“The Sonic Footprint”: The Sound of Fear in Thomas Ligotti’s Tale: The Frolic

One of the fascinations in writing this new book on Ligotti is his use of sound and music as an indicator of our psychopathy, our fears and paranoias. As Steve Goodman will say in Sonic Warfare:

“Fear induced purely by sound effects, or at least in the undecidability between an actual or sonic attack, is a virtualized fear. The threat becomes autonomous from the need to back it up. And yet the sonically induced fear is no less real. The same dread of an unwanted, possible future is activated, perhaps all the more powerful for its spectral presence. Despite the rhetoric, such deployments do not necessarily attempt to deter enemy action, to ward off an undesirable future, but are as likely to prove provocative, to increase the likelihood of conflict, to precipitate that future.”1

Even in an early story of Ligotti’s – “The Frolic,” sound becomes a part of the rhetorical strategy towards conveying atmospheric strangeness to the tale, an ominous stain that is never revealed as such but hovers over the inscapes of Dr. Munck’s mind. His wife sensing an uneasiness in her husband asks:

“What’s wrong, David?” asked Leslie.
“I thought I heard…a sound.”
“A sound like what?”
“Can’t describe it exactly. A faraway noise.” He stood up and looked around, as if to see whether the sound had left some tell-tale clue in the surrounding stillness of the house, perhaps a smeary sonic print somewhere.

This sense of anticipation as if the future were already penetrating from some faraway zone into the hollows and silences of the couples cozy environ, lifting an impenetrable curtain on some uncanny soundscape unknown, and yet felt in the eeriness of its slight traces of reverberation echoing in the home’s silences. The “far away noise,” an absence full of the future, producing both mania and paranoia in Munck’s mind, as if the autonomous presence of doom were already traveling out of the sonic worlds of some nether sphere, a surrationalism* of the sonic darkness that is registering in subtle ways upon their lives.

In the early part of this story Ligotti introduces to the notion of sound when Dr. Munck – who is named David, and his wife, Leslie are downstairs enjoying each other’s company while their daughter is upstairs cozy and warm, sleeping. Ligotti earmark’s this scene, saying:

Their daughter Norleen was upstairs asleep, or perhaps she was illicitly enjoying an after-hours session with the new color television she’d received on her birthday the week before. If so, her violation of the bedtime rule went undetected due to the affluent expanse between bedroom and living room, where her parents heard no sounds of disobedience. [my italics]

The notion that sound can convey a disturbance, a subversive or radical disruption against the house rules, the normative conduct between parent and child, an unwritten contract-code between parties, a legal code that engenders a sense of moral weight to the power and control over a child’s welfare and dominion. There is also this hint of spatial recognition, of a violation that could be possibly happening, a rule broken due to the “affluent expanse” (why affluent?) between the two spaces of “bedroom” and “living room” as if space were a sound barrier, a wall against obedience, a subversive tool in the arsenal of the ardent frolicker. Ligotti hints at the cultural cues of dominion and control that calibrate the normative mechanics of child rearing in this couple’s fears, a rhetoric of motives that seems to guide even the sonic tempo of their child’s life in an umbrella of security.

<<< Spoiler Alert! >>>

Later on David’s wife will ask him how his day on the new job at the prison went:

“How did it go today, David?” she asked, her radiant eyes peeking over the magazine cover, where another pair of eyes radiated a glossy gaze. “You were pretty quiet at dinner.” “It went about the same,” said David, without lowering the small-town newspaper to look at his wife. “Does that mean you don’t want to talk about it?” He folded the newspaper backwards and his upper body appeared. “That’s how it sounded, didn’t it?” “Yes, it certainly did. Are you okay today?” she asked, laying aside the magazine on the coffee table and offering her complete attention.

