; for that you must read it yourself. But I can assure you this that each of the tales in this collection is like a song in that unraveling world of time that is hyper-chaos, a realm in which all continuity is gone, a realm in which every facet of existence is unraveling in a song of horror and delight. These are tales of that Greater Nightmare that surrounds us on all sides, a realm that we block out through our security blankets of culture and civilization. We believe ourselves immune to it through the perfect illusions we’ve created for ourselves, our normal dreamtime of comforting day worlds of work and play. But it is not true, just the other side our normal lives is an infernal region of absolute contingency that sooner or later will begin playing its song for you, too. And when it does your world will begin unraveling in into that Greater Nightmare carnival of existence… a realm of absolute contingency in which anything can happen and most assuredly will happen to you.

Enjoy the ride!


You can find Brian Evenson on his blog: https://brianevenson.com/

And his new collection on Amazon: Song for the Unraveling of the World

 

 

Even As Night Comes

Even as night comes and darkness folds its black wings across the earth
I feel that pull down among the secret hollows,
the enfolding hands of willows bending, swaying;
a breeze flowing round the mounds and rocks,
the waters of the waters sinking out of sight;
stars blinking into those darkening shoals,
while the afterglow of that ancient star
filters the last remnants of those twilight hues…

Sitting here amid my ruins, memories and silences.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Thomas Ligotti’s Dark Gnosis

Many people in this world are always looking to science to save them from something. But just as many, or more, prefer old and reputable belief systems and their sectarian offshoots for salvation. So they trust in the deity of the Old Testament, an incontinent dotard who soiled Himself and the universe with His corruption, a low-budget divinity passing itself off as the genuine article. (Ask the Gnostics.)

Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against The Human Race

We have long since been denizens of the natural world. Everywhere around us are natural habitats, but within us is the shiver of startling and dreadful things. Simply put: We are not from here. If we vanished tomorrow, no organism on this planet would miss us. Nothing in nature needs us. We are like Mainländer’s suicidal God. Nothing needed Him either, and His uselessness was transferred to us after He burst out of existence. We have no business being in this world. We move among living things, all those natural puppets with nothing in their heads. But our heads are in another place, a world apart where all the puppets exist not in the midst of life but outside it. We are those puppets, those human puppets. We are crazed mimics of the natural prowling about for a peace that will never be ours. And the medium in which we circulate is that of the supernatural, a dusky element of horror that obtains for those who believe in what should be and should not be. This is our secret quarter. This is where we rave with insanity on the level of metaphysics, fracturing reality and breaking the laws of life.

Deviations from the natural have whirled around us all our days. We kept them at arm’s length, abnormalities we denied were elemental to our being. But absent us there is nothing of the supernatural in the universe. We are aberrations— beings born undead, neither one thing nor another, or two things at once … uncanny things that have nothing to do with the rest of creation, horrors that poison the world by sowing our madness everywhere we go, glutting daylight and darkness with incorporeal obscenities. From across an immeasurable divide, we brought the supernatural into all that is manifest. Like a faint haze it floats around us. We keep company with ghosts. Their graves are marked in our minds, and they will never be disinterred from the cemeteries of our remembrance. Our heartbeats are numbered, our steps counted. Even as we survive and reproduce, we know ourselves to be dying in a dark corner of infinity. Wherever we go, we know not what expects our arrival but only that it is there.1

Extreme forms of pessimism like Ligotti’s above come very close to the ancient 2nd Century forms of Gnosticism with its anti-cosmic hatred of the universe of suffering and decay.

To sum up the essential position of the Gnostics in still simpler terms, let us say that in their eyes the evil which taints the whole of creation and alienates man in body, mind, and soul, deprives him of the awareness necessary for his own salvation. Man, the shadow of man, possesses only a shadow of consciousness. And it is to this one task that the Gnostics of the first centuries AD deliberately devoted themselves, choosing paths which were not only unorthodox but which, moreover, greatly scandalized their contemporaries: to create in man a true consciousness, which would permit him to impart to his thoughts and deeds the permanence and the rigour necessary to cast off the shackles of this world. (The Gnostics by Jacques Lacarriere)

Ligotti has mentioned the use of Gnostic themes in his works, and yet he stops short of accepting their notion of the Alien Stranger God out beyond the rims of the Real. For Ligotti like most pessimists this is it, there is no other existence beyond this immanent realm of terror and fascination. Viscerally, imperiously, irremissibly, the Gnostic feels life, thought, human and planetary destiny to be a failed work, limited and vitiated in its most fundamental structures. Everything, from the distant stars to the nuclei of our body-cells, carries the materially demonstrable trace of an original imperfection which only Gnosticism and the means it proposes can combat. Asked by an interviewer whether the tenets and philosophy/ cosmology of the early Gnostic cults had any influence upon his thinking, and/ or writing. He replied:

I liked the Gnostics because they cursed the same things I’ve cursed: the Boss of the Bible, the ways of the world, and so on. Of course, they always had their own absentee Boss way out there beyond contemplation or criticism, and I could never follow them to that place.

—Triangulating the Daemon An Interview with Thomas Ligotti Interview by R. F. Paul and Keith Schurholz

Ligotti’s message is similar to the Gnostics (as he states above) but withdraws from accepting any form of soteriological redemption or resurrection as suggested by the Gnostics, who for their part believed there was an uncreated spark that had been trapped in the vessels or jars of existence by the malevolent Demiurge from the foundations of the world. The Gnostics believed this spark could be awakened out of its zombie like sleep in existence and begin its long ascent back to the great Outside of the uncreated Abyss. Ligotti believed this was one more hopeful and optimistic dream of escape, and even though it might be a beautiful vision was like everything else a failed promise that did not fulfill its goal of releasing humanity from suffering. Ligotti offers no such hope, only the stark truth that we are doomed to a final extinction from which their will be no redemption, no resurrection: only an end to things in an entropic night of darkness without end or consolation.


  1.  Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (pp. 221-222). Hippocampus Press.

Weird Fiction and Pessimism

Why Weird Fiction is a better vehicle for Pessimism than philosophy:

Weird fiction often spurns more rationalistic and normalized narrative types of creation and fulfillment, seizing instead on the nonrational structures of dreams and hallucinations, exploiting the episodic rather than the logically continuous. Weird fiction overcomes isolation because its pessimism is hazy, inducing the reader into a dreamlike state where reality and narrative blur and pessimism slowly intrudes into the edges of consciousness. As Ligotti says, “Everything that happens in every story ever written is merely an event in someone’s imagination—exactly as are dreams, which take place on their own little plane of unreality, a realm of nowhere in which outside and inside are of equivalent ontological status.”1 The notion here is in some ways similar to the old post-structuralist “nothing outside the text,” but with one caveat, for Ligotti the polarities of unreal/real have exchanged places and the inside is outside and it is all nightmare. The point here is like the ancient Gnostics the world is malevolent through and through, and there is no escape from this nightmare land. Weird fiction in portraying this nightmare uses a rhetorical strategy that softens the blow of extreme pessimism allowing the reader to feel the subtle truth of our horrific situation without being too explicit, entertaining the reader while instructing her in the dark ways of our ontological status.


  1. Carl T. Ford, “Interview with Thomas Ligotti,” in Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti, ed. Matt Cardin (Burton, Mich.: Subterranean Press, 2014), 22.

The Conspiracy Against Pessimism

 

What I mean to say is that to inhabit my landscapes one must, in no figurative sense, grow into them.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Strange Design of Master Rignolo

If the world is so terrible that human extinction is desirable, so the thinking goes, then why do so many people seem fine with being alive—some of which are themselves, presumably, pessimists? Pessimists provide a variety of answers to this question. Schopenhauer posits an almost metaphysical “will-to-live,” which he thinks overcomes human judgment and bends us to the purpose of extending life. Cioran explains humanity’s generally pro-life (or at least nonextinctionist) views in a variety of ways, from general naiveté to the prominence of Hegelian ideas about progress. Some even lay the blame on evolution, arguing that as a means of facilitating propagation, natural selection has resulted in certain adaptive psychological mutations that prevent an accurate evaluation of the world’s terror. Still another recurrent explanation pessimists give for their small number is that society, culture, and even language itself work to obscure the grim reality of the world. Crawford, for instance, argues that society enacts “self-delusion” through cult-like brainwashing; Benatar describes these forces as an incorrect “paradigm,” one that biases individuals toward life, applies “peer” and “social pressure” to reproduce, and “pathologiz[es]” pessimism. Anticipating Crawford and Benatar, Zapffe similarly argues that “most people manage to save themselves by artificially paring down their consciousness.” Perry simply claims that people tend to agree with those around them and since most people are not pessimists, pessimism as a specific cultural meme has a difficult time gaining a foothold.

Whereas Ligotti describes such counterpessimistic forces as a “conspiracy,” Michelstaedter refers to them as “rhetoric,” arguing that rhetoric as a structure of thought displays any number of anti-pessimistic, or optimistic, biases.

—Joseph Packer, A Feeling of Wrongness

I Turn Away To Shadows

 

I turn away to shadows formed
across this jagged world of storms,
where mountain bones jut up
hungered by the day’s long sun—

it’s cold eye bleeding down
like some old malformed thing;
unblinking, distant— alone.
Unknowing of its destiny

it moves to hidden forces;
and they alone shape
formless horrors in the mind;
seductions from some other clime.

