No other life forms know they are alive, and neither do they know they will die. This is our curse alone. Without this hex upon our heads, we would never have withdrawn as far as we have from the natural—so far and for such a time that it is a relief to say what we have been trying with our all not to say: We have long since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.
I know many have asked me how my work on the Thomas Ligotti book is going. Simply put I’ve been working through the main influences on his work, starting with a re-reading of Poe, Lovecraft (and his circle), Nabokov, various pertinent decadent writers, along with the philosophical masters (in print or that I can slowly translate). Interspersed with this is a close reading of Ligotti’s oeuvre through the various critical angles from thematic, philosophic, structural, post-structural, symbolic, mythic, folkloric, etc. Ligotti is such a well-read yet focused writer whose background may be narrow but is thorough, and even though my own work is both personal and critical I’ve felt the need to be just as focused and thorough with my investigation.
What is the critic’s task? The greatest power of the critic is not to repeat what an author has already stated so eloquently, but rather to instill in the reader a sense of the unknown that has enveloped and permeated the inner spirit of an author’s works. To bring to the surface that which is hidden and away in an author’s dark mind, those aspects of her work for which the author herself must never state explicitly because to do so would unravel the very power of her magic as an author: the power to make the reader know and feel the thoughts and images with such implicit mastery that they take up residence in reader’s own heart and mind, giving voice to the very dark intent of the reader’s own existence.
The critic’s task is to cut that magic circle, reveal the inner power and magic of language itself; to say what both the reader and the author cannot say, reveal the oscillating spirit in-between the author and reader. The critic’s task is to reveal the subtle power of rhetoric and persuasion which have shaped the truths and illusions shared in that strange and bewildering, weird and eerie space of imagination and reason whereby the author and reader become something else through the power of language. The critic’s task is not to mystify, but to demystify the very knot of linguistic power that both author and reader share; and, yet, in so doing to uncover not some essence (there being none!), but rather to awaken in reader an inner knowledge of those very thoughts and images that have brought about the magic to begin with. A knowing that is not some magical technique that mystifies, but rather the most ancient art of rhetoric and persuasion itself, demystifying its inner mechanisms, the tropes and figures that have for thousands of years shaped the systems of belief and meaning we all know and live by. For ours is a time when these very tools of language have been most scrutinized in philosophical speculation and been found wanting.
The magic of language is no more, the unraveling of its shaping power brought down into the very technical world of machinic intelligence; for it is here, in the stark cold labyrinth of artificial intelligence that a new spirit-geist is emerging. We are in a time of new beginnings, a time when the vessels of language that have guided humans for thousands of years have dried up and are now shattered and in ruins, meaning dissipated before the unknown mystery of ourselves and the universe. The critic’s task in our time is not to remystify language, but rather to forge out of the silences of that ancient heritage a new meaning for new vessels – both non-human and human; to give authors and readers alike an opening onto the dark screen of universal necessity, one that allows us to reforge the links to our linguistic roots and heritage: allowing us to create new both vessels of language and meaning in a cosmos that does not know us, and cares even less whether we live or die.
If the Universe has no meaning as so many thinkers in the past few hundred years have stated, then it is humans alone that have invented out of our own dark need these shared universes of intelligence and thought, given rise to the very necessity of value and meaning that goads us forward and sustains us in a realm of meaninglessness. Either meaning is shared or there is no reason to read. We read to gain an apprehension of our own dark life. We seek out authors that speak to us about this inner aspect of ourselves that we cannot articulate in such subtle and persuasive form. In everyone’s life there are certain author’s that catastrophically break us on the anvil of our own ineptitude, reveal to us the inner essence of what we are not, give to us the task of knowing and being that disturbs us and makes us ponder the emptiness of our own doubts and illusions. For better or worse certain authors are more ourselves than we are, they challenge us to step out and become that very thing we fear most: a human being.