Sound communicates certain positive or negative features, connotations of voice, timbre, and utterance; a psychological resonance that is transmitted physically revealing the affective relations hidden in our speech patterns. It’s as if there were a strong compact or covenant between husband and wife, a sense of the tone and pitch of the colors of voice conveying thought as affective response rather than a need to explicitly utter guttural noise or information. The intonation and the markers of a sonic hierarchy that produces an emotional normativity between speech act and utterance opens up a chasm between the couple, a non-space in which things are known and unknown. In the wife it produces negative affects which convey not only her emotional undertow but open up the physical mechanisms underlying her husband David’s uneasiness; a sonic marker for a possible illness unregistered in the actual utterances of her his statements, yet brokered by the pulsating rhythm of the conversation and silences in-between. This subtle banter between the two lover’s sometimes conveyed by gesture and silence, shows forth the shadows in their mind’s fears through formal codes of physical behavior that a fully instructed mentalist could interpret but that neither Leslie nor David intuitively grasp except as a pervasive sense of dread. It’s this atmospheric dread that permeates the reader’s sublime as well.

As David reveals how his day went we are introduced to an unusual inmate that seems to bother and fascinate him. He’s been given the appellation of John Doe because the authorities were unable to trace his history to any locale or criminal past. This puzzles David and producing a disquieting apprehension into his life as a psychiatrist at the local prison. Leslie senses this as she questions him further, but as a wife she tries to change the conversation and offers to make him a drink. David sitting alone in the silence hears only the sounds of his wife in the kitchen making the drinks, ponders the only undraped window in the corner where an “Aphrodite sculpture posed”: “Beyond that window was a deserted streetlighted street and a piece of moon above the opulent leafage of spring trees.”

The scene of desolation of the lone sliver of moon hovering over a wild expanse of “opulent leafage” would under other circumstances give a richness and decadence to the atmosphere, but in light of the conversations preceding this seems to fill the cozy warmth of the home with foreboding and gloom instead. This intrusion awakens this sense of doom in David forcing him to check in on his daughter to make sure everything is alright.   Ligotti has said of atmosphere in horror tales returns us to the darker atavistic ancestral pool of memories and ritual,

Seeing shadows in the moonlight and hearing leaves rustling in the wind, our ancestors impregnated these sights and sounds with imaginings and apprehensions. Atmosphere had finally arrived, both foreshadowing horror and taking its substance from horror. Without this alliance, the first horror stories could not have been told.4

In this scene the sense of sound, memory, and atmosphere commingle to give us an ominous atmosphere surrounding the natural setting of night, moon, and lush vegetation setting the mood of the tale’s telling. Ligotti discussing Lovecraft’s use of atmosphere as central to the horror genre comments:

While his personal use for atmosphere was to facilitate a sense of cosmic laws being overturned and human experience being transcended, he also defined the general purpose of atmosphere in horror stories: to give consistency (mood) to an imagined world in which we can at least pretend to escape from our mere humanity and enter into spaces where the human has no place and dies to itself either weeping or screaming or in awe at the horror of existence. (CAHR: p. 184)

There is a juxtaposition in Ligotti’s tale between the natural setting and artificial soundscapes hinting at an uncanny otherness sensed but not known, a secret counter-factual world that his nemesis, John Doe has opened up in the mind of Dr. Munck through his surrational utterances and megalomaniacal remarks. All through the story David has dismissed the ongoing dialogue between himself and John Doe as the simplistic ravings of a minor lunatic, and yet there has played out over the course of the tale an uneasy apprehension that things are quite different from what they seem.  David might seems to be slowly unraveling from his once strong belief in the psychological certainties of his profession. As a trained psychiatrist who has worked with many patients he seems to have confronted in the singular personage of the nameless John Doe an inexplicable mystery that not only angers and disturbs him, but that has penetrated even the sanctuary and atmosphere of his private life of wife and child.  As Ligotti suggests, the “secret of atmosphere in supernatural horror is simplicity itself. … Atmosphere is created by anything that suggests an ominous state of affairs beyond what our senses perceive and our minds can fully comprehend.” (CAHR: p. 185) It’s this in-betweenness that pitches us into that no-man’s land of fear and dread unable to decipher between zones of thought, living in the permeable fantastic of the unreal.

