Gnostic Novels and Horror

Lawrence Durrell is one of the most overt Gnostic writers in mainstream literature, both is Alexandria Quartet and his later, post-war The Avignon Quintet he used major themes from this heterodox realms of gnosis. As in this statement from Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness:.

Man is in a trap … and goodness avails him nothing in the new dispensation. There is nobody now to care one way or the other. Good and evil, pessimism and optimism–are a question of blood group, not angelic disposition. Whoever it was that used to heed us and care for us, who had concern for our fate and the world’s, has been replaced by another who glories in our servitude to matter, and to the basest part of our own natures.
–LAWRENCE DURRELL, Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness

A few authors whose works present a Gnostic mythos:

John Crowley’s Aegypt Cycle
Malcom Lowery’s Under the Volcano
Doris Lessing’s Shikasta novels
David Lindsey’s A Voyage to Arcturus
Cormac McCarthy’s dark Southern Gothic and his Western Lands works
Collen Clements five-volume Biography of Lucifer
Beyond that one can find it used either overtly or in parody/gest in many horror writers…

Many of the horror writers have taken a left-hand path or Luciferian gnosis by way of the negative ecstasy of infernal paradises etc. into their works, inverting the underlying a-cosmic schemes of the actual historic Gnostics for a more secular and materialist mysticism of the immanent-transcendence variety (horizontal rather than vertical). Following in the footsteps of those 19th Century fabricators of the occult, satanic, and decadent late romanticism these writers would offer a vision not of some supernal city of light and peace, but rather a dark hinterland of cosmic night described by John Doe in Thomas Ligotti’s The Frolic:

“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.”

This sense of finding in the sewers of nightmarish wastelands and deliriums of the backwater slums of the universal decay a world of awe and wonder filled with the dark pleasures of a sadomasochistic cosmos. This is the kenoma or vastation of he Luciferian nightmare realm of paradise’s inferno…

Though it has gone largely unrecognized in the critical literature on Bataille, dream and the unconscious are intimately related to the sacred in Bataille’s thought. Understanding this connection requires an account of Bataille’s conception of the sacred as an ambivalent force that, when accessed through sacrificial acts, engenders an ecstatic loss of self. Th is loss of self corresponds with Bataille’s idiosyncratic notion of sovereignty, which is related to an escape from the “servile” world of instrumental reason—the sphere of the profane. (Jeremy Biles, Negative Ecstasies)

It’s this need for self-sacrificial loss of self in the ecstasy of horror that seems most poignant in Ligotti’s oeuvre as well. The horror of consciousness is central to his horror, and the various angels of approach to the annihilation of our ego-based relations seems central to many of the themes in Ligotti’s tales.

One feels it in Ligotti’s The Shadow at the Bottom of the World:

In sleep we were consumed by the feverish life of the earth, cast among a ripe, fairly rotting world of strange growth and transformation. We took a place within a darkly flourishing landscape where even the air was ripened into ruddy hues and everything wore the wrinkled grimace of decay, the mottled complexion of old flesh. The face of the land itself was knotted with so many other faces, ones that were corrupted by vile impulses. Grotesque expressions were molding themselves into the darkish grooves of ancient bark and the whorls of withered leaf; pulpy, misshapen features peered out of damp furrows; and the crisp skin of stalks and dead seeds split into a multitude of crooked smiles. All was a freakish mask painted with russet, rashy colors—colors that bled with a virulent intensity, so rich and vibrant that things trembled with their own ripeness. But despite this gross palpability, there remained something spectral at the heart of these dreams. It moved in shadow, a presence that was in the world of solid forms but not of it.

 

2 thoughts on “Gnostic Novels and Horror

  1. I was somewhat stunned to see you writing about Durrell today, but I oughtn’t to have been, of course. I spent my teen years drenched in the Alexandria Quartet and Avignon Quintet, and hold them in a sort of shaky esteem – are they too romantic? Too Orientalist, too “pretty,” somehow? Thank you for reminding me of Pursewarden’s journal – “GOD DOES NOT CARE ONE WAY OR THE OTHER,” That unshuddering view of the dark beneath all the passion and sand. Oh, how do you read so much and so well?

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 Well been at it a while… at age 68 I’ve plundered the humanities; or, at least the major and minor canons, with a bent toward the late Romantics, Symbolists, Decadents… and Modernists (whom I devoured during university back in the 70’s). Was influenced by Northrop Frye and Harold Bloom as for my reading lists when younger… Blake, the Romantic poets, Metaphysicals, and the satiric forms from Greek, Roman, and Renaissance to Enlightenment. Obviously I’ve plundered history and philosophy as well. But my first love is the poets, then the short story writers… something about the short form just fits my life. Although I’ve read most of the major novelists as well I still feel the pull of the fantastic, uncanny, and weird traditions in tales…

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