Back to earth’s green tomb
it all goes unnoticed as it should,
the pulsing life of each broken thing:
striving, warring, moving round;

each unknowing of the other’s wound,
each unfolding in a dreamless  sleep;
till night, moon, stars, and time
revolve within this darkness without sound.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Aesthetics of Ugliness

To think that another person shared my love for the icy bleakness of things.
—Thomas Ligotti

Great investigators of the heart have plunged into the frightful abyss of evil and have represented the awful forms that confronted them in its night. Great poets like Dante have further sketched these shapes; painters like Orcagna, Michelangelo, Rubens, and [Peter] Cornelius have given them sensuous presence, and musicians like [Ludwig] Spohr have allowed us to hear the dreadful tones of perdition, through which evil screeches and howls the conflict of its torn spirit. Hell is not simply ethico-religious, it is also aesthetic. We stand in the midst of evil and general wickedness, but also in the midst of ugliness. The fright of non-form and the deformed, of vulgarity and atrociousness, surround us in endless shapes, ranging in dimensions from the pygmy to those giant distortions out of which infernal evil grins at us, baring its teeth. It is into this hell of the beautiful that we wish to descend. But descent is impossible without also gaining admittance into the real hell, the hell of evil, since the ugliest ugliness is not that which in nature repels us in swamps, crippled trees, newts and toads, in gaping sea monster jaws and massive pachyderms, in rats and apes; it is the selfishness that reveals itself in spiteful and frivolous gestures, in the furrows of passion, in crooked glances and—in crime.

—Karl Rosenkranz, Aesthetics of Ugliness

Mist, Fog, and Light: The Spectral World

True macabrists are as rare as poets and form a secret society by the bad-standing of their memberships elsewhere, some of their outside affiliations having been cancelled as early as birth.

Mist on a lake, fog in thick woods, a golden light shining on wet stones—such sights make it all very easy. Something lives in the lake, rustles through the woods, inhabits the stones or the earth beneath them. Whatever it may be, this something lies just out of sight, but not out of vision for the eyes that never blink. In the right surroundings our entire being is made of eyes that dilate to witness the haunting of the universe. But really, do the right surroundings have to be so obvious in their spectral atmosphere?

Just a little doubt slipped into the mind, a little trickle of suspicion in the bloodstream, and all those eyes of ours, one by one, open up to the world and see its horror. Then: no belief or body of laws will guard you; no friend, no counselor, no appointed personage will save you; no locked door will protect you; no private office will hide you. Not even the solar brilliance of a summer day will harbor you from horror. For horror eats the light and digests it into darkness.

We are destined to a fool’s fate that deserves to be mocked. And since there is no one else around to do the mocking, we will take on the job. So let us indulge in cruel pleasures against ourselves and our pretensions, let us delight in the Cosmic Macabre. At least we may send up a few bitter laughs into the cobwebbed corners of this crusty old universe.

—Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer

Deleuze On Francis Bacon

 

Francis Bacon’s painting is of a very special violence. Bacon, to be sure, often traffics in the violence of a depicted scene: spectacles of horror, crucifixions, prostheses and mutilations, monsters. But these are overly facile detours, detours that the artist himself judges severely and condemns in his work. What directly interests him is a violence that is involved only with color and line: the violence of a sensation (and not of a representation), a static or potential violence, a violence of reaction and expression. For example, a scream rent from us by a foreboding of invisible forces: “to paint the scream more than the horror…” In the end, Bacon’s Figures are not racked bodies at all, but ordinary bodies in ordinary situations of constraint and discomfort. A man ordered to sit still for hours on a narrow stool is bound to assume contorted postures. The violence of a hiccup, of the urge to vomit, but also of a hysterical, involuntary smile Bacon’s bodies, heads, Figures are made of flesh, and what fascinates him are the invisible forces that model flesh or shake it. This is the relationship not of form and matter, but of materials and forces making these forces visible through their effects on the flesh. There is, before anything else, a force of inertia that is of the flesh itself: with Bacon, the flesh, however firm, descends from the bones; it falls or tends to fall away from them (hence those flattened sleepers who keep one arm raised, or the raised thighs from which the flesh seems to cascade). What fascinates Bacon is not movement, but its effect on an immobile body: heads whipped by the wind or deformed by an aspiration, but also all the interior forces that climb through the flesh. To make the spasm visible. The entire body becomes plexus. If there is feeling in Bacon, it is not a taste for horror, it is pity, an intense pity: pity for the flesh, including the flesh of dead animals…

—Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation

The Nightmare of History

The Great Transition:

Breakthrough or Breakdown?

I think one of my fascinations with horror is that we are in the midst of a great transition, a crisis in human history the likes of which has not been faced before. I think a lot of this is a reflection on our current world view, the crisis of the whole World System of Enlightenment: Progress (i.e., human perfectibility), Humanism (i.e., Man as the Center and Circumference of meaning, etc.), and our Scientific-Technological paradigm under the thumb of the Market is breaking down or breaking through the ideological edifice that has ruled Nationalism, Politics, and the Socio-Cultural spectrum since the Enlightenment. All of this has failed, and people are grasping at anything to hold onto that will give their lives meaning, even if it is pure and unadulterated Weird and Eerie inventions out of the Impossible. Irrationalism is everywhere, while extreme modes of hyper-rationalism as in Reza Negarestani’s Spirit and Intelligence are pushing the inhumanism of another sort. It’s a tale as old as humans… just played out with a different set of props on a new stage awaiting its final telling…

Ever since Nietzsche formulated the notion of nihilism (which had been there before him, he just crystalized it), thinkers, artists, philosophers, writers… all have grappled with this non-meaning and valueless indifference and impersonalism of the universe without the old myths of God(s). We’re alone, without recourse in a realm that knows us not, and could care less one way or the other. Scientists have followed this trail into both the most distant macro-vision and the closest micro-vision of the empirical universe till our instruments fail. Philsophers pushed both the Continental and Analytical streams of linguistic, structural, post-structural modes of thought to their anti-realist implosion. Now we seem to exist on the edge of a Post-Kantian world-view that has yet to establish a language: a theory of meaning. So that we have entered what my friend the skeptic R. Scott Bakker terms a “crash space” in which there is a mere cacophony of competing voices vying in the black hole of non-meaning (nihilism). Knowledge has failed in a world that has accumulated more of it than at any other time in history.

Modernism was the last gasp of the dying regime as T.S. Eliot bequeathed: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins…” (The Wasteland). This sense of desperation in all those artists who sought to hold fast to what remained of the humanistic heritage, plug up the holes in leaky system that was plunging into ruins and chaos. Yet, if failed, and the deluge of post-modernity (so-called) swept away the failures and produced a successive set of destructive-deconstructive demolitions that would wipe out all trace of going back, returning to the worlds of humanistic intent and security. Instead satire, cynicism, despair, and pessimism began their long descent into closure to the point that the last great voice of that era, Samuel Beckett would opine: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” A sort of courage of our hopelessness…

We seek a way out, and find none. We ponder the realization of human defeat by its own hand as the Anthropcene enters the great Sixth Extinction that scientists say is now happening. We have climate degradation, and a multitude of othere natural and man-made disasters that seem always just at the edge of our awareness. All of this makes reality itself in our time the greatest horror story ever told. It’s like James Joyce once said:

‘History…  is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’

Many will till their dying breath seek to discover a way forward, a way to survive the depredations ahead of us. Many will struggle and many will die. The earth has been around a long time and was here before us, and will be here after us. We as humans are truly at the point that we must decide how to proceed. The Left nor Right hold the answers to our dilemma. There is no political fix for our present predicament. What we face is truly the unknown as unknown. We must move toward this new world with our eyes open, shedding all the self-deceptions and biases that have brought us to the point of self-annihilation. Without a clearing of the house of knowledge and thought we will be left in a civil-war across our planet. This is a time for renewal, a time to awaken those deep forces of emergent thought that can meet the unknown without grasping for our old failed ways. It’s up to us, no one else can do it for us. There is no would-be savior going to arise in our midst and show us the light. The only light left to us is the nihil light of emptiness and the void.

Two tendencies in critical horror…


Matt Cardin in his essay on Ligotti makes mention of the diametric appraisal of H.P. Lovecraft’s early and late work, Ligotti favoring the early unreal and more fantastic tales while Joshi favors the documentary realism of the later Chthulu and other tales:

“The upshot of the matter, generally speaking, is that Ligotti thinks Lovecraft was at his worst in the very stories where Joshi thinks he was at his best.”
– The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets: The Influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Thomas Ligotti

As much as I admire S.T. Joshi for his years of dedication in reviving interest in Lovecraft, and critical/biographical studies on other major horror writers, there’s always seemed a pervasive adherence in his work to a strict secular and atheistic aesthetic; an almost dogmatic, vision and judgment concerning various authors in some hierarchy and ranking system that just doesn’t seem part of the traditional literature of criticism from Dr. Johnson to Harold Bloom. His economical expression and the overarching need to filter the more unreal and fantastical elements through his Enlightenment gaze seems to have left certain aspects of this tradition in a state of invisibility. I’ll have to say I agree with Ligotti that it is in the early tales that Lovecraft’s work shines, allows the drifts from the Outside to seep in unhinged by any filters of Reason and strict economy of ethical evaluation. But as in all things maybe the divine Oscar Wilde in his usual witty tone is correct:

“Two men look out a window. One sees mud, the other sees the stars.” ~ Oscar Wilde

The Challenge of Horror: The Fragility of Existence

 

“When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs as you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.”1

Flannery O’Connor was neither subtle nor officious in her statements regarding literature, instead she said plainly and with acumen exactly what she felt about the deep seated beliefs she held regarding both writing and her faith. In many ways this is the challenge that horror writers face in our time. Most readers are complacently satisfied in their own opinions about life, assuming an optimistic cast of mind that if we work hard enough, do the right things, keep our nose clean, vote for the right leader, protest against the powerful and rich and ugly forces that seek to control us, make the right friends, teach our children the right ethics, go out for an evening or holiday, take in a movie or some other diversion of entertainment, etc. that somehow, someway things in the end will turn out for the best. That after all we live in the best of all possible worlds, right? Wrong.

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Bone Turned Stone

There is nothing forgiving here
but stones and wind,
and they have no prayers;
just the bleak truth of emptiness
and a great void.