All through the tale sounds have set the mood-atmosphere underpinning the sense of unease and the uncanniness of the tale. The wife has been secretly hoping that he will sooner or later admit defeat, realize that all his idealist dreams of helping the criminally insane have come to naught, and that they can once again take up their lives in a larger city where she feels more comfortable. Living in this isolated small town, a shadow world with a prison located just a few blocks away, the wife has begun apprehending her own waking nightmares of escaped inmates and insane monsters arriving at their home and invading their peaceful sanctuary. She will not even call it a prison, opting to treat it as a hospital against her husband’s wishes. Angered by this term Dr. Munck lashes out at her:

“I wish you’d stop calling it a hospital. It’s a prison, as you well know.” “Yes, of course.” “You could say the word prison once in a while.” “All right, then. How’s things at the prison, dear? Boss on your case? Inmates acting up?” Leslie checked herself before things spiraled into an argument. She took a deep gulp from her drink and calmed herself. “I’m sorry about the snideness, David.” “No, I deserved it. I’m projecting my anger onto you. I think you’ve known for some time what I can’t bring myself to admit.” “Which is?” Leslie prompted. “Which is that maybe it was not the wisest decision to move here and take this saintly mission upon my psychologist’s shoulders.” Her husband’s remark indicated an even more acute mood of demoralization than Leslie had hoped for. But somehow his words did not cheer her the way she thought they would. She could distantly hear the moving van pulling up to the house, but the sound was no longer as pleasing as it once was.

The sound from outside of a “moving van pulling up to the house” after the bickering session between the two lover’s over the wiseness of moving to such a village in the middle of nowhere is taking its toll. Either David or Leslie had ordered the van from a moving company [I need to reread the story again… the logic of the moving van appearing at night seems out of place in the context? I’ve had to rethink my original interpretation thanks to Eric’s comment!]

As if on cue Dr. Munck begins sharing his latest escapades with John Doe to his wife. Admitting his failure in being able to crack this uncanny creature, understand the anger and violence of his crimes, the doom seeping into prison life as David relates of the daily rituals of beatings other doctors and orderlies and guards have taken at the hands of inmates, he unloads the toll its taking on him to his wife,

“I’m afraid it is that bad. … That’s why I was so edgy on Norleen’s birthday. So far I’ve been lucky. All they do is spit at me. Well, they can all rot in that hellhole as far as I’m concerned.”

After this outburst David “felt his own words lingering atmospherically in the room, tainting the serenity of the house. Until then their home had been an insular haven beyond the contamination of the prison, an imposing structure outside the town limits. Now its psychic imposition transcended the limits of physical distance. Inner distance constricted, and David sensed the massive prison walls shadowing the cozy neighborhood outside.”

The claustrophobic corruption of their home by the sounds and atmospheric temper of the prion, its inmates, and the as yet undisclosed truth about John Doe upon David, his wife, and their daughter now seems to have opened a darker zone of apprehension within the family’s domain. This breakdown of space, of the distance between home and prison, as if the two were suddenly becoming one, as if the psychic ruins of the inmates were taking possession of the secure and private world of the Munck’s opens a door onto the mysterious hinterlands of the frolic that have left David unhinged floating in turmoil and unknowing.

He slowly unfolds the secret history of John Doe at this point. We discover he is a man without a history, an anonymous anomaly who was convicted of monstrous crimes against children. That he was caught not by chance but by his own designs, that they’d found him in a stolen vehicle in front of the school where he was still perpetrating his crimes. And, when asked about his name by Dr. Munck he admits he has a thousand names, but never reveals even one of them. As if he were a living demon, a creature without habitation or place; without history in the real world. After all this Leslie asks why he would allow himself to be taken prisoner so easily. David replies: “Why? Who knows? When you ask a psychopath to explain himself, it only becomes more confusing. And John Doe is chaos itself.”

When John Doe is asked if he understands why he was convicted and put in prison he tells the good Dr. that it was because of “frolicking”. When David asks him what the term means, John Doe replies: ‘Mean, mean, mean. You’re a meany, that’s what you are.’ David says to his wife,

“That childish ranting somehow sounded to me as if he were mimicking his victims. I’d really had enough right then but foolishly continued the interview. “‘Do you know why you can’t leave here?’ I calmly asked with a poor variant of my original inquiry. “‘Who says I can’t? I’ll just go when I want to. But I don’t want to go yet.’ “‘Why not?’ I naturally questioned. “‘I just got here,’ he said. ‘Thought I’d take a holiday. Frolicking the way I do can be exhausting sometimes. I want to be in with all the others. Quite a rousing atmosphere, I expect. When can I go with them, when can I?’

Here the sound of “childish ranting” mimicking the victims offers David a psychological hook to peg to John Doe as if he could surmise the ironies of such horrendous crimes against children. But it’s the mad disclosure of John Doe’s belief that he can leave the prison at any time of his own choosing that leaves David stymied. We’re presented with this dialogical play between the order of norms and sense that David’s psychological training and education has led him to believe and affirm as true, and the dark logics of John Doe’s psychopathy which presents a counter-world to the accepted one of the majority. This sense that maybe the world we assume as normal is itself quite mad, and that this John Doe is a representative of another, stranger order or cosmos begins to convey itself as the tale begins sloping down into chaos and disorder.

Learning more about John Doe than she’d like the wife asks apprehensively if there has ever been any escapes from the prison. David tries to assure her that if there was an escape that a prisoner wouldn’t hang around the town but would try to get as far from the town and prison as possible. Asked again about the prisoner John Doe, David says: “Prisoners like that don’t escape in the normal course of things. They just bounce off the walls but not over them. You know what I mean?”

The wife says she understands, but “this did not in the least lessen the potency of her fears, which found their source in an imaginary prison in an imaginary town, one where anything could happen as long as it approached the hideous. Morbidity had never been her strong suit, and she loathed its intrusion on her character. And for all his ready reassurance about the able security of the prison, David also seemed to be profoundly uneasy.”

This notion that the logic of the world conveyed by philosophy and the sciences that the world is guided by logic and reason, that the “principle of sufficient reason” that Gottfried Leibniz formulated in which “everything must have a reason or a cause,” a notion that goes back into the deepest zones of philosophical thought in such names as Anaximander,  Parmenides, Archimedes,  Plato and Aristotl , Cicero,  Avicenna, Thomas Aquinas, and Spinoza is suddenly being thrown into doubt. As if the contingency of the world were now a law rather than the mind of human reason and its ability to produce stability and order. An opening onto the frolic, a world of hyper-chaos and entropy, ruin and desolation where strange beings like John Doe roam.

A philosopher who propounds similar doubts about Leibniz’s formulation, Quentin Meillassoux in his work After Finitude tries to show that the agnostic scepticism of those who doubt the reality of cause and effect must be transformed into a radical certainty that there is no such thing as causal necessity at all. This leads Meillassoux to proclaim that it is absolutely necessary that the laws of nature be contingent. For Meillassoux the world is a kind of hyper-chaos in which the principle of sufficient reason is abandoned even while the principle of non-contradiction must be retained.5

The topsy-turvy conversation of chaotic worlds drifting away from reason and into zones where “frolicking” are possible seems to lay heavy on the house where the good doctor and his wife and daughter are present. David sits quietly as if listening. His wife asks:

“What’s wrong, David?” asked Leslie. “I thought I heard…a sound.” “A sound like what?” “Can’t describe it exactly. A faraway noise.” He stood up and looked around, as if to see whether the sound had left some tell-tale clue in the surrounding stillness of the house, perhaps a smeary sonic print somewhere.

Sound as an objective, feral thing scurrying around the world like a wild beast, a horror from some hinterland of the nether regions of being leaving a “smeary sonic print” in its wake seem ludicrous and yet this uncanny guest of air and mind that drifts through the atmosphere seems almost more real than we are. And Dr. Munck like some a character out of one of Edgar Allen Poe’s tales, detecting in the very ether some intricate message of the insanity of things, insisting that he is sane, but is suffering from a dis-ease which causes over-acuteness of his senses suddenly feels the need to check on his daughter. He proceeds to do just that and finds her calmly sleeping, tugging at her “stuffed Bambi” dreaming. Returning he feels a sense of relief, conveys the “routine” news of his daughter’s safety and security to his wife, who then decides its time to fix more drinks.