People bypass this strange mass
of stone, unknowing of its past,
when oceans massed the great heights,
and sands beached the whales dark plight;
for this is the place of the nameless dead,
mighty sea-wanderers who long fled
below these dark skies, now exposed
on this bright peak like white bleeders
on the run, their white-capped runners
spewing foam.

This is no children’s tale, no human gazed
upon this marred gnarl of twisted pain:
formlessness displayed, and living flesh calcified.
Time, the giver and taker who never blinks,
always sees fraught this bare scene in dark days.
I’d come here with a friend, unbelieving
in such things, till gaze shot home —
bones turned stone in these snarled-toothed giants.

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2019 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Horror Story of Climate Denialism

Self-Deception as the Art of Prediction, Illusion, and Ideological Destruction

I provide three quotes below which summed up provide us a road map to why humans are so prone to error, bias, illusion, and self-deception. Over eons of evolutionary time we developed the need to predict the future, to anticipate ahead of time what may happen a few moments down the pipe: our lives depended on it. So we began projecting information, filling in the blank spaces of our inadequate knowledge with illusion based on past experience. Sometimes we got it right, sometimes not. But as we began developing closer ties to others, developing social systems, this once proud predictive tool became a tool for deceit, lying, and deception not only of ourselves but others so that we developed whole cultures out of a tissue of lies and myths to support systems of power, control, and oppression by the few over the many. And, yet, that very evolutionary selective process that once helped us survive in the wilderness, the natural world of danger and suffering, has now in our artificial world of technocivilization become a tool for self-destruction by way of deceit and self-deception on a global scale. We’ve built systems of self-deceptive ideological constructs out of world-wide mediatainment and the political and socio-cultural illusions  that have produced Climate Change Denialism that is leading us into a dangerous territory of illusion and self-deceptive forms of deceit by beings whose only agenda is to sacrifice the majority  of humans on the planet for the benefit of the few. Simply put we are living in a horror story in which reality is a complete and utter artificial lie propagated by systems of ideological propaganda that no longer appears as such.


E.H. Grumbrich in his classic work Art and Illusion describes our powers of anticipation, our ability to see ahead of things, to master the unknown by filling in the blanks, selecting the blind spots in our visual fields and placing imaginative leaps of information into the holes. He terms this projection after the early psychologies of the 20th Century. He’ll put it more simply as “Expectation creates Illusion.” And that is the condition of all Art.

Andy Clark on the Predictive Mind:

“The mystery is, and remains, how mere matter manages to give rise to thinking, imagining, dreaming, and the whole smorgasbord of mentality, emotion, and intelligent action. Thinking matter, dreaming matter, conscious matter: that’s the thing that it’s hard to get your head—whatever it’s made of—around. But there is an emerging clue.”

“The clue can be summed up in a single word: prediction. To deal rapidly and fluently with an uncertain and noisy world, brains like ours have become masters of prediction—surfing the waves of noisy and ambiguous sensory stimulation by, in effect, trying to stay just ahead of them. A skilled surfer stays ‘in the pocket’: close to, yet just ahead of the place where the wave is breaking. This provides power and, when the wave breaks, it does not catch her. The brain’s task is not dissimilar. By constantly attempting to predict the incoming sensory signal we become able—in ways we shall soon explore in detail—to learn about the world around us and to engage that world in thought and action. Successful, world-engaging prediction is not easy. It depends crucially upon simultaneously estimating the state of the world and our own sensory uncertainty. But get that right, and active agents can both know and behaviourally engage their worlds, safely riding wave upon wave of sensory stimulation.”1

Robert Trivers in Deceit and Self-Deception will ask:

“Whence self-deception? Why do we possess marvelous sense organs to detect information only to distort it upon arrival? … Together our sensory systems are organized to give us a detailed and accurate view of reality, exactly as we would expect if truth about the outside world helps us to navigate it more effectively. But once this information arrives in our brains, it is often distorted and biased to our conscious minds. We deny the truth to ourselves. We project onto others traits that are in fact true of ourselves—and then attack them! We repress painful memories, create completely false ones, rationalize immoral behavior, act repeatedly to boost positive self-opinion, and show a suite of ego-defense mechanisms. Why?”

His answer:

“The central claim of this book is that self-deception evolves in the service of deception—the better to fool others. Sometimes it also benefits deception by saving on cognitive load during the act, and at times it also provides an easy defense against accusations of deception (namely, I was unconscious of my actions). In the first case, the self-deceived fails to give off the cues that go with consciously mediated deception, thus escaping detection. In the second, the actual process of deception is rendered cognitively less expensive by keeping part of the truth in the unconscious. That is, the brain can act more efficiently when it is unaware of the ongoing contradiction. And in the third case, the deception, when detected, is more easily defended against—that is, rationalized— to others as being unconsciously propagated. In some cases, self-deception may give a direct personal advantage by at least temporarily elevating the organism into a more productive state, but most of the time such elevation occurs without self-deception.”2

1. Andy Clark. Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind . Oxford University Press.
2. Trivers, Rober. Deceit and Self-Deception

Articulating the Impossible: Horror as Communication


David Peak in his small book The Spectacle of the Void situates horror tales as the “organization of human self-deception” in its most extreme form, and that it arose within literature because of our human lack of communicability. This inability to communicate fear and the unknown has according to Peak taken two forms:

1) “the narrative of the person with something to say that cannot be said (an inarticulate lucidity)”; and 2) “the narrative of the person who is able to articulate their thoughts and feelings but still unable to make sense of their reality (an articulate confusion)”. (p. 12)

When confronted by the horrific the experiences of nausea, sickness, pain, anguish are among the range of extreme states that concern such inexplicable and undefinable moments precisely to the degree that they are uncontrollable, in so far as they shatter the composed rationality of the isolated individual and leave her fully aware of what has happened but unable to speak it or utter it in any articulate way; else leaving her dumbfounded yet knowledgeable but unable to decode the very irrational context she has suffered in a reasonable manner. In this way, such experiences open on to a mode of communication that exceeds language. Communication, the extreme thinker of horror Georges Bataille once suggested, requires ‘a being suspended in the beyond of oneself, at the limit of nothingness’. (Theory of Religion)

Bataille theorized that we have developed two forms of communication: that which ‘links’ humans through gesture, utterance, laughter, tears, etc.; and that which links humans to death and the impossible (i.e., horror, the unknown). As Bataille would say in his book Inner Experience:

“Anguish is no less than intelligence the means for knowing, and the extreme limit of the ‘possible’, in other respects, is no less life than knowledge. Communication still is, like anguish, to live and to know. The extreme limit of the ‘possible’ assumes laughter, ecstasy, terrified approach towards death; assumes error, nausea, unceasing agitation of the ‘possible’ and the impossible and, to conclude – broken, nevertheless, by degrees, slowly desired – the state of supplication, its absorption into despair.” 2

Communication as a form of supplication*, a humble request or appeasement to quiet, soothe, assuage the pain and suffering of the felt horror that is neither fully articulable or mastered by the reasoning powers of the mind.


*from Old French suplicacion “humble request,” from Latin supplicationem (nominative supplicatio) “a public prayer, thanksgiving day,” noun of action from past participle stem of supplicare “to beg humbly” (in Old Latin as sub vos placo, “I entreat you”), from sub “under” (see sub-) + placare “to calm, appease, quiet, soothe, assuage,” causative of placere “to please” (see please). In ancient Rome, a religious solemnity, especially in thanksgiving for a victory or in times of public danger.


  1. Peak, David. The Spectacle of the Void. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (December 1, 2014)
  2. Bataille, Georges. Inner Experience. SUNY Press (September 1, 2014)

Loneliness and Solitude: The Solitaire’s Way

What begins as a solitary truth soon proliferates like malignant cells in the body of a dream, a body whose true outline remains unknown. Perhaps, then, we should be grateful to the whims of chemistry, the caprices of circumstance, and the enigmas of personal taste for giving us such an array of strictly local realities and desires.

—Thomas Ligotti, Songs of a Dead Dreamer

In many ways loneliness and being alone have such differing connotations. Being a solitaire and for the most part a reclusive creature who likes being alone I hardly ever feel lonely. Of course being more of a manic/depressive with schizoid tendencies I keep myself company very well with books, music, TV, movies, writing, painting, etc…. all the distractions of entertainment that most have access too; and, yet, there are the times in-between, the silences of solitude – of walks, meditation, and just vegetating as an isolated organic being: these, too, are part of a solitaires existence and to be relished rather than feared. To me it’s crowds and noise and the excess of intimacy of others surrounding one that is the true loneliness. Can one ever truly know another? And, the impossibility of being alone in a crowd is for a solitaire the most frightening thing in the world.

Long before they created all these various drugs for such disorders I learned to move with the swings from pole to pole of emotion, using both the manic mercurial upswings toward my satirical and sardonic escapades, while allowing the downturn into the dark abyss of the depressive cycle to tempt out the demons below the threshold of my creativity to come through. In this way I learned to balance my emotional turmoil’s creatively rather than destructively. Admitting that this was not always the case, and as a young man I was always self-destructive during my various moods; both manic and depressive. I hate that term bi-polar disorder, so clinical and objective as if we were caged specimens in some zoo of medical knowledge rather than creatures whose physical systems just seemed to go haywire. But then again I wonder about that, too; for the simple reason that my ability to ride the waves of these cycles has led me to some very extreme creative episodes that otherwise would have never happened if I’d of been a so-to-speak normal being.