After this interlude he begins discussing the John Doe again, letting his wife know just how much of a maniac identitiless creature is. He mentions a conversation he’d had with him asking where he was from to which John Doe replies:

“‘No place,’ he replied like a psychotic simpleton. “‘No place?’ I probed. “‘Yes, precisely, Herr Doktor. I’m not some snob who puts on airs and pretends to emanate from some high-flown patch of geography. Ge-og-ra-phy. That’s a funny word. I like all the languages you have.’ “‘Where were you born?’ I asked in another brilliant alternate form of the question. “‘Which time do you mean, you meany?’ he said back to me, and so forth. I could go on with this dialogue—

Once again John Doe defies the natural course of things, gives the Dr. nonsense notions of non-places and time riddles from far flung realms of the frolic. This comedy of absurdity drives David into a drunken stupor, allowing him to say what he really feels to his wife about their move to his village and his new job. He’d come originally with the idealist and progressive need to heal people, but all that is gone now:

…why should I waste my time trying to help someone like John Doe, who doesn’t live in the same world as we do, psychologically speaking. I used to believe in rehabilitation, not a purely punitive approach to criminal behavior. But those people, those things at the prison are only an ugly stain on our world. The hell with them. Just plow them all under for fertilizer, I say.” Dr. Munck then drained his glass until the ice cubes rattled.

The notation of John Doe being from another world, qualified by the “psychologically speaking,” as if to say it is sheer madness and insanity to believe anything he is relating of non-places and frolics in unknown zones of terror to be pure non-sense. And, yet, in this outburst one feels just the opposite, that David’s world is tumbling into darker regions even as he  is trying to convince himself that John Doe is mad and that nothing so fantastic as the “frolic” could be possible, much less ever thought to be a part of our real world. Or could it? It’s the de-stabilization and insecurity in his own psychological theories that begin to unravel as Dr. Munck drains his glass of alcohol shedding the last remnants of his once cozy and warm universe of Enlightened Reason.

Norleen, his wife, feels a little more secure in this than her husband, believing that David was “not giving up his work from a sense of ineffectual failure but from anger, an anger that was melting into indifference. Now everything would be as it had been before; they could leave the prison town and move back home. In fact, they could move anywhere they liked, maybe take a long vacation first, treat Norleen to some sunny place.”

As she retreats to the kitchen to fix drinks she decides to surprise her husband with a gift she’d gotten him from town, a small figurine of a head, a bust of a small boy with a pure, almost mystic serenity in his face. She brings it back to her husband who on opening it suddenly lose all sense of drunkenness. The beautiful and sublime object is known to him, it is the head of John Doe’s last victim, a young boy now dead and buried. Doe had created the artifact as part of therapy and had been proud of it when he showed it to Dr. Munck. Munck’s reaction to his wife is one of sheer panic and horror, telling her to return it as quickly as possible to the store; adding: “Do it soon, Leslie. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be residing at this address.”

Once again the topic of John Doe comes up a few minutes later when his wife asks about “frolicking”. David tries to explain that for all its horror Doe’s descriptions of it were too sublime and ridiculous to be believable,  and yet at times he “couldn’t help being fascinated, though maybe I was shielding my true feelings with a psychologist’s detachment. Sometimes you just have to keep some distance from yourself and reality, even if it means becoming a little less human.” It’s as if the Dr. had suddenly been infected and corrupted by his patient, allowed himself to become more inhuman, distant and irreal.

The more Doe describes the fairyland horror of his kingdom of the frolic the more fascinated David is by it:

“When told me about his ‘most memorable frolic,’ it was with a powerful sense of wonder and nostalgia, shocking as that sounds to me now. He seemed to feel a kind of homesickness, though his ‘home’ is a ramshackle ruin of his decayed mind. His psychosis has evidently bred an atrocious fairyland which exists in a powerful way for him. And despite the demented grandeur of his thousand names, he actually sees himself as only a minor figure in this world—a mediocre courtier in a broken-down kingdom of miracles and horrors.”

All through this David presents it as pure fantasy, a psychotics tales of fancy and horror, wonder and nostalgia. And, yet, one begins to suspect that David is not as sure of his psychological portrayals as he appears. He appears almost seduced by Doe’s descriptions of this nether world of hallucination, describing it (and I quote at length):

“There’s actually quite a poetic geography to his interior dreamland as he describes it. He talked about a place that sounded like a cosmos of crooked houses and littered alleys, a slum among the stars. Which may be his distorted rendering of a life spent growing up in a shabby neighborhood—an attempt on his part to recast the traumatic memories of his childhood into a realm that cross-breeds a mean-street reality with a fantasy world of his imagination, a phantasmagoric mingling of heaven and hell. This is where he does his ‘frolicking’ with what he calls his ‘awestruck company.’”