To be normal is a terrible thing, to be part of some collective appraisal, living out one’s life in the monotony of an emotive state of civilizational equanimity. The sleepwalkers of normalcy shall never know the extremes of emotive existence: the intensity of summer and winter, cold and heat, rage and fury in the pursuit of that creative fire that unleashes bouts of strangeness, ecstasy, and horror. For better or worse we who have been stricken with the dark touch of those blasted fires of the infernal regions know without a doubt what it means to live on the edge of oblivion. Some never survive it crawling back into the dark recesses of their security blankets of futility and desperation, others enter its pain with eyes open and fearless of what may come next.

The Truth of Horror

At this point it may seem that the consolations of horror are not what we thought they were, that all this time we’ve been keeping company with illusions. Well, we have.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Consolations of Horror

The more I read contemporary horror the more I realize just how terrible our world truly is, all the fragmented lives, the sorrow, the pain, the stupidity of being alive. Most of these people you meet in many horror stories are just regular people, neither smart nor dumb, just people on the edge of life presented with traumatic events that just don’t make sense. And, that’s the problem, people need to believe that things make sense, that their lives are not just a bundle of impressions, insoluble riddles.

People want to believe their lives matter, and when they realize that nothing matters; not their life, not their work, not their families… it just turns them dark and sad wanting it all to go away. It always comes down to “Why me?” Before our age they’d of said: “Why me, Lord? Why’d you let this happen?” and they could have a crutch upon which to hang their sorrow, someone bigger and stronger than themselves to lean on and help them understand just why everything had gone to hell in a handbasket like some head toppling out of a guillotine. But there is no more God to lean on in our time, no big boy up there on the other side of things looking down with kind eyes and gentle whispers telling you it’s all goin’ to be alright.

No. Now you’re all alone. Nobody there to comfort you in the midst of all this darkness. Just your own misery and sorrow that want go away… it’s what people call despair, futility, the bittersweet truth of this life. No answer. Nothing. Just a empty world full of empty people living in an empty universe whose absolute indifference as to your pain and suffering is one of absolute silence. That’s why horror now is absolute, it leaves you alone with the alone; no place to turn, no one to know, no place to go, and nothing to do but nothing.

Horror isn’t there to comfort you or entertain you, nor is it there to give you the answer to your deepest question. All horror can do is open your eyes, open your ears, open your heart and mind to the absolute nullity of everything and then leave you stripped to the bone wondering why it all had to be in the first place. And, even then, it will tell you one thing: it didn’t have to be, it was all a big fucking mistake.

That’s the truth of horror: the darkness of darkness…

When you strip off all the layers of illusion that defend you against knowing what you are, when you’re left with this thing stripped to the bone and realize nothing you say, nothing you do will change it; that, for better or worse, you are nothing, nothing at all but a meat puppet dangling in a pain vat of endless terror; and that even an answer is no answer, only another illusion seeking to cover up the truth. Sadly we know this, that is why we help those who will never be able to face that utter darkness, and they will always need those illusions even with all the suffering entailed. So we try to comfort – not ourselves, but those who will never know, never understand the bitter truth. So we write the illusions that assuage their pain, their grief, their anguish;  give them that one spot of relief to continue; or, as Beckett would say: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on!”

The only truth of horror that can be offered is to lead you to that place of emptiness where the nothing you are meets the nothing that is

Ego-Death: Subtracting the Self from the Equation?

“ In the beast, suffering is self-confined; in man, it knocks holes into a fear of the world and a despair of life.” —Peter Wessel Zapffe

Since the conclusion of pessimism is that consciousness is the culprit of all our woes, I’ve often wondered why we don’t spend all our efforts on eliding it. Since all the major religions on the planet were systems of ego-death ritual and hygiene, and obviously they only worked for a very few isn’t it time to provide a more scientific path to subtraction of self? Isn’t this really what Badiou is getting at after all? Even Zizek would subtract nothing from nothing getting less than nothing… are we not after all just a bunch of othings? Even all these speculative realists have sought ways out of this quandary of self-referential insanity, and have found none… so maybe philosophy is at a dead end and the sciences should just put an end to this thing, this in plain site nothing we term consciousness? What would it be like to have a planetary melt-down of consciousness? Eliminating the planetary #1 criminal from the fabric of existence? Instead we just continue to wonder what consciousness is rather than eliminating it altogether… hell we even want our advance AI robots to be conscious and self-aware as we are… why impose consciousness on a machine when we know it is at the core of our human misery? Tell me…. ? Would you knowingly bring into existence the very thing that produces misery in our own lives and give it to somethin not human as if it were a gift rather than a costly mistake?

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Sonic Horrorism: Unsound/Undead Musical War – A Sonic-Fiction

“One of the focuses of the unit is to investigate deceptive frequency-based strategies, technologies, and programmes developed by military organizations to orchestrate phenomena of tactical haunting within conflict zones. They claim that this ‘martial hauntology’ is a subset of an overarching weaponisation of vibration. Their ongoing experiments have been concerned with the field of peripheral sonic perception—what they have dubbed ‘Unsound’.”

—From AUDINT—Unsound:Undead (Urbanomic / Art Editions)

Sonic warfare will create the haunted technoscapes of the future, soundworlds of decay and destruction leading humans to a joyous omnicide at the hands of their own music. As in the days of old when the great whales of the oceans followed the ley lines of their magnetic folds into the beached wonders of serene suicide, so will humanity under the hauntology of sonic catastrophe ride the musical chaos between silences into the deadly infernal of self-lacerating annihilation.

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Michael Wehunt: A Review of Greener Pastures

There’s something sad and melancholy in these stories, a slow burn from the deep loam of rich Georgian earth, a cast of blue shadows from the Appalachian Blue Ridge’s hovering round the edges of the Northern childhood dreams of Michael Wehunt’s early night haunts. These are stories of loss and grief, of worlds situated in-between heaven and hell if one still believed in such things. There’s something old in Michael’s soul, something both peculiar and uncanny. It’s as if the deep black earth of his homelands were speaking through him, singing there way out of those dark guttural sounds of some ancient music. A sense of loneliness and gray shadows, twilights and imponderable winds in the pines. Silences and long open stretches of highways, spaces of regret and pity for an American that has slowly decayed into ruins. People who seem to haunt landscapes that sink into the hidden spaces around us, only opening up their dark tombs when the sun and moon orient themselves to the sad tunes of some solitary traveler whose inner sense of doom matches that of the darkest ponds and rivers. This is a world lost to time where one can hear the old world and new seeping into each other with strange tales of horror that grasp you like an old comforter full of feathers falling from an unknown dimension of heartache.

Whether it’s the bond of sisters in the depths of a dark cave, their blood marriage of minds shadowing the mutant madness of a town’s poverty and derangements, and their quest for the eternal blood of salvation and eternal life in a pool of death; or the honeyed laughter of first love, of a mother’s insect dreams, the rituals of old Europe springing up in the new world like the humming of bees in a summer’s cavalcade; or a lonely trucker caught in a realm just in-between nothing and nothing, listening to the dreams of an old man’s haunted life; else the music of angels or swans, low and distant, sifting a widower’s life between two loves – a desperate attempt to recapture the circle of youth in a strange metamorphic shift among untimely memories and feathers; or and old Jazz-man telling a story to a young girl facing down her dark thoughts, and he on about a blue devil of rhythms and blues and harmonies of greatness, leavings of last memories before leave-taking for parts unknown; and, then a haunted docudrama – four friends plundering the backwoods of New Hampshire, shooting paranoid footage of a haunted landscape of doom and ghosts and nightmares come alive;  else  a flight of women or angels falling into time and a puddle of trailers in a patchwork world of sin and mad preachers, seen through a young boy’s innocence: a world of bittersweet truths about a rag-tagged bunch of fools and liars and clowns;  and, more tales that sweep you down a world of pain and nostalgia, dark truth forged in twilight worlds and landscapes of visible hell that could be your own back yard or town…

Michael’s tales have that natural appeal of a deeply felt lived life of a man who sees into things. His tales have the seduction of folk lore and strange days, of the voice of story rising out of the black loam of a hidden America that is riddled with the lost souls,  misfits, eccentrics, and broken keepers of our darkening and decaying country of forgotten dreams and terrible secrets. And, yet, there is deep and abiding love and emotion in his utterance of our worst nightmares, a desperate quest for transformation and change, and an openness to the unknown wonders of a frail universe that does not frighten so much as seduce us to enter its dark harmonies. Then there’s the grief of the inconsolable that follows one’s days like a dead woman who will not go away but haunts one’s flesh like the “slow drip of living” in a world in which the “nights black and the days flat and you can hardly care”.

These are tales of fatalist acceptance and the inevitable dammed, awaiting neither judgment day nor some dark Jesus to carry them away into the cold black night haunts of the desperate void, but rather a singular country boy’s early and late dreams of that bleak cosmos where humans meet the mystery that awaits us all in the great indifference that is. And, yet, even in the blackest abysses of time and space there is something that keeps his characters going, something that makes them quest after some indefinable answer, a yearning for more life even in the midst of destruction and consumation; a need to continue in inexistence where the “harbinger with green grace, of yellow mouths opening somewhere now closer above…” resides this side of the tormented lands. A sense of those mysteries that surround us on all sides, the secret rendezvous with darkness and stars and the emptiness in-between, where in the silences of the empty sky full of black music of endless night something lures us onward and outward toward the inexplicable.


Author Bio:

Michael Wehunt grew up in North Georgia, close enough to the Appalachians to feel them but not quite easily see them. There were woods, and woodsmoke, and warmth. He did not make it far when he left, falling sixty miles south to the lost city of Atlanta, where there are fewer woods but still many trees. He lives with his partner and his dog and too many books, among which Robert Aickman fidgets next to Flannery O’Connor on his favorite bookshelf.

His fiction has appeared in various places, such as The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu. This is his first collection.


Visit Michael Wehunt as his site: https://michaelwehunt.com/
Buy Greener Pastures from links at Apex Publishers

Fantastic Homelessness: Sacrifice, Violence, and the Aesthetics of Horror

He was merely the inheritor of lost images; he was their resurrector, their invoker, their medium, and under his careful eye and steady hand there took place a mingling of artistic forms, their disparate anatomies tumbling out of the years to create the nightmare of his art.1 —Thomas Ligotti, The Troubles of Dr. Thoss

The best horror never reconciles us with the world or ourselves, but rather leads us to that irreconcilable moment when self and world enter into a third movement in which both are destabilized by the violence of the impossible . Moving in that sphere of pure contradiction that neither lifts one up to the sublime, nor pulls one down into the abyss of abject negativity these authors of the weird offer us what John Keats in a letter to his brother John described as Negative Capability:

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To the Emissaries of Hope: There is None…

No thanks, I think we’ve done enough to change the climate already! Why corrupt it more? It’s on its on now and could care less about our petty political squabbles: the Universe has an agenda of its own that no longer includes humans, if it ever did. We’re just one more failed effort in the struggle for survival and propagation, a vanishing species whose time for niche transgression has overstretched its welcome. The absolute indifference of the Universe is obvious to those who have eyes to see, and ears to hear; yet, so many optimists seek to create a different more hopeful narrative as if the Universe was the mere footprint of some anachronistic God whose eternal verdict is an Apocalypse awaiting its final end game. Such myths will go by the wayside like all myths have, emptied of their message as of their emissaries…

The Shadow That Everything Casts

SITTING OUTSIDE AT THE END OF AUTUMN

Three years ago, in the afternoons,
I used to sit back here and try
To answer the simple arithmetic of my life,
But never could figure it—
This object and that object
Never contained the landscape nor all of its implications,
This tree and that shrub
Never completely satisfied the sum or quotient
I took from or carried to, nor do they do so now,
Though I’m back here again, looking to calculate,
Looking to see what adds up.
Everything comes from something,
only something comes from nothing,
Lao Tzu says, more or less.
Eminently sensible, I say,
Rubbing this tiny snail shell between my thumb and two fingers.
Delicate as an earring,
it carries its emptiness like a child
It would be rid of.
I rub it clockwise and counterclockwise, hoping for anything
Resplendent in its vocabulary or disguise—
But one and one make nothing, he adds, endless and everywhere,
The shadow that everything casts.

—Charles Wright, Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems


The notion that something exceeds our human knowledge, that everything we see is but the shadow of some greater order of the Real, that we are – as limited beings, unable to fathom the complexities of that which lies just outside human consciousness; but that this “something” – a nothing, or less than nothing, still moves, exists, invisible yet real – withdrawn and away; hidden from our powers of persuasion to reveal, a rhetoric of the unreal Outside that is… the possibility that a void, the emptiness surrounding us is more real than we are: a shadow that everything casts.

“Modern † Gothic”: Farah Rose Smith’s Anonyma

I’m reading Farah Rose Smith’s Anonyma which is deliciously decadent, modern, and gothic; a work that situates itself in the tradition of the dark fantastic. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this short novella but am already impressed by its ability to hint at mysteries and undertones just off-stage waiting to erupt from the darkness. In it we are introduced to a young successful architect, Nicholas Georg Bezalel, whose art and life are fused in a sensibility of what he’ll term “Modern † Gothic”:

“Modern † Gothic starts with a feeling,” Bezalel says. “To describe those initial emotions with words would make no sense logically, in the grand scheme of allowing you in on the process. The act of creation, of production, of endurance. These are all my secrets, you see. What I can say is that the style has permanence. It is art, but more importantly, Modern † Gothic is a way of life.”1

In the opening scene an interview with unknown parties is taking place in which the various aspects of his past and present commingle revealing both the source and transgressive splendor of his ongoing project, Noctuary. The name “Noctuary” already aligned my thought to Thomas Ligotti whose own collection of weird tales would encompass a discourse on blackness and the aesthetics of shadow, goth, and the weird:

“No one needs to be told about what is weird. It is something that becomes known in the early stages of every life. With the very first nightmare or a childhood bout of fever, an initiation takes place into a universal, and at the same time very secret society. Membership in this society is renewed by a lifelong series of encounters with the weird, which may assume a variety of forms and wear many faces. Some of these forms and faces are private to a certain person, while others are recognized by practically everybody, whether or not they will admit it. But they are always there, waiting to be recalled in those special moments that are all its own.”2

What we discover in Farah’s novella is the mystery of architecture itself, a dreamscape of unreality that exposes a ritualized inscape into unfathomable chambers of a bleak cosmos. Bezalel himself is reticent about both his ongoing project and of a recent exhibit that we are lead to believe shocked both critics and public alike, a scandalous affair that brought the shrill critical gaze of certain extreme feminist enclaves to bare on his life and art. As he comments:

“There is a point at which one must separate the art and the artist. There is an intrinsic link, of course. But there is less of me in those images than there is of what I was trying to evoke. They misunderstand me” When asked about the process of creating the infamous images, he becomes brusk. “Let us move on.”

Like many eccentric and decadent artists Bezalel seems both piqued and tormented by the public and critics reception of his work and yet nonplussed he seems unsure of himself and is quiet and reserve about those who do not understand his dark vision. As he’ll suggest his conceptual relations with architecture began as a child in a dream; that, in fact, the very project he is working on now began as a dream. Of Noctuary itself he says: “I saw the building itself in a childhood dream, not long before the death of my parents.” A sense of darkness, death, and the symbolic relations between the two and this dream castle have drawn him toward his self-described combination of the “Modern † Gothic” described already. Yet, like many artists his work would not have been possible without an apprenticeship with a certain mentor.

Adopted at a young age he was raised by a Banker family in Berlin, a typical bourgeois nexus of money, wealth, and extravagance. A mother given to melancholy, which he presumes is due to the Father’s incessant pretensions to playboy of the western world affectations. Bezalel himself seems to have had the run of the house, and spent most of his young life reading and getting acquainted with classics in the well-stocked family Library. After the death of his adopted family he moves to New York, studies architecture because of the connection to his childhood dream, but is unimpressed by the current regard of such moderns as Frank Loyd Wright. After graduation he is tempted to join two different firms but decides instead to return to Germany to reacquaint himself with his roots.

It is in Germany that he discovers a life-long passion for the the idol-mentor, G.E. G.E. Von Aurovitch. Describing his current project as “dripping with the lifeblood (or deathblood) of Von Aurovitch”. He describes the artistic vision behind it, which is a mixture of Decadence and Symbolist motifs, he tells the interviewers:

Aurovitch. Here, in architecture, in interior design, in natural installations, in fashion, either directly or indirectly, I was able to mold and maneuver with a specific energy that, in a way, bridged the gap between the Decadent and the Symbolic by getting to the philosophical nerve of coexisting opposites, and honored those I drew from. But I still think it isn’t representative of any one movement from the past. It is, quite simply, Modern † Gothic. It is its own movement, its own improvement, its own reality.”

After several successful installations he moved back to New York where he met his current fiance, supermodel Coreya Witciewicz. She works with him in the Noctuary, and appears to be both his assistant and curator of affairs. So far in the story we have not heard much else about her or her life with the architect, and I’ll not reveal much more of the tale.

We understand his immediate project is an adaptation of “Von Aurovitch’s obscure fantasy play, The Curse of Ariette, which will be performed in The Noctuary’s own underground theatre, Antangelus”. Telling the interviewers that for him – “Every project is a vanity project.” – we’re told by them that the architectural wonder they are in “doesn’t seem to fit into that category upon first observation, but with a careful look into Bezalel’s literary tastes, one can begin to put together a theory which suggests that he is bringing the objects of fantasy worlds– worlds of his own, and others– into reality.”

This whole opening scene sets the stage for the actual tale to come, it’s as if Farah was writing an essay much in the tradition of Borges of an imaginary artist for the sheer pleasure of revealing the background and details of a new aesthetic art and lifestyle. One thinks back to the work that spawned the Decadent and Symbolist movements Joris-Karl Huysmans, A Rebours (Against Nature), which more than a narrative was a series of lengthy essays on the various aspects of the decadent worldview. Much the same we are given in this opening chapter the sense and sensibility of the worldview of the “Modern † Gothic”. As we discover at the end of the chapter this new worldview is connected to the traumas of Bezalel’s childhood:

“The observation most people make about Modern † Gothic is that it has led them to find a balance between cognitive richness and materialistic extravagance. Bezalel acknowledges how the traumas of his youth led him to a new and comprehensive philosophy that nurtured this concept. “The instability, the darkness was unpleasant, but the only constant in my life. In it I began to find comfort, familiarity. The inverse of the uncanny. I wanted other people to understand that they could make peace with their demons. Find solace in the unfamiliar. Work with the darkness.””

What awaits us as the architectural wonder of Noctuary is completed, and the dark enactments within its theater of cruelty unleashes its strange powers of darkness is left to the reader to find out, all I’ve done is tempt you to enter the dark chambers of Farah Rose Smith’s Anonyma to find out.

You can discover Farah’s work on Lulu.com
Meet her on FB – here!


  1. Smith, Farah Rose. Anonyma. Lulu.com; First Edition edition (November 30, 2018)
  2. Ligotti, Thomas. Noctuary. Il Saggiatore (October 12, 2017)

The Road to the Unreal

…each night, as he dreamed, he carried out shapeless expeditions into its fantastic topography. To all appearances it seemed he had discovered the summit or abyss of the unreal, that paradise of exhaustion, confusion, and debris where reality ends and where one may dwell among its ruins.

—Thomas Ligotti, Vastarien

The echoes of thought from one work to another is a twisted tangle of chaos, a forest of nettles and puzzles, a labyrinth of false paths and wrong turns; and, yet, it does happen from time to time, that a brave quester, a journeyer into the obscure zones of horror will occasionally pass through the barriers between the real and unreal, enter into those nether regions of the unknown where the unmanifest mysteries of a darker and more uncertain topography of the fantastic is revealed and transmitted. Echoed in the secret chambers of hearts and minds like so many leaves swirling in the autumn wind.