This commingling of the sublime and grotesque, reality and irreality in a psychogeography of madness tempts David through its overpowering rhetoric, and yet at every turn he tries to reduce it back down to Doe’s childhood memories and the dark worlds of ever-present murder and mayhem he’s perpetrated upon innocent children. This dislocation between phantasmagoria and our own consensual hallucination of normalcy intertwines throughout the narrative destabilizing our expectations and the world in which we all live. In fact David discovers that Doe “denies there was anything pedestrian about his mayhem. He says he just made the evidence look that way for the dull masses, that what he really means by ‘frolicking’ is a type of activity quite different from, even opposed to, the crimes for which he was convicted.” The disparity between our legalisms and the fantasia of Doe’s world opens up a wound in David’s own mind that lets the darkness seep in, a disquieting apprehension that for all his psychological know-how Doe may just be on to something.

At this point in the story Dr. Munck’s mind begins to unravel as he suddenly remembers his last meeting with John Doe. He tells his wife the sordid details of the visit, about Doe’s asking him: ‘You wouldn’t be havin’ a misbehavin’ laddie nor a little colleen of your own, now would you, Professor von Munck?’ Then he grinned at me silently.” The good doctor and his wife argue over what Doe might have meant by using “nor” rather than “or” in the conversation as if he knew all along the name of their Norleen. Dr. Munck at the prompting of his wife will tell her that the eeriness of the conversation left him with the impossible feeling that something was not right. He asks about the doll he’d found Norleen hugging tightly to her chest when he looked on her earlier, asked when his wife had bought it. She tells him she didn’t buy it, that she was unaware of this new doll. This leaves and even more open wound and uncanniness in the air between them:

David paused. From the expression on his face, he seemed to be contemplating a thousand thoughts at once, as if he were engaged in some frantic, rummaging search within every cell of his brain. “What’s the matter, David?” Leslie asked, her voice weakening. “I’m not sure exactly. It’s as if I know something and don’t know it at the same time.”

This sense of a blank in the mind, of a piece of missing knowledge stored somewhere in memory of a missing or lost object, an object that one knows but does not know and yet senses intensely its absence. As if a disquieting truth were hiding in plain site much like the Poe’s “The Purloined Letter,” which is there on the mantle all along but unknown until the opportune moment. At this moment Dr. Munck feels a cold breeze upon the nape of his neck. “… he was beginning to know.” He moves through his mind seeking something lost in the darkness of memory.  “He knew and did not know.” He follows the breeze up to his daughter’s room. Turns on the light. Sees that his daughter is missing. The Bambi torn in shreds, a not left on the empty bed:

Dr. Monk, read the note from inside the animal, We leave this behind in your capable hands, for in the black-foaming gutters and back alley of paradise, in the dank windowless gloom of some intergalactic cellar, in the hollow pearly whorls found in sewerlike seas, in starless cities of insanity, and in their slums . . . my awestruck little deer and I have gone frolicking. See you anon. Jonathan Doe.

At this point we hear a sound, a sonic note of despair, a wailing from the abyss of time, the ringing in the air of the open window: “a bright freezing scream of laughter, the perfect sound to accompany a passing anecdote of some obscure hell.”


Notes:

*Gaston Bachelard would coin the term surrational as a subversive attack upon the conservative tendencies in the sciences under capitalism, seeking to undermine the Kantian hold of static categories that had spawned instrumental reason and the whole worldview of the West for two hundred years. His call for an “open rationalism” against the fixed categories of Kant’s “closed rationalism” begins with the idea that the “act of rationality lies within the overcoming of the categories of thought by creating novel ones,” an anti-Kantianism much in line with the radical forms of surrealism that were subverting the older naïve realisms of the 19th Century.