There are those who have left signs, fragmentary visions, sorceries of hallucinatory voyages or strange adventures: lunatics and madmen, savants and dark prophets, oracles and sirens; decadent visionaries full of lurid tales of the unknown. Those who have been torn and wounded by the indifference of the natural and unnatural forces of these ruinous and unfathomable realms have on occasion returned to relay their dark wisdom. Especially those of the minor canon of pessimistic authors who have never been widely circulated in mainstream culture, those who have opened portals and doorways into these dark and tantalizing regions of the ancient occulture and obscura, seen  hidden arcana of the unholy that breaks the weak souled brethren but gives back to those who persevere unbidden truths.

The Well of Wyrd, where memory, pain, and torment commingle and the tales left by these voyagers surfaces from the depths of the haunted labyrinths we learn of their failures and successes. Generations of women and men seeking by untraditional means avenues into those nether regions of psychogeography where the unknown allures and seduces us toward the strange and puzzling mysteries and obscure sites of imaginative need and poverty begin to topple our consensually accepted reality and reveal to us something else; something ever about to be. These questers after the mind’s dark haunts bring back to us amazing fragments and tales of the infernal paradises of the Unreal that so many have craved, sought after, and quested in pursuit of like unholy seekers of a luminous sect of grail knights of horror and beauty. Some have like Browning’s questor to the ‘Dark Tower’ prepared themselves their whole lives for a glimpse of the impossible kingdoms of darkness and terror, and here and there a few have brought back out of those bleak realms the ruinous beauty of their short tales of the weird, fantastic, and strange; captivating us with glimpses, however blurred and twisted, of those sinister and yet fascinating realms of the Unreal.

The Daemonic Quest

The essential claim of the sublime is that man can, in feeling and in speech, transcend the human. What, if anything, lies beyond the human— God or the gods, the daemon or Nature— is matter for great disagreement. What, if anything, defines the range of the human is scarcely less sure.

—Thomas Weiskel, The Romantic Sublime

Reading Thomas Ligotti’s tales of horror over the past twenty years I’ve felt that pull of the “daemonic imagination” toward some indefinable darkness and enlightenment, a zone of horror and ecstasy hovering in the interstices of the world like flowers of corruption waiting to bloom. For Ligotti as a Master of horror did not seek some Platonic realm transcending time and space where the eternal forms (Ideas) dwell that guide and shape our lives; no, in his quest toward an “enlightenment in darkness” (one he admits he never attained) he sought what I’ll term the daemonic path: a formless path of unrest, driven by the elemental forces at play within the infernal garden of our catastrophic cosmos.  As Stefan Zweig in his study of the daemon in the works of Hölderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche suggests:

It seems as if nature had implanted into every mind an inalienable part of the primordial chaos, and as if this part were interminably striving — with tense passion — to rejoin the superhuman, suprasensual medium whence it derives. The daemon is the incorporation of that tormenting leaven which impels our being (otherwise quiet and almost inert) towards danger, immoderation, ecstasy, renunciation, and even self-destruction.1

Unlike the ancient sublime of transcendence that sought to move beyond our cosmos into some eternal realm of light as in Dante’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise toward a beatific vision, Ligotti’s nightmare quest and visionary tales led him to toward the malevolent powers of darkness of the daemonic abyss. Following Edgar Allen Poe and Howard Phillips Lovecraft, seduced and lured as they were by the impersonal and indifferent cosmos of elemental malevolence, Ligotti would be driven toward a secular rather than religious theophany; one – unlike those sweet visions of God’s majesty with their soteriological visions of redemption and salvation, would lead Ligotti to fall forward, restlessly swerving  into the dark labyrinths of an impenetrable chasm and cosmic abyss of torment and suffering, moving endlessly through the doom-ridden layers of time and space where an unknown and unknowable malevolent presence pervades every singular atom within the ruins of reality.

“These dark sounds are the mystery, the roots thrusting into the fertile loam known to all of us, ignored by all of us, but from which we get what is real in art. . . .”
– Frederico Garcia Lorca

It was the poet, Frederico Garcia Lorca, in reference to the duende – the dark muse of song—daemon, hobgoblin, mischief maker, guardian of “the mystery, the roots fastened in the mire that we all know and all ignore.” Unlike the Muse or Angel, which exist beyond or above the poet, the duende sleeps deep within the poet, and asks to be awakened and wrestled, often at great cost. He would speak of that unfailing instinct that opens within one like a black orchid, or breaks through the mind with those dark sounds that wound. The duende is the dark angel of the blood and emotion, the driving force of that creative action that sings in the throat black sounds: “…the duende has to be roused in the very cells of the blood. … The real struggle is with the duende…. To help us seek the duende there is neither map nor discipline. All one knows is that it burns the blood like powdered glass”.2

This sense of duende is at the heart of most great music and poetry, as is it is of those transformative moments within the genre of horror. It is root and cause of that which stirs below the threshold of consciousness, gathering its sublime forces, generating the dread and terror that reveal to us the darkest truths of our suffering and pain. The nihilistic light that formed us from the beginning breaks over our vein egoistic selves shattering the vessels of our own ignorance sending us into a tailspin of doubt and panic from which there is no escape. As the poet Leopardi would sing of the dark malevolence below the threshold, the duende:

King of the real, creator of the world,
hidden malevolence, supreme power and supreme intelligence,
eternal giver of pain and arbiter of movement…
– Leopardi, Canti

William Blake once described the struggle with and against the daemon, the duende as the struggle with the Female Will, the matrix of night, death, the mother, and the sea.

 


  1. Zweig, Stefan. The Struggle with the Daemon: Hölderlin, Kleist, Nietzsche (pp. 11-12). Pushkin Press (July 24, 2012)
  2. Lorca, Federico García(1898-1937) In Search of Duende. New Directions; Second edition (March 30, 2010)

 

*Working on this as a prelude to my book on Thomas Ligotti… will add more as it comes, and will link it from my outline page: here.

Simon Strantzas: Antripuu a Folk Horror Story

A good story can make you forget about the bad stories, even if the bad stories are all you want to believe. All you’ve ever told yourself. And sometimes you have to choose to believe the good stories, even when it feels like there’s no choice at all.

—Simon Strantzas, Antripuu Nightmare Magazine, Issue 82

Simon Strantzas tales are well known to aficionados of the horror and weird tale scene. A writer who hales from Toronto, Canada, Simon has published several notable short story collections: Beneath the Surface, Cold to the Touch, Nightingale Songs Burnt Black Suns, and his latest – Nothing is Everything (here!)

Recently he’s published a tale in Nightmare Magazine: Antripuu, a tale of forests, storms, and mysterious creatures right out of some ancient tale of darkness and old world folklore. During the Middle Ages, countless texts were literally teeming with fantastic passages, sometimes accompanied by an explanation but more often presented with impenetrable brevity. They implicitly refer to the existence of an occult world, the laws of which are also in force on this plane.1

In many of these folk tales we discover monstrous and unknown forces that exist sometimes in various shapes, such as that of a human or animal, or even an inanimate object. Hybrid creatures as ancient as the earth herself, creatures that have no regard for the human ways and live in a pre-dawn age of amoral forces that live by one code: sex and survival. Such beings sustain themselves by a relentless pursuit of their prey, an almost impersonal force of hunger driving them forward.

Simon’s work recasts this ancient world within the confines of a modern day tale of horror, friendship, and loss. And, yet, there is a sense of the courage of hopelessness as well, of a Schopenhauerian will-to-live that drives these humans to certain choices and decisions. This is a tale of three friends who have gone stale in their work-a-day lives, and have need for adventure and a reaffirmation of their youth and vigor.

The tale leads the three friends into a forest outside their home town where they will confront not only the dark and unknown forces of the natural order, but those of an unnatural order that very few are willing to admit too, much less accept as real. The tale is told in media-res, upfront and personal. The main character confronts his own ghosts, his own failure in life, work, and love. There’s a sense that something needed to happen, that his was a real life tale gone sour while his friends seemed both successful and complete. It’s as if something is missing in his life, as if he need some kind of shock therapy to push him away from the desperate and suicidal course he’d set himself toward. And in this adventure he gets it, but not in the way he expected. Everything about the tale is relentless, driving you on the edge of your seat from event to event, never leaving you to rest on your laurels but pushing those horror buttons of expectation and emotional fear to the extreme limits and then dropping you off in a ravine of doubt and terror where hope itself seems more like a rushing river of pain that a safety valve of escape.

I’ll not go into the details of the story itself, you can find it on Nightmare Magazine: http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/ 

While you’re there pick up a subscription, too. And, by the way, you can listen to Simon’s tale on their podcast as a bonus!

Enjoy the ride!


  1. Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.

Let The Shadows Sing: Flannery O’Connor’s “A Prayer Journal”

Well I’ll be dammed… have to thank Michael Wehunt author of Greener Pastures for turning me onto Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal… I thought I’d read everything of hers and then some…

Already into it (a short journal) and discovered the dark honesty I’ve always trusted:

“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.”

She always did speak from the shadows… you can feel it in her stories and her longer works. A sense of mystery, shock, and violence that digs deep into you like an old worm gnawing at your innards. Her stories were nightmares come alive and have stayed with me my whole life. The misfits and scoundrels, idiots and savants, the whole lot have about them the doom that lives in the soul of the South like a darkness that spreads and never lets up. I may have left the swamps of Louisiana, and she from Georgia… but the swamps still pervade my dark side like I’m sure the rolling hills of Georgia did hers.

“The Ascrobius Escapade”: Thomas Ligotti and the Uncreated Life

To exile oneself from every earthly country.
—Simone Weil, Decreation

A dummy’s silence is the most soothing silence of all, and his stillness is the perfect stillness of the unborn.
—Thomas Ligotti, Dr. Voke and Mr. Leech

Is it possible not only to erase one’s self – one’s ego, but to erase one’s entire existence ‘as if’ it had never been; as if the accumulated history, the stain of one’s existence on earth had never occurred?

Thomas Ligotti in the first tale of his series of tales within tales IN A FOREIGN TOWN, IN A FOREIGN LAND: HIS SHADOW SHALL RISE TO A HIGHER HOUSE will offer such a strange theory through a self-professed doctor, Klatt, upon a man who not only died but erased his burial site and its very existence:

‘What Ascrobius sought,’ the doctor explained, ‘was not a remedy for his physical disease, not a cure in any usual sense of the word. What he sought was an absolute annulment, not only of his disease but of his entire existence. On rare occasions he even spoke to me,’ the doctor said, ‘about the uncreation of his whole life.’1

All of this started when the said Ascrobius, a recluse and physically grotesque denizen of the northern town on the border of an ill-defined country took ill and died. His body buried outside the town in a graveyard on a hill among former citizens has suddenly vanished along with any signs that it ever existed. Klatt against the unwritten rules of the locals has been ‘meddling’ in anecdotal gossip as to what might have transpired. And upon revealing to the tale teller and others a new bit of information about the details of Ascrobius’s demise he has now implicated all of them in this meddling which will be termed the “Ascrobius’ Escapade”.

As Klatt tells it: ‘You see what has happened,’ Dr Klatt said to us. ‘He has annulled his diseased and nightmarish existence, leaving us with an uncreated grave on our hands.’

After revealing such a meddlesome affair and implicating many of its members the entire town entered into gossip to the point of hysteria, coming to the conclusion that such an unnatural affair could not go without judgement: “Someone would have to atone for that uncreated existence…”.

Well, as expected, our minister of gossip, Klatt offers a solution to the whole affair: a young and unintelligent specimen will need to be sacrificed to the uncreated malevolence that seems to have overtaken the town’s normal lunacy. So a young woman from one Mrs. Glimm’s tavern is sent to the graveyard on the hill at midnight in the cover of complete darkness. Well, one can imagine what transpires, the young woman is found the next day by a nosy and curious group of sober citizens at the very site of the uncreated grave, her body skinned alive and her torso set up as a gravestone. At such horror the citizens demand that she be given a proper burial, but Mrs. Glimm more intelligent than she appears tells them this might not be a good idea and that they should leave things as is. So nothing is done. And, in a few days, the whole affair is forgotten, the terrors of the uncreated gone, and the citizenry back to their normal lives (if you can call it normal!).

But this is not the end of the tale. No. After a few weeks it is discovered that Klatt has gone missing, and that a new resident has taken up living in the former house of Ascrobius. But as our anonymous storyteller informs us,

Afterward all speculation about what had come to be known as the ‘resurrection of the uncreated’ remained in the realm of twilight talk. Yet as I now lie in my bed, listening to the wind and the scraping of bare branches on the roof just above me, I cannot help remaining wide awake with visions of that deformed specter of Ascrobius and pondering upon what unimaginable planes of contemplation it dreams of another act of uncreation, a new and far-reaching effort of great power and more certain permanence. Nor do I welcome the thought that one day someone may notice that a particular house appears to be missing, or absent, from the place it once occupied along the backstreet of a town near the northern border.

Thomas Ligotti in The Conspiracy against the Human Race states his notions concerning the concept of the “uncreated” saying,

For pessimists, life is something that should not be, which means that what they believe should be is the absence of life, nothing, non-being, the emptiness of the uncreated. Anyone who speaks up for life as something that irrefutably should be— that we would not be better off unborn, extinct, or forever lazing in nonexistence— is an optimist. It is all or nothing; one is in or one is out, abstractly speaking. Practically speaking, we have been a race of optimists since the nascency of human consciousness and lean like mad toward the favorable pole.2

The Jains of India believe the soul of each living being is unique and uncreated and has existed since beginningless time.3 Anne Carson the poetess in her essay on Decreation – How Women Like Sappho, Marguerite Porete, and Simone Weil Tell God mentions:

Simone Weil was also a person who wanted to get herself out of the way so as to arrive at God. “The self,” she says in one of her notebooks, “is only a shadow projected by sin and error which blocks God’s light and which I take for a Being.” She had a program for getting the self out of the way which she called “decreation.” This word is a neologism to which she did not give an exact definition nor a consistent spelling. “To undo the creature in us” is one of the ways she describes its aim.4

As another commentator says of Weil: “The method of approaching the sacred Weil calls “decreation,” as a de-incarnation of the person, a method for attaining the impersonal for which solitude is a prerequisite. Decreation is “to make something created pass into the uncreated.” This is distinct from the thing passing into destruction, passing into nothingness.”5 In her poem “Decreation” Simon Weil reiterates this notion:

It is necessary not to be “myself,” still less to be “ourselves.”
The city gives one the feeling of being at home.
We must take the feeling of being at home into exile
We must be rooted in the absence of a place.
To uproot oneself socially and vegetatively.
To exile oneself from every earthly country.
To all that to others, from the outside, is a substitute for decreation and results in unreality
For by uprooting oneself one seeks greater reality.

This sense of uprooting, a decreation of one’s life both physically and spiritually in a process of unmaking, an unraveling into the unreal and entering into the exile from one’s place in the order of creation by an uncreation is hinted at by secular underpinnings of Ligotti’s tales as well. In The Last Feast of Harlequin an assembly is gathered singing of the blessed unborn, the uncreated:

The entire assembly, which had remained speechless until this moment, broke into the most horrendous high-pitched singing that can be imagined. It was a choir of sorrow, of shrieking delirium, and of shame. The cavern rang shrilly with the dissonant, whining chorus. My voice, too, was added to the congregation’s, trying to blend with their maimed music. But my singing could not imitate theirs, having a huskiness unlike their cacophonous keening wail. To keep from exposing myself as an intruder I continued to mouth their words without sound. These words were a revelation of the moody malignancy which until then I had no more than sensed whenever in the presence of these figures. They were singing to the “unborn in paradise,” to the “pure unlived lives.” They sang a dirge for existence, for all its vital forms and seasons. Their ideals were those of darkness, chaos, and a melancholy half-existence consecrated to all the many shapes of death.6

Maybe the unborn like Ascrobius are not those in some mythos of heaven awaiting birth, but are in fact the secret few, the lucky one’s of a dark order of alchemy who have learned the subtle arts of uncreation and diminishment; a slow reversal in the time flows of the inexplicable processes of the universal corruption. Maybe they have opened a hole in the fabric of space-time, an entrance not into some majestic heaven, but rather a passage into the labyrinths of an infernal paradise where the seeds of a new darkness, the uncreated and unborn children of a new promised kingdom of unnatural desires now reside in perfect silence and shadow; their unlived lives shaping and shaped by their sacrifice to the unknown malevolence of all decreation.


  1. Ligotti, Thomas. Teatro Grottesco. Mythos Books LLC; 1st edition (November 30, 2007)
  2. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 47). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Nayanar, Prof. A. Chakravarti (2005). Samayasāra of Ācārya Kundakunda. New Delhi: Today & Tomorrows Printer and Publisher.
  4.  Carson, Anne. Decreation – How Women Like Sappho, Marguerite Porete, and Simone Weil Tell God. Common Knowledge Volume 8, Issue 1, Winter 2002 Duke University Press
  5. Some of the more representative works of Simone Weil are her First and Last Notebooks, translated by Richard Rees. Oxford: Oxford university Press, 1970; Gravity and Grace. Putnam, 1952; Oppression and Liberty, London: , New York: Routledge & K. Paul, ? The most representative anthology is The Simone Weil Reader; edited by George A. Panichas. Wakefield, RI: Moyer Bell, 1977.
  6.  Ligotti, Thomas. The Nightmare Factory. Carroll & Graf (June 27, 1996)

One Imagines a Darker Journey…

Quite frankly, it seemed as if each one of us stretched his entire imagination to persuade himself of terrible, irreplaceable losses…

—Hermann Hesse, The Journey to the East

Decided today to reread Herman Hesse’s The Journey to the East. Hesse’s work is part of that idealist Jungianism that seemed to pervade post-WWI literature. Some of the literature would wreak of violence and nihilism, others of the influx of Dada, Surrealism and the fascination with the decadent strains in our literature and heritage. Hesse had tinges of all these aspects woven in with the Romantic traditions… the fascination with the literature of India and its ancient religious worlds.

Sometimes I want to rewrite Hesse’s The Journey to the East with Thomas Ligotti’s lens… a movement into the nightmare regions of the infernal paradise that throughout his tales he offers us fragments and liminal windows onto… yet, for me it would not be of the East as in Hesse, but as in Ligotti’s darker sense of a realm of aesthetic beauty in horror, corruption, and ruin; a blasted cosmos of frightful extravagance and liminal edges of unending terror and rapture…

Here is Hesse’s opening paragraph:

“It was my destiny to join in a great experience. Having had the good fortune to belong to the League, I was permitted to be a participant in a unique journey. What wonder it had at the time! How radiant and comet-like it seemed, and how quickly it has been forgotten and allowed to fall into disrespute. For this reason, I have decided to attempt a short description of this fabulous journey, a journey the like of which had not been attempted since the days of Hugo and mad Roland. Ours have been remarkable times, this period since the World War, troubled and confused, yet, despite this, fertile. I do not think that I am under any illusion about the difficulties of my attempt; they are very great and are not only of a subjective nature, although these alone would be considerable. For not only do I no longer possess the tokens, mementos, documents and diaries relating to the journey, but in the difficult years of misfortune, sickness and deep affliction which have elapsed since then, a large number of my recollections have also vanished. As a result of the buffets of Fate and because of the continual discouragement, my memory as well as my confidence in these earlier vivid recollections have become impaired. But apart from these purely personal notes, I am handicapped because of my former vow to the League; for although this vow permits unrestricted communication of my personal experiences, it forbids any disclosures about the League itself. And even though the League seems to have had no visible existence for a long time and I have not seen any of its members again, no allurement or threat in the world would induce me to break my vow. On the contrary, if today or tomorrow I had to appear before a court-martial and was given the option of dying or divulging the secret of the League, I would joyously seal my vow to the League with death.”