As Massimiliano Simons explains it surrationalism “precisely creates the room for scientific practices to redefine our cognitive categories. For Bachelard science instructs reason. Reason has to obey science, a more evolved science, an evolving science. Thus we find in Bachelard the distinctive idea of the primacy of science over philosophy: philosophy should not dictate or supervise a normativity of science, but rather learn from the norms internal to the sciences themselves.”3


  1.  Steve Goodman. Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (Technologies of Lived Abstraction). The MIT Press; 1 edition (August 24, 2012)
  2. Thomas Ligotti. Songs of a Dead Dreamer (Kindle Locations 128-131). Kindle Edition.
  3. Massimiliano Simons. Surrationalism after Bachelard: Michel Serres and Le Nouveau Nouvel Esprit Scientifique. parrhesia 31 · 2019 · 60-84
  4. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror (p. 183). Hippocampus Press. Kindle Edition.
  5.  Quentin Meillassoux. After Finitude: An Essay On The Necessity Of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (Continuum, 2008)

7 thoughts on ““The Sonic Footprint”: The Sound of Fear in Thomas Ligotti’s Tale: The Frolic

    • Nothing in the story suggests that because in the early part she is wishing for him to move… it’s night, they didn’t even discuss him leaving his job till late in the story after this.

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  1. It is implied from the first page that Leslie is not keen to stay: ”She knew her husband was quite dedicated to this new position of his in this new place. Perhaps tonight, though, he would exhbit some encouraging symptoms of disenchantment with his work.”
    I might be wrong, but ”the vans pulling up to the house” seem to be elaborting on the line that preceeds it, regarding her husband’s disenchantment with his work, and is her visualization of the potential upcoming move.
    Also, as it is plural, I find it difficult to see why John Doe would be with someone else, why would there be more than one van?
    Regardless, your thoughts on this story are very interesting, as always, and I look forward to reading your essay in Vastarien.

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    • hmm… my copy reads the van pulling up to the house (singular)… maybe one of ours is a type?

      This is what my copy in Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Nightmare Factory says:

      “Her husband’s remark indicated an even more acute mood of demoralization than Leslie had hoped for. But somehow his words did not cheer her the way she thought they would. She could distantly hear the moving van pulling up to the house, but the sound was no longer as pleasing as it once was.”

      So yes even in singular I see you’re right… “moving van” … should have been capitalized, but I will need to change my interpretation: good catch… thanks! I just overlooked it seeing the modifier as a van in motion, rather than a Moving Van… haha… funny how my mind plays tricks on me!!! Good to know since this was a rough draft anyway of a more refined essay I’ll be adding to my exegesis of Songs of a Dead Dreamer in the first sections of my study. That’s probably why putting it out is a good thing to catch all these mistakes in interpretation.

      Thanks, again, for saying something!!! Glad you brought this up, in my mind I knew it the story took place in the evening (the daughter already asleep!) so thinking of a Moving Van pulling up when it was so late just didn’t enter my mind. 🙂

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      • Oh, good… I was looking to verify this… and, hope you’ll continue to comment as I earmark early rough drafts for this book. I’m doin so much background study for the introduction from his interviews, essays, Conspiracy, essays in the Ligotti Reader, Vasterien, and Thinking Horror as well as works, reviews, etc. I find on the web… trying to both see the man and the writer as a package since he admits his chronic anxiety had a lot to do with his writing, and the close-down of his imagination during episodes of anhedonia… As he’ll admit he doesn’t hook or reduce himself to any specific philosophy; even the pessimism and nihilism that he was written about so extensively. Ligotti’s thoughts harbor like Bataille before him a formless (or inform) vision that hovers round the transgressive visions of a secular or materialist mysticism, a negative or kenomic vision of a immanent transcendence of ecstasy and horror. Piecing together the panoply of influences from his vast storehouse of reading in Poe, Lovecraft, the decadents, symbolists, and darker surrealism of renegade thinkers and poets is part of my task at the moment. Having read Ligotti since the 80’s he’s become a touchstone for various investigations in my projects. Hopefully I’ll be able to convey my appreciation without taking it too far afield into the various thinkers, artists, musicians, poets, philosophies, consciousness studies, and a ton of other off-the-wall subjects that seem to envelope Ligotti in as one of his characters states it a “Sanctum Obscuram”. Either way it should be fun… and, interesting!

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