  1. Hermann Hesse. The Journey to the East (Kindle Locations 12-24). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition

Self-Deception, Delusion, and the Denial of Reality

Ajit Vark in a book on Denial entertains from a evolutionary geneticists perspective the old notion of Norman O. Brown and Ernst Becker of the Denial of Death thesis, but also adds another:

[the] contrarian view [that we overcame the barrier to human uniqueness by the mastery of self-deception] could help modify and reinvigorate ongoing debates about the origins of human uniqueness and inter-subjectivity. It could also steer discussions of other uniquely human “universals,” such as the ability to hold false beliefs, existential angst, theories of after-life, religiosity, severity of grieving, importance of death rituals, risk-taking behaviour, panic attacks, suicide and martyrdom. If this logic is correct, many warm-blooded species may have previously achieved complete self-awareness and inter-subjectivity, but then failed to survive because of the extremely negative immediate consequences. Perhaps we should be looking for the mechanisms (or loss of mechanisms) that allow us to delude ourselves and others about reality, even while realizing that both we and others are capable of such delusions and false beliefs.

In many ways this supports Robert Trivers another evolutionary biologist’s notions in The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life. Trivers unflinchingly argues that self-deception evolved in the service of deceit—the better to fool others. We do it for biological reasons—in order to help us survive and procreate. And, yet, Trivers also takes this notion and then applies it to our overreach, the very sociopathic society full of manipulators and deceivers which is the baseline of our Capitalist societies promotes such self-deception to the point that what once helped us as a species to survive and propagate has now become its greatest enemy and is leading us into a species dead end as we deny too much reality for profit and gain at our own peril. Climate denial etc. are at the center of both this success and it’s overreach… a denialism that could cost us our survival and our future along with all those other non-human species of plants and animals and insects.


  1. Ajit Varki. Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind. Twelve (June 4, 2013)
  2.  Robert Trivers. The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life. Basic Books; 1 edition (October 25, 2011)

“The Cosmic Hypnotist”: Hypnosis, Mesmerism, and Gnosticism in Thomas Ligotti

Soon I will put my dreaming in the hands of greater forces, and I’m sure there will be some surprises for both of us. That is one thing which never changes.

—Thomas Ligotti, The Chemyst

This morning when I woke up began tracing the various uses of hypnotism in Thomas Ligotti’s tales. Fascinating how he associated this 19th Century mesmeric art with its double-edged use to blind or reveal.

In an interview with E.M. Angerhuber and Thomas Wagner: Disillusionment Can Be Glamorous Thomas Ligotti is asked if he thinks “cosmic evil is an enhanced or horror, compared to the evil of a single character?” Speaking of his early story “The Chymist” is one of the characters who possesses a “dark power,” but that “power is only an instance of a greater power at large”. Behind this is the power of “Nature” itself Ligotti states, which “tirelessly produces mutations and permutations using human flesh…”. In “The Sect of the Idiot” he’ll describe this power behind the sect of hooded ones – “those freaks who were among those who were hypnotized”:

“For there was a power superseding theirs, a power which they served and from which they merely emanated, something which was beyond the universal hypnosis by virtue of its very mindlessness, its awesome idiocy. These cloaked masters, in turn, partook in some measure of godhood, passively presiding as enlightened zombies over the multitudes of the entranced, that frenetic domain of the human.”

This mindless idiot behind the scenes reminds me of Ligotti’s statements about the Gnostics in the Conspiracy:

“The second of Zapffe’s two central determinations— that our species should belay reproducing itself— immediately brings to mind a cast of characters from theological history known as Gnostics. The Gnostic sect of the Cathari in twelfth-century France were so tenacious in believing the world to be an evil place engendered by an evil deity that its members were offered a dual ultimatum: sexual abstinence or sodomy. (A similar sect in Bulgaria, the Bogomils, became the etymological origin of the term “buggery” for their practice of this mode of erotic release.) Around the same period, the Catholic Church mandated abstinence for its clerics, a directive that did not halt them from betimes giving in to sexual quickening. The raison d’être for this doctrine was the attainment of grace (and in legend was obligatory for those scouring hither and yon for the Holy Grail) rather than an enlightened governance of reproductive plugs and bungholes. With these exceptions, the Church did not counsel its followers to imitate its ascetic founder but sagaciously welcomed them to breed as copiously as they could.”

Knowing that Ligotti has read deeply in these ancient heterodoxies underpins his use and parodic inversion of the soteriological allegories of these sects towards his own ends. One thinks of the case of Arthur Emerson in “The Prodigy of Dreams” associating it with an active power to enter other zones of being:

“Only on rare occasions could he enter these unseen spaces, and always unexpectedly. A striking experience of this kind took place in his childhood years and involved a previous generation of swans which he had paused one summer afternoon to contemplate from a knoll by the lake. Perhaps their smooth drifting and gliding upon the water had induced in him something like a hypnotic state. The ultimate effect, however, was not the serene catatonia of hypnosis, but a whirling flight through a glittering threshold which opened within the air itself, propelling him into a kaleidoscopic universe where space consisted only of multi-colored and ever-changing currents, as of wind or water, and where time did not exist.”

This sense of “whirling flight” as compared to the “serene catatonia” of the mesmerizer’s variety of hypnotic effect. One remembers the hypnotist psychologist in “Dream of a Manikin” who describes Mrs. Locher’s dreams under hypnosis. Here the power of the deity of dream “splintering and scarring itself to relieve its cosmic ennui,” or the “solipsistic dream deity commanding all it sees, all of which is only itself,” the implications of which “suggest the basic horror and disgusting unreality of its implications.”

So many of these variations of the dark god of dreams, hypnotism, and unreality crop up throughout various stories describing the notion of a malevolent power in Nature supervening in a sadomasochistic drama of manipulation, and at the same time allowing certain favored ones to awaken from the hypnosis and enter the infernal paradise of this entity’s realm unbidden.

There is Victor Kierion in “Vastarien” whose infernal book unlocks the keys to this dream kingdom of nightmares: “the hypnotic episodes of the little book; each night, as he dreamed, he carried out shapeless expeditions into its fantastic topography. To all appearances it seemed he had discovered the summit or abyss of the unreal, that paradise of exhaustion, confusion, and debris where reality ends and where one may dwell among its ruins.”

More to think through… Year’s ago reading Angus Fletcher’s great work on Allegory and the ancient tension between the various levels of exegesis and commentary one realizes that Ligotti’s art is much more subtle than many might know or understand. On the surface each story seems to plot a basic horror scenario, a nightmare that can be understood at the base level of common sense portrayal. But if one takes a more rigorous approach one discovers layers of structure and dimensions within his work that lead to more extensive subsurface meanings and connections leading outwardly to philosophy, religion, ethics, and other subtle implications.

Just more grist for the mill…

A Tale of Chicken and Horror; or, How I Became a Weird Writer

Jim Stark: I don’t know what to do anymore. Except maybe die.

—James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause

Maybe my fascination with the fantastic, weird, and horrible began on a dark night in 1954 when my family was coming home from a weekend in Lubbock, TX. Of course I was too young to remember what was happening (unless my body itself carries the trauma in some deep place of the subliminal physical systems). I was only informed of it years after…

At that time there was a strange game of life and death that foolish young teenagers seemed to relish… a movie was made of this later on – Rebel Without A Cause, starring James Dean. The game was Chicken… yet, unlike the movie my family was suddenly thrust into a real life situation of three young punks who’d decided to run their truck head-on into a random car on a road just outside Andrews, TX – a road in which it would be next to impossible to turn off into the fields because of deep ravines, and / or cross the median because of trees planted by the Texas Highway Department.

Needless to say my father tried his best to swerve and miss the truck barreling into our old Chevy sedan. It didn’t work, and our car was demolished, my Mom suffered a broken neck and legs crushed, my Sis almost died suffocating under the back seat as it flipped up and tumbled over her (she was a baby), and I was thrown across the back seat in a swirl of tumbling glass and metal breaking my arms, legs, and pelvis unable to walk for years. My Dad luckily did not go unconscious, and with his ribs crushed by the steering wheel, and his head damaged severely by rocketing through the front windshield he pulled us all out of the vehicle before it blew up after the engine started a fire and the gas finally burst… then he waited for help. Once it came he passed out… We all woke in the hospital and would remain there for months.

The three punks has used an old mattress and were unharmed… I want go into the bitter details afterword… and the years of recovery. Only that this traumatic even would haunt me as I grew up… one of my legs is shorter than the other because of it so that I’ve had spinal issues and other problems that relate even now to many of my problems in old age… but, hey, it’s life and not a dam thing you can do about it but learn to laugh…

Yet, it was this unlikely event that made me question later on about fate and determinism,  chance and necessity, coincidence and synchronicity, along with all the other strange reasons why it was my family suddenly plunged into this horror in a singular strange moment right out of the twilight zone of weirdness… maybe my whole philosophical outlook on life was generated in that moment. Who knows? All I know it was from the moment I became fully aware of this event I realized the world is not what it seems… and is much more sinister than most of us would like to believe.

I’ve often wondered at what point did we enter an alternate world, a different time-line, a realm of some strange and nefarious weirdness that left us marooned in a place that was not our place, a world that was not our world. I still don’t know, and yet something in